30. Granada Reports v Nazi Germany


Would this night ever end?

Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith and Tim Healy were led under armed supervision from their cramped cell to a wooden-panelled subterranean fitness centre that was fitted out with slide-away ropes, ladders and hoops. The parquet floor was buffed and glossy, but what was most intriguing were rows of flip-flap seats for a small audience – a gathering that had already started to take its place. It was a motley collection of armed servicemen, mainly grizzled SS crew who were past their use-by-date, while others were the former living – gently glowing ghosts with skeletal jaws delightedly agape.

Wilson noted with a flash of interest a bulky television camera of 1960s vintage and felt a frisson of excitement at its presence. Technicians busily strode around the makeshift studio clasping tools. Lights were adjusted, nuts and bolts were tinkered with and wiring expertly nipped.

Clough, Boycott, Smith and Healy were ushered to front-row seats among high-ranking soldiers in grand uniforms. A smorgasbord of cured meats and batons of salad items were set out on a low table in front of the British prisoners, along with jugs of water and stacked tumblers. Due to his presenter’s VIP status, Wilson was given his own selection of Germanic cold morsels by the side of the stage. Sliced charcuterie might have smelt like tramps, as was the case with much prosciutto-like meat, but this was nevertheless a lifeline for the starved travellers.

A peculiarly antique male with a Father Christmas beard and hair ‘away kit’ in alarming orange-ginger was perched at the end of the row with an open-mouth smile of cartoonish pleasure, such was his anticipation. He was wearing an oversized brown bedsheet dress and, due to his archaic attire, looked like a shepherd in a particularly tedious Church of England school play. On his feet were brown leather sandals, while his grey and blackened toenails, it could be argued, were in need of medical attention. Smith presumed he was in the midst of an old-fashioned drop-out heroin addict, and this brought a scowl of irritation. Heroin indicated a complete lack of self-respect and furthermore was an opting out of the world of work. Regardless, Smith rose from his seat, ambled slowly so as not to attract unwanted attention and crouched in front of the vintage individual.

“Eh, ’ow you doin’, cock?” Smith enquired.

“Huh?” the man in brown responded with deep impatience. “Be extremely swift in your dialogue. The performance is shortly to embark and I am required for my valuable insight.”

“Oh right, you spraken ze Englisch?” Smith observed.

“I spraken ze everything!” the oddly attired man commented without giving eye contact. “What is it you require?”

“D’you know if there’s a papershop nearby?” Smith ventured.

“A ‘paper… shop’?” the ginger Santa screwed up his face and fixed Smith with a glare. “You need paper – in which to write, to record these events so that they might become a historical parchment?”

“I noted some of your colleagues were smokers…”

“Smo…? Ohhh…” The grand character flinched to hide his frayed tolerance. He clicked his fingers and a youthful Nazi wearing a cap leapt to his side. There was a crackle of German conversation and the eager servant dashed towards the back of the hall like his life depended on it. Moments later a small packet with Gothic German writing on the surface was slapped into Smith’s grateful palm.

Smith’s visage lifted beneath the purple shading of his gouged eye: “Oh great, ’ow much do I owe you, sunshine?”

Gratis,” the tangerine-tinged living heirloom stated. “Normally I would state that these things will kill you but perhaps it is of no consequence to you on this evening.”

“That’s very decent of you,” Smith nodded. “You know I always look out for East Germany’s results in internationals. Blue jerseys, DDR, not a bad design ethos. Pretty simple, really. They’ve ’ad ’arsh deal of it that lot. I mean with the Russians and whatavya. Just need a spark and I’ll shift out of your road.”

The biblical character lifted his fingers and thumbs, and flames shot from the end of each like small blowtorches.

“Cookability – that’s the beauty of gas,” Smith winked and leant forward. “I once saw Paul Daniels do that at Bernard Manning’s club in Harpurhey. If you’re ever over that way, give us a shout.”

Still in attendance, the young Nazi gofer placed matches in Smith’s hand and like a Wimbledon ballboy re-took his position at the perimeter of the gym wall.

Inhaling, Smith narrowed his single not-blackened eye and asked, “What’s your name, friend?”

“Some call me Tuisto.”

“Is that with an ‘x’ at the end? Swiss by any chance?”

“On occasion, for appearance’s sake,” Tuisto smirked, eyes fixed firmly on the stage.

