William Donaldson's Week: Bluebottle's deadly touch

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The Independent Online
THREE years ago, I said here that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and I were, as usual, the only two people who had worked flat out over Christmas. This year we were joined by Mrs Partridge of Oxford and Mrs Baker-Finch of Baron's Court.

These are the two ladies who advertise their services in the Oldie, which, incidentally, has just seen fit to publish a vicious attack on the heir to the throne. Among other insults, it suggests that his marriage was even more fatuously ill-judged than that of the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, who married a woman 25 years his junior.

After some stuff about flat young tummies and firm, high breasts and so forth, the piece conjures up an unpleasant contrasting image of ripe, male carcasses in middle age, further claiming that the willing deliverance of the former to the latter is the fantasy of every reader of Penthouse.

I wouldn't know about that, but I did find myself brooding on Christmas Day on what an Oldie reader's fantasy might be.

The regular 'Pin-up' feature at the back suggests that it's a cross section of sordid old film stars (often Swedish, usually dead), but I've always taken this to be a lot of nonsense, designed to make us think that the Oldie contributor is a person of educated taste - and failing hilariously in this endeavour, since everyone knows his preference isn't (any more than yours or mine is) to be watching Casablanca for the 15th time, but to be stretched out in a foreign massage parlour while a tiny oriental lady skuttles up and down his body like a crab.

Mrs Baker-Finch. Some months ago - and imagining it was sitting on a hot potato - this column exclusively revealed that Richard Ingrams was (unwittingly, of course) living on the artistic earnings of these two ladies; further, suggested that if he continued so to do he'd find himself up the Swanee even quicker than the publisher of the Ladies' Directory had in 1962.

Imagine my surprise when, on Christmas Day, I discovered from the personal column of the Oldie that the two old dears are still advertising there. 'Lady Largesse has some surprise pressies for your enjoyment in the tradition of Christmas folly,' says Mrs Baker-Finch of Baron's Court, while Mrs Partridge of Oxford restricts herself to the appropriately curt info that 'Strict governess gives traditional lessons.'

Hoping to find out more about the Oldie reader's fantasy, but unwilling to bruise all the way to Oxford for a telling off, I booked myself in with Mrs Baker-Finch of Baron's Court, introducing myself on arrival - and to avoid any subsequent misunderstandings - as the Independent's Morals Correspondent.

'Thank goodness for that,' said Mrs Baker-Finch, who turned out to be a not particularly well-preserved old party of 65 or so. 'I couldn't cope with another customer today. I've had eight already.'

'Business is good then?'

'Since I started advertising in the Oldie the phone hasn't stopped ringing,' she said, 'even on Christmas Day. But the gentlemen are as good as gold, of course. I give them a scolding and then they do a bluebottle impression.'

'They buzz around the room?'

'No, dear. Bluebottle from The Goon Show. I blame Spike Milligan for the fiasco of the Waleses' marriage.'

'How so?' I said. 'Surely you have noticed,' said Mrs Baker-Finch, 'that when a middle-aged man without a sense of humour imagines that a joke is called for he does a Bluebottle impersonation. My guess is that Wales did a Bluebottle voice on the first night of his honeymoon.

'Isn't it shocking, incidentally, how the middle classes (I'm referring to people like Nigel Dempster) have suddenly turned against Diana, suggesting that she should have cracked on with the marriage for the sake of the children? Stuff the children, that's what I say, not least at Christmas.'

That's what I say, too. My own parents, who at night turned their faces to the wall in their separate suites, stuck together for my sake and made a tremendous go of Christmas, competing with each other when I was six to give me anything I wanted: drum kits, co-respondent's shoes, 12-bore shot guns, share certificates - and look what's happened to me.

OK, I've turned out well so that's a bad example. On the other hand, my first wife and I separated when my boy Charlie was three, and he's done even better.

'Mr Baker-Finch did Bluebottle impressions,' continued Mrs Baker-Finch, 'so I walked out on him and our daughter, Camilla.'

'And how's Camilla doing?' I said. 'I haven't the faintest idea,' she said. 'She could be up to anything. But no news is good news, right?'

Absolutely right. And thanks to my working over Christmas, we now know what the Oldie reader's fantasy is, and, more importantly, we have discovered more about the Waleses' marriage than we would have from reading Andrew Morton's book.

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