Archives for December 2011

THE GHOSTS IN THE LIVING ROOM

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Adam Curtis | 11:33 AM, Thursday, 22 December 2011

Here is a ghost story for Christmas - it is a brief history of the appearance of ghosts and poltergeists and other spirits on television. Not fictional ghosts - but real ones, or the reports of their appearances, that you find in various news and documentary programmes.

But as so often when one looks at material in the archives, it turns out that it tells you less about the subjects of the programmes - the ghosts - than about the strange medium that possesses modern society - television.

In 1992 the BBC transmitted a drama that was based on a number of the factual reports I am going to show. The underlying aim of the makers of the drama was not just to frighten, but to demonstrate in a vivid way what had happened to the very idea of reality in television.

It was called Ghostwatch, and it caused a national sensation because thousands of viewers believed it was real. And, at the time, the BBC promised never to show it again.

I want to tell the story of the rise of the suburban poltergeist in factual TV from the 1970s onwards, how those reports inspired Ghostwatch, and how the extraordinary reaction on the night Ghostwatch was transmitted in 1992 showed clearly where the real ghosts of our society had now gone to live. They are inside television itself  - a strange nether world of PR-driven half truths, synthetic personalities, and waves of apocalyptic fear.

 

In the 1950s and early 1960s the reporting of ghosts on television followed the classical rules. The hauntings were in old houses, stately homes, or ancient ruins. Here is a perfect example. It is from the Tonight programme in 1963. The reporter also follows an accepted format - he is indulgently sceptical, but brings with him a religious "expert" who is going to exorcise the presence.

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But then, in the early 1970s, there was a peculiar change. The ghosts moved. They gave up haunting old castles and ruins and moved into the most ordinary suburban houses.

The battle between good and evil was now relocated into the suburban kitchens, bedrooms and even the stairs of modern Britain. Throughout, the ghosts also showed perfect taste in wallpaper.

Here is an extract from one of the earliest. It is the haunting of a council house in Swindon in 1973.

At this stage the film-makers are still following the classical editorial model. The local vicar brings in a religious "expert" to expel the poltergeist. The vicar smokes a fantastic pipe - and there is a wonderful shot of the Mr and Mrs Pellymounter watching the exorcism.

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As the suburban hauntings multiplied in the mid 1970s, the approach of the programme-makers changed. The idea of exorcism disappeared and the TV reporters decided to turn to science. They would use special recording equipment to discover whether the hauntings were real, and the stories were turned into a battle between superstition and reason.
 
Here is part of a film made by the BBC Northeast regional magazine programme in 1975. It's about a 1960s block of maisonettes that have been built over an old disused coal mine just outside Newcastle.

The reporter and the crew decide to stay all night in an empty flat - and set up their special cameras and audio recording equipment.

There also a wonderful long-held shot in which one of the haunted occupants shows the reporter what the spirit did with his golf clubs.

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The poltergeists kept spreading.

In January 1977 one turned up at 16 Ruskin Road, Dartford in Kent. Ann and Barry Robertson who lived there were terrified and are fleeing the house as the film starts.

There is a change in this film. The suburban couple at the heart of the story are no longer secondary figures in the story. They turn it into an emotional melodrama where they become the focus - Ann especially who has an epic turn of phrase:

"I can't even face taking the furniture with me because this thing - whatever it is - has interfered with my home. It's touched my things. And I'm so frightened that I won't even take the things with me now. So we're back to square one where we started. With nothing"

Suddenly suburbia becomes not boring - but sinister, mysterious and epic.

The film also interviews the man from Dartford Council who Ann and Barry are demanding rehouse them. He is sympathetic but then comes out with a great quote - "I'm afraid the Dartford Council Transfer Points Scheme doesn't recognise ghosts - and therefore they can't be pointed".

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And then - ten months later in November 1977 - the Nationwide programme made a film which brought all the elements of the modern haunted house together into a perfect form. And it also introduced a powerful new character into the melodrama - the psychic investigator who was determined to prove that the haunting was real.

A poltergeist had apparently turned up in a house in the north London suburb of Ponders End in the borough of Enfield. The Nationwide film was going to make this house famous.

 

And along with the house, the film would also make a star out of this man - he was Maurice Grosse who was an investigator for the Society for Psychical Research. Maurice Grosse would come to dominate the TV-ghostworld interface.

 

The film is beautifully made. It is possibly the best evocation of the mood that is at the heart of all these film reports - a transformation of the dull interior of an ordinary suburban house into an intense psycho-drama where even the most mundane of objects, in this case a Lego-block, becomes possessed by an inner destructive force.

And the poltergeist has by now gone beyond wallpaper. It has chosen the most wonderful bedroom to live in. The walls are covered with Bay City Rollers and David Soul posters. And the shot of an elderly psychic investigator sitting among the images of late 70s teen dreams while listening to the recordings of himself communicating with the poltergeist is just brilliant.

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The fascination with the Enfield haunting didn't stop there. Two years later BBC Scotland made another film inside the house.

This time they concentrated on the two daughters  - Margaret and Janet Hodgson. The crew filmed the two girls as the poltergeist seems to speak through Janet, the strange voice coming and going in front of the camera.

 

It is weird and a bit frightening - but you also think that she may be faking it. And it is fascinating to watch the long held shots of the two daughters, studying their faces to try and work out what they are up to. And it introduces a new element into these haunting stories - that children are not innocent, but potentially malicious and a bit dangerous (like in The Innocents). A modern fear that was going to grow much bigger in the 1990s - especially again on TV.

The girls have since said that they faked some of the incidents in the house. But they insist that they were only doing this to test and tease Mr Grosse - and that much of it was real.

The Scottish crew had also got their own mini-scoop. They persuaded the police who had seen the chair levitate inside the house in 1977 to describe it. It is a fantastic two-shot.

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The Enfield haunting became famous, and so did the psychic investigator, Maurice Grosse. He was completely convinced by the two Hodgson girls from Ponders End  and it launched him on a thirty-year odyssey to try and fight against the rise of what he saw as a narrow-minded sceptical rationalism in Britain.

Grosse was a wonderful person. He died in 2006 aged 87. He had been trained as an engineer - and back in the 1940s he had become an inventor. His most famous invention was called "The Cost-Effective Poster Machine". It is better known as the rotating poster display which you can still see today at thousands of bus stops.

 

In 1976 Maurice Grosse's 22 year old daughter died in a traffic accident. It devastated both him and his wife. But then Maurice came to believe that his daughter was trying to make contact with him from beyond the grave. This led him to join the Society for Psychical Research - and that took him into the Enfield house just a year later.

Maurice Grosse was well aware that his quest to contact the supernatural was driven by the intense feelings of loss he had experienced through his daughter's death. This made him intensely sympathetic to the people he encountered in his investigations.

In 1996 Grosse made a Video Diary with the BBC. He went around with a Hi-8 camera, operating it himself. He then had full editorial control - and used it to put together a beautiful and moving film.

It is structured around various of his visits to hauntings - both past and present - but he uses that structure to also tell the story of his life - both factual and emotional. He describes his daughter's death and the feelings that raised in him, and the odyssey it led him into, in a very moving way.

One of the most touching moments is when he sits in an ordinary living room and talks to a couple who believe their dead son appears to them on their television. Grosse himself then becomes overtaken by emotion and has to leave the room

As you watch the film it becomes clear that Grosse believes that it is these intense feelings that give people, and the places they live in, the power to summon up poltergeists. The feelings give people something special - the power to pierce through the disappointing reality of their suburban lives and enter into something new and special. Another, and possibly better, world of high drama and raised emotion.

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In 1988 a TV dramatist called Stephen Volk had an idea for a six-part drama based on all these suburban hauntings - the story would focus on how television had reported them. Volk's original idea was to have a TV reporter team up with a psychical researcher to investigate the haunting of a contemporary London council house. It was going to culminate in the final episode with a live broadcast from the house - and all hell was going to break loose.

Then Volk's producer, Ruth Baumgarten, suggested that instead they make a one-off play based on the sixth episode. Volk agreed. And he immediately realised that he could use the structure of a live outside broadcast to make a powerful drama that demonstrated dramatically what was happening to television as a medium - how the line between reality and fiction was getting blurred.

