Alastair Campbell and the porn star: Ray Adams disapproves

London, January 1998

Semen spunked out over the steering wheel and dripped down to mingle with the Campbell of Argyll tartan.

‘Have you read any of it? You should have a look, some of it is very very good,’ Mark Thomas told the policeman outside 10 Downing Street.

Her head disappeared, and next I knew of her was a gentle lick along my—’ BEEP!  ‘which responded and rose. “Tie me in,” she ordered.’

The policeman didn’t know which way to look. Thomas was filming for his 1998 series on Britain’s Channel Four, Mark Thomas Comedy Product.

Outside 10 Dowling Street

Outside 10 Dowling Street

The segment was dedicated to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press secretary, Alastair Campbell. The footage is still on the Net here at 7.38 minutes in. ‘In an earlier career, [Campbell] was in fact a porn writer,’ Thomas says to camera. ‘We’ve managed to get hold of some copies of his pornography.’

It must have been a tough job narrowing it down to one article from the anatomically implausible series that Campbell wrote for the magazine Forum, back in 1980 under the pseudonym Riviera Gigolo. Thomas has gone for ‘Busking with Bagpipes’, which he says is a marvelous read—so marvelous that he has blown it up to monstrous size, much like Campbell’s bagpipes, and slathered the article across the sides of a large van.

‘We’ve had to black out some of the words here, because obviously if we’re driving around with this and you have got children pointing at the van going, “Mummy! Mummy! What’s a—” BEEP!’

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 3.15.13 PM

Mark Thomas’s van

The segment is a tongue in cheek protest about the government’s decision to ban the Eurotica-Rendez-Vous porn channel in Britain on moral grounds. Downing Street has run its own conditional access system ever since television was invented, no matter who was in power. The Conservatives’ Virginia Bottomley tried to ban Rendez-Vous in 1996, but the channel’s president, Roger Kinsbourg, fought a long court challenge, during which time the courts put the ban on hold until September 1998, when Labour’s Culture Secretary reinstated the ban.

At the door of Number 10 Downing Street, Thomas hands in a petition asking the Labour Government ‘to delay the ban of the satellite TV channel Eurotica Rendez-Vous long enough for us to dramatise some of Alistair Campbell’s saucy stories from Forum magazine and show them on the channel.’

Back at the studio, Roger Kinsbourg, looking bemused and uncomfortable, promises to produce the films if Campbell gives the go-ahead, and to broadcast them unencrypted ‘so the whole of Europe can enjoy it’. Of course it makes no difference. The ban remains, while sales of Rendez-Vous subscriptions in Britain go through the roof anyway. It was the best thing for sales that Roger had ever seen.

Rendezvous2‘The kids kept selling, whether or not there was a ban,’ he said later. ‘They couldn’t stop us broadcasting, they could stop us marketing.’

That’s one of two encounters Kinsbourg remembers vividly from 1998. The second meeting, months later, was set up by the security chief at Canal Plus in Paris, Pierre Petit. He called Kinsbourg and said someone called Ray Adams wanted to talk to him. Apparently he used to work for Scotland Yard. Now he worked for Rupert Murdoch.

Paris, Summer 1998

Roger Kinsbourg in his forties had found himself an accidental pornographer. He had worked previously in media in France, then with local television for minorities in the United States. When he returned to Paris in the mid-1990s an advisor linked to some banks suggested he try to run around a failing adult channel in Sweden that the banks were exposed to, called Rendez-Vous Television.

‘So I said, “Well that’s not my business. I’m not really a—it’s not exactly my profile,”’ Kinsbourg told me in 2010, sitting in his Port Bayonnes salon. But he said he would look at it.

‘And then I was stunned by the easiness to get into satellite television,’ he said. ‘I discovered that there was little legal constraints in Europe because of the vacuum in between the countries in terms of regulation. There was some guidance, some open guidance, but you cannot stop a satellite.’

Red Hot Dutch had pioneered pay-tv porn in 1991 before it was banned by the British government and went bust. Kinsbourg also picked up the troubled Eurotica channel, started by a US listed company Spice International. Somehow Kinsbourg became the biggest independent channel in Europe with offices in Paris, the operation itself in Luxembourg, with studios in Copenhagen and Fredericksberg and a general broadcast license in Denmark.

