Tag Archives: fraud

The surreal world of accounting in the music biz and the missing £500,000+

(A version of this piece was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

Bobby Valentino, when he was Young at Heart

Bobby Valentino, forever Young at Heart

Last night, Searching For Sugar Man quite rightly won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

It is partly about the search for missing royalty payments due to the Detroit-based recording artist Rodriguez, who sold zilch in the US but who was selling shedloads of albums (“bigger than the Rolling Stones”) in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s… and, indeed, in the 1990s and 2000s…

Coincidentally, in the UK, musician Bobby Valentino has just issued a press release about the surreal lack of royalties he received on the worldwide hit song Young at Heart.

I have touched on this before – in July last year – in a blog headlined Surely not a £500,000+ music biz rip-off? How a hit record made “no money” which was about the surprising lack of royalties Bobby (did not) receive from PRS (the Performing Right Society) but Bobby provides more details in his latest press release. Last year, Bobby told me: “On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”

Now Bobby says: “By careful investigation it has been discovered that there was a change of sub-publisher on or about 4th March 1993. What is peculiar is that the royalties disclosed by PRS for the whole of 1993 are taken as those for the period 1st January until 4th  March 1993. In other words, about two months’ royalties were offered as representing the royalties for the whole year. So where did the royalties go? Quite simply to the new sub-publisher.”

The next bit takes a bit of careful reading but, says Bobby:

“The royalty information was supplied by PRS. Unfortunately they supplied the incorrect information in 2003 and since then have denied that they did so. Inconveniently for PRS there are a number of indicators that they did supply incorrect information.

“Some of this is complex but we can first focus on one key issue: On 4th March 1993 PRS recorded a change in the registration of Young at Heart. This change is shown as the (incorrect) noting of a German version of Young at Heart known as the Baerenstark version.

“In fact the existence of the Baerenstark version was not registered with PRS, as shown in their main records, until 5th February 2007. In other words whoever made the change on 4th March 1993 had supernatural powers of foresight.

“A less fantastic explanation is that the original entry on 4th March 1993 noted the change of sub-publisher and that when this became an inconvenient truth the entry was changed to a noting of the Baerenstark version.”

There is a second, related, indication of psychic gifts by someone at PRS, says Bobby, and it involved sheet music.

“Sheet music royalties,” he says, “are shown as paid to the new sub-publisher for July to September 1993. This is a further recognition of the supernatural influence of Young at Heart. Given that PRS claim the change of publisher occurred at the end of 1993 how can the new publisher receive payment for sheet music for July 1993? Someone or something is revealingly and inconveniently ahead of itself.”

Bobby Valentino says he wants PRS to treat him and fellow writers fairly and in his case to acknowledge the surreal accounting so that he can recover what is due to him.

Seems reasonable to me.

But, then, reason and moral accounting seems to be something alien to the record business and, indeed (I can tell you from personal experience) the film distribution business.

The rule of thumb is that, if they can screw you, they will.

With Bobby Valentino, though, they may have bitten off more than they can chew and gone several accountancy twists too far.

1 Comment

Filed under Music

Comic Charlie Chuck remembers the late Malcolm Hardee patting himself

Like Malcolm a unique one-off performance

I recently blogged about how violinist Bobby Valentino, who supposedly gets 25% of the writing royalties on the worldwide hit song Young at Heart, has been getting tens rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last 20 years.

It sounds to me like the film distribution business. They call it creative accounting.

Things are much more straight-forward in the world of British comedy.

Dave Kear performs in his comic persona of Charlie Chuck and remembers how the late comedy club owner Malcolm Hardee used to pay him. Well, sort of…

______________

If you agreed a fee with Malcolm – let’s say it were £200 twenty years ago at Up The Creek – any acts on there had to try to get to Malcolm before he got too drunk or before any of the other comedians got to him. If they were sensible, whoever was on first went up to him immediately afterwards and they got their money… usually. But the comic that went on last – it might have been me or Lee Evans or Jack Dee or Jo Brand – we’d go up to him and he had a routine almost.

You’d ask him: “Have you got the money?”

And he’d say: “How much was it?”

“Two hundred pounds,” you’d say.

“Two hundred pounds?” he’d ask, as if he were surprised.

Then he’d put his hand in his inside jacket pocket and pull maybe £30 out of there. Then his outside pocket and he’d pull maybe £50 out of there. Then £20 out of another pocket and he’d ask: “How much is that?”

He’d give you the money and you’d be counting it. There’s £80… £100… £120… and then he’d start tapping his body and he’d say: “Err, well, you’re coming back again, aren’t you? I’ll have you back again. It’s been a great show and I’ll… I’ll… sort it out with you then… Err… Is that alright?”

Well, he was such a great bloke, you couldn’t… You’d say… Well, that’s what happened regular with Malcolm and it depended, I imagine, on how it had gone earlier that day, with him having a bet on the horses.

If he’d won on the horses, well, you knew you were going to get paid and he’d perhaps give you a bit extra. He were like that.

I don’t know any other promoter that were like Malcolm. He were unique. He were a smashing bloke. What’s the word? Lovable. He were loveable. They were great times.

He seemed helpless. That’s what he’d give off. Being helpless. Of course, he wasn’t helpless, but he’d give that impression. He were so innocent. Brilliant. Great times.

______________

Charlie Chuck is one of the acts on this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Edinburgh Fringe’s Free Festival. He will not be conned out of any money, because no-one is getting paid. They will be performing in memory of Malcolm, who drowned in 2005.

I am organising the show and I do not take any money to cover any costs. Any money donated by the audience at the end will go 100% to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity.

It is what Malcolm would have wanted…

Well, no, of course it isn’t.

But it will certainly be memorable. It always is.

Like Malcolm, a one-off.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Surely not a £500,000+ music biz rip-off? How a hit record made “no money”

(A version of this piece was also published by Indian news site We Speak News)

Bobby Valentino – when Young at Heart

This morning, Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank resigned because of the interest rate fixing scandal, which most ordinary people might consider fraud. Apparently it was not legally fraud and, of course, I would not dream of implying that anything illegal was done by anyone. Clearly, in the case of Barclays Bank, everything which was done was done in a perfectly legal way – even if, to ordinary people, it was amoral and arguably immoral.

Amorality and lateral thinking where money is concerned, of course, is not limited to the banking industry. The movie industry and the music business are notorious for creative thinking where money is concerned.

Last week, I was chatting to the superb violinist Bobby Valentino in London.

I think I first saw Bobby perform when he was part of the Hank Wangford band in the mid 1980s. He is arguably most famous for his violin intro to The Bluebells’ 1993 release of their song Young at Heart.

This resulted in a 2002 court case in which Bobby claimed he had composed the very distinctive violin intro and that it made a significant enough difference to the song to be considered an original contribution. He won the case and won 25% of the writer’s royalties, backdated to 1993.

You might think that would have made him a lot of money.

Last week, though, he told me it had not.

“How much do you reckon you are owed?” I asked.

“Maybe between half a million and three quarters of a million pounds,” he replied.

“But you won the court case,” I said.

“You like surreal comedy,” he said, “so you’ll like this.”

“Mmmmm….” I said.

“I won the court case,” he told me. “The publishers were ordered to disclose their statements and PRS (the Performing Right Society) volunteered their statements. But they are, to be charitable, surreal. Young at Heart seems to have been the only pop song in history that didn’t earn anywhere near the expected royalties. On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”

“How do people calculate the expected royalties on a song?” I asked.

“By comparing it with other songs which sold similar amounts and had roughly the same amount of radio and TV play,” he replied. Bobby studied Mathematics at York University.

“There was a very high-profile TV ad for VW,” he explained, “which should have made about £80,000 for the song on just one run, from 14th February to 31st March 1993. The PRS statement for that first run shows less than £2,000 to the writer. And there was a second run of the same ad from 5th October to 4th December 1993. That should have made another £70,000.

“So how much did that second run make?” I asked.

“There are no royalties shown for that at all,” said Bobby. “None.”

“They claim there were zero royalties from the transmission run of a high-profile VW ad over two months?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bobby. “And zero royalties for the song from America. It wasn’t a hit in America. It was only a ‘college hit’, so there would not have been a lot due. But there should have been something. Plus there were a load of British TV shows which used the song and which played in America – Midsomer Murders, all that sort of stuff. But there’s absolutely not one penny from America on the publisher’s statements or the PRS statements.”

“But Young at Heart is like Blur’s Song 2,”  I interrupted. “The sort of song where TV shows and promo & ad makers use the opening and not the song itself. Song 2 has the Wooo-Hoooooo! opening bit and Young at Heart has your violin intro.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bobby. “The number of times they use the Young at Heart opening – Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup – in You’ve Been Framed!… When people are falling over, they use the violin’s Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup.

“People have said to me,” Bobby laughed. “Surely there must be something dodgy with the figures that are being provided? and I tell them: Well, YOU may say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

“PRS’s excuse is that every UK radio station failed to report to them correctly, every UK TV station failed to report to them correctly and every overseas rights society failed to report to them correctly.”

“Who’s saying this?” I asked.

“PRS.”

“What’s the explanation?”

“Well,” said Bobby. “Someone suggested to me that the upper management at PRS has no idea what the lower echelons are doing. But that can’t be true, can it? I’m sure PRS are honourable guys. But the lower guys have come up with these statements of literally 5% of what you’d expect. You can only laugh.

“I get a bit of money. But what I should have got was the money backdated to 1993 and these statements are surreal: 5% of what you’d expect.

“In fact, I’ve got paperwork that contradicts the PRS figures, but apparently that paperwork is ‘in error’.”

“Where’s the paperwork from?” I asked.

EMI Publishing,” Bobby replied.

“PRS is saying the EMI paperwork is in error?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. And they claim the whole song made £25,000 in the first year. In that first year, it should have made about a third of a million pounds. And it would have made £2 million over ten years.”

“It’s PRS who are due to pay you the money?” I asked.

“No,” said Bobby, “it’s the publishers and the main writer who are due to pay me the money. The publishers did not disclose their performance statements. You get statements for Mechanicals (which is sales), for Synch (when something is part of a TV ad) and for Performance. Hit records usually earn considerably more in Performance royalties than they do in Mechanical royalties. And the publishers did not disclose their own Performance statements.

“So they (Clive Banks Music, Anxious Music (Dave Stewart’s publishing company) and Universal Music) relied on the PRS statements. They said The PRS statements are good enough, because PRS is supposed to be Blue Chip. But, like I say, the figures read like they are from some obscure surreal comedy.

Young at Heart was a hit in Denmark. You’d expect maybe £25,000 in writer royalties for a hit in Denmark but the writer supposedly only earned £185.

“It was a hit in Portugal. The writer supposedly earned £141 – and the VW TV ad was also shown in Portugal which made the song No1 in the air-play and sales charts!

“It was a big hit in Italy. PRS claimed the writer was only due £31. There was a friend of mine in a bar in Italy and he asked about the song and the whole bar just started singing it – in English.

“When you average out all the amounts that are missing, it works out I got about 5% of what you’d expect.”

“And you reckon you might be down maybe £500,000 to £750,000 on it?”

“Yes,” said Bobby, “Of course, there are always cock-ups. It didn’t help that the publisher changed on 4th March 1993. Maybe, in that year, what might have happened is that we got shown the statements for money due before 4th March instead of for the whole year, but the odd thing is that PRS have matched the publisher’s statements to the penny. And that is weird. Statements never match each other to the penny. They might up a fiver; they might be down a fiver; it all evens out. But, in the real world, they never ever match to the penny.

Bobby Valentino smiles at surreal figures last week

“PRS claim that the sub-publisher changed from MCA to EMI on 31st Dec 1993 but I have a statement from EMI Music which shows them collecting royalties in July 1993 because, in fact, the change happened on 4th March 1993.

“This thing where the figures match exactly despite all those complications is just plain weird.

“I’ve done calculations on lots of other songs in the past and they’re never quite right. They can be a fiver or a tenner out each time. It’s up and down – swings and roundabouts – but these ones match to the penny. That never happens normally. If you don’t know the system, you might think the fact that they match seems reasonable: Well, they’re supposed to match, you would think.

“But not in the real world. For them to match to the penny is bizarre.”

I certainly have to admire Bobby’s ability to face the bizarre and the surreal.

What is even more bizarre is that I know someone else in the music business who tells me that there was a meeting of the Music Publishers’ Association shortly after that 2002 court case in which the judge (who was musically-trained) awarded Bob 25% of the royalties on Young at Heart.

“They were up in arms,” my friend told me. “They were going: We can’t have musicians getting royalties as writers! The world will fall apart if musicians get royalties as writers! And their whole vibe was: The judge got it wrong. So maybe someone decided to ‘put it right’.

“Someone told me PRS really stands for the Publisher’s Rip-off Society and not the Performing Right Society.”

But surely she must be wrong.

I believe that, like the movie distribution business, the music publishing business is an honourable world filled with honourable people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Music, Record Industry

Why it is impossible to libel the Edinburgh Fringe

Last March, I wrote a So It Goes blog here headed:

ANSWERS TO NINE COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY INNOCENT FIRST-TIME PERFORMERS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE

As it is again that time of year when performers – especially comics – start thinking about arranging shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, last week I sent the same piece (with figures updated) to the UK edition of the Huffington Post, which occasionally prints pieces by me and which did not exist until summer last year.

Lazy of me, I know, but the advice is still relevant and, I think, helpful and true.

Imagine my bemusement when my piece appeared under the headline:

ANSWERS TO SEVEN COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY INNOCENT FIRST-TIME PERFORMERS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE

“Mmmm… That’s interesting,” I thought. “I wonder why they have cut two out?”

It did not matter particularly, but it bemused me.

The missing questions and answers were:

____________________

4. DOES MY VENUE’S STAFF KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

No. Trust me. No.

Most only arrived a week ago, some are Australian and the ones who are not have little experience of anything outside their friends’ kitchens. They probably had no sleep last night and are certainly only at the Fringe to drink, take drugs and, with luck, get laid by well-proportioned members of the opposite sex. Or, in some cases, the same sex.

Trust me. With help and advice, they could organise a piss-up at the Fringe but not in a brewery.

7. IT’S MY FIRST EDINBURGH. WILL I GET FINANCIALLY SCREWED BY UNSCRUPULOUS PEOPLE?

Yes.

____________________

I have not asked the Huffington Post why they chopped these two questions and answers out. It would seem churlish. And I suspect it may prove counter-productive to even mention it here. But I reckon it’s worth a blog.

I suspect it might have been an attempt to avoid a potential libel problem misunderstood by a Huffington Post sub-editor who thought that there is a single venue-organising company which, I claimed, is incompetent.

I did not because there is not.

There is a common misunderstanding by people who have never performed there that the Edinburgh Fringe is actually organised. It is not.

It is an open festival. You, I or Fred Bloggs and his performing caterpillars can perform there under the banner of the “Edinburgh Fringe” if we feel like it. There is no quality or quantity control.

“The Edinburgh Fringe” is what people call it and there an Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society which plays a central role. But, basically, they print the Programme for the event and publicise the event in general. They do not organise the shows or the venues in any way.

If you pay to have your show listed with 40 words in the Fringe’s printed Programme and 100 words online, then (provided there is nothing illegal in the wording) details of the show and its performances will appear and you are performing “in the Fringe”. And there is a central box office system, although many venues also run their own box offices.

The Fringe Office will advise and help to an extent, but you are on your own as a performer. You have to find a venue, probably pay for the venue, arrange posters, flyers, publicity and all the rest yourself.

That is one of the joys of the Edinburgh Fringe.

No central body actually ‘organises’ it in any way.

Last year, the Fringe had 21,192 performers appearing in 2,542 shows (41,689 performances) at 258 venues with 855 registered journalists reviewing/reporting on them, 974 ‘arts industry professionals’ (TV scouts, agents, producers, bookers etc) and an estimated 1,877,119 people attended Fringe shows during the three-and-a-bit weeks of the festival. The non-profit-taking Fringe Society itself had an income of £3,161,601 last year to organise the generalities. Someone somehow calculated that, in 2010, the Fringe event pumped £142 million into Edinburgh’s economy.

