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Rupert Murdoch and Me: Five Memorable Nights in Hampstead

September 14, 2012

Rupert Murdoch may yet be unaware of my existence, but whether he knows it or not he and his organisations have had a profound effect on my life.

I Strike the First Blow

Back in 1986 I was studying at Bangor University, but I took time out from that to join a demonstration against a personal appearance by Sam Fox, the Sun’s youngest ever Page 3 girl. Our wrath was not directed at that naïve creature; our intention was merely to register a protest against the bad journalism that was so vividly epitomised by the tabloid’s use of young women’s boobies to rope in readers and put them in the mood to look kindly on the very lies and half truths that were to ruin the life chances of so many of them.

We didn’t see Sam that day, and our demo seemed to gain no attention whatsoever. However, I note that this was the very year when Sam Fox retired from the Page 3 business, to embark on the musical career that led to her triumphal presentation of the Mercury Prizes. I don’t know if Murdoch himself or any of his senior agents took note of me even then, but of course anything might be possible for the mighty News International!

When Thieves Fall Out

Just a year or two after that I was struck by a seemingly insignificant item stuck away on the front page of The Guardian announcing that Sky Television was hoping to sue the Walt Disney Corporation.

It seemed the American funsters, having realised who they had got into bed with, had refused to let Sky take full possession of the beloved Disney back catalogue, offering instead to let Sky broadcast a selection of its more recent, no doubt equally excellent but less well known productions. Of course this was never going to be enough for Murdoch’s army. They threatened to sue for a cool half billion in damages and to demand a further billion dollars on top of that in “punitive Damages”. This was when one and a half billion dollars was considered a lot of money. The world was set for a mighty court battle between two of the media’s most powerful corporations!

Childhood memories and the vileness of their opponent might have made less astute observers favour the Disney side of the case, but the preceding years had made a sadder wiser man of me and I knew that the world view they offered was only a mite less corrupt, albeit in a different way.

I might have dismissed the whole affair with a wry chuckle, but it seemed to epitomise so much of what was wrong with contemporary culture – on one side the bland escapist dreams that persuaded the people to seek “magic wand” solutions and instant wealth by turning their homes into commodities or by divvying up essential national assets and selling them on; on the other the relentless propaganda of “us and them”, “dosh” and contempt for the sufferings of the other fellow that divided this once happy nation. Could I, an unknown young artist, throw light on this unfortunate state of affairs with a stage drama of uproarious satire that would expose these villainies and frighten them away with gales of wholesome laughter, while raising the standard of a more beautiful, truer set of values – truth, beauty and the eternal verities? Of course I could!

“Murdoch versus Disney: A Trial for All of Us.”

That was the title of this, my first play. With just a typewriter, photocopier and a small band of talented young actors to assist me, I managed to bring this piece to life on the stage of Hampstead’s famous Pentameters theatre, for five unforgettable nights.

The play presented this trial (which never actually happened, as they settled out of court) in the broadest satirical terms, with an audience vote to decide the verdict, suitable penalties for the losers and in either case the Judge finally summing up by declaring: “I order you all to participate in a performance of excerpts from “Prometheus Unbound” by Percy Shelley, in the no doubt vain hope that the beautiful ideals of that divine poet may rub off on you.” I myself played Murdoch, with a baldie wig and the coarsest Australian accent I could muster, and the evening ended with excerpts from Shelley’s beautiful work. It was an artistic triumph that truly might have transformed the culture. Why then, you may well ask, have you never heard of it? Why indeed!

A Conspiracy of Silence?

I thought I might get away with it, protected by my own obscurity. Before opening night the only clue that powerful forces might be arrayed against me was when I found that the small, exquisite flyers I myself painstakingly plastered around Hampstead kept getting pasted over by adverts for the show that would grace Pentameters’ stage after ours. I haven’t been able to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” without a twinge of pain and regret ever since.

Then there was that chilling moment when the first person who spoke up during the discussion section I had carefully woven into the show confided that she was in fact a “former” employee of Sky Television! Was it a young Rebekah Brooks? She might have been a redhead, I don’t remember.

The decisive blow came when I found that no paper had dared to print a review or to even list the play, not even “The Guardian”, to whom we all looked to provide a voice for the left leaning and disenfranchised. Only 60 people turned up to see it, I never recovered my £300 (which still seems like a lot of money to me) investment and my play soon sank without trace, hours of research and all our hopes and dreams wasted! Was there a deliberate conspiracy of silence? Had there been some kind of campaign against me? Only Murdoch and his underlings know the truth.


From → Writer

  1. Nice piece again, John (belated comment, sorry). Wondering if you could revise the drama for another situation but keeping the same format, which I like. Then take the Donmar Warehouse by storm.


    • That’s the plan!


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