PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

         This New Year of 2018 is showing considerable promise as being one of big stories. The best, so far, has been the claims that Jeremy Corbyn — he who would lead the country into a Land Fit For Marxists To Dwell In — was targeted by the Czechs (in their unenlightened Commie days)  as a potential informant.

         Now before Mr Corbyn despatches a be-wigged one in my direction, let me stress that there is no evidence that he was, or ever has been, a spy, an informant, a traitor or anything of that ilk. He is, ahem, a jolly old patriot.

         I mention this story because I,too, was once targeted by Dark Muscovite Forces when I was editor of the Londoner’s Diary on the Evening Standard. It was an exciting job to hold at that time in the 1960s when London was (as Time magazine dubbed it) “a swinging place” to live and work in.

       It was the decade of Profumo, his resignation as War Minister because Christine Keeler shared her slinky favours with a spy from the Russian Embassy. And it was also a time of change from a class-ridden country  with a Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who was known for his “grouse moor” image.When the country was run by grandees intent on preserving their positions.

      One day I received an invitation to a cocktail party at the Russian Embassy to mark a festival of the country’s greatest films. As I had never set foot anywhere near the grand mansion that was part of their Embassy in London, I accepted the gilt-edged invitation.

      The party was a very grand affair with gallons of vodka, fine Soviet wines (despite that sounding a contradiction) mountains of caviar and even some very beautiful Russian women present (described as “attaches” of this or that).

       But I had hardly been on my first sip of very atomic vodka when a smooth-looking character, in what was obviously a Savile Row suit, oozed up to me and introduced himself as (let’s call him) “Oleg”. He,too, was an attache (cultural division) and we discussed British newspapers, the weather, how he adored living in England and how he loved the English.

       He was charm personified, with a very lively sense of humour, excellent English and exquisite manners. We spoke for about half an hour and I had totally forgotten about him until he rang me a few days later and suggested dinner.

     Ignoring the advice of a colleague who warned that lunching with folk from the Russian Embassy could be dangerous, I accepted Oleg’s invitation. We met at the Ritz Hotel’s five star restaurant and dined very well.

      But towards the end of dinner Oleg suddenly started asking me about various stories I had written in Londoner’s Diary and how frequently I visited the Houses of Parliament. It was then that my suspicions sprang into life. Why was he asking these questions?

      It was obvious that he was seeking to make me a regular contact to milk for information which would be transmitted back to Moscow. It was, in a rather silly way, quite ludicrous for him to start milking me for information.

    I was hardly privy to an state secrets and what information I could pass him was readily available in the columns of the Diary. I could only conclude that he was merely justifying his expenses.

    But his overtures did not end with dinner at the Ritz. He started telephoning me regularly in the office, then at home (to the latter extent that I had to change my number).  He continued to bombard me with invitations to parties (where, he assured me, there would be present some lovely women), to more dinners at the Ritz — all because he so enjoyed my company.

      Finally, I was forced to become quite tough and inform him I no longer wanted his company and if he did not desist from bothering me, I would report his conduct to the Foreign Office.

       That did the trick and I never heard from him again.But it shows just how determined the Communists were to garner information, even what was appearing in the newspapers, to despatch to their Masters.

       This has been a background story to Jeremy Corbyn’s experiences with the Czechs. One almost feels sorry for him. Almost.

—————————————————————————

 

       Here’s a memory that tells of at least one would-be spy who received his comeuppance rather painfully.  One lunch time back in the late 60s I was one of a group of journalists drinking in El Vino, the Fleet Street boozing hole where we all frequently gathered.

    One of our number was Ronnie Payne, an expert on spies and terrorism and who worked for the Telegraph. He was an extremely affable chap, well-built, always cheery and friendly.

     As we all chatted away it became clear that a tall, thin man was standing close to our group and listening to every word. Suddenly, Ronnie growled in the ear-wigger’s direction, walked up to him and grabbed him by the scruff of  his neck.

       Ronnie then dragged him to the doors of El Vino and,with one mighty thrust, threw him sprawling on the pavement outside.  Why this sudden violence?

      It turned out he claimed to be a “reporter” from Tass, the Russian news agency which had offices in Fleet Street. But he was no journalist and was, in fact, a spy sent to report back on the “secrets” of Fleet Street.

      The joke was that El Vino’s stock-in-trade was not only its fine wines and excellent Scotch, but also the bollocks and bull shit spoken by its customers. Any spy who reported this back to Moscow would soon find himself on a one way trip to Siberia!

———————————-o0o—————————-

 

 

 

Advertisements

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

        The mighty chorus of accusation prompted by Harvey Weinstein’s vile and disgusting behaviour continues to grow in intensity.  More and more actresses are coming forward to testify about his alleged rapes,gropings and vicious career-damaging threats.

     It is yet another chapter in the dark, disgusting side of Hollywood that lurks, seldom revealed, behind the glitter and glamour of the film industry. It is nothing new.

     Film historians will tell you it can be traced to the early years of the silent film era when producers demanded sexual favours from would-be screen vamps. (Some of these girls, eager and innocent, were often 16-year-olds from distant States.)

    Even the big-name studio bosses were guilty of such crude and criminal antics. Louis B.Mayer, the second “M” of the mighty MGM, is recorded as having fondled the teenage Judy Garland.

    And it took the much-molested Marilyn Monroe to describe Hollywood in acid terms.  “It was,”she said, “an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”

   But not all the stars took this obscenity lying down (so to speak!).  Darryl F. Zanuck, a mighty player in the Hollywood game, enjoyed showing actresses the solid gold, life-sized mould of his erect penis which he kept on his desk.

    When he pointed it out, with leering pride, to the formidable Joan Crawford, a powerful star known for her sharp tongue, her response was magnificent.

    “I’ve seen bigger things crawl out of cabbages,” she she snapped.

    It is certain that Weinstein’s filthy bullying will have a long-term effect on male behaviour. Even now, there are accusations that some MPs having been guilty in this area. And considering the number of young, attractive women researchers in the Houses of Parliament, it is not really surprising.

    All men, even old blokes like me who still possess an eye for a pretty girl (but, let me stress,do nothing about it) will have to employ restraint. But surely this will also have one very sad development — it will mean the possible end of flirtation and even seduction.

    Both of these are part of the ritual of human relations and how awful it will be if a man, of whatever age, cannot “chat up” a girl for fear of being accused of “inappropriate behaviour” (what a shopworn term, so beloved of awful women columnists on the Guardian, that has become).

     Even those early physical contacts — gently holding hands or that first, trembling kiss — will find many young men daunted with fear.  Will they have to wait until the girl makes the first move? Perhaps written permission will have to be given.

     And as for seduction,  how will a young man achieve this now seemingly impossible delight without getting into trouble?  I can only hope that human nature will intervene and take its course.

    I am so relieved not to be that young man. At 78, let me assure you, I am more than content to exchange what the Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell described  as “the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue” for the contentment of my lovely double-bed alongside the love of my life.

————————o0o———————–

     In about a fortnight I shall become a grandfather for the second time. My daughter Jessica is due to present to the world her second child (which I think will, this time, will be a boy.)

      Scarlett, my five-year-old beautiful grand daughter, is so excited at the prospect, that she has been coming out with some of those pearls of wisdom so typical of children of that age.

     My (so far) favourite is (referring to her favourite toy, a big fur rabbit called Bannick:  “In future, I shall be Bannick’s side-kick.”

     The arrival of a new life in a family is always a source of immense joy.  The love that  pours out is beautifully engulfing and brings a family closer together in a union of caring.

      It is all such an occasion  for real happiness, love and even humour. Jessica — she and her New York-based brother Jamie both very successfully followed me into journalism — was standing in front of a full-length  mirror the other day and observed: “Oh daddy, look at me. I’m as big as the QE2!!”

        ———————————-o0o————————–

 

PAUL CALLAN AT LARGE

       Poor old Prince Charles must be feeling a sense of relief now that the media’s tearful coverage of the 20th anniversary of the death of Prince Diana is over. For him, it stirred up all the old poisonous accusations that had been hurled at him when they were married.

     Newspapers, television and radio have been filled with endless memories and interviews with some of the Princess’s genuine friends and quite a few others who were jumping on the bandwagon of grief and claiming they were close to her. In fact, they weren’t.

     Prince Charles must surely have shuddered every day during the last few weeks when he opened his morning papers (that is, assuming he did) to find pages of mawkish features about his damaged former wife.

     The Daily Mail (for which I once worked as a diarist) led the field in this memory-laden coverage.After a couple of days, this became somewhat sickening. It was, of course, produced for that section of its readership who are middle-aged women and who, more than most, were deeply affected by the Princess’s tragic death.

   All this strikes me as being somewhat cynical — a deliberate targeting and manipulation of a certain type of reader. The death of the Princess was deeply upsetting, as well I know. I reported the tragedy for the Daily Express from the night it happened right to a lengthy piece I wrote about her funeral.

   I,too,have various memories of her and incidents linked  to her death. There was the morning I went down to Buckingham Palace to see the flowers and messages that were beginning to be placed on the railings.

    I was accompanied by a photographer and as we looked at the bouquets and postcards I sensed that a crowd was gathering around us. Suddenly, a voice rang out. “It was people like you who killed her.”  It came a from a beefy, threatening man who was clearly about to injure either me or my photographer.  The crowd was also closing in.

    This was very frightening and had we not been rescued by the two policemen standing guard on the gates, I shudder to think what might have happened. As we were hustled away, the people in the crowds shouted  angry threats and someone even threw a (fortunately plastic and empty) bottle at me.

    It was all very un-British and totally untypical of the way we are as a people. It was the same shortly after her death when there was fury because the Queen wanted to stay in Balmoral and care for Diana’s shattered sons.

    But eventually, the Queen and Prince Philip returned and I recall the icy silence when they stepped from their car to inspect all the flowers that, by now, were stacked high.

    Once again, a condemning voice boomed from the crowd. “It is about time you turned up,”they said. Prince Philip looked sharply in the direction of the man who had shouted.

    “We’re here now,” he said, his voice quivering with some anger.  For a moment, it looked as though it all might turn nasty and the detectives accompany the Queen and the Prince looked anxious.

      Then something remarkable happened. The Queen paused and turned round and stared at the crowd. A silence fell — and the Queen smiled. It was, as smiles go, a 90-Watt job.  I am no royalist, but that smile had such an effect on the angry crowd.

     Then, remarkably, the mood changed and the crowd who, a minute before, had been surly, started to clap. It was her presence  that did it.  For here was a little old lady in black (the Queen is tiny) gently calming people who were feeling battered by grief. Who were angry.

    And is it not a touching coincidence that just as all these lamentations over Princess Diana come to a welcome end, there is news that will cheer up any devoted royalist. The Duchess of Cambridge, pretty Kate Middleton, as was, is pregnant with her third child.

    After grief comes a new life.  I am about to became a grandfather for a second time — my lovely daughter Jessica is due to have a baby in November — and I am filled with joy at the prospect.

    And you might say that, well, I do have that in common with Prince Charles.

————————————————————————————-

     Whatever history may make of the dreadful President Trump, one remarkable fact has emerged about him: he has affected the English language. For those of us whose business is words, this is fascinating.

     Lexicographers at the Oxford University Press (those erudite folk who seek potential words for their English dictionary) have discovered that about fifty Trump-associated words and phrases have appeared in American usage.

    Words like “Trumpertantrum” and “Trumptastrophe” have entered the language. Even the word “bigly” is back in use, despite being a centuries-old adverb. All this is because people  create words for whatever they are thinking and talking about.

    Trump himself is clearly influencing language. This is largely due to his constant use of Twitter. He has even revived certain words — such as “bigly”, a dormant adverb first used in the 15th century. Its use has soared – thanks to Trump.

   There is even a brand new word called a “Scaramucci” — a time measurement referring to a ten day span and named after the ranting Anthony Scaramucci, the White House director of communications who was fired after ten days.

    Oh well, a Scaramucci is a long time in politics.

————————————o0o———————————-