Thursday, March 29, 2012

Neville Thurlbeck interview: 'I'm in this Sunday's Passion play!'

Neville Thurlbeck.
Photo by Jason Alden (Independent)
Isn't he adorable? There's something about Neville Thurlbeck that suspends all sensible judgement. He needs little introduction suffice to say that once upon a time he was news editor and chief reporter of the late News of the World before Hackgate blew up his award-winning career. To date he's been arrested twice but not charged, the second time over something he wrote on his riveting blog. What's Rebekah Brooks really like? When did he lose his virginity? Who should play Rupert Murdoch in Screws: The Musical? He kindly indulged me with answers, and then some.

MA: Neville Thurlbeck! Tabloid award-winning legend! I can't believe I'm interacting with the man who enabled Jeffrey Archer to bring himself down, turned Max Mosley's life into a national peep show and introduced us to the joys of Rebecca Loos. How much have you been offered for your memoirs? Tell me you're writing your memoirs (I know a great agent, by the way). 

NT: First of all, before I answer your questions, please forgive me if I begin on a very serious note and say how very much I like the curtains in Madame Arcarti’s virtual boudoir. And I’m really rather envious of you having Molly Parkin as a fiancée too as she was quite a dish in the 1960s (and I’m sure she still is).

The memoirs business is something which does crop up frequently. But I can’t fathom who the blue blazers would be interested, apart from media types. It strikes me that it would be a heck of a lot of work to make about £62.50. I’ve been asked to get involved in all sorts of documentaries and drama docs too. But they all want me to pour a bucketload over my former colleagues. I respect them too much to do that. Even the odd one who I don’t care for I may criticise in private but never in public.

MA: Which scoop are you the most proud of?

NT: I guess the Jeffrey Archer investigation was the most worthy as it exposed his perjury, made him stand down as a candidate for London Mayor and sent him to jail. But in terms of circulation, it would have to be the David Beckham scoop which put on hundreds of thousands of sales and went right around the world.
MA: And which scoop, in retrospect, is the one you most regret. And why.

NT: The story which saddened me greatly was our Ricky Hatton splash when we caught him taking hard drugs. I was the man who got that famous picture of him snorting a line of cocaine in a bedroom using a hidden camera. I can see why that was a great tabloid story and a valid one at that. But nevertheless, Ricky Hatton is a great person and a wonderful sportsman and I was sad to see him on our front page like that. Since then, it looks as though he has cleaned up his life so I try to hold onto that positive.

MA: All these scandals you've brought to our attention - they must have left you with a sour view of humanity. Or perhaps you have a strong spiritual disposition...

NT: I have a very positive view of humanity. The News of the World was all about human frailty and there is often much to admire in epic tragedy and how people respond and deal with it. I still believe that most people are fundamentally good. And during my 20 odd years on the road, I was always amazed by the kindness of strangers. And yes, I’ve always had a pretty strong spiritual disposition. I go to church twice a month and always have. Last night, I was underground in the church boiler room shifting gallons of paint so we could get our fire safety certificate!  And I always have a drink with the vicar on the first Monday of the month – what I call ‘having a bev with the rev’. Oh, and I’m in this Sunday’s Passion play! Now there’s a little line to pick up for a few of the third rate diary columnists knocking around Fleet Street that like to pretend I’m a celebrity and write rubbish about me!

MA: And now you're reviewing theatre shows - is it true, for nothing? How did the gig come about?

NT: I reviewed the National Theatre’s War Horse for the blog and the local paper where I live, the Surrey Comet, emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing plays on their patch. They don’t have the budget to pay me a bean but I agreed on the spot! I go anyway and it’s a fun thing to do.

MA: I LOVE your blog. It radiates charm. So few journos can do blogging. Would you describe yourself as a 'seducer'? Considerable charm must have been deployed in your career to win people over. I mean, when did you lose your virginity? What's your star sign?

NT: That’s a very kind thing to say. I’m not sure I’d describe myself as such. As a journalist, I found playing a straight bat was the most successful tactic. And most importantly, to just be myself. The public can spot a phoney and smell baloney from 100 yards. 17. Libra.

MA: Now, look. Imagine you're Lupert Murdoch (the Sunday Times has confirmed Wendi calls Rupert 'Lupert'). What's the one thing you would have done, or not have done, in handling this awful phone hacking crisis?

NT: I would have knocked on Rebekah Brooks’ door when I realised my evidence in defence of the ‘For Neville email’ had been sat on.

MA: Did you ever meet Lupert when he visited Wapping? What's the poppet like? He's Pisces, you know - very clued into surfing people; very seductive.... 

NT: I met him once or twice in passing when he was introduced to me in the office – “And finally, this is Neville, he’s the idiot who writes all the embarrassing, troublesome stuff,” that sort of thing.

He was very low key. The first time I met him, he appeared at my shoulder to read what I was writing on screen which was quite alarming as I was sending a very risqué joke to a friend.

MA: I thought shutting down the News of the World was a bit drama queeny. I know it did the trick of shutting up Carole 'What the hell?' Malone, but I mean...

NT: It was a tragedy. 168 years of history and nearly 300 jobs down the spout to save a few faces. And it didn’t work.

MA: I have to ask this Neville and you don't have to answer. But are you, or have you ever been, in possession of information that could bring down the entire media empire presently called News International?

NT: Of course in 23 years, you do get to see and hear an awful lot and the higher you move up the more you see and learn. But I’m not vindictive and my difficulties with News International were brought about by an ignorance of my true position. It’s complex but all will be revealed and resolved in time so I’m relaxed about it and getting on with life.

MA: Do you miss the pressures of Fleet St? You were mightily successful. What's the one thing on a daily basis that tells you that life now is better or worse than it once was. (Sunday mornings must feel odd - no more sense of triumph/dread).

NT: Life is better as I’m much fitter. I got a border terrier last year (‘Ralphie’ after Sir Ralph Richardson because he looks like him!) and we go for a run every morning. And then a long walk every afternoon. He’s a splendid little lad and we’re best pals. As well as the dog, I also get to see my family a lot more too of course! And they tell me how nice it is to have me around such a lot. I faff about working for my property company/doing charity work for Talking2Minds/reading/going to the theatre and doing the odd trip here and there to see old friends in far flung places. And I make the dinner every night too! There was no point having a cleaner and a gardener when I was around so much so I’m ironing, pruning and dusting too! So I’m becoming quite domesticated.  My family finds it all highly amusing as that never used to be me when I was on Fleet Street. In many respects, I’ve never been happier and I don’t fear for the future.

But of course, I miss the hurly-burly of Fleet Street. When this has all been lifted from my shoulders, I’ll look around and choose my new direction. In the meantime, I’ll keep buggering on.

MA: Do you get offered a hot drink in the cop shop? Are the plods civil to you? I thought your recent arrest was a little odd, a little hasty.

NT: Horrible vending machine coffee. Mr Plod is always very civil to me and I am always very civil to him too. He has a job to do and it’s quite an important one. I haven’t met a single person who would disagree with your view on the last arrest though.

MA: What's Rebekah Brooks like? I was reading a bio of Elizabeth I recently - flame-haired, dissembling, paranoid, rarely ate. While others feasted on 10 course meals, Elizabeth would sit there picking away and imagining ills after a workaholic day of the screaming abdabs. Beating up poor Cecil. Does Rebekah call you late at night from Chipping Norton and tell you to behave yourself?

NT: My view of Rebekah is controversial and at odds with a lot of people at News International who seek to place the blame for everything on her shoulders. She didn’t close down the paper. Rupert and James Murdoch did. While I was her news editor, I found her to be bright, imaginative, inspiring, loyal, good natured, utterly professional and totally dedicated. She could however be moody. And if anyone provided incontrovertible proof that one of her project ideas was unworkable, it could take forever to move her. I don’t mind admitting I am extremely fond of her. I’m afraid bail conditions prohibit telephone calls from Chipping Norton. But if she could, I’m sure she’d call to tell me to calm down and stop fooling around.

MA: If Screws: The Musical ever gets made, whom would you like to play you and why? And Lupert - it's a pity Wilfrid Hyde-White is not around, though I don't think his Aussie accent would've persuaded. To play James Murdoch I would resurrect Max Headroom - but you're probably too young to remember him....

NT: If I am to be the black hearted villain the Guardian thinks I am, then it would have to be George Sanders or Cecil Parker.

If I am to be the wrongly accused man trying to prove his innocence as my family think I am, there would be none better than Robert Donat.

But if I am just to be the bumbling clot who pretends he knows everything and secretly knows nothing, as my chums think I am, then it would need to be Will Hay.

But if you were to go for boring authenticity, probably James Bolam in his younger days as we both come from the same town and went to the same school and kind of walk and talk in the same fashion, although he is a little broader in his accent.

I do remember Max Headroom too. I can even recall the Billy Cotton Band Show on Saturday nights!

MA: Tell us what you're up to now - I see your sister has launched a glossy magazine. If she's seeking a reputable media astrologer....

NT: I’ll ask her. It’s called R&R and is at (little plug for little sis!)

This week I’m meeting a TV production company in town which is producing a documentary on PTSD for Sky 1, presented by an A list TV celebrity. I have persuaded them (or should that be “seduced them”?!) into featuring Talking2Minds and the men and women we have helped. I am going to give this 100 per cent and do everything I can to help them make it happen. 

MA: And finally, Neville, imagine you're Madame Arcati (I sense your inner thespian) and make a prediction about how Hackgate will climax.

NT: A small number of convictions of some very talented journalists who hacked phones but stopped doing so many years ago when their colleague was jailed. Some people will rejoice. Others will be sad. But life will move on.

MA: Neville Thurlbeck. Thank you so much for your time. Arcatistes everywhere wish you well.

NT: It’s been a pleasure sweet girl. But I still don’t understand why I had to do the interview in this ra-ra skirt?

Neville Thurlbeck is PR Director for Talking2Minds, a charity which treats sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. Donations can be made at

His blog is at

Londoner's Diary on the London Evening Standard followed up this interview here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

For sale: Roger Lewis' gorgeous Georgian Town House - £310,000!

Madame Arcati is delighted to learn that legendary author Roger Lewis is moving shelter.

His gorgeous, 5-bedroom Georgian Town House in Bromyard, Herefordshire, is on the market for a not unreasonable £310,000. I am tempted to visit it myself - then again, why bother when his estate agent has put up a charming video tour?

I particularly adore the gnome in the high walled garden. And the stained glass window upstairs casting light on the galleried landing adds an ecclesiastical touch that demands the presence of a large organ. Modesty prevents me from making any boast.

Do take a tour - and consider the property an investment. Roger, who survived Christmas and strikes me as newly robust of health, will one day, when he is another place, draw the attention of a blue plaque bearer - think how financially rewarding that could be.

To snoop around take a tour of Roger's house, click here.

Roger's books such as What Am I Still Doing Here?, Seasonal Suicide Notes and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, may be perused and bought here.

Molly Parkin: New portrait by Paul Sakoilsky

The Dark Times: Portraits (Molly Parkin), Paul Sakoilsky, 6 March 2012
Love this new portrait of the fiancee by Paul Sakoilsky, editor-in-chief of The Dark Times - a non-publication composed of abandoned newspapers (free or paid-for) reconstructed from the usual trials of celebrity and bad news. For more on The Dark Times series, click here. To enlarge, click pic once.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Quiet Riot Girl interview: So, are you an internet troll, poppet?

Quiet_Riot_Girl (self image)*
Quiet_Riot_Girl (aka @Notorious_QRG) is one of the naughtiest persons of the Twitterati. She's the constant scold of Metrosexy author Mark Simpson, the hostile chorus to Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, the cryptic antagonist of certain London gay media heroes such as Time Out's Paul Burston (who recently crossly outed her as one Elly Tams) and sheer online thunder to the Guardian

Thoughtful gay men plainly interest her as a species of intellectual combatant or stimulant, yet something about some of them clearly rankles her - I'm not certain what that is. Matters have come to such a pass that a voodoo doctor (yes, below: patience) has placed a curse upon her via an animal carcass. Wouldn't a carrot have sufficed in these horrible times? After all, a carrot has life force, too.

Naturally, Madame Arcati felt it was time to give Quiet_Riot_Girl a prod. She gamely agreed to an email interview.

Q: Quiet_Riot_Girl! You were outed recently weren't you? That naughty Paul Burston of Time Out fame said you were Elly Tams - are you cross about this? And who are you? Out with it!

I'm not cross to be out in the online world as myself. I quite like me!  But I am a bit cross that Paul Burston and his sidekick Julie Bindel painted me as a bad person, and an enemy of women and gay men. In fact, I am just a scrappy kid. Albeit one who remembers when Are You Being Served? And Dad's Army were on telly.

Q: He described you as a troll and an anonymous blogger who was ghastly about 'feministas' such as Suzanne Moore. A troll in my dictionary is someone who is repeatedly abusive and threatening on the internet - is that you QRG? Has it come to this? And what's wrong with Suzanne? She has great shoes, loves a glass at night and has a big heart, doncha think?

I was born out of the womb of feminism, back in 1970. And ever since then I have been told it is the only way to look at men, women, and gender relations. It took me forty years, but I finally realised it's not the only dogma in town. And Suzanne Moore once said in the Guardian that she is a feminist because 'men do horrible, horrible things'. Which I think is a bit mean to men. I'm not a troll (whatever that is). I am just someone who annoys the media establishment. And takes some pleasure in that.

