The love of our four-footed friends is surely the mark of a True Brit. It has long been my belief that the only possible hope for the much- needed Conservative revival in this country lies in kicking the dread Hague into touch and letting either a) a golden labrador or b) a little donkey take his place as the party leader, with either c) a hamster or d) a baby pig as his fiancee, the exact nature of the kiddies to be sorted out in due course. Of course, party rules would have to be amended to take account of the new move towards the animal kingdom, but only slightly: after all, we have already had Dr Mawhinney as party chairman. I have no doubt in my own mind that the party conference would welcome such a change, and a 10-minute standing ovation would be forthcoming whenever Dobbin or Porker took to the platform.
Surely the main reason the British have always been so attracted to the nativity story lies in the presence of so many farmyard animals to supplement the somewhat commonplace main event: not only adorable little sheep, but cows, donkeys, goats and even camels. It strikes one as highly unlikely that quite the same fuss would have been made over a lone child, particularly one born to an - ahem - ethnic lady and her bearded, common-law husband, homeless, besandalled and, I am sorry to say, on the scrounge.
During my period as editor of the Sunday Express back in the late 1950s and early 1960s (dread decade!) I was forever on the look-out for news stories with an animal angle, for I knew that our readership would lap them up. Some of the most memorable Sunday Express headlines of that era include "Moggy Left Behind As Philby Flees to Moscow", "Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives: No Dogs Involved", "British Horse Escapes Injury as 10,000 Indians Die in Earthquake" and "Cuban Missile Crisis: The Threat to a Nation's Ducklings".
I also encouraged our columnists and critics - some of the best in the country, I should add - to include the animal angle to lend colour to anything that might otherwise appear remote, unpleasant or high-falutin'. In covering the controversial new Penguin paperback of Lady Chatterley's Lover, our senior book reviewer found it "very satisfactory in its vivid depiction of hens, butterflies and varied birdlife, though to my mind less exciting in other areas". In 1957, our theatre critic made it quite clear that he had not enjoyed the premiere of Endgame by a Mr Samuel Beckett, adding that the playwright had made a great mistake in failing to introduce "a mischievous cocker spaniel or almost-human Ginger Tom, either of which would undoubtedly have won over the audience's heart".
The legendary Sir John Junor, who followed me as editor, wisely developed my emphasis on animal stories still further. "Whatever may be said about Mr Adolf Hitler," he began one of his most memorable editorials, "let it never be said that he did not have a terrific fondness for dogs, taking great pride in a wet nose, a breezy disposition and a healthy sheen to the coat."
Where Great Britain was concerned, he made it his rule-of-thumb to judge our senior statesmen by the pets they owned - or failed to own, in-the shaming case of Edward Heath. "Mr Heath," an editorial once thundered, "may well wish to take us further into Europe. All well and good. But why should we, the British people, take advice from a man who, where household pets are concerned, cannot boast even so much as a budgerigar to his name?" As a senior adviser to the management of Independent newspapers (We are. Are you? I jest!) it was I myself who insisted that our masthead should be adorned by a "logo" (dread word!) of one of our feathered friends. Others wanted an aerial, a ship, a cathedral or a knight in shining armour, but I knew that a cuddly eagle could be guaranteed to draw in millions of devoted readers. And so it proved, up to a point.
But what of our friends the Tamworth Two? Personally, I am badgering our young (female!!) editor to sign 'em up for a hard-hitting column, giving us the full benefit of their views on current affairs, EMU, Mrs Gaynor Regan, what's going on in the world of crackling, etcetera. Will I win my case? Watch this space. Oink! Oink!