Stan Hey: This is a fiscally sound column - honest, guv

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The Independent Online

Picture the scene: a column of four-wheel drive vehicles with blacked-out windows crunches to a halt on the gravel forecourt of a 17th-century mansion. From the cars spring men and women in grey suits, wearing sunglasses to sinister effect. As they brace themselves behind the doors of their cars, they reach into their shoulder-holsters and pull out calculators. "Okay!" shouts the leader, "come out with your accounts right now!"

Picture the scene: a column of four-wheel drive vehicles with blacked-out windows crunches to a halt on the gravel forecourt of a 17th-century mansion. From the cars spring men and women in grey suits, wearing sunglasses to sinister effect. As they brace themselves behind the doors of their cars, they reach into their shoulder-holsters and pull out calculators. "Okay!" shouts the leader, "come out with your accounts right now!"

The announcement of a special tax squad to target celebrities and any of their "undeclared" earnings from photo-shoots of weddings and show-business parties, will have caused a few splutterings among the champagne and smoked salmon set yesterday morning. All those who have been featured in such glossy publications as Hello! and OK will have been struck by ominous thoughts. Why was that older waiter at the wedding reception making notes? Why didn't that man doing the video have a reversed baseball cap on his head?

All across the country, anxious celebrities will have retired to silk-wallpapered billiard rooms to make calls on their onyx telephones to ask their tax advisers the burning question: "Am I in the clear on this?" It is equally easy to imagine the scenes at tax headquarters, as the Sunday morning shift, drinking cold coffee from polystyrene cups, pored over the acres of shiny supplements looking for clues to undeclared wealth and gifts. On the pin-boards all around the room, the targeted celebrities will be beaming down from those cheesy photographs that may yet come to incriminate them.

Of course the pursuit of celebrities by tax authorities is nothing new. It was the Internal Revenue Services who copped gangster and club owner Al Capone, not the FBI - probably the biggest ever coup for the "suits". Over here, the Inland Revenue has always been on the look-out for likely suspects, calculating that while the general public may admire celebrities, they hate the idea of them getting away with unpaid tax.

Indeed, there could have been few more popular figures than jockey Lester Piggott, but when he was sent down for three years in 1987 for massive tax evasion he found himself fairly friendless. What may have swung the sympathy vote was the story that Piggott had agreed a settlement with the Revenue, but had then sent them a cheque from an account to which he hadn't previously confessed.

Around this time, I was writing a comedy-drama series whose executive producer happened to take up with a rising young actress. After they were pictured at an airport, with a caption mentioning the actress and her "millionaire producer" boyfriend, the Revenue chaps were on the phone in days to inquire about this sudden exalted status.

There were also stories about a well-known club comedian who took home bin-liners full of "readies" in the boot of his Jag, being tailed through the night by the tax-men.

The one that "got away" was Ken Dodd who was charged with hoarding masses of undeclared cash in the attic of his Knotty Ash cottage. When this detail came out in court, incidentally, the cottage was quickly raided by local "scallies" in search of any left-overs. Dodd was found innocent at his trial in Liverpool, which may have told the Revenue something about being too ardent in pursuing figures whose local popularity was unimpeachable.

The Hello revenue squad will find that our fascination with the celebrity life-styles shown in the glossy magazines often gives way to vengeful hopes of a broken marriage or a fall from grace. But while clobbering most celebrities for more tax would bring popular acclaim, there may be a few who are beyond censure. Clearly a new fiscal version of Who's Who is called for. Of course, my fee for this column will be paid by cheque.

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