My new pal, Al, appreciates English humour

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
Glad tidings! I refer, of course, to the re-birth (dread term!) of Punch magazine under the exuberant, nay, exotic captaincy of the redoubtable Mr Al Fayed.

Punch and I go back yonks, and I am delighted to say that the present editor has seen fit to reappoint me to the prestigious post of Motoring Correspondent - a post I previously held, on and off, for more than 30 years. Few other humorous writers can be relied upon to turn out an amusing article, week in, week out, on the subject of the Great British Motorcar. My qualifications are legion. Not only have I edited The Punch Book of Motoring (1969) with an introduction by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh ("I always maintain that laughter is the best tonic - particularly in a traffic jam!") and contributions from such perennial jesters as Desmond Wilcox ("If It's Wednesday, It Must be the Birmingham Motor Show!"), Maureen Lipman ("Unmentionable Goings-On in a Morris Minor!"), Hunter Davies ("But Dad - We're Clean Out of Petrol!") and Kenneth Kendall ("Some Humorous Advice to a First-Time Motorist!") but I have also compiled Peep! Peep! Bang!: The Wallace Arnold Book of Great Motoring Disasters (1979) as well as being a well-loved after-dinner speaker at a great many motor industry functions.

So three hearty cheers for Mr Al Fayed for dipping into his voluminous pockets for the general merriment of the Great British Public. I was delighted to have rubbed shoulders with the great man at the opening party of Punch at Harrods on Wednesday last. Needless to say, our friendship almost got off on the wrong footing. As I sauntered into the party, only too well aware that the words "If it isn't Wallace Arnold!" were on the tip of everyone's lips, I found my path blocked by a diminutive little fellow with over-prominent cuff-links, a sweaty forehead and an unnecessary gold tie-clip. Into his outstretched hand I placed my hat and overcoat before steaming into the main body of the room to search for the people who mattered. I was halfway through my famous anecdote concerning a steamroller, a Rover 2500 and an errant herd of cattle when I was informed by a nervous flunky that Mr Fayed was wandering around with an aggrieved expression, bearing a modest selection of my wardrobe.

Calling off my anecdote mid-flow, I hastened to the poor fellow. I was at pains to make amends for my mistake. "Do forgive me, Al! It's my typically English sense of humour!" I explained, swiftly divesting his forearm of my hat and coat. "May I introduce myself - Wallace Arnold, Motoring Correspondent Extraordinaire, at your service!"

I could tell at a glance that Al was greatly amused: it was the way his mouth twitched, his fingers tugged at his cuffs and his eyes looked beadily from one side to another and then back again, almost as if in search of an exit! With the prospect of perhaps serving him on an unspecified salary in a Motoring Advisory capacity, I was mustard-keen to cement our new- found friendship.

Time, I thought, to appraise him of our Typically English Sense of Humour, with particular reference to the long and noble history of Punch magazine. "There are three things, Al, that are completely guaranteed to make an Englishman chuckle, and for which Punch is world-renowned for poking gentle fun at," I explained in words of one syllable, "and they are a) Our Friends From Abroad; b) The Nouveau Riche and c) Funny Little Shopkeepers on the Make!"

I paused to allow the great man time for a hearty chuckle at his own expense. But he is obviously well-practised at keeping a straight face. At this point, I felt the time had come to "draw him out" a little.

"That's enough of me, Al - let's talk about you!' I guffawed, holding out my receptacle for a top-up of his halfway-passable Harrods House Champagne. "I hear you simply cannot get enough of our rich humorous tradition! Nothing makes your ribs tickle more than a roomful of doughty Englishmen laughing at your own expense - am I right!?"

Al could only disguise his mirth by turning on his heels and marching swiftly away. Happily, at this point I caught sight of my old friend and quaffing partner, Mr Peter Mackay, the new editor of Punch. "Mr Al Fayed simply adores our Typically English Sense of Humour," I reassured him. "Verily, 'tis a marriage made in heaven!"

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