The great, the good and the tactless

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The Independent Online
Lord Charteris's supposedly "off the record" suggestion in this week's edition of the Spectator that the Duchess of York was "vulgar" appears to be cementing the magazine's reputation for dropping the indiscretions of the great and good with the f requency that Tatler drops names.

Dominic Lawson, son of Nigel, inherited the editor's chair from Charles Moore, the original "young fogey" and now editor of the Sunday Telegraph, five years ago. Since then, with the help of a series of daring "scoops" he has turned the title from a staid, ideologically monogamous rump selling 39,600 copies into something approaching racy with a circulation of more than 51,000.

in June 1990 A N Wilson, its former literary editor, recounted a conversation with the Queen Mother. She told him she had had a "miserable" day after being scolded by her bank manager at Coutts for running up a huge overdraft. Publishing details of the private chat was in direct breach of royal protocol, but great for circulation.

The following week, Mr Wilson traded insults with Lord Denning after he quoted the former Master of the Rolls as saying that if the death penalty had still been in force when the Guildford Four were convicted, "they'd have probably hanged the right men".

Mr Wilson later admitted that he had sent Lord Denning a draft of the piece, but omitted the page carrying the offending remarks.

The hat trick was completed with the now legendary interview by Mr Lawson with the late Nicholas Ridley, then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Mr Ridley likened the French to poodles, accused the Germans of wanting to take over Europe and was promptly forced to resign.

In November the magazine faced charges of anti-Semitism from a cast including Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Kirk Douglas over an article by the journalist William Cash on "Hollywood's new Jewish establishment".

Mr Lawson last month took another resignation scalp: Richard Gott, the Guardian's literary editor, whom the magazine accused of working for the KGB.

Mr Lawson yesterday insisted the magazine was pursuing no other agenda than "good journalism".

Lord Charteris's remarks, had been made in the context of a "charming profile" of the Queen's former private secretary. Mr Lawson went on: "I am slightly surprised by the extent to which it's been taken up. He has said all of this on television, that she[the Duchess of York] was unsuitable to be a princess in this or any other age."

Lord Charteris had not spoken off the record, Mr Lawson insisted, the conversation taking place in a special interview room at the House of Lords.

"The Spectator has not been sensational in the sense that there is nothing of all the sex scandals. We did not write about Mellor, Caithness or Milligan. People can see we're not in the business of providing lurid coverage of those things, which means they are perhaps prepared to speak to the Spectator."