MEANWHILE, IN ARGENTINA, Random House author Simon Winchester, a reporter for the London Sunday Times, is still imprisoned, though his latest book, Their Noble Lordships: Class and Power in Modern Britain, is out this month in this country. To free Winchester and his countrymen, accused of spying, the pope has been asked to intervene, and, though that's unlikely to work at this point, it will certainly carry more weight than a request from the Random publicity folks who'd surely like to send him on tour (on a different continent).

Winchester's editor, Rob Cowley, has heard several times from Winchester's wife, to whom the book is dedicated, in England. She's been allowed to speak to her husband once a week on the phone and reports that he and his fellow prisoners are "dispirited and isolated," after almost two months. But, from his cell, he did want to know the finalized date of his American publication. According to Cowley, Judy Winchester writes, "with each skirmish his plight gets worse" and that she hopes for continued "worldwide pressure and interest."

Winchester, like Bob Houston (see above), specializes in hot spots; he was in Afghanistan last year and his Northern Ireland dispatches earned him a prestigious British journalism award. So, it's not surprising that Their Noble Lordships has been a controversial book. Originally scheduled to appear in the U. S. in 1978 (from Harper & Row, not Random House), the book touched off an aristocratic fuss of the first order. It was initiated by the Earl of Mansfield, who thought some quotes from his late father (of the same name) might be mistaken for his own. As a result of his threats and his pulling both rank and strings, every single copy of the first edition was removed from English bookstores. After that, a number of other hereditary peers of the realm (including Lord Carrington, who was to resign as foreign secretary over the Falklands) joined in the hostilities.

Says Winchester, in the current edition's preface: "There were times when I feared this book would never be published at all. The costs of legal actions and of reprinting a book that had been banned on both sides of the Atlantic mounted to astronomical sums." But a powerful ally came to his aid--Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk (as he's actually called!). A Scots barrister, he thought that Winchester shouldn't be so ganged up against, even though he disagreed with the book's conclusion that the peerage has outlived its usefulness. This "splendid old trooper," as Winchester describes him, was able "to turn a legally dangerous manuscript" into one that could do no more than elevate blue-blood pressure.