Q: But you do mention writer Mark Simpson a lot on Twitter - and he's blocked you from his website and Twitter account. Are you trolling the poor mite? Are you trying to push your way back into his affections? You can tell Madame (where to go...).

My subconscious may be trying to get back into Mr Simpson's affections, but consciously no. I have found his work on metrosexuality - men's 'desire to be desired' - to be the most exciting theory I've read in years. And I do go on about him and his writings quite a lot it's true. I also helped him publish his 2011 book Metrosexy, so I have my uses.

Q: Are you quietishly riotous?

Yes, and sometimes not so quiet.

Q: Are you a cunt-cocker or a cunt-cunter or a cunt-cocker-cunter or a cockless-cuntless cunter? Just asking.

I'm a proud cocksucker. 

Q: Now I know you're a conceptual sexual sit-down activist of some sort with an interest in the work of Michel Foucault - you've even written a novel that has Foucault's name in the title. Now, I get confused. Plainly you're fascinated by queers yet you fall out with a lot of male queers. What's the story, Elly?

My novella is called Scribbling On Foucault's Walls, and it is about what might have happened if Michel Foucault had had a daughter. Sometimes I think in a previous life I might have been an old-school homosexual, like the marvellous Kenneth Williams or Charles Hawtrey. Much of my interest in homos is identification. But I'm a girl so they (apparently) don't identify with me. And this can cause resentment on my part.

Q: In no more than 100 words could you describe your position on whatever it is that gets you up in the morning. Your philosophy on sex, your position on breakfast cereal; whatever it is, I want you to state plainly your position! Please.

It's funny that someone recently identified one of your photos Madame, as a shot of the inimitable Miss Marple. Because I, like old Jane Marple, am driven by wanting to solve the mysteries of life. Luckily I've not stumbled across any murders as yet, but I am forever trying to work out why the world is how it is. Especially the world of gender and sex, as it seems so confusing and not working in many people's interests. My philosophy on sex these days, is that sex probably doesn't go very well with philosophy. Foucault may differ with me there, but I think all that physical activity, and needing to be wanted, takes away from one's brainpower! 

Q: Do you have a cat?

A cat? No, I'm not a lesbian.

Q: Are you a Dr Elly Tams? Do you inspect people's bodies? Who's that voodoo person trying to put a curse on you? What's that about, Elly? 

I am a doctor of what they still call philosophy, but my Ph.D was in gender studies. Another doctor, who calls himself 'doctor snake', put a curse on me, via the modern means of his website, under instructions from Paul Burston. But so far I'm not feeling any ill-effects.

Q: As you write on Twitter, what can you see out of the window (if any)? Do you drink a beverage at your pc? Do you rant and rave at the screen?

My study is on the first floor and looks over a very suburban street. But you know what they say about the suburbs! I am genuinely pretty calm when faced with the mayhem of the social media world. Except for when I read the Guardian, which is bad for my blood pressure. I'm a tea drinker - like Miss Marple.

Q: What's your star sign? Do you think astrology is rubbish? I suspect the editor of The Lady thinks astrology is rubbish.

We Virgos are known for our scepticism, so I don't use astrology to guide my own life. But in this increasingly rational, Richard Dawkins-style bureaucratic world, I am pleased to see people finding more imaginative ways to make sense of things. And I love the Gospels.

Q: What's this about the Polari Prize? Certainly Paul Burston is no fan of yours and he runs Polari, doesn't he? So do you think your work stands a chance? If you like, quote three lines from the work so you can say, 'As published on Madame Arcati'.

I withdrew my novella from the Polari Prize after Paul Burston outed me. I didn't think he could read my work properly through that red mist of his. And anyway, I think it is just too gay for me and my novella. At the end of my story the woman in it asks her male companion:

'If I was the last human being on the planet, would you do me then?'

'No, but I'd enjoy watching you squirm.'


Q: What makes you laugh heartily?

The film Sideways, about the two American guys on a disastrous stag weekend in the Californian vineyards, made me laugh heartily, alone in the cinema. I have to say your blog, Madame, and especially some of the comments, make me laugh out loud on occasion.

Q: Would you say there is a male queer conspiracy in the media as distinct from a male cock-cunting media conspiracy to turn the world into one big stereotype? (Personally I've always felt outside all groups and associations - but I love the word queer)

I think the gay men of the London media set (and their equivalents like Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan in America) are feeling very insecure at the moment, bless them. Because the fact is people don't care as much as they used to about who has sex with whom, and how. We actually live in quite open-minded times, and this is not very good for gay men's sense of being special and specially oppressed. I love the word queer too but that is too subversive for many. And Suzanne Moore actually wrote to me once saying that 'queer bollox' (sic) belonged in the 90s where it came from.