Out of that came Ghostwatch.

 

A few years ago Stephen Volk wrote a fantastic essay about the making of Ghostwatch. It was published by the Fortean Times. And you can find the whole thing here.

In it Volk describes his underlying aim - to make people look at what was happening to reality on television:

Ghostwatch was, of course, also about television.

It’s quite difficult now to think back to the televisual landscape of 1992. Formats that dissolve the boundaries between factual and fictional TV have since become the staple diet of the schedules, and it’s difficult to imagine a world where they were new or unusual. But this was the time of the first successful hybrids: docu-dramas and drama-docs. Drama series like NYPD Blue increasingly employed a hand-held camera style derived from documentary realism, and documentaries like Crimewatch and 999 were full of reconstructions using actors mix-and-matched to real footage of real people.

Ruth, the producer, and I discussed how we both felt we could no longer trust what we were seeing, what we were being shown or told by TV. The lines between the once distinct languages of factual and fictional TV were becoming dangerously blurred. Even the CNN Gulf War reports on Newsnight (with the infrared camerawork we duplicated in Ghostwatch) felt suspect, somehow unreliable. What was drama and what was not?

But then Volk added a line that I think goes to the heart of what has happened to TV ever since. The strange paradox that, at the very time that the audience is becoming more and more aware that not everything on TV is real, that same audience feel that if an event appears on TV - that is a guide to whether it is real or not.

Yet, paradoxically, television had also become the arbiter of reality, as John Waite exemplified on hearing of the release of his hostage cousin Terry in November 1991: “I won’t believe it until I see it on TV.”

 

Ghostwatch was transmitted on Halloween 1992. It was quite obvious from both the introduction and the titles that it was a work of fiction. But the reaction was astonishing - thousands of people rang in - either terrified or angry or to report that they were experiencing paranormal activity in their house at that very moment.

The next day there was a media storm - and the BBC reacted in its normal courageous way by burying the programme and disowning it. The Radio Times was apparently told never to mention it ever again. And Volk has described how it was like being airbrushed out of a photograph in Stalinist Russia.

But the extraordinary reaction rather proved the central aim of the drama.

It demonstrated the truth about modern television - that we all know that increasingly the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurred on TV. But far from making us distrust television this actually makes it more powerful. It possesses our imagination more powerfully precisely because we don't know what is real and what is not.

I think the reason is that, from the early 1990s onwards, the big confident stories of our time started to collapse, and people were faced instead with an everyday reality composed only of small and mostly mundane fragments. In the face of that, factual television has increasingly become a two-dimensional version of our world where everything is amplified and distorted.

News reporting and factual television are populated today by a strange nether world of PR-driven half truths, synthetic personalities and waves of apocalyptic fear. It is a world that is like ours but is exaggerated - weird, wonderful and frightening.

It is just like living in a haunted suburban house on the fringes of North London - except that it is now the whole world. All the mundane and banal aspects of reality are taken and infused with an hysterical intensity - that we are both fascinated by and terrified of - whether it be food or Al Qaida. Yet we know in our hearts that much of this is either distorted or just untrue.

It is the true spirit world of our time

 

It is made even weirder because, at the same time, audiences are shown harsh and terrifying moments of reality, but they are also insubstantial 2D images flickering on a box in the living room. They don't feel real, they look like a ghost world. Here is an example.

The tiny white figures you see that look like ghosts are actually still alive. But probably not for very long.

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And here are some extracts from Ghostwatch - which show how much it was rooted in the suburban poltergeist reports of the 1970s. But also how it used them to brilliantly evoke the mood at the heart of today's television - where so much is half-fiction and half-real.

It is also very frightening - and a brilliant piece of TV drama. Just remember it's not real.

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THE BITCH, THE STUD AND THE PRAWN

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Adam Curtis | 14:16 PM, Thursday, 8 December 2011

THE RISE OF GEEZER CAPITALISM IN MODERN BRITAIN

It is very difficult to properly see the times you are living through, but it is made more difficult today by the insistence of politicians and commentators that there is no alternative to the present economic system. This almost hysterical mantra closes down other, different perspectives and makes it impossible to draw back and see what the present world is really like.

I've stumbled on a wonderful documentary film made in the 1960s that in an odd way does help give some kind of perspective on today. It's about two brothers called Billy and George Walker. Billy was a boxer and George was a gangster who became Billy's manager. The film is a beautiful record of the way two brilliant chancers were manipulating British society and the media at a moment in 1964.

Out of that moment would come a vast business empire - of property, leisure and films all run by George Walker, that rose up in the 1980s and then crashed spectacularly in 1991. If you follow the story of that empire it takes you on a behind-the-scenes journey that shows the truth behind many modern businesses in Britain - showy facades built on a mountain of debt.

But the story doesn't just stop there - because the ghost of George Walker, his family, and his business practices have continued to haunt  Britain in all sorts of odd ways. And the story suddenly brings into focus some of the attitudes underlying modern society. A world where many people  have become chancers like Billy and George Walker, out to get something for nothing.

 

George Walker was the elder of the two brothers. He began as a boxer himself, but in the mid 1950s he became a right-hand man to the most notorious of London gangsters - Billy Hill.

Billy Hill spent his time doing what he describes as "little tickles" - stealing from warehouses, holding up mail vans and even ram-raiding jewellery stores. Then in 1954 a group of Moroccan "businessmen" asked Billy to restore the Sultan of Morocco to his throne. The French had forced the Sultan out - and exiled him in Madagascar.  Billy and George went to Tangier, set up a fake insurance company called The American Fidelity Corporation to cover their activities, and bought a boat to go and get the Sultan.

But it all went terribly wrong. Interpol told the Moroccan police that they were "Britain's biggest bandits", and then someone torched the boat and Billy Hill and George Walker ended up fleeing to Cannes.

Later in his life Billy Hill published a wonderful autobiography called Boss of Britain's Underworld - and in the book he outed the by now famous tycoon, George Walker, as his sidekick. He confirmed it by publishing this photo of him and a young George Walker on the run sunbathing in the beach at Cannes.

 

George Walker then got caught trying to steal a consignment of nylons from the London docks and was sent to jail.

When he came out he gave up the gangster life and turned instead to managing his younger brother Billy who had become a boxer. Guided by his brother, Billy Walker soon became a star in Britain - famous far beyond the world of boxing.

In 1964 the BBC made a fly on the wall film called The World of Billy Walker. It is beautifully shot in a 60s cine verite style - and has some fantastic footage when Billy Walker goes to America that was shot for the BBC by the legendary documentary maker Albert Maysles.

The film captures the beginning of the rise of the two brothers - and the lost world of the 1950s east end where they come from. Here are some sections.

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But not everything was quite what it seemed in the world of the Walkers. Although Billy Walker was a good fighter - he never actually won a professional title. In reality he was an early modern celebrity - famous as much for who he was as for what he achieved.

And George Walker took that celebrity and used it to start building businesses - first garages, then their own brand of petrol called Punch Petrol, then a chain of fast food restaurants, followed by a nightclub in Piccadilly called Billy's Dilly.

In 1968 the BBC made a film analysing how George Walker was still able to use his brother's relative failure in the professional boxing world to create the businesses. The programme shows how, although Billy Walker loses the fights, he still gets a big cut of the purse. As George Walker bluntly says in the film. "We only box so we can invest".

But then the brothers split. George Walker wanted to borrow a vast amount of money - and Billy was too frightened. I have added a touching interview from the 1980s where the two brothers explain the split. It is a great moment - when Billy Walker says about his brother: "He can handle, what's the word for it? - oh yes, debt"

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At which point British cinema enters the story. First with Billy Walker.

In 1968 Billy Walker was badly defeated by Henry Cooper in another championship fight  - and he finally gave up boxing. He decided that he was going to become an actor instead. In 1970 he got a part in the film version of Up Pompeii playing a character called Prodigious.

 

Unfortunately the role was not a speaking one - but Billy decided that he could develop his range and he started to take acting lessons. In 1971 the Nationwide programme made a short film about Billy Walker learning to act. Here it is - and I have added on a clip from his next acting role. It is in Up The Chastity Belt - the sequel to Up Pompeii. This time the part is a speaking one. The character is called Chopper (you can see how Billy was getting typecast) - and you can observe the effect of the lessons.

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Meanwhile George Walker was turning himself into a "leisure tycoon". In 1974 he formed a company called Brent Walker - and built the Brent Cross Shopping centre on the old Hendon Greyhound track in North London.

And then he too turned to cinema. In 1977 he went to the Cannes Film festival - 23 years after he had first been there on the run from Tangier - and found himself sitting next to Joan Collins at lunch. He offered to finance a film based on the novel written by her sister Jackie, called The Bitch.

It was a great success and Brent Walker went on to fund the equally successful sequel, The Stud. It was the start of the rise of  George Walker as the saviour of the British Cinema industry.  This would culminate in the 1980s with him buying Goldcrest Films who were famous for making Chariots of Fire.

But like so much of what George Walker did, this wasn't quite what it seemed. It would later be revealed at a trial in the 1990s that Brent Walker had ruthlessly used the cinema part of the empire, and the films they made, in a scheme to fake profits for their whole business. Those fake profits were then used to persuade the banks to lend Brent Walker more money - so they could do more takeover deals.

Here is George Walker the film tycoon filmed as part of a documentary in 1982 about the new face of the British film industry - along with another outsider who has come into finance the movie renaissance "he's an Arab" says the shocked commentary - "he's called Dodi Fayed"

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In the late 80s Walker's film empire continued to grow. In 1987 he bought Elstree studios. The studios were sold to him by two great characters - the brothers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who ran Cannon Films.

In many ways they were the American model for what Walker was trying to become in Britain, an independent force that could challenge the big studios by making popular movies. And in the 1980s Golan and Globus pretty much invented the modern Action Movie - like the immortal Death Wish IV: The Crackdown along with comedies like Dumb Dicks - but most notorious was Delta Force starring Chuck Norris, made in the wake of the hijacking of a TWA plane in Beirut in 1986.

In 1987 the BBC made a wonderful fly on the wall documentary about Golan and Globus. It's called The Last Moguls and it is a brilliant peek into the world of movie deals and trash remakes of the 80s, and this is a good excuse to show some extracts.

I love the section about the making of Delta Force where Chuck Norris in an interview explains how the film tries to show what America's response to Arab terrorism should be in the future:

"I think terrorism is going to get greater all over the world, and I think it's time we started doing something about it right now rather than waiting till it gets a lot worse."

The aim of the film, Norris says, is to show America how to do this retaliation - through what he calls "positive violence". As opposed to "negative violence" - which is what the terrorists do.

Along with George Walker's use of film and celebrity to fake profits in order to do takeover deals, you begin to wonder whether the whole of the subsequent economic and foreign policy of Britain and the United States wasn't created by the rubbish movies of the 1980s.

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By the late 1980s George Walker was at the zenith of his fortunes. Both press and TV portrayed him as one of a group of new tycoons who were re-generating Britain. Well-connected bankers elbowed each other aside up to offer him money to use to make more deals. The bankers then told the financial commentators that Walker was "a visionary" - and it all became a self-fulfilling legend of success.

Walker bought the Trocadero in Piccadilly, the Brighton Marina, then he branched out into chains of pubs - then he went to Europe and bought casinos, marinas, hotels and holiday villages across the continent.

Walker was brilliant at publicity - and the archives are full of him in helicopters showing reporters his latest deal. Only one programme pierced briefly through the hype. It was a film made by BBC South in 1988 that began with the normal helicopter sequence - but then captured an odd moment where George Walker goes to meet the Mayor of Le Touquet.

Walker was proposing to develop a holiday village and golf-leisure complex on the sand dunes next to the town. At the meeting Walker wants the mayor to give him a document agreeing to the development, but the mayor wants Walker to show him the details. Walker doesn't seem to have any details - and insists all he needs is for the mayor to say yes.

Here he is - first charming a whole load of bankers, then in the helicopter - and then with the mayor.

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In 1989 George Walker did the biggest deal yet. He bought the William Hill chain of betting shops. But then he found that he himself had been conned because William Hill's previous owners had massively exaggerated the company's profits. As a result Brent Walker came crashing down. The banks who previously had queued up to give him money now viciously turned on George Walker and destroyed him.

In June 1991 the banks forced Walker out in a dramatic late-night board meeting. But it was only the start of his downfall. Within months the banks called in the Serious Fraud Office. They told the investigators that they had discovered evidence that the company had faked profits on an enormous scale during the 1980s. The SFO then charged George Walker with theft and false accounting.

The SFO were convinced that Walker would be convicted - but in October 1994 he was cleared of all charges. But then it got very odd. A year later the former Finance Director of Goldcrest Films, Donald Anderson, was convicted of covering up the faking of profits on a massive scale at Brent Walker in the 1980s - and was jailed for two years.

The key witness was another Goldcrest employee called Frederick Fisher III who told the court that Mr Anderson had told him that millions of pounds of false profits were being concealed. Anderson also told him, Fisher said that "it was being done at the behest of Mr Walker".

In the face of this George Walker fought back in a dramatic way. He and his family told their version of his downfall in a BBC documentary in 1996. At the heart of it is a wonderful three-way set up in a pub with Walker, his wife Jean and one of his daughters called Romla as they sort of emotionally act out the story.

The Walkers use the film to tell how, when the crisis began, they had put the family's personal fortunes into the company in a last desperate attempt to keep it afloat. The real villains, they say, are the banks who effectively mugged the family and forced George Walker out.

And it was true that, privately, there was a lot of sympathy among city commentators for George Walker. They thought that what the crisis really showed was the horrible ruthlessness of the major banks. In reality they had used George Walker - and now were letting him swing alone in the wind.

I have put these bits from the programme together. Yet again Walker was ahead of his time. He and his family were creating something very akin to today's reality soaps.

Three years later Romla Walker would star in Eastenders.

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George Walker wasn't finished though. In 1997 he went off to Moscow - to sell cigarettes to the Russians. And he also set up a company that transmitted greyhound racing live from Britain to Russian and Serbian betting shops.

And the practice of creating business empires based on vast amounts of debt went from strength to strength in Britain. It was no longer the province of geezers and spivs like George Walker. Instead posh people now did it and accordingly it adopted a shiny new name. It was called Private Equity.

The inventor of Private Equity takeovers in Britain was called Guy Hands and one of his first purchases was the very thing that destroyed George Walker - the William Hill chain of betting shops.

 

Guy Hands began as a banker working for Nomura, but in 2002 he set up a Private Equity company called Terra Firma. He quickly became a heroic figure - called a financial genius and a visionary because he had invented what was described as a new system of financial engineering that was described as "like crack cocaine for financiers".

But this was mostly PR rubbish. Essentially what Hands did was simply borrow vast amounts of money from the banks, tinker with the companies he bought (or brilliantly streamline them and introduce efficiencies - as his supporters claimed) and sell them on for an enormous profit.

And lots of people copied him. They also ruthlessly exploited the tax loopholes that had originally been created to encourage genuine entrepreneurs who sold businesses they had built up over the years. This was hijacked by the private equity players - and it allowed them to pay tax at just 10% on the gains they made.

At the height of the boom one of the leading Private Equity financiers pointed out that he paid less tax than his cleaners. Many people questioned whether people like him could truthfully be described as entrepreneurs.

The takeover boom flourished until the financial crash of 2008 when the banks stopped lending money, and it has left many large British companies with their solid foundations removed - and replaced with the shifting sands of debt. Many of those debts will soon come up for renewal, starting next year - and there are are growing fears that this may lead to a massive national crisis - the collapse of a number of key British enterprises.

But unlike the geezers of the past, the heads of today's Private Equity hide away and avoid the limelight. There is very little footage of them in the archives. But Guy Hands does share George Walker's fascination with showbusiness. In 2008 he borrowed £2.6bn to buy EMI - and here's a rare bit of footage of him - going to an Odeon cinema to tell the assembled EMI employees that thousands of them are going to be sacked to service the debt.

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And like George Walker, Guy Hands also got involved with making movies. In 2001 he backed what seemed to be an unlikely script.

It was a film called Crust. It told the story of a pub landlord who finds a giant seven foot mutant shrimp on a beach. The landlord then decides to teach the shrimp to box - and believes this will make his fortune.

The film was made but unfortunately it was never shown - and even more strangely never even made it to video.

Here are some pictures of the 7 foot mutant boxing shrimp.

 

And luckily the director of the film has put an extract from it on his website - and you can watch it here. Personally I think it looks great.

But then the truth came out - thanks to Gordon Brown.

Officials in the Inland Revenue had begun to notice more and more British films had actually amassed takings of less than £100. The tax men began to suspect something was up.

One possibility was that all the films were so bad that no one would release them.

In fact the reality was that for all these films it didn't matter whether they were seen in a cinema or not. Their real function was as a tax dodge for rich people. It was known as double dipping - and it allowed the investors to claim tax relief twice on their investments. And this is what Mr Hands had been doing when he put his money into the mutant shrimp film.

In 2005 Gordon Brown put a stop to it - and Guy Hands was furious. Together with 74 other investors he sued the tax advisors who had recommended he invest £11 million in a whole range of such films - another one was a comedy called Nine Dead Gay Guys (which did make it to DVD).

I'd love to know the full list of these tax-dodge British films. One estimate is that between 2003 to 2005 the tax breaks were worth £5bn in cash terms. As the journalist Nick Cohen has pointed out:

"This was money that came from working and middle-class taxpayers who didn't hire accountants but paid as they earned. It was money which might have been spent on schools, hospitals, the army or other fripperies"

 

In March 2011 George Walker died. At the same time his other daughter Sarah finally found love.

Back in 1989 Sarah had married into the aristocracy. She became the Marchioness of Milford Haven. But the marriage went wrong, she got divorced, dated James Hewitt, and did good work for charity.

Here is some footage of Sarah Walker back in 1988 talking about what it was like to work for her father, and then awarding a polo trophy to the Marquess of Milford Haven's team. The team was sponsored by Brent Walker. (George Walker also did the other posh thing all businessmen are supposed to do - it sponsored a Wagner festival).

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Then, in 2010, Sarah met a city entrepreneur called Michael Spencer. Like her father, Spencer was a self-made man who had risen to become fabulously wealthy. He was a friend of David Cameron's and had become the Treasurer to the Conservative Party.

Like Guy Hands, Michael Spencer too has found an innovative way of making money out of the best intentions of the government. He is one of a select group of City brokers who make Quantitative Easing work.

Their job is to buy up bonds using government cash - taking a tidy cut for themselves for every bond purchased. At the last count the government had pumped in £275bn. Spencer has been quoted as saying "the crisis is good for business."

Meanwhile the last remains of George Walker's empire are quietly crumbling into decay. Brighton Marina hasn't quite lived up to Walker's claim that it would be "the Venice of England". And here is the Trocadero today:

 

It is all rather shabby. Segaworld is long gone and Funland is all boarded up.

 

But fragments and memories of that empire still surface in the oddest places. One of the famous contestants in Big Brother 2009 was a character called Freddie Fisher who changed his name to Halfwit - along with Sophie who changed her name to Dogface. In real life he was Frederick Fisher IV, son of Frederick Fisher III who was the star prosecution witness who revealed how Brent Walker had faked profits throughout the 1980s - and finally destroyed George Walker's empire.

Freddie the IV survived for 72 days in Big Brother and fell in love with another housemate Bea who then rejected him. And all this happened in a fake house built inside the old water tank at Elstree studios - the studios that were once owned by George Walker.

 

And the mutant prawn boxing movie, Crust, was finally shown - in Japan. It was a cult success and has subsequently spawned a whole new genre of films in Japan called "sea-life sport movies". The two most famous are "Calamari Wrestler" and "Crab Goal Keeper".

 

And here is a link to the moment the Calamari makes his dramatic entrance.

 

If only Guy Hands had not just invested in Crust as a tax dodge - but made sure it got released. Then he might really have given something back to society, albeit a boxing prawn.

 

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