The Reputation of Colonel Otto Skorzeny

September 6, 2018

Well, hello. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Five years ago, Publicis was buying Omnicom (or was it the other way around?). Now, even the Mighty Martin has been toppled from his pedestal and marketing services conglomerates are beginning to look distinctly ‘retro’.

But enough of that. What have I been up to? Writing a book is the short answer. It’s called Otto Skorzeny – The Devil’s Disciple and will be published internationally by Bloomsbury/Osprey during the week beginning September 16.

OS cover

What’s it about? A military adventurer whose ‘epic’ deeds belong, at first sight, to the realm of fiction. And yet they do not. Skorzeny really did help to rescue Benito Mussolini from a near-impregnable mountain fastness where he was being held hostage by his own side. And he really did spook the Americans into believing he was sending a commando force dressed and armed as US servicemen to assassinate their supreme commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Paris – which inspired panic behind American lines.

When I say Otto Skorzeny was larger than life, I mean it. He was a big man, with big ideas and an even bigger ego. He also had a big mouth and a big problem with telling the truth (though fortunately he didn’t have access to a Twitter account). His biggest fault, however, was an unflinching adherence – long after April 30 1945 – to one A. Hitler, to whom he owed his meteoric rise to global fame. Hence: The Devil’s Disciple.

You might think this misplaced devotion a big disadvantage in the post-war world: Nazi Germany pulverised, the Soviet Union, United States and Britain triumphant. Not a bit of it. With a slickness that puts Macavity in the shade, Skorzeny shrugged off a US-inspired war-crimes trial (he was acquitted on all counts) and escaped to Spain, where he morphed into a successful businessman. People came flocking to his Madrid apartment: journalists in search of a story (he was very good at that, especially tall ones); film producers in hope of acquiring the rights to Skorzeny: The Movie; the CIA to keep tabs on his devious double-dealings in Germany; Mossad agents, because Israel had got into a bit of bother with an Egyptian rocket programme manned by Nazi scientists.

Otto Skorzeny was to die not in a ditch but, a multi-millionaire, in his bed. It was cancer that finally got him, not one of his many enemies.

All of which goes to show that the cult of celebrity comes in many guises. Though, admittedly, the uniform of an SS-Obersturmbannführer is rarely one of them.

In the next week or so I’ll post more on Skorzeny’s picaresque career.

 


Sir Martin Sorrell – a fit and proper Olympic torch-bearer?

July 10, 2012

“Millionaire at centre of ‘fat cat’ row will carry the Olympic torch through streets of East London” howled the Daily Mail, in one of its ‘world exclusives’.

Downpage, there were 57 varieties of indignation from the good folk of the north-eastern London borough of Redbridge, all queuing up to express their disgust and dismay at the soiling experience of having someone not themselves carrying the sacred flame through their hallowed land.

Charlotte Law, 19, was typical (of Daily Mail reportage, at any rate): “I would be much better at carrying the torch than him. At least I’m from around here. Did he have to apply like everyone else? I don’t think so. It’s a disgrace.”

And you could sympathise with her. The bastard. He may have given up his £20m bonus rights, but here he was trying to worm his way back into the big time by wielding an Olympic torch.

But no, not Bob Diamond. It was someone most of them had never heard of, until coached by Mail hacks. Some bloke called Sir Martin Sorrell. Something to do with a big advertising company and a scandal. He’d asked for much too much money (don’t they all?) and been told he couldn’t have it.

We don’t want his sort round here. Michael Aldridge, a 51-year old care worker, summed it all up: “It goes completely against the Olympics spirit, but it’s not about that any more, it’s about money.”

Let me put you right on that, Michael: it always was. Even in ancient Greece, where a prodigious amount of vicious cheating and betting invested the quadrennial games like a swampy miasma. Come to think of it, the Olympic Torch Relay itself isn’t exactly of blameless historical pedigree. It was introduced in 1936, just in time to fanfare the Nazi games. The Nazis were very good at that sort of thing.

But, coming back to Sir Martin, what is it – precisely – that he has, or hasn’t, done to qualify as one of 8,000 bearers of the Torch? Well, behind the scenes, he has since 2005 been giving a good deal of his valuable time to promoting and supporting, pro bono, the London Olympics. And, as if that weren’t disqualification enough, he has actually been asked by the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland to carry the torch!

Outrageous. You know Sir Martin’s problem? He’s not one of the Little People – except of course in the literal sense. He’s one of them, the elite, who rule our lives. But then, the last I heard, the Olympics – motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger –  is all about elitism. It’s a gladiatorial contest where the best man – and woman – always wins. How inegalitarian is that?


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