Short Cuts Anne Robinson
I stole the Queen Mother’s table at the Ritz to please him
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