Tag Archives: Belfast

Jonathan Pie, Spiked magazine and why the Guardian and Daily Mail are similar

Andrew Doyle co-writes the satirical Jonathan Pie character with actor Tom Walker. In yesterday’s blogAndrew talked about free speech.

I had not originally intended to ask him about that.

Now read on…


Andrew Doyle ponders existential question

JOHN: What I was originally going to ask you, before you started on free speech was What are you?

ANDREW: That is an existential question.

JOHN: Well, you write theatre performance, Jonathan Pie, musicals, run comedy nights, do stand-up comedy, write radio plays. What are you?

ANDREW: I suppose I am a writer, comedian and I write political articles for Spiked and I do literary research.

JOHN: Spiked is thought-of as being right wing, isn’t it?

ANDREW: Yeah. By people who don’t read it. But its origins are Marxist. It used to be called Living Marxism until the ITN libel case in 2000. Then it lost all its money and rebranded as Spiked. (It had been launched in 1988 as the journal of the British Revolutionary Communist Party until re-branded as Living Marxism in 1992.)

JOHN: Doesn’t this go with my idea that politics is a circle not a line? Extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing eventually meet in the same place.

ANDREW: I get this a lot. Comedians hate Spiked and people who self-identify as Left hate Spiked. I say “self-identify” because I don’t believe they ARE Left. Unless you care about class consciousness and the redistribution of wealth, you are not left-wing.

JOHN: And you care about them.

ANDREW: Yes.

JOHN: So you ARE left-wing.

Spiked – “believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote”

ANDREW: Of course. Everything I write is left-wing. Everything. Spiked is pro-freedom of speech, no ifs and buts as an indivisible liberty; pro democracy; believes in Brexit and sustaining the Brexit vote, because the European Union is essentially undemocratic and pro-corporate. Spiked is pro-migration with no such thing as borders; it does not believe in any form of borders whatsoever. It is anti-Trump, anti-New Labour, anti the Tories. It is anti-racism; anti the alt-right; anti men’s rights activists. It is pro-freedom, pro individual liberty, sceptical about climate change.

JOHN: Sceptical about climate change?

ANDREW: Yes. I am not. But, with Spiked, I agree with more than I disagree.

JOHN: The one thing you did not mention there about Spiked views was the current Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party.

ANDREW: It is very anti-Corbynistas. Hugely. Hugely.

JOHN: It seems very anti everything. What is it pro?

ANDREW: It is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, pro-democracy, pro the human race.

JOHN: Who else is supporting liberty that Spiked likes?

ANDREW: Well, there are so few people doing that.

JOHN: Is it pro any other organisations?

ANDREW: You mean party political affiliations? I don’t think it is pro any of them. There is not a political party it supports, which is sort of where I am at the moment.

JOHN: But, as a Marxist…

ANDREW: I never said I was a Marxist. I don’t think of myself as a Marxist.

JOHN: So what are you?

Living Marxism in its heyday…

ANDREW: I would say I am… I dunno… a Socialist? Somewhere between Socialism and Social Liberalism. Do you really want an answer?

JOHN: Yes.

ANDREW: I dunno. I think that’s where I am. I don’t trust any ideology. Why should you just choose  an ideology and stick to every point that ideology represents? Why can’t you say This element of Socialism is good and This element of Conservatism is good? Ultimately, I oppose identity politics in whatever form it takes.

JOHN: What is identity politics?

ANDREW: That the way you perceive people is through their particular demographic or group. Seeing people collectively rather than as individuals.

JOHN: Isn’t that inevitable? There’s a man over there in a T-shirt and another one is wearing a tie. I am going to have immediate pre-conceptions about them.

ANDREW: You are talking about prejudice. I am talking about self-identification. What I resist is that, just because I am in a particular demographic, then I should identify myself with that demographic. Everyone is an individual.

JOHN: So you think certain things are wrong. Why are you not into active politics? You are very, very bright, very thought-filled, very fluent.

ANDREW: You are very kind. No. I don’t want to be a politician.

JOHN: But all these people you disagree with are in control of the world and you think they are making wrong decisions.

ANDREW: I would rather just complain about it on the fringes. Every time you write any polemical piece, you are trying to effect some kind of change or, at least, trying to persuade people of the validity of your point of view. That is a valuable exercise, but I am not naive enough to think I have any type of clout.

JOHN: Is being a writer more influential than being a politician?

ANDREW: Maybe. I would not want to be a politician because, for a start, you have to adhere to the Whip and you sort of surrender your integrity to an extent. You have to compromise to get anything done and I am not a compromiser. I am not suggesting compromise is a bad thing, just that I am not very good at it.

JOHN: You studied English at Aberystwyth University. Why Aberystwyth?

Aberystwyth University – accidentally alphabetically lucky

ANDREW: Because it was first alphabetically in the list. I went to a shitty comprehensive school where we didn’t really have any guidance about where to go. Had Aberdeen University been there, I would have applied there. It wasn’t in the list.

So I went to Aberystwyth and, after that, I wanted to do a Masters in Renaissance Literature but they didn’t do one, so I went to York and then I wanted to do a doctorate in Renaissance Poetry and work with manuscripts so then I went to Oxford University and I became a part-time lecturer at Oxford, teaching the Shakespeare module to undergraduates. At that point, I was going to be an academic.

JOHN: Why the specific interest in manuscripts?

ANDREW: Because I was very interested in early modern literature – Renaissance. I developed a particular interest in a poet called Richard Barnfield. My thesis was on Richard Barnfield, Shakespeare and Philip Sydney. Shakespeare and Richard Barnfield are the only two poets of that era in England who wrote love sonnets from one man to another.

JOHN: Are you just interested in Elizabethans?

ANDREW: I’ve written introductions of republished versions of a novelist called Forrest Reid, who died in 1947. I’m writing a biography of him. Up until the 1970s, it would have been accepted he was the best novelist to emerge from Northern Ireland but, because of the fickle nature of literary trends, he was forgotten. They are a very specific type of novel. He was a pagan; he worshipped spirit gods; he was an animist. All of his novels are set in Belfast, but infused with this sense of another world lurking beneath the surface, centred on male adolescence.

JOHN: Why are you not still lecturing?

ANDREW: It’s quite lonely.

JOHN: I saw one of the Jonathan Pie live stage shows at the Apollo Hammersmith and the first third or more of it took pot-shots at what I thought was the easy target of the Conservative government, but then you turned it on the audience.

“…Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs…”

ANDREW: That’s why we have to have the first third in that way. So many of Pie’s targets are his fanbase’s beliefs. The fanbase is predominantly the liberal Left – Guardian readers – so, in order to have a show that essentially attacks the fundamental principles that they represent, you need to get them on-side. It’s a strategy. The first third of the show is exactly what you would expect.

JOHN: Is that the ultimate idea? To attack the liberal Left?

ANDREW: No. It’s not as confrontational as that. As with all satire, it is exposing the excesses and deflating the pretensions of those in control.

JOHN: Equal offence to everyone?

ANDREW: The character does not just scatter-shot attack everyone. The character believes certain things.

JOHN: What IS the character? A left winger who hates the Right but has doubts about the Left?

ANDREW: Yes. Basically he is an old school Bennite Leftie who is pro-Corbyn, Socialist, hates the Right, hates the Tories, hates what they are doing to the NHS, but also thinks the Left need to do a whole lot better in order to beat them… and that the Left keep losing because of their own shortcomings. And that’s where the frustration comes.

JOHN: Sometimes the phrase ‘Guardian readers’ is used as a put-down.

 ANDREW: Well, the Guardian and Daily Mail are very similar.

JOHN: Really?

ANDREW: They are both explicitly partisan and misrepresentative; they push an agenda relentlessly; and they are not to be trusted.

JOHN: Is Jonathan Pie risking his fanbase – the liberal Left – by attacking them?

Jonathan Pie’s 2017 book Off The Record

ANDREW: Sometimes. And sometimes you get your ideological opponents supporting what you say, which is a bit weird. But I think we have retained the sensible people who can stand having fun being poked at them. The people who think.

JOHN: So where do you go with the character?

ANDREW: That’s up to Tom. I just go along with it.

JOHN: Do you feel overshadowed by the fame of Jonathan Pie? No-one knows who you are.

ANDREW: No-one knows who I am, but that doesn’t matter, does it? I’m not hungry for fame.

JOHN: Not doing anything new?

ANDREW: I am working on a couple of musicals at the moment. One is about Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon in World War II for airmen who were surviving their terrible burns and had to reconstruct them.

JOHN: The Guinea Pigs. And the other musical?

“…but it’s really a coming-of-age story…”

ANDREW: Paperboy. It was recently staged at the Lyric, Belfast, based on Tony Macaulay’s memoir of being a paperboy on the Shankill Road at the height of The Troubles. But it’s really a coming-of-age story. Another musical I wrote is an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s book Soul Music. He specifically asked us to do that book. Youth Music Theatre UK put it on in Kingston with 40 kids – but it has not yet got a producer to take it forward.


The last Jonathan Pie live stage show has just been released to download.

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The man who kept accused war criminal Ratko Mladic’s hat in his living room

I posted this blog a few months ago but, with the arrest yesterday of former Serbian general Ratko Mladic, I thought part of it might be of interest again. It is about one of the most interesting people I never met.

* * *

Bill Foxton is dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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The IRA sympathiser and the SAS man: a true story

Once upon a time an Italian historian told me this true story about his friend ‘Alan’ who was in the British SAS. (I have changed the name, although the SAS man is now dead)…

Alan had gone to prominent public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62. After that, he returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and he joined a privately-run special services group. They were used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda, in the Qatar affair where the Emir’s brother was shot and various other exotic things. Finally, in 1969, he was employed as one of a group who were to go and kill Colonel Gadaffi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Alan was persuaded by the authorities to join the British Army’s SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

On one occasion, they were about to raid some houses in Catholic West Belfast but wanted to find out in advance details of what they would face. So they stole a car in Protestant East Belfast, drove into West Belfast and, pretending they were members of a Protestant gang, kidnapped a man who could tell them, put him in the boot of their car and drove back to East Belfast. Their plan was to threaten to kill him, then question him and return him to West Belfast. But, when they tried to get him out of the boot of their stolen car, they found the lock was jammed shut. They had stolen the car but they had never tested the lock on the boot.

So they drove round to the British Army Barracks’ vehicle workshop. The Army mechanics, in full uniform, just touched the lock with a screwdriver and the boot suddenly sprang open without warning. The Catholic nationalist lay there, looking up at his kidnappers standing with uniformed British Army mechanics. They slammed the boot shut again and tried to figure out what to do.

The nationalist now knew he had been kidnapped not by a Protestant gang but by the British Army. Alan went and talked with his commander.

“I don’t care what you do with him,” the commander said. “It’s your problem. Solve it.”

So they took the nationalist out of the car boot, injected him with a knock-out drug and drove him across the border to Shannon Airport in the Irish Republic. A British ‘asset’ at the airport put the man – still deeply asleep – in a seat on a scheduled flight to New York. The man woke up around the time he was landing in United States with no passport, visa or documents. On landing, he was immediately arrested for trying to enter the country illegally.

He had no explanation of how he could have flown from Shannon to New York on a scheduled flight and his story about being kidnapped by the British Army in Belfast did not fit the known facts. He spent ten days in a cell in New York, while they tried to figure out what was going on. By the time he was sent back to Belfast, the SAS had made their raids and the whole affair was over. To this day, he must be a very puzzled man.

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