No proprietor has ever interfered with me

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I SUSPECT this might be just the time to put in a good word for that much maligned member of our species, the Newspaper Proprietor. How often, over the years, has one had to bear the bleats and whinnies of inky-fingered editors complaining of proprietorial "interference" and "cost cutting"? All this, and not so much as a word of thanks to them for letting the wretched scribblers have their costly fun and games in the first place!

Needless to say, I have always enjoyed an excellent relationship with the proprietors of the newspapers whose pages I adorn. Indeed, in recent years I have saved a great deal of time and effort by going "over the heads" of their here-today-gone-tomorrow editors and communicating directly with the proprietors on matters such as political outlook, staff appointments and general direction. I have enjoyed many a firm friendship with my proprietors, always making it quite clear over the cigar and (vintage) port that, should ever Wallace Arnold of their parish produce a son and heir, the proprietor in question would always be given first refusal to be godparent.

When I placed my first tentative foot on the ladder to literary success my first proprietor was, of course, Lord Beaverbrook, or "The Beaver" as he was affectionately known. The merest stripling, I had begun work on the "Londoner's Diary" column of the Evening Standard, carving myself a niche in reporting what I judged to be the most influential speeches and the very best parties of the time. Looking through my dusty files, I note that a typical week included "Monday 3rd March 1953: a gala ball is thrown by Lord Beaverbrook with customary style and aplomb", "Wednesday 5th: anyone who is anyone attends a banquet in honour of the splendid achievements of that great hero de nos jours, Lord Beaverbrook", "Friday 7th: on a rare shopping expedition, Lord Beaverbrook buys himself a new pair of shoes, universally admired by all those privileged to kiss them".

But I beg you not to go away from this column with the impression that my relationship with "the Beaver" was in any way one-sided. Far from it. It was solidly grounded in mutual respect, and I am proud to say that, from an early age, I was one of the very few people with whom he felt he could engage in frank and fearless debate. "Tell me, young Wallace," I remember him saying to me one Monday morning in that gruff but amiable tone of his, "do you agree that in a few months' time I should get rid of the present editor of Londoner's Diary and replace him with someone younger, someone more up-to-date?"

I looked him straight in the eye. Now, I knew, was the time to speak up. "No sir, I do not," I said with a quaver in my voice.

"You do NOT?!" the Beaver barked back.

"No sir, I do not," I replied, adding bravely, "Why on earth wait a few months?"

As luck would have it, the Beaver was good enough to appoint me editor of Londoner's Diary that very day, in recognition, I now think, of the way in which I had shown the sheer courage to stand up to him. And thus began a lifetime of straight talk, absolute honesty and deep friendship with all the most distinguished newspaper proprietors.

Rupert Murdoch is another proprietor for whom I have a lot of time. Every three months, we meet for a business breakfast in The Ritz, and the names of suitable replacement editors are tossed to and fro across the lightly poached eggs. "Forgive me for saying this, Rupert, but it's high time that young editor of the Times had a decent haircut," I might whisper, and - hey presto! - by the end of the week, the young editor (name temporarily mislaid) will be sporting a handsome new short back and sides. I am, you might say, not only Rupert's eyes and nose within the inky quarters of Wapping, but also, I like to think, his scissors.

Which brings me to an important point. There has been a lot of guff talked over the past week about "proprietorial interference". Nothing could be further from the truth. The wholly independent proprietors of this very newspaper - Mr Don Corleone, Mr Reginald Kray, Ms Lucrezia Borgia, Mr Trebitsch Lincoln, Lord Archer, Sir Richard Littlejohn and Mr Kevin Maxwell - have given the present editor all the wealth and support at their command. It is, I might add, his own funeral if he chooses to throw it back in their faces, and I have taken the bold step of making this quite clear to the board. Incidentally, I have heard that the name of W. Arnold Esq, is being bandied about as a future editor, but that is a matter upon which I would prefer to reserve comment.