The Real Lionel Mandrax
The next few days were spent watching the films of Harry Rubik’s mature directorial career and waiting for my contact back in Surrey to phone me. I was preparing to write my masterpiece and trying to decipher any of the rumoured “hidden messages” that were supposed to have been concealed within Rubik’s movies – though no one could quite seem to agree on what they might be.
Ned Spartacus’ information sounded a lot like what might be termed “conspiracy theories” by a less generous person than I.
I was still thinking about what Ned had said when Stephanie, my literary agent, called me.
I might have told her that I was considering doing a non-fiction book – my last couple of novels were going nowhere – and for once she must have liked the idea, because her news was quite unexpected.
“Sterling,” she said, “howareya, kid? Have I got an angle for you! You’ve seen Nuclear War: The Movie, right? Well I’ve got you an interview with the real-life Billy Spears!”
“Who?” I remember asking then.
Captain William “Billy” Spears was the British bomber commander in Nuclear War: The Movie, whose colleague General Mabuse makes the unfortunate decision to go insane and launch all out atomic armageddon against “The Forces of Communism” in retaliation for what he sees as an internationalist plot to destroy his country’s “purity”. In the film’s thrilling conclusion, Billy Spears has only a few moments to avert disaster.
Rubik and his leading man on the picture, Max Castle, had originally claimed to have based the character on no one in particular. But now it seemed that Rubik did know a man who might have been the basis for the poor Englishman tormented by the General in the final reel of that black comedy, a man who really had held his finger at one time over the red trigger button of cold war destruction.
He was now living in a care home in Bexhill on Sea.
Would I like to go and meet him?
I said that I would.
I had to say that I was a distant relative to get them to let me into the care home, an old crumbling Victorian building that was gothic as you would expect, as the Captain (now long since retired) was apparently not in good health.
I was already in a bad mood, having had a long train journey to get there, and the sight of three or four toothless elderly people digging in to their lunch did little to lift my spirits.
“I’ll just leave you here,” said the orderly, stepping out of the conservatory into which he had lead me.
I turned around. There were three elderly women and one old man to my left in chintz armchairs looking disinterested. This last one, I supposed, was Mandrax.
“Hello there,” I greeted him, trying to appear friendly. “I’m the famous writer who’s come to interview you about films, if you remember. I don’t know if they let you know. I understand that you were in the war. In the air force.”
The old fellow looked confused. He took a piece of stringy meat out of his mouth and adjusted his teeth. Finally he said: “Who?”
“The Cold War?” I tried, hopefully.
“I’m not cold. I’ve had four cups of tea.”
Jesus, I thought, this comes to us all – if we live long enough. This man’s time passed, the century is up, and this is where it left him: sitting in an arm chair stinking of piss, not knowing what day it is.
Just then the orderly came back, appearing right behind me. “Mr Pons, isn’t it? Making friends, I see? Captain Mandrax is in his room upstairs, having lunch. He’s ready to see you now.”