Manners maketh a promising masterclass topic

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VULGAR, vulgar, vulgar. Just back from a welcome week-long winter break at the Paris Ritz - for which, I need hardly add, I paid my own bill (a very reasonable £12.50, including service), I note with relish that anyone who is anyone, not to menti on quite a few people who aren't even someone, and one or two who are nobody, is talking about my old friend and quaffing partner Martin Charteris's pithy if repetitive description of the Duchess of York as "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar".

One knows what he means, of course. I love the Duchess dearly, and would not hear a word against her, but when I last stayed with her at Ramada Lodge, Sunningdale, I could not help but notice that she placed her bubble-gum on her diamond tiara throughoutdinner, popping it back in her mouth at the coffee-and-After-Eights stage before finally sticking it to the underside of the dining-table "for safe-keeping" before telling us with a wink that it was time for a little shut-eye.

But eventually breeding will out, and the Duchess has always exhibited an instinctive sense of personal decorum.

For instance, she would never, ever, ever sing her all-too-vivid table-top rendition of "On the Good Ship Lollipop" at the end of a formal dinner without first asking the Queen's permission. And her discretion as regards the private life of the Royal Family is absolute, as her forthcoming autobiography, "A Right Royal Carry-On" (HarperCollins, £15.95), makes abundantly clear.

Again and again, one comes back to that most perpetually engrossing of questions, namely, who or what is truly vulgar?

Of the current Royal Family, I would maintain that Her Majesty is most certainly not in the least bit vulgar, though I have always found her enthusiasm for the dread corgies a little suspect, particularly when one takes their names - "Moppet", "Honey", "

Scratch", "Fuhrer", "Burp", "Dago", "Blow-Off" and "Condom" - into account.

Her sister, too, is immaculately well-versed in the dos and don'ts of etiquette, particularly in the vexed area of the obeisance to be paid by others to her own good self. Often, those fresh to court life are uncertain how to behave in particular circumstances, and Margaret is highly adept at putting them right.

Only last week, for instance, she was opening a new public swimming-baths just outside Reigate, and it had been arranged that over one hundred schoolchildren would be present in the Olympic-sized pool to greet her. Obviously there was no little fuss about what the assembled "kiddies" should do when it came to the Princess's opening address, but she set them entirely at their ease by simply saying, softly but firmly, "Kneel!". Unfortunatley, her speech ran some way over its allotted two minutes, but luckily less than a baker's dozen of the younger children suffered death through drowning, and, I might add, the Princess was good enough to send a representative to their funeral, and at cost price too.

Vulgarity is without doubt intimately connected with simple good manners. The other day at the annual dinner for the Chairman and Board of the Spectator magazine, I was lucky enough to be seated between Mrs Ivana Trump and that most gracious of ladies, Princess Michael of Kent, who had agreed to sing a haunting Lloyd Webber medley to accompany the port. Inevitably, the conversation turned to good manners.

"Vulgarity is the greatest of the social sins," stated Princess Michael, her toothpick playing havoc with her nose.

Ivana agreed. "The Spectator is such a convivial read because its writers always observe good grammar and perfect manners," she said, adding: "If only some of them could lay their hands on an effective anti-dandruff shampoo, I might almost allow them into my house: they might prove excellent in service."

I imagine my loyal readers in the Independent on Sunday - all anoraks and instant coffee and modish opinions - might appreciate a Wallace Arnold Manners Masterclass, along the lines of Mr James Fenton's Modern Poetry Masterclass of a year or two ago ("Make Sure It Doesn't Rhyme"!!). With this in mind, I shall be turning my little grey cells to a season of masterclasses in the months to come, of which the first five are: 1) Women and children first - except in emergencies.

2) If you must sneeze at your own luncheon, be sure to serve Minestrone.

3) At worship, avoid all hymns containing farmyard animals and/or general approval for the less-well-off.

4) At the sudden appearance of carol-singers, make it clear that you are a Lloyd's Name.

5) How much should I tip Lord St John of Fawsley?