Gonks and ribbed condoms - I tried to stop them

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
It Is not everything, I fear, that has changed for the better. This was the sentence with which I used to begin all my "think-piece" articles for Beaverbrook's old Sunday Express back in the 1960s (dread decade!). The mini-skirt, the Hula-Hoop, colour television, The Beatles, the electric toaster, under-floor heating, heart transplants, Sugar Puffs, the electric toothbrush, Gonks, dental hygiene, Harold Wilson, beanbags, seat belts, the ribbed condom, exercise bicycles, Simon Dee, the first man on the moon and Alphabetti Spaghetti: these were just a few of the innovations I roundly condemned in my highly influential column, "Our Man Arnold: The Sense of Common Voice".

Television "Personalities", do-gooders and world leaders all lived in fear of being condemned by me in the Express each week. Indeed, I have it on good authority that when Mr Neil Armstrong, the ill-advised astronaut, heard in the cockpit of his Apollo rocket as it hurtled through space that Arnold was preparing to condemn his little stunt, the wretched fellow had to be persuaded by the bully boys at mission control not to put his right arm firmly down on the steering wheel, check his mirror and whizz all the way back to earth again.

It is not everything, I fear, that has changed for the better. Imagine my horror when I read in the newspapers this week of an incident involving my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk. In many respects, the "Kilroy" television show follows in a direct line from my own ground- breaking wireless programme of the 1950s, "Arnold At Your Service". In those heady days, we would invite all sorts of odds and ends - every ragtag and bobtail you could imagine, many of them from the very depths of the underclass - into the studio in order to confess, live on air, to a variety of the most heinous habits.

I remember one programme in particular. My producer had answered the telephone the previous week to a fellow who confessed quite unashamedly to splitting an infinitive in a public place. You can imagine the shock waves that rushed around the building. There followed heated discussion at the highest levels of the BBC as to whether or not we should allow the wretched man on to our airwaves. Lord Reith himself might have become involved were it not for the fact that he had publicly doubted whether British adults would ever have got up to such an unspeakable activity.

I shudder at the memory of the arrival of the self-confessed infinitive- splitter into the studio. Frankly, I did not wish to be in his company a moment longer than was strictly necessary. In fact, I deliberately waited until the studio light flashed "On Air" before walking in and asking him my first question. "Mr X," I began, "you have freely admitted to splitting an infinitive in a public place on no less than 18 separate occasions. Are you ashamed of yourself? Well, are you? Speak up, man, speak up!"

I will never forget the look in his eye. I sensed instinctively that he was out to cause trouble - and I was not mistaken. "I am in a position to definitely say that I am inclined to ruthlessly split infinitives whenever I happen to reasonably get the chance," he replied.

Needless to say, the producer went berserk, Lord Reith was admitted to hospital suffering from nervous exhaustion and the BBC telephone switchboards were jammed. Fortunately, several top-flight officers from Scotland Yard had happened to have been listening into the show on their two-way radio transmitters: when Mr X departed from the studio, they were waiting for him, handcuffs at the ready.

And so to Robert Kilroy-Silk, whom I have known, on-and-off, for the past 28 years, ever since he was a stylist and manicurist at my local salon, with special responsibility for varnishing and tinting. I am an inveterate watcher of his television programmes. I have even volunteered to be on one myself, to confess tearfully to the youthful indiscretion of wearing a top hat indoors. Alas, he refused me, preferring to give airtime to a gathering of cross-dressing serial killers who ill-treated their pets, but that is another story.

This week, alas, Kilroy came a cropper. He invited a self-confessed paedophile on to his programme, the viewers rang up in great distress, and, once again, the boys in blue arrived post-haste. A rum business indeed. Yet it is hard to know what all the fuss was about. A paedophile who said "toilet" and not "lavatory", perhaps, or a paedophile who sported a "baseball cap". But surely not a paedophile per se? In my day, the vast majority of the holders of the great offices of state were paedophiles, and we never gave them a second glance. It is not everything, I fear, that has changed for the better.