The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Our Merrie England

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The Independent Online
A HANDY tip to my devoted readers, if I may: from time to time it can prove well worth reading the rest of the Independent on Sunday, as it can often surprise one with other articles of real merit.

Let me explain. The Arnold Mansion is oft cheered with the lighting of a roaring log-fire. Needless to say, I insist upon 'laying' (dread word]) these fires myself, using the tried and tested Arnold Method - newspaper at the bottom, then kindling, then coal, and finally logs, all set ablaze with a safety match. You might care to try this method in your own homes this evening. But it was while embarking on this exercise that I chanced upon two pieces from a few weeks back, the first by a Mr Jack, the second by Miss (Msss]) Lynn Barber, that resolutely opinionated bird of the unfeathered variety.

The pair of 'em were recalling their magical memories of the 1950s. Though the name of Wallace Arnold was unaccountably absent from both essays, it is considered by many to be synonymous with the 1950s. But tempting as it is to recall some Arnoldian highlights from that golden age of common sense, I prefer to offer a more detached, statistical view, plucked from the Arnold archives.

In the 1950s, most ordinary, decent people had never heard of 'television' (87 per cent), 'America' (92 per cent), 'supermarket' (77 per cent) or - dread word indeed] - 'sex' (83 per cent). They contented themselves with simple pleasures.

Every Friday evening, they would down tools for Friday Night is Music Night compered by 'Mr Wireless' himself, Wallace Arnold, and these tunes would be whistled in the streets by the paper boys for the next seven days.

Research now confirms that, in the 1950s, 90 per cent of males under the age of 18 were paper boys. 'How Much is that Doggie in the Window?' was whistled by up to 73 per cent of them at any one time, with 'Hoots Mon' by Lord Rockingham's XI a clear second with only 15 per cent. As is now widely known, working class males over the age of 18 tended to be either milkmen (30 per cent), postmen (30 per cent) or policemen - 'The Great British Bobby' - (30 per cent). The rest played football for England.

At that time, virtually all crime (approximately 96 per cent) could be prevented by a quick clip round the ear, so the Great British Bobby spent most of his day bicycling and/or whistling, with an average of only half an hour a day devoted to administering quick clips round the ears of errant paper boys. The remaining 4 per cent of crimes were straightforward domestic murders, usually of nit-picking wives by thoroughly respectable doctors. The corpses of these wives tended to be discovered during the annual trawl through left-luggage lockers at major London railway stations, with perhaps the odd finger or little toe popping up some time later at a main terminus, such as Brighton (27 per cent) or East Grinstead (34 per cent).

Of course, there were the usual young louts with more get-up- and-go than sense, but their japes were as nothing to the 'joy- riding' and 'grievous bodily harm' we are forced to endure today. If we take a typical year - 1955 - we see that most of these tearaways were only playfully stabbing at one another's tummies with 'flick-knives', (62 per cent) or having a marvellous time borrowing strangers' automobiles and driving them - often at breakneck speeds] - along pleasant country lanes, usually taking the trouble to whistle a merry tune (37 per cent).

Prostitutes barely existed, and those that did were unhappily married to doctors (68 per cent) who later 'did away with them' in a discreet manner. Pornography was unheard of, and there was public outcry when it was discovered that Lassie, the wholly unpretentious canine star of the big screen, was a female: subsequently, she was to appear in all her movies clad in a full-length tartan dog coat. The majority of those under the age of 18 read the Boy's Own Paper (92 per cent), thereafter switching to David Copperfield (87 per cent) for the rest of their lives. Happy days, indeed, those Arnold Years.