My nights at the opera and Jeremy's cruel joke

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I MAKE no bones about it. I am no fan of the television. Indeed, regular readers of this column will know that I oft refer to it in jocular terms as "that dread gogglebox". And on many an occasion I have found cause to reflect on how much more civilised our world would be had not Mr John Logie Baird decided evenings would be incomplete without the wretched flickering of the magic lantern in the corner of his drawing- room!

Personally, I watch virtually no television, restricting my viewing solely to documentaries, feature films, discussion programmes, light comedy shows, the news, quiz shows, magazine programmes, drama series, cartoons, the weather, history and arts features, the odd soap opera (Emmerdale has vastly improved of late) and, of course, those simply marvellous wildlife series at which the BBC excels. But apart from these, I watch nothing whatsoever, prefer- ring to pick up a first-rate book (Jane Austen for preference!) and have a jolly good read for a minute or two after Newsnight has ended.

All of which brings me to this week's subject, namely my appearance on a BBC documentary series, The House. I trust you haven't seen it, and that if you have, you will do your level best to forget it. It purports to be a "fly-on-the-wall" series about the Royal Opera House, but is in fact a rampant tissue of lies. Fuming? Livid? Too right I am!

Deep breath, Wallace, deep breath. And blow. All better, all better, they can't hurt you now, that's a good boy. I am, though I say it myself, one of the most warmly regarded members of the board of directors of Covent Garden. First introduced to the board in 1989 on the say-so of my old friends and quaffing partners Lord St John of Fawsley, Lord Goodman and HRH Princess Margaret, I soon became part of the furniture. The respect I engendered is reflected in the responsibilities that have come my way. In 1990, I was given responsibility for overseeing the financing of Light Refreshments, excluding fizzy drinks, squashes and hot beverages. In 1991, I was promoted to the artistic side of things, and placed in charge of the smooth-running of the performers' latrines, keeping a close eye on Pamela, Lady Harlech, with her mop.

From there to the giddy heights of Chewy Confectionery. Following the unfortunate discovery of bubble-gum attached to the Queen Mother's lace ball-gown on the opening night of Rigoletto, I was transferred to the prestigious post of Director of Publicity (Dorking and District). So, as you may imagine, I was fully expecting to see myself celebrated in the BBC's documentary series; I switched on the gogglebox with an air of keen anticipation.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes went by without so much as a glimpse of yours truly. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty minutes: nothing. I began to suspect that between them, Chairman Isaacs and the BBC had conspired to underplay my influence, no doubt fearing an Arnold boardroom coup. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five minutes went by. And then it came. The cameras homed in on a meeting of the Board of Directors, Isaacs sitting smugly at the helm, busily showing his best profile.

Where the giddy heck was Arnold? You may well ask. I had no recollection of this meeting and I could see that my seat was eerily vacant.

"Ladies and gentlemen," began Isaacs, "I have convened this extraordinary meeting of the board to discuss a problem that has grown worse as each year has passed.

"And it will come as no surprise to you," he continued, as the wretched cameraman swung his box-brownie over the assembled board, all exhibiting concerned expressions, "when I tell you that the name of the problem is ... Wallace Arnold! Keith?"

A man answering to that name then ran through what he described as their "Arnold Eradication Strategy". "We'll downput his upturns," he explained. "And then we'll outtray his input. All agreed? Good. But we'll maintain his incognisance until early next year, okeydokey?" There followed a full show of hands, quite obviously recorded using paid "extras" and spliced in afterwards.

A wicked distortion of events, of course - and yet again television must take the blame. The Royal Opera House is the most agreeable of institutions, the centre of the civilised world. My fellow directors would never dispose of one of their most respected colleagues simply to provide televisual amusement for the Great Unwashed, would they? Well - would they?