The raspberry blows back: William Donaldson's Week

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NOTHING annoys me more than accusations that I'm bad with money. It's true that I got into certain difficulties as a theatrical producer, but this was because I had extremely poor taste. However good a businessman you are, you can't thrive for long as a producer if you keep putting on the wrong show.

I'm excellent, then, at money management; what I'm not so good at is taking a joke against myself. This being so, you'll understand my irritation on discovering this week that I'm the butt of a silly, Beadle-type hoax, cooked up by my bank manager - Mr Amin, of Fulham News - and Richard Ingrams.

Some weeks ago, you may remember, and keen to take Will Self, the brilliant young novelist, out to lunch, I was thwarted in this intention by the Alliance & Leicester Building Society, Fulham Road Branch.

Although I had a credit balance of pounds 1,054 in my account, they ruled that because I had recently deposited a bad cheque from a pal in the sum of pounds 1,063 there was, as they saw it, a temporary shortfall in their favour of pounds 9, and they refused to make luncheon funds available.

Since I didn't, in the matter of money management, just ride into town with my trousers held up by harvest twine, I immediately moved my various accounts - current, deposit, high interest and overnight - to Mr Amin of Fulham News, who not only stocks the widest selection of magazines in Greater London, introduces you to his other punters ('This is Mr Finney - I believe he knows your wife, Mrs Mouse') and serves coffee and croissants while you wait, but will also cash cheques in any amount up to pounds 5,000 on the spot, grant interest-free overdraft facilities without collateral and certainly wouldn't knock you back for pounds 9 when planning to take Will Self out to lunch ('A talented young novelist - I expect he knows your wife').

The Alliance & Leicester have pulled themselves together - in so far at least as they now stock newspapers, donuts and fizzy drinks, but it gives me enormous pleasure, as I pass their office, to blow raspberries through their window, suggesting by means of an elaborate mime that they'll have to do better than this if they want to win my custom back.

All in all, the arrangement with Mr Amin has been working excellently - until this week, that is, when laughing fit to bust, he told me that I'd been the mark in a complicated scam, created by him and Richard Ingrams.

Every other Wednesday for the past few months, Mr Amin and I have amused ourselves with a little running joke.

'Would you like the latest edition of the Oldie,' he says.

'No thank you,' I say. 'Since fashionable opinion has it that it isn't as good as it used to be - and since I didn't think it was any great shakes in the first place - I think I'll pass.'

'You can have it for nothing,' Mr Amin says. 'I dare say I can,' I say, 'but that would hardly affect its quality.'

Mr Amin and I rock with laughter, I cash a cheque and then I return home, possibly blowing a raspberry at the Alliance & Leicester on the way.

Imagine my surprise three weeks ago, when I discovered, once I was back at home, that Mr Amin had managed to smuggle the latest Oldie in among my other purchases - my even greater surprise when, on flicking through the magazine, I discovered that, far from being less good than it had been, it was, if anything, rather better.

This was a consequence, it seemed to me, of Ingrams following my advice and now ridiculing oldies rather than buttering them up. Have-a-go grandads and bungy-jumping grannies are cruelly patronised, as they should be, and the pin-up item at the back now openly parodies itself, with Jeffrey Bernard proving in the latest number that he does, after all, have a saving sense of humour by saying unblushingly of Graham Greene: 'A great, good and kind man who never condescended to me. I miss him.'

That's as may be. What surprised me most, you may remember, was the lonely hearts column, in which prostitutes openly advertised their services, thus allowing me the opportunity to accuse Ingrams - jokingly, of course - of living on the artistic earnings of a Mrs Partridge.

Well, according to Mr Amin, the joke's on me - I should have seen it coming, I suppose, since there's nothing Ingrams likes more than a schoolboy hoax.

Some months ago, you may recall, he set Nigel Dempster up with a bogus news snippet to the effect that he, Ingrams, had been seen in Brighton with Miss Pamela Bordes. Dempster recognised this as a hoax, of course, but printed the story none the less since he couldn't see it reflected ill on anyone but Ingrams.

And 10 years ago, when I was the Mail on Sunday's award-

winning gossip columnist, Ingrams leaked me a letter to Patrick Marnham - author of the about to be published The Private Eye Story - in which he censoriously listed certain objections to the book, thereafter revealing in the Spectator that the letter to Marnham had been a fraud, specially concocted to make me look an idiot. Since no one reads the Spectator, it seemed to me that the only person who looked an idiot was Richard Ingrams, but there you are.

This time, however, he'd done rather better, printing one special copy of the Oldie - with its incriminating personal ads - and persuading Mr Amin to slip it in among my other purchases.

Not being able to take a joke against myself, I'm furious, of course. I've closed my accounts with Mr Amin and now buy cigars, donuts and Independent from the Alliance & Leicester.

'Would you like a copy of the Oldie?' they said today.

'No thank you,' I said.

I'm not stupid.