BANKSY’S WEEK: Tales of masks, Murdoch, Al Fresco and our cleaners

Banksy looking like a masked bandit

I took to wearing the above home-made COVID-19 face mask with my sunglasses in the garden lest visitors arrived during last week’s glorious early summer weather. What d’you think Bozo would have made of me: bank robber, letterbox or potential suicide bomber?

A week of my life
revolves around Rupert

My life has been all Rupert Murdoch this past week: I finally got around to listening to a documentary about the Great Man for which I was interviewed at some length many months ago and which I had anticipated hearing broadcast on BBC Radio Four.

Alas, not so. Audible, the company which made The Sun King, had produced it as an audiobook presented by David Dimbleby which they dangled as a freebie to bait subscribers to their £7.99-per-month audiobook club. I heard about it first from my mate Ferrari.

“My boss at Global is raving over this ‘thing’ you’re in telling Rupert’s life story,” said the LBC presenter. “Listened to it while he was flying back from New York, says you’re all over it. He loved it!” Of course Nick, not being the most technically-gifted of radio people, hadn’t asked how or on which network his boss had heard me. All he knew was the title of the ‘programme’. So I began an internet search.

Eventually I found what I thought was Audible and signed up for my ‘free gift’ of The Sun King. But not before I had agreed a month’s subscription to a similarly-named book club only to discover its contents boasted not one word about Rupert (nor, more importantly, about me!).

But having found it at last and listened to five hours of fascinating interviews (most of them far more interesting than mine). I’m glad I persevered, and not just for the sake of my ego. Whatever you think of him, Citizen Murdoch is a giant of our times who (with a little help from me, of course) has changed the course of the publishing and broadcast industries.

Moreover, of what other billionaire media magnate could you recall, as I did for Dimbleby’s doco, watching him grab an armful of New York Posts from an overwhelmed newspaper seller at Grand Central Station and begin selling them – “Thirty cents! Just 30 cents!” he yelled – to rush hour commuters?

My top Post headline. .  .and tee-shirt!

Talking of the New York Post, I said my week been ‘all Murdoch’ and it has. An old colleague of mine at the Post, Susan Mulcahy, now a successful writer and biographer, is co-writing a history of our old paper, America’s oldest continuously-published newspaper (founded in 1801) and wanted to interview me; not that I remember THAT far back!

Anyway, we pooled our memories of the late Seventies/early Eighties during an hour-long Zoom call across the Pond and agreed ‘they don’t make newspapers today like WE did’!

The Post was infamous for its outrageous headlines and kiss-and-tell celebrity stories, techniques imported by Murdoch’s Fleet Street men, but I remembered best from my time there the sort of headlines that simply told their awful stories: ‘REAGAN SHOT’ was one I handled in 1981 and, more memorably, ‘JOHN LENNON MURDERED’ in 1980.

My favourite Post headline? ‘HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR’ of course, a front page which, like The Sun’s “FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER”, still travels the world on tee-shirts.

We shall fight them
on the bleaches. . .’

For all of you, this week marked the end of lockdown. To Mrs Banks and me it was, as Churchill put it, “not the end, not even the beginning of the end. but, perhaps, the end of the beginning. . .” It marked C-Day: the week our cleaners could come back.

Pat and her daughter, Dawn, are more than just help around the house: they are our friends. Their arrival once a fortnight provokes much merriment as well as some good-natured teasing (they are my readers, too) and my only objection to their visits is the clearing-up that Mrs B demands I do the day before “to make the house clean enough for them to clean”. Does that make any sense to you, gentlemen?

For Gemma, the Queen of Organics, it also marked the resumption of a friendly war with the cleaners: at the end of a session our home doesn’t just look spick and span, it smells it, too.

Pat and Dawn are devotes of the Henry V tradition – “Once more unto the bleach, dear friends. . .” – and would, unchecked, pour gallons of the stuff down any open orifice that looked capable of harbouring germs. Gemma, on the other hand, prefers homemade concoctions of oats and harvest flowers with an eye dropper of Dettol applied with as much elbow grease as is necessary.

I am Switzerland in this germ warfare; strictly neutral. I retire to my writing room wearing headphones while the war rages and victory, invariably, goes to the householder. After all, Churchill’s best-remembered battle-cry is Mrs B’s mantra:

“We shall fight them on the bleaches. . .”

Dining at Al Fresco on
the Red Lion Riviera

Amazing, isn’t it, how the everyday things we took for granted disappeared with the advent of the Coronavirus? Handshakes, continental cheek kissing, football, cricket, coffee mornings, casual sex, church services. . . they all disappeared faster than Dominic Cummings on child-minding duty.

