THE BITCH, THE STUD AND THE PRAWN

Thursday 8 December 2011, 14:16

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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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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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    As I was reading this and got to the bit where you say the film 'Crust' was never released I was shocked as I remember watching it in Tokyo, as you later state it was released in Japan (under the name 'Ebi Boxer' if I remember rightly) and is pretty awful.

    Shamefully i've also seen 'Nine Dead Gay Guys'... I need to get out more.

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    Comment number 2.

    Hi Adam. I love your stuff. It always puts an interesting skew on things and pulls together so many different strands.

    Two points:

    (i) "At the height of the boom one of the leading Private Equity financiers proudly announced that he paid less tax than his cleaners."

    I don't think this is fair reporting. The comment you refer to sounds like ones variously attributed to either Warren Buffett of Berkshire or Nicholas Ferguson of SVG at the peak of the boom. In either case, the two were not "proudly" making the statement. Indeed they were raising it as a point of concern to be considered by policymakers.

    (ii)

    "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." "

    This is a disingenuous description of Michael Spencer's business model. ICAP is an inter-dealer broker. One of their business lines is to trade government bonds on behalf of major counterparties and dealers. Yes, they take a spread on every trade and so if QE raises the level of bonds transactions, their profits will increase. But can you describe another intelligent way for the capital market to operate? Without large liquidity brokers like ICAP, the sovereign bond markets would become more expensive to operate in and thus, on the margins, increase the cost of government debt. This would ultimately cost the taxpayer more. ICAP, if anything, is one of the true "nuts and bolts" businesses of the city.

    The sophistication of financial and capital markets are highly positively correlated to the productive output and welfare of a society. Capital formation is an essential societal function. Yes the current model has many flaws, but to resort to a knee-jerk presentation of any financial activity as somehow suspect and usurious doesn't, I think, help form a debate about how to improve things.

    Keep up the great work! Loved the piece on Greece.

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    Comment number 3.

    Dear ilikethebbc – you are quite right about the cleaners point. He was being critical – apologies, that was wrong and I have corrected it.

    On your other point. I don't think I'm being unfair on Mr Spencer. Everything you say about what he does is right, and I'm not saying that it's the wrong way to do quantitative easing. But what I was trying to gently point out is that, while Mr Spencer is a vocal advocate of the free market and a fierce critic of attempts by government to tax the city a bit more – he is in effect acting as an agent of the state when he buys the bonds with all the money being pumped out by the Bank of England and is thus really playing the role of a state bureaucrat - using state power to rescue the financial and free-market system that he believes so much in. It's a slightly ambiguous position born out of the present crisis – which, as Spencer himself admits, he is doing very nicely out of.

    Adam

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    Comment number 4.

    "The sophistication of financial and capital markets are highly positively correlated to the productive output and welfare of a society."

    Is this serious?

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    Comment number 5.

    For those who are interested, the films AC mentions above, "Crust", "Calamari Wrestler" and "Crab Goalkeeper" aka "Kani Goalkeeper", have reviews on IMDb.com and they rate 6.2, 6.2 and 6.0 respectively. Both the Japanese films were directed by Minoru Kawasaki who also directed "Executive Koala" which rates 6.5 on the same website. As an Australian, I'm particularly interested in "Executive Koala" as it is at once a prison drama, a slasher flick, a musical and a kung-fu flick with a murder mystery / psychological thriller theme!

    I was all fired up to watch worthy films like the 2010 documentary "Human Resources" and the 2005 Italian TV doco "Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre" this December but on seeing AC's recent post and discovering these gems along with "The Tony Blair Witch Project" that I also accidentally found, I'll have to shelve the documentaries for the time being.

    Oh, "The Tony Blair Witch Project" ... no, not made by Kawasaki and it's actually a North American movie (but it probably made just as little money as those British films that Gordon Brown nixed) about a group of people who break windows in a ghost town, thus arousing the ire of the ectoplasmic inhabitiant, while apparently discussing Francois Truffaut films and searching for Tony Blair. No, I haven't seen the film, I'm just looking at the reviews on IMDb.com.

    All these Blair Witch Project parodies and the original film are based on Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" which beyond the outrages that include a coconut, a turtle, some raw liver and various torture scenes is quite a clever satire on media sensationalism. I have seen most of this film but the ending was cut off (it was taped for me by a friend who also did "Man Bites Dog" the French-language student Belgian film on the same videocassette) so I never found out how the main characters were dealt with by the Amazonian natives.

    And funny thing I was reading about the London Trocadero restaurant just some time ago and found a French / Belgian link which I found so hilarious I fell off my seat laughing and must have hit my head really hard because I don't remember all the details.

    As for "The sophistication of financial and capital markets are highly positively correlated to the productive output and welfare of a society ... " - well I guess that depends on which direction the correlation goes in: we could call it the trickle-up inverse effect in which a positive becomes negative and a negative becomes positive. Now that's what I call a very sophisticated arg

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    Comment number 6.

    The sentence should have read:" ... Now that's what I call a very sophsticated argument!"

    By the way there is a trailer of "The Tony Blair Witch Project" and there are spoofs of that film on Youtube. Is there no end to all the pixillated pullulation going on around me?

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    Comment number 7.

    Thanks for the blog. I have seen Crust and can highly recommend it, if you can track down a copy that is. It's strangely moving.

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    Comment number 8.

    Did try looking for "Crust" on Amazon.com but couldn't find it. I was hoping there might be trailers on Youtube as well but I had no success. When doing a search, punters need to add the director's name Mark Locke to narrow it down.

    There is a sweet tender moment on "Calamari Wrestler" here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFWb9lNSZ5k but the mind boggles at how the, erm, little one was conceived. I did look up Wikipedia for some information about how it might be done but - gulp! - that attachment in the Wikipedia entry looks very ropey!

    And here's the trailer for "Crab Goalkeeper": http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2945967268571048006

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    Comment number 9.

    I actually saw Crust when it screened in the market in Cannes, and it was well received by the audience.

    The budget was creaking slightly and the effects could have been better, but it was an unusual (and brave!) mix of creature film and heartfelt character-led comedy. Nothing at all like the B-Movie idea it seems to be at first glance.

    The press agreed, including The Evening Standard and The Times - who dubbed it 'the toast of the boats' when they saw it out there, James Christopher admitting he 'cried real tears'.

    Indeed it's a mystery that Crust didn't find UK distribution. Did something fishy go on there? Or were UK distributors simply not sure how to market it? A film about a seven foot boxing shrimp is possibly a hard sell (even though boxing shrimp do exist - mantis shrimps - at a smaller size), especially as it doesn't do much boxing and spends a lot of its time sitting on a Travelodge bed watching This Morning.

    Distributors were braver in Japan, where Crust was released theatrically and did well enough, bizarrely, to inspire other sea-life sports movies, including Calamari Wrestler and Squid Goalkeeper. These films good fun but clearly much more in the B-Movie tradition than the more unique and much less trashy film that inspired them.

    For now Crust remains a film that simply didn't get a chance to find its audience, but time will tell. Check the web (and the illegal torrent sites!) and there's a quite a bit of love for it out there.

    And it's also available from Amazon Japan here, an English version with Japanese subtitles:

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E3%81%88%E3%81%B3%E3%83%9C%E3%82%AF%E3%82%B5%E3%83%BC-DVD-%E3%83%9E%E3%83%BC%E3%82%AF%E3%83%BB%E3%83%AD%E3%83%83%E3%82%AF/dp/B0000V4LZ4/ref=pd_cp_d_2

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    Comment number 10.

    Thanks for posting this Adam. Another very interesting piece. I worked on the crew of a film that was a 'tax dodge' in 2001. It was called 'Requiem' - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0391422/. I have never seen it but there is a review of it here: http://www.zone-sf.com/requiem.html - where is gets a hammering.
    I'm not sure if it ever got released.
    Andy

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    Comment number 11.

    Interesting to find out that Spencer worked for Drexel Burnham, relating back to part 3 of The Mayfair Set.

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    Comment number 12.

    With respect to the notion that "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" the reality is closer than is palatable.

