Notebook: Rocky tells lies, and that's the truth

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ROCKY RYAN. Rocky Ryan. Where have you heard that name? Well, the last time, probably, was when there was all the fuss about a conversation supposedly featuring the Prince and Princess of Wales discussing the sad state of their marriage. The Sun was supposed to have borrowed it from a book written by James Whitaker, royal correspondent of the Daily Mirror, who was supposed to have got it from the People, which was supposed to have got it from MI5. Just another week in Fleet Street, particularly as Rocky Ryan was busy claiming to have made it all up in the first place.

Rocky is the man who amuses himself by persuading newspapers to print fictitious stories: Lord Lucan in South Africa, Princess Michael of Kent ticked off at the Palace, the SAS giving evidence in make-up to prevent identification. Rocky, the story goes, adds to the gaiety of the nation; and there is certainly something irresistible about three television crews taking turns to shout to him through a council flat letterbox in Neasden believing that the shamed Bishop Casey is within.

Rocky has a new card. 'Rocky Ryan, Storyteller,' it says, giving the said Neasden address. So I went. There I met a man claiming to be Rocky Ryan who talked my ear off for three hours in great staccato circles of dropped names and claimed coups. He couldn't have been lying through his teeth, because he had taken them out. His walls were plastered with photos of stars, dedicated to Rocky, some of them with their arms round someone who looks quite like Rocky might have looked when he was younger. Where there were no photos, there were newspaper cuttings from all over the world supposedly containing his coups.

Rocky says his full name is Michael Rocco Ryan, that he was born in Ireland and that his mother's parents were from Sicily; Corleone, naturally. He was brought up (please add your own scepticism from now on) in the East End and Neasden, with, inter alios, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. He has been a member of the Parachute Regiment and the SAS. He has been a film stuntman, hence his friendship with the stars. His pranks started when a tabloid set him up for arrest on suspicion of robbery. He says he is bisexual and that he has spoken in his rapid convolutions ever since a brain haemorrhage. Besides John Wayne, he mentions Elizabeth Taylor, Wittgenstein, Descartes and Pat Jennings. I ask how I am to know that he hasn't forged all these photo dedications and he appears genuinely shocked. 'That,' he says, 'would be dishonest and unethical.'

He rehearses the Bishop Casey incident, complete with his Irish accent - he was pretending to be a defrocked friend of the bishop - and he demonstrates his northern accent, his Jewish accent, his Arab accent. But Rocky is not always funny. He says, for instance, that he told the Iraqis that Farzad Bazoft, the Observer journalist, was spying for Israel and Iran. Bazoft was hanged for spying. Rocky says he had a grudge against Bazoft because Bazoft had responded to an attempted con by putting the police on to him; and his mother, who was there when he was arrested, had never recovered from the shock.

He says it 'never entered my head I must kill the bastard' or that Bazoft would be hanged, but that he's 'not worried' about it. 'I'm not a heartless bastard, but I couldn't care less.' A lot of what he did, he says, was about power. He is proud of having conned his way into seeing Pavarotti by claiming to have cancer. He also likes the one about persuading an Israeli newspaper that Adolf Hitler was working in a wine bar in Golders Green. He says he has been in trouble for 'a couple of violence things'. I asked him if he were sane. He said he was as sane as Ronnie Kray. I laughed, but I was lying. I'm not sure Rocky Ryan is a very good joke.

(Photograph omitted)