Category Archives: Politics

Life in the 1960s: a world of murderers, spies, criminals, politicians, mysteries.

Micky Fawcett lived life in the Krayzy Days

So, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a journalist:

“I am looking for more information on Teddy Smith’s background….particularly place and date of birth, but in fact anything… Is there any chance you can help? I’m interested in Smith because of certain connections to other areas of research, namely political issues.”

I have blogged about Teddy Smith before. He was an associate of the Kray Twins, London gangsters in the 1960s.

So last week I had a chat with my chum Micky Fawcett, author of Krayzy Days, a definitive book on the Krays which goes beyond them into Micky’s dealings with the Unione Corse, the US Mafia et al.

Micky told me: “The full story with me and Teddy Smith is that there’s no story. He was one of those people who was just there and it was as if he’d always been there. I dunno where he came from.

“I remember walking out of the (Krays’) house one time and he said: They get on my nerves. It’s so boring. Talking about violence all the time. Any type of violence. It gets on my nerves. They oughta know what I did to get myself certified and into Broadmoor. And that was the end of that conversation. He told people he was the youngest person ever in Broadmoor. He was sent there as a borstal boy. I dunno if that’s true. But it’s what he told people.”

“So he must have been under 23 when he went into Broadmoor?” I asked.

Teddy Smith without his cigarette holder and little dog

“I dunno where or when he was born. He had relations who lived at the top of Dartmouth Park Hill in Highgate. He was a bit sort of middle class.”

“What was he doing for the Krays?” I asked.

“Don’t know.”

I looked at Micky.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I never give it a second thought. He was just there. He used to walk around with a little dog and a cigarette holder. He was gay, but he weren’t camp. Nothing effeminate. And you just accepted it: Oh, yeah, he’s gay. I told you before about that time we met Francis Bacon, the painter. I didn’t like the look of him. Francis Bacon. Well, I weren’t impressed.”

“This bloke who got in touch with me,” I said, “seems to think there’s some political angle with Teddy Smith, which I don’t think there is, is there?”

“No,” said Micky, “but the connection would be Tom Driberg the MP – I’ve seen writers since say he and Teddy Smith were lovers. I dunno if that’s true or not.”

“Well,” I said, “Tom Driberg did put it about a lot.”

MP / Soviet spy Tom Driberg

“I didn’t know who Driberg was at the time,” said Micky. “Didn’t care. He was just this tall feller standing around.”

“He was supposed to be,” I said, “a Soviet agent working via the Czechs.”

“Ah, was he?” said Micky. “He used to be a cottager, hanging around in gents toilets.”

“Did you ever meet Lord Boothby?” I asked.

Lord Boothby was a peer of the realm, a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. An entertaining politician a bit like Boris Johnson is now. Except Boothby mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people and politicians. He put it about a lot.

“No, I never met Boothby,” Micky told me, “but a pal of mine did. We were at the billiard hall one day and a feller called Albert Lovett said to me: See that kid over there? He’s ‘avin’ an affair with Lord Boothby. I had never heard of Lord Boothby. Not interested. And Albert said: He’s been telling me what they do. He gets their trousers off, gets them to bend over and smacks their arse with a slipper… He was a burglar.”

“Who?” I asked. “Lovett?”

“No. Lovett was a con man. The kid – Leslie Holt – he was a burglar. Another pal of mine, called Boy Boy Clifford, was a receiver. He was quite well-respected among everybody. He came from Hoxton originally. Dead now.

(Left-Right) Lord Bob Boothby, Ronnie Kray and Leslie Holt

“Leslie Holt took Boy Boy up to see Boothby and Boothby said: Hello… Hello… Get him a drink, Leslie. So Leslie went off and came back with a gin & tonic or whatever. And Boothby said: I said get him a fucking drink! You don’t call that a fucking drink, do you? Top it up! And they got talking and Boothby said to Boy Boy: Would you like to fuck my wife? That’s true. And that was a difficult one for poor old Boy Boy to answer.”

“Well,” I said, “supposedly Boothby had had a long-term affair with Harold Macmillan’s – the Prime Minister’s – wife.

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

“I dunno if he meant it,” said Micky. “Would you like to fuck my wife? Maybe it was just a show-off. He was a terrible show-off, Boothby. He liked shocking people.”

“What,” I asked, “happened to Leslie Holt?”

“He got murdered in Harley Street by the dentist.”

“Because?” I asked.

“He knew too much. They doubled the… They gave him an injection… This is the newspaper story, not my story.”

“So who wanted him killed?” I asked.

“Upstairs. The powers that be. Or it might have been the dentist himself or his friends or… I dunno.”

Then Micky and I got talking about the ‘suicide’ of boxer Freddie Mills.

At Freddie Mills’ Nite Spot in the 1960s – (L-R) Teddy Smith, Micky Fawcett, Johnny Davis, Reggie Kray, Freddie Mills, Ronnie Kray, Dicky Morgan and Sammt Lederman (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

Freddie Mills was a major British boxer – a former world light heavyweight champion – a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. A boxer-turned-TV personality a bit like Frank Bruno. Except Freddie Mills mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people.

His suicide is interesting because it has always been rumoured he was murdered. One widespread rumour is that he was murdered because he was ‘Jack The Stripper‘ – someone who had been going round killing prostitutes.

“I’ve heard there’s a chap who claims,” said Micky, “that he was duped into taking Freddie Mills to a spot where this chap’s father had hired two gunmen who came in from America, shot Freddie Mills and went away again. Mafia men.”

“Did he get killed because of the Jack The Stripper thing?” I asked.

“No. The story I was told is that Freddie Mills lost all his money and went downhill and got depressed and miserable and threatened to blackmail this guy who had connections with the Mafia who got him shot.”

Actor George Raft (centre) with Ronnie (left) and Reggie Kray

“He was going to blackmail him because of his criminal connections?” I asked.

“Yes. It was at the time when the Mob were in the West End in London.”

“The time when actor George Raft was coming over?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Micky.

Mickey talked more about George Raft in a blog last year.

They were different times back then.

But yet not very different from today.

Human nature is human nature.

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Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s two bids to get elected as Member of Parliament


Today is General Election Day in the UK.

Below are three extracts from the late Malcolm Hardee’s increasingly prestigious autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (reviews HERE), published in 1996


Politics has never had any great effect on my life. I remember when I was a kid Labour seemed ‘common’ and the Conservatives seemed ‘not common’. That seemed to be the case.

When I was a kid, I remember a Mr and Mrs Minns.

On the left side of their bay window, they had a poster saying:

VOTE CONSERVATIVE

And on the right side:

VOTE LABOUR

I wondered how they got on together. They seemed very happily married.

Malcolm Hardee’s election reaction

I stood for Parliament in the very important Greenwich by-election in 1987 when Rosie Barnes stood for the SDP and Deirdre Wood was standing for the Labour Party. Everyone expected Labour to win in Greenwich but Rosie Barnes won.

I was supported by The Rainbow Alliance, who were loosely linked to The Monster Raving Loony Party. They linked up on this election and I met David – Screaming Lord – Sutch. He was broke and living with his mum at the time. He was ringing up from phone boxes trying to get his £500 deposit together.

The Rainbow Alliance was run by a peculiar old hippy called George Weiss. He had got a lot of money from his parents who were in the jewellery and silverware business and he’d blown it by gambling and betting on himself winning these elections, which he never did. I think he is convinced that one day he will win. He wanted computer-based referenda and Peace and Love all over the world. He always wanted to be a ‘personality’ but never managed it. His idea of humour was carrying a Gonk about – one of those stuffed toys that were popular in the 1960s.

George had come to the Tunnel Club which I ran and he wanted Jools Holland to run for The Rainbow Alliance in Greenwich. Jools didn’t want to appear to be a fool, so said he didn’t want to run but agreed to be my sponsor and Rainbow George put up my £500 deposit.

I ran for election under the banner THE RAINBOW ALLIANCE BEER, FAGS AND SKITTLES PARTY and we got an enormous amount of press and TV coverage because everyone thought it was going to be the last by-election before the General Election.

It was a good laugh, especially when I went to the count. The Great British public’s ignorance knows no bounds. It must be the easiest thing in the world to put an ‘X’ next to a candidate’s name. Some people had put ticks. A few had put marks out of ten. Some had voted for them all.

I got 174 votes. I beat the Communist Party. And I beat the National Front, which takes some doing because there’s strong support for them in the area.


In fact, Malcolm’s memory about the exact number of votes he received was – much like Malcolm – not exactly 100% dependable…

Numerical accuracy put on one side, Malcolm continued…


At that time, the comedy agent Addison Cresswell was very left wing and was handling all the Red Wedge tours. He phoned me up and went mad at me because I was standing. He thought I’d take votes from the Labour Party which might have an effect if it was a close-run thing. In the event, their candidate lost by a lot more than 174.

If I had thought more seriously about it, part of my Manifesto could actually have won it for me. This was Bring Charlton Athletic Back to The Valley. Charlton is the local football club and The Valley was their ground. At the time, they had to play at Crystal Palace’s ground. If I had got the whole of the Charlton Football Supporters’ Club on my side, I would have got enough votes to win it. Four years later, they did form a Valley Party for the local elections and they did get a counsellor in and did get Charlton back to The Valley.

My other Manifesto ideas were a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill (This has since been successfully suggested by the Millennium Committee)…Proper rides at the funfair and proper prizes….Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake….And concreting the Thames so people can travel about easier.

I’ve always felt detached from politics because Government represents authority whether Labour or Conservative. The strangest thing I noticed, when I was in prison, was that prisoners always had a better deal under a Right Wing government. Parole came in under a Conservative government. One-Third and later One-Half Remission came in under a Conservative government. I also used to think that, when a Conservative government was in power, the prison officers themselves were happier and therefore the prisoners got treated better.

*  *  *

I stood for Parliament again in the 1991 General Election and put up my own money because you get a free mailout to every constituent in the borough. That’s about 42,000 people in Greenwich. I simply selected the addresses of people who might turn up to Up The Creek and got a mailout to about 10,000 people for nothing. Normally it would cost £2,500 in postage alone; it only cost me my £500 Election Deposit which I lost by standing.

*  *  *

I’m thinking of running for Parliament again and think I have a bit of a chance this time. Someone once called himself the Literal Party at a by-election and he didn’t lose his deposit because a lot of people voted for him thinking he was the Liberal Party. He had used the same typeface as them on his election literature. He got loads of votes. Nearly got in. The real Liberal candidate complained because he reckoned he would have got in if this bloke hadn’t ‘stolen’ his votes.

So I’m going to call my party Old Labour.


In fact, despite writing the book in 1995, Malcolm (and I) got the date wrong. The General Election was in 1992 not 1991. There is a BBC News clip on YouTube of that 1992 Greenwich election result being announced, with Malcolm reacting behind the officiating electoral officer.

 

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Behind the scenes of Ariane Sherine’s “Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn” video

Yesterday’s blog was about Ariane Sherine’s comic music video of her Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn. I play the UK Labour Party leader. In just over a day, the YouTube video had been seen by over 2,000 people.

There has been feedback.

Ian Dunt, editor of the politics.co.uk website Tweeted: @ArianeSherine‘s deeply disturbing sexual obsession with Jeremy Corbyn continues. Profoundly NSFW.

After Ariane Tweeted: “Joking aside, I am going to vote Labour on June 8th, and I urge you to do the same,” one annoyed woman Tweeted: “I am wondering quite genuinely what would move you to compose such a vituperative piece of video.”

When I pointed out that ‘humour’ was involved, the lady replied sic in three Tweets (too many letters for one): “Assuming your epreiteration affirms your claim that this was purely ‘humour’ rather than malice emitting flatus or being urinated on by dogs it seems to be pitched at those who would laugh as easily at people falling over.”

So I think this shows both that the video has hit a wide audience and proved that a little linguistic learning is no guarantee of coherence.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics and never one to overstate the case, commented from Kenya: “John Fleming is a revelation. Part sex god and part tragic hero. A vastly untapped dramatic potential.”

She has a point.

The top reviews are in: “Part sex god and part tragic hero”

On Facebook, Mervyn Stutter, the talent-spotting equivalent of Simon Cowell at the Edinburgh Fringe for over a quarter of a century, appeared to want to book me on his Fringe show this year but, on further probing, backtracked, saying: “We only want the bed scene. Can you do 5 minutes?”

I find that both sexist and ageist.

A more heartwarming response was from Mysterious Mark who runs the British Comedy Guide website. He is nicknamed ‘Mysterious Mark’ because he does not like photos being taken of him and, a couple of people have told me, he seems not to cast reflections in mirrors.

He e-mailed me:

“I’m not sure if this is flattering or not to say John, but I honestly didn’t recognise you until about half way through watching the video. Then I remembered you mentioning, the last time we met, that you were about to play the Labour leader and it all came together in my mind and I went “WOAH! WOAH! WOAH! IS IT? YES, IT IS JOHN!”. It wasn’t until the credits rolled I was 100% sure though. It really is a fantastic video… well, apart from the bit where we get to see your thrusting behind,”

Ariane preparing for a sad part of the video

I told him that Ariane has great attention to detail.

She downloaded four headshots of Jeremy Corbyn from the internet (different angles) and then had them blown up and combined onto what I guess was an A2 photograph.

She then booked me into a top hair stylist and they cut my beard to the correct shape with those photos as reference. My eyebrows are bushier than Corbyn’s, so they lessened the depth (front to back) of my eyebrows and re-shaped them. He also has a pointier chin than me but the shaping of the beard helped change my apparent jaw shape.

We were going to add hair on top (Corbyn is not bald on top; I am) but this didn’t work properly, so she bought a Lenin hat and a Panama hat – both of the exact type and colour Corbyn has worn – (the Panama hat band is of a colour type he has worn). So the top of my head is covered at all times. Interesting aside – a Lenin cap and a Lennon cap are the same thing, which I had not consciously twigged.

The suit colours are as per Corbyn and the spectacles were replicas of the type Corbyn has appeared in (The bastard now seems to not wear specs!!!)

It is the beard and me looking over the top of the specs (which Corbyn does) which confuse the look of my face. If I looked over the top of the specs and kept my chin down, it looked more Corbyny.

Morning Star front-page; the back is even better

There are two jokey fake Morning Star covers and back pages in correct type style. And much more.

The props, hair and beard trims and extras appearing in crowd scenes cost Ariane over £1,000 combined.

The video was shot and edited by the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn, Ariane’s best friend of 20 years whom she married for real last month.

He gave Ariane £50 worth of ASOS vouchers for Christmas and she spent them on a wedding dress for the Corbyn video – not knowing that she and Graham would fall back in love and she would end up marrying him for real in the Corbyn dress in Las Vegas.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is only the second script she has done since leaving television writing in 2008. The last television series she worked on was the BBC1 primetime sitcom My Family.

Ariane has been involved in various videos since then, including one for her Hitler Moustache song in which Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) and her now-husband Graham Nunn both appeared.

Love Song for Jeremy Corbyn is the first video she has ever directed.

“At times,” she says, “I got frustrated with the process, but I think I got the best out of John Fleming and he’s actually a really decent actor, given that I cast him for his looks rather than his acting!”

That is one of the crosses I have to bear. Women just want me for my body, not for my mind. In fact, Ariane had tried to hire a professional Jeremy Corbyn lookalike to cavort in bed with her. There were plenty available, but the going rate – for example at the Susan Scott Lookalikes agency – was “£600 for up to three hours plus expenses plus VAT” which, Ariane says, “made me think it might be cheaper to hire the man himself.”

She settled for me because although I would nor work for peanuts (I don’t like them) I would work for green tea and Tesco baked beans.

Ariane plied me with Tesco baked beans

She also brought in various extras for crowd scenes, including comics Kayleigh Cassidy, Siân Doughty, Henrik Elmer, Angelo Marcos, and Tommy West.

“The extras,” says Ariane, “were all brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for more professional, easy-to-work-with, punctual supporting actors. It could have been stressful, but I totally loved the day of the ensemble shoot.

“It was hard to simultaneously act and direct. The scene where John is singing to me (the singing voice is actually her husband Graham’s) and taking the engagement ring out of his pocket was the hardest to get right. In contrast, the sex scenes were surprisingly easy!”

It has been often said that I am surprisingly easy, bordering on the desperate.

Ariane’s favourite scene is the one in which Jeremy Corbyn looks at a framed photo of Diane Abbott during sex and has an immediate orgasm. I suggested I should twitch my toes at this point, which Ariane thought worked well.

I am available for roles in any upcoming porno foot fetish films.

Ariane has said in print: “John’s house, used for the shoot, is still cluttered with Jeremy Corbyn video props. At some stage, he will get his house back.”

I am not so sure. As with my house, so with my sanity.

There is a clause in my contract with Ariane saying that I will have my house back but, as all Marx Brothers fans will atest, everybody knows there ain’t no Sanity Clause.

And yes, obviously, my threshold of shame is high.

Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn is one of 13 tracks on Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s lover Ariane Sherine is not eating dog food & wants your money

In recent months, I have married Ariane Sherine twice.

The first was in the recording of a music video of her sophisticated Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

I ‘marry’ the unfeasibly tall Graham Nunn and Ariane Sherine (Photograph by Michael Ashley)

The second was a couple of weekends ago, when I played the part of a vicar/priest at her second wedding or (it depends on your viewpoint) wedding party in the London borough of Neasden.

She had actually been married for real to the unnecessarily tall Graham Nunn a few weeks before in the suitably glamorous world of Las Vegas.

The Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn music video has been released today, exactly one week before the UK’s General Election. 

I prepare to give my all in ‘Property of Ariane Sherine’ red underpants. (Photo by Arlene Greenhouse)

In the video, I play Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

The video was shot at my home. I do not know why Ariane chose to shoot it there but, towards the beginning of the shooting script, these descriptions appear:

SCREEN 2: JEREMY CORBYN IS STILL LABOUR LEADER, HAVING SURVIVED 14 LEADERSHIP ELECTIONS.

SCREEN 3: HE IS NEWLY DIVORCED FROM WIFE NUMBER 3, AND IS LIVING ALONE IN SQUALOR.

I have already said on social media that I only agreed to strip off for the video because Ariane claimed it was artistically necessary… and because she assured me I could expect big things once casting directors saw my handiwork… and I do mean handiwork.

Beef curtains are prominently mentioned in Love Song.

Creativity is a world of smoke and mirrors where success is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Ariane has started a Patreon page to finance future comedy videos.

Why? 

Below is Ariane’s explanation.


“Why are you eating dog food?” my friend John asks.

“It’s cake,” I say, “newly-defrosted cake, so it’s still very cold, and I’m not so much eating it as smooshing it into my face.”

I thought long and hard before setting up a Patreon. The thing is, when you have a public profile, things look good on paper and people think you’re doing well. You have a Wikipedia, you’re verified on Twitter and Facebook, you get articles published in national publications…

But you earn zero, zilch, nada. And you can’t feed your kid your Wikipedia page.

For ages, I’ve lived this sort of lie. When people ask how I make my living, I say airily, ‘Oh, I’m a comedy writer and comedian and journalist.’ Which I am, of course. But I’ve actually stayed above the breadline by renting out space in my home and sleeping in the same bed as my daughter. I share a wardrobe with her, her toys are jumbled up with my make-up, and she asks why she has her own bedroom at Daddy’s house but not at mine.

Now she’s six years old and needs her own room, my new husband’s leaving his job of 20 years to move in with me, and we’re trying for a kid (I’m nearly 37, he’s 40). And suddenly we need space, so I can’t rent out my place any more. There’s virtually nothing coming in each month, and it’s scary, and I’m like: “Don’t look down, I’ll make a crazy video and maybe we can hold hands and inch our way across this bridge over the Grand Canyon of Bankruptcy!”

People might say: “But you live in London. Why not sell your place and move out?” The thing is, Mr Hypothetical Person, I already have. I had a tiny flat (under 500 square feet) in North London in 2013, and I moved out to dilapidated almost-Essex in the wilds of the Central Line in 2015 for more space.

I have ‘shared residency’ (the jazzy new term for joint custody) with my daughter’s dad, who lives in North London, and my daughter’s at school there, so when I have to take her to school she has to wake up at 7am. (You try waking my daughter up at that hour. “But WHY do I have to go to school?!?!?!” – ‘To learn things, sweetie.” – “I ALREADY KNOW ENOUGH!!!!!!”) Moving to Scotland or Devon isn’t a practical option, and nor is downsizing – because with (hopefully) four of us, it’s already going to be a squeeze.

I am not a very successful journalist. I’m a decent writer and have written for pretty much everyone, but not consistently. I’m easy to work with and tenacious, and have lobbied editors with pitches until I feel like a mad stalker, and a few of them have capitulated, but it’s a bit soul-destroying battering down doors every day and being perpetually stonewalled. And, with an average payment of £75 per online article, one piece published per month doesn’t add up to much.

My kind, gentle and patient husband has worked for the same building firm for the past 20 years. He’s had to get up at 5.55am and work from 7.30am until 6pm every day. He’s now leaving sleepy Suffolk for a better life in sexy London. He’ll get work in the building trade if he has to, but he’d rather be a video editor or graphic designer, because he’s extremely talented and genuinely loves creating videos. So he’s going to give it a try and apply for jobs, which may be a long shot as he’s 40 with no experience of full-time work in the media.

But fuck it, you live only once for a very short time, and what’s the point of being a human being if you don’t follow your heart and at least TRY to live out your dreams? To live a big, brave, beautiful life and end it with no regrets, because at least you’ve tried your best to make things work?

So this is why I am smooshing my face into what is apparently dog food, and pretending to make a sex tape and do a poo on camera. Because, if this crazy stupid Patreon page is successful, for the first time in my life I won’t need commissioning editors to say they love me. Because I will have friends and supporters who do – and that will be enough.


The Beautiful Filth album by Ariane Sherine

Ariane’s album Beautiful Filth, on which Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn appears is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc etc.

The 13 track album also includes such self-penned singalong classics as Hitler Moustache, Cum Face, Don’t Have Sex With a Goat, Thankyou For Not Smelling of Fish and I Think His Penis Died.

Reviews for her music include: Wonderfully clever lyrics and very funny” (The Scotsman), “Articulate, imaginative and very funny. If you enjoy clever, knuckle-shredding, ribald humour, you’ll wallow in this” **** (music-news.com) and “Quite brilliant… funny in anyone’s book” (The Erotic Review).

The Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn music video can be viewed on YouTube:

More information – behind the scenes on the video shoot – HERE.

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Comic Becky Fury on what ISIS/ISIL’s beheader Jihadi John was really like

Becky was talking just off Brick Lane last night

After yesterday’s blog with Chris Dangerfield was posted, Becky Fury – winner of at least one genuine Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award – asked if she could give a response.

So I met her last night in London’s East End, just off Brick Lane.

“What made you want to respond to the blog?” I asked her.

“I basically,” she told me, “wanted to do some self promotion…”

“Oh God,” I said.

“…and I had some ideas about politics,” Becky continued.

“Good grief,” I said. “You didn’t want to have a go at Chris Dangerfield for perceived Islamophobia?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s no use at all,” I told her. “You just wanted a chat.”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I just wanted to be validated. Do you want me to talk about Islamic Fundamentalism?”

“It’d be something,” I told her.

“My friend actually taught Jihadi John,” Becky said. “He was basically a kid in remedial maths at school.”

“And he went to my college,” I told her. “The University of Westminster… Well, it was The Polytechnic in my day.”

“When he was at school,” said Becky, “he was a kid that nobody liked. He had B.O. and bad breath. He was basically a disenfranchised kid and this idea of running off to become an Islamic Fundamentalist was obviously quite attractive. Then he got turned into this character in tabloid newspaper mythology. But he was basically just a kid from remedial maths who didn’t get on with anyone.”

“This character in tabloid newspaper mythology”

“Well,” I said, “beheading people certainly works as a bid for attention.”

“He was basically pissed-off,” said Becky. “Maybe if they had had better pastoral care in his local London borough he wouldn’t have done that. And then there were all those girls running off to find this hunky Jihadi John in Syria and, when they get there, they just find that it’s Muhammad, the smelly kid from remedial maths and they think: Well, we might as well have just stayed in Tower Hamlets and met him and our mums wouldn’t have been quite so pissed-off.

“Obviously, you don’t want to encourage any type of religious fundamentalism. You can pick on one as being worse but, if you do pick on one as being worse, you make it worse and it turns it into something that becomes more dangerous because you have given people something to join in with. After they started trying to ban the burkha, lots more Moslem women started wearing burkhas because they were told they should not be allowed to do it. That’s what happens when you try to put a lid on things.”

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The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives sensible sums of money to help locals start sustainable small businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya.

She flew there last Friday.

Last Wednesday, £2,500 destined for the charity’s work in Africa was stolen from the Mama Biashara shop in London. At the time of writing, a donations page for the charity remains open for another 24 days and monies from the first night of promoter Mike Leigh’s new Comedy Happening night in London on 16th March are also being donated to Mama Biashara.

Below is an edited version of Copstick’s latest diary from Kenya. No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Copstick covers 100% of her expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

I am sleep deprived and knackered when I land. But get painlessly through customs and immigration, which is wonderful.

Situation update in Kenya is: there is a serious drought and a State Of Emergency has been announced. However I, although my personal luck is currently waving goodbye as it disappears over the horizon beyond dreadful, have brought the rain with me. Last night and this morning there has been rain – even in Nanyuki (which is impressive). Everyone is happy.

Doris is resplendent in new braids in grey and black (a gift from a friend).

I run through part of my To Do List and Doris says she thinks we should concentrate on things other than business set-ups because business is appalling in Kenya at the moment. Some big companies are relocating, small companies are closing and tiny Mama Biashara type businesses are in a dire state. All food prices have gone up and water has become very expensive.

Also doctors in all government hospitals have been on strike for 77 days and counting. People are lining up outside non-functioning A&E departments to die. Apart from that, everything else is crap too.

SUNDAY

The highlight of my week so far is my new favourite word of all time. Coined by the marvellous Julius, it is ‘grumpling’. Close but subtly different from grumbling. And much friendlier.

We arrange more jiggers treatments (see previous diaries, but it is not pretty), more medical, more shoes and then Julius starts talking about “the well”…

I would love to dig a well. There are 600 people in the community around where Julius lives.

Pro the well: it would bring water to the community and save the women trekking 5 kilometers to get the stuff and, thanks to all the support we have had, if we locate water which is not to deep underground, it is financially doable for us.

Con the well: the cost could be big. If all goes well and the diggers do not hit rock, it would be quite cheap. But rock means big costs. In addition to that, my experience is that, as soon as there is a ‘thing’ here, the heavy mob (there is always a heavy mob in poor areas) appropriate it. My worry is that they would grab the well and start charging the locals. And, when Julius dies, his land goes to his son and his son’s wife who might not be a decent as Julius.

Thoughts, people? Especially those who donated to Mama Biashara.

