William Donaldson's Week: 'Sub judice' in a Dior suit

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I WASN'T surprised to discover from this month's Tatler that I'm the only person employed by the Independent to be included in its guide to 'The Thousand Most Socially Significant People in 1992'.

It simply endorsed my view that you can be bang where it's at, so to speak, even though you've got nothing to wear and haven't been out for six years.

That's not quite accurate. In the last few days I have acquired something to wear - a pearl grey Christian Dior suit, to be precise, purchased for pounds 8.95 in the autumn sale at my local Oxfam shop - and until recently, Alison, my beloved, and I went out quite often, at least as far as the Paper Tiger down the road, where we'd drink buck's fizz and, for a while, behave like normal people. ('Hello. Did you manage to park all right?' 'Yes, I was lucky. There was a place just opposite.' 'Oh good. Do you find Bottom a trifle prep school in its humour?')

Those were the days. Now, as I mentioned here last week, Alison, my beloved, is suing me for libel and I've been told by my lawyers that she and I are sub judice, as it were; that to make any kind of contact with her would be contempt of court.

Nor, it seems, can I acquaint you with the full and better particulars of her claim - recently served on my people by her people - since to do so would not only aggravate the libel but, and more seriously, might alert the Independent to the fact that they are likely to be joined with me as defendants in the action.

So at the moment I don't go out at all, but this doesn't mean that the pounds 8.95 I sprang for the Christian Dior suit is money down the drain. I'm promoting my latest book in countless down-the-line interviews with local radio stations and I wear the suit for these - sometimes mentioning the fact to the young disc jockey at the other end of the phone.

'This new book of yours,' he says. 'Why is it called The Big One, the Black One, the Fat One, and the Other One?'

'You've got me there, Dave,' I say. 'I've no idea.'

'Could it be a reference,' Dave says, 'to certain alternative comedians to whom you've taken a dislike?'

I admit that it might be, thus giving Dave a chance to call me a stick-in-the-mud. This irritates me, frankly, since I get on excellently with young people, and I point this out to Dave.

'I've got nothing against young people, Dave,' I say, 'other than their tendency to forget that the more strenuously of the moment you are, the more instantly you'll be of the past. Bottom is the funniest thing on television precisely because its humour predates the Three Stooges. Or take the suit I'm wearing.'

'Made for the Three Stooges, was it?'

'As it happens, Dave, it might have been. Certainly it would have been in its previous owner's family for 60 years at least. It's the classic look, a number in pearl grey by Christian Dior.'

'It sounds a little out of date,' says Dave.

'There you go again, Dave,' I say. 'In fact, it looks as good now as it must have done in 1926.'

'Impressed by the label, are you?'

'Not particularly, Dave. A suit's a suit, after all. That said, it seems probable that M Dior, having traded successfully in suits for many years, is more likely to have run up something in acceptable taste than you or I might, sitting at home with six yards of cloth and a sewing machine.'

In fact, I don't always hold that professionals are likely to perform better than you or I. I can't cook for toffee, but when I was Tatler's restaurant critic I never found that the stuff on offer matched up to what I could have done at home. Since Dave almost certainly isn't a Tatler reader - much less in its guide to 'The Thousand Most Socially Significant People in 1992' - it seems unlikely that he'll be able to call my bluff on this one. Indeed, he now steers the conversation back to humour - an unrewarding subject, except that it allows me to make an excellent joke, not used before, I think, about Ben Elton.

'I believe you produced Beyond the Fringe,' Dave says. 'How do you think it would seem now?'

'Perfectly dreadful, Dave,' I say. 'Bilko, on the other hand, will still be funny in 50 years. The exception, of course, is Ben Elton. His stuff will seem very poor - but no poorer, perhaps, than it seems now.'

Dave wishes me luck with the book, and I urge punters to buy it before it's removed from the shops as a result of Alison, my beloved's, libel action.

'Why is she suing you?' Dave says.

'Because I quote her on page 70 as calling Dan Marino a big girl's blouse, thus lowering her in the eyes of right- thinking American football buffs. I can't mention that, however, since she and I are sub judice.'

After the interview, I suggest to my immediate superior at the Independent that, as the only person on the staff judged by Tatler to be socially acceptable, I'm put henceforth to better use, and she suggests that unless I persuade Alison, my beloved, to call off her libel action I'll be out of a job altogether.

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