How a small boy turned nasty before video was invented

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DOES TV violence really encourage real violence? Will children go out and hit each other after seeing violence on the screen? Is the Government more likely to go out and bomb the Serbs after seeing the Nine O'Clock News? Is violence fun? Should we all try it before we condemn it so readily?

Well, I don't know the answers to all these questions, and neither does Michael Howard, but I do know something, and that is the other day in a wine shop in Bradford-on-Avon a man wearing a bow tie came up to me and smilingly accused me of being Miles Kington.

I pleaded guilty and waited to see if there were any more serious charges.

There were.

He accused me of having been a small boy living in Haytor Road, Wrexham, north Wales, just after the war.

Shaken, I agreed.

'How did you know?' I asked.

'I was a small boy in the same street,' he said. 'We played together.'

What a bombshell. A childhood chum come back to haunt me, and in deepest Wiltshire at that. What made it worse was that I had no immediate memory of him or even of his name. Under the guise of reminiscing, I asked him for some corroborative evidence.

'I distinctly remember one thing,' he said, 'and that was you trying to lay out a girl called Wilkinson.'

'Lay out?'

'Well, kill. You hit her over the head with a blunt instrument.'

'Did I actually kill her?'

'No.'

That came as a relief. But as I always remember myself as a quiet, studious boy it also came as a shock to find that as a six- or seven-year-old I was, apparently, capable of mindless violence. And I didn't have the modern excuse of having ever seen a video nasty or violent television programmes. I had of course seen my father come back from the Second World War, where I was given vaguely to understand he had been responsible for the elimination of millions of Germans, but this never seemed to have any after-effects on him, and I can't remember him hitting any neighbours on the head, as apparently I did.

(Actually, we now seem to think that fighting in a war does turn you into a bit of a pacifist. It is always being said by American commentators that those congressmen who fought in Vietnam turn into doves when it comes to the possibility of more hostility, and those who didn't are usually the hawks. The ultimate example of this is Sylvester Stallone, who spent most of the Vietnam war period teaching in a girls' school in Switzerland, and has spent most of the rest of his life killing people on the screen.)

Perhaps I had the feeling that, gifted with a father who had eliminated so many enemy soldiers, I didn't really need any screen violence. I remember he once gave me an old American watch he had acquired during the war and no longer needed. It was US Army issue.

'How did you get this?'

'Oh, I swapped it with an American soldier for a Luger pistol.'

'Gosh. Where did you get the Luger pistol from?'

'I took it off a dead German.'

Gosh. How terrific, I thought, without really thinking about it. Of course, I had never seen a dead German. In fact, I had never seen anyone dead at all, and the nearest I ever came to it was when a friend with an airgun shot a sparrow nearly dead in front of me, and I was so sickened by the sight that I swore I would never cause pain to anything or anyone, and I very seldom have.

(The only time I have ever shot to kill, funnily enough, was when I was encouraged to do so by Alan Coren. In the days when we shared the same lunch break, we once wandered up to the Strand and went inquisitively into a penny arcade full of fairground machinery. We homed in on a sniper game that involved peering down a rifle's sights at a replica of a First World War battlefield and shooting any soldier who popped up from his trench or fox-hole. What really appealed to us was that you knew if you had hit the enemy soldier fair and square because he screamed as he died. There really was a pre-recorded scream for each soldier. Some screamed in more agony than others. Those were the ones we aimed for first. It was sickening. Especially the way we laughed and found it so funny . . .)

'This girl, the Wilkinson girl,' I said to the man in the Bradford-on-Avon wine shop, 'the one I am meant to have mindlessly attacked. Did nobody intervene? Did my peer group not drag me off and disarm me?'

'Not as far as I remember. I think we all felt she deserved it. Your action quite impressed us.'

If that is so, I am amazed that I grew up to be as non-violent as I am. And if I ever do turn violent, I can always blame Alan Coren.

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