Comrades (!), some pointers to a successful career

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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Disappointed? Just a mite. I refer, of course, to my controversial omission from the recent Penguin Book of Columnists edited by my young confrere Mr Christopher Silvester. I am widely seen as the doyen of the inky craft, and it ill behoves Mr Silvester, a young man still struggling to make his way in letters, to tweak the nose so publicly of one who might otherwise have been of no little use to him.

But ours is not to reason why, as the good bard once put it. I suppose that, looking through my long and illustrious oeuvre, so often anthologised by better men than he, the young Silvester simply threw in the towel. What to do in the face of such excellence? Who knows, perhaps he is even now applying to Penguin Books with the first-class idea of compiling a separate anthology made up entirely of four - damn near five - decades of delightful Arnoldiana.

Until that massive tome wends its way on to the shelves of Heywood Hill, might I offer one or two tips to the aspiring columnist?

1) There Is Much Honest Amusement To Be Found In The Minutiae Of Everyday Life.

Highly successful Arnold columns mining this rich seam include:- "Whatever happens to the other halves of all those odd socks?!" (Punch, October 1958); "Putting up a deckchair: a chore that takes this honest scrivener a good three hours!!" (Illustrated London News, April 1962); "Pottering in the tool shed: why the UNfairer sex can't see the point of it!!!" (High Life magazine, June 1982).

2) Never Forget To Offer Praise Where Praise Is Due.

My highly readable weekly series, "Wallace Arnold In Praise of..." for the Spectator throughout the 1960s included such well-thumbed gems as "In Praise of ... the Hat", "In Praise of ... Hot Buttered Toast", "In Praise of ... the Old-fashioned Art of Conversation", "In Praise of ... Reading" and "In Praise of ... Log Fires". Readers would write in with suggestions which I would then eagerly espouse on their behalf. One or two of my more severe critics attempted to argue that the series had lost a bit of steam and grown repetitive after the first eight years, but I regard several pieces penned in that period - notably "In Praise of ... Log Fires Especially When They're Warm", "In Praise of ... Re-reading" and "In Praise of Two Hats" - as among my best.

3) There is No Substitute For The Well-honed Personal Anecdote.

The reader loves to be reminded that he is, as it were, the outsider looking in - and that you, the columnist, are the one decent insider who has had the good grace to wave out at him and mouth a few words in his direction through the window. Thus, many of my most memorable columns have both kicked off and signed off with the telling reminiscence, eg: "From all my meetings with Bob Boothby, I think that I shall never forget his habit of immediately echoing 'How do you do?' or words to that effect whenever a stranger held out his hand and said 'How do you do?'", or "I think that I shall never forget what Beaverbrook told me that Noel Coward had said to the Queen Mother about Anthony Eden's view of the inimitable Supermac. Alas shortage of space forbids me from repeating it here." You see what I mean? Tantalise the reader - but never let him see the entire picture.

4) Never Desist From Sticking Your Neck Out.

The forthright prediction is the stock-in-trade of the distinguished columnist. My old friend and quaffing partner Willy Rees-Mogg is a past master in this department. "Here is one ship that will surely last for ever!" he wrote in one of his earliest articles, just prior to the maiden voyage of the Titanic, and he was the very first columnist to predict that Richard Nixon would sail through the Watergate crisis unscathed. My own predictions have also proved almost eerily clairvoyant, viz my columns "Queen to Abdicate" (Spectators November 1967, January 1975, September 1983, March 1992, December 1997, etc, etc). An efficient standby, much used by my colleagues in the financial sector, is the prophecy of doom. I pen at least one article a year for the money pages entitled "MAJOR STOCKMARKET CRASH AROUND THE CORNER", and have done for quarter of a century; I have been absolutely spot-on more than once.

5) Be Not Afeared Of The Famous.

The wise columnist is fearless in his treatment of celebrities. Personally, I favour the Open Letter: "Dear Pablo - Did Mrs P take a tumble before posing for your last portrait?!! ... Yours Ever, Wallace" or "Dear Tony, As our newest Prime Minister, you will surely be glad of a word of advice ... Yours truly, Wallace". Finally a word of advice to the Wallace Arnold of the future: carve a name for yourself with a winning "catchphrase" (dread word!).

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