To Simpson’s-in-the-Strand this afternoon for The Oldie of the Year Awards (the ‘Tootys’ for short), which were presented by Sir Terry Wogan. The guest list read like a Tatler bash in the late 70s. Debonair Peter Bowles charmed anything that walked by him. Naughty Jilly Cooper chatted amiably to all and sundry about nothing and everything. Eileen Aitkens and Geoffrey Palmer rubbed shoulders with Joan Bakewell. Barry Cryer’s dirty laugh could be heard over the gentle conversation of Dennis Norden, Tony Blackburn, Simon Hoggart and Richard Ingrams.
A boozy lunch passed without incident, and then it was time to stay awake for Wogan. He began by saying that Ingrams, the Oldie’s editor, was not planning to follow the Pope into retirement. More’s the pity, he said. Wogan conceded that he had been second choice to present the awards this year; but, ‘mercifully, Stephen Fry was not available’. Fry’s self-indulgent turn at the Baftas on Sunday was the frequent butt of Wogan’s undimmed wit.
In addition to this cutting edge material, Wogan also wheeled out some of his beloved old jokes. He told the ones about the broken egg timer, the vet with pretensions, and the cow with the low libido. You’ll have heard them all before, so I won’t repeat them except for my favourite aphorism:
‘In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is cheer, and in water there is bacteria.’
Wogan broke his rendition occasionally to hand out some prizes. Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathon runner at 101, accepted the ‘Snap Left in the Celery’ award. He urged those gathered to follow his example and give up drink, tobacco and meat. This advice fell, literally in most cases, on deaf ears. General Sir Mike Jackson accepted an award on behalf of Squadron Leader Tony Iveson, the 92-year-old man who led the campaign for the sculpture to Bomber Command in Green Park. Wally Fawkes and Nicholas Crace were honoured; and Mary Beard, wearing a pair of very swish sparkling leggings, was crowned ‘Pin-up of the Year’. She reopened hostilities with her allegedly misogynistic detractors by saying: ‘the size of my genitalia has nothing to do with why we disagree about migration’.
The Golden of the Year Award went to Michael Lord Heseltine. He gave a delightful little homily in which he ridiculed himself and his decrepitude. He also denied the rumour that he once listed his life’s ambitions on the back of an envelope. There had been an envelope, he said, but it had read: ‘Parliament at 30, President of the Board of Trade by 60 and Golden Oldie of the Year at 80!’
Heseltine, 79, has spent the last 12 months providing ammunition for Ed Miliband to fire at the government. Tarzan’s No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth report and his attack on David Cameron’s European Policy have caused no end of pride among the aged fraternity.
Richard Ingrams closed the shin-dig by branding its sponsors, Baillie Gifford, tight-fisted Scots. There’s gratitude for you.