When Margaret positively purred with approval

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
It is by now an open secret that I was the "brains" (dread word!) behind the collected speeches of Margaret Thatcher. We would sit in her hotel suite before each Platform Speech to Party Conference, she and I, finetuning her bons mots in order that they might fire the imagination of the Great British Public.

I am probably best known for coining her most memorable aphorism: "There is no such thing as society". It was at the end of a hectic day in and around the conference hall. Margaret had eased off her shoes and was treating herself to a light Scotch and soda. I had removed my trusty pipe from my upper pocket and was contentedly puff-puff-puffing at it in order to coax it into flames. My old friend and deputy, Lord Sherman, was toying with his braces. We both realised that Margaret's speech for the next day lacked a central punch, a soundbite that would capture the mood of the nation. As her senior speech-writer, I had mapped out the beginnings of a possible phrase.

"There is no such thing as so-so-so-" I began. "Socks?" suggested Sherman. "There is no such thing as socks." Great! It has a strong ring about it, don't you agree, Margaret?"

But Margaret was vehement in her disapproval. "Of course there is such as thing as socks. Why, my own dear father used to wear them, and he would always beseech us to pull up our socks," she snapped. She then drew out her handkerchief and wiped away a tear. "I'll never forget the day my father made his last speech as an Alderman to the ungrateful townsfolk of Grantham," she sobbed. "He held his head high and, pointing down towards his feet with his great Alderman's forefinger, he said: `These socks are honest socks. They have given good, honest wear to the feet they contain.' So let no one ever tell me that there is no such thing as socks - not now and not ever!! And let me tell you this, Alfred - that humble town hall had never heard the like of the applause that erupted from the audience at those powerful words!"

To his credit, Alfred looked suitably chastened. I watched in pity as he struggled to come up with a suitable alternative. "There is no such thing as ... soap? No? Soccer? No? There is no such thing as sodomy. That has a tough, uncompromising ring to it, don't you think? How about it, Margaret? Oh, please say yes."

By now, the poor fellow was running around all over the place like the headless chicken of yore. Happily for him, my pipe was now well lit, and I felt able to step into the breach. "There is no such thing as society!" I intoned, and at that Margaret put her head back on her cushion and positively purred with approval.

I quote this historic vignette simply to parade my credentials as the official co-author (or "ghostwriter" of Mr David Mellor's forthcoming autobiography, due out next autumn. Mellor's publishers have appointed me to the task because they know that I am well able to cut through the flim-flam to get to the very heart of the matter. And more to the point, I know what that mythical - and somewhat trying! - being Mr Joe Public really wants.

My first meeting with young Mr Mellor got off, I regret to say, to a sticky start. He greeted me with the phrase: "I see the Gunners are doing well down the Kop." I responded with a look that made it clear I thought the poor fellow had taken leave of his senses. Pulling himself together, Mellor produced a rough draft of the chapter titles. They went from "Thoughts on a Future Policy for the Arts" to "Tackling the Health Crisis" and "A Coherent Framework for the Development of the British Film Industry". There was not a single mention of the chapters his poor publishers had instructed me to tease out of him, provisionally titled: "Having it Off with Miss de Sancha", "Chasing Totty in My Chelsea Strip" and "Lady Cobham Is Gagging For It". Surveying his po-faced proposal, I found it hard to contain my disappointment, but, ever the pro, I approached the problem gingerly.

"This looks excellent, David," I said. "I know that the general reader will share my fascination with your views on Tackling the Health Crisis. For instance, we are all eager to discover whether, in the long term, you favour the fruit-flavoured condom? And as for the future of the British Film Industry, we are keen as mustard to know whether Lady Cobham and your good self have ever entertained one another with - ahem - movies with an adult theme."

Alas, Mr Mellor reacted in an uppity fashion to these gentle hints. He was a serious politician, he told me, whose views on world affairs were of vital interest to the electorate. I fear my new job may prove an uphill struggle, but of this, as of so much else besides, I shall keep you informed throughout the coming year.

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