    Violence in films paints a reality that is most effective by programming populations to be prejudiced against the artificial enemy of the day and most damaging is the mind control it exerts on young uneducated males and their propensity to join the military and kill foreigners obediently. The CIA and Pentagon among others permit Hollywood to use their war hardware in return for script editorial veto and inclusion. If a war movie isn't appropriate, the alphabet soup agencies and war psychos have the money and influence to make movies that frame issues to their liking.

    A lovely example from the 90's found that security males fond of dark glasses, coiled wire to an ear, and complete obedience to their pensions over and above their personal relationships and any morality were beginning to be seen as a sinister accessories tainted by black budget projects being openly discussed on the internet.

    The solution was for a cool movie portraying the males in dark civilian attire and glasses as behind-the-scenes dudes with sexy kit, and off planet responsibilities. It was so successful the lay person now thinks "Men In Black" references special security guys even though the original Men In Black phenomena is super-high weirdness that troubles the Feds as much as it does the witnesses who receive a visit.

    The geniuses in disinformation fixed it as neat as one could wish. They steered a movie that positioned their Feds as the 'Official' Men In Black though civilians came up with the term.

    Hollywood made the MIB's cool and real life supernatural cache made them bad ass cool. A complete win for synthetic reality.

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    Comment number 13.

    Adam,

    The Bitch was actually the sequel to The Stud not the other way round as you stated. The original meeting with Joan Collins may well have centred around The Bitch, but that was not the order they were written or released in.

    Regarding the putting together of a list of tax-dodge British films....If you were not already aware..

    The British Council have an online directory of all British made films released and unreleased - ( as far as I know - I could be wrong..) - year by year since 1997.

    Both Crust and Nine Dead Gay Guys are listed with production and sales agent details although Requiem is not. I'm sure that a researcher with some time spent cross referencing the directory will be able to put an initial list together for you. Or perhaps someone in the British Council Films Department could oblige on your behalf ??

    I think it is somewhat disingenuous to lump in Brighton Marina with the 'crumbling decay' of George Walker's empire. It may have its faults but that has more to do with capitalist expedience and pragmatism I conjecture.

    Brighton Marina is a thriving 'city by the sea' within a city by the sea, a highly popular destination and residentially desirable, far in excess of anything George Walker could have imagined. I remember the Marina at the beginning of the eighties as a sad, cold, concrete, desolate wasteland.

    The project itself is still not finished - four decades later - and is certainly not in keeping with your depiction of the Trocadero.

    The cost of continuing to build the Marina would have been unimaginable in 1985 when Brent Walker took it on for £13 million. The development programme at the time was £120 million.

    For anyone who hasn't been to the Marina do not be put off by Adam's mischevous remark...

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    Comment number 14.

    theartteacher2 - " "The sophistication of financial and capital markets are highly positively correlated to the productive output and welfare of a society." Is this serious?"

    Yes, it is a serious statement, borne out by the facts. Can you name a sophisticated, developed society that managed to achieve its status without having deep, liquid, and sophisticated capital markets to intermediate savings between individuals, corporations, and government? They are conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, societies like Russia and Cuba, that have tried to do without, had to reinvent them in some limited form just to keep their head above water (Lenin's NEP, etc.).

    Do any of my statements equate to saying the current system is perfect or that the professionals representing the capital markets behaved perfectly through the boom? No. But I can't think of any section of society that behaved perfectly through the boom.

    The current 99% vs. 1% debate is problematic because it is characterising an us vs. them "greed" situation. The real issue is that future societal development now requires the application of very high levels of intangible or intellectual capital in order to improve on what we already have (given we have come so far). That is why returns to the 1% have increased so much - the marginal "great idea" is highly rewarded (Google, Apple, etc.). The productive and process efficiencies squeezed out of businesses by private equiteers is but one example of this trend.

    The focus on the real wage stagnation of labour, a key point of the 99'ers, is not quite right - is doesn't allow for the "hedonic" improvements in what their static real wages can buy. There is no doubt that average household contents and activities have vastly improved since the 1980s.

    With the advent of the maker movement, 3d printing, self-driving cars, acceleration in robotics, etc., this is a trend that is set to continue.

    Given that most of these improvements will come from heavy reliance on intangible and financial capital rather than labour, the question is how to incentivise such improvements (the benefits of which flow to the whole of society) without proportionately increasing the rewards to these components. I'm not sure such a solution is so easy.

    The value of "middlemen" professions is hard to understand. Economics is hard to understand; it is a highly circular discipline in which everything affects everything else in unexpected ways. To quote Robert Merton "there isn't a person in the country who is thinking hard about problems that doesn't have a folder somewhere marked something like 'circular systems'"

    Stephen Pinker makes some interesting comments here, in relation to the value of "middlemen":

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6037708729636407580 (46:20 onwards)

    He is discussing it in the context of a presentation on high Jewish achievement. The Jewish community, being over-represented in professional communities such as entrepreneurs, businessmen and finance, have long had to address many of the criticisms currently being thrown at capital markets, bankers, financiers, and "the 1%" in general.

    How to communicate what is at issue, such that the broad populous can intelligently engage in the debate, is a thorny issue. David Miliband's attempt to differentiate between "good" and "bad" capitalism seems farcical. But that is nothing new in political or economic life!

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    Comment number 15.

    "The sophistication of financial and capital markets are highly positively correlated to the productive output and welfare of a society."

    Correlation ain't causation... in this case, not by a long shot!

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    Comment number 16.

    I think there is some confusion on this forum with the activities of the global financial industry with those of what some of us would call the "real" economy, that is, the economy that produces goods and the services, including financial services, related to the production of goods for consumption. These financial services include insurance, marine insurance, appropriate capital investment in projects aimed at producing goods (such as building new factories or investing in new manufacturing processes) and ensuring that buyers of products are able to pay on terms acceptable to both sellers and buyers. They might also include services that benefit the employees of firms so they feel secure and happy about working for these firms and these might be appropriate rewards for going beyond what's in one's job description on a temporary ad hoc basis, and appropriate superannuation and medical insurance benefits.

    Such services do not include financial services aimed at divesting funds away from manufacturing and related activities for personal benefit so one can deposit funds in secret bank accounts in other countries to avoid paying tax or other legal and financial restrictions. In addition, financial services should never be used in such a way that taxpayers are effectively subsidisng activites that are potentially illegal. An example might be where employers raid employees' super funds to obtain money for use in insider trading on stock markets.

    Government regulation does help but the problem with it is it can always be repealed. A classic example is the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act which was enacted by the Roosevelt government in the US to reform the banking industry and cut down on the kind of stockmarket speculation that led to the Great Depression. This Act seems to have done more or less sterling duty for the US economy at least until the Clinton government's 1999 repeal of certain of its provisions which had forced the separation of investment banking and commercial bank lending. The repeal meant that conflict of interest prohibitions on individual bankers were swept and it's very likely that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed Glass-Steagall was in large part responsible for the 2008 global financial crash because investment banks were able to effectively "steal" deposits made in commercial banks which had been taken over by investment banks.

    I'm sure there are equivalents in British and Australian societies of the Glass-Steagall Act but I use this even though I'm not American because it illustrates very starkly at a level most people on this forum can understand how a certain industry may not be trusted to regulate its activities and how individuals in that industry can put their self-interest above the industry's long-term interests, let alone the other banking industry they treat as a goldmine.

    So yes the sophistication of financial and capital is correlated to some extent positively with the level of productive output of society but mainly because the real economy has been hijacked by the abstract financial economy. As P Pilkington says, correlation ain't causation!

    We need to have an economy that can produce goods and appropriate services for people in a way that reduces and minimises waste, that does not exploit or degrade them and their families, that does not pit one sector of society against another in endless and meaningless competition for its own sake and which must not be milked by parasitic parallel economies operating outside the jurisdiction of the law.

    And I agree with an earlier comment that movies and even videogaming can shape violence in real life. The internet is full of websites that tell you the way people handle guns in Hollywood flicks isn't correct yet individuals make the same mistakes again and again in handling small automatic weapons. At another level, we have drone aircraft killing civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East which are operated by people sitting at videogame-like consoles in places around the US (Nevada state always seems to come to mind). There's some statistic doing the rounds that says that for every two terrorists or similar people targetted and killed by a drone aircraft, 98 innocent people are hit as well so the technology is certainly not accurate. The implications of the use of drone aircraft technology and its effects on populations affected by it are sure to be immense.

