Petronella Wyatt

Last of the ladies

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

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Should this column be more frugal or less frugal? As an unelected column should it be allowed to ask someone else to squeeze its toothpaste tube? Should it be required to give an account of its expenditure, its private minicabs and the cost of refurbishing itself?

If I have to read another word about Prince Charles, his money and what he does or does not do with it, I think I shall scream. I shall scream even louder if I have to read any more articles by commentators attacking him for having Michael Fawcett in the bathroom or complaining that he is a miser.

I don't know what moron at the Palace suggested that the Prince reveal details of his income and how he spends it, but it was always bound to be a Morton's Fork situation. Personally, I don't care if he spends it on coloured condoms. The royal family and its money is possibly one of the most boring subjects of today. If the public doesn't like it, abolish the monarchy. As the monarchy costs each of us the price of a Mars Bar a year, it would seem a little silly, considering that the price of maintaining a president or head of state would be considerably higher.

The other great yawn this week relates to the late Katharine Hepburn. Don't get me wrong. I do not mean that Miss Hepburn was not unique, brilliant, beautiful as a Clichy crystal, a class act and all that. There is little I would rather do on a Sunday afternoon than watch one of her films. Indeed, I think I have seen them all, including a little-known movie called Keeper of the Flame in which she played the widow of a fascist leader.

No, I refer to that hackneyed question: why don't they make stars like her any more? So far there has been a series of articles on this subject, none of which has managed to come up with an answer.

It would seem to me, however, that the answer is blindingly obvious. No one – the contemporary media, the public or the film industry – would permit a star like her to exist. Miss Hepburn, as everyone keeps on pointing out, was a lady. She didn't do cheesecake shots. She didn't show her pins or her breasts and hated giving interviews. Her clothes were of an understated classic kind and she never reinvented herself. She didn't endorse fashion designers or cosmetics or turn up at vulgar parties. She was also somewhat posh, coming from a New England family and articulating her words correctly in a slightly snooty but amusing style.

Today, the public would not tolerate this kind of disgraceful behaviour. We are used to the Beckhams in his-and-her minidresses, sundry soap opera actresses with Michelin Man bosoms, spreads in tabloids or magazines in which these people tell us everything you never wanted to know. This is not to mention public tantrums, boyfriend swapping every five minutes, having a new hairdo every six, and Hollywood actresses like Cameron Diaz losing their shoes at premieres and walking down the street waving bottles of booze, etc.

I don't know whether this is the fault of the press, which has had to become increasingly vulgar in order to win readers, or of the decline in public taste. Probably, the two are interdependent. There has also been a separation of cultures, which perhaps has to do with the breakdown of communities and the family. Whereas in Miss Hepburn's day young and old, middle-class and working-class enjoyed the same films and the same songs and aspired, if nothing else, to the same clothes, this is not the case today.

I don't know a single person in their teens or 20s whom I could force to sit down to watch a film like The Philadelphia Story. Moreover, most people, whatever their age, are accustomed to nudity, swearing and violence. My fiercely intelligent older brother, who is 50, would not watch a Katharine Hepburn movie if you held a bottle of claret in front of him. He once caught me red-handed sitting in front of Bringing Up Baby, a great screwball comedy which featured Miss Hepburn and a leopard, and changed channels.

In any case, in the 21st century her career would last about ten minutes. Hollywood executives and the media would crucify her. You can visualise the conversations between business bigwigs and editors: 'Who is the unco-operative red-haired toff? She won't strip, she goes out covered from her neck down. You can't even see her damn legs. She won't appear in a Bond film or anything with violence or adult language, and she won't give us the lowdown on her sex life. We all know she's been hanging out with this Spencer Tracy. Why won't she talk about how it feels to be the mistress of a man with a deaf son? She just doesn't give the public what it wants. Can her.'

That, my friends, is why they don't make stars like her any more.