Short Cuts Anne Robin­son

I stole the Queen Mother’s ta­ble at the Ritz to please him

The Oldie - - NEWS -

My links with The Oldie go back to its late edi­tor, Alexan­der Chan­cel­lor. He was my friend for nearly forty years. The man my daugh­ter al­ways re­ferred to as her fu­ture step­fa­ther.

Not that I ever, so to speak, saw a gap in the fence for such a pos­si­bil­ity. But much more be­cause Emma would say my eyes lit up when I talked about him.

I fell in love with his writ­ing dur­ing his years as edi­tor of the Spec­ta­tor, and longed to meet him. I was a young ex­ec­u­tive on the Daily Mir­ror, at a time when the pa­per ran on much the same fi­nan­cial sys­tem as a small, oil-rich coun­try. Bring him to any restau­rant of his choice, I said grandly to Jeff Bernard, the Spec­ta­tor colum­nist. Alexan­der sug­gested the Ritz. So, in a girly pin­cer move­ment in­volv­ing bribery, plead­ing and my short­est miniskirt, I per­suaded the maître d’ to give us his best ta­ble.

Half­way through our lunch, the Queen Mother and two com­pan­ions walked in, pos­si­bly un­ex­pected, as there was much fuss and fum­bling, with one of the el­derly wait­ers do­ing what looked very much like an un­steady dou­ble curtsy. Even­tu­ally, the trio were seated, half­way along the grand room.

Alexan­der wheezed and gig­gled and re­mained con­vinced for­ever af­ter that, since we had pole po­si­tion, Her Majesty had had to set­tle for sec­ond best.

On 15th Novem­ber, the Le­ices­ter Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val is stag­ing a panel dis­cus­sion to hon­our Alexan­der. It will in­clude Fer­di­nand Mount, fa­ther of the new edi­tor of The Oldie, and Alexan­der Waugh, Craig Brown and me.

Well, the fes­ti­val de­scribes it as a panel dis­cus­sion, but I note that we pan­el­lists have al­ready taken to re­fer­ring to it as ‘Alexan­der’s Con­fer­ence’.

Ed­i­tors are var­i­ously ad­mired, hated, re­spected or held in con­tempt for their in­com­pe­tence, while be­ing well liked for their abil­ity to buy rounds in the pub. None, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, has been both revered and adored like Alexan­der.

My first Fleet Street job was on the Daily Mail, which ran a feu­dal sys­tem, whereby com­mon-or-gar­den re­porters would never ex­pect to so­cialise with those fur­ther up the peck­ing or­der.

As the statu­tory girl re­porter, one took for granted that, when you handed your copy to the chief sub, it would fall to the ground, al­low­ing him and his col­leagues to look at your knick­ers as you bent to pick it up.

I only once briefly met the edi­tor, Arthur Brit­ten­den. He hired and fired me by re­mote con­trol. The lat­ter for mar­ry­ing his news edi­tor. I grad­u­ated to the Sun­day Times and Harry Evans. This was a much more egal­i­tar­ian set-up.

Harry was ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing sud­denly sit­ting at your desk and writ­ing an im­proved in­tro to the story you were wrestling with. Democ­racy, how­ever, stopped short of paid ma­ter­nity leave, and for a girl to come to work in trousers would have been un­think­able.

Mov­ing to the Daily Mir­ror in the late Seven­ties was like switch­ing from life in a se­nior com­mon room to a Wild West saloon. Nearly all of us had a pri­vate of­fice with a full drinks cabi­net. There were he­li­copters to race meet­ings, and an an­nual, three-day ‘Think Tank’ at The Bear in Wood­stock, where we did our best to drink Ox­ford­shire dry.

‘What is my spend­ing al­lowance for the year?’ I naively asked Mike Mol­loy, the hand­some, ur­bane edi­tor, when I was ap­pointed woman’s edi­tor. ‘This is the Daily Mir­ror, blos­som,’ he replied. ‘There are no bud­gets.’

It doesn’t mat­ter what sort of ca­reer you might have had be­fore reg­u­larly ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion. Your past is over and hence­forth you’re re­garded as a mem­ber of the ‘Shiny Floor’ brigade.

Thus I shouldn’t have been the least sur­prised, six weeks af­ter The Weak­est Link first aired, to be of­fered the lead in Dick Whit­ting­ton on the Isle of Wight.

I stopped do­ing the show af­ter eleven years but, for the night of BBC Chil­dren in Need this Novem­ber, The Weak­est Link is be­ing re­vived. De­spite hav­ing hosted more than two thou­sand episodes, I re­main use­less at gen­eral knowl­edge. I can eas­ily re­call the name of the wife of the phys­io­ther­a­pist Tommy Docherty ran off with when he was man­ager of Man U, but I can’t dis­tin­guish my Hu­tus from my Tut­sis or name the im­por­tant rivers in Ger­many.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, though, a fact falls into my area of ex­per­tise. One likely to baf­fle the most com­pet­i­tive of quizzers.

Who opened the Chiswick Fly­over in 1959? An­swer below.

I have a new def­i­ni­tion of a split sec­ond. The day my piece on go­ing deaf was pub­lished (in The Oldie’s Oc­to­ber is­sue), I had an early morn­ing ap­point­ment with a new-to-me Har­ley Street spe­cial­ist. We dis­cussed what turned out to be my en­tirely nor­mal heart­beat and then he said, ‘You’re deaf in your left ear.’

‘How on earth do you know that?’ I asked. He waved a newly printed-out copy of my Wikipedia en­try.

I’ve long since stopped fret­ting about the non­sense that ap­pears un­der my name. But pray, what overe­d­u­cated, un­em­ployed youth, prob­a­bly on ben­e­fits, needs to lie in bed in the morn­ing and add the most triv­ial of de­tail within min­utes of it ap­pear­ing else­where?

My hear­ing aid, as I wrote, is tiny and fits into my ear with­out at­tach­ment Spec­savers tells me it is now able to of­fer a very sim­i­lar ti­ta­nium one, com­pet­i­tively priced. We will be the judges of that. I prom­ise to test drive and re­port back.

*Jayne Mans­field. The con­trac­tor was an ador­ing fan and she was film­ing at El­stree at the time

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