It is the fate of a man with a fashionable wife to be her human handbag at events beyond his comprehension

It's one sign of age when your last New Statesman diary had to be twice as long (remember how small the print was during the last Labour government?) and another when you no longer feel impelled to leave the country for a royal wedding (I tried to escape Charles & Di by flying to Zagreb, but BA piped their nuptials over the cabin loudspeakers throughout the flight). This time I went to the gym - a Princess of Wales pilgrimage - and watched Edward and Sophie's ceremony on a multiplex screen while toning my buttock muscles on the life cycle and the Concept II rowing ergonometer.

I was struck by the emergence on all channels of a new kind of royal commentator, described as a "constitutional expert". None had the expertise to warn viewers that this may be the last Windsor wedding solemnised under our current constitution, the Act of Settlement of 1700. This law - the bedrock of our modern monarchy - pivots on a 17th-century Sophie: it bestows the British Crown on "the most excellent Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the heirs of her body being Protestant" and preferably male - the act incorporates the "men first" principle of primogeniture. It is irredeemably incompatible with our new Human Rights Act, and the Paineite reform group Common Sense is preparing to file a challenge the moment the act is brought into force next year. That will mean, eventually, the amendment or repeal of the Act of Settlement: parliament will be required to decide, by simple majority, whether to stick with Princess Sophie or pass the Crown to the heirs of another female body: Cherie Booth's, for example, or Geri Halliwell's. MPs will have the option of voting for a republic. That will bethe first real test of how many Labour MPs seriously object to the hereditary principle.

It is the fate of a man with a more fashionable wife to be her human handbag at events far beyond his comprehension - such as the Queen's Cup. That's where I last glimpsed the Queen, although I have to say she excited less interest than Pierce Brosnan, who was more generous with his moniker (a tip for the Palace: if you want to keep the Windsors, let them sign autographs). An even bigger draw was Hugh Grant, whom I last encountered in a makeshift dock at Television Centre, playing a Notting Hill bookseller of a rather different stripe - the editor of Oz, Richard Neville, on trial for conspiracy to debauch public morals. "I loved you in that role," volunteered Liz Hurley, and I do think that it's one of his best. The BBC, however, refuses to repeat The Trials of Oz because of all the four-letter words. (In Australia, where it's repeated every few months, they actually subtitle them for the deaf.)

Perhaps the corporation's embarrassment has an additional source: the present director-general, when a young man of apparent good character, volunteered to stand surety for the Oz defendants (Scotland Yard objected). The creator of Roland Rat will, I hope, be less diffident.

The BBC's present problem is not loss of audience, it's the loss of creativity, intelligence and imagination - especially in factual programming. The UN Human Rights Commission recently condemned the routine sexual assaults on women prisoners and their deployment in chain gangs, kept in line with chemical sprays and electric prods. So I'm tempted to urge that a special prize - for human rights ignorance - should be awarded to the BBC for Ruby Wax, who joined the girls on a gang for a happy-clappy half-hour of rock-breaking and grave-digging. This extravagant exercise in trivialisation was a swell advert for brutalist penology (Ruby to female felon: "Wow, you gotta life like a mini-series"): next time the corporation tackles human rights, they'd do better to hire Jerry Springer.

"Stop the City" stopped me from getting to the ICA in time to flog a few copies of Crimes Against Humanity, the book from hell that I never thought I would finish. It begins in 1139 with the first human rights law - a decree by the Second Lateran Council against the use of crossbows in wars against Christians - and ends with the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic. The book was meant to go to press last summer, after the UN conference which set up the International Criminal Court. At the time, I toyed with a subtitle such as how to prosecute General Pinochet. Then the old torturer took tea (I'm reliably informed it was whiskey) with Margaret Thatcher, and a last chapter had to be written at Christmas and then rewritten. On the very day of my new deadline, Nato bombed Serbia - which meant writer's cramp over Easter and an added poignancy to the cover, a wrap-around of Guernica. Penguin Books has published with amazing speed, although there was a last-minute glitch caused by the penguin. The holders of Picasso's copyright were adamant: there is no evidence that penguins were bombed during the Spanish civil war, so the flightless bird must not appear on or next to the painting.

Authors will do anything to promote their latest book - which may be the real reason behind Henry Kissinger's celebrated walk-out on Start the Week, which ensured maximum publicity for his 1,200- page tome.

Kissinger had just agreed with me on the need for an international criminal court, and I was about to ask whether he would prefer to be tried there, rather than by Paxman QC. I passed up the opportunity to boost the sales of Crimes Against Humanity by stopping his studio departure with a citizen's arrest.

This article first appeared in the 05 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, He makes us nice enough for export