THE AGREEABLE WORLD OF WALLACE ARNOLD: Hail the scourge of the Biro and the dread motion picture

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The Independent Online
tremendous response to the first part of my potted history of the Spectator magazine last week. Mr Kenneth Noye wrote in to congratulate me on an otherwise excellent article, adding, "but though you kindly mentioned that I introduced the long-running Bridge column, I regret to say you forgot to inform your readers that I was also responsible for the long- running parodic column by `Taki' - a splendidly xenophobic mickey-take of a counter-jumping Greek half-wit".

My apologies, Ken - and only too delighted to be able to include your corrections! Also in my hefty postbag came this mellifluous missive from California: "Dear Wallace," he writes, "Many thanks for being our guide on such a delightful tour down Memory Lane. As a member of the campaign to re-instate that delightful old English word `gay' (in its true meaning!!!) into our vocabulary, I hold the Spectator magazine in much esteem. Might one now hope for a similar crackdown on yet another ghastly 20th-century word, namely `caring'? You will be pleased to hear that there are still those of us in the USA who shudder whenever we hear it! Keep up the good work! Yours ever, Charles Manson."

Throughout its long and distinguished history, the Spectator has been a doughty campaigner against the onset of the modern. In early 1939 it was among the first to detect a grave threat to the future of mankind, and was determined to make a brave stand against it. I refer, of course, to the advent of the ballpoint pen. "Nothing could be better designed to foster indiscriminate writing among the inexpert and the frankly incompetent," thundered its diarist, adding: "Faced with this imminent threat, the government must take immediate steps to introduce a strict licensing system, thus ensuring that pens remain strictly in the hands of those able to employ them to convivial effect."

Thus began a long-running campaign that continues to this day, incorporating ballpoint-related threats such as the felt-tip pen, the word-processor, the television, the computer, and the mobile telephone. In my opinion, the author of the new History of the Spectator is right in suggesting that this strong campaigning tradition predates the advent of the ballpoint pen: both penicillin ("one must be forgiven for wondering whether so many lives are really fit to be saved") and the motion picture ("no future in it") were roundly condemned, and the magazine archives show that as long ago as 1738, an editorial writer was pinpointing the new threat from the Continent of the new-fangled "toothbrushe".

"The great British toothe," he wrote, "is knowne throughout the worlde for its cavitees and discolouring. The so-called `toothbrushe' will cause irreparable damage to our reputatione in foreign parttes. And the Spectator medical advisor informs us of much danger from said implemente: with three or foure brushes, teethe will fall out of the mouthe and onto the grounde. In France, where the implement had its origine, few men of noble birth still possess their owne teethe, so devastatinge is the effect of the `toothbrushe'."

In recent years, the Spectator has proved itself as lively a campaigning voice as ever it was. In 1989, an entire issue was devoted to a forceful demolition of the new "Kellogg's Pop-Tart" by more than 20 distinguished contributors, including a memorable piece by J Enoch Powell ("Never in the history of this nation has there been a threat greater, nor, I think, more insidious than that which is now represented by this most stickily subversive of breakfast comestibles"). And in 1997, a fine piece by Christopher Booker concerning the iniquities of the European Economic Community revealed that "Mr R D Barker, a family butcher from Worksop, has been prevented by Brussels diktat from ever again slaughtering, hanging and selling a British family. Mr Barker tells me that in normal circumstances, he would move into the confectionery trade - but Brussels last year issued an edict preventing the eyes of lambs from being sold as boiled sweets, spelling an end to the livelihood of 10,000 honest British sweetshop owners."

And so to the future (dread time-zone!). What lies in store for the dear old Speccie? Plans are already under way for a special new millennium issue, with articles on The Queen Mother at 100, A Future for Tweed and an amusing but authoritative feature in which Stephen Glover raps Paul Johnson over the knuckles for agreeing with Simon Heffer that Geoffrey Wheatcroft's strictures on Digby Anderson were well up to the standard set by Frank Johnson on Stephen Glover. Full steam ahead, Editor, full steam ahead!