As an authority on the sex life of Queen Victoria...

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

Share
Related Topics
WHEN, as so often happens, admirers approach me, I attempt to set them at their ease. "Do ask me one question about myself - but only one! I am a busy man," I tell them, genially. Needless to say, they then always ask me the same question. "Arnold," they say, "we know you as a man of letters, a raconteur, a witty and waspish television panellist, an influential political theorist, an award-winning columnist, a Royal adviser and a man about town, but tell us this: which of these many hats were you wearing when first you rose to prominence?"

And the answer to this brain-teaser is, of course, that I was originally a common-or-garden historian, a senior Professor of History at one of our oldest universities. I had already penned a number of well-considered historical biographies, among them learned tomes on Queen Victoria and Julius Caesar, when one day, quite out of the blue, I was approached by the old Daily Express with the request that I write 600 words. "I am a busy man," I told them, "and an historian of intellectual bottom. What, pray, is the subject upon which you wish me to expound?"

They informed me that the subject was the sex life of Queen Victoria: they would pay me the then princely sum of pounds 125.

"Quite out of the question," I riposted with all the contempt I could muster. "Do you not realise I am a Fellow of All Souls?"

"pounds 200" they replied. Six hundred words were delivered to their door the very next day. In the final paragraph I suggested that the good lady may well have been a member of the lesbian persuasion, for which they paid me an extra pounds 25.

My career as a media historian was launched. Before long I was regularly approached by newspapers and magazines to offer the expert historian's view of current affairs. Thus, when Miss Sandy Shaw won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest, I wrote a learned essay for the Evening Standard placing this victory in its proper historical perspective, alongside Waterloo and Agincourt.

Needless to say, my stuffier colleagues, soaked in jealousy, proved as sniffy as could be. But I argued that it is the proper job of the serious historian to bring history in all its vivid colour into the drab living- rooms of ordinary folk. In 1969 alone, I penned no less than 25 learned articles for what was then still Fleet Street, many of them raising very pertinent and far-reaching questions such as, "Was Good Queen Bess a Nympho?", "Was Julius Caesar a Woman?" and "Was King George V a German Spy?"

Television beckoned, as it so often does. Before the 1970s were out, I had been elected "TV Historian of the Year" by the readers of TV Times magazine for three years in a row. They were kind enough to tell me that I had injected new verve into my subject: by dressing up as Queen Victoria and employing TV heart-throb Ronald Allen as John Brown, I was making history come alive.

Inevitably, a number of my colleagues attempted to muscle in on my territory, but with lamentable results. My old friend and quaffing partner Hugh Trevor- Roper, for instance, came a terrible cropper when he was persuaded to take a cameo role in On The Buses as a disgruntled customer on Mr Reg Varney's double-decker bus. Alas, the viewers never took to him - research suggested they found him altogether too aloof and hoity-toity - and he was dropped after only one episode. Likewise poor old A.L. Rowse: in early 1973, he had been pencilled in as a holiday replacement for Bob Monkhouse on the popular television series The Golden Shot, but in rehearsal he had begun bitterly chastising his veteran co-host Bernie the Bolt for his poor grasp of the role of the crossbow in the early Tudor period. Rather than lose Bernie, the producers dropped A.L., who then had to content himself with a small, non-speaking role in All Creatures Great and Small, as a woodland vole with a broken leg.

But where so many of my colleagues have come a cropper, I am delighted to see my dear friend Dr David Starkey soar to success. Have you managed to catch his programmes on King Henry VIII? Nor me, but they are "both informative and entertaining" and "popular history at its very best", or so I am told by no less an authority than Dr Starkey. I particularly warm to Starkey enacting the execution of Anne Boleyn by parading naked around an Ann Summers "Sex Shop" (dread outlet!), wearing nothing but a surplus of mascara and a supernumerary bosom. This truly is history in the raw, and Dr Starkey hereby reveals himself a worthy successor not only to Professor Kenneth Williams but also to Dr Sidney James. Hurrah!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency is looking ...

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has been manufacturing high quali...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the fairest onl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No more big characters or Tory clowns like Boris Johnson. London desperately needs a boring mayor

Rachel Holdsworth
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen