Here’s a teaser. Which British King and Queen stood rigidly to attention under the flag of the Soviet Union? That’s right, the hammer and sickle not the swastika, which would be Edward V111. I’m grateful to my old chum Alex Milligan for this one. The answer is Kilmarnock football players Andy King and Gerry Queen who did so in February 1967 when the red flag flew over Rugby Park honouring the visiting Russian Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin.

Kosygin had been in Glasgow, where he did an unofficial walkabout in George Square and was mobbed, and was in Ayrshire to visit the Hunterston nuclear power station and take in the game against Rangers. He was there as the guest of Secretary of State Willie Ross, who was the local MP but also the unofficial Scottish PM. Killie lost 2-1 in front of a crowd of 31,551 and there was pitch invasion by Rangers fans at the end, so since then the only thing that has changed is the sizes of the crowds.

Gerry Queen, who was a glamorous chap, was sold to Crystal Palace from Killie for £30,000, about £5 million in today’s money, and went on to provide one of the great newspaper headlines of all time when he was sent off for fighting in a home game against Manchester City: Queen in brawl at the Palace.


Barry Manilow was 77 last week, although you probably don’t care. Or the fact that he’s bringing his canon of MOR hits to Glasgow next year, and perhaps a large supply of monkey gland serum. There’s nothing wrong with being old, I can testify, but when I saw that 100 staff of the Theatre Royal in Plymouth were being made redundant it brought back memories, and not pleasant ones.

For some reason best known to Baz he decided to launch his three-million dollar musical, Copacabana, named after one of his hits apparently, in Plymouth. The storyline, I learn from Wikipedia, involves a young songwriter teleporting back to 1947 or something, although I don’t know if there was rationing, probably not considering the budget. This was in the 90s when things were a bit wacky, which may explain the plot and the choice of venue. Or perhaps they were just trying out to a provincial audience before taking it to the West End, which they did later?

His PR people mounted an offensive and for some reason I was flown to the theatre when it was in rehearsals, to write a piece about it. In those days Plymouth had an airport so it was an easy commute and I wasn’t paying so all seemed fine until I actually got there. People were ritually forelock-touching and averting their eyes when the great man strode through the place. When I made a move to go to him and ask him a few questions I was rugby tackled, put in an arm lock by minders and sent to a gulag for re-education. All right, I exaggerate, but not by much. I was told by the minders that I couldn’t speak to Bazza.

“So what am I doing here on your expense”, I asked, I think not unreasonably. “He doesn’t talk to the media,” responded the one with the pliers at my teeth. “You mean,” I spluttered, “he wants to publicise his show without actually talking about it?” That was exactly it.

But I could talk to Gary Wilmot, the star. I didn’t actually know who he was, which illustrates the grip I have on popular culture. So I asked Gaz what Baz was like, but he wouldn’t answer. Perhaps he had never actually spoken to him? I asked that but he wouldn’t answer that either. Although he was open about everything else, whatever that was, because by now I had decided that I really didn’t care and I’d go visit my in-laws, who lived nearby and had a season ticket for the theatre.

I have interviewed hosts of people, from politicians and dictators to rock stars and actors and it’s usually such a stilted process, you’re in a hotel room surrounded by lackeys who want you out as soon as you sit down, the subject hates you but is selling something, and you’re giving up a little bit of your soul, in exchange for the cheque, but never has a non-interview stuck so vividly in my mind. I’m going to put in a request to talk to Barry when he comes to the SECC next May, if we’re both still sentient, but I doubt if I’ll be successful. Still, we’ll always not have Plymouth.


Perhaps if the Theatre Royal had actually been called the John Hawkins Theatre, after the city’s most famous slaver who, with his cousin Francis Drake (yes, him!) enslaved around 3000 Africans, the government would be rushing to protect it, like it has been doing with the statues of slavers?


My younger daughter got the keys for her first house on Thursday, on the same day she was also, like many others, remotely made redundant from her job as a management trainee with Enterprise, the US car hire company which attracts you to its wares with adverts featuring Gerard Butler falling to earth into one of its vehicles. There is an immeasurable amount of suspension of belief involving Enterprise.

I appreciate this is a relatively minor tragedy compared to the horrendous ones families are going through dealing with Covid and its grisly consequences, but it does have lessons. And Caitlin doesn’t deserve it and has had it hard these last years, not least with her mother dying and so not there when she received her degree (first class), which is a chasm that can never be filled.

She wouldn’t have completed on a mortgage if she had known that Enterprise were going to use furlough money to cover a period of review and consultation before axing staff anyway.

If she has to go on universal credit while looking for another job (are there any jobs?) she won’t get any help with the mortgage, unlike if she was renting, for 39 weeks.

Enterprise, of course, doesn’t recognise unions. Its employees, apart for the high heid yins, are on a 48-hour contract with a salary of £21k, and rather than training for management they’re effectively chauffeurs. The company’s USP is that it delivers cars to your door, which obviously involves two cars, one to deliver, the other to take the delivery driver back. It doesn’t do much for the environment either.

While it was furloughing most of its staff Enterprise claimed to be providing essential services because it had contracts with the NHS and local authorities. I hope these will now be reconsidered given the way the company treats staff. There is surely a greater issue about this use of furlough money, given without conditions. The cash was meant to retain jobs, not to subsidise companies while they went about shedding them. When the Government’s furlough subsidy runs out at the end of July Caitlin will receive one week’s redundancy pay.

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