Take me, for instance. Fleet Street (as was]) precludes those of us who have worked hard for our honours from parading them in print, yet how much more gravitas would attach to the leading articles of my old quaffing partner Sir Nicholas Lloyd or his lovely Lady Eve, to the delicious essays of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne and the apercus of My Lord Wyatt, if only they could publish their titles in their bylines.
Might I be permitted to take a break from my habitual modesty? As my regular readers will know, I rarely speak of myself, preferring to devote my precious space to others, but I do so now simply to show that for all its endearing idiosyncracies, the old Honours System had much to recommend it. As so often in Great Britain, by some mysterious, almost mystical means, awards and titles went, by and large, to those of us who deserved 'em most. So the eagle- eyed among you will note
that I have today printed my byline with all the requisite honours - Sir Wallace Arnold, CBE, OM - attached.
Below, I offer a step-by-step guide as to how I came to be so honoured. I leave it to my devoted readers to judge for themselves whether there was ever a public servant more deserving: for myself, I think not.
1977: Wallace Arnold CBE: Looking back on the Wilson years, one can see them as a time of national catastrophe, the era of the 'polo-neck' and the 'pigtail', of the 'yo-yo' and the 'josh-stick', of compromise and casual sex. Nevertheless, I sought to change things by working from within, and happily, one's service to the nation in ghost-writing Harold Wilson's The Governance of Britain and its follow-up, The Nance of Britain, a memoir of Tom Driberg, was recognised by the retiring Prime Minister in his Honours List.
1983: Sir Wallace Arnold CBE: By the early Eighties, I had come to recognise that the future of our nation lay in the capable hands of Mrs (now Baroness) Thatcher, and I had consequently thrown in my lot with her, determined as ever to get this country back on its feet. But the knighthood that followed my editorship of the Daily Express (1979-83) had nothing to do with 'toeing the party line' or any such nonsense. Instead, it was a tribute to my objectivity, vision and independence as one of Fleet Street's best-loved editors. Indeed, my criticism of Mrs Thatcher and the Conservative Party was at times trenchant. (See articles 'It's Boom Time with Maggie', 6 Sept 1980, 'Unemployment Heads for Zero Thanks to Maggie the Miracle Worker', 12 Dec 1982, and 'A Lifetime of Loving and Caring: The Mark Thatcher Story', 4 June 1983).
1992: Sir Wallace Arnold CBE, OM: The Order of Merit is in the personal gift of The Sovereign. (This explains, incidentally, why my poor old friend and quaffing partner My Lord Wyatt of Weevil has been 'left out in the cold' as it were). I received my own OM both to commemorate my role as Principal Art Adviser to Her Majesty ('And this, Ma'am, is another oil painting,' I would tell her as we paraded those long corridors together) but also to honour my absolute and total discretion re that awful episode concerning The Queen Mum, the store detective, Major Ron, the ladies' underwear, the dead racehorse and the empty bottle of gin, upon which my lips continue to be sealed, at least in public.
Obviously some of little Mr Major's changes to the system are to be applauded - I congratulate him for removing the 'working classes' from the lists with the abolition of the BEM - but I do hope he will now tamper no more. The House of Lords still has much to offer this nation, and I continue to look forward to the day when I am able to serve the nation from its Noble Benches.Reuse content