And I remember, too, the days when a school with a record of extreme violence, bullying and all-round brutishness in the classroom would hold its head up high and, far from being closed down, would boast of these excellent facilities in its school prospectus, confident of attracting a better class of parent for whom a bit of rough-and-tumble was the very backbone of the school curriculum.
But I digress. The first occasion upon which I wrote a Royal book was - ooh - thirty-odd years ago. A mutual friend had presented me as one of our finest young writers to that most gracious of ladies, The Duchess of Windsor, who was, at that time, enjoying an impromptu roller-skating holiday with Sir Harold Acton. She had, it emerged, been much upset at a new biography of The Queen Mother, A Rose for the Nation, by my old friend and quiffing partner, Mr Beverley Nichols. "Rose? Rose? ROSE? If that woman is a rose -" she exclaimed, tossing the book with great force into the oncoming pedestrians "- then I am a dog!"
The Duchess commissioned me there and then to write a comparably glowing biography of herself. HRH The Duchess of Windsor - Royal Born and Bred was published in the autumn of that year by Messrs Weidenfeld and Nicolson to sympathetic notices. In these days of savagery and malicious tittle-tattle, I suppose I would be criticised by the cynics for omitting all mention of the Duchess's two previous marriages and for suggesting that she was English through and through, born into one of Britain's oldest and most noble families, the Simpsons of Piccadilly. The word "Abdication" never once appeared in my book, I am pleased to say, and my account of the 1936 Westminster Abbey wedding of the Duke and Duchess continues to this day to bring tears to the eyes of all but the least sensitive of readers.
Ten years later, I was commissioned to write the first authorised biography of The Duke of Edinburgh, bringing out a humane, gentle, charitable side neglected by previous biographers, Philip: A Shoulder to Cry On (Collins '76) included many interviews with ordinary men and women who were prepared to testify on oath that The Duke had never once been rude to them, or struck them repeatedly about their persons with a blunt instrument. This in turn led to a succession of important Royal publications, including the lavishly illustrated The Debrett Book of Commander Tim Lawrence (1992), An Angel in a Tiara: A Biography of HRH Princess Margaret (1993), and finally Grace and Wisdom, the first full- length biography of Marina Mowatt (1994).
Imagine my distress, then, when, six months ago, I was telephoned by three different publishers hoping to commission three different Royal books from me - each a "no-holds-barred" (dread phrase!) look at "life behind the scenes" (similarly dread phrase!).
The first was to ghost-write a new book, Elizabeth and Andrew chronicling the strange, roller-coaster relationship between Her Majesty the Queen and Mr Andrew Neil. Neil himself attempted to convince me that the book would be a winner: "Whether it's sexual jealousy or not, I wouldn't care to speculate, but she sees me as Public Enemy Number One. That's why she's met me only once, in a crowded room - and some say her career never recovered. And now I want you, Wallace, to be the one to tell the full frank story of that extraordinary thirty-second meeting."
I pooh-poohed the idea. As the author of Elizabeth and Wallace: A Tale of Mutual Respect, I was not going to compromise myself by penning palpable untruths. The second publisher sought to tempt me into writing the text of the Major James Hewitt Pop-Up Book. I put down the receiver with all possible speed.
And the third? He wanted me to ghost-write his client's inside story of The Duchess of York, a shocking tale of greed, lust, vanity and avarice. "And who, may I be so bold as to ask, is this treacherous spy in the very household of the Duchess of York?" I inquired angrily. "Ahem," came the reply, "It's The Duchess of York." O Tempora, O Mores!