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The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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ENVY is a very destructive emotion, would you not agree? And I regret to say that there are a great many of you out there who don't have to look very far before finding much to envy in me.

For instance, you might well envy me my prose style, described by more than one distinguished critic as "well-honed". You might envy me the immense ease with which I float through the elevated literary and political salons of the latter part of the 20th century. (It is widely known that I count Sir Norman Fowler a very dear friend.) And you might envy me, also, what my friends tell me is my ready wit and bonhomie, my skill as a raconteur, my shrewd political judgement and masterly command of the English language, not to mention my oft-trumpeted quality of self-effacement.

But envy is one thing: downright calumny is another. As the Chairman (Documentaries) of the ITV network for the past 18 years, it falls upon my shoulders to ensure that not only are our documentaries able to transcend the realm of "dull facts" into the higher sphere of what one might call "imaginative reality" but also that, by doing so, they achieve a respectable number of viewers. This week's documentary, Diana: Is She Still With Us?, not only achieved 12 million viewers but also raised some vitally important questions with far-reaching implications for the future of our democracy. The result? Unbridled envy on the part of our competitors.

I will now run through a list of the vital questions this major documentary raised over the fate of Diana, Princess of Wales:

t On the night of 31 August 1997, was the Princess of Wales, in fact, travelling in another car?

t If so, was it the white Fiat Uno?

t Is she even now relaxing in a sun-soaked hideaway somewhere on the outskirts of Bexhill-on-Sea?

t Given that this might be true, has she been joined there by the tragic young pop star Kurt Cobain?

t And is Lord Lucan their unwilling manservant?

These are major questions which must be answered before anyone can come to a conclusion about what happened on that fateful night. We are not, as our enemies so enviously claimed, saying that Diana, Princess of Wales is, in fact, alive. Far from it. She is, in all probability, dead. But we felt that it was our duty as citizens to raise these important questions concerning her escape from death and 12 million viewers just happened to agree.

Needless to say, our politically motivated critics attempted to pooh- pooh our evidence - yet however one examines them, the facts simply will not go away: as recently as March of this year, a white Fiat Uno was seen travelling along the High Street of Bexhill-on-Sea. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing a blonde woman in the back - and others say that the car was driven by a moustachioed aristocrat wearing a brown paper bag over his head.

Mr Mohamed Al Fayed, the widely respected philanthropist who keeps the doors of his seven-storey Knightsbridge mansion open from 9.00am till 6.00pm every day, allowing members of the public to help themselves to food, drink, furnishings and general household requirements in exchange for a token amount of money, confirmed to the producers of Diana: Is She Still With Us? that in May of this year he had escorted the Princess and an unnamed lead singer around the Harrods wet fish department.

The Princess, he remembered, had bought some fresh whitebait which, he distinctly recalls her telling him, "will be perfect for our man Lucan to fry up for us when we get home to our new bungalow near Bexhill-on- Sea". Mr Al Fayed reportedly "thought nothing of it at the time" but later reflected that, according to government-sponsored press reports, the Princess was meant to have perished in a car accident nine months previously.

Not until these startling new allegations have been successfully answered will we be able to say for sure that the Princess is dead. I am not for one moment claiming that they are true. But now that these allegations have been raised by a major new documentary, they will not just go away - as many in the British and French secret services and in the upper reaches of both governments are secretly hoping.

Others in the media may carp enviously, but those of us at ITV will continue to fight for our right to raise important questions. I confidently expect that our forthcoming documentary, Is the Queen Mother an Alien?, will receive the same amount of vitriol and abuse. But if another 12 million viewers want to hear the answer to this question, what right have we, the programme-makers, to stand in their way?

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