Tavener’s Tales 4 A gun barrel of laughs

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: Jane Asher, left, and Kate Buffery in Wish Me Luck

DATELINE TOULOSE or is it Toulon? ROGER TAVENER is you tou pissed to care

IT’S 4.30 am and the place is bouncing. Literally. Showbiz hacks are well used to a hard day’s night. It’s a tradition.

After an evening on the lash, it’s back to someone’s hotel room, arms loaded with the contents of at least half-a-dozen mini-bars.

We’re somewhere in southern France. Toulon, Toulouse?  Tou-pissed to care, let alone remember.

Tonight it’s my room and the MTV classic rock channel is cranked to the max. That’s 11 on the official Spinal Tap scale.

There’s always a crazy kind of pogo-ing on the bed; half a dozen of Fleet Street’s finest, bottle in either hand bed-bouncing. Yes, extremely immature and exceptionally dangerous.

Fags (more of the sadly-departed Molester Middlehurst later) dangling from effete fingers threatening to burn holes in retinas. Although most are still wearing sunglasses. Not posing. Simply forgotten to take them off. 


Richard Wallace, pictured right – known as Wallacio because it sounds like fellatio – is a giant version of Rik Mayall, and in danger of a trip to A&E after burying his head in the ceiling.

Little Lester, showbiz editor of Today, spins off the bed – in gymnastic terms a triple salchow  –and ends in a crumpled heap at the foot of the door. 

He’s earned the sobriquet ‘Molester’ for his forays into the, er, pink, underworld on foreign trips. He’s home early tonight but appears to be either unconscious or dead or, most boringly of all, asleep.

 It doesn’t help when there’s a terrifying rap on the door. Maybe someone’s late for the party? It’s taking an age to peel Molester off the carpet so we can open the damn thing.

The hammering’s incessant now. Perhaps it’s the London Weekend Television producer. He’d last been seen entering a brothel in the red light district with a rather determined look on his face.

“Fuck me, give us a chance, Molester’s blocking the entrance,”  I slur as I pull open the door.

It’s the very-up-himself actor, Jeremy Northam. Now a movie hunk and Hollywood ‘A’ lister.

Back in the late 80’s he was a fairly well-known British television face and star of the WWII drama series, Wish Me Luck, about female spies behind enemy lines. We are here to interview the cast. That’s going to be fun. 

Apparently, the poor thespian is in the room next door and hasn’t had a “fucking wink of sleep all fucking night” and has a 6am make-up call before a heavy day’s shooting.

“Oh don’t worry about it darling,” offers Molester sagely from his prone position on the floor. “Have a little drinkie. It’ll help you sleep.”


“Don’t be fucking ridiculous,” Northam, pictured left, counters. “I’m going to call the management and get the police. You haven’t heard the last of this.”

To a chorus of “Fuck off”,  Northam exits stage right. 

With a new-found sense of responsibility we decide to end the party. At least in that room. We decant to another, one floor down.

We get a few hours sleep and await room-service breakfast ordered overnight. 

Jeremy Northam is about to get the same early morning treat. Not that he’s aware of it. One of the hacks has filled out the petit dejeuner form ordering five strips of raw bacon, four very runny unboiled eggs and uncooked blood sausage (black pudding) for 5.30 am and hung it on his door handle. 

10am : Off to the set. It’s a dusty, rustic village somewhere outside Tou-pissed-to-Care. 

Molester has volunteered to apologise for our behaviour.  “Oh, they’ll see the funny side of it,” he suggests blowing a Gitane smoke ring.

The filming is in a quaint square which looks pretty much like it must have done nearly 50 years ago.

It has a wonderful little zinc bar which becomes our base. We play table football against cast members and locals. 

Wallacio is getting on extremely well with female lead Kate Buffery.  A strapping lass at what seems like nearly seven feet tall, she’s a perfect fit for the man who will one day edit the Daily Mirror. They even team up as a doubles partnership (we nod knowingly…) We wish him luck.

Actresses Jane Asher and Catherine Schell have a go in attack. It’s a tasty front line to be fair. 

Are you the fucker who kept Mr Northam awake all night? Spitting expletive-laden threats, he pulls up his trouser leg and yanks a revolver from a holster just above his ankle.

I’m sitting at a nearby wine-laden table with the rest of the pack when a heavily-tattooed crew member, a gaffer or best boy or some-such daft-named technician, picks up two carafes and pours them on the floor. 

“Are you the fucker who kept Mr Northam awake all night ?” He’s two inches from my face and stinks of cheap brandy.

I respond, rather too cockily, that I couldn’t claim the credit for that alone. There were a few of us involved.

Spitting expletive-laden threats, he pulls up his trouser leg and yanks a revolver from a holster just above his ankle.

He’s waving the firearm in my face and I can recognise that familiar oily odour. I used to shoot .22s and .303s in the old Air Training Corps. I recognise the gun barrel lubricant .This is a real gun. No prank.

I spend nano-seconds considering this could be a fine piece of acting to scare the crap out of me. Unlikely however as he’s so bloody convincing he would be appearing in the show, not carting scenery about.

Time’s standing still. And, almost in slow-motion, a couple of stage hands are trying to smother him. But now he’s turned on them and they are backing-off. Hands in the air.

Suddenly he screams:  “Fuck you all,” turns and runs out of the bar and into the square.

We’re advised to get back to the hotel. We don’t like that idea. He might be waiting there or even just outside in the square.

The cops turn up. We can’t keep straight faces. The conversation is like something out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. The gunman has now hijacked a local’s car after waving her down and threatening her with the firearm.

It feels like a shoot-out at the OK Corral is imminent.

“Encore des carafes si vous plait monsieur.”

We await the gendarmes.

Some dark humour splits the silence. 

There’s going to be a lot of firing going on when we get back. Somebody’s going to get the bullet. He was a barrel of laughs.

The cops turn up. We can’t keep straight faces. The conversation is like something out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. It’s not making a lot of sense. And it’s about to get a whole lot more serious.

The gunman has now hijacked a local’s car after waving her down and threatening her with the firearm.

A manhunt has been launched. Hundreds of cops have sealed off highways throughout the south of France. All air and sea ports are in lock-down. Security is code Black, its highest level.

An hour or so later we make the afternoon news bulletin. Shocked residents talk about a British madman who held up a villager in broad daylight and is now a major threat to the public. Sacre Bleu.

No-one is at all sure where he is, which is more than a little scary.

The police escort us back into town and tell us to split-up and book into different hotels. We must tell no-one as it might leak through the LWT crew to the vigilante. British embassy diplomats are on their way from Paris.


LWT boss Michael Grade, pictured right, exclaims “What the fuck ?” when he’s informed of the developments on his return from a rather good lunch.

We must all return to the UK asap to see Grade and file a statement.

As we travel back we hear the gunman has been arrested at Calais and banged up awaiting trial. No bail as he is a flight risk, thank God.

He’s eventually jailed.

Wish Me Luck  is a huge ratings success and Grade commissions two further series.

But there are no further press trips to promote the show …

© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre