''CAN we switch orf for a minute?'' from Sir Percy Cradock, on last Monday's news interview slots into the pantheon of great local television moments alongside ATV's coverage of the 1988 Olympics, when a studio technician was caught on camera and ducked down under the presenter's desk. Nobody greatly cares how ATV is run but I have a strong suspicion that, for generations, Sir Percys have been running my own country on the ''switch orf for a minute'' principle and that the United Kingdom has been ''switching orf for a minute'' for years. The reason why Sir Percys have not been run up lamp posts more often by the British populace is that The People in Britain rarely know who civil servants are when they are in office and their internment in obscurity is usually total after they retire. Amazing it was to behold, therefore, a retired diplomat twitching this way and that, unminded, and short circuiting amongst the Hongkong Children of The Notebook, sparks flying when wires touched. Even more fascinating was the sight of Government officials at a safe distance, rifles in hand, debating whether to tranquilise the old moose or put it out of its misery. China, I understand, is shocked. Sir Percy is up there to receive his ''Old Friend of China'' Award - the OFC. I have always wondered about people who have all of China as an old friend as to what levels of intimacy they reserve for newer friends let alone mere acquaintances. China has been fond of making OFCs of previously well-disposed former leaders, like Richard Nixon and Edward Heath unable to grasp that, back in their own countries, they are not venerated by successive waves of bandanna mixed infants till the day they die. What China has cheerfully refused to accept is that the sort of people they make Old Friends of China are friends of China and nobody else. The Nixons and Heaths are the cantankerous widowed uncles who nobody wants to have on Christmas Day. ''Uncle Tedis going to China for the holidays. Thank God!'' At least Uncles Ted and Dickie have international notoriety. The Chinese are disturbed to discover that, in Sir Percy, they have made an OFC of a pensioner, unknown in his homeland where he never lived long enough to change the price of fish, who speaks with an accent as familiar to his people as court Japanese and runs amok in colonies. Beijing's reaction has been characteristically swift and radical - as retired railway wheeltapper Wilf and his wife Valerie Bagshaw of Runcorn, Cheshire found out on Wednesday. They received a letter from The Chinese Embassy in London inviting them to become Old Friends of China and travel immediately to Beijing, not to talk about Hongkong, or stay with Sir Robin McLaren. Speaking in their stopover room at the Ever Red Hotel, Wan Chai, Valerie said: ''You could have knocked us over with a peacock feather when we got that letter. We have never been to China but we have been regulars at the Ming Tombs Chinese Takeaway at the end of our road for over 10 years. Wilf has the diabetes and I have the false teeth to prove it. ''We'd be standing waiting for our orders - mine, the sweet-and-sour pork with chips and deep fried bean sprout and Wilf, his clam chow mein with curry sauce - and we'd chat to Mr Wong about all sorts of things. We told him what everybody at home really thought about Mr Patten and about Hongkong and how we'd like to visit Japan too, one day. We agreed about so many things - including that through train from Hongkong because our service to Manchester has been cut. ''Then we find out that the spring rolls were bugged and they were recording everything we said. 'You have been of fraternal assistance to a united front policy on Hongkong and the formulation of Deng Tsiao Ping Thought', they said in the letter. Just fancy that! ''Anyway, they say we are going to share exactly the same visit programme with Sir Percy Cradock who, frankly, I thought had predeceased Fanny by some years. We'll be doing The Great Wall and Tenny Men Square and the Ming Tombs with Sir Percy. I just hope they have the curry sauce for Wilf. Now, off you go young man. I'm supposed to conduct this visit privately.'' Called for comment, Government House could only give a long gleeful laugh.