Clarke hits back at press claims of paedophilia

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The Independent Online
Arthur C Clarke's knighthood is on hold owing to accusations of paedophilia. But Peter Popham in Colombo says the furore has only mystified people in Sri Lanka, where he is greatly revered.

After stone-walling the British royal press pack all week, Clarke, the visionary science-fiction writer and alleged paedophile, turned up at the state banquet thrown for the Prince of Wales in Colombo last night and treated the invited guests to a persuasive exhibition of good spirits. "This is not Arthur Clarke, it's a clone," he told them when they cornered him sipping orange juice in a reception room in the President's house before the dinner.

"You know I can't say anything to you bastards - I am taking legal advice." He then declaimed the lines of verse by Humbert Wolfe: "I cannot hope to bribe or twist the British journalist but seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to."

Asked about his investiture as knight, he said: "I am anxious to get the thing done as soon as possible." He recollected a previous meeting with the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1985, at the premiere of the film 2010. Earlier Clarke had issued a press release repeating his denial of allegations last week by the Sunday Mirror. "Having always had a particular dislike to paedophiles, few charges can be more revolting to me than to be classed as one," it ran.

"As I have already said, the allegations are wholly denied. Indeed, the circumstances are such nonsense that I have found it difficult to treat them with the contempt they deserve. My conscience is perfectly clear."

Before the banquet he shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Prince Charles. The Prince leaves Sri Lanka today for Nepal, the next leg of his South Asian tour. There is speculation that he might find a quiet moment at Westminster House, the British High Commissioner's residence, to dub the writer before he departs. The Clarke saga has thrown a pall over the first week of the Prince's tour. In his novel Rendezvous With Rama, set in 2130, Clarke wrote: "It was a mild nuisance having two "Sirs" on one small committee; in these latter days, knighthood was an honour which few Englishmen escaped."

But when announced in the New Year's Honours List, Clarke's knighthood seemed richly deserved after a lifetime of distinction in science, as well as science fiction. For honour to be tarnished, or even aborted, by allegations which many Sri Lankans found incredible, seemed all wrong.

According to the Sunday Mirror, Clarke was said to have admitted to having sex with boys who had reached the age of puberty. It was also stated that he played table-tennis with schoolboys "at a notorious pick-up haunt for perverts called The Otters Aquatic Club".

It is true that Clarke regularly goes to the Otters Club, but this description caused particular outrage in Colombo, as the club is a byword for middle- class respectability. Scepticism about the allegations increased during the week, not least because the writer responsible, Graham Johnson, was allegedly sacked from the News of the World for fabricating an encounter with the Beast of Bodmin.

In Sri Lanka, Clarke's reputation remains almost entirely intact. The Mirror story was reported only on one radio programme. Newspapers have carried nothing about the allegations. In the Lanka Monthly Digest's Golden Jubilee Special on the "Fifty greatest Sri Lankans since independence," "Sir Arthur C Clarke," as he is styled, is the only foreign-born resident to be featured.