My secret love for the golden girl of the BBC

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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AS ONE of the longest-serving members of the Board of Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation (I think my old quaffing partner Woodrow Wyatt beats me by a head!) I am ashamed to admit that I have a very great deal of time for that veritable jewel in our proverbial crown, Miss (Msss!) Esther Rantzen.

Ah, memories, memories! Let me start at the beginning - or, if you would rather, at the end! This morning, as I was working hard on Future Projects in my BBC office suite, a young lady from a department colloquially known as "Talent" arrived with her clipboard and pince-nez, requesting 10 minutes of my time. Leaning over to Dukey Hussey, I asked him to play my hand for me, and assured him that if by any chance the hand was lost I would remove the appropriate article of clothing on my return.

I then took my leave of my fellow governors and zipped along the corridor to a more relaxed and less ribald environment. "I am yours for the full 10 minutes," I said, charmingly, to the young lady with the clipboard. "Fire Away!"

"Orders from Mr Birt, sir," she began. "We're conducting a survey on suitable treatment - hospitality and so forth - of our major stars."

"Birt? Birt? Remind me," I said.

"Director General, sir."

"Ah!" I replied. "Too keen by half, clothes too big for his body, silly- arse grin. I'm with you."

"He wants feedback."

"Dread word!"

"Sorry?"

"Continue."

"He wants feedback as to how we should make our major stars feel wanted. Cocktail parties, seats at Wimbledon, that sort of thing. For instance - Esther Rantzen."

That name! At the very mention of it, my heart leapt back 20 or more years, back to those far-off days when I inhabited that legendary armchair in the corner of the That's Life! set, later to bear the chucklesome posterior of that most estimable of mirth-makers, Uncle Cyril Fletcher.

"Wallace - what have you got for us this week?" Esther would chime, after a particularly harrowing item about, say, a singing hamster crushed to death by a faulty washing machine. All eyes would look to me to provide the "light relief".

"Well, Esther," I would say. "I hear tell of a gardener who hails from Ullapool who rejoices in the name of Mr BARROW!!!" And then, just in case some of the audience had not understood the pun, I would add: "Let us hope he's got `WHEELY' green fingers!!!"

Needless to say, the audience fell about. They simply could not get enough of my "Names That Make You Chuckle". But before their merriment had come to its end, I would chip in with a hand-picked example of one of my immortal "Arnold's Bloopers". For instance: "Many thanks to Mr Robertson from Tring, who sent me this picture caption from the Hertfordshire Gazette; `Mothers and Children seen here competing in the Egg and Poo race'!!! - well, Esther, let's hope it didn't drive them all `POTTY'!!!" Result - collapse of stout audience!

Golden days indeed. Many people already know that, around this time, I was briefly engaged to Miss Rantzen. This is neither the time nor the place to go into any detail about this most intimate of experiences. Let it suffice to say that her eye soon fell upon Mr Desmond Wilcox, a liaison that was to earn its place in the very annals of romance, and that the pair of them have two lovely children, Desmond, 14, and Esther, 11, to whom I am an honorary Godfather.

Deep breath, Wallace, deep breath. If this particular copy of the Independent on Sunday, dear reader, should happen to be marked with a tear stain, you must find it in your heart to forgive an old man a little trip down Memory Lane. Let me add that I remain an avid admirer of Esther.

But I digress. Let us return to the lady with the clipboard. "How, for instance," she asked me, "would you make Esther Rantzen aware of the affection in which she is held by the BBC?"

"Might a `chip buttie' do the trick?" I replied.

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