Bunhill: Generosity lies in the eye of the receiver

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The Independent Online
AN upcoming biography of former Private Eye editor and Pressdram chairman Richard Ingrams makes an astonishing claim. According to the book, Lord of the Gnomes, the Eye solicited and received a substantial amount of money from Lord King - he of British Airways. Strange bedfellows, you may think. And you'd be right.

In the early 1970s, so the story goes, Nigel Dempster, then writing the Grovel column for the satirical fortnightly, libelled the late Lord Wigg. The magazine had to find pounds 8,000 pronto to settle the action, so Dempster, according to . . . well, Dempster, passed the hat around. And the hat was soon full. Dempster claims to have raised pounds 9,000 from, among others, Peter Cadbury and Lord King.

But the curmudgeonly, foxhunting peer has no recollectionof the event. 'I know nothing about it whatsoever,' he booms.

So to the author of the book, Harry Thompson, a freelance television person, at present producing a new Harry Enfield show:

'I find this amazing. Dempster is taped saying this,' he retorts.

In fact it is not so amazing because Dempster is adamant, and confirms the story from his car phone. 'I have known John King for 30 years, and when we got into trouble with Wigg I wrote to him and another hundred people and John very generously sent me money.'

Previous to and following thedonation, King has been regularly ridiculed and lampooned by the magazine. There is a lesson here somewhere I am sure.

APPROPRIATELY enough, my next port of call is the Counter Spy Shop in South Audley Street in London's Mayfair to try out the Truth Phone. Alas, I am foiled in my attempt by the manager, a Canadian by the name of David Ross.

My intention had been to borrowthe device, ring an industrialist or two, a banker maybe, and perhaps even the odd newspaper baron. And what fun I would have had.

The phone has an electronic lie detector built into the handset which 'covertly analyses a person's voice for sub-audible microtremors that occur with stress and deception' - whatever that may mean.

Imagine: 'Mr Taylor, are you embarrassed about the enormous profits your bank has earned?' Or: 'Mr Murdoch, are you pricing your papers in a predatory fashion?'

Sadly, none of this was possible as Ross was not interested in lending the phone.

'What are your concepts?' he inquired. 'The phone has to be operated in the correct conditions,' he added. Clearly, he was not keen to elaborate on what the correct conditions might be. But I persisted and finally got my answer. 'If your wife asked you if you had been unfaithful, she might get a response.'

Indeed she might, but ata cost of nearly pounds 3,000 and six hours of training I would advise against it.

(Photograph omitted)

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