It was while perusing last week's Mail - an exercise from which a good many woolly-minded Independent on Sunday readers might benefit! - that my eye was caught by the headline "How Sex Destroyed The Beatles". To be frank, I couldn't have cared less whether The Beatles were destroyed by sex, goldfish, the nuclear bomb or an appetite for marzipan, just so long as they were destroyed by something. Nevertheless, the headline raises the topics of S-E-X that I must now brace myself to explore further.
Were I to be approached by the redoubtable Mrs Bottomley to pen a new NHS booklet of sex advice, it would consist of one world alone: DON'T. I am not saying that no good can ever come of it. Far from it - anything that destroyed the Beatles is not to be sniffed at. But I am arguing that it should be approached with a very long spoon indeed, plus a good, strong pair of protective gloves and preferably a sturdy pair of tongs too.
Sex is, of course, to be found everywhere these days. We cannot escape it, whether it be in the form of photographs of Lady Thatcher in a comely new suit plastered all over the front pages of the newspapers, or the latest in "classic dramas" on television, replete with young maidens fresh from RADA showing rather too much cleavage when the cameraman can be bothered to raise himself to the right angle.
Early on in my career, in those far-off days when I was the Motoring Editor for the late-lamented Punch magazine, I noticed time and time again that women (or The UNfairer Sex, as I was to term them in an immortal book of the same name (!!)) could spell disaster for the busy workplace. I shudder to remember, for instance, the occasion upon which we invited Miss Marianne Faithfull - then at the height of her hard-won notoriety - to join us for a Punch Lunch.
Needless to say, she arrived five minutes into lunch in a skirt that signally failed to reach her knees and a blouse little larger than a postage stamp. She then proceeded to sit down next to Lord Hailsham on one side and Mr Anthony Powell on the other. Bang opposite her was no less a figure than that Crown Jester, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, dressed in full military regalia plus pom-poms from a tattoo which he had attended earlier on in the day.
As Miss Faithfull chewed on an asparagus tip, our conversation, which had, up to that moment, been positively bubbling with anecdote and aphorism, came to an abrupt halt. Miss Faithfull flickered an eyelash. Instantly, Lord Hailsham developed a severe choking fit, and Mr Anthony Powell, seeking to give him a jolly good pat on the back, found himself momentarily distracted by Miss Faithfull's embonpoint and instead delivered him a jolly good sock to the jaw. This caused him to reel forwards, straight into the Duke of Devonshire's dish of melted butter, splashing it hither and thither over the Duke of Edinburgh's full-dress uniform.
The Duke, aghast at such an offence to the dignity of his rank, held out his arms in astonishment, only to hit his neighbours, Sir Harold Acton and Mr Godfrey Smith, full in the chops. Within seconds, the table had erupted in a flurry of accusation and counter-accusation. Fists flew, noses bled and guest was set against guest in a veritable maelstrom of fisticuffs or, in the case of Sir Harold Acton, headbutts. Meanwhile, Miss Faithfull continued to polish off her asparagus, quite as though nothing at all had happened.
It was this single incident that convinced me once and for all that sex and civilised behaviour will always be incompatible. From that moment on, I set my cap at civilised behaviour, and I trust all my loyal readers will follow suit.