Emma is hardly a dignified Lord Carrington

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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WHEN the invitation to the film premiere of Carrington popped through the Arnold letterbox I was, I readily admit, thrilled to bits.

I am pleased to count Lord Carrington amongst my most devoted friends and admirers, and I have long felt that a film (never that dread word "movie", if you please!) concentrating on all Peter's most notable achievements from those early, devil-may-care days as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through his rumbustious period at the Foreign Office right through to his swashbuckling time as Chairman of Christie's, would have all the ingredients - tact, discernment, exquisite manners - of a huge success at the ''box office''.

In retrospect, I suppose I was a little surprised on hearing that the part of Carrington was to be played by one "Emma Thompson", an actor quite new to me. I had never in all my life heard the Christian name "Emma" employed by a man, but then until the shattering appearance of Mrs Simpson upon the scene all those years ago I had fondly imagined the name "Wallace" in all its myriad variations to be exclusively in the male preserve.

Strawberry Mivvi in hand, a box of Man-sized Kleenex Tissues at the ready for the scene in which Peter hands in his resignation to Margaret Thatcher, I sat in thrilled expectation at the Odeon, Leicester Square, as the music went up and the lights dimmed. After a few minutes of pleasant scenery and well-sprung vintage motor-cars, I regret to say my first sight of Carrington found him walking hand in hand o'er the heather with a heavily bearded gentleman by the name of Strachey.

This, it occurred to me with a start, is an episode across which Peter has always kept the curtains drawn. But then which of us has led a life entirely without blemish? I daresay a film of my own life could well be tempted to devote one or two early minutes, or horrific "flashbacks" to the canal trip I enjoyed with Sir Harold Acton back in my "silly" period in the early Fifties. It was only when Carrington began to move his lips closer and closer to Strachey's that I felt that something must surely be wrong. At first I looked for an easy explanation - might the two be sharing a throat lozenge? - but soon I realised that their embrace had endured too long for acceptable excuses.

Was Peter - happily married and devoted father of three children, leading member of both Pratt's and White's, KG, CH, GCMG, MC, PC, JP and sometime MP - aware that such an embarrassing episode from his distant past had been dredged up by the film-makers, no doubt in the hope of making the proverbial "quick buck"? I craned my neck around to see whether or not he was in the audience. Alas, through the murky darkness of that cinema I could make out only the shapes of Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd squabbling over the Milk Tray, with Miss (Ms!) Germaine Greer just along from them, putting up a doughty struggle against her next-door neighbour for full possession of the adjoining arm-rest.

Oh well, I thought, the film-makers will soon feel obliged to concentrate more fully on Carrington's many major contributions to our society, not least his period as Chairman of the Conservative party 1972-74. But no! Three-quarters of an hour on, my Mivvi now dripping into my lap, the on- screen Carrington was professing undying love for the lisping beardie in the ill-cut tweed suit. I sat aghast, horrified that the youthful peccadilloes of one of our most gracious statesman should be exposed in this vulgar manner.

We are walking on very thin ice here. If such a travesty is to be permitted, wheremay I ask will it stop? There are members of the present Cabinet, many of them close personal friends, for whom the scrutiny of the major motion picture might well spell disaster. In years to come, must we expect to discover our grandchildren huddled around a late-night X-rated video of Gummer, in which our resourceful environment minister, played by Mr Julian Clary, is depicted racing along the sand in his birthday suit? One shudders to think.

The film had been going an hour when Carrington removed his shirt. I made my excuses and left. Peter has always been notably slender, and any suggestion of what one might call a buxom quality to him is wholly false. I urge you not to see this film lest the floodgates be opened, and we all perish.

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