Real life rips apart political fiction: Steve Boggan reports on a case of writer's block that turned into a drama
Saturday 03 July 1993
Inspiration eluding him, the Torquay tile merchant turns instead to real-life political strife and decides to inject a little fiction. What if a letter from David Mellor, the former heritage minister, were to appear thanking Asil Nadir for his pounds 440,000 donation to the Tory Party? What if it said that Kenneth Baker, the former Home Secretary and Conservative Party chairman, agreed that the handling of Nadir's case infringed normal rules? It would be dynamite.
So, copying the top and tail of a real David Mellor letter received in relation to a charity sports event, Mr Timbs creates the letter that will blow the Nadir controversy wide open.
The plot hotting up, he then makes a mistake, or, depending on your point of view, pulls off his masterstroke. He mentions it casually to a friend, just for fun, and all hell breaks loose.
At least, it broke loose yesterday when Mr Timbs's fictitious letter found its way into the Guardian as part of a report which said Mr Mellor had called in the police and Downing Street was concerned over an attempt to 'smear' the former minister.
After a sleepless night caused by seeing his letter in the preview of the newspapers on BBC Television's Newsnight, Mr Timbs stepped forward to take his punishment. Through his solicitor, John Darby of Torquay, he explained that the letter formed part of his thriller and that he had been duped by the unnamed friend who passed it on to the Sun as being genuine.
And in a fax to Mr Mellor, he apologised. 'It is said a newspaper can operate without revealing the sources and in this case it doesn't have to, for I and I alone take full responsibility for that letter,' he said. 'It is a letter totally without foundation pertinent only to my book . . . a political bodice-ripper telling of murder, police fraud and offshore banking.'
Then, of course, came the sting in the tale. The 'friend' stepped forward as Nic Szeremeta, a former freelance Sun sub-editor who set up his own paper in Torquay.
He said Mr Timbs told him the letter was genuine. 'He even said it had been leaked to him by a friend called Patsy who used to work as a temp for Mr Mellor. He kept up the pretence from Saturday and throughout Monday when he was interviewed by reporters from the Sun and the Daily Mail. It wasn't until Tuesday that he admitted it was a fake.'
The hapless author was due to be interviewed by police yesterday, but charges seemed unlikely. Meanwhile, the literary world is anxiously waiting to discover which politician could possibly be the inspiration for his bodice- ripper. It is to be called The Lady is a Tramp.
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