Thursday 29 April 1993 23:02

With worshippers like these . . .

IN THE way of most male opponents of women's ordination, the Old Bailey's longest-ever serving (now retired) judge, Michael Argyle - the man who defended Ronnie Biggs and presided over the Sixties Oz trial - spoke to me yesterday about how he worshipped women.

His praise was fulsome, but rather 1662 Prayer Book: lyrical, old-fashioned and with just a hint that women could do anything, as long as they obeyed. Only a hint, mind you, because Argyle has a good record in championing women's causes: he fought for women to be allowed to practise on the Midland circuit just after the war, giving them access to its dining clubs and wine cellar; and, perhaps even more remarkably, he persuaded the Kennel Club to admit women members in 1979. But women priests?

Not wanting to give too much of his speech away - along with Ann Widdecombe and others, he is addressing a gathering of those opposed to women's ordination at Westminster Central Hall in London tomorrow - I can say that few bishops will escape condemnation for what he thinks they have done to the Church of England by allowing women to be ordained. To give just one clue, he took peculiar delight in reading a letter he received from a friend the other day, describing the Archbishop of Canterbury as 'one of the stupidest men ever to have been ordained'. In particular, and these are Argyle's words, George Carey will never be forgiven for accusing those opposed to women's ordination of heresy: 'In doing so, he is accusing my parents and my grandparents of heresy, and I won't have it.'

For a moment, as he uttered these words (Argyle wearing a three-piece suit and spread-eagled in an armchair at home beside the River Trent, me sitting rather stiffly opposite him on a sofa), I glimpsed the man beneath the wig, the judge who was reprimanded by Lord Havers, the then Lord Chancellor, after he suggested judges should be allowed to hand out the death penalty in cases carrying penalties of more than 15 years. (I went even more rigid later on when Havers's name cropped up in the conversation; I had already admitted a family relationship to Havers's permanent secretary at the time, and therefore, no doubt, the man most closely involved in the administering of

the censure. But the moment passed.)

Argyle, by the way, is confident that the ordination of women measure will never become law. If the Commons and Lords see it through, he reminds me, there is one more obstacle: the royal assent. He is confident, in that case, that women's common sense will prevail.

FROM me, and anyone else who may over the years have inadvertently suggested that Peter Mayle was responsible for the downgrading of Provence, apologies. Holiday Which? admits there are no longer any 'undiscovered' parts of the region, but apportions the blame elsewhere: those responsible, it says, are not British visitors (lured there by Mayle's books) but wealthy Parisians who have been buying second homes there for 25 years.

Mr Major calling

SINCE his days as a Lambeth councillor, John Major has always been keen on forging community links - he even paid a visit to a housing estate in full morning attire en route for his wedding. Here is another example: according to the Jewish Chronicle, a businessman called Benjamin Perl has recalled a visit Mr Major was due to make to his picture-frame factory in Huntingdon in 1983. Perl told dinner guests, including Mr Major, how the local MP had cancelled the visit once to prepare for the forthcoming election. Several months later, with the election successfully out of the way, the 'day finally dawned, we were all very excited. The floors were cleaned, all the staff looked their best, our employees' dining-room was laid out with refreshments. At one minute to one, the phone rang and this, as I recall, was the conversation: 'Hello, Mr Perl, this is John Major.' 'Oh yes,' I replied, dreading another cancellation. 'Do you remember that we scheduled a visit to your factory for today?' 'Yes, yes, Mr Major,' I replied, 'we are ready for you - where are you?' 'Oh,' replied the MP, 'I'm glad to hear you're ready for me. I was afraid that, as such a long time had passed, you might have forgotten and nobody would be prepared. If you look out of the window, you'll see me in the phone box outside. I'm walking right over.' '


30 April 1893, Edmond de Goncourt writes in his journal: 'Hearing someone in the Grenier mention the name of Oscar Wilde, Henri de Regnier started smiling. I asked him why. 'Oh, don't you know?' he said. 'He makes no secret of it. Yes, he admits that he's a homosexual . . . It was he who said one day: 'I've been married three times in my life, once to a woman and twice to men.' After the success of a play of his in London, he left his wife and three children and installed himself in a London hotel where he is living with a young English lord. A friend of mine who went to see him, told me afterwards that there was only one bed in the room, with two pillows, and that while he was there Wilde's wife, who brings him his post every morning, arrived in tears.' And when I said that in a man so given to plagiarising his fellow authors, homosexuality must be a plagiarism from Verlaine, Regnier agreed, saying that the English author was always praising Verlaine.'

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