By Harold Heys
It was an excellent wind-up of Lou Yaffa, that Mark Howard recalled last week. I remember you had to be pretty wide to get one past Big Lou in the Good Old Days.
It was a tale that must draw out other wind-up recollections and here’s a quickie about getting one over on Andy Rosthorn, Daily Mail and Mirror Group hack, contributor to Private Eye, Lobster and most everything else, raconteur of strange and lengthy tales – and world authority on Rudolf Hess.
For years Andy played in my pub quiz team which can best be described as an odd, but successful, mix. Gordon Taylor the PFA supremo played with us. Martin Samuel had a few games. We were once a man short and the pub dog sat in to make us up. His first question: What’s another name for rabies? The poor mutt just sat there and dribbled. Useless. Andy Rosthorn was a regular and often managed to get the round-the-bar chat on to his pet subject of Hitler’s deputy.
It was never boring but there’s not a lot of general interest in the disputed trajectory of the bullet Hess took through his chest in the Great War. No one dared to mention the mysterious ME fighter-bomber he flew over or we’d have been there all night. Was it really Hess or a doppelganger? How many years have you got to chew that one?
Anyhow, after a few years on the quiz circuit and late night discussions with assorted hacks in dingy dives, it was finally time for The Wind-Up. At the quiz interval, as Andy was trying to interest the barman in a map of Spandau, hastily drawn on a beermat, I gave the question master a piece of paper. ‘This is Andy’s question,’ I told him. ‘And whatever he says he’s wrong. Ok?’
Off we went for the second half and the first question went to Andy. ‘Where was Rudolf Hess imprisoned immediately after his war-time flight to Scotland?’
Andy spread his arms in amazement. ‘I can’t believe it,’ he smirked. ‘I know exactly where it was!’
He took a deep breath, we all sat back, and off he went (I recall it almost word for word):
‘Well… I suppose the strict answer to this excellent question would be the Scout hut at Busby. He had landed in a nearby field and the local Home Guard marched him to the hut for the night. (Pausing to scan the rapt attention of assembled company, he pressed on cheerily).
‘He was then taken to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow where he was under the guard of a drunken Scottish regiment for a couple of days and then he was taken by train to Euston and on to the Tower of London. (Mouths of assembled company suitably agape with awe at this point.)
‘Psychiatrists looked him over closely at someplace in south London and eventually he was taken to an old hospital in south Wales, near Abergavenny – he used to go walking over the hills with a little dog – and when the war ended he was hauled off to Luxemburg, to a place called Ashcan, under the command of a strange American colonel, prior to Nuremberg. So, to recap: Scout hut at Busby.’ (At this point Andy sat back to receive the acclaim of his peers after probably the most exhaustive answer to any question in the long history of pub quizzes.)
Instead, the question master, keeping a very straight face, told him: ‘Nah. Bollocks.’ Warming quickly to his theme, he told Andy: ‘Says here: Cardiff Castle.’
Andy went purple. He was spluttering even more than he was on the night he threatened to fire-bomb the sponsoring brewery over a regular cock-up question about what a sea captain means when he flies a yellow flag. The penny finally dropped as everyone roared with laughter.
‘Bastards,’ muttered the World Authority on Rudolf Hess…
A long wind-up… Wind-ups were a regular occurrence in the days of yore. Everybody was fair game – and the longer a plot took the more the satisfaction. Hacks, comps, even copy-takers and young messengers copped for it. I remember we convinced one kid that Clint Eastwood was Stan Laurel’s nephew with some elaborate deceptions. The clincher came when he was persuaded to ring the British Film Institute in London for a final check before his money went down. The poor sap didn’t know that he was actually phoning a friend of Martin Samuel who was expecting the call and who happily confirmed the daft story. The lad was lucky. Norman Wynne only took a tenner off him.
A short wind-up… Bill Bradshaw had an awful time with traffic wardens when he was in Manchester. We were ready for him one day. As soon as he pulled up at the front of the Sunday People office one of the lads shot down with a neatly-produced yellow ‘fine’ in a plastic envelope and stuck it under his wipers – as Bill raced upstairs. ‘Keep an eye on the car lads,’ he pleaded. ‘Too late,’ someone shouted. He took one horrified look, raced back down and grabbed the ‘fine.’ It was one of those moments… you know that when you look up there’s going to be a gang of newspapermen at the windows, waving and smiling. Bill had the grace to smile and wave back. At least with a couple of fingers.