Willian Donaldson's Week: A bother about the Burberry

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The Independent Online
DOES The Knock, ITV's Sunday night drama series, glamorise Customs and Excise officers? I think it might encourage young people to copy the fish- eyed insolence of these sniffers and stash-snafflers, but my pal Frankie Fraser does not agree. Alas, he seldom agrees with me these days, and it has to be said that people do change once they become literary lions. I just didn't think it would happen to Frank.

Meanwhile, and impressed though you must have been by the wide newspaper coverage on Thursday of our latest publicity initiative - namely, Frank's book-signing session at Harrods (Mad Frank, pounds 15.99) combined with the first casting session for El Independo, Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co's satirical soap for BBC 2 - you may have wondered why I was so conspicuously absent from the photographs.

Everyone else was there, beaming conceitedly for the cameras. Frank himself, politely signing books for well-behaved, householding women up from Berkshire for the day; his lovely Marilyn, looking exquisite in Cambridge blue; Debbie Mason of Kudos Productions, who, as Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co's co- producer, had arranged the casting session; Penelope Keith, still determined, it seems, to play my sister Bobo, even though my sister Bobo has ruled that Miss Keith is not a lady (but nor, in my opinion, is my sister Bobo); and Rachel Garley, stealing the show in a classically organised little number by Valentino.

I, alas, was being held in Harrods' basement for wearing the wrong wardrobe; specifically, the wrong Burberry, which the management claimed was theirs rather than mine.

I blame Honest John. Honest John recently prescribed me a sleeping pill called Zimovane which, if you take 15mg instead of 7.5mg, causes you, in the hour before you go to sleep, to behave in all manner of uncharacteristic ways - none of which you can remember the next day, but which will be brought to your attention by the startled recipients of your late-night phone calls.

On Tuesday night - though I remember none of this - I must have taken 15mg and thereafter fielded a call from Frankie Fraser, whom, it seems, I most unwisely checked - suggesting, when he asked me to mention his book again, that he must, in the old days, have been a pest.

Even confused by Zimovane, you are dimly aware, I suppose, that the last person to call Frankie Fraser a pest went headfirst into a municipal rubbish tip, and after he'd rung off I must have tried to rectify the situation.

In fact, I rang Honest John - or so I am told - with what I thought was a good idea. Frankie Fraser, I said, was due at 12 noon on Thursday to sign copies of his book at Harrods, and we should seize this opportunity to publicise El Independo.

First thing in the morning, he, Honest John, should ring Debbie Mason at Kudos and suggest that we use this occasion to hold a casting session. He should then ring Yvonne Paul, Rachel Garley's red-hot representative, and book Miss Garley to appear at Harrods, where she would be photographed auditioning for the part of the lovely Marilyn. He should then alert the press.

Nor would I have done any of this, of course, had I not been off my head. Indeed, the first I knew of it was when Honest John rang me the next day to say that everything had been arranged.

'What's been arranged?' I said.

'The joint book-signing and casting session for El Independo,' he said. 'Be at Harrods at noon and don't wear the Burberry.'

Honest John gave me the Burberry a year ago and I put down his reluctance to my wearing it to the fact that he wanted to be better dressed on the day than me - so I ignored him.

That was a mistake. When I arrived at Harrods, Miss Garley, heart-breakingly beautiful in her little Valentino number, was posing for the tabloids between Frankie Fraser and his lovely Marilyn. Attempting to introduce myself into the photograph, I had my collar felt.

'I told you not to wear that,' hissed Honest John. 'I nicked it from Harrods a year ago.'

I appealed to my pal Frankie Fraser. 'There is a code, old bean,' I said. 'For God's sake vouch for me.'

'Never mind code, old bean,' he said, and then he turned to the security guards. 'I've never seen this man before,' he said.

He allowed me to cool my heels in Harrods' basement until the photo opportunity was over, and then he bailed me out.

'That wasn't very nice,' I said.

'Be sensible,' he said 'I'm due to take over next year from your friend Professor Jimmy Riddle (Up The Cistern, Further Up The Cistern) as writer-in-residence at the University of East Anglia and I can't associate publicly with disorderly elements who make facetious comments about The Knock. The lads of Customs and Excise are the protectors of our frontiers, forever on their guard against abstract ideas and 'isms' from the Continent. We'll not want 'isms' in Booker's England.'

'Next you'll be telling me The Bill doesn't glamorise the scuffers.'

'That's right,' said Frank.

'What's the title of your first lecture? Eighteenth Century Irony?'

'It is, as it happens,' said Frank. 'Here's another Burberry. I had it off the security guard.'

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