But it is anarchy.

In the best sense of the word.

The Edinburgh Fringe is full of opportunities, dreams, nightmares, testosterone, adrenaline, drink, drugs, out-of-control egos, showbiz shysters and con men (and women). It is full of people out to make their reputations, to make a buck out of performers and to shaft each other in all meanings of the phrase. To repeat one of my answers which the Huffington Post cut out… and it ain’t libel, it’s life… it’s a fact, indeed a racing certainty…

____________________

7. IT’S MY FIRST EDINBURGH. WILL I GET FINANCIALLY SCREWED BY UNSCRUPULOUS PEOPLE?

Yes.

____________________

And to repeat one of my answers which they did run:

7. SHOULD I GO BACK FOR A SECOND AND THIRD YEAR?

Yes.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Newspapers, PR, Theatre

Advice on four ways to make money illegally in movies and sport

No 1: Become a movie producer

This morning, I was reading an old interview with famed Hollywood scriptwriter Tom Mankiewicz, in which he mentioned big-budget movie producer Alexander Salkind, one of whose productions was the 1978 Superman film starring Christopher Reeve, which Mankiewicz scripted.

If you make a big-budget international movie, you have a perfect excuse to move money, people and odd pieces of complicated props and machinery with space in which to hide things backwards-and-forwards between countries without arousing suspicion.

Salkind was a rather dodgy character who occasionally came to the attention of the authorities. I vaguely remember him once getting arrested by police – I think for fraud – and unexpectedly producing a diplomatic passport, which gave him immunity from prosecution. My memory is that it was a Panamanian diplomatic passport, but Tom Mankiewicz says Salkind, in fact, paid the government of Costa Rica to secretly make him their cultural attaché to Switzerland. This would give him, he thought, total diplomatic immunity.

But the scam did not work 100%, according to Mankiewicz. In the United States, where there was a warrant out for his arrest, the FBI said: “I’m sorry, cultural attaché from Costa Rica to Switzerland doesn’t cut it with us. That’s not a diplomatic passport as far as we’re concerned.”

Which is why Salkind did not and could not ever show up for any of his movie openings in the US.

Who knows what was happening to the money Salkind was moving from country to country in large amounts?

But it reminded me of three sporting scams which worked… mostly.

No 2: Hide the drugs inside something very high profile

I was told that one particularly creative heroin smuggling gang managed to get a man working inside the team of a Formula 1 World Champion. The heroin was transported from country to country inside the World Champion’s racing car (without his knowledge). After all, which brave Customs man is going to dismantle the World Champion’s hi-tech racing car to search for drugs?

Perhaps small scale for heroin smuggling, but it worked.

No 3: Steal money from people who are taking bribes

I was once also told the true story of a top British champion jockey (now dead) who was being paid to lose races (to help a betting scam). Obviously, he received the money in cash and, to avoid ‘misunderstandings’, he got it at the racecourse immediately after the race. On one occasion, he was paid for losing a race, then had to be helicoptered elsewhere for another high-profile race before being returned to the first racecourse. So he left the money (several thousand pounds) in the boot of his car.

A criminal who heard about this arrangement, simply stole the money from the boot while the jockey was away. When he returned, it was assumed by the jockey to be a random car theft and, of course, the theft of the bribe could not be reported to the police as a crime.

As near to a perfect crime as you can get.

No 4: Go to the dogs

On an even more admirably creative level, a British comedian with criminal links in his past told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs to cause chaos and get the race abandoned.

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee, inevitably, topped this story by telling me he had once shared a prison cell with a man nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. This odd nickname came about because the man had been paid to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the UK and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track. The dogs then went crazy and tore it apart, stopping the race. “His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he had thrown the teddy bear.”

I can only presume that, on one occasion, he failed to do this fast enough.

Crime does not always pay.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime, Drugs, Movies, Sport, Uncategorized

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’.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics

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’.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics