The agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: The day I saved the world from a killer infinitive

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The Independent Online
For me, current affairs have been a lifelong passion. When I wake in the morning, my first action is to tune into the Today programme on Radio 4 for the very latest in wars, crimes and natural disasters. What could be more civilised? Then, after a decent cooked breakfast with lashings of strong coffee, I tune in again to the 9am bulletin, just to make sure that things are coming along nicely.

My day then follows a familiar pattern. National and international horrors alternate with deliciously naughty snacks and repasts, followed by chats on the telephone to very dear friends and perhaps a little relaxed scrivening with quill and ink. And then it's snug in my favourite armchair at 5.45pm, bottle of halfway decent claret at the ready, all set to hear the very latest in tragedies and atrocities from here, there and everywhere.

But to my mind the news can also be upsetting, even uncomfortable. As a veteran television news reporter, tuning into News at Ten always fills me with deep emotion. Night after night, watching footage of starving orphans, war-torn lands, earthquakes, avalanches and famines, I find myself filled with the urge to be back in the saddle, reporting from these atrocity- zones, looking frankly yet always warmly into the camera and speaking in my mellifluous tones before signing off with a friendly wink to viewers, accompanied by my much-loved catchphrase, "Wallace Arnold, News at Ten, Timbuctoo".

It will not surprise you to know that I am regarded in TV news circles as a stickler for accuracy. As a senior news editor with ITN in the late 1960s, I remember listening to a report from a war-torn city somewhere in Africa (or was it South America?) shortly before it was due to be broadcast. The young reporter was talking about the manner in which several youngsters had been buried alive under piles of rubble. With tears in his eyes, he said, "There is no way to accurately depict the full misery of it all."

"Cut!!!" I bellowed. I straightaway made them play it back for me. I listened in horror as he spoke those fateful words. But at least I had caught it in time. With only seconds to go, I managed to stop one of the worst examples of a split infinitive ("to accurately depict") from going out live, thus saving our reputation as respected broadcasters. Thankfully, we managed to replace the offending item with a light-hearted piece about a new pair of penguins at London Zoo. But if it had not been for my own sharp instincts, our faces would have been covered in the proverbial egg.

Ah, memories, memories ... Those magical moments come flooding back. The delight on the faces of the film crew when they won the top TV Times award for their footage of a major ferry disaster in 1972... the tomfoolery beneath the desk with a glass of water and a pair of gents' Y-fronts between Reggie Bosanquet and myself while we were delivering news of the worldwide financial crash of 1974... the day the sound went off in the middle of transmission - and poor old Andrew Gardiner had to convey the news of a major airline disaster relying solely on his skills as a mime artiste!

But what of the future? You cannot imagine the despair I will feel next Monday evening as I tune into the dear old gogglebox at 10 o'clock. Instead of Trevor McDonald presenting the News at Ten (or "THE news AT ten," as Trevor would put it - I jest!) I will find myself staring aghast at some new drama or other, no doubt containing lesbian love-nest, a serial-killing Scotsman, a display of gratuitous nudity - or all three at the same time. For I regret to say that after nigh-on 32 years, News at Ten is to be replaced not only by News at 6.30 but also by News at 11. Whatever next? News at 9.05? News at 12.17?

How to react to this headlong scramble downhill? Dumbing-down is taking its grip. First the BBC announces that that One Man and His Dog is to be no more - in the full knowledge that it is one of the most highly intelligent and thought-provoking programmes of the post-war era.

And now - can it really be true? - News at Ten is to be moved forward by an hour! I can only reach for those all too familiar words with which I used to end all my foreign reports: "There is only one thing of which we can be sure: after the events of today, nothing will ever be the same again."