THE CONTENT of even our leading newspapers grows daily more disagreeable. Whatever happened to good news? In my youth, it was not uncommon on the same day to read the headline, "Britain Prospers Yet Again" in the Telegraph and "Excellent Daffodil Crop Expected Shortly" in the Times. But alas no more.

Of course, old man Beaverbrook could be relied upon to inject a Calvinist note into the proceedings, but even he insisted that no headline should be completely gloomy. "8 Die in Road Smash While Export Sales Soar" was a typical Sunday Express headline, and I well remember a copy of the Daily Express with the refreshingly optimistic "Holiday-makers Enjoy Pretty Sunset Before Avalanche Wipes Them Out" emblazoned across its front page.

Alas, today's inky scriveners have little aptitude for hope. Catastrophe is piled upon catastrophe without the saving grace of merriment. "Election Landslide for Blair", "Feltz in pounds 2m Contract", "Edward and Sophie to Wed": disaster feeds upon disaster.

I had imagined that one had grown used to the daily drip-drip-drip of misery. But even I was shocked and depressed to read one headline in the Daily Telegraph last week. It read "pounds 800m Boost to Male Cosmetics Industry". Did you see it? I trust not. Those of a fragile disposition should avert their eyes now, for the report went on to state: "British men are spending pounds 800m a year on toiletries and other `grooming' products, according to a survey published today. Over the past 10 years, the value of the market has doubled as men shed their disdain for deodorants, after- shaves, skin-care products and moisturisers. There are also big spending increases on sports equipment, fitness regimes and health products such as vitamins and dietary supplements".

Sadly, my own experience bears out the truth of this shattering report. When I was first elected to The Garrick Club, nearly 38 years ago, there were unsubstantiated rumours of a junior member expelled after the doorman detected a whiff of scent on the collar of his coat. The junior member protested that he had only recently been accosted by an unsuitable female in nearby Maiden Lane, but routine investigation of his overcoat by the Vice-Chairman and his committee uncovered, hidden in a poacher's pocket, a miniature bottle of scent with the tell-tale words "Pour L'Homme" engraved on its lid. Of course, one never heard of the fellow again.

But these days the dining-room at The Garrick smells like nothing so much as the steam-room in a Turkish whorehouse. The trusty aroma of pipe and cigar, interwoven with the distinguished after-dinner perspiration of our most notable raconteurs, has been all but extinguished by the stench of foreign perfumes.

Strangely enough, with the aid of my diary, I am able to pinpoint the exact moment when the rot set in. On 3 April 1988, at approximately 6.30pm, I was sitting with Kingsley Amis in the Members' Bar, savouring the moist and somewhat brackish but - yes! - oddly alluring scent of congealed Weetabix on old tweed, when I was brought up with a start. Suddenly that most precious of aromas had been joined by a fierce waft of something infinitely more sinister. My nose has rarely worked harder: in those few ghastly seconds I sniffed out mimosa, orange-blossom, rose-petal, lime, geranium and more than a hint of lavender.

As you may have guessed, the young Melvyn Bragg had entered, his election having been nodded through on the quiet. "If I had wished to join a florist's, I would have applied to Interflora!" I whispered to Kingsley, who responded with a burp.

Then, in June 1991, an edict from the Central Committee posted on the downstairs board sanctioned a draconian new rule: in future there was to be no breaking of wind before mid-day in the members' drawing-room, and none whatsoever in the doorway, following complaints from members of the public.

O tempora! O mores! But all is not lost. My new company, Arnold Smells, is to market a "Monsieur Le Garrick" roll-on deodorant come the summer. It is a heady mixture of milk of magnesia, boiled cabbage, Scott's Oats and damp mackintosh. It will knock all competing fragrances into the proverbial cocked hat. Hurry, hurry, hurry, while stocks last!