Interviewing vampires was my speciality : The agreeable World of Wallac e Arnold

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The Independent Online
I AM NOT what one might call an inveterate fan of the cinema, though like everyone else I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Miss Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I threw my now legendary Mary Poppins party, in which the great and the good came dressed as their favourite characters.

Of course, I should have foreseen that the whole world and his wife - Norman St John Stevas, Perry Worsthorne, Quentin Hogg, Enoch - would grab the opportunity to come as Julie Andrews, making placements quite impossible, though my dear old friend and quacking partner Diana Mosley caused quite a stir when she came as Field Marshall Goering. "But my dear Diana," I protested, "surely Goering never made an appearance in Mary Poppins?"

"If he didn't, he certainly should have done," she drawled, with the divine hauteur that comes only with breeding. "The Field Marshall would have made short shrift of those awful chimney sweeps - that's for sure."

Since those far-off days, I have visited the local playhouse seldom, once to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (which I for one found extremely far-fetched) and once to see Emmanuel, thinking it would fill me in on the history of the great college. I came away bitterly disappointed, and none the wiser.

So why should I have turned my attention this week to the world of the "movie"? I have heard tell that a new film rejoices in the title, Interview with the Vampire. My fascination springs not from the film itself (Julie Andrews appears nowhere on the credits) but from its subject. I have long believed that vampires receive short shrift from our society; it is high time we made fuller use of their undoubted abilities.

It was in the early Seventies as Literary Editor of the Spectator that I first realised how many vampires "ruled the roost", as it were, in literary London. This first came to my notice after a highly agreeable luncheon (Blood Pudding, Carcass of Lamb, Redcurrant Fool, all washed down with the finest claret) in the company of the then editor, Mr Nigel Lawson, good old Kingsley Amis, Lord Wyatt of Weevil and HRH Princess Margaret.

It so happened that, halfway through luncheon, following an elaborate mid-anecdotal gesticulation, I developed something of a nose bleed. "My goodness," purred Mr (as he then was) Lawson, licking his lips discreetly. "That looks rather awful. Perhaps youshould let it flow into this handy container."

With that, he brought out a silver flask from his back pocket, placing it directly beneath my nasal orifices. I would have thought no more of it, as the conversation had turned to the introduction of corporal punishment for those found not guilty, a subject particularly close to my heart, as I have long supported the old English adage, "No smoke without a fire".

But I then noticed that Nigel was passing the hip-flask containing my blood around the table, and one or two of my fellow diners - no names, no pack-drill - were placing paper straws in it, with the look of concentration and delight etched upon each of their faces.

From the Literary Editor of the Spectator, I soon rose to the giddy heights of Motoring Editor of Punch, a highly prestigious post I was to hold for nigh-on 12 years. This brought me into contact with senior members of the Royal Family, among them HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and countless other distinguished men - and women! - all of whom would relish an invitation to our famous "Punch Lunch". My very first Punch Lunch was, I remember, quite an eye-opener. "After lu nch, we like to swap bandage with one another," said my editor, the affable William Davies.

"But surely you mean badinage," I corrected him.

"No - bandage," he replied. And so I was introduced to a time-honoured ritual of the Punch Lunch, in which the contributors and VIPs alike would pass a variety of used plasters, wipes, smears and bandages around the table, so that others might enjoy them.

This was always a highly civilised event, and, I might add, far removed from the moronic nonsense got up by today's Hollywood moguls.

Indeed, in his introduction to The Punch Book of Blood Sucking (1985), no less a personage than His Grace the Duke of Kent commends the magazine for its "broad-minded approach to the whole question of after-dinner drinks". How very sad, then, that it is yet another old British tradition that Mr Tom Cruise (dread name!) has seen fit to cheapen with his high jinks.