John Walsh: Tales of the City

Violent, antisocial and philistine: the perfect role model for generations of English kids

He's been around for 54 years, terrorising the neighbourhood and indulging in enough antisocial behaviour to have launched a thousand Asbos. He possesses only a single style of clothing, or possibly only a single change of clothes. He has an intensely weedy American namesake who, should they ever meet, would be belaboured within an inch of his life by our hero's flailing fists. He has an extremely cool fan club: the great Keith Richards has a statue of him in the recording studio at his mansion. And after half a century of public neglect, he is going to suffer the indignity of being scrutinised by art phonies and assorted rich softies.

He is, in short, Dennis the Menace, and it's time he was shown some respect. For half a century, he has embodied the latent aggression of three generations of schoolchildren, punching and kicking everyone who crosses his path, attacking small children with dried peas, depositing old ladies in ordurous puddles, scattering town dignitaries with home-made soap-box carts. Despite regular chastisements at the hands of his defeated-looking, pipe-smoking father, he has learned no behavioural lessons. Instead, he greets with shameless enthusiasm any possibility that a formal event - say the opening of a village fete handily adjacent to a duck pond - may be disrupted.

As an exhibition of Dennis artworks - the first ever - starts this weekend in the London Print Studio, W10, we might ask why young Den has never been granted the status other comic characters are given elsewhere. Post-structuralist writers in the 1980s made a big fuss of the subversive procedures of Mickey Mouse and Jerry the cat. The Modern Review and its Cultural Studies compadres swooned over Bart and Homer Simpson in the Nineties. In France, Asterix the Gaul - another menacing "trickster" figure, at least to the invading Romans - is a national hero. In Belgium, you can do a Ph.D on Quiff Hermeneutics: Style and Sterility in the World of Tintin and Snowy.

But Dennis? Has he spent a half century in pointless pursuit of chaos and anarchy? Has he laid waste to his pathetic adversary, Soppy Walter, tearing up his ballet programmes and Wagner scores, destroying his Suzuki viola and revision notes, all for nothing?

Or are we slightly embarrassed to have Dennis as a national spokesman? Do we perhaps wonder if this aggressive child, this violent football hooligan, this dim, vindictive, philistine, culture-free, vengeful recidivist has not been absolutely the best role-model for generations of English kids? Watching the uncontrollable, and deeply "menacing", 13-year-old Ben on Channel 4's Bad Behaviour the other night, it seemed that only long trousers and a more colourful vocabulary stood between the cartoon charmer and the modern scumbag. But that's just what a middle-aged Walter would say. Eek!

Come on, Eileen

Hollywood's very own Dennis the Menace is of course Colin Farrell, an actor stuck fast, in tabloid-speak, between a "heart-throb" and a "hell-raiser." After years of drinking, smoking, cursing, fighting and squiring the likes of Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie into limousines and out of their undergarments, Colin has abruptly changed tack. Perhaps impressed by all the antiquity on display in his recent movie Alexander, he has been trying it on with the British actress and writer Eileen Atkins. On a recent ITV talk show, Loose Women, she revealed that some months ago, he had come to her hotel room and tried to seduce her for two hours.

This revelation caused surprise in Farrell-watching circles because Ms Atkins, though possessed of all the attributes the Irish actor finds attractive (1. Being a woman. 2. Having a working pulse), the lady seems an unusual object for his attention. She is a Dame of the British Empire. She is happily married, to a producer called Bill. She is ferociously intelligent, in a melancholic, Celia Johnson way. She tends to play dowdy, lean-cheeked housekeepers, neurotic spinsters and Virginia Woolf. And, at the time Farrell put the moves on her, he was 28 and she was 69.

A 40-something age gap in the arty demi-monde doesn't, of course, raise many eyebrows - not when the late Arthur Miller could, at 90, cosy up with a 34-year-old companion, and the goatish octogenarian Lucian Freud can picture himself trying to escape from a naked 33-year-old mistress as she rugby-tackles him in his studio.

But the age difference usually runs in favour of the chap. Barring Joan Collins (always a good idea), I can't think of many 70-somethings being romanced by pushy young-men-on-the-make, no matter how sharp their wits. Where Colin Farrell leads, however, others will follow. I can't wait to see, in Heat magazine's "On or Off?" gossip section, the scandalous rumours about Leonardo DiCaprio and June Whitfield. I look forward to the paparazzi shots of Tom Cruise working the crowds in Leicester Square flanked by his foxy new inamorata, Pam St Clements from EastEnders...

Sauce for the goose

The role of the First Lady has come under attack lately, after some unladylike displays on either side of the Atlantic. In Washington, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, she made some risqué little quips about going to a Chippendales show with Mrs Cheney, and about her townie-boy husband's attempts to milk a male horse. Christians were up in arms, saying that her little quips "were in violation of the Biblical command that wives respect their husbands."

Next, Cherie Blair is shrieking to The Sun's photographer about how her husband is "always up to it" and making saucy allusions to the PM's membrum virile. But as we sit shaking our heads over the vulgarity of modern politics, we might remember Eleanor Roosevelt, grandest of all first ladies, who in the mid-1950s, told her shocked countrywomen: "I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: 'No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall'."

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