“I’d get that lintel looked at over the door upstairs,” Smith suggested. “It’s failed. The whole lot’ll come crashing down if you’re not careful.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Tuisto bristled. “On your recommendation… Mark Edward Smith. You’re a seer, no?”

            “That’s very astute of you,” Smith replied. “Though it’s not always the gift it’s made out to be. Like, I know you’ve been a bad lad. Stroppy at times. And don’t think I ’aven’t noticed. None of my business, of course. I’ve got enough to contend with as it is.”

“A formidable attitude,” Tuisto grimaced. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…” he said, getting to his feet. Smith noted that Tuisto was all of 5’2” and thought: small man syndrome.

“Yeah, get on your way, don’t let me stop you,” Smith uttered and with hunched shoulders he headed back to his seat.

Brian Clough removed a segment of raw cabbage from his molar using his tongue and fixed his attention on Tony Wilson, who was in quiet conversation with the camera operator and what appeared to be a floor manager. Upon seeing this, Clough felt a sense of pride for the highly professional and unfazed Granada TV presenter. He was doing what he did best despite the extraordinary circumstances he found himself in. Wilson pointed at floor zones and expressed ideas with exaggerated hand gestures, to which a compliant technician nodded and said, “Jawohl, mein Herren!”

More men shuffled into the gym, even three ageing personnel in kitchen uniform, who took their place at the rear of the hall, indulging in a break from their endless preparation of sauerkraut, schnitzel and schweinshaxe. Each was busily slopping through Pot Noodles that had been fortuitously deposited in their kitchen. There was a hum to the room but a hush of suspense slowly enveloped the space. Smith re-took his seat and handed out his king-size booty of Euro nicotine to a grateful Clough and Healy, who happily accepted a light from Smith. Boycott winced and said, “Could you lot not bloody well wait?”

A crackly gramophone scraped through Wagner’s 1843 opera The Flying Dutchman, an ear-wrenching din that eclipsed the sound of a set of double doors being opened by guards. First, a shadowy bespectacled gentleman with a full, flabby face, dressed in a black knee-length leather coat and black trilby, strode purposefully down the aisle. He was followed by a drifting, gently illuminated being with a toothbrush ’tache. The aura of Adolf Hitler flicked a hand of welcome to the now-standing crowd and seemed thrilled at the applause. Mark E Smith was struck by the intoxication of the moment and noted Hitler’s double-breasted field-grey jacket of the German army, the white shirt, black tie and black trousers. There was no braiding and no decoration except for the Iron Cross worn to the left of the chest. Keeping it simple.

The pig-like man in spectacles, having hung his coat on a collapsible coat hanger that could easily have doubled as a torture instrument, approached Wilson and confidentially explained that Hitler was unfortunately existing in a perpetual state of near-victory, and any notion of an Axis defeat would be met with unnatural fury.

“Ahh,” smiled Wilson. “Always read the terms and conditions.”

“It is far better to keep ze chancellor on your side, as it vere,” the amused German explained with a nasal whine, “because in a rage and confused he is likely to… vell, throw a few items around… Order an execution, rant about ze Jewish question, zat sort of thing. He is a fery powerful presence, you understand, even in death. Actually ze anger is interestink to vitness – if you should survive… Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!”

Wilson shifted weight to his other foot. “What you’re saying is, if I ask something that isn’t to your dead boss’s taste, I could end up being the star guest at a rope party.”

“Oh no, no, no,” the German replied. “Ze Führer prefers ze guillotine, wiz ze condemned facing upvards to see ze trajectory of ze blade. A little German twist, you know. Ze French in ze Revolution vere too… compassionate. Zey deserfed all zey got in ze Var.”

“But the French ended up administering swathes of Germany and districts of Berlin,” Wilson added. “They’re still there now.”

“Vell, let us not schplit ze hairs,” the German conceded. “Remember, ‘mama’ is ze vord!” He walked away tittering like a weird spoilt child.

By now Hitler was seated and was quickly joined by the brown curtain-adorned Tuisto and the spectacles-wearing intermediary. Hall lights darkened, while spotlights aimed at the stage area grew in intensity. The cameraman took up his position and the stage manager appeared from the wings with a clipboard. “Take it from ze top, Herr Wilson!”

Wilson, moving towards the camera, mic in hand, rapidly selected historical texts from his multi-floor library of a mind in which to begin an introductory monologue. He decided under the circumstances that something throwaway and self-deprecating would break the ice. He gazed warmly at the lens like he might when approaching a friend or relative.

