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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

*

Come out of hiding in the Bush, Duke, we know you’re in there

Drone sleuths hunt him down

DUNNY OLD WORLD: Artist’s impression by Drone Laboratories

The Duke is risen! Not Edinburgh, or Ellington. And certainly not the Thin White one, though he sometimes had the same spectral quality.


I refer, of course, to Chris Djukanovic, legendary former Picture Editor of this parish, who has broken a decade-long silence (or more) to write to the Editor of The Drone commending his organ.


But he is still insisting on his secret squirrel routine, obstinately refusing to reveal his whereabouts except to say, “Somewhere in Australia”.


In the spirit of William Hickey, c. 1985, who under the great explorer Peter Tory launched a search for The Lost City of Basingstoke, I intend to put together an expedition to scour the colony for our own Wizard of Oz.


Anyone who wishes to join our noble endeavour can write c/o The Drone. Realising that we might need some expertise, I have put out feelers to Ranulph Fiennes, Jenny Agutter and Crocodile Dundee. I’ll let you know if they’re up for it.


Australia is an outdoor country, according to Barry Humphries, whose alter ego Dame Edna Everage added: “People only go inside to use the toilet. And that’s only a recent development.”


The Duke figured as the central character in one of my favourite jokes of that Fleet Street period. Someone rang the Desk seeking the name of the Picture Editor.


Mick Lidbury, one of the Duke’s lieutenants, said: “Chris Djukanovic, I’ll spell that for you. C-H-R-I-S and Djukanovic the usual way.”


In an era when the Express rightly took great pride in its picture operation, Djukanovic was the brilliant ringmaster: shrewd and with impeccable connections. And his man management skills mostly kept some unruly egos in check.


It was a golden age for photographers – a few became genuinely rich – and the Duke had some of the greats at his disposal. Steve Wood’s work on Royal tours and fashion shoots was high class and always pin-sharp, even when snapping Princess Diana and Fergie on Swiss ski slopes.


John Downing risked his life alongside reporter Ross Benson in Afghanistan and Tom Smith yomped across the Falklands with 3 Para and witnessed their heroics on Mount Longdon.


Each night, freelancer Richard Young would bring in a selection of pictures of celebrities taken as they left The Ivy or San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place on unsteady legs. Something to brighten up the third edition.


And the Desk was staffed by solid professionals, too. As well as Lidbury and the ever-dependable Terry Evans, who went on to find his niche as Picture Editor of the Sunday Express, there was Peter “Pinky” Floyd, who often ran things at night.


Floyd knew everyone and could magically and mysteriously produce a quality set of exclusive snaps. But he was held in affection and respect by the Backbench for his frequent late-night visits to Brick Lane in London’s East End. He would return with smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels for everyone.


The Duke, always taciturn, once seemed to lose the power of speech altogether at an afternoon news conference.


Perhaps he was choked with emotion over a particularly tragic splash – we had a lot of those – or maybe he was suddenly struck by tonsilitis.


But when it came to his turn to speak, the Duke opened his mouth… and not a word emerged. The Editor waited a few seconds, then gave an indulgent, fatherly smile and moved on.


I hope the Duke is enjoying his life in Australia. He has earned the right to put his feet up and enjoy a few “tinnies”.


As Bruce Chatwin wrote: “Being lost in Australia gives you a lovely sense of security.” 


But Drone’s detectives are on their way and the net is closing.


*****

If even a fraction of the allegations made against comedian Russell Brand are true, then the television industry will be confirmed as the cesspit I have always suspected it was.


A place where ratings figures have replaced the Ten Commandments; where the “talent” is treated like Royalty, its every whim indulged, however perverted.


The headlines in yesterday’s newspapers point to one of the key issues. “What did TV chiefs know?” asks the Mirror. And the Telegraph reports: “BBC forced into urgent inquiry over Brand”. While the i alleges: “‘An open secret’: Russell Brand broadcasters face questions over ‘failures’”.


One executive named in The Times’s coverage was Lesley Douglas, who was controller of 6 Music and Radio 2 at the time of the notorious Sachsgate scandal, when Brand and Jonathan Ross phoned actor Andrew Sachs (who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers) live on Radio 2 and left a message boasting gleefully that Brand had slept with his granddaughter.


Brand, in his memoir My Booky Wook 2, said that the BBC did not contact him in the days after the row broke “but for Lesley, who told me not to worry and that we’d be alright.”


He claimed that during his time on Radio 2, the “incredibly tolerant” Douglas had “nurtured, nourished and indulged me, as any good woman should.”


The vile Sachsgate incident cost Douglas her job and eventually Jonathan Ross his lucrative contract and many thousands of pounds in lost earnings. The BBC was fined £150,000.


Top TV stars, including the narcissistic weirdo Brand, are paid hundreds of thousands to keep the viewing and listening figures high, even by the BBC, which doesn’t survive on advertising revenue and so needn’t give a tuppenny damn about ratings.


More women came forward at the weekend with allegations about the behaviour of Brand, who already faces a damning catalogue of accusations by women variously claiming he subjected them to rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse.


We do not yet know the truth of these claims and Brand posted a video on Friday on his YouTube channel in which he “absolutely refutes” the “litany of astonishing, rather baroque, attacks” reported by the The Times newspapers and Channel 4’s Dispatches.


He is, of course, entitled to the presumption of innocence. But hasn’t he already muddied those waters? His books describe drug-taking – rife throughout TV – and rampant sexual excesses. His whole career has been built on the image of a man with no boundaries, someone who talks and behaves outrageously.


If this comes to court, and that looks more likely with every passing day, is a jury meant to forget Sachsgate, or Brand’s creepy conversation with paedophile Jimmy Savile in which he offered to bring his female personal assistant, naked, to massage the notorious pervert and child abuser?


Brand is an actor and clearly has a talent for reappearing chameleon-like in a different guise. After he disappeared from our screens, he reinvented himself as a political pundit with intellectual pretensions. Then suddenly he was an online influencer, a wellness guru, a spiritual figurehead.


Give me strength. Everything about the 48-year-old Brand, from Grays, Essex – even his whiny, effete voice – screams SLEAZE.


A career that lives by the sword is liable to die the same way.


And, while it may prove not to be his gravest crime, he wasn’t even funny.


*****

You’ve gotta love the Japanese fans at the Rugby World Cup. They didn’t travel to France with any expectation of seeing their team triumph. They are there just for the pure joy of watching rugby and maybe a for a nice holiday.


As they played England on Sunday evening, giggling women waved their Rising Sun flags, men wearing spectacles with revolving eyeballs attached gurned for the cameras and several wore Samurai warrior outfits.


They were clearly having great fun, even if their team were eventually soundly beaten (though not without difficulty) by England.


I don’t usually pay much attention to this stage of the World Cup – it is mostly mismatches or tiddlers playing each other. But the innocent enthusiasm of the Japanese was a much-needed antidote to hulking, hatchet-faced blokes tearing their hair out in the coaching boxes.


*****

I read a report yesterday that underlined my recent piece about the dismantling of the Welfare State. More than half a million extra pensioners will claim disability benefits over the next decade and many will stay on them for life, it claimed. The cost could reach £10 billion.


Only by growing a money tree is this possible. In reality, benefits will be spread so thinly that they will be meaningless.


I thought I had voted for a Tory Government. But the bill for pensions, the National Health Service and payments to the jobless just keeps rising. What happened to low taxes and personal responsibility?


I don’t think I can bring myself to vote at the next General Election. Maybe when they pick some Tories to stand for office.