14 MARCH 1958, Page 25

Arbiter Nugarum

SUPPOSEDLY a volume of reminiscence, this little book is in fact a series of homilies based on Mr. Harding's experience of various occupations- Occupations which include cramming students for Sandhurst, pounding a PC's beat, and a period of abortive preparation for the priesthood. On examination, these occupations turn out to have one thing in common : they all, considered in the least charitable light, involve interfering with other people, or at any rate confer the privilege of being heard with respect during the delivery of large slabs of advice. Mr. Harding has certainly got into the habit, and the years have confirmed his early confidence. But then his advice is always so sensible. How right he was about Maclean's stomach tablets! If only he would tell us the name of his tailor, his dentist-and his agent. Perhaps, Messrs. Putnam will consider bringing out a Gil- bert Harding Birthday Book with a snappy piece of advice for every day of the year. 'I always say that a man's best friend is his mother.' Shop at the Army and Nasiy.' But with all this, the plain fact remains that Mr. Harding belongs, in the end, to that great company of Englishmen who talk clear good sense in a memorable manner. On his own very trivial level., but nevertheless in the unmistakable tradition of Wellington, Melbourne, George Orwell or Bertrand Russell, Mr. Harding stands for fairness, lucidity and wit. He examines a given situation with care, rejects out of hand sentimentality or cant, and then pronounces on the matter in un- equivocal terms which are comprehensible to a child of ten. All this comes out very plainly in Master of None. It is mostly concerned with com- monplace issues; but then these are just the issues about which, since everyone feels qualified to give judgment on them, the most nonsense is habitually talked. It is therefore refreshing to hear from Mr. Harding that instead of going clammy with admiration of airline pilots we might sometimes give a word of thanks to ill-paid engine-drivers; that the guilty tips we give to sluttish waitresses are an insult to civilisation and to ourselves; and that a lot of working people emigrate, not because they want a new and more enterprising life, but because they are spoon-fed ninnies, too feeble to endure the cold breezes which blow, from time to time,.even in our Welfare State.

It would be pleasant to reflect that Mr. Hard- ing will be heard and understood. For Welling- ton, with his matchless good sense, is no doubt labelled as reactionary, and Lord Russell is popularly suspected of being immoral or Com- munist or both; whereas Gilbert iS on the telly and reaches boobs and illiterates everywhere. But will they listen to his message? For Gilbert Hard- ing, adept as he is, makes the splendid but fatal error common to so many intelligent men : he refuses to begin by flattering the fools he hopes to persuade.