Without you I would not even be able to consider this.

The alternative is to teach the locals about the Raincatchers I invented for the Maasai.

You create a sort of hammock that you hang from trees, with a hole in the middle which is directly over the opening of a 1,000 litre water tank. The rain is ‘caught’ and collected and pours into the tank AMAZINGLY quickly. Maybe a Raincatcher for every four or five houses would be enough. This can be done at about £50 per raincatcher.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

And now Felista arrives. Her ginormous breasts are in danger of pouring over the edge of the bra (Thank you Sara Mason) she wears and out of her blouse, which is missing a button.

Every time she takes a breath, it is like watching a tsunami of flesh gathering to swamp everything in front of it.

She shows me her skirt, which is similarly missing bits … like quite a lot of material.

“My clothes have all been eaten by a rat,” she announces with hoots of laughter.

As ever, with Felista, there is good news and there is bad news.

She also has been to Nanyuki, (as well as Doris), currently ravaged both by drought and by tribal warfare exacerbated by drought.

“Eh, they are dying like chickens there!” she cries, shaking her head. “Like chickens.”

Back at DECIP (the children’s home she created and runs on a wing, many prayers and a heart the size of a Trump ego), the bus which left in December to take 20 orphans back to their home area in Awendo in December has returned in February with the 20 as well as 49 others. No shoes, hardly any clothes. Forty nine. Because the women in Awendo know Felista will not turn away a child in need. And Awendo and surrounding area is rich in children in need.

So now Felista’s two rooms (bedroom and a sort of sitting room) as well as a store room and the dispensary, are dormitories for the tiny kids while the nursery dorms, as were, house the bigger kids.

Awendo also sent four male teachers, whom Felista has just had to tackle and expel for trying to rape girl pupils. Twelve year olds. When she stopped them and went crazy, they announced:

“But we are teachers. These girls are our meat. This is our culture.”

They have now gone.

The situation is further complicated by the older Luo girls (from Awendo) who are described by a grinning Felista as “crazy for sex”. And so I am going to be teacher for an afternoon at DECIP. Teaching sex education. Oh yes, I know. Dracula in charge of a blood bank and all that, but I will have my sensible hat on.

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

I am determined to get some heft behind our campaign to stop teachers and Head Teachers extorting money from the poorest of the poor at government schools by creating illegal charges and then excluding the children when the parents cannot pay them. This is a Big Thing here. And it is the main reason so many of the poorest kids don’t get an education.

Some fat drunk in charge of a school wants an extra wedge so he (or she) creates a ‘sitting on the chairs’ charge or a ‘learning on Mondays’ charge. The parent cannot pay up, so the kid gets sent home.

All these charges are illegal. Including the omnipresent ‘registration fee’.

We spread the word everywhere we can when we are in the slum areas and I have written a leaflet, quoting the relevant bits of the Act and screaming in bold letters: “No child can be sent away from a government school because of money.” 

But the message is not getting out there enough.

Yesterday a lady told me her kids’ school levies a ‘cleaning charge’ twice a week. 200 pupils each pay 50 bob. Twice a week. And the cleaner is paid 200 bob tops. Twice a week. The rest goes in the headmaster’s pocket. Illegal. But kids get sent home if they do not pay it.

So I go to the Education Officer’s office and have a chat. He listens. He nods. And then he says:

“Firstly I must tell you that everything you say is true”.

Marvellous.

Then he says: “…and I must congratulate you on being so bold. These people are volatile.”

“Thieves and those who spend their lives conning money out of orphaned children often are,” I say. He smiles.

They tend to smile a lot, these officer types. Not widely, but a lot.

The upshot was that either the official types are just scared to take on the bastards or the bastards are paying them off so that the larceny might continue.

Whatever, he did say he would support a poster campaign (and have posters all over the Chief’s offices), would encourage me to speak on radio and would help with lists of parents associations to which we could speak.

Probably not me as the whole white thing is not great when push comes to shove.

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