The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Yours truly on the air

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The Independent Online
'THIS IS Wallace Arnold saying Welcome to My Wireless] Welcome to My World]' That's a catchphrase you have been hearing now for over four decades. I am delighted to say that, starting this very Sabbath, the Home Service has seen fit to honour my status as Britain's best-loved broadcaster. During afternoon tea, those who set their aerials due east may feast their ears on the first of a four-part retrospective of the Arnold decades, aptly named Welcome to My Wireless] It is, needless to say, presented by my own good self, with a little assistance from that young (but mercifully unbearded]) all-round family entertainer, Mr Harold (must one say 'Harry'?) Enfield.

Might I be permitted the indulgence of choosing a memorable moment from each of my four decades as a broadcaster? Much obliged, sir] From the Fifties, I would plump for my very first wireless broadcast - commentating on the Coronation of Her Majesty. Fresh down from Oxford, I had been asked by Mr Godfrey Talbot of the BBC to make my way to the Royal Broadcasting Training Centre in Aldershot, there to be drilled in the art of speaking slowly, clearly - and above all backwards. Here is how I described the progress of the Young Princess Lilibet up the steps to the Royal carriage:

'Into her gold carriage, a carriage pulled by six horses, majestic as only horses, six in number, can be, majestic and extraordinarily horselike, their manes noble in the sunlight, a bright, glorious June sunlight that through the clouds still struggles to appear, steps, bravely smiling but nervous perhaps a little, in her dignity resplendent, in her majesty triumphant, the Princess, young and fragile, to cheers triumphant from the crowds surrounding. Godfrey you to over.'

Such moments in broadcasting - eloquent, solemn, joyous - are few, and I count myself lucky to have been responsible for so many of them, whether calling for a return to common sense on Any Questions? or offering my advice on Gardeners Question Time on the problem of ground elder. The Sixties witnessed the blossoming of my wireless career, and soon the phrase 'Did you catch Wallace last night?' became as synonymous with the Sixties as 'Okey-Dokey'.

The incident that sticks in the memory - or, more accurately, in the gullet - crystallised that dread decade when Royalty began to act like 'pop' stars and 'pop' stars like Royalty. Asked to commentate on the Royal premiere of A Hard Day's Night I found it impossible to distinguish between Princess Margaret and Mr Ringo Starr, for they were wearing the same trouser-suit and had attended the same hair salon prior to the event. Only when Princess Margaret failed to keep the beat on the opening bar of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' did the full extent of the mix-up emerge.

My magic moment of the Seventies would be my celebrated appearance in 1977 as Mr Roy Plomley's umpteenth guest on the immortal Desert Island Discs. I endeared myself to a grateful nation by becoming the first person in the history of the programme to choose Mr Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way' twice - as both my second and seventh choice of disc. My book? The Best of British by my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Godfrey Smith. And my luxury? My trusty pipe, of course]

And so to the Eighties, remembered by most listeners as the decade in which Arnold bared his soul to Dr Anthony Clare In the Psychiatrist's Chair, setting a world record by breaking down 11 times in one sitting.

Dr Clare: Would it be fair to describe Mrs Thatcher almost, perhaps, as a mother figure to you?

Wallace: Not only a mother figure. In March, she . . . she . . . she became a grandmother (sobs). Lovely little baby boy (sobs). Michael, son of . . . Mark] (breaks down uncontrollably).

Dr Clare: Come on now, deep breath. That's better. Big blow. All better. There's a brave boy.

For more such golden moments of wireless, I most strongly urge you all to tune in to Welcome to My Wireless] 4.47pm on Radio 4 this afternoon and for the next three Sabbaths to come.

Happy listening]

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