The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: My 'far from disagreeble verse' - rejected]

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I AM hurt. Just a little hurt. No: a lot. I am a lot hurt. I am hurt a lot. A lot I am hurt. Take a grip, Wallace. Deep breath. And again. There we are. All better. Now begin at the beginning, go on until you get to the end, and then stop. Ready, steady - I am, I must admit, just a little perturbed by a recent event in the world of publishing. I refer, I regret to say, to Mr John Gross's new edition of The Oxford Book of Comic Verse, and the notable omissions within it. But let me begin at the beginning.

Upon hearing of its publication, I hailed an immediate taxi cab to Heywood Hill bookshop armed with a crisp new pounds 20 note. 'The Oxford Book of Comic Verse - many thanks to you kind sirs]' I intoned amidst much merriment, for, in a fit of humour, I had somehow contrived to rhyme 'verse' with 'sirs' - with devastatingly jocular results]]

As they were wrapping the tome in its requisite paper bag, I honoured the well-spoken assistants with a further comic rhyming gem. 'I am happy to accept that bag,' I intoned, 'but I hope it does contain no rag]]]]' I then waited awhile, looked hard at them in search of a response and when a smile finally came to their faces, I was good enough to offer up another couplet from the immortal Arnold bag of rhymes: 'For this book I offer many thanks - though its price may dismay the manager of my bank]]]]]'

By now, only the dullest of my readers will be left wondering why their favourite Sunday scrivener was in a state of such high spirits. The reasons, of course, are perfectly obvious. The name of Wallace Arnold has been synonymous with Comic Verse these past 31 years, ever since I first published my immortal nonsense rhyme, The Sand Which Is In My Sandwich] in Punch magazine, of blessed memory, way back in '63:

Which sand is in

My sandwich? Why,

The sand which is

In my sandwich

Which is this sand -

The sand which is

In my sandwich]

Quite a chucklesome tongue- twister for a Sunday morn I think you will agree, and one that has been oft-repeated ever since] For the next couple of decades, I was to become Mr Punch's principal versifier, in 1976 being raised to the dizzy heights of Punch motoring and poetry editor by my old friend and quaffing partner, Mr William Davies. In celebration of my new twin-post, I conceived this snappy little four-liner, at which Sterling Moss himself was seen to smile when attending our weekly 'Punch Lunch':

I regret to say my driving is rather worse

Than my far from disagreeable verse]

Perhaps it's time I rang for a

charabanc -

or should I call for a Vauxhall

Cavalier - 'Ere] 'Ere]

Through the 1960s and 1970s, I published numerous anthologies of my own comic verse, one of them - From Bard to Verse (1973) - with an introduction by HRH Princess Anne. I was also featured heavily in The Punch Book of Comic Verse (ed. W Arnold), The Second Punch Book of Comic Verse (ed. W Arnold) and The Fourth Punch Book of Comic Verse (ed. W Arnold), though not, for some reason, in The Third Punch Book of Comic Verse (Ed. Terry Worsthorne).

All of which brings me to The Oxford Book of Comic Verse. In the taxi on the way back from Heywood Hill, I unwrapped the book with no little excitement, wondering which cachet of my own verse the editor had selected to grace his elegant tome, rather hoping that he had found room for some of the more obscure Arnold verses as well as the well-loved family favourites from

the Arnold catalogue.

My fingers a-tremble at the index, my eyes skimmed through Aiken, Conrad; Amis, Kingsley; Ammons, A R and Anonymous before finally coming to rest on - who? who?? WHO??? - Attlee, Clement followed by Auden, W H. Of Arnold, Wallace, veteran of over 746 verses on diverse topics, many of them widely anthologised, a poet once heralded by no less an authority than HRH Princess Anne as 'a writer of comic verse whose publication must give hope to all amateur versifiers struggling at home and abroad', Mr Gross has seen fit to exclude any mention.

To be perfectly frank, it is not for myself that I grieve, but for the future of the once-great institution that was the Oxford University Press. Personally, I am not hurt. Not a little hurt. Not hurt at all.