The benefits of being burgled

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FOR A moment this week it looked as if my next television development to hit the screen might be Root Into San Francisco, and not, as had seemed likely, El Independo, Major Ron's Kama Britain ('Ciao] Major Ron here] Rock around the clock]'), or even Root Down Under.

The change of plan was proposed at a partners' meeting at

Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co, which, as you know, monitors everything I write and which now argued that it wouldn't be cost effective to send its Mr Alway to Australia to muzzle me - keen though he was to make the move. (The rugger season is about to start down under and Mr Alway has been offered a guest spot as tight-head prop with the Sydney Bay Prawns.)

The point of San Francisco as a location seemed to be that it was the only city outside Europe in which Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co has an office - the advantage being that lawyers on the spot could write my stuff without my even being there.

That made sense. The partners and I scratched our heads but were unable to come up with any San Francisco jokes, at which point I said that this was silly, that I should be let loose in Australia on my own. In a long career, I said, I'd only been sued for libel on three occasions, and each time by Private Eye, or by someone working for it. Furthermore, I said, I'd always lost.

The partners looked at me with the pained forbearance of someone dealing with an idiot, and this rattled me so much that I attempted a lawyer joke.

''Why in San Francisco,' I said, 'are scientists now using lawyers in their experiments instead of laboratory rats? I'll tell you. There are more of them. Lawyers will do things at which rats draw the line. And lab technicians are less likely to become emotionally involved with lawyers than with rats.'

That didn't go down well, I don't know why, and, deciding to change the subject, I then brought up . . . excuse me while I answer my front door, would you? The fact is, I haven't had a moment's peace since I revealed last week that, while in Ibiza with Isabella, I'd been burgled; further, that my pal Frankie Fraser had promised that all my stuff (and a certain amount of other people's) would be returned.

Well. Frankie has been right about that and no mistake - at least with regard to other people's stuff. Every half hour or so, East End faces and Gorbals hard men pitch up at my front door with an astonishing array of goods, none of which I've seen before. I've now got bullion from the Brinks Mat robbery, a Gauguin or two, Wales's cufflinks, the Squidgy tapes and Sophia Loren's jewels.

I exaggerate, but only slightly. My flat has become an Aladdin's cave (that last delivery was a 46- inch television set from the secure wing at Parkhurst, with a note from Freddie Foreman saying that he hoped this would make up for his not having sent me an Easter card), but the odd thing is that none of my stuff - developments, proposals, correspondence with Mr Alway about a complaint against me to the PCC and, most seriously, the adult material which Abbey From The Eighties is afraid may crop up in a tabloid - has been returned except some jokes of mine which Craig Brown stole 11 years ago.

Clearly, whoever had burgled me was unaware that I was on Frankie Fraser's firm, and, as Mr Fraser himself now put it: 'Who'd be ignorant enough, Button, not to read the Independent or, if they did read it, too simple- minded to understand a clear message contained therein?'

'You puzzle it out, Frankie,' I said. 'I'm trying to think up some San Francisco jokes.'

'Have you mentioned the book?' he said.

'Not yet.'

'Be sensible,' he said. 'Mention it now. Mad Frank, Little, Brown & Co, pounds 15.99 and number two in the charts.'

'Just unpack the crate,' I said. 'Hello - what's this?'

'Stuff from the Knightsbridge safe-deposit box caper,' said Frank, 'and very nice too.'

Where was I? I have it - in the offices of Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co, trying to convince the partners that Root Down Under was more viable (as we say in the world of TV developments) than Root Into San Francisco, and, I may say, succeeding to some degree in this respect.

'All right,' they said. 'Australia it will be. But you'll have to collaborate by telephone with an Australian writer. Exchanging Pete the Schnoz for, as it were, Bruce the Schnoz.

That seemed silly and I pointed out that . . . excuse me while I answer the door again.

'What's this?' I said to Frank.

'Reggie Kray has done a whip- round in Gartree,' he said. 'And there's a note from him saying he hopes Ronnie didn't inconvenience you when he had your Barclaycard off you at Verdi's Grey Topper in 1966.'

'How very sweet of him,' I said.

'Indeed,' said Frank. 'Better still, I've puzzled out who would be ignorant enough not to read the Independent and, if they did read it, stupid enough to miss the point. Senior editorial personnel at News International. Your adult material - stills, storyboards, home-made videos - will be appearing shortly in the 2p soaraway Times. I wouldn't be in Abbey From The Eighties' boots - nor in the boots of others appearing with her in tableaux vivants and so forth.'

Nor would I. Excuse me, there's the door again . . .