No lords welcome in the House of Worthies

The thorny problem of hereditary privilege could be solved if they just renamed the Upper House

Share
Related Topics

It is of very little consequence or, indeed, interest to me whether they do or do not strip Jeffrey Archer of his title, though as someone who abhors waste I'm appalled at the prospect of all that headed writing paper having to be binned. It does strike me as peevish rather than politic to do it now after Lord Lag of Porridge has served his sentence for perjury or, as people nodding piously prefer to put it, "paid his debt to society".

The getting and keeping of titles has never loomed large in my life, unlike my roommate at college, whose only ambition was to marry into the aristocracy. Her name was Mirabelle and she was very rich, her fortune deriving from her father's phenomenally successful bathroom fittings business. She was called after his best-selling Mirabelle luxury suite comprising hand basin with vanity unit, bidet, bath and low-level toilet.

Mirabelle didn't talk; she drawled. She was the only person I've ever met who could deliver the words "absolutely fantastic actually" as a monosyllable. Anyway, she studied the field and did in fact marry the son of a lord. Alas, to her chagrin he turned out to be the second son of a second son and therefore barred even from using that least impressive of handles, The Hon.

Why am I being so bitchy about my former roommate? Two reasons. First because, after my polite Burmese mother visited our flat, Mirabelle said: "Honestly, Susan, I simply can't believe your mother's never heard of William Morris." And also because she asked me to move out so that her new friend Lady Flora Fitzwhatsit could have my room.

It is by coincidence that the Prime Minister's former roommate, Lord Falconer, is bent on removing Lord Archer from the richly carpeted corridors of the Upper House and returning him to the lino of the ranks. Far be it from me, a commoner, to offer advice to a life peer and, what's more, one of Tony's best cronies, but wouldn't the whole thorny problem of hereditary privilege be solved if they scrubbed the word "Lord" and all its concomitant nuances of snobbery and call the House of Lords something else? That way the title would apply only to the old discredited elitist clan.

So what should we call it? Simply the Upper House? No, too boring. The Senate, then? No, we'd be accused of apeing the Americans. Something sonorous that signifies achievement, merit, value. It should be called the House of Worthies and its members would in be known as Worthymen. How comfortably, how deferentially it slips from the tongue, positively Trollopian. "Good morning Worthyman Falconer. May I take your coat?"

I know what you're going to say. Worthyman, like chairman, isn't politically correct and worthywoman is a bit of a mouthful. I once worked for a newspaper opposite the Mermaid Theatre. Most lunchtimes we'd adjourn to the Mermaid Bar until the new women's lib correspondent ordered us, in the interests of sexual equality, to call it the Merperson.

I'm not sold on Worthyperson as a cure-all. Female members of my House of Worthies should, like Baronesses, have their own titles. Why not a revival of the once ubiquitous courtesy title for all decent respectable law-abiding women: Goodie, short for Good Wife. Goodie Thatcher, Goodie Kennedy, Goodie Jay - I can hear the ayes rolling in.

The beauty of this new, improved nomenclature is its built-in virtue. The House of Worthies with its 400 chosen Worthymen and Goodies could not by its nature shelter rogues and rascals of the Bath, Blandford, Lucan and Hellfire Club type that have over the years given the aristocracy such a dodgy reputation.

As for that old chestnut about a title guaranteeing you a table at a fashionable restaurant, "pshaw", as Lord Peter Wimsey might say. Fashions in restaurants have changed. Footballers are fashionable and restaurants are empty. With or without a title, I doubt Jeffrey Archer has ever had problems getting into a restaurant.

I hold no candle for Prisoner FF8282 but I do regret his passing as a charity auctioneer. I am off to a charity function tonight and without Archer's breezy efficiency it's going to be a long haul. Where all this leaves that model of good wifeliness, Mary Archer, I'm not sure but I bet she'd be the first to quote Juliet. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as fragrant."

React Now

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

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron's Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering