Britain's finest ... Home Office cherry tripe ... tortoise hell

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I KNOW, I know. You want my views on this hero business. Dr Nicholas Tate, curriculum chief, thinks that current teaching does not put enough stress on the heroic figures of history. Well, controversial or not, I agree. And, now, of course, you will want to know the Captain's heroes. Stand by for a brief selection: 1) Nero, a fine fiddle player with some particularly telling last words: "What an artist dies with me!" 2) Thorfinn the Skullcrusher. Crazy name, crazy guy. 3) King John. Another stylish devil-may-care geezer with a good sense of humour. 4) Thomas Stanley, First Earl of Derby, for an outstanding piece of treachery on Bosworth Field. 5) Cesare Borgia, tricky dinner companion with more front than Rimini. 6) Bishop Berkeley, for just being there (or not). 7) Blucher, Prussian, Wellington's chum, for saying, on arrival in London, "Was fur plundern!" or "What a place to plunder!" 8) Lord Glasgow, who tossed a waiter out his club window and barked: "Put him on the bill." 9) Russ Conway. 10) Sir David Frost, for nominating Nelson as his hero because "no one had better ratings".

n NOW YOU know the Captain: I like a wheeze. So I thrilled to the proposal that a giant head of Winston Churchill, measuring 40ft by 35ft, should be erected on London's South Bank. This highly imaginative scheme is the brainchild, as we say, of Mr Falcon Nemon Stuart, son of Oscar Nemon, the noted sculptor, who left detailed plans for the giant bronzed bust. Mr Stuart is after millennium money and wants to put a cafe and exhibition space underneath it. Brilliant! But he's not going quite far enough, in my view. I think we should turn the South Bank into a sort of Mount Rushmore- by-Thames. I want to see three heads down there, the heads of this century's three great Tory war leaders: Churchill, Baroness Thatcher, and Sir Edward Heath. Just take a gander at the impression produced by my Moonlight technical boffins. Pretty impressive, I think you'll agree. Under Sir Edward we could have a book-signing centre, and under Lady Thatcher a 24-hour grocers. Or the other way round. Sorry? Edward Heath, war leader? Surely you haven't forgotten the Cod War already?

ROWS over boot camps, accusations of soft prison regimes, escapes, that shoplifter with the tag doing it again, immigrants leaping from the Eurostar, judges up to (allegedly) all manner of obiter activities, constant sniping from Jack "Hang 'Em High" Straw, having to be nice to Michael Howard: it's a tough life at the Home Office. Which is why it's good to know that the dedicated bunch of people who work there can still find time to relax. At the end of October, for example, many of them will be taking part in the Home Office Craft Show. Allow me to quote from briefing paper HON 210/1995, subsection 2, Craft Show Section: "There have been queries about the category for Plain Fruit Cakes. Please note that this means fruit only (nuts, cherries, alcohol etc, are not acceptable), i.e. currants or raisins." But I thought cherries were fruit. Perhaps that explains why we have to have so many inquiries.

n A LOT of ignorant people say that this television newsreading lark is dead easy. All you have to do, they sneer, is read an autocue and shuffle those papers at the end without dropping them. Fools! How many of you, for example, know that there is a strict order of precedence among newsreaders? I thought not. But how else to explain the problems experienced recently in getting a newsreader to play second fiddle on the BBC's Six O'Clock News to that nice but very young Justin Webb, the one usually on Breakfast News? No, no, sorry, any mention of Anna Ford is just another example of the petty envy that people who manage to combine both brains and beauty always seem to attract (and something, as you can imagine, the Captain knows all about). And then there were the lengthy discussions between John Humphrys and Huw Edwards about who would be saying goodnight at the end. First, they agreed it was silly that both of them should do it, then they couldn't agree who would be the one to do it, so they ended up both doing it. Listen, it might seem nothing to you, but to professionals like John, Huw and me, it is very, very important.

