The agreeable world of Wallace Arnold: Tittle-tattle by appointment

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The Independent Online
A HECTIC week for myself, for my dear friend Lord St John of Fawsley, and for the Royal Family as a whole. When the dread news of the Royal separation broke, I was in Birmingham (of all places]) being cross-questioned about the Royal Family by Mr Alan Titchmarsh on that most admirable of lunchtime programmes, Pebble Mill.

'It is time to scotch these malicious rumours of a Royal separation for once and for all,' I was saying. 'They have been put about by the scandalmongers and dirt-diggers of the popular press, and have no foundation whatsoever. I am, as you know, Alan, a close friend of the Royal couple, and am happy to report that I have never known them more serene, more unified, more full of joy, more . . . '

'Sorry, Wallace, I'm going to have to stop you there,' said Titchmarsh. 'And now it's over to London for a newsflash.' 'Mr John Major has just confirmed to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales are to separate,' announced the newscaster. 'And now it's back to Alan at Pebble Mill.'

'What's your initial reaction to that tragic news, Wallace?' asked Titchmarsh. 'Well, Alan, I'm only sorry that Mr Major himself has seen fit to jump on the muckraking bandwagon and drag the Prince and Princess of Wales's names through the dirt in this wholly discreditable fashion. I repeat, there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that the Royal couple are anything but radiantly happy. And may that be an end to it.'

It was only on my return to London that I was given confirmation from the highest sources that what the Prime Minister had claimed was, in fact, the case. Of course, as vice-chairman of the Independent group of newspapers, I had initiated the firm rule years ago that we should never defile our pages with tittle-tattle surrounding this singularly dignified family. It is still happily the case that many Independent and Independent on Sunday readers know nothing whatsoever about Princess Margaret and Paul Daniels; about the Queen Mother, the tin of luxury pilchards and the poacher's pocket; or about Princess Anne, Commander Tim Laurence and the catering pack of Savlon. I am happy to confirm that, through my strategic placing of the barriers of discretion, more than 73 per cent of Independent readers remain of the firm belief that Prince Andrew is still captaining the First XI at Gordonstoun and that Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon are soon to enter their fourth decade as a happily married couple - while recent polls have shown that the words 'Major Ron' mean nothing to more than 80 per cent of our readers, a source of great pride to our chairman and staff.

But now that the Prime Minister has let the cat out of the proverbial bag, there is no telling what the tabloid press will make of it. No doubt there will be mention of a Royal marriage 'break-up' in the pages of some of the more gaudy of the gutter press, but I am glad to say that, as I write, the editor of the Independent on Sunday seems to have come round to my view that there should be no discussion of the separation in our pages, no carping editorials, no unnecessary caterwaulings from Miss (Mssss]) Lynn Barber, no socialistic rumblings of discontent, manufactured at the taxpayers' expense, from some leftish 'professor'. Indeed, we are planning to set up an Independent Hotline into which readers may telephone (35 pence a minute off- peak) to hear a two-and-a-half-hour tape of the 1953 Coronation Broadcast, with fond reminiscences of the glorious day from Lord St John of Fawsley, Mr Kenneth Rose and my own good self.

Next Sunday, our magazine section will begin a major new serialisation of Prince Philip's sterling 1969 tome, Of Mice, Men and Machines in which he argues for common sense over pie-in- the-sky intellectual theorising. My own column will be given over to memoirs of my annual picnics with the Royal Family, 1963-85, (including a delicious anecdote in which the Queen herself gamely tackles the washing-up for a few minutes]). All these delightful projects will, I trust, take our readers' minds off any rumours of a Royal 'separation', and guarantee our monarchy the continued reverence of we, its subjects, in the glorious years to come.