Three royal biographers sit smartly in a row at the Royal Literary Society, a tall room with dusky velvet drapes which seems designed for some Mesmerists' Convention: the serious historian (Philip Ziegler), the demi-serious (Hugo Vickers) and Sarah Bradford.
Ziegler is intelligent and, from time to time, unctuous: Vickers, an old Etonian with a steely-grey Elvis quiff, has a stiff, impenetrable smirk; Bradford sports a double choker of pearls and an indomitable posture.
When Vickers was a "mere" boy at Eton, he spent his holidays making a painstaking replica of Windsor Castle, peopled by royal personages, so the genial chairman of this discussion tells us. What we don't hear is who dropped the lighted match - and whether the royal personages were ever alive. Ziegler's biggest effort in this line has been his authorised biography of Edward VIII. Bradford shocks everyone in the room by shooting straight from the steely-black-clad thigh, so straight, in fact, that we're pleased for Edward's sake that he is safely dead: "He was an obstinate, bitter and rather stupid man. And, yes, I do think he was a fascist. He disapproved of all democracies. He called them slipshod." Nothing slipshod there.
During question time, the audience unites in its condemnation of the wickedly prurient intrusiveness of the press. …