The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Lord Priscilla's secret

Related Topics
THOSE of us in the swim of things were, of course, only too aware of Lord Reith's little secret. In retrospect, I suppose my suspicions were aroused during our first meeting at his office in Broadcasting House when he fixed me with his stern eyes, leant forward in his chair and insisted on being called Priscilla. Young and mustard-keen to make my way in the exciting new world of the wireless, I thought little of it at the time. It was only some years later, after I had risen to chairman of Gardeners' Question Time, that it struck me that 'Priscilla' was, in fact, a lady's name.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that the clues were there for all to spot, if only we had not been so busy turning out programmes of the highest quality. On his memorable 1955 appearance on Desert Island Discs, for instance, Reith chose only records by Judy Garland. For his one luxury he wanted a troop of strapping young Sea Scouts and, when told that regrettably this was not allowed, he opted for a powder puff and deluxe curling tongs. Even when he went on to specify that his one book, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare, should be a complete set of Bunty comics, we took it very much in our stride.

Lord Reith cut such a stern, forbidding figure at Broadcasting House in his kilt and sporran that one could never have guessed that he was anything other than a dedicated son of the Kirk. When once I expressed an interest in the way he always wore a petticoat beneath his kilt on formal occasions he turned his beady gaze on me and told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was in strict accordance with the God-fearing traditions of the entire Reith clan, and that the rule of a petticoat under the kilt was the solemn proclamation of Yahweh himself, referring me to the Second Book of Isaiah.

Nevertheless, it must be stressed that under his at times autocratic directorship 'The Beeb' (as we well-loved broadcasters call her]]) held firm to the highest standards of manly endeavour. Determined that the youth of our nation should develop and flourish, Lord Reith took an especial interest in The Gang Show, condemning the wearing of long trousers by the under-18s as 'sissy' and personally supervising the cold- shower arrangements after rehearsals. When, some time in the late Sixties (dread decade]), he was espied by a reporter from the Daily Express sitting hand-in-hand in an exclusive London nightspot with Mr J Edgar Hoover, Reith expressed himself 'aghast and outraged that his companion was in fact a man'. The two were never again seen together without Reith first donning a Carmen Miranda wig and discreet polka-dot evening gown.

You must not think that such historic detail, reluctantly surrendered for scholarly purposes, gives the green light to purveyors of tittle- tattle. I mention it today only so that the world will appreciate more fully the tensions and struggles in the character of this extraordinary man. I am - as my enthusiastic readers (among them, incidentally, Miss Clare Latimer and you-know-who]]) will heartily attest - no lover of gossip. Next week, in our first serialisation of my forthcoming biography, Reith: The man and The Miss (Weidenfeld pounds 25) I shall reveal his plans for redecorating the foyer of Broadcasting House in salmon pink with ruched emerald curtains, and his struggles to alter the BBC motto to 'Nation Shall Never, Never, Never Tell Fibs Unto Nation'. But this is only to show what a very remarkable man the first Director-General of the BBC was; in my opinion his private life should remain entirely his own affair.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected