Tag Archives: Richard Burton

An unsettling story about an illegal gun and “an awful lot of firepower out there”

In a recent blog, I mentioned that mad inventor John Ward – a man of often admirable creative eccentricity – used to have a gun licence for several weapons. It was not something I ever found reassuring.

He now tells me this true story…

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One evening in the early 1990s, before the Dunblane massacre, I was at my local shooting range. It was not unusual for members to bring guests.

The evening went on its merry way with members blasting away at paper targets and seeing who had the best score. Then, at the end of the night, as we were clearing up to go home, a guest who had been watching asked:

“Does anybody mind if I use of the target area?”

No-one did.

So he went to the boot of his car, dragged out a bag and walked back to the shooting area which was a wall about twenty feet high and twelve feet wide made from old wooden railway sleepers because, as well as being a ‘stopping point’ for all the bullets fired in its direction, it ‘soaked up’ the bullets and prevented any ricochets.

The guest unwrapped his weapon and it was a German MP 40 machine pistol – also called the Schmeisser sub machine gun – of the sort that is a staple of World War 2 films when the German side is shown with automatic weapons – think Where Eagles Dare. It is the cheaper-made model that derived from the MP 38 but, for all that, it still killed folk efficiently.

Its magazine holds 40 rounds of 9mm ammo. It is not a sporting gun by any stretch of the imagination and, as such, was/is a banned weapon on these shores for obvious reasons and can only be legally owned by a very few people or dealers who hold a Home Office Section 5 Licence.

So we stood there with our mouths wide open and the silence was deafening. Our guest then inserted a magazine into the forward section of the MP 40, cocked the weapon, turned to us and said:

“I’m not sure how this is going to go as I have had it years and I’m not sure what noise it gives out.”

With that, we put our fingers in our ears – we had already cleared away our ear defenders/ear muffs – and… BBBBBBBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRR as our guest emptied a full magazine of forty 9mm bullets at the target area in about ten seconds – much like Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare in fact!

As the smoke cleared, he turned to us and said:

“Well! – that seemed to go alright, didn’t it?”

And, with that, he took the magazine out, thanked us, proceeded to put it back in the bag with the gun and took it to the boot of his car and drove off.

Afterwards, oddly, nobody could recall just who had brought him along as a guest…

For the next few weeks, I scanned the newspapers to see if there had been any ‘bank jobs’ done locally but there were none.

That was almost twenty years ago.

All this was and is illegal and, if caught with an MP 40, one’s future holiday arrangements might be arranged by Her Majesty for the next twenty years, but the streets of this country are nowadays awash with far more of this sort of stuff than ever before.

There is even more firepower in the MAC-10, which has 32 rounds of 9mm held a stick magazine housed in the pistol grip – a .45 calibre option was/is also available. The MAC-10 can empty its magazine in about 2 to 3 seconds flat.

It was put on test by the SAS but they refused to adopt it as it was inaccurate unless  – I quote – “you were having a fire fight in a telephone box”.

The MAC-10 is now a common fashion accessory among British drug gangs.

There is an awful lot of ‘firepower’ out there, perhaps some of it nearer than you might think.

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John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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The downside of being a dead celebrity: Liz Taylor, Charlie Drake, Rod Hull, Bob Hope & the Queen Mum

The Queen Mother was 101 years old when she died and she had cost the BBC a fortune by not dying earlier. Her death – codenamed ‘Blackbird’ at ITV where the Transmission Controllers had envelopes containing details of what to do when she did eventually die – was clearly going to be a big news story and her funeral a complicatedly large state event so, to my knowledge, the BBC ran a full rehearsal of her death and coverage of her funeral three times. It cost a fortune.

She must have been well-pissed off when Princess Diana died because everyone was unprepared. There were certainly no plans for Diana to have a big funeral because, at that point, she was not a member of the Royal Family and had no constitutional position. So, when the Royal Family were, in effect, forced by the press and – to my mind – surreal public opinion to give Diana a big fuck-me funeral, they used the plans for the Queen Mother’s funeral.

As a result, the Queen Mother’s funeral itself was a less big-scale anti-climax.

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity.

Elizabeth Taylor sadly mis-timed her death on Wednesday. On a normal slow news days, she could have expected to be the lead item on TV News bulletins. But it was Budget Day in the UK – economic pundits and bullshitting politicians stretched as far as the eye could see and there were expensive Outside Broadcast and studio links nationwide – plus there was lots of news coming in from Libya and still news report aftershocks from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear story in Japan, where TV companies had, by now, flown expensive reporters into place and were paying for on-the-spot film crews.

So poor Elizabeth Taylor’s death did not quite get the level of coverage she could have otherwise expected.

This morning, TV scriptwriter Nigel Crowle pointed out to me two slightly bizarre angles to her death.

One was that one of her rivals for the key role in 1944 movie National Velvet – which made her a star – was future Baroness Shirley Williams.

Shirley was pipped at the post by Elizabeth and went on to found the Social Democrat Party while Liz went on to marry Richard Burton twice.

It’s unlikely that, if Shirley had got the role, she would have gone on to marry Richard Burton and Elizabeth would have founded the SDP, but stranger things have happened.

The other odd fact Nigel mentioned is that Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary in the New York Times was written by Mel Gussow who died six years ago.

This is no great surprise – Associated Press wrote the template for Britney Spears’ obituary in 2008.

What does surprise me is that British newspapers seem to have discovered a tone of reverence for Elizabeth Taylor which they never quite gave her in life. Something of a reverse on the situation for dead UK comedian Charlie Drake, who was much cherished during his life.

After his death, veteran TV producer Michael Hurll let rip about Charlie in an interview on the Chortle comedy industry website

Hurll worked with Charlie when he was a holiday camp redcoat: “He was a nasty man then,” Hurll said, “and he stayed a nasty man – a horrible, horrible man”.

Hurll, old enough not to care, went on to call Jerry Lewis (still alive) “a nasty piece of work” and Bob Hope (dead) “the nastiest man I’ve ever worked with”. As for Rod Hull: “He was the most miserable, nastiest man you ever met… Just a horrible, horrible man.”

Dying can be difficult at the best of times, but pity the poor celebrity facing the uncertainties of posthumous reviews.

I still retain memories of reading an Andy Warhol obituary (I can’t remember where) which ended with the climactic words: “He was a short man who wore a wig”.

Ex-gangster ’Mad’ Frank Fraser – not a man to meddle with in life – once told me over a cup of tea that he wasn’t “really frightened of anything but I’m a bit worried what they’ll say about me after I die.”

He seems a very nice chap. He offered me free dental work.

Just don’t ask me about Cilla Black…

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