"Good Lord, William," quoth I. "Someone's pinned a diamond to your left nostril."
I'm sorry to say a blush began to appear on the cheeks of Lord W. One is loth to embarrass a colleague, but I was worried lest someone had been "pulling his leg", as the old saying goes. It was at this point that my eyes started to wander further down his body, only to halt somewhere below his midriff.
"Is that - ahem - a skirt you are wearing, old man?" I ventured. Had he by any chance, as it were, "done a Jan Morris"? Must we now prepare to peruse the thoughts of Ms Wilhelmina Rees-Mogg?
"Certainly not," he bellowed. "It's a kilt by Jean-Paul Gaultier - the very latest from the crown prince of fashionable menswear!"
The poor fellow must have espied my unsuccessful attempt to stifle a discreet giggle, for he set upon me with ill-concealed ferocity.
"I trust you're not planning to enter the new editor's office dressed like that?" he hissed, pointing with a sneer at my accustomed garb of tweeds, bow-tie, spats, cap, brogues and trusty pipe.
"Of course I jolly well am!" I replied. "Give or take the odd change of underwear, it's been my attire since 1951, and I have no plans to change it now! It has seen me through 12 years as the Motoring Correspondent of Punch magazine, a further five years as Arts Adviser to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and six years as The Voice of Common Sense on Rothmere's Daily Mail. During my 15 years as principal panellist on BBC TV's popular quiz show Call My Bluff my tweeds drew a loyal following all of their own. I need hardly remind you that one lady viewer even wrote a personal letter to my tweeds, begging them to leave me and run away with her to a secret address in the Cairngorms. I promise you this, Wilhelmina: whatever happens, I will never be parted from my tweeds!"
It was at this point that William bent back the old lug'ole and told me that the new editor was dead set on making this newspaper more - ahem - "hip". It was not an expression I had encountered before. If he had told me that she had plans to make the newspaper more "ankle" or more "neckbone" I would have been scarcely less bemused.
"She requires her senior columnists to be sassy, street-cred, metropolitan, fashionable, cool, wicked, sorted and hip," explained William. "Or it's curtains."
As is my custom in times of crisis, I took a long, thoughtful puff of my pipe. Was I to surrender all my long-held principles - tradition, common sense, decorum - simply for the sake of a marketing manoeuvre? Was I to buckle like a straw whenever the disagreeable wind of "fashionability" came a-knocking? Man or mouse, Wallace - man or mouse?
"You wouldn't have another piece of nasal jewellery handy, would you, old girl?" I asked William, who most eagerly obliged.
Half an hour later, I found myself in the new editor's office, my trusty pipe hastily converted into a New Age pendant, my spats dangling from my ears in tribute to exciting new trends in British jewellery, my tweeds slashed hither and thither, giving them a more dangerous, vital and - dare I say it - sexy air. Very Elizabeth Hurley, very Wallace Arnold.
I took my seat in front of the new editor's orange desk and launched straight into a frank and friendly chat.
"Phew!" I said, "It's been a bit of a `bad hair day' for me! I almost forgot to renew my subscription to the Melody Maker - and then I would have lost touch with what's really happening on the mean streets, dig it, forsooth."
By the look on the new editor's face, I could tell I was making quite an impression, so I continued.
"I've always kept a finger on the pulse," I said, "ever since I used to hang out with Toey Mistle."
"Toey Mistle?" she inquired.
"I mean Buddy Holly," I corrected myself, adding, "though, of course, I was a great friend of Toey's too. Lovely man, Toey."
I then proceeded to tell her of my plans for this column - dinner at the Garrick with the great Acker Bilk, visits to Stoke Mandeville with Jimmy Saville, personal appearances with Diddy David Hamilton in "supermarkets" centres, and much, much more. New Labour, New Wallace Arnold.
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