The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Now if Miss Leigh had opted for a sensible bath...

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FROM time to time, every columnist worth his salt likes to deliver himself of what one might term a "cultural overview" (dread phrase!), inspired by the release of a book, television programme or film (never movie if you please!). A slice of autobiography here, a dash of reappraisal there and - bob's your uncle! - another award-winning column has been chalked up!

The forthcoming re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho (the "p" is silent) nearly 40 years after its premiere prompts me to offer another of my "cultural overviews". Psycho raises two interesting questions I would like to take a stab at.

QUESTION: To bath or shower? In the wake of this cinematic masterpiece, there can surely be no question. I have never been a great shower man, preferring the long, relaxing dip to the ghastly "rainstorm" effect that invariably leaves one so soggy and uncomfortable. If only Miss Janet Leigh had not succumbed to the prevailing tide of American fashion, so novel in 1960, Mr Bates would have pulled back the shower curtain, found the shower empty, placed his knife back in the kitchen drawer and returned to cooking the Full English breakfast that, in my experience, is so much more popular with today's hotel guests than the unexpected visit from Mine Host. Meanwhile, Miss Leigh could have enjoyed a good wash-and- brush- up in the bath and emerged ready for the busy day ahead.

QUESTION: Should one ever be tempted to venture beyond the highly civilised and informed pages of The Good Hotel Guide? Obviously Bates Motel was a family-run enterprise in a period building within a rural setting with full en-suite facilities: in many ways, it provided a delightful setting to put one's legs up.

But, in the final analysis, it simply did not offer the warmth of welcome expected by the Guide's inspectors. So in the light of subsequent events, my answer to this puzzler must surely be "no". It seems to me undeniable that Miss Leigh would have enjoyed a more relaxing stay in a hostelry recommended by The Good Hotel Guide. Thirty years on, Bates Motel has still not rated a mention, though rumour has it that over the past year their Terrine de Canard de Maman with a Rosemary and Dill Sauce has attracted the enthusiasm of the equally estimable Good Food Guide.

So much for that. Might I now, as something of a buff, follow in the great tradition of the columnist and furnish you with a list of Little Known Facts about Psycho? Here goes!

Alfred Hitchcock adapted his classic film from the little-known novel Miss Plumtree's Guest House by Barbara Pym, which detailed the ups-and- downs of a spinster in late-middle-age running a guest house just outside Bexhill-on-Sea. There are no murders whatsoever in the original novel: instead, all the guests enjoy an excellent night's rest and, due to Miss Plumtree's meticulous housekeeping, emerge fully refreshed for the day ahead. Aficionados of Miss Pym's work remain horrified at Hitchcock's adaptation, proclaiming it unfaithful to the original text in several important aspects.

The role of motel proprietor Norman Bates was originally to be played by up-and-coming young actor John Redwood, but at the very last moment Hitchcock decided that he lacked the element of humility and deference that was so essential. Redwood went on to enjoy a successful career in British politics and is currently receiving critical acclaim in the role of Mitch Brenner in a revival of Hitchcock's The Birds, adapted for touring repertory with Penelope Keith as the flamboyant Melanie who is constantly attacked by a single canary, Patch. The young Barbara Cartland was originally engaged by Hitchcock to take on the role of Mother. Sadly at the very last moment he decided that, in those far-of days of innocence, the American film censor would not let it through.

After toying for some time with giving the part to Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, and then Ruth, Lady Fermoy, he eventually decided to abandon it altogether, incorporating the mother into the deranged character of Norman Bates.

Many readers have asked what became of the unfortunate Mr Bates. I am delighted to inform them that he is fully recovered, and that he is now an occasional Spectator diarist and a stalwart member of the Garrick Club, voting against the admission of women back in 1995.

However, in the debate over the recent Garrick refurbishments, Norman mounted a vociferous campaign in favour of the conversion of the upstairs billiard room to luxury shower units, which Her Grace, The Duchess of York, will be opening in the spring.

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