Lost trousers, stuffed shirts: William Donaldson's Week

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The Independent Online
WHEN, in the Seventies, I turned rented accommodation at the smart end of the Fulham Road into a partouze house, a guest went off one night in trousers belonging to Harvey the Restaurateur - thus doing less well than the Countess of Darboigne, who managed, without our noticing, to leave with the landlord's curtains, carpets and dining-

room table. Nor was this so surprising, bearing in mind that once, without being spotted, she'd wheeled a grand piano out of Harrods.

Harvey the Restaurateur has never got over the loss of his trousers, always inquiring after them when I meet him in the street.

'Ah, there you are,' he said, when I bumped into him on Tuesday outside the Alliance & Leicester in the Fulham Road. 'Any news on my trousers?'

''Never mind your trousers,' I said. 'I'm worrying about class at the moment.'

I had been, indeed, ever since Friday, when David Liddiment, the BBC's startlingly gifted head of entertainment, had summoned me and Geoff Atkinson to a meeting at Television Centre. He was dissatisfied with the script of El Independo - not that this was my fault, since I'd found it more profitable to leave the writing to Atkinson while I attended meetings, thereafter rendering an invoice.

'I had imagined,' Mr Liddiment had said, 'the farcical confusions which arise when the genetically privileged mix with their opposites. A kind of Brideshead meets Birt. You've read Auberon Waugh in this week's Spectator, I expect?'

Our hearts had sunk. Mr Waugh, at his mischievous best, had argued, with savage irony, and after attending a friend's wedding in an English garden, that this was England at its glorious best, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Neils and Littlejohns, for Essex garagistes and Midlands software salesmen, for every aspiring bicyclist who comes south from Newcastle or the Gorbal to seek his fortune.

No one, of course - least of all Mr Waugh - gives a fig any more for a crew of plum-faced ninnies on an English lawn, which is why, in El Independo, the comedy arose from the fact that social acceptability is no longer based on class. To this end, we had created, as protagonists, on the one hand a chap in trade who wears a bracelet and reads the Sunday Times, and, on the other, two sisters - one of whom seems respectable but is in fact off the rails, working in a wine bar and sleeping with British Airways personnel, while the other, who can be booked from an agency by the hour, has, through mixing with types like myself, the Princess of Wales, Frankie Fraser and Craig Brown, acquired a veneer of social know-how; indeed, has been rocketed upwards into drawing-rooms in which the wine bar sister would never have been welcome.

Which sister would the tradesman, in his quest for respectability, choose? And would the one who could be booked from an agency by the hour choose the tradesman - swapping sophisticated rendezvous with me and Abbey From The Eighties for a life of reciprocal coffee mornings in the provinces with other fat and frigid wives?

Very funny, you must be thinking, but Mr Liddiment had not agreed. 'Any privileged person in Britain,' he had said, still quoting from the Spectator, and quite missing the direction of Mr Waugh's irony, 'who is not aware of all the hatred and resentment he attracts is living in a fool's paradise.'

Well, that theory had been conclusively refuted at a dinner party I'd recently attended, given by Justin Judd (Mr Mouse) and his love, Emma (Mrs Bear). I'd last been received by Mr Mouse and Mrs Bear at their wedding in Norfolk in 1990 and on that occasion, you may remember, my party - which, admittedly, included Val Hennessy - had been redirected to the tradesmen's entrance.

Things had been very different at their dinner party; indeed, with the exception of Mr Mouse and Mrs Bear themselves, everyone there had been commoner than me - something I had pointed out to the girl sitting next to me, who had looked 19 but had turned out to be a film producer.

'You're obviously common,' I'd said, 'quite possibly from the North. I'm the sort of person you've cycled south to meet and yet you don't seem to resent me in the least.'

'That's right,' she'd said.

'It's very complicated, class,' I said. 'You'd be accepted at one of Michael 'Chalky' White's dinner- parties, as indeed would my friend Abbey From The Eighties. Yet Maria from the Alliance & Leicester, who, in view of her occupation would look down on Abbey From The Eighties, would be most uncomfortable at 'Chalky' White's'

I was still brooding along these lines when I bumped into Harvey the Restaurateur outside the Alliance & Leicester.

'About my trousers,' he said.

'Never mind your trousers,' I said. 'I'm thinking about class.'

'Simple,' he said, 'you're either a shyster or you're not.'

He was still going on about his trousers. 'It's got nothing to do with morality,' I said, 'how Abbey From The Eighties would be comfortable at 'Chalky' White's but Maria from the Alliance & Leicester wouldn't be.'

Whereupon, Maria came out of the Alliance & Leicester. 'I might not stack up at 'Chalky' White's,' she said, 'but you're seriously overdrawn.'

What do you make of that?

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