Some of them (unlike Cummings, sadly) were replaced: the Red Lion’s dining room, deserted by order of HM’s Government, now offers a delicious five-star takeaway menu and a Fry-Day fish supper service [find the menu HERE] which keeps the chefs busy, the diners delighted and the landlord just the right side of bankruptcy.

And coming soon to north Northumberland’s favourite gastropub. . . the al fresco outdoor dining area, ready for reopening with adequate social distancing indoors and out. It’s certainly got the locals talking!

LAWNMOWER SALESMAN: Why is he calling it the Al Fresco dining area?
BILLY THE QUID: I think he’s naming it after some Italian bloke who lived there.
KLONDIKE: That’s right. . .Alberto Fresco was an Italian prisoner of war who worked on a farm in Milfield and stayed on after the war, ended up owning his own smallholding.

That sort of chat is what the Leader of the Free World and our landlord would both call ‘fake news’. The al fresco dining area will, however, replace the former and largely-unused smoking shelter with a deck and several outdoor tables as the pub adapts to changed circumstances.

And that’s not all: a barcode (bar-code, geddit?) will be introduced alongside each item on the menu enabling diners and drinkers, inside as well as outdoors, to send their choices direct to the bar and kitchen and have their choices delivered to the table.

LAWNMOWER: Wow! Who’ll deliver them, Reggie the Robot?
KLONDIKE: Stupid boy! Georgia and Jody will still be there, as usual. You’ll just scan the barcode with your mobile phone.
LAWNMOWER: How do I do that?
BILLY: Show him, somebody. . .

This is a dialogue that could run and run. Meanwhile, landlord Iain has begun the construction of the proudly named Al Fresco Dining Area.
Watch this space for progress reports.

Just saying. . .
The Dominic Cummings Affair refuses to go away and we will not be ‘moved on’ as the Prime Minister would fervently wish. Not, that is, until we get better and more explicit replies from our parliamentary representatives than this one, sent to my wife by our Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan after Gemma had written asking why Cummings had not been sacked over his Durham away-stay.

“I am writing in reply to your email. I have received many emails from constituents about this issue. Some in support of Mr Cummings, some very much against him remaining in post and many in the middle or undecided about it.”

Question 1: Have you EVER heard of ANYONE writing to their MP because they felt “in the middle or undecided” on an issue?
Question 2: “Some. . . many”? Why not simply state the numbers of emails in each category?

Can MPs wonder for a moment why we simply don’t believe a word they say?

Three excellent letters from The Guardian:
If it is deemed too dangerous for the House of Commons to open to all MPs why not repurpose the Royal Albert Hall? It can seat 5,272. Plenty of elbow room for debate with social distancing. Democracy must be allowed to work, and to be seen to be working.
Kim Thonger, Northamptonshire

If the government is worried about new arrivals to the UK bringing in infection, why not test them at the border? They’d be quarantined for just 48 hours till the results come in, then if it’s negative they go free.
Cristina Howick, London

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, thinks that we will recognise genuine track and trace callers because of the conversation we have with them. So, as simple as recognising hoax calls from banks?
Polly Bird, – Bedlington, Northumberland

And finally. . . If, unhappily, you DO test positive for Covid-19 please, PLEASE tell tracers you’ve been in contact with Dominic Cummings. Your identity will remain anonymous, so it will be impossible for him to deny and he’ll be ordered home to self-isolate!



  1. Thanks for the tip, David. I forgot to cancel my Audible subscription last month, so this is good timing! Looking forward to hearing your dulcet tones.

  2. Great stuff as ever, Banksy. I hate to sub-edit my old boss and spoil a good joke (sadly, it’s part of our job), but alfresco is one word. Cheers.

  3. Brilliant column, as ever, Banksy. I, too, am a defender of Murdoch, though as a soft left of centre liberal, many of my friends can’t understand my admiration of him. Remember at Wapping when a pre-knighthood Nick Lloyd, having been tasked to help oversee training on the new-fangled Atex computer system, had to admit to Rupe that there were not enough handbook/guides to go round. (You had one job, Nick!) Murdoch disappeared and returned 20 minutes later, having scoured the new building to discover the said handbooks in a dusty store somewhere, and carried an armful of them up to the office himself.

    • Indeed Nick, if most of us had inherited what he did in his 30s from his dad, we have probably never done another proper day’s work in our lives. (The Marquis of Bath and his wifelets comes to mind.) But he though, oh, I’ve got some start-up cash to build a worldwide media giant.

  4. Clearly anyone who wrote to our MP about the Cummings affair received a standard response no matter what we said; so much for being valued as individuals.


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