Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Johnny, Sid and a Space Hopper
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For the first time in 2006, we return to Simon Heffer's poignant rite of passage memoir about growing up in Southend with Mam and his beat bobby Dad. When we left Son of PC Gone Mad!!! (Repatriation Press, £17.99) punk manqué Simon was, on his 17th birthday, poised to enter Vivienne Westwood's Kings Road store on his new Space Hopper to choose his main present, a pinstriped bondage suit.

"July 18, 1977; contd: I wish I'd died then and there, I do straight. First to spot me was Johnny Rotten . 'Oi, lads, quick,' he yelled to the others in the back. 'There's only some bleedin' troll out 'ere bouncin' up and down, tryin' to hump a giant orange!'

I'd have blushed the colour of the Space Hopper, only (as Mam pointed out later; she can be very cruel when the mood takes her), I am the colour of the Space Hopper anyway.

"Then it took a turn. 'Right, boys," said Glen Matlock, "before we do the troll, let's 'ave the pig's 'elmet!'

"Well, I'd read about people stealing policemen's helmets in PG Wodehouse, of course, so I told Johnny not to be so derivative, thereby betraying punk rock's central commitment to the pursuit of raw originality.

"When I came to, Mam was whacking Johnny around the ankles with her shopping trolley. 'I'll thank you not to belt our Simon,' she said, 'and while we're at it you're not to call Dad a dirty fucking old rotter. You can keep that language for Mr Grundy.'

"Sid Vicious was bending over me, in the meantime. He was dabbing at my nose with a Kleenex.

'Take no notice of them,' he said, 'uncouth fuckers', the lot of 'em.' He said that his real name's Simon too, and that he liked me ' 'cos you're like one of them creatures from Greek mythology - 'alf man, 'alf Space Hopper'.

"Did I want to form a band with him, he said, called Simons Say? I said I'd just taken my grade IV flute exam, and would that be a problem? He said he wasn't wild about the flute per se, but he didn't see it as a deal breaker. What a delightful fellow."

Coming next, Simon transfers his affections, on nationalistic grounds, to The Jam.

MEANWHILE, BY assuaging fears that he is out of touch with youth culture, Simon's teenage recollections cause a narrowing in the odds against him becoming editor of the Spectator. The latest show sees Simon as new 100-30 favourite, with Andrew Pierce at 4-1 and Geordie Greig on 9-2. Bracketed on 13-2 are acting editor Stuart Reid, KFC franchise heir Andrew Roberts and the preposterous vicar's wife Anne Atkins. Petronella Wyatt's in a point to nines, but it's Celebrity Big Brother's Dennis Rodman who looks the value at 17-2, and it's 10-1 bar those.

AS FOR Simon's friend and Essex neighbour, Richard Littlejohn at last returns to the Daily Mail, where a front-page blurb reassures that he is "at his hilarious best". What it fails to mention is that Richard's picture byline has been airbrushed to remove some of the grey from his hair. Personally, I prefer him all silvery and distinguée, but that's just me. We will, of course, be watching Richard closely in the months ahead to see whether he can maintain the 1.68 per column ratio of gay-related terms - pooves, for example, and "homophobic" (Richard's commas) - that helped make his work in the Sun such a limitless delight.

A NOVEL experiment begins at the venerable Richmond & Twickenham Times. The owner, Newsquest, which bought out that famously generous employer David Dimbleby a while ago, has decided not to replace the outgoing editor, Paul Mortimer. Instead, the title is to trundle on under the vague aegis of a group managing editor, Jo Gumb.

Even for an industry so familiar with cost-cutting, this seems an intriguing development, and you suspect that other proprietors will be watching the circulation closely. Even without a bonus, for example, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre earned a few thousand short of £1m last year. For that sort of saving, you could very nearly afford a second Richard Littlejohn.

A CLASSIC Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 last week with Richard Griffiths. Not merely one of our greatest actors, Mr Griffiths also confirmed his reputation (you will recall his lovable gift for sending mobile phone owners out of theatres) as one of our top-ranked curmudgeons, telling Sue Lawley how he rebuked a fan for poor parenting in a supermarket aisle.

When Sue asked if he has any children himself, Mr Griffiths refused to comment, bringing to mind a Big Issue interview in which Christopher Eccleston came over all stroppy when asked what his Dad did for a living. Incidentally, if anyone was involved with The School of the Night, a play about Christopher Marlowe in which Christopher was due to star and which has been abruptly cancelled so close to opening night, please do get in touch.

ENCOURAGING signs that Alastair Campbell's new career in sport is taking off. A darts-throwing Alastair featured on the front page of the brochure for the BDO championship which ended yesterday in Frimley Green - quite a public-relations coup for event organisers following his recent triumph with the British Lions in New Zealand.

Where he goes next no one knows, but if Rhona Martin is looking to raise the profile of curling before the Winter Olympics, she'll find Alastair in his kitchen, staring forlornly at the phone once connected directly to No 10.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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