My challenge to the scurrilous gossip industry

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I NOTE with interest that Mr Nigel Dempster (dread scrivener!) has this week launched his very own magazine. It comes out under the title Dempster's and promises tittle-tattle on The Duchess of York and so forth.

Not one for me, I'm afraid, for reasons I will set out forcefully below. But before we tackle that subject, a word in your ear. If ever an enterprising publisher were to offer me my own magazine - Mr Fayed, take note! - he would find Arnold's a very different kettle of fish. It would hark back to happier days, days free from the pernicious wagging of tongues. The front cover would carry a vivid colour photograph of our Royal Family in happier times, all in healthy kilts and open-necked Aertex shirts, relaxing against a dry-stone wall at Balmoral, Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward grinning toothily after a refreshing barbecue, little guessing the perils that lie in wait for them at the hands of their future womenfolk.

Inside, there would be timeless pieces in celebration of The Log Fire, The Marvellous English Sense of Humour, The Great British Banger, A Well- Mown Lawn and The Enduring Appeal of Dame Anna Neagle. But there would also be the serious political "overview", written by some learned hand or other. "Whither the EEC?", "A Future for the Channel Tunnel?", "Three Cheers for Their Noble Lordships!" and "Should Parliament be Televised?" would all, I think, prove suitably lively subjects for this unashamedly topical spot.

The lighter side of life would be catered for with reprints of The Gambols cartoon strip, and every second issue we would run a page called "The Trouble with...", dealing with the oft-hilarious hazards and pitfalls to be encountered in such devilish modern contraptions as "Video Recorders" and Motor Vehicles. Taking a leaf from the redoubtable Reader's Digest, we would add to the general hilarity a regular "The Things They Say!" feature, with book tokens up to a value of pounds 1.50 given to readers for every published contribution of mirth from the lips of children (never - please - "kids"!!)

Other regular columns would include "They Get On My Goat", in which a leading writer would explain why he can't stomach members of this or that foreign race, and "It Still Makes Me Smile", where readers would wax lyrical about a Great British Tradition that has fallen into neglect, such as Tinned Spaghetti, Bear-Baiting, TB, Bread-and-Dripping, Corporal and Capital Punishment, Smog and Skiffle.

Excellent! But now I must return - in my deliciously roundabout way!! - to the primary purpose behind this week's missive, which is to berate the whole "gossip" industry. Personally, I never indulge in gossip myself, and I eschew the practice in others - unlike many members of the Royal Family (The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, the Princess of Wales, etc) for whom, I have it on good authority, barely an hour goes by without a ribald chin-wag. And talking of the Royal Family, have you heard of the link between Diana and Sir Jimmy Goldsmith? You haven't? Well, apparently 30-odd years ago, Goldsmith ...

But I digress. Gossip is the great malaise of our age, the besetting sin of a once-great nation. This is why, like my old friend Lord Rees- Mogg, I confine my own writing to the purely political, concentrating on the great movements and events that shape our destinies, avoiding the personal and the purely anecdotal. Witness my commentary on last year's Conservative Party Leadership Election ("Spineless Major Livid With Redwood Camp" the Times, 11.5.95) or my more recent intellectual overview of the electoral prospects of New Labour ("Ambitious Cherie Rules Roost in Chateau Blair", Daily Mail, 15.2.96).

Similarly, as a trained constitutional expert - my books include A Man for All Seasons: The Authorised Biography of Major Ronald Ferguson - I am often asked onto such highbrow programmes as Newsnight or the Home Service's Today to discuss the role of the Monarchy in the 1990s. Only this week, I offered a valuable constitutional perspective on the Royal Divorce to the dread Paxman. "Constitutionally speaking," I explained, "Diana's torrid love affair with Captain Hewitt - conducted in barns, cottages, lofts and meadows the length and breadth of North Devon, or so one hears - is of minor significance." Personally, I was delighted to inject this tone of high seriousness into the proceedings. If only Mr Dempster would follow suit, the world would be a more seemly place.