Q: So, darling, where do we go from here? Will you leave Mark alone? Will you unleash your inner Mother Theresa and spread love instead of scorn? What's the game plan, my sweet?

I will struggle to leave Mr Simpson's ideas alone, as they are so important in this 21st century, narcissistic, big tits and big hair (and that's just the men) world. And I'm writing a book based on his theories. But I'm happy to give the man himself a break. I'm not a quitter so I'll continue to critique the Guardian on my Graunwatch blog. And frankly Suzanne Moore's columns are boring me to tears these days so I expect she's off the hook too for the time being! Maybe I'm mellowing in my middle age.

Q: Do you like flowers? Which are your favourite? 

I'm a big fan of pansies.

Elly! Thank you for your time. MA x

Quiet Riot Girl's blog, click here
* Photos of Charles Hawtrey can be purchased here

Friday, March 09, 2012

Adele is (almost) a neighbour in Hove (probably)

Adele's new home in Hove? I have no idea
Adele is (almost) a neighbour! The public prints report that she has bought a £2.5m 'beach house in Brighton'. No such thing exists of course. There are properties along the congested coast road, none a beach house. More probably she is moving to Hove - where there are 'beach houses' on Western Esplanade at the far end of Shoreham Harbour and worth the price she's paying: these resemble a terraced fort on the beach and are subject to awful noise and carbon farts from container lorries laden with foreign cargo. Western Esplanade is Hove's 'millionaires' Row' and a bunch of celebs treat the neighbourhood as others might a neglected beach hut.

But perhaps she's nowhere near the beach. A source close to Madame Arcati says: 'I haven't a cunting clue.'

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Norman St John-Stevas: The matter of his homosexuality

Yesterday, a friend of mine expressed a degree of shock when I passingly described the recently dead Norman St John-Stevas as 'gay' - what proof had I? I laughed. Now I see the grown-up Economist has got straight to the point in its excellent capsule obit: 'Entering politics in the 1950s, St John-Stevas had little choice but to conceal part of who he was—a gay man—albeit beneath a carapace of campness, a form of hiding in plain sight. Today four Tory government ministers are openly gay.'

The Telegraph's entertaining obit heads in the right direction but then takes a deter into nudge-nudge-land: 'He had a close friend who was a merchant banker, but claimed to be “celibate” or “chaste”.' Ah, yes.

I particularly like one reader comment in another part of the Telegraph: 'When Norman St John Stevas described himself officially as "unmarried" he was of course outing himself as homosexual. Thank God for the Telegraph giving some credit to him and revealing that he had a partner of the same sex who was a merchant banker (step forward anonymous, for Norman's sake). No doubt "everybody" knew what was going on or not going on. But trust the Guardian's Edward Pearce to manage not to include any of these important details about Norman's life in that pompous paper's purely political obituary.'

PS Malcolm Mildren tweets me: 'I believe Normski's partner in the 1970s was nicknamed Tiger.He introduced him thus in Northants.'

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Julian Clary and an encounter with his briefs

One thing I must do this year is read a Julian Clary novel. Most of the reviews of his work I've read exhibit sweet favour. Nothing is more depressing than the prospect of reading a sleb novel (I have yet to savour Katie Price's work, or David Baddiel's) so Clary's reported high competence is most welcome.

That his latest book, Briefs Encountered, features Noel Coward and that Clary lives in Noel's old cottage in Kent - well, how could Madame Arcati fail to be intrigued? I may even buy a copy, though professional journalists as a rule should be gifted the things they intend to publicise. Not that I'm cheap or anything.

I have much to thank Noel Coward. It is due to him that Molly Parkin and I are permanently engaged: Moll once had a curious style fixation on Margaret Rutherford who famously brought Madame to life in David Lean's masterly 1945 film production of Coward's Blithe Spirit. So, when a 'Madame Arcati' turned up on the doorstep of her life some five years ago, she could not but wonder at fate's symmetry. We bonded over memories of old thespian jowls and clairvoyante crystal balls and never looked back. I'm sure there are odder love stories.

Julian now makes for a Cowardy ménage à trois - albeit a remote, perhaps oblivious, member. But I must get to the point. A rather gorgeous book reviewer who has read Briefs Encountered (out March 29) has written in... and the news is good. H/she writes: 'Just finishing his new novel which is amusing and enjoyable though not Great Literature (I'm no snob about that, I like being entertained). Anyway it's very Blithe Spirit, set in his house using Noel Coward as a character... You might enjoy.'