The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Jamie Carter’s biography of Rock legend Jason Zodiac.
With those memories running through the projector of my mind’s eye, I jogged up the stairs of Leicester Square tube station and headed out into the discordant Soho dusk. RJ Black had agreed to meet me at his favorite watering hole, the French House on Dean Street, one of the Bohemian bars that resisted commercialization and remained a fond meeting spot for the West End’s stage and TV luvvies. I pushed open the door, stepping into the misty, yeasty warmth, ignored by the clusters of eclectic-looking men and women ferociously busy in conversation.
I moved through the pub, and caught sight of a man about my age propping up the bar on his own, reading The Guardian. He was dressed in black from head to foot, leather jacket, turtleneck sweater, jeans, black winkle-pickers, black trademark trilby hat jammed onto black shoulder-length hair.
He put the paper down as I stepped in front of him. “Oi, mate!” he yelled at me. “Did you just punch out Timothy Dalton?”
Private joke. Once I’d drunkenly bumped into some random bloke in the French House whose face I half-recognized, thought was an old friend of mine, and insisted on buying a drink for him. It was only when I got back to my own table that I realized who the guy was when RJ said in puzzled awe, “Did you just buy Timothy Dalton a drink?”
Ever since then it was our ritual greeting. “Did you just have tea with Timothy Dalton?” “Did you just grope Timothy Dalton?” – you get the picture.
“Are you still drinking that real ale?”
“Nothing but,” he said. “They’ve got Woodforde’s Wherry as a guest beer this month, I’ll have a half of that.”
We eventually got served and propped our glasses on the wide windowsill near the side door. Somewhere, the PA was attempting to pipe John Coltrane into the pub’s atmosphere, but the rising hubbub of drunken conversation made it totally pointless.
“I’ve been reading your articles,” RJ said. “They’re pretty good. I was talking to Jake the other day and your name came up and we both said, yeah, they’re the best pieces on retro culture we’ve seen in a long time.”
Considering the reputation RJ had for being grumpy anfd scathing in conversation, this was praise indeed. I couldn’t help smiling. “So you know why I wanted to speak to you,” I told him.
“Jason’s punk days. Oh, yes indeedie.” He sniffed, flicked the fringe out of his eyes, preoccupied with swishing the beer around in his glass.
“Personally, I think you should drop it,” he said finally. He said it so quickly, in this low mumble, trying to avoid eye contact, that at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I asked him to repeat it.
“I think you ought to stop,” he said, some of his famous belligerence rising to the surface. “You’ve written enough. Let the rest be a mystery, it’s better off that way. People don’t need to know the truth.”
“But RJ,” I said, “This is just starting to get interesting. Old footage of the TV show has turned up, archive recordings, bootlegs, people are talking about this kind of stuff again . . .”
“But it doesn’t go anywhere,” RJ said, taking a deep swig of his ale. “Look, these are the facts. There was no death certificate ever issued but when the cops investigated, they found no birth certificate. No social security number. No permanent address. The guy didn’t even seem to have any family. Jason Zodiac was the stage name of Jason Hawkshaw, but there’s no official record of a ‘Jason Hawkshaw’ ever existing. If the cops couldn’t find anything back in 1999, what makes you think you can?”
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t want RJ to think . . . no, he wouldn’t, would he? This was just a job.
“Well, the actors in the old show . . . Gerald Moore, Mike McKenzie . . . they seem to know more than they’re telling.”
RJ closed his eyes and pursed his lips. It was an old habit of his, or more like a facial tic, a grimace he made whenever he heard something he classed as bollocks.
“I’ve had anonymous tips,” I pressed on. “Someone’s got hold of my personal email address.”
“Yeah, well, rock on with that.” He knocked back the last of his ale and sniffed again, a deep snort like he was trying to clear a double decker bus out of his sinuses. “My round, ace reporter. Same again.”
I took a few deep breaths, checked my cell phone and sent a text to Katy while RJ was at the bar, scanned the crowd for any celebs in tonight. Nobody I knew. I tried to make sense of what RJ had told me. He was notorious for being a contrary bugger, but even so . . .
“Listen,” RJ said when he got back, placing the beers on the windowsill. “Do you remember the Sex Pistols publicity stunt the night before the Jubilee?”
“The boat trip down the river Thames,” I said straight away. “You and Tony Parsons covered it for the NME. They were all on the boat; the Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood . . . and Jason Zodiac.”
“Let me tell you what really happened that night,” he said, a grim note of confession in his voice.
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