I daresay the powers that be at the BBC (or 'Auntie' as one used mischievously to term it in the rib-tickling days of Punch magazine!!) are reeling in shock at the decision by Her Majesty to allow their deadly rivals at ITV to produce her Christmas Broadcast to the Commonwealth.
Well, bully for them, quoth Arnold! It is high time the bully boys at the Beeb (yet another affectionately comical term for that venerable institution coined by we inky humorists of Monsieur Le Punch!) were given a sharp smack on the wrists by Buckingham Palace. And I am glad to say that your faithful columnist had more than a hand in ousting Auntie Beeb (!) from her Palace residency.
Let me begin at the very beginning (shades of the delightful Von Trapp family, methinks!). It is an open secret that I have played the major role in composing Her Majesty's Christmas messages these past few decades. It has long been Her Majesty's wish that we inject a positive, optimistic note to each missive. We aim to send her subjects from their Christmas repasts with a spring in their collective steps, ready to greet the year that lies ahead with renewed industry and servility.
These past years, this vital note of optimism has proved more and more elusive as the fortunes of the Windsors have leapt with gusto from the frying pan to the fire and back again via the stove. Looking through the voluminous Arnold Files, I find an increasing number of discarded first drafts. I trust I am betraying no confidences by reprinting selected extracts from one or two of them here today.
The following was a first draft I penned at the end of the year Her Then Royal Highness the Duchess of York had incautiously allowed herself to be photographed in her Birthday Suit while an assiduous adviser simultaneously attempted to extract a bee-sting from her left foot.
"Christmas is a time for families and friends to come together but also for differences to be forgotten," Her Majesty begins her Message. "So it is with great gladness of heart that I today attempt to forget my estranged daughter-in-law's sluttish behaviour earlier this year."
Handwritten notes in the margin suggest that this first draft failed to please Her Majesty. Beside the phrase "sluttish behaviour in July of this year", she has scrawled, "TONE DOWN". I have then carefully replaced the offending phrase with the more universal message of hope and reconciliation: "sluttish behaviour in the marvellously warm Summer we as a nation enjoyed this year". But Her Majesty has always been a stickler for detail, and further jotting in the margin suggests that even this was not enough: in the end, she simply chatted at length about her forthcoming visit to the Zambia, and her recent day-trip to the Isle of Wight.
All well and good, but further delving into the Arnold Files reveals similar hiccups over last year's broadcast. It followed, you may remember, the informal chat of an intimate nature her Previous Royal Highness the Princess of Wales had enjoyed with a smart young man in a suit and tie, little realising that BBC cameras and cameramen were concealed in cupboards and vases the length and breadth of the room. In cavalier fashion, the BBC had then broadcast this tete-a-tete to an audience totalling 350 million worldwide, not all of whom, to be frank, could be trusted with such confidences.
Needless to say, one of them informed Her Majesty, who was understandably upset at the fruitier of the revelations. Of course, I tried to "lighten the load" a little by thinking up some diverting jokes. "Knock Knock," I said at our weekly meeting. "Hewitts there?" answered Her Majesty. "Right first time!!" I replied, laughing fit to bust.
Alas, such innocent merriments proved insufficient to assuage her sorrow. She was determined to signal her disapproval of her daughter-in-law in the first few words of her Christmas address. "During our worldwide navigations with interludes - that have developed in all nations' awareness - ," she began.
"Pardon me, ma'am, but is this not a little, well, verbose?" I interjected.
"Not if you read the first letters of each word!" she snapped back.
Deary me. Personally, I blame Auntie Beeb.