“Welcome all, and thanks for joining us here at Hangingbrow Hall for what promises to be an unusual discussion, most possibly a lively discussion, with some very special guests,” Wilson began. “It’s become the fashion to talk about mysticism, even to pose as mystics, and – need it be said? – those who talk the most on such subjects are those who know the least.” He placed one hand in the other, calm yet alluring, before lifting a finger. “Not my words, but those of Thomas Aquinas, Italian guy, 13th-century Catholic priest and some would say father of modern philosophy. As always, the great Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby put it way better: ‘An empty kettle makes the most noise.’ With that in mind, I’ll shove a proverbial cork in it and introduce you to the congregentur. The dude in the cloak is Tuisto, resident in Carlisle, indeed resident here at Hangingbrow Hall, for centuries. If you haven’t had a chance to leaf through Babylonian records of late, well that’s understandable, but sit yourself down because you’re in for a surprise. It is said that Tuisto, aka Twisteaux, with an e-a-u-x, is no Swiss businessman but the fourth son of Noah. Noah – remember him?”

Tuisto shifted uncomfortably and placed a hand in his pocket.

“Noah,” Wilson clarified. “Notable seafarer; not a bad builder of vessels for zoological purposes in his time. Flooding of the world, lions sharing space with giraffes, you know the story. This fella is history. Once the rain stopped he was told to go forth and multiply, and off he shuffled to Central Europe. Perhaps he’s your ancestor? Perhaps he’s my ancestor? Gentlemen, we’ll test the theory. Please show your appreciation.”

Tuisto gave a joyless nod of recognition amid loud, enthusiastic clapping.

Wilson placed his fist on his mouth for dramatic effect. “Après moi le déluge,” he deadpanned into the lens as the audience quietened.

Boycott nudged Clough: “Dam Busters motto, that is.”

Clough gave the briefest of nods: “Points scoring. Dangerous game.”

“With Tuisto tonight,” Wilson followed, “the dictator with the dynamo glow needs no introduction from me, but for the sake of professionalism and entertainment value, let’s milk the moment. For many an Engländer, just hearing the name Adolf Hitler would drive terror into the hearts of those following the news on their Bakelite sets. Fear pumped directly into the British family home. And yet, anybody with a soft spot for the Lake District can’t be all bad… can they? Although it should be recognised that the Führer’s fascination with the North-west is – or certainly was – strategic and that this funny old shack we find ourselves cooped up in is in fact a cap, a lid on a curious causal network of considerable supernatural power that has drawn us like moths to its flame. Please give a warm welcome to the Führer, the chancellor of the German Reich and supreme commander of the German Army – Adolf Hitler!”

The crowd rose to its feet, all except Clough, Boycott, Smith and Healy, who instead remained resolutely still. They realised that obsequiousness might spare their lives for the short-term but they couldn’t bring themselves to stand in celebration of one of history’s greatest evil-doer.

“Me dad’d fuckin’ murder me if I kowtowed to this sort of shit,” Smith side-mouthed to Healy.

“Aye well,” Healy ruminated with a tired, folded face, “it’s not everyday you get to hang oot with a dead dictator and the murderer of millions of helpless Jews, Poles, Russians, spastics, grannies and grandads, gypsies, kids… Did I miss anyone out? Fella’s a complete wanka, but I’d just sit back and accept it if I were you, y’knaa.”

The rapturous reception gradually silenced.

Wilson swung round with arm outstretched: “And here also is Major Walter Schröder of the Gestapo, a sorter-outer, the thrashing feet beneath the calm surface of the water, an Alka-Selzer for awkward moments, a PA, PR and a persuader for all matters invasively German in the North-west of England. People, let’s start the show!”

The place erupted. Hitler, who in death could comprehend all languages, seemed fascinated by the amusement being provided by the Factory Records decision-maker and seasoned television presenter.

Wilson faced the panel. “Tell us about the whales.”

The three instantly sunk into an uncharacteristic sheepishness.

“If I may,” Schröder spoke after a lengthy silence, filling the silent void, “zis is in fact an ingenious plan to provide power for our bunker, vhich indeed is already occurrink, but also to create livink bomber aircraft, whereby ze schpermaceti of ze vhale is pumped and fed directly to ze engines. Free aviation fuel! Ze beast vill be given a schtimulant intravenously in order to overcome ze fear of flyink and from ze sensation of beink outside of ze vater. Vater tanks vould be too heafy for transportation. Ze creature vould in all probability be wrapped in damp sackink. Once back from bombink, say New York or Washington, ze unterdersee mammal vould be reunited with ze vater tank and allowed to recuperate. Furzer drugs vould assist ze vhale in ze reproduction of schpermaceti. Ser gut, ya?”

