Tales of the City: The best little whorehouse in W1

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The Independent Online

Few journalists will have read about Roger Scruton and the cash-for-articles scandal without going off into a little reverie. How much did the great philosopher get for acting as an adviser to Japan Tobacco International and placing articles on the virtues of smoking in The Times and The Telegraph? He got £4,500 a month, and was hoping for another grand. But he was gratifyingly direct about his connection with the fuming Nipponese: "We do have a retainer from Japan Tobacco. What they are particularly paying for us to do is to produce a briefing for tobacco companies about freedom. I am on the payroll of lots of things." Elsewhere, referring to the "public affairs" company he runs with his wife, Sophie, he said: "What we do is a small cottage industry."

How those last words fall on the ear with a familiar ring. Change the words "small cottage industry" into "nice little earner" and you have the authentic Delboy touch. But I don't want to be rude to the Professor. I am more keen to learn from him. He is an inspiration to anybody who can marshal an argument, flog it to a company with a bad public profile, publish some pieces in the posh papers, and receive a hefty wedge of yen in gratitude. What's wrong with that – except for the old-fashioned belief that if someone writes a polemical piece in the newspapers they should mean what they say. But nobody's believed in journalistic sincerity since the heyday of Ms Julie Burchill. Today, leverage is more important – having the clout to get articles into the papers, and the chutzpah to charge companies for making an intellectual case for them. Armed with this pleasing conviction, I rang up a dozen companies that would benefit from some kindly, paid-for representation in the comment pages of The Independent.

"Hi," I said to the guy at British American Tobacco, "you know about Scruton making a few thousand for helping out Japan Tobacco in The Times. Would you give me £1,500, if I could guarantee to get a piece into the Men's Style section entitled "Say No, Ta, to Low Tar" about the wonders of Marlboro Full Strength?"

"My boss isn't back till later," said the chap guardedly, "but I'm fairly certain we wouldn't want to get involved in that." How blinkered. I rang Railtrack. "There's been too much negative stuff about you in the press lately," I said. "How about if you paid me, say, two thousand quid to reassure the travelling public that the infrastructure of Britain's railways is in safe hands?" A stunned silence. "Are you proposing some form of advertorial?" a woman asked. "No, no," I said, "it's straight editorial. But the editors need never know, ha-ha-ha".

She sounded shocked. "Does this sort of thing go on much?" "Oh here and there," I said, "mostly with freelancers and opportunistic philosophers. It's a sort of cottage industry." She said she'd get back to me. So did the Conservative Party. And Consignia. And the Countryside Alliance. I had more luck with Edexcel, where a breezy cove in the Press office said: "Someone wants to write a favourable article? Amazing. Can I take your details?" At Marconi, I got a lecture from someone called Joe. "I'm not in favour of a journalist offering to sell press coverage for money," he said indignantly. "I've never supported the idea of buying editorial favour." Get real, Joe.

At British Nuclear Fuels, they weren't keen either. "We sometimes get professional journalists to write for our own magazines and pay them for it, but that's a different thing," said a chap called Bill. But look, I said, all I'd be doing would be producing a briefing for the fuel-consuming world about the importance of freedom... "I don't think it's something we'd like to pursue," said Bill firmly.

It seemed hopeless. Nobody was playing ball. Couldn't they see the benefits of an article called "Sellafield Mon Amour," on the benign, caring side of the great reactor? I tried the British National Party ("How about a piece in The Independent's Health section entitled, 'Do Latvians have smaller brains?' Only £500") but got nowhere. A call to the National Rifleman's Association was met by silence (better than a ricochet, I suppose). My e-mail to the Hamas organisation (if you'd like to try them, they're on hamas@palestine_info.net) fell on rocky ground.

I was close to despair when I thought of Burma. Ten years after the house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, they could surely do with a helpful spread of pro-Burma articles. I rang the embassy and pitched the idea, mentioning a figure of £5,000 a month. A charming secretary suggested I faxed the Ambassador direct. "Is it likely," I asked, "that he'd be interested?"

"I have a feeling," said the secretary, "that they might be."

So there we have it. If you see a series of unusual travel pieces ("Rangoon – city of contrasts"; "Last Night I went to Mandalay Again") appearing in this column soon, you'll know what's happened. The cottage industry will be in full swing.

Apart from the detail about the mobile phone message ("We have some dirty pix of U. We will sell them if U don't get back 2 us") the Jamie-Theakston-visits-a-brothel story is straight from a Fifties B-movie. Clean-cut English geezer has dozen sherberts too many, asks unscrupulous cabbie to take him where the action is, winds up in Mayfair "vice den", drinking with strangers and is photographed in fellatio delicto by hooker who threatens blackmail. It's a classic scene from the days when John Gregson always played the cop, and the other punters in the vice den could be seen watching a "blue movie". But is Mr Theakston now "shamed" as the moralising tabloids claim? Or is he only guilty of folly in emulating the behaviour of a dozen fictional young blades – young, rich and heroic – who visit houses of shame in books and movies, from Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge to Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. Whether or not Mr Theakston "romped" with the African madame called Bella, he was behaving in a way that's wholly sanctioned by the book and movie worlds. The only thing wrong with the scene was his failure to locate a tart with anything resembling a heart.

Help! I can't keep up with this monstrous animation

Call me a curmudgeon, write me off as an irascible old sod, but I hated Monsters Inc, the new smash-hit movie from Pixar, the Disney-owned animation studio who made Toy Story. After two hours had passed, I glanced at my watch to find just 55 minutes had gone by. Oh no. There were still uncharted tracks of megacorporation corridors for the not-very-scary ten-eyed monsters to pursue each other down, lots more choking schmaltz to come from John Goodman (voice of the huge hairy one who falls for the little human girl) and hours of sassy wise-cracking by Billy Crystal (voice of the little bossy one whose body is an eyeball on legs).

Though I loved Toy Story, I was bored to death, because this woeful farrago abandons the domestic, human scale of its forerunners and goes instead for gigantism, conglomerate business, global enterprise, hugeness. Its ambitions are vast too. The filming is so rapid-fire it dances heartlessly before your eyeballs, the plot is hectic and impossible to follow, and by the time you reach the climactic chase through a massive library where all the children's cupboard doors in the world are stored, your brain feels pummelled into insensibility.

My children lolled sideways in their seats, dazzled into slumber (although, outside the cinema, they claimed to have loved it). Can it be that modern animation has reached such a pitch of sophistication that it now outstrips what the human senses can comprehend? Is it the inevitable fate of special effects that they wind up as a lot of flashing lights and mad noises that, on the whole, we're rather not comprehend at all?

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