Tag Archives: Prime Minister

Bouncing Czechs & Presidential pranks

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Vladimir Franz - the face of Czech politics

Vladimir Franz – the tattooed face of Czech politics

I worked in Prague a few times, making promotions and press tapes for some start-up TV channels around 1995/1996.

It was only a few years after the Soviet empire crumbled and I thought Prague – and the Czech people – might be a bit grey and dour. It only took me about a week to re-appraise the situation, when I started to think of the country not as the Czech Republic but as Bohemia.

The Czechs are bohemians.

That is not 100% politically and geographically correct, but it is psychologically correct.

Certainly, when I was there, they liked their beer and they liked a party.

I should have realised this earlier because, before I actually worked in the Czech Republic, my sole experience of Czechs was bringing Ernő Rubik (inventor of Rubik’s cube) over to the UK for a couple of appearances on the anarchic children’s TV show Tiswas.

Erno was a very laid-back dude who liked jazz and wore corduroy trousers.

And THAT was under Soviet Communism.

I like the Czechs. They are generally sophisticated, cool and creative.

During my time there poet, playwright and former dissident Václav Havel was President. He had new uniforms for Prague Castle’s guards designed by the man who designed costumes for the movie Amadeus. He appointed glorious rock god Frank Zappa as ‘Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism‘ for the Czech Republic.

You have to like the Czechs.

But, like all relatively small countries (population 10.5 million) you have to accept the good (the capacity for eccentric decisions) with the bad (a possibility of corruption). In that sense, it is not unlike the Republic of Ireland.

Which brings me to the President of the Czech Republic.

In the UK, today’s Guardian newspaper carries a piece on Vladimir Franz, a tattooed-all-over opera composer, painter and professor at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts. He is running for President and, in this week’s Presidental election race, he has an estimated 11% support and is running third. He has been compared (because of his tattooed face) to “an exotic creature from Papua New Guinea”, has no political experience and admits he doesn’t know much about economics.

So, obviously, I asked former Scots comic Alex Frackleton (now living in the Czech Republic) for some background on current Czech politics.

“In the outside world,” he told me, “it is the year 2013 – but, alas, not here where, despite digital television and high-speed internet, it feels like we’re living in the middle ages, circa 1320.

“On New Year’s Day, the out-going president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus (known to me as ‘Cunty Baws’) announced a presidential pardon that would see the release of 7,000 prisoners from Czech jails and court proceedings. Among those released are a number of persons either convicted of or in the process of being prosecuted for multi-billion dollar frauds which took place during the privatization process of the 1990s. Purely coincidentally – and I hasten to add this is merely an observational point on my part – Václav Klaus was Prime Minister of the Czech Republic in the 1990s.

“I seem to be alone in assuming that this is merely a coincidence as every single person I know here is furious. Everyone is going mental. Even people who don’t normally care about politics are shouting their heads off.

“To date, 600 Mayors and 500 schools have taken down the President’s portrait in protest at the amnesty. The British equivalent would be removing a picture of the Queen, the Pope or Stephen Hawking …

“Cunty Baws is shouting about how the press/media/his enemies are blowing the whole thing out of proportion. This is the guy who, as a visiting President to a conference in Chile, was caught on camera stealing a pen.

“If he wanted to do something to mark his out-going-ness, he could easily have granted free heating to all pensioners during the three coldest months of the year.

“If ever there was a moment for another ’68 Prague Spring uprising or a real revolution to replace the velvet cushiness of ’89, then that moment ought to be now.”

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Filed under Czech Republic, Humor, Humour, Politics

Paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile – What I ‘knew’ but never reported years ago

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Today’s new front page ‘revelations’

The BBC is getting blamed for doing nothing about Jimmy Savile, although it seems, over the years, five police forces actually investigated stories about him in some way and did nothing.

I worked in British television from 1973 onwards, though only twice on BBC programmes; the rest of the time, I worked for ITV and independent companies. Still, I heard rumours about Jimmy Savile.

The rumours were mostly that he was gay. After all, he was a single, unmarried man who wore bright clothes and had a possibly unhealthily close relationship with his mother.

Now it seems he was not gay.

Oddly, I heard about his dodgy interest in young girls from people outside television and before I ever worked on TV programmes.

In 1970, a girlfriend mentioned to me that, when she had been growing up in Yorkshire and was aged around 14, she went to a live show – I think it was a disco type show – which Jimmy Savile presented. Afterwards, he got talking to her and arranged to meet her later that night.

She did not keep the appointment, because she felt uncomfortable about it and about him.

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I have a terrible memory, so treat the next memory with sympathy.

At vaguely around the same time I vaguely remember being told another story about Jimmy Savile.

He knew a family with a young daughter. The parents were going away for the night and they asked him to look after their teenage, under-age, daughter. He did not ask then, they asked him and almost insisted. It was almost an honour for them. He had sex with her. They never knew.

So those are my two stories – three if you include the persistent rumours he was gay.

The two stories involving girls now sound as if they were true. The ‘gay’ rumours now sound like they might be untrue. I never particularly repeated the stories to anyone else because they were just that – stories, gossip, rumour. You hear a lot of gossip about a lot of people.

When I worked at London Weekend Television and at Granada TV, I peripherally encountered a major ‘family entertainment’ star (mostly associated with BBC programmes). I was told by people at both ITV stations that he was a well-know ‘groper’ of women. It was widely-known.

But it might not be true.

A friend told me about an Anglia TV executive who chased her lecherously round the board room table, grabbing at her. She was also grabbed-at by a prominent Labour Party politician on another occasion. I know those stories to be true because they were told to me first hand by one of the two people involved.

In that sense, they are stories but not rumours.

At the weekend, someone was telling me that a particular macho British actor and international movie star is gay. I took it to be true because the person who told me knows her gossip. But it is just gossip, just rumour.

Scallywag ‘knew’ it was true – but it was not…

Everybody with an ear to the gossip ‘knew’ a few years ago that Prime Minister John Major was having an affair with caterer Clare Latimer.

Except he was not.

The whole of Fleet Street ‘knew’. It was widely hinted at. Media folk ‘knew’ all about the affair. I ‘knew’. Scallywag magazine – which printed stories even Private Eye would not touch – published pieces about it.

In 1992, the band Soho even included a track called Claire’s Kitchen on their album Thug. The lyrics referred to the affair without naming John Major.

It was only in 1993, when the New Statesmen printed the story, that John Major and Clare Latimer sued both the New Statesman and Scallywag.

Much later, in 2002, it turned out he had not been having an affair with caterer Clare Latimer at all, but with fellow Tory MP Edwina Currie – and it only came out then because she mentioned it in her autobiography.

Yet the gossip about the Claire’s Kitchen affair had been as strong and ‘known to be as true’ as the current long-running gossip about two US actor Scientologists being gay.

But they might not be.

It is just a rumour.

And let us not even mention the stories about a recent Prime Minister being gay or another one having a foreign affair.

As it ‘appens, the rumours about Jimmy Savile were true but they were unprintable because they would not ‘stand up’ in a court or even in a newspaper article, let alone in any BBC investigation. There are all sorts of rumours about all sorts of people. If you are famous, it comes with the territory.

So it is a bit rich when national newspapers blame the BBC for not ‘outing’ Jimmy Savile as a paedophile in the decades when those same newspapers were running ‘Our Kindly Saint Jimmy’ stories but also knew the widespread rumours. Why did they not publish the stories if they ‘knew’ they were true?

The answer is because they did not know beyond gossip. Nor did the BBC.

Now we do.

Mostly.

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Silvio Berlusconi and the Mafia man with easy access to the horses’ heads

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister of Italy and quoted an English friend of mine who has lived there for around 25 years.

Yesterday, she told me the national newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interesting front page.

The Rubik’s cube of Italian politics is not exactly simplified by the fact that the secret masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due), in effect, ran Italy from the end of the Second World War until at least 1976 and possibly until 1981. Its all-pervading power lay in its membership and links, which included Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), politicians, media, the police and the intelligence services.

It was a bit like the Groucho Club with attitude problems and access to armed force.

A list of P2 members, discovered in 1981 included Silvio Berlusconi.

“Right in the centre of Corriere della Sera’s front page today,” my friend told me yesterday, “there is a photograph of the two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were both assassinated within a two month period in 1992 after they led the Italian government’s anti-Mafia investigation.

Corriere della Sera quotes Borsellino’s wife as saying he told her – only 24 hours before he was blown to bits in a car bomb outside his flat – that, if he was assassinated, it would not be the Mafia who killed him. Corriere della Sera presumably printed this article now because there is a current investigation into claims that the Italian State continues to be connected to organised crime in a big way.

“Ask yourself why,” my friend told me: “Ask yourself why – in this week of all weeks – on this day of all days – why this particular photo and story would be on the front page of a national newspaper that is otherwise all about Berlusconi…”

In his last video interview, given four days before Falcone’s assassination and two months before his own assassination, Paolo Borsellino spoke about the possible link between Cosa Nostra’s mafiosi and rich Italian businessmen including Silvio Berlusconi.

Borselino claimed that well-connected mafiosi Vittorio Mangano was the Sicilian Mafia’s link to its business interests in Northern Italy.

Somewhat bizarrely, Berlusconi employed Mangano to look after the horses at his villa in the small town of Arcore, near Milan, where Berlusconi lived. It has been alleged that Mangano’s real job may have been to deter kidnappers from targeting the Berlusconi’s children.

But there were also allegations made by Mafia supergrasses that Berlusconi was connected to the bomb blasts which killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Magistrates in Caltanissetta spent almost two years examining these allegations and decisively rejected them.

The mafiosi supergrasses had also apparently wrongly alleged Berlusconi had had contact with Mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Totò Riina and arranged legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra in exchange for Cosa Nostra support for his political party Forza Italia.

Politics – in Italy perhaps even more so than in other countries – is a dark art involving smoke and mirrors.

It also reminds me of the ancient Roman saying Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus sergeant.

It sounds very posh because it is Latin. But it has a more basic meaning:

“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

Something that applies to all politicians.

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Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – Are they the Laurel and Hardy of British politics?

What is happening with Ed Miliband and what has happened to the Labour Party’s once-feared PR machine?

Young Ed looks like he is being paid by the Tories to undermine his own party and Alastair Campbell’s once gleaming and perfectly-oiled Labour PR machine seems to have seized up with rust or is being operated by 5-year-old children who are too small to reach the levers they have to pull.

That Labour Party conference speech yesterday and all the interviews around it were an unmitigated piece of failed image-building tripe.

The long-thought-out line – they are supposed to have worked all night on the speech – seemed to be:

“We, the Labour Party, would like to apologise for the things we did wrong which we humbly admit, sort of, but it’s the Tories’ fault for anything we did really and, if they are doing now what we said we would do or what we would have had to do, well, that’s what comes of all those years of Tory… erm… government… erm… oh…

“Oh… and the government should make things better and tell other people to make things better. We have had long discussions about this and decided that both the people and the country would be better off if the Economy were in a better state and not worse. Vote for us next time because we are new people not the ones who made any of the mistakes before. Well, sort of.”

One of Ed’s problems is he cannot ‘do’ passion. Someone is writing passionate speeches for him, but he is unable to deliver them. He tries to be passionate, but his lightweight voice is just not up to it and his heart is clearly not in it. It is like he is reading Chaucer to the English class.

I saw an interview he gave a couple of days ago in which he said, basically: “The government should not lecture the Europeans and tell them how to make things better. The government should make things better and, if we were in power, we would be pro-active and tell the Europeans how to make things better.”

The main problem young Ed has is not difficulties in writing credible speeches and an apparent lack of any actual policies. The even bigger problem is a superficial presentational one.

Before Margaret Thatcher came to power, she listened to her very wise advisors. She softened her hairstyle and she lowered the pitch of her voice.

Tony Blair was already a master of fake sincerity when he got the Top Job – that’s what comes of being a good lawyer – lots of experience telling barefaced lies. His technique was so good he almost made me believe in David Icke’s theory that all the top-nobs in Britain are actually alien lizards in human skins.

But no-one seems to have given poor young Ed any advice at all. He is an apprentice lizard.

He still looks like a scared schoolboy unexpectedly made into a prefect and, with his rabbit-in-the-car-headlights eyes, looks shit-scared that people will find out that even he does not believe he is up to the job.

A couple of days ago, there were staggeringly mis-judged PR pictures of slim Ed Miliband and chunky Ed Balls – and there is an image problem here to begin with, as Ed Miliband looked like Stan Laurel to Ed Balls’ version of Oliver Hardy and who wants Stan Laurel as their Prime Minister?… I almost expected Ed Miliband to scratch his head and stare at the camera in innocent confusion with those big open calf’s eyes.

Anyway… there were the two of them walking across a square, being filmed smiling for the TV News, smiling and chatting in an attempt to look in relaxed conversation, but the separated body language and the appallingly stilted audible conversation appeared to show there was no chemistry, no amiability, no ability nor desire to communicate with each other.

They looked as if, in a party – let alone in a Party – they would stand alone at opposite sides of the room and try to avoid ever meeting because they knew there would be an embarrassing, awkward silence.

In this case, two Eds were not better than one.

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Why is taxpayers’ money being spent helping policemen become comics?

(This blog was also published in The Huffington Post)

We are in an economic recession. Even without that, life is tough enough for the aspiring stand-up comedian without policemen trying to muscle their way into the act.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates and former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman were questioned by the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee about the fact they had claimed there was nothing to investigate when News International papers were accused of phone hacking.

In 2009, John Yates carried out an ‘investigation’ into a previous 2006 phone hacking investigation. His ‘in-depth’ investigation lasted a whole eight hours (presumably including a lunch break) after which he decided there was nothing to investigate.

He had not bothered to examine several bin bags of incriminating paperwork seized from the home of private detective Glenn Mulcaire nor read the 11,000 pages of evidence held inside Scotland Yard which included the fact that both future Prime Minister Gordon Brown and future Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had been hacked.

His defence yesterday for what, on the face of it, was a breathtaking lack of investigation was that he could not investigate the allegations against News International properly because News International would not co-operate with him.

This is a bit like saying that the police could not investigate the Yorkshire Ripper killings because the Yorkshire Ripper would not send them information incriminating himself. If I ever commit a major bank robbery, I would want John Yates to be the investigating officer.

John Yates is Scotland Yard’s new head of counter-terrorism and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says that Yates “currently undertakes one of the most difficult jobs in UK policing and is doing an outstanding job leading our fight against terrorism.”

I don’t know if I am alone in finding that this – far from reassuring me – makes me feel even more uneasy and unsafe. Presumably he would have difficulty investigating a planned terrorist attack if al-Qaida did not co-operate with his investigations.

We value tradition in Britain. The Metropolitan Police appear to be continuing a long tradition of being staffed by would-be dodgy double-glazing salesmen. Though I have to be careful because I would not want to be sued for defamation by dodgy double-glazing salesmen who might object to being compared to the Met.

Andy Hayman – whom Commons committee member Lorraine Fullbrook called “a dodgy geezer” – was in charge of the original phone hacking enquiry at the Met.

While ‘investigating’ the accusations against News International papers of phone hacking, Hayman (who had wanted to be a journalist when he was younger) had dinners with News International executives (one wonders if he would have dinners with bank robbers while investigating alleged bank robberies) and, on retiring from the Met after reported ‘controversy about his expenses’, he was given work by News International – writing for The Times.

An article in today’s Independent describes the Hogarthian scene in the House of Commons’ committee room yesterday:

When Ms Fullbrook asked him (Andy Hayman) whether he’d ever taken money from a paper in return for information, he threw his arms into the air, as in a Feydeau farce: “I can’t believe you asked that!” And: “I can’t let you get away with that! Taking money?” He was gasping; speechless; eyes bulging. Julian Huppert had observed mildly: “Other policemen have.” Hayman cried something about his integrity and seemed on the point of scrabbling at his chest. The whole room was laughing – at, not with; scornful, down-the-rabbit-hole laughter at a figure who not long ago was defending 90 days of detention without charge. He was, in Keith Vaz’s words: “More Clouseau than Columbo.”

Last week, the London Evening Standard claimed that “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Previously, Labour MP Tom Watson had used parliamentary privilege to say: “John Yates’s review of the (private detective Glenn) Mulcaire evidence was not an oversight. Like Andy Hayman, he chose not to act, he misled parliament.”

In a blog back in February, I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher’s solicitor – a partner in a major law firm – once told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

I am not particularly outraged that the News of the World was hacking into people’s phones – they allegedly bugged both John Yates and Andy Hayman’s phones while the dynamic duo were allegedly investigating the News of the World for phone hacking – I am not even surprised that a policeman was flogging the Royal Family’s personal phone and contact details if he was paid enough – but I am outraged that the taxpayer appears to be footing the bill for policeman apparently attempting to build their performance skills for a future career in stand-up comedy should this ‘police job thing’ not work out.

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Sucking up or sucking off? UK Prime Ministers, Rupert Murdoch and a puff

Look, I only plug people and things I believe in on this blog so, with that in mind, read on…

British Prime Ministers have been sucking Rupert Murdoch’s corporate cock since the 1960s. It’s nothing new. Nor is amorality.

Lance Price was a special advisor to Tony Blair. In 1998, he became deputy to Blair’s Communications Director, Alastair Campbell; and he was the Labour Party’s Director of Communications from 2000 until the General Election of 2001. Price says Blair was under Murdoch’s thumb from the beginning:

“I started working for Tony Blair a year after he became Prime Minister. I was shocked to be told by one of those who’d been closely involved with the talks in Australia, and subsequently, that: ‘We’ve promised News International we won’t make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them’.”

But – hey! ho! – political pragmatism, like journalistic amorality, is good news for some…

My elfin comedian chum Laura Lexx is staging her first straight play Ink at the Edinburgh Fringe in three weeks time.

The play is actually about the London 7/7 terrorist bombings and the media intrusion into victims’ lives but, of course, the subject of where the journalistic tipping point lies between investigative illumination and amoral intrusion is timeless.

Laura’s press release (written months ago) says: When reporting the news is business, is there space for truth and a conscience?… Will we accept hack journalism as a necessary evil for swift information?

It could have been written last week about the phone hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World. It is a subject, as the red-tops might themselves say, RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES – but of eternal relevance.

The play’s billing reads: “Ordinary man blown up by terrorists – he made jam and had a son. Nothing special. The media made that clear as they conjured headlines from victims and sprinkled them between crosswords.”

My elfin chum Laura Lexx was both a Chortle and Paramount Student comedy finalist in her first six months of live stand-up performance; then she went on to reach the semi-finals of both the Laughing Horse and Funny Women competitions.

I saw Ink when it was a student production at the University of Kent.

It was impressive then.

With the number of actors in the cast cut back for financial reasons and the writing sharpened up even more, it will be interesting to see how it fares at the Edinburgh Fringe, given its accidentally up-to-the-minute relevance.

Now.. if only I could see some RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES angle for my own two spaghetti-juggling events at the Fringe…

My head is spinning.

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Filed under Comedy, Newspapers, Politics, Theatre

The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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