No lords welcome in the House of Worthies

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

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."