Thank heavens for bad little boys

Admit it: a bit of the runaway, the tearaway and the teen rebel still lurks within every one of us

Share
Related Topics
It takes a long prison sentence to take the glamour away from bad boys. Moralising and admonishing cannot do it, which may explain why so many people are so disgruntled at the news that Peter Kerry, who set such a bad example to his peers by running away to Malaysia on his father's credit cards, may be rewarded by a trip to the United States as a guest of Channel 4's The Word.

Mary Aspray, of the National Missing Person's Helpline, attacked The Word for being "irresponsible", and worries that the glamour of Kerry's trip will encourage other children to go missing. The Tory MP Harry Greenway harrumphs that the boy should not be made a hero or rewarded for his "silly, misguided and ultimately reprehensible conduct".

Too late. It is not for The Word to confer heroism on Peter Kerry. He already is a hero for demonstrating all those qualities that are so disturbing to grown-ups and so desirable to youth. If we were being perfectly honest we would admit that they were attractive and heroic to adults as well, though we might admit it only in private. Inside every fortysomething man (or woman) lurks somebody who would like to be monumentally irresponsible, run away to the tropics, sulk in grand style. We don't do it because we have become too socialised. It's not just that we don't have the nerve. We have become so tamed by responsibility that we couldn't separate action from awareness of the consequences even if we tried. Teenagers aren't so inhibited.

So instead of doing as we damn well please and letting everyone else go hang, we cling to the status quo and disapprove of the ones that got away. But the intense interest which they arouse is a giveaway of our ambivalence. The bad boy of the week, indeed, of the year, is not Peter Kerry but Nick Leeson. As he began his slide towards his mind-boggling losses Nick Leeson may have been able to separate himself from the realisation of the consequences. Just how those consequences dawned on him as his decline became more swift and more irrevocable is undoubtedly being scripted at this moment by some Michael Crichton figure for the nail-biting, blockbusting movie of high-finance to come.

Nick Leeson was not "one of us" to the grandees of Barings, not in background, education or class. He is being held personally responsible for a financial disaster that has brought great personal distress to thousands of people, but he has the makings of a popular hero, too. Bad boys, until they turn criminal, are useful to society. It was his very qualities as an outsider, a legitimised Las Vegas gambler on a breathtaking scale, that made him so very valuable to the scions of the historic banking house, though they may not like admitting it.

I remember waiting on tables in a very expensive restaurant at the time of the Great Train Robbery and overhearing a group of diners discussing the crime. Someone said, as people all over the country were saying, that it may have been criminal but it was clever. "Not clever," said a patrician voice, reprovingly, "cunning".

At what point did Nick Leeson stop being clever and become cunning, I wonder? The narrow margin between brilliant young chap and blackguard comes at the point when he ceases to get away with what, until then, has worked so well and been so profitable.

There is nothing quite like the shock of an establishment that has done very well by keeping a tiger by the tail when the tiger actually carries its wild behaviour through to a logical conclusion. Is there a better example than the downfall of Eric Cantona, carried off to a chorus of boos when the explosive temperament that had been so productive when reined in became unacceptable off the leash? By a happy irony the thoughts of the previously great, but now discredited, Eric are currently being published under the title "La Philosophie de Cantona".

La Philosophie de Cantona might be comforting reading for bad boys on the run. Here is the authentic voice of the sullen self-justifying rebel. "Children are drawn to sincerity and authenticity," writes Cantona. "The way I work and pursue my career, I don't betray them and they know it. I don't see any good in teaching them to deny their emotions for the benefit of the established order."

This could be the Thoughts of Chairman Mao for a generation taking their hats off to Peter Kerry and secretly admiring Nick Leeson. You only have to look at the photographs of Kerry, sullenly and silently sandwiched between his smiling parents, to know that he is ahead of Eric here. Fourteen- year-olds don't have to be told not to deny their emotions. They are simply a conduit for them.

What happens to those emotions as they grow is more complicated. Delinquency is no longer a matter of apple scrumping and walking down the road with your possessions in a red-spotted handkerchief. As the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, said this week, "technology has created criminal opportunities beyond Fagin's wildest dreams, both in the number of goods worth stealing and in the way technology can be used to commit crime".

Bad boys are much more sophisticated than they used to be, and more removed from the real consequences of their actions. Both Peter Kerry and Nick Leeson, 14 years apart and moving in different worlds, are fluent in the language of the computer and the credit card, the path of the microchip and the modem which leads to new countries and new identities when times get sticky. They inhabit a world where the old boundaries and the old loyalties lose their meaning. No wonder the old people, the ones who stay at home and wait for them to return, feel both rage and envy.

Nick Leeson was given the power and freedom he enjoyed because he moved freely in a world where others had lost their nerve or which they failed fully to understand. He received the treatment bad boys often receive as long as they don't go too far, which is indulgence. Peter Kerry is being treated indulgently, too. His parents have apparently agreed to let him go to the US, a decision many will criticise as soft but others will see as going with the flow of his obvious talents for travel and adventure. Give a boy his head and he may go far, which is undoubtedly what they said about Nick Leeson at Barings.

So far, both these wild boys have physically, if not emotionally, survived their troubles. The maturing process gets bad boys in the end, whatever the process of justice does in the meantime. It is possible that they may turn into the kind of stiffened-up old buffers who murmur indulgently, "Boys will be boys", as long as it is not their apples that are being scrumped or their shares which are being devalued. Or they may stay as mavericks all their lives, which is what Eric Cantona, still jumping with testosterone, intends to do.

"Growing old," writes Cantona bravely, "doesn't mean you have to betray your youthful excesses." Oh, but it does, Eric, it does, and those who betray them most are those who did best by exploiting them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map