The funny side of The Street
By Colin Dunne
Of all the responses that Kit Miller could inspire – and among these I include friendship, admiration, and riotous laughter – there was one that was never far away.
So when Kit said he was interested in renting the basement of my house in Chelsea, it produced a certain frisson of anxiety. Did he want a bed-sit in town perhaps?
‘No,’ he said, then flashed his film-star smile. ‘I was thinking more about storing stuff there.’
The alarm accelerated into a panic.
Stuff? What sort of stuff? What would Kit Miller want to stockpile in my basement? The possibilities flared up. His collection of Page Three girls perhaps (he was aiming for a full set at the time)? Several tons of unwanted slimming pills? His cricket gear (he was near county standard)?
Or was there the faintest possibility it could be ‘stuff’ that is always described as having a street value, as opposed to a Boots vale?
This was, after all, Kit Miller.
For anyone who has never known the pleasure (considerable) or the terror (mild) of knowing Kit Miller, let me tell you that even in Old Fleet Street, where characters came outsize, he pushed the credibility barriers.
To be quite fair, let’s say first of all that he was a top-flight tabloid journo. Was? No doubt he still is. But although he’s living quietly (as far as I know) in Essex with wife and children, in my mind he belongs in the pre-Wapping days when newspapers could accommodate men like him. Now he’d give them a heart attack.
He was delightful too, liked by men, lusted after by women. Topping six-foot, fairish curly hair, bright blue eyes, a smile almost permanently in place, he was funny, clever, resourceful, charming, and very quick-witted. In the Sun feature room one morning, a messenger stuck his head round the door and called out: ‘Anyone ’ere interested in ’aving a Jack Russell terrier puppy?’ Kit paused at his typewriter. ‘No thanks, I’ve just had a pizza.’
Kit had this problem. Offered the choice between a rational, considered, sensible and responsible course of action, or a good laugh, he would always opt for the good laugh.
When Dick Parrack, the Sun managing editor, gave him a warning over coming in late, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to keep a good time for a day or two. Instead, Kit then rolled in just in time for lunch and was inevitably paraded before the boss.
He had an explanation. Of course. Kit always had an explanation. He’d had an urgent medical appointment and to prove it he gave Dick the name of the doctor and the number. As Kit watched, Dick dialed the number and walked straight into the trap.
‘We never under any circumstances divulge the names of our patients,’ the doctor thundered. It was the Genital Disease Clinic at Bart’s.
‘Not my fault…’ protested Kit. Later, he told me that he thought it would be ungrateful to miss the opportunity to link the name Dick with genital diseases.
Kit achieved some sort of national fame when, as PR man for Peter Foster, the man who helped the Blairs with their property deals, he became a regular top-of-the-bill act on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life programme.
Foster come up with some slimming tea and Kit, in charge of the PR, obliged with a story that Sam Fox, a Page Three girl who had become a top celebrity, had lost half-a-stone with the tea.
Perhaps we should say at this point that Sam Fox had been Kit’s girl-friend for two years and was now, conveniently, going out with Foster. The Sun ran the story, the money poured in, and That’s Life featured Kit 21 times. Not always with admiration.
The People and the Mirror also ran stories about him. They paid him £148,000 in libel damages.
At that point, Maxwell drowned. Kit likes to think that he drowned himself rather than sign a cheque for Kit Miller. However, his two sons did.
It wasn’t much alongside the fortune that the sales of tea brought in. That went rather quickly on cars, gambling, drinking, jewellery, buying a racehorse, and the other necessities of life.
Oddly enough, the next venture – a slimming pill, for a change – featured the same cast of Foster, Sam and Kit. Again, Kit heeded an editorial plug.
Naturally, he headed straight for the first female editor in Fleet Street who was in her first week at the News of the World, Wendy Henry had been a street-wise freelance and was certainly not so gullible as Dick Parrack. Did she want a brilliant exclusive. Sam Fox, ‘may’ be pregnant. Wendy was offered the story along with a photograph of the nursery at Foster’s home as evidence.
The price? That the NoW would carry a story about an actor who had lost lots of weight with this new pill. Wendy went for it.
Living in Foster’s house at the time was Foster’s mother and sister who had, as it happened, a baby.
Kit took the photographer up to the house, which was empty. They found a ladder, climbed up to the window and there was a nursery complete with cot and cuddly toys. ‘What a stroke of luck,’ says Kit. Unless, of course, he had been up all night knitting cuddly toys – but don’t let’s think about that.
‘Sam in Shotgun Wedding’ was the headline. Near the back of the paper was half a page on the slimmed-down actor.
For the next couple of days, the slimming-pill office in Hammersmith was like Porke’s Drift. Fatties from all over Britain descended in an avalanche of lard, the police were called to sort it out, the NoW switchboard crashed, and the money just poured in. Kit had to hire 150 people in a ballroom to open the mail.
Here comes the bad luck. Sam Fox wasn’t pregnant after all. Wendy was… well, cross. Kit was distraught. No-one likes to see a story collapse.
On the other hand, he did have his share of the £2 million that had rolled in. So it wasn’t all bad news.
How did he do it? Well, Kit Miller is a persuasive man. When two American Express men found him in the Sun office – he hadn’t paid their bill, apparently – he took them out for a drink and pointed out that with his lifestyle his credit limit was ludicrous. They agreed.
They raised it to £10,000, which he had in cash within two hours. He flew to Hong Kong, stayed at the penthouse suite at The Mandarin, one of the world’s most famous hotels, with his own butler. He had a few suits made at Sam’s (as you do), had a few drinks, and flew home three days’ later – skint.
A scoundrel? Good heavens no, Kit was never a scoundrel. A bit of a scamp, possibly. A rascal, I think he’d go along with that. A little tinker, definitely. And he did occasionally get mixed up with people who were perhaps even more scampish.
Some pals were opening a club in South London. Sadly, their previous activities meant they couldn’t be directors, so Kit stepped in. The license was granted. At the official opening, which Kit didn’t attend, there was a stabbing, which was sort of fatal.
Then – would you believe it? – another stroke of appalling luck. The next night the club was torched.
As a thank-you, his pals gave him a solid gold watch-strap which he noticed had a brown stain.
‘Don’t worry,’ they told him. ‘It’s only a bit of blood.’
Kit’s invincible charm carried him through it all. Although it did flinch a bit when he drove all the way from Essex to play cricket for a pub team pulled together by John Dodd (ex-Sun, later the Observer and the Spectator) in West Sussex. If I tell you I was playing, you will have some idea of the standard, which was approximately that of your local brownie troop.
Miller was a brilliant sportsman. He went out to bat and thrashed the bowling all over Sussex and parts of Hampshire. One bowler suffered particularly badly.
As we left the field, I asked Kit why on earth he’d come all that way to play joke cricket. ‘Tell the truth,’ he said, ‘I was hoping to get some work out of it.’
Just behind him, a voice said: ‘As far as I’m concerned, Miller, you’ll never work again.’ It was the commissioning editor whose bowling had been dispatched high over Portsmouth.
‘If I’d known,’ Miller protested, ‘I would’ve let you bowl me. If you could’ve got one straight, that is…’
These days he’s down in Essex with his kids aged from two to 16. He can reel off the projects he’s working on – two children’s books, trying to get finance for a gangster movie he’s written (‘no, I am not one of the characters’), a rom-com, pitching to studios, and trying to salvage a massive deal in Brazil.
He’s been ‘having meetings’ with a theatre director to discuss a play about his slimming deals. ‘At the moment,’ he said, ‘I’m trying to decide who should play me. I’m torn between Brad Pitt and Ronnie Corbett.’
He would also like to point out that he has never been convicted of anything more serious than a speeding offense.
Can this all be true? I’ve no idea, but – as always with Kit – I’m not sure it matters. It is, as Kit himself says, a good laugh, and you can’t ask for more than that.
In any case, it’s difficult to fix the truth with complete certainty when you’re dealing with a man who says his father was Gary Miller, who sprang to fame singing Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.
I mean, that’s seriously unbelievable.