The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: This smutty gossip about the Waleses must stop

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IT HAD been the most convivial of luncheons at that most convivial of clubs, The Garrick. Our conversation had centred around the life and times of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and had been full of the most robust good sense.

'I know this may be an unfashionable point of view,' I had opined to the assembled company, 'but I consider it bad manners in the extreme to gossip about the Waleses' private life. It is not for any of us here to speculate, nor to apportion blame. They deserve our every sympathy, and our utmost discretion.'

'Here] Here]' agreed Woody Wyatt, drawing lavishly upon his cigar. 'And may I take this opportunity to condemn the intrusion of the tabloid press. What the Prince and Princess of Wales get up to outside their public duties is no concern of ours - no concern at all]'

There followed a short round of applause. 'Amen to that,' said dear old Simon Heffer, who has recently become the oldest man in Great Britain, and who, it is said, retains fond memories of being sent up chimneys by his father in the late 19th century (not, as it happens, to sweep them, but simply to get him out of the way before the visitors arrived). 'I have grown sick and tired of all this ill-informed innuendo about the Royal Couple - and it ill behoves any of us to cast the first stone.'

'They both deserve a complete break from all this ugly and damaging gossip,' quoth Terry Worsthorne. 'Damaging gossip?' chipped in Heffer. 'Did someone say 'damaging gossip'? What's the latest?'

'Haven't you heard?' piped up Terry, booming into Heffer's eartrumpet. 'They're saying Diana's got a new boyfriend]'

'Noooo]' quoth Woodrow. 'But then, what with Charles and Katie Boyle . . .'

'Katie Boyle??]' I ventured. 'But I heard it was Miss Gloria Hunniford]'

'Yes - that's what I heard,' opined Heffer. 'In the back of a Ford Cortina a couple of miles due west of the North Circular] But such damaging tittle-tattle is to be most heartily deplored by every upstanding subject of Her Majesty - particularly in the wake of what the Princess apparently said to Sir David English last Monday . . .'

'Do tell]' chipped in that distinguished thespian Mr Blobby, who was recently elected to the Chairmanship of the club.

'Well,' said Heffer. 'Apparently she said that her plans for the New Year include appearing in a range of advertisements for Zanussi washing machines.'

'Nooo]' quoth Woodrow.

'Naked]' added Heffer, adding, 'but it would be quite wrong to give such rumours the slightest credence when the long-standing reputation, nay, life of the Monarchy is at stake. May I add, gentlemen, how much we all despise those members of the chattering classes who can think of nothing better to do than 'take sides', supporting either the Prince of the Princess, for this is a shared and very private tragedy for both of them. It must hurt the Prince very much indeed - though not the dread Diana of course, as she does most of the chattering anyway, scheming little MINX]'

'Here] Here]' I said, banging my pipe on the table in approval. 'I mean, one doesn't like to speak out on these essentially private matters, but, my God, she's led the poor fellow a merry dance - in my view she's a raving psychopath, with, I am reliably informed, a whole string of cold-blooded murders behind her, all dutifully covered up by her mates in the gutter press] Not that one wants to add to her miseries with such fruitless speculation, of course. She's been through quite enough already - and the press has been relentless against her]'

'And I do sometimes wish that so-called 'Church Leaders' would learn to keep their traps shut] It's entirely up to the Prince of Wales if he wishes to lead the Church of England, and no one's business but his,' opined Terry Worsthorne. 'Though from what I hear tell of Camilla You-Know-Who and Charlie-boy, there's not a lot of praying goes on in those bunk-beds]]]'

Of course, we all roared with good-natured laughter, and, as the waiters cleared away the remnants of the Black Forest Gateau, I thought to myself that at least here in the Garrick the Royal Couple can count on their loyal subjects never stooping to smut, gossip or innuendo, and can rest assured that we will forever uphold their solemn right to a private life.