AS the Daily Mail wails and gnashes its teeth over the demise of Boris Johnson (will this do, Prime Minister, can I have my peerage now?) it’s worth remembering that Johnson once connived with a fellow old Etonian to have a former Mail reporter beaten up.
Stuart Collier spent ten years on the Mail before moving to the News of the World where, in 1990, he began delving into the past of a dodgy businessman named Darius Guppy, a friend of both Johnson and Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer.
Guppy was discovered to have been involved in a fraudulent insurance claim after staging a bogus £1.8million jewel robbery, for which he would later be given a hefty jail sentence.
At the time of Collier’s inquiries, Guppy phoned Johnson, then a Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and asked him to find out the journalist’s address so he could have him beaten up. Here is a transcript of the phone call.
Guppy: ‘Have you got this number [for Stuart Collier]?’
Johnson: ‘Darius, look, there is a guy at this moment going through . . .’
Guppy: ‘You’re brilliant.’
Johnson ‘ . . . his files at home.’
Guppy: ‘But I am telling you something, Boris, this guy [Collier] is getting my blood up, all right? And there is nothing which I won’t do to get my revenge. It is as simple as that.’
Johnson: ‘How badly are you going to hurt this guy?’
Guppy: ‘Not badly at all.’
Johnson: ‘Really, I want to know, because if this guy is seriously hurt I will be f*cking furious.’
Guppy: ‘I guarantee you that he will not be seriously hurt.’
Johnson: ‘How badly hurt will he be?’
Guppy: ‘He will not have any broken limbs or a broken arm and he will not be put into intensive care or anything like that. He will probably get a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib.’
Johnson: ‘A cracked rib.’
Guppy: ‘Nothing which you didn’t suffer in rugby, OK? But he’ll get scared and that’s what I want him to do. I want him to get scared. I want him to have no idea who’s behind it, OK? And I want him to realise that he’s f*cked someone off and whoever he’s f*cked off is not the sort of person he wants to mess around with.
‘Because I guarantee you Boris, I guarantee you these people are, you know, if someone hurts their boss or threatens their boss, I promise you it’s just total sort of, it’s like they’re like dogs, they are like alsatians or rottweilers, they love their masters, they are affectionate towards them, they are evil bastards to everyone else.’
Johnson: ‘Yeah, good. OK, Darry now, yeah, I mean . . .’
Guppy: ‘You must have faith in me, Boris.’
Johnson: ‘OK Darry, I’ve said I’ll do it. I’ll do it, don’t worry.’
Guppy: ‘Boris, I really mean it, I love you and I will owe you this.’
In the event, nothing happened to Collier. But the conversation was recorded by an accomplice of Guppy in the jewel fraud and later passed on to police and the then Telegraph editor Max Hastings, who called Johnson into his office to explain himself, then allowed him to keep his job.
Hastings would later write: ‘Boris said that he had done nothing to meet Guppy’s request. Maybe, I said, but why had he not dismissed it out of hand? “Loyalty,” he said. “Loyalty to an old friend”. We sent him back to Brussels with a wigging.’
Interviewed by the Guardian in 2019, just before Johnson became PM, Stuart Collier said that anyone reading the transcript of Guppy’s conversation with his former fellow-member of Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club would realise Johnson took the request seriously and was ‘prepared to do whatever he could to help his old school pal’, adding: ‘This wasn’t just a joking matter. He was going to help Guppy all he could.’
He said he was resigned to Johnson entering Number Ten but added, prophetically: ‘I just don’t think you’re fit to be Prime Minister. At the very least, come clean on all your skeletons in the closet. I’m sure this is just one of them.’
Incidentally, Collier was a colourful character in his own right, as former colleagues recall. While on the Mail he became involved in an acrimonious divorce battle which culminated in a stand-up row with his future ex-wife in the Family Court. When the judge remonstrated with him, Collier responded by calling him a ‘bewigged c**t’ and was unable to continue his journalistic duties for the next couple of weeks because he had been carted off to jail.
The legendary Fred (Part Two)
Following my piece here last month about the inimitable Fred Shawcross, I am delighted to report that he is very much still with us.
At the weekend I received a long handwritten letter (he obviously doesn’t do email) in which he brought me up to date and filled in a few gaps.
He recalled that in the late 1980s, while racing editor and columnist for the Today newspaper, he was headhunted to join Satellite Information Services as editorial director of a new division making programmes for British Satellite Broadcasting. He went on: ‘BSB had “squarials” and was in direct opposition to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV.
‘In those days there wasn’t room in the domestic market for two satellite TV companies so the banks went with Murdoch and BSB sank without trace virtually immediately, leaving me and my staff of ten out of a job. The fat salary, posh car, big detached house and flat in Muswell Hill went, too, and rather than hawk myself around London I crawled back to Bolton with only my self-respect to show for five or six turbulent years in “the Smoke”.’
As I said previously, Fred returned to sub-editing on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph. He also worked on the Bolton Evening News and contributed a column, ‘One Angry Man’, to both papers.
‘My return to Bolton triggered a renewal of my involvement in drumming. I helped to put together a six-handed group of former professional musicians called Jeriatric Jazz, doing gigs in pubs, clubs and festivals while simultaneously taking a residency in a Manchester private members’ club with a super-brilliant multi-keyboardist called Lee Longden.
‘The writing ended when both provincial evening papers could no longer afford the modest (very!) fees they were paying but the drumming kept me sane and active until March 2020 when Covid landed.’
Fred was released from the club after months of closure destroyed its income ‘thus ending 20-plus years of a happy and successful partnership with Lee. Jeriatric Jazz lost two members during the pandemic and, while they could be replaced, the opportunities for six-handed, gigging jazz ensembles have been all but wiped out.
‘This may give you the impression that I’m depressed to the point of self-harming but I assure you, Alan, I’m not. I refuse to quit until my body or my musical pals, never reluctant to inform a drummer he is “past it”, let me know I’m not up to it.’
Fred and his wife Judith moved for health reasons to Thornton-Cleveleys, north of Blackpool, five years ago after she developed breathing problems.
‘We’re far from infirm, just senior citizens. Jude is 84, I’m 88 on September 18 and have a concert gig on September 4. I’ll be there, God, and the medication, willing!’
Old jokes’ home
Two rashers of bacon, two sausages, two fried eggs and some baked beans walk into a pub and order four pints. ‘Sorry,’ says the barman, ‘we don’t serve breakfast.’
A PS from PG
Nannie Bruce, a tall, gangling light-heavyweight with a suggestion in her appearance of a private in the Grenadiers dressed up to play the title role in Charley’s Aunt, was one of those doggedly faithful retainers who adhere to almost all old families like barnacles to the hulls of ships. She was as much a fixture as the stone lions or the funny smell in the attic.
PG Wodehouse: Cocktail Time