William first came to national prominence when, on 31 July 1967 - later to become widely recognised as a key date in our nation's sad decline - he agreed to meet Mick Jagger of The Beatles for a gogglebox documentary filmed after Jagger's release from custody on a drugs (dread word]) charge. At the time, I was the Times correspondent on Matters Youthful (one article a year, usually at Christmas), so he was immensely grateful to have me along, 'feeding' him questions through an elaborate earpiece system.
'Er, Mick,' began William, prompted by my own good self, 'I know this has been a hard day for you, but might I first ask you an important question concerning your lyrics, 'Hey, hey, you, you get off of my cloud' ? Now, it's that word 'off' that strikes one as particularly curious. Is it a classical reference, perchance?'
'Nah,' replied Mick, 'It means 'off of'.'
'Hey, hey, you, you get OFF OF my cloud',' repeated William, 'Hmmm. Not strictly grammatical, if you'll forgive me for saying so. I prefer 'get OFF my cloud', though even then one might feel awkward about employing that unattractive little word 'get'. Perhaps 'please would you remove yourself from my cloud at your earliest convenience' would prove rather better in future performances of the song, but that is entirely a matter for you.'
Sensing that he had now put Jagger 'at ease', William then moved on with an even trickier grammatical point. 'And what of your other song, which goes - and I quote - 'I can't get no na na na na Satis Faction'. When you say that you CAN'T get NO satisfaction, do I take the double negative to mean that in fact you CAN get at least SOME satisfaction - or is this perhaps too simplistic an interpretation?'
'Nah,' replied Jagger.
'Thanks, gents - that's all we got time for,' yelled the producer.
William went away that day delighted by his performance, knowing full well that he would henceforth be something of a name with which to conjure. And he never forgot the debt he owed to Jagger.
'I have been thinking these past few years about young Mick Jagger,' William told me in '72. 'And my conclusion is that he has a good third-class intellect rather than a poor second-class one, and that he really doesn't compare at all with General de Gaulle or William Wordsworth.'
One final vignette, if I may, to illustrate William's almost uncanny ability to predict the future. It was in the early 1990s, just after William had successfully predicted the re-election of Mrs Thatcher, the downfall of Saddam Hussein, the rise and rise of Mr Asil Nadir and the conversion to Roman Catholicism of Dr Ian Paisley (his predictions were always highly successful, their outcomes less so, alas). I was in the 'little boy's room' of White's when William buttonholed me.
'Having given some great and serious thought to the matter,' he whispered, 'I have come to one firm conclusion.'
'And what is that, pray, William?' quoth I.
An agitated look came into his eye. 'I must spread the word. The end of the world is nigh]'
'Would that give us time for a little light luncheon?' I asked.
'Bit of pud? Welsh rarebit? Coffee? Petits fours? A decent port?'
His eyes lit up. 'On second thoughts,' he said, 'I'll have lunch first, and spread the word later. One should never be over-
hasty, eh, Wallace?'
'Indeed not,' quoth Arnold, adding, 'cheer up, William - it may never happen,' before guiding him into the dining-room.Reuse content