The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: An air of resignation

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The Independent Online
IS THERE NO end to the man's meddling? The dread news that Mr J Birt has been unable to resist the temptation to poke his grubby digits into an institution as revered as Thought for the Day will prove to be the all-too-proverbial last straw. Frankly - and strictly between these four walls - I plan to take a leaf from Mr Travis Dave Lee's book by shocking the world of broadcasting with my 'on air' resignation next week, bang in the middle of what is due to be my 532nd Thought for the Day.

My connection with Thought For The Day goes back over 25 years. I well remember my very first Thought. I had just been elected a member of the General Synod, and so, with the young John Selwyn Gummer, I was something of a 'hot property', in great demand by all religious producers.

Happily, my first broadcast in the Thought for the Day 'slot' coincided with the England Football XI carrying off the 1966 World Cup in such triumphant style. I myself 'scored' (]]]) a huge success by drawing a topical religious message from that great event. 'When our cheers for those plucky English players have died down,' I concluded, 'let's not forget that the true ball we must aim to place in the back of the net is not a ball at all, but something much bigger than a ball, and that the net itself is a universal net, stretching from one side of our lives to another. And if we bear this in mind, we can score goal after goal, and not just of the footballing variety. Goodbye and God Bless you all from Wallace Arnold.'

Needless to say, the producer was over the moon, immediately booking me for another dozen slots. Over the next few years, I made my name by my extraordinary ability to draw religious allusions from topical events, for example, the winning of the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest by Miss (Msssss]) Clodagh Rodgers ('In many ways, the Almighty himself is a bit of a 'jack-in-a-box', and that is why I delight in awarding him the full dix points]') and the mini-skirt ('I sometimes think that Jesus would have found much to his liking in the sheer youthful enthusiasm of London's Carnaby Street - though he would have reminded us all, young and old alike, not to 'skirt' (]]]) around the issues]').

Later, I was to tackle major issues, such as Watergate ('amidst all this furore, let's remind ourselves that it was the Almighty who created water and gates, the former for bathing in and drinking, the latter for closing behind us in an orderly manner') and the Falklands ('I have often thought that we are, in a curious sort of way, all of us islands awaiting invasion'). A selection of such musings can be found in my highly praised book, In A Nutshell: Wallace Arnold's Thoughts for the Day, with a foreword by Sister Wendy (Hodder, pounds 14.95).

Happy days, indeed. But now the Un-Blessed Birt has ordered his lily-livered cohorts to 'shave' (dread word]) a full 30 seconds from the meagre three minutes daily allotted to we Thought- ers. It will mean an end, for instance, not only to my much-loved repartee with the resident presenter ('And a good morning to you, Brian - weather permitting]]]') but also to my delightful allusions to the comings and goings of my showbusiness friends ('I see that that agreeable chanteuse Pet Clark is starring at the Gaumont in Plymouth - and I for one will be stepping 'Downtown' to see her]]). My final Thought, I can now reveal, may be a little stronger than usual. Its subject? Those who risk damnation by tinkering with our most noble traditions - and I trust J Birt Esq will be all ears.

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