Class conscious

Christopher Biggins, the party-goer who occasionally does a bit of acting on the side, always wears a bow tie, partly because, if he spills some canapes down his shirtfront - which is a major occupational hazard in his line of "work" - the dickie-bow is out of range of the mess.

He once said that "learning to tie a bow tie is like learning to ride a bike - you never forget how to do it".

But that's wrong, actually. In the dressy, quadrangled world of Oxford and the Inner Temple, I learnt to tie my own bow ties but, ten years on, I find I can no longer do it, which is why I recently wore a made-up bow tie at a formal party given by an old Etonian. Throughout the evening, everyone who addressed me spoke not to my face but to my too pert and perfect dickie-bow. They were transfixed by it, frankly amazed at my crassness, for my tie was the only prefabricated one in the room.

All the other men there had spent years wearing bow ties at Eton and, while they attended the formal functions that are an offshoot of going there, the skill of tying them became too deeply ingrained to be forgotten.

Not all ex-public schoolboys can tie their own, though. Tony Blair can't, for example; and it always seems to me that the knots of Hugh Grant are a little too good to be true. Michael Green, relief manager of Lippman and Sons, London's largest independent supplier of formal wear, commends the grammar school product Sir Edward Heath for his bow-tying skills.

A correctly hand-tied bow should have a "Churchillian looseness", apparently, a quality that the ties of the old Cranleighan and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger always achieve.

I told Green that I was minded to set up a business producing pre-tied bow ties that had that looseness built in, thus enabling people not born into bow-tie-wearing circles to look as if they were so favoured. But he told me that the men who hire made-up ties from him complain vociferously if they are not absolutely perfect.

And he shook his head in sad incredulity.