Garry Bushell lives in a detached, red-brick Edwardian job in Sidcup, Kent, which isn't very exciting or interesting, I know, but you should see his living-room. There's a bit of a pub in the corner, with a wooden, polished bar, a Double Diamond beer pump and even two Double Diamond vintage barrels, one with Ken Dodd on ("Diddy Doddy Double Diamond") and the other featuring Bernard Manning ("I'm Manning... the Pumps!").
Also, there's one of those Union-Jacked British bulldog china figurine things on a shelf, another down by the fireplace, a huge St George's shield on one wall, a glass cabinet full of porcelain tankards commemorating great moments in British history... and while I'm taking all this in, I'm thinking: damn, damn, damn. If I'd known he was as nuttily and obsessively jingoistic as this, I'd have bought him a gift. I'd have bought him one of those Excalibur swords from the Franklin Mint that you see advertised in the Sunday supplements. The kind that always makes you wonder who the bloody hell buys them. But then, I can see it's OK because he's already got one! Garry buys them! There it is, on the wall, next to the huge shield. Well, that's saved me £495 paid in six easy monthly instalments, at least.
It is Garry who comes to the front door, grinning his familiar, cheesy grin through the rather Neanderthal beard. It's the sort of grin you expect to see, say, on the host of Stars in Their Eyes, which, come to think of it, may even be an ambition of Garry's. Still, he is very friendly. "Cu' ah tea?" he offers. "Cu' ah tea. Great. Ta," I say, because I'm quick at picking up languages – just have an ear for it. He is covered in tattoos. Has 27 in all. His favourite? "This," he says, showing me the Joker from Batman on his biceps. But, I say, it looks more like Cherie Blair. "Does it?" he asks worriedly. He is wearing a lot of chunky gold – gold chain round his neck, gold rings, huge gold watch, gold identity bracelet with "Gal" on it. We go into the living-room. "Um... nice bit of mock pub, Gal," I say. "Ta," he says. "Tania's dad built it."
"Tania" is Tania Ashbee, his girlfriend and the mother of their two-year-old daughter, Genna. Garry left Carol, his wife of 22 years and the mother of his three other children, for Tania. I get a glimpse of Tania momentarily. She's a bespectacled, rather dumpy, greying professor of women's studies at East Anglia University. Only joking! She's a young, leggy blonde and "new country" singer, whatever that is. Garry met her when he was a judge at a talent show and she was a contestant. "She is very talented," says Garry proudly, "and writes her own songs. One is called 'Chicken Bones and Homer Simpson'." I think Tania may be the Phoebe-from-Friends of Sidcup.
Anyway, I get my cu' ah tea. It's in a Sun cup, with the "Toe job to no job" front page on it. Mostly, Garry is known for his weekly Sun television column, Bushell on the Box, with its hilarious put-downs (on Jo Brand: "If a pig was born that ugly it would ask for plastic surgery"), and Garry's Goofs. You know, the unintentional innuendoes, such as Ulrika Jonsson talking about snow and saying: "I had a good eight inches last night." The column is kind of who he is. Or was. Because, after 16 years of churning it out, he's just been suspended. Or, as The Sun might put it: "Phew, what a scorcher. Gotcha! Up yours, Delors. Ooh, ahh, our Gal's in the Star!"
Yes, indeed. Solicitors' letters are flying all over the shop. And it's all because of Garry's first novel, The Face. What's it like? Well, I think you'll get the flavour of it if I say it's in big print, the women either have "blinding jugs" or are "scrawny slags", and no one has a great deal of time to spare for "shirtlifters" or "Pakis" or Kosovan refugees. I'm hoping he doesn't ask me what I think of it. But he does. "What do you think of it?" he asks. "Uh... ahem... well," I stutter. "I admire anyone who writes a book. And I did read part of it all the way through." I then change the subject very speedily. "Do you think I've got blinding jugs? Do you?" He looks momentarily uncomfortable, so I don't think I do. Still, Barbara Windsor liked it. "A great authentic read," she's quoted as saying, on the back cover. I think I kind of knew Barbara Windsor would be his mate, before I even knew she was his mate, if you know what I mean. As well as? Well, you know, Bobby Davro, Brian Conley, Bradley Walsh. Or is it Brian Davro, Bradley Conley and Bobby Walsh? Who can tell? It's all so muddling. And I'm not sure why, but I've got a strong feeling Dale Winton is going to put in an appearance at some point.
Anyway, after The Sun declined to serialise Garry's book – opting instead to serialise his colleague Richard Littlejohn's first novel – it ended up in the Daily Star under the front-page headline: "The raunchy book The Sun didn't dare publish". The Sun was not best pleased, obviously. The Sun is now doing Garry for "gross misconduct". Garry, however, says he didn't do anything wrong. Garry says he didn't even know it was going to appear in the Daily Star until it did. "I was lying in bed last Monday, at quarter to eight in the morning, when I got a phone call from Dale [I knew it! I knew it!], who is Genna's godfather, by the way. 'Garry,' he said, 'have you seen the Daily Star?' So I rushed down to have a look at it, and that's the first I knew about it." So the publisher, John Blake, a former editor of the Sunday People, offered it to the Daily Star without you knowing? "Yeah. That John Blake. So slippy." Are you cross with him? "I was. But you can't be cross with people like John for long. Well, I can't."
And then? "I got a phone call from The Sun, saying, 'Come in, so we can send you home again.'" He was escorted from the building, apparently. No, he doesn't know what they're running instead of his column. "I'm not buying the paper until this is sorted out." You're boycotting it? "A lot of my friends are." That must mean Barbara, Brian, Bobby, Bradley, possibly Dale and almost certainly Bob Monkhouse, who thinks Garry is "the sharpest, most perceptive columnist in Britain today". Garry thinks it's a scandal that Bob doesn't have his own show. Ditto Bobby, Bradley and Brian. "It's awful what we do wiv our talent, innit?" says Garry.
Garry voted UK Independence Party at the election because: "What was it Ken Dodd said? People are confused about which Conservative Party to vote for. Now why isn't Ken Dodd on television? He's a living legend. He should be worked to death."
Garry once met Frankie Howerd. "Because I was a lone voice saying let's have Frankie on telly before he dies, he invited me to see him and then took me and the wife for a meal afterwards. It was like, wow, I can't believe I'm sitting here with Frankie Howerd, but then... " What? "... he started touching me up under the table!" I think this may have upset Garry a bit, which is a shame. They'd have made a super couple.
I wonder if he's seriously worried about getting the boot, though. He is, he says. "I've got huge overheads. I have to pay the enemy – oops, I mean the ex-wife – two grand a month." Still, he could always go to the Daily Star. Richard Desmond has been wooing him for ages, by all accounts. Garry likes Richard Desmond, yes. "He's a buccaneer. He reminds me of Kelvin [MacKenzie]." But he'd prefer to stay at The Sun. "I love The Sun. I love it as an institution. I love the readers. I love the humour of it, the joie de vivre of it." Still, at least he has his telly show, Garry Reveals All, which is on cable at 3am or something. "Do you get cable?" he asks. No, I tell him. "In that case," he continues, "it is a wonderful piece of television. It's the epitome of postmodernist entertainment." And if I did get cable? "Then it's a pile of shit. Ha! No. It's very cheap telly but a lot of fun to do. It's sort of Call My Bluff with strippers. It's Call My Buff."
Is Garry Bushell a good thing? Certainly, he is frighteningly right-wing. Only homosexuals get Aids. Enoch Powell was right about immigration. Mrs Thatcher was right about British sovereignty. Why can't we have a televised St George's Day celebration? He's even, he says, "thinking of putting a proposal in for a new TV game show, Asylum – fool a social worker and win a council house." Eek! But he hasn't always been so. The son of a south London fireman, he was actually into socialism in his youth. He did his journalistic training on Socialist Worker. He even studied sociology when he went to poly. Did you like sociology? It was a bit of a racket, he says. And the staff and students were fairly humourless. "I was told off for telling a joke about rape. I was told, nothing about rape is funny. I said, 'Well, if you think of Porky Pig raping Minnie Mouse, that's quite funny, innit?'" Um... no?
When did he go off socialism? While at the Socialist Worker, he says. "There was this organisation, the paedophile information exchange, and the socialists were preventing them from being attacked. I didn't think paedophiles should be allowed to organise. And I was really uncomfortable with the IRA position, too. It just seemed such a cop-out. We support them... what was it?... critically but unconditionally?" He moved on to the rock weekly Sounds and became very involved in Oi!, the offshoot of punk that attracted a new breed of skinheads in
the late Seventies and early Eighties. "Although I wasn't a skinhead. I was a suedehead." A suedehead? "Your hair was a bit longer than a skin, that sort of thing."
The second Oi! album, Strength Through Oi!, featured a BNP skinhead on the front, didn't it? "Oh, that was just an image. That same album was dedicated to Jesse Owens, who was the black guy at the Munich Olympics." I wonder to what extent Garry's views are those in The Face? One character says that England has been destroyed by "the Arabs and the Muslims, Europe and the bogus fucking asylum seekers. The way England is going, it's gonna end up the Islamic Republic of North West Europe." Is that what you believe, Garry?
"The Americans have got it right," he says. "If you pledge allegiance to the flag, become part of the culture, contribute to it, then you're welcome. But I think you have to be a bit choosy. There is a problem. Not everyone who comes here from Eastern Europe is a problem, but there are significant numbers. Julie Burchill wrote a good piece the other day about this. She said, hang on a minute; it's the working classes who are suffering here. It's their jobs, their council houses. It's very easy for the middle classes to just turn around and say: 'You're racist.'
"Look, I was in a pie and mash shop in Sheffield recently," he continues, "and this woman started talking to me, and there were tears in her eyes, because she said she'd voted Labour all her life, but everything there's a conflict between them and the local Asian community; the local Labour council always takes the side of the Asian people, no matter whose fault. It's good people doing evil, innit? It's good people, who think they're doing the right thing, making the problem actually worse."
Of course, I do try to talk him round. Think how immigrant populations have enriched our culture, Gal. "True," he says. "Where would I be wivvout my curry? But you have to keep it in perspective. Have some kind of control." Isn't it better to live in a country that will take people in? "Yes, but you don't want to be taken in by people as well." That is why, perhaps, he always connected so well with Sun readers.
Whatever, Garry has to go now, to a meeting at Wapping. Maybe Garry will return to The Sun. Maybe he won't. We part amiably enough, although I don't think we're in for a lasting friendship. Damn, damn, damn. Perhaps I should have bought him a pewter model of King Arthur and his knights at the round table. But then, I notice he's already got one.
'The Face', Blake Publishing, £9.99, and 'completely bloody brilliant', according to Roy 'Pretty Boy' Shaw, whoever he may beReuse content