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    Comment number 17.

    The poster who said that it was unfair to say that his cleaner paid less tax than he did is probably wrong. I worked for the rich in the early 90's in Canada. They would often joke with me that they paid less tax than I did. One client was a lawyer who had a bit of a crush on me. They explained how it works.

    For approximately 70k this lawyer would transfer ALL of your assets into a numbered corporation headquartered in the Caymans. With nondisclosure on paper you were penniless. Then your lawyer would form a second local numbered corporation. The first corporation would contract the second corporation to hire you as their local agent with full signing privileges. Your salary would be approx 30k per year. Just enough not to arouse the tax man's suspicion. You would be the “caretaker” of you two million dollar condo and 280,000$ Mercedes while paying less tax than I made as your personal security. Upkeep and bookkeeping was 5 to 7k per year.

    So Adam you need apologize for nothing.

    P.S. Using rehypothecated pretend money to buy government bonds burns me up. Why can’t I pretend to buy a few million in bonds and live off the interest? Rich douche bags. I hope Greece defaults. You Armani welfare bums.

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    Comment number 18.

    ilikethebbc says: Do any of my statements equate to saying the current system is perfect or that the professionals representing the capital markets behaved perfectly through the boom? No. But I can't think of any section of society that behaved perfectly through the boom.

    But I can think of only one section of society that aggressively pushed for a criminogenic regulation-free business environment; used the freedom-to-fraud that arose in this environment to create a massive and massively profitable housing bubble that inevitably destroyed the economy; received a massive transfer of wealth and power from the state in the form of bank bailouts; and successfully used a lobbying and influence peddling blitz to indemnify itself, while propagandizing for and enforcing austerity on the working class. Maybe you missed it, but we have witnessed the greatest criminal transfer of wealth in human history, and your vaunted 'middlemen' both caused it and benefited from it.

    The value of "middlemen" professions is hard to understand. Economics is hard to understand; it is a highly circular discipline in which everything affects everything else in unexpected ways.

    Economics is not hard to understand. Economics is easy to understand: an ideological pseudo-science designed to justify the transition from democracy to oligarchy. The 'hard to understand' tag is part of the mystique of the priesthood: "Sure, it may seem to you, poor peasant, that you have been screwed, but in fact things are as they should be, and your failure to see that just comes from your own lack of understand. See, economics is difficult to understand - leave it to the priesthood, and don't fret."

    The Jewish community, being over-represented in professional communities such as entrepreneurs, businessmen and finance, have long had to address many of the criticisms currently being thrown at capital markets, bankers, financiers, and "the 1%" in general.

    This seems to be a side-ways way of brown-baiting the OWS movement. That's a shameless smear, worthy of Glenn Beck.

    But I'm all for middle men. The banking sector does indeed serve a useful social function - like public utilities. So, structure and regulate banks like public utilities. Your middle men can do their thing, and earn a comfortable living while doing it. And, as an added bonus, we can euthanize the oligarchy, and have a reasonable prospect of a sane and just future.

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    Comment number 19.

    " ...Can you name a sophisticated, developed society that managed to achieve its status without having deep, liquid, and sophisticated capital markets to intermediate savings between individuals, corporations, and government? ..."

    We can: the UK was a highly sophisticated, developed society in the 19th century without the kind of sophisticated capital markets that supposedly intermediate savings among individuals, corporations and governments. Add also Germany during the same period and especially after unification in 1870 and Japan after the Meiji restoration in 1868. By 1905 Japan was sufficiently technologically advanced to defeat the Russians in naval battle.

    I could refer also to South Korea under Park Chunghee (1969 - 1979) and succeeding military governments up to the early 1990s who oversaw that country's industrial development from war-torn basket case to the world's most efficient steel manufacturer. And how about Taiwan from the 1960s on under the Guomindang and their successors, to become the leading manufacturer of semiconductors and other major computer components?

    In all of these countries, governments more or less took the leading role of investing in basic infrastructure, especially railways (a major driver of industrial development and trade which helped to unite Germany), and in key industries such as shipbuilding. Look at India also: government investment since the 1960s in the space exploration program laid the groundwork for the computer software industry that now drives Indian excellence in science and technology.

