Two thousand years ago we enjoyed gladiatorial combat. Since then we've had circuses. Now we have I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!. This is X-rated entertainment at its best - all 10 participants in the third series starting on ITV tomorrow night are ex-something or other, with all the appeal of last night's chicken pie reheated. Jordan is an ex-model, with an XXL-sized top half; Lord Charles Brocket is an ex-convict; Diane Modahl is an ex-athlete; Alex Best is an ex-wife one week and a wife the next; Peter Andre and Kerry McFadden of Atomic Kitten are ex-pop stars; Jennie Bond is an ex-BBC royal reporter, Neil Ruddock is an ex-footballer; and Mike Read is an ex-Radio 1 DJ. But hang on, I have forgotten the man who is surely destined to get the British public glued to their television sets from the moment these engrossing escapades kick off, and that is John Lydon.
Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, isn't an ex-anything. He's as thoroughly perplexing and totally anarchic as the day he strolled into Vivienne Westwood's shop in the King's Road back in 1975. I have already been to the bookmakers and put £10 on punk's greatest living icon winning. I'm even prepared to grit my teeth and tolerate the unthinkable - hours of babble from Ant and Dec, the two most anodyne men in popular culture - to get my fill of what promises to be one of the best forms of legal combat left. I could even live really dangerously and try smoking a spliff to calm my nerves, now that the Government has so thoughtfully relaxed our drug laws in time for the first transmission from the Australian jungle.
I met Lydon in 1976, when he made his first TV appearance with the Sex Pistols on my Sunday lunchtime show on LWT. Naturally, he swore. As the proceedings were recorded, it was easy enough to stick in a bleep and keep everyone happy. More problematic was the sight of Sid Vicious's cigarette, which he refused to put out, even when the brave floor manager marched up to him and barked: "Look here, sonny, I run this studio and we're not having that kind of behaviour in here. Rules are rules." At which point Sid fiddled with the padlock in his trouser zipper and pointedly gobbed a large dollop of phlegm on to the floor by the floor manager's right foot. An unpleasant incident was avoided by letting Sid smoke, but keeping the hand that held the offending cigarette out of the viewfinder. The next time I met Mr Rotten he was fully clothed but the other band members were in their underpants and just emerging from their sleeping bags in a filthy squat in Denmark Street. He tossed a dead rat (fake) in my direction, and with that defiant gesture, our friendship was well and truly cemented. He would turn up at my house in a pink Cadillac, bearing crates of beer and bottles of champagne. His intelligent and charming wife, Nora, silenced the dining room at the Ivy one night - no mean feat - when she arrived to have dinner in a short black rubber corset dress and six-inch high heels. She is a super-fit athlete, a vegan and an accomplished singer, who is several years older than me but looks extraordinarily youthful.
Lydon has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep up the pretence that he's a laughable old codger who likes nothing more than to support Arsenal and slag off all and sundry. He's got off to a good start by declaring Australia a "second division England" and the programme "mainstream rubbish". He's claimed that he has "no skills and a suspect personality". I thought, for a moment, that he was referring to his former manager and long time bête noire, Malcolm McLaren, an ex-person if ever I saw one. In fact, Lydon reads The Economist, studies books on Japanese gardens, is an excellent skier and walker, is fit, well-informed and articulate. But if all these things were on display, he would be diminishing the brand he has so successfully honed and buffed to vile perfection over the past 29 years.
He was a guest at my 50th birthday a few years back and did not disappoint, calling Ruby Wax a "twat" and telling Lord John Birt to "fuck off". Like every great living treasure, he inspires a reverential humility and slight fear from all who come into close contact. From Stephen Fry to Elton John, even the normally extrovert were terrified of offending him. Once I took him to the theatre and then on to dinner with Steven Berkoff, who disintegrated into a waffling nerd, the hard man act vanishing out of the window. And when Rik Mayall appeared over the coffees and said he was "simply thrilled" to meet Lydon, I thought I would puke. So take my tip, and place your bets now: this man is more devastating in the flesh than any weapon of mass destruction.
I can recreate my childhood Sundays entirely through the recollection of soundtracks of emblematic radio programmes, which provided a comforting background to our never-ending family disputes and controversies. From "Why do I have to eat disgusting butter beans?" to "Why, oh why, are my sister and I ordered to attend Sunday School every week?". From Two Way Family Favourites through The Billy Cotton Band Show, to The Clitheroe Kid and, weirdest of all, Peter Brough the ventriloquist and his dummy, Archie Andrews. I was brought up with this heady mix sustaining and nurturing me through the hours spent cooped up in a tiny kitchen with my warring kith and kin. Finally, we ate high tea to The Glums and I had a bath in front of the fire to the accompaniment of Journey into Space - bliss! But without a doubt, the one moment in the entire day we all waited for, and listened to in shocked silence, was Round the Horne. How did Kenneth Williams get away with it? And what about the endless filthy puns and references to things "hornographic"? Of course, a lot of the references simply washed over me, but now there's a chance to relive the ruthless innuendo and mindless punning, with a new show at the Venue Theatre in the West End. Two Round the Horne scripts have been turned into an entertainment, with some seamless new material welded in. Go and thrill to Robin Sebastian's brilliant evocation of Kenneth Williams. I shall offer my services as Eth if there are any plans to stage The Glums.
In New York the other week I saw an unforgettable film about the Columbine massacre by the quirky director Gus Van Sant. He was responsible for one of Nicole Kidman's best performances as the ambitious weather girl in To Die For. Elephant is a dreamy evocation of a couple of days in a high school, seen through the eyes of the teenagers themselves, filmed with minimal dialogue and long hand-held tracking shots and with an atmospheric soundtrack. The violence, when it finally occurs, is all the more shocking for unfolding in what seems like real time. Not surprisingly, Elephant won the Palme d'Or prize at Cannes, and is a far more radical comment on guns than anything fronted by Michael Moore. It opens next week. Don't miss it.Reuse content