The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Too much tittle-tattle

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THE muckrakers are out in force yet again. From a cursory glance through the index of Mr Motion's biography of my old friend and quaffing partner Philip Larkin, I gather that the good name of Arnold is being dragged through the proverbial mud.

'Arnold, Wallace: lends girlie mags to P L 103, 156-158, 211, 345- 346, 411, 504-508, 635, passim; mentions girlie mags in letters to P L 123-124, 207, 293, 405-416, 567; visits Blue Cat Executive Striptease and Topless Bar in Hull with P L 467-469; pays return visit to Blue Cat by himself, 471; leaves with another, 472; and old photographs of Diana Dors 501; holidays in the Isle of Man with P L, Bough, F, Ferguson, Major R, and Lamont, N 670-75.'

It is certainly not my intention to 'rise to the bait', as it were, thus affording this nasty little tome its desperately needed publicity. Let it suffice to say that I have no knowledge whatsoever of 'girlie mags', that I have never ever visited the Blue Cat or any similar establishment, that I have never set foot in the Isle of Man, with or without Mr Larkin and/or anyone else, and that any further implications of unsavoury involvements will be met with an immediate writ. I trust I make myself clear.

But might I be permitted to examine the broader issue? Over the past decade or so, the literary biography, once the glittering jewel in the crown of British letters, has become something of a snooper's charter, an inventory of off-putting episodes in the lives of its hapless victims. I see the Sunday Telegraph, now under the devil-may-care editorship of that bell-bottomed young tearaway Mr Charles Moore, has taken to 'digging up the dirt' on the late Dame Daphne du Maurier. I will not repeat their hideous allegation, short of saying that they claim she had a tempestuous lesbianic affair (whatever that involves, if anything]) with none other than Gertie Lawrence (Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster, pages 216-235, 256-72).

Do we really need all this (further lesbianic references, incidentally, on pages 239, 244 and 255)? I think not. My own best-

selling biography of Sir Norman Fowler (Forever Fowler, Chatto & Windus, pounds 16.95) manages to convey a comprehensive portrait of the man and his achievements without mention of any so-called Sapphic tendencies he may or may not possess.

Meanwhile, we are asked by Mr Anthony Summers in his hurtful new biography of J Edgar Hoover to believe that this stalwart defender of law and order had an insatiable appetite for women's clothing, often throwing off his smart bobby's uniform for the less restricting patterns and fabrics of haute couture. Frankly, I don't believe a word of it. I only met Hoover once - in the Ladies Room of the Garrick Club in autumn, 1972 - but rarely have I set eyes upon anyone more manly, his broad shoulders and wide, virile jaw perfectly offset by the most subtle Parisienne lacework around his ample embonpoint.

If Dame Daphne was masculine and J Edgar Hoover feminine, where on earth does that leave Sir Norman Fowler? Personally, I neither know nor care whether the current Chairman of the Conservative Party has a full range of Yves St Laurent quality evening-wear hanging neatly in his cubbyhole in the vaults of Central Office; if he is doing his job to the best of his very considerable abilities, then that is all one has a right to ask. Needless to say, while I was researching his biography, there were those who attempted to suggest, through the nod and the wink, that all was not what it might seem with this blameless public figure.

One former colleague whispered that he had once spotted Sir Norman forgetting to secure his safety belt during a car-trip between Westminster and Whitehall; another complained that he once took an extra Club biscuit with his coffee while discussing interim arrangements for a fund-

raising event in Halifax; yet another declared that Sir Norman had used the word 'damn' while experiencing difficulty with a faulty stapler. But, unlike Messrs Motion, Moore and Summers, I am no purveyor of tittle-tattle, and I have kept it all firmly under my hat. And so, I trust, will you.