Any old peerage, only pounds 21.95

Its death has been prophesied for a while. The Royal Yacht Britannia is on a life-support machine, clinging to life. Britain's oldest merchant bank is now owned by the Dutch. Jaguar cars is controlled from Detroit. Britain's cultural heritage, it seems, is in terminal decay. Now to cap it all, Burke's Peerage, the publishing house that has produced tomes about our aristocracy for 160 years, is throwing in the towel on the British class system by announcing it has gone American, the home of classless meritocracy.

Yesterday morning I received the tackiest letter I have ever set eyes on (picture of a smiling middle-class American family gathered in the kitchen included). It was addressed to a "Mr Frankel" and offered to send him a "Burke's Peerage World Book of Frankels".

"Burke's Peerage has long been involved in genealogical research, tracking down the ancestor of one person back to one notability in the past, as when we have traced the lineage of American Presidents to Mediaeval Kings," runs the blurb. "Now, through an association with an American firm amply equipped with modern American technology, we are able to show how widespread are the bearers of the Frankel name..." At the end of the missive, which basically begs the recipient to buy the new book for pounds 21.95 (a pittance compared to the pounds 100 cost of a Burke's Peerage and Baronetage during its last print run in 1980) there is a postscript which offers a free full- colour print of a Frankel Coat of Arms ... additional copies are available upon request for pounds 10.95.

I am puzzled. Is this the same Burke's Peerage that used to hate people selling coats of arms in precisely this way? Surely this must be a different Burke's Peerage from the one that used to look down upon such brazen marketing techniques? "Burke's has always been concerned with genealogy," says publishing di- rector Harold Brooks-Baker (left) defensively.

"The reason for this is because it introduces people all over the world to the idea of ancestry research and our main business is that."

Weeping Bucket

Sad tidings from Cumbria: Sarah Thurnham is unhappy and as we know she is not a woman to be taken lightly when she feels spurned. Peter Thurnham's wife, and it had appeared, boss in matters political, has been greatly upset by her representation in the press as a spouse as intrusive as TV's Hyacinth Bucket.

When, on Sunday, colleagues of mine knocked at the family home not to speak to Peter but to her, she burst into tears. "Oh dear," she cried. "I've just seen the papers. I had no idea anyone would mention me, I can't bear it. It's too awful. I'm so sorry, I can't speak."

Eagle Eye is most distressed. Sneakingly I held Mrs Thurnham's behaviour in most high regard. One scene in particular struck me as particularly impressive. The couple were leaving 10 Downing Street, having had their last fateful meeting with the PM. Peter Thurnham was shaking his head; his wife her finger. "Now Peter," she was articulating quite clearly, "You know, we'd decided..."

Tears, Mrs T, just don't suit you.

Way with the Ladies

Peter Hobday, the here Today, gone tomorrow, presenter of BBC Radio's flagship news programme, will be a loss to the great "agenda-setting" programme (as it likes to call itself). Although Hobday (below) arguably lacks the sink-the-teeth-in approach of his co-presenters, he has had his colourful moments.

Many decades ago he interviewed an up-and-coming young politician, one Margaret Thatcher. She was attending a conference in the Albert Hall. All available rooms for a radio interview were noisy and echoey. Unfazed, he took Mrs Thatcher to the only quiet room in the place - the Ladies.

Water on the brain

"It's thanks to us that over 1.5 million people in the South-west have running water every time they turn on their taps." So claims South West Water in an advertisement for a press and publicity officer, one of the latest in a string of such appointments to water companies. Does the advertising agency employ copywriters with short memories? Was it not South West Water that sent a billion gallons of water - about 50 days' supply - out to sea while taps in Plymouth and South Devon ran dry. (They meant to siphon it inland via a river, but forgot to weed it out in time.) And the company also seems to have forgotten about the 250,000 customers who last August were forced to boil their water supplies after a stomach-bug outbreak. But help is at hand. The successful applicant can expect to promote the company's "contribution to customer well-being." Is this an example of South West Water's dry wit?

Orchestral manoeuvres in Oman

After the revelations in the BBC series The House about the chaotic and cut-throat world of high culture, it hardly seems possible to twin the words "orchestra" and "glamour". So I was glad to hear that the BBC Philharmonic has been spreading its wings.

The orchestra was recently invited to play in Oman. No expense was spared. The 101-strong orchestra was flown in a private jet at a cost of pounds 500,000, put up in a hotel described by one string player as "staggering in its luxury", while the soloist Kathryn Stott and conductors Yan Pascal Tortelier and Sir Edward Downes were showered with expensive gifts. All this for two concerts and a recording of the Omani national anthem. You will be wondering what occasion could merit such extravagance. The answer is, appropriately, the 25th anniversary of the Sultan of Oman's bloodless coup.

That, and the fact that the old 78rpm record of the anthem was accidentally broken 40 years ago when the Sultan's father sat on it...

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