William Donaldson's Week: Pounds 15m, OK, but not those shoes

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A FRIEND of mine was summoned once to the Savoy Grill to have lunch with Rupert Murdoch. Assuming his career was about to take off, he pitched up in a state of some excitement, only to discover that all Mr Murdoch wanted to talk about was a new pair of brown shoes he'd just purchased in the Strand.

'They cost pounds 35,' said Mr Murdoch. 'Good value, do you think?'

'They're very nice,' said my friend. 'Now, about this . . .'

'I'm not sure,' said Mr Murdoch. He fretted and fussed, and then said he wasn't satisfied. 'I think I'll take them back,' he said. He walked out, and my friend never heard from him again.

That's pretty uninteresting, but oddly apropos, as you'll find out as we proceed. Meanwhile, when you're on a roll, one door opens and another door opens.

Impressed by the news that Alain Prost has been paid pounds 5m for breaking his contract with Williams Renault, I asked Mark Chapman of Tiger Aspect whether he thought Kudos Productions might pay me the same to pull the rug from under them - to take El Independo, my comical soap opera, away from them and give it to Tiger Aspect.

'This golden handcuffs dodge is out of hand,' I said. 'It might be reasonable that a yutz in a suit, whose skill in scheduling is to rule that a moustachioed berk enacting a policeman should come after Cilla Black rather than before, is paid a million not to take his skills elsewhere, but it's less reasonable that a chap should be lobbed a fortune for breaking his contract. Would Kudos pay me a million for shafting them, do you think?'

'In your case, probably,' he said.

That wasn't very nice, and for the moment I was stumped for a riposte.

'Now that your stuff is being rewritten by Mr Alway of Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co, El Independo sounds like a bummer,' continued Chapman. 'Unactualised possibles. Can you fit more possible thin men in a doorway than possible fat ones? If the round square cupola on Berkeley College doesn't exist, what are we denying when we say it isn't? Quine, Ryle, ghosts in the machine - hardly the stuff of a prime-time slot. Pass the Sancerre.'

In fact, since old Bill Deedes - having been judged a more fruitful source of laborious racontage - took my place as Geoff Atkinson's co-writer, it has been decided that Mr Alway has no powers of censorship over El Independo, and I said as much to Chapman.

'Atkinson and old Bill Deedes can be as audacious as they like,' I said. 'Furthermore, Deedes is an incomparable source of Suffolk jokes - many to do with magpies, some with sheep. Plus his mixed metaphors are a bonus. 'If Mr Alway takes over,' he said to Atkinson on Monday, 'I'll be off like a dog with a cat between its legs.' '

'That's as may be,' said Chapman. 'However, your recent columns have been unreadable. If it isn't Mr Alway clamping the reader in a paradox, it's you banging on about American football.'

Which shows how much he knows. If I had a pound for every reader who has written in to say that he or she sticks with the Independent because of my in-depth coverage of the NFL, I'd be even richer than I am - at least even richer than I'm going to be as a consequence of a phone call I received last week from Rupert Murdoch.

'G'day,' he said. 'As you'll know, my company, Fox TV, has just bagged next season's NFC games from CBS. I've snatched John Madden to handle the commentaries here, but I need a Pom to do a Madden on BSkyB. Lob yourself in this direction and, if you pass the viva, it will be pounds 15m in your pouch over the next three years. G'day again.'

I arrived in Atlanta on Saturday night, where Murdoch met me at the Hyatt Hilton.

'I'm not sure about your shoes,' I said.

'You're right,' he said. 'I think I'll take them back.'

The next day I watched Superbowl XXVIII with my examiner, the great LT (Laurence Taylor to those of you who wouldn't know a linebacker from a bar of soap).

'How do you read it?' he said.

'Bruce Smith is playing a blinder at defensive end and switching Cornelius Bennett to inside linebacker is stuffing the rush,' I said. 'The Cowboys' offensive line isn't making holes for Emmitt Smith and the Bills are in with a shout.'

'Button,' said the great LT, 'you read a game better than me.'

At half-time, we visited the Cowboys' locker-room, where a broken Jimmy Johnson begged me to lift morale.

'OK,' I said. 'Listen up. I want you to kick butts.'

'Butts isn't playing,' said Ken Norton.

(Excuse me. That was a gridiron joke slipped in by Mr Alway. Marion Butts is a veteran running back with San Diego.)

'I'll ignore that,' I said. 'We're not hurting Kelly and I want the secondary to be tighter on the wide receivers. As for you big mothers in the offensive line - Eric Williams, Kevin Cogan and Nate Newton - I want you pull to the right, making holes for Emmitt Smith. And no more wide runs. Push straight in their faces. OK - let's play ball.'

You'll have seen the results for yourselves, and after the game Murdoch gave me a three-year contract worth pounds 15m. When I got home, Mark Chapman took me out to lunch.

'I've got a couple of developments in the pipeline,' he said. 'Now that you've got all this money . . .'

'What about my shoes?' I said. 'They'd look better on a Spaniard, don't you think?'

'They're very nice,' said Chapman. 'I was wondering . . .'

'I think I'll take them back,' I said. 'Excuse me.'

When you're a millionaire you have to be cruel to be kind.

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