    In Japan and South Korea, government subsidies and grants encouraged the development of large companies such as Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Mitsui which later acquired or grew their own banking and finance companies to fund their further growth into areas directly or indirectly related to the primary activity of shipbuilding. Shipbuilding needs raw materials of iron and steel (hence, the need to control supplies of those, leading to the takeover of iron and steel companies); you can do a lot with those materials apart from making ships - you can make cars and whitegoods like refrigerators and washing machines too - why not take over the manufacturing of those?

    And just what do we mean by "sophisticated" financial instruments? All too often, such instruments are not meant to encourage the funding of manufacturing activity which really needs loans and adequate credit facilities on terms that both lender and borrower can agree on. Such instruments are often more about avoiding or evading tax so as to invest money in places or activities beyond the jurisdiction of the government you owe tax to. Schemes such as transfer pricing in which a company can set up numerous subsidiaries in high-tax and low-tax countries so subsidiary A in a low-tax place lends money to subsidiary B in a high-tax place (so sub B claims the costs of borrowing and gets tax rebates in its domicile and sub A claims profits in its domicile and pays little tax) are classic examples as are also certain types of trusts where the ownership and management can be spread over numerous "owners" and "managers" in different countries and secrecy arrangements are built in so that any one manager of the trust has no way of knowing who's responsible for managing the entire trust and who the ultimate beneficiary is.

    And if we're talking about 3D printing, creating meat from stem cells and other futuristic technologies, these in the main will be driven by entrepreneur-led firms of small to medium-small size who usually rely on loans and credit to fund the research and the processes involved. An aspect of 3D printing that many of its supporters emphasise is its adaptability to customising products for a small client base: to finance a small and particular manufacturing run, you don't need complicated structures of funding to do that!

    And let's look at sharia banking in some Islamic countries too: sharia banking prohibits the charging of high interest rates on borrowers by lenders. In such financial environments, banks and borrowers act as partners in joint ventures to fund major projects and the bank has an interest in seeing the project succeed rather than treat it as a permanent money tap.

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    Comment number 20.

    Much as I hate to detour a sophisticated thread on economic disputes that I am finding to be fascinating, and enlightening, reading, I didn't think I could leave this comment unchallenged (it has nothing to do with economics, and precious little to do with the point of Adam's blog, BTW):

    'The original Men In Black phenomena is super-high weirdness that troubles the Feds as much as it does the witnesses who receive a visit.'

    I consider myself to be considerably more interested in what may be defined as Fortean phenomena than probably the majority of readers of this blog, but applying Charles Fort's values to phenomena means being inquiring and sceptical as well as credulous (if you don't believe me, read what he himself writes in 'Lo!', 'The Book of the Damned' etc.).

    The general consensus these days about 'Men in Black' is that the identification of them was almost entirely down to the work of Gray Barker, beginning in his 'They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers' in 1956, and that Barker was an inveterate prankster and hoaxter who liked to make money out of the UFO market, and, indeed, con believers. He was responsible for continuing to popularise the idea of the 'MIB' throughout his life, and other notable proponents of it, such as John Keel, used Barker as a substantial source and informant. We also know that Barker developed his theories on the 'MIB' through successive works - it wasn't until his second publication that he linked them with the idea of being extraterrestrials.

    The main reason that this mythos may 'trouble' any US government agency is that there is a possibility that the original germ of the idea did, indeed, derive from actual reports of USAF plainclothesmen who attempted to pressurise individuals not to take overt interests in spreading UFO rumours in the '50's (which, rationally, would have been of concern during such a period of Cold War paranoia - unsurprisingly also, they may well have dressed in conservative black suits and fedoras as would have the vast majority of the US adult male population of the time). Virtually everything else concerning the theory of 'MIB' is likely to be supposition at best, and pure bunk at worst.

    I actually felt that the overall point being made in the post that referenced 'MIB's - about Hollywood being co-opted to an extent by the military at times - was making an interesting observation that deserves more study. But I think there's a need to question certain generalising assumptions, too.

    Of course, there is always the recourse that the confessions attributed

 

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