JUST because you're small doesn't mean you can't think big. The Liberal Democrats, for example. All 103,000 of them are now boycotting French goods in an attempt to force France to stop nuclear testing. And, I am proud to report, they are expecting results sooner rather than later. Old Paddy Ashdown, you see, has a cottage in Burgundy. Under the terms of the boycott motion, Paddy would not be allowed to touch French food, fuel or water, which could make life a little formidable. When I rang up to find out how he felt about it, his spokesman was pretty relaxed because Paddy wasn't "planning to go out there for a while". We will be watching, Paddy. And sometimes it seems we're the only people who are. Paddy's London pre-conference photo opportunity, for example, became an exclusive for this newspaper when nobody else turned up. And another thing: the Captain, you will recall, brought you first news of Paddy's new softer, longer coiffure; now, I see, he's combing it forward in an anti-recession move. Careful, Paddy: study that bloke from Yorkshire Water and think very hard.

n BRRNNGG! The Captain answers, for it is the telephone. There is the sound of ticking, and I realise that it is my legal adviser, Edward The Refresher, who has switched his guinea meter on. Edward is excited, which can mean only one thing: the prospect of obtaining money through legal means. He has seen this advertising campaign which Ryman, the stationer, is running, featuring a photograph of Hugh Grant carrying a Ryman bag above the legend: "Hugh wouldn't pick up any old bag". Hugh is said to be miffed about this, but Edward has other fish to fry: "What, Captain, they are clearly stating here is that Ms Divine Brown, Mr Grant's brief encounteree, is an old bag, which is clearly actionable, as it is plainly untrue and goes right to the heart of her professional reputation. Damages, Captain, and lots of costs!" Well. Does Ms Brown know about this? Should she be told? And does Ryman know that I have nearly run out of staples and my store of rubber bands is low?

CHANCES are that when you think of "crime", you think of mean city streets, desperate men, squealing tyres and that sort of thing. But it is not always so: join me today in a special Moonlight investigation into the outer reaches of the underworld. And first I have to report a staggering 300 per cent increase in reports of stolen tortoises in south-west England. And, at Chewton Mendip, in Somerset, a gang of thieves in a car without numberplates has been spotted rustling newts in large quantities. When approached, they issued nasty threats before making off with the newts. No one knows why. The Captain says: take care out there!

The Captain's catch-up Service

HERE it is, the weekly news review of items you may have missed ... Police called to a noisy rave party in Bishop Auckland found more than 50 pensioners celebrating the 25th anniversary of their sheltered housing complex ... One of Britain's rarest birds, the red-necked phalarope was gobbled up by a giant pike as horrified birdwatchers watched from the bank of a reservoir in Leicestershire ... The Rev Christopher Huitson, of All Saints, Leavesden, Herts, escaped unhurt when lightning struck his shopping trolley at Sainsbury's in Watford ... A 44-year-old man ran amok with a machete at a Beefeater restaurant in Swindon after a problem with his dinner booking ... Trains at Liverpool's Lime Street Station were halted for two hours after the signal- men's tea urn exploded ... Firemen who rushed to the aid of a woman in a flat near London's Regent's Park found her hanging upside-down from a chandelier. "Heaven knows what she'd been doing," said a spokesman ... Graham Rigby, owner of a nursing home near Gloucester, has been told he has to pay for an extension to the local graveyard before being allowed to take in more elderly residents.

THEY breed 'em tough up north, I can tell you: just look at our picture of synchronised swimming in the Yorkshire Water area. The girls, all from Dewsbury (apart from Enid Odsal, top left, who is from Roundhay) refuse to let the little matter of a swimming bath robbed of its usual contents by drought measures get in the way of their fun. Normally, the girls are accompanied by male partners, but just seconds before this picture was taken there was an announcement over the public address system of a limited offer in the leisure complex bar involving 5p off a pint and a free pork pie. Ah well, if only. Actually, it's ballet dancers from the Austrian State Theatre performing the opening ceremony of the world championships for rhythmic sportive gymnastics in Vienna.