Kinsbourg's Paris apartment

Kinsbourg’s Paris apartment

‘At this point I was confronted by piracy, and because I was a small operator I was much more vulnerable than the big guys,’ he said. One of Kinsbourg’s main dealers in England told him he could arrange some contact with the pirates so that they would not be targeted. ‘So there was some special arrangement made and they would leave us alone.’

I tell Kinsbourg that this sounds like extortion, and he looks pained. ‘It was a business agreement, it was not extortion. Well it is and it is not. It is whatever, a settlement, arrangement, whatever you want to call it. It’s consultancy fees.’ He laughed. ‘It was un arrangement.’

I ask if the money was paid to Oliver Kömmerling. ‘No,’ he says firmly.  ‘Not by me.  I cannot say if some of my distributors did. They told me they did pay. But to whom I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me.’

Later the dealer told Roger that it might be useful for him to meet some of the pirates, to establish a personal relationship. He took Roger to Germany to visit Oliver in his lab.

‘He had a huge building where he had all the equipment—I mean he had stunning equipment. Hundreds of thousands, millions of euros of equipment that had been funded by NDS,’ Kinsbourg said. ‘He was bragging how good he was at reverse engineering. He explained the way engineers think, they end up in one dimension, and he would go in between and find a way to circumvent the fuses, . . . to find a solution around them.’

Oliver told a very different story to the BBC in 2011. ‘You’re not gonna believe this, this Chinese guy, ah, he was asking money from Roger Kinsbourg, the owner of this channel, every month and he basically blackmailed him. He said, ‘If you pay every month I think it was £5000 or so, we’re not gonna attack you.’ I said, “Who are you?” – “Well I’m with Oliver.”

Oliver Koemmerling

Oliver Koemmerling

‘And later when I met [Kinsbourg], this guy said to me, “Well you must have made a lot of money out of me.” And I was, “What are you talking about? We don’t – we have met now the first time, what do you say I’ve made money out of you?” And, ah, then he explained to me, “Well I’m paying you every month.”’

‘Later I said to him [Kinsbourg], “Forget this idiot, don’t pay him, sue him, go to court.” So I had a friendship with him [Kinsbourg] because he was quite happy I solved this, ah, situation.’

Oliver makes no reference to Kinsbourg visiting him with the dealer. This is quite different from Roger Kinsbourg’s account. Days after I spoke to Kinsbourg in 2010, at his recommendation I met with the dealer. Kinsbourg spoke of him with great trust and warmth, with no suggestion that he had been blackmailed or defrauded. I asked the dealer if he had paid money to Oliver for Rendez-Vous not to be hacked. After a pause he said he hadn’t. He said he had bought him an underwater camera for his scuba diving.

The issue here is whether Oliver Kömmerling, while an agent of NDS and News Corporation, was part of a shakedown of a rival media group. Neither Kinsbourg nor the dealer made the allegation directly, and it’s an awkward situation, because for part of the time at least, Rendez-Vous subscriptions were being sold in Britain despite a government ban. Perhaps this was one of those occasions when Oliver was mistaken for the pirate group he had belonged to well in the past. Oliver’s account is certainly puzzling. Perhaps their memories were at fault.

Was Roger’s arrangement with the pirates effective?

‘It was very effective,’ he said. ‘It was too effective because it drew the attention of the other operators.’ Which was how the head of security at Canal Plus, an old French policeman called Pierre Petit, came to phone Roger. ‘He said, “Do you mind to have some people from NDS meet with you?”’

It was a fine summer day in 1998 when Ray Adams walked into Kinsbourg’s office with an NDS colleague. ‘Ray Adams is nothing special, he’s medium height but rather chunky. He looks like what he is, basically, an ex-police officer.’

Adams had the charm on. The group exchanged opening pleasantries, before Adams came to the point: ‘Why are you the only company that has not been heavily pirated? You’re not pirated at all.’

‘That’s a good question,’ Roger told him.

‘Yes, why? It means you must know something that we don’t know.’

‘Hmm, well, I’m not going to explain,’ he told Adams. ‘We are lucky.’

Roger took them downstairs to the bar in his office, and they drank a few beers and batted things around and it seemed to go no further. Kinsbourg didn’t mention that he had hired a special consultant to fight piracy. Adams would hear about it eventually. He wouldn’t like it.

*********

[This passage didn’t make the cut from the final version of Murdoch’s Pirates. It goes on to describe one of the few times that a small pay-tv operation which has been pirated managed to defeat the pirates without replacing its smartcard. Sometimes the little guy wins]

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