Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

The Back Page

By , July 25, 2012 5:15 am

Today is a red letter day.   Some of us have waited a long time for the creeps and scumbags who worked for The News of the World to face the ugly music they created.

Let’s face it, The News of the World with their God given right to hound and bully people, was always a nasty rag: in the Fifties exposing sex amongst the middle classes and the endless naughty vicars who in those more innocent days had sex only with young women.  Of course they hounded gays, but they were asking for it weren’t they?   Often they hounded people to death.

Early on they discovered just how cheap it is to bribe policemen, Detective ranks particularly,  and in the Sixties they happily collaborated with the Metropolitan Police busting pop stars for possessing grass and helping to plant drug evidence to ensure conviction for The Stones and some Beatles.

With the coming of Murdoch the scene changed.  Suddenly he had five newspapers and they could change Governments.  “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” in the famous phrase of Baron Acton¸ but I prefer the finer quote from Stanley Baldwin attacking Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere (the leading press barons of his day) in a phrase suggested by his cousin  Rudyard Kipling:  “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.”

During the Seventies there were legendary tales of fearless News of the World reporters bribing and sexually entrapping celebs and politicians in pubs and clubs and hotel rooms.   I once watched two young ladies making out in the Gents at a London club attempting to seduce a famous footballer friend of mine, who shall remain blameless, as he rolled his eyes and mentioned the name of the Publicist who was paying these girls to entrap anyone who wandered in for a quiet piss. How English is all this?  Hypocritical.  Devious.  Yes, very English.  The pursuit of unhappiness seems to be the watchword of the British Press, who are even more depressing than the English weather.

I first became aware of the devious dark arts of The News of the Screws in the early Eighties when a certain Mr. Jagger, a vocalist and avid cricket fan, invited me to stay with him and watch the Barbados Test Match.  On the first morning in the Pavilion our lovely American ladies were taught the rules of cricket by the legendary Geoffrey Boycott.  As we left him he was gently touching various parts of their bodies. “You can’t be out LBW here, you can’t be out LBW here,” his hands becoming ever more explicit.  I think finally they learned that Tits Before Wicket was not out.

As we made our excuses and left him to his fascinating lecture he looked up at me and said “’Ow come you and Mick have such lovely girls?”

“Well Geoffrey,” I said “There’s more ways than one of opening for England.”

At the time the English cricket team were being heavily beaten by a very strong West Indian side, and were obviously fairly glum about it, not only being thrashed on the field, but thrashed in the newspapers next day by the hacks, who, sozzled on rum, bum and expenses and sizzled by the sun had nothing much to do but lie around hotel pools and watch cricket.  (That’s a job?  Ed.)

Young, fit, healthy, athletic men on tour have been known to attempt to enjoy themselves, and  one of the greatest all-rounders ever to play for England had caught the attentions of the Press, penis envy being their number one vice.   This young man was having a problem with The News of The World, and was suing them for suggesting that he was having sex and drugs, not particularly surprising since everybody else in the Seventies was.  His error of course was to sue.  It’s often a bad idea to sue for what you might have been doing, (did Oscar die in vain?) but in his case the whole might of the Paper turned on him to expose his case.

At a break in play at the Barbados Oval, Mr. Jagger, who always has his ear very firmly to the ground, warned this young man that there was an entrapment plan in place.  A minor British film star whose name no one remembers had been paid by The News of the World to set him up and seduce him.  The classic honey trap.

“Oh I know all about her” he said.  “That’s no problem.”

Later that night, several of the players resorted to Mick and Jerry’s rented villa in the hills.  Accompanying the bowler was a girl I knew a little, a former Miss Barbados, quite young and certainly very attractive.  She told me she had brought white powder with her, but I was not interested in losing my brain cells although I could not help noticing that there some guests who appeared to have a lot of sinus problems and were forced to make frequent bathroom visits, which meant they talked a lot of nonsense very fast whenever they came out of the loo.  Mick and I shook our heads.  He is a wise man, and sees all.  Since I was with my goddess Tania I retired early to talk about the cricket, and to help her understand more about the LBW rules….

Next day it was blazoned all over the The News of the World, “My night with an English cricketer, sex, drugs etc. etc..”   She had turned him in.  She was a second string attack.  I think she got $15,000.    Collapse of his case of course.

Having witnessed this at first hand I was unsure what to do.  I was actually shocked.   Naïve and foolish, I know,  but the whole story intrigued me.  I am not a journalist.  It didn’t seem appropriate to write to the newspapers, so I wrote a musical.  Silly really, but it was about Sex, Royalty and Cricket, and was done on Radio Four with lovely songs by John Du Prez. I played a sinister journalist called Pile, and Gary Wilmott played a hotel owner called Nelson, “We turn a blind eye to most things.”   It didn’t stop the world, but it started a career.

Of course in hindsight those days now seem so naïve.  If you read Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman you will see just how sinister and deeply corrupting the whole thing became, further involving the Police and Politicians and Phone Tapping.  I recommend you do….the book is an eye opener.

And watch more cricket.  It’s good for you.



Taylor Made

By , July 12, 2012 5:29 pm

Apart from Tania, a Swiss Army knife, an iPad, an iPod and of course iLiner, a travel guitar is essential for me when I’m on the road.  It has to be compact, sturdy and able to jam into an overhead bin and yet it must still sound great.   Not an easy combination.  For years I have searched for the perfect balance between sound, weight and cost.  Musser, one of my favorite luthiers, custom built me a handmade beauty which sounds superb but looks way too good and I’m always scared someone will nick it.  I do take it to Mexico, but I prefer the beautiful Parlor Guitar and a couple of others of his, which are simply exquisite, but of course they are too good to risk.  A travel guitar needs to take some knocks and not break your heart if it gets pinched.  I have tried several electric travellers, but then you need to hump all the electronics and you end up playing with headphones or plugging in mini systems which defeats the purpose, which is to play happily while waiting for the wife to get out of the bath.

To avoid the problem I try and stash guitars round the world in friend’s houses, and I have found kindly disposed guitar shops will hostel them for me, because I don’t like having to haul them on airplanes, I don’t like being in hotels without one and I can’t go for more than a few days without playing because you lose your pads and then it hurts like hell – think of fingering a cheese-grater.  So this year was a problem.  We were off to a wedding in Henley, and then going to Bath and Venice, and it would be at least two weeks before I found my next stashed guitar.  Too long.   And you must sing in Venice, at least to shut up the gondoliers and annoy the tourists, while in Bath….well there must be a Jane Austen song, or ironically, haven’t I written it yet?

My lovely luthier friend Danny Ferrington made a beauty of a mini guitar for Jeff Lynne back in The Wilbury days, which I always pick up and admire whenever Jeff permits me to come over and hear his amazing new music (coming this Fall)  so I asked Danny to make me one, but that will take him a while.  Danny is a sunset man who has his priorities right:  and he won’t make a guitar for just anyone….

Jeff himself travels with a little rough guitar, which is virtually a plank of wood with a small sound board, which he can chuck into a suitcase, not unlike The Rutles guitar I had Danny make for George Harrison, and boy can Jeff make that plank sound great.  But then he is Jeff Lynne.  I require more help from the guitar, but the Ferrington won’t be ready before the fall, so I faced my usual dilemma, what to take on the road?

Fortunately this year for my birthday Kevin Nealon, the tall sweet funny man with the banjo, gave me a Gift Card at The Guitar Centre and there I found a guitar as good as almost any I have ever owned.  It’s a Taylor for less than $400 called a GS Mini, and it’s a real beauty.  An absolute cracker.   I’m crazy about it.  I can’t put it down. I can’t wait to  pick it up. It sounds great, it’s easy to play, and the acoustics are magnificent. It also comes with a very strong, light, padded, traveling bag, so bless them, they have thought of everything.

I have had Baby Taylor’s before, and even a Baby Grand which I left behind on Tomburoa in Fiji, because the local boys played so well on crap guitars and it was the least I could do, but this GS Mini leaves them all dead in its wake. In fact for pure tone, and for depth and purity of sound it leaves most guitars behind.

I once toured the Taylor factory in San Diego with Clint Black, because I wrote with him a new intro for The Galaxy Song, which he recorded for his D’Electrified album.  Movingly for both of us it was Clint’s version they played from space on the last morning of the Space Shuttle last year.  Personally I think they should have played mine but you know these Texans….Anyway Clint asked for a new intro to the song as opposed to the old Python lyrics:

Whenever life gets you down Mrs. Brown

And things seem hard and tough….

….which he felt didn’t apply when he sang it on stage, so together we wrote and recorded this:

When you’re feeling inside out and insecure

And life keeps getting you down

When all life’s daily worries

Hurry through your head

You don’t wanna even get up

You just lie around in bed


When you feel you just can’t take it anymore

And you wonder what on earth it is all for

Your love life’s like a war zone

Your TV’s on the blink

It’s enough to drive a drinking man

To stop and take a think.


Just remember…etc

(Recorded with Clint Black for Delectrified in 1999)

Anyway out of the kindness of his heart Clint gave me a lovely Taylor, and arranged for us to visit the factory, which if you are a guitar freak is fascinating.   It’s certainly the first time I have ever been in a Board Room where people pulled out guitars for a jam.  So thanks Brothers Taylor, for this very travelable, very fine guitar, which accompanied me to Henley, Bath, London and Venice, and is now happily accompanying me to Biarritz for a family wedding in a rented Peugeot. The wife is driving, Clint Black is on the CD player, and life is good….

Just remember….