“Ingenious,” Wilson frowned and appeared lost in thought for a moment. “Imagine whales having a fear of flying. Where’s your runway for this freakish fleet?”

Hitler rose and his head glowed a morbid crimson. For a moment he barked in an unintelligible dialect and gesticulated like a pigeon in the midst of feathered courtship, but slowly the words morphed into English. “…vill be plenty of runvays once ze British Isles haff been conquered!” he spoke in a heavily accented semi-bark. “You vill accept German might in all circumstances, from Schetland to ze Scilly Isles, takink your orders from beneath ze boot of ze German soldiery!”

“Yeah, OK, we get that bit,” Wilson nodded. “But whales – living creatures? What did they ever do to deserve such retribution?”

“Retribution?” Hitler huffed. “You forget vhales profided ze British Empire wiz cheap lightink for centuries! Industrialised slaughter! Ve haff a plan to return zese beasts to zeir natural habitat upon completion of a Luftwaffe tour of duty. Forty missions!”

There followed a polite ripple of applause.

“What about plugging into the power of this place?” Wilson queried. “You could propel space rockets, bombers, long-range missiles, any weapon you liked, if you could somehow harness the electrical energy of the force beneath your feet.”

“You are most correct about ze potential of Hangingbrow Hall, Herr Wilson,” Schröder accepted. “It is, after all, vhy ve are here. We haff our top scientists vorking on zis fery obstacle as we speak but it is no easy matter. In ze meantime, with ze vhales, ze livink fuel – lebendes Kraftstoffsystem – you understand ve are perhaps a year from masterink zis science but ve vill make it vork. It is inevitable. And ve should haff a vorkink prototype bomber in six months.”

“Now, one of your guys earlier said, ‘The War isn’t over yet,’” Wilson continued. “What did he mean by that?”

“Precisely as he told you!” Hitler followed. “Ve are vaitink, recuperatink, gainink strength before ze battle can be decisifely rejoined! Ve haff allies – industrialists, politicians and leaders – around ze vorld vaitink to resume ze ideals of ze Reich!”

“And zis is most interestink,” Schröder cut in. “Ze Verevolf Mofement is a resistance force formed in 1944, mostly youths, some of whom you see here zis fery efening. Ve are sittink it out till we can turn on ze enemy. Zen zere vas ze Deutsche Reichspartei, which begun after ze 1945 layink down of arms and ze rape of Berlin, to maintain ze ideals of ze schtruggle.”

Hitler rose to his feet again. “Ve are ze Aryans of Atlantis!” he loudly asserted. “Atlantis is ze German root. Ve are ze founders of all culture and vhen our home vas submerged ve travelled to ze empty lands of Tuisto. Zis is so and it is undeniable! German culture extends back more zan 200,000 years, and zis is a fact zat is as strong as iron, a time vhen zere vere three suns in ze sky, giants, dwarfs and ze old German gods. Among zem, ze Aryans liffed and thrived as a master race. Mighty of mind, fair-haired, blue-eyed, fit and supremely healthy, ze instigators of all art, music, language, writink, agriculture, architecture and ze folk rituals. Zis is an incontrovertible reality!”

“We’re all entitled to an opinion,” Wilson said. “But you must realise that to myself, to the Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough seated over there, to the Yorkshire cricketer Geoff Boycott, to the frontman of The Fall, Mark E Smith, and upcoming actor from the Tyne, Tim Healy, this will sound absolute bunkum.”

The audience murmured with shock. Was he mad?

Hitler rocked and lifted a wild fist. “Bunkum? BUNKUM!? You vould call us liars in our own house? You, you… English pigdog!”

“Please, my Führer, ve must allow ze questions to be formally placed,” soothed a smirking Schröder. “Ve must record eferysink as evidence to ze future generation of our genius and will. And please remember… zis is ze free country! Ha-ha-haaaa! Ha-ha-ha-haaaa!”

The attendees guffawed with delight.

Clough glanced over his shoulder to take in the scene. He was met with a set of crazed goggly eyes peering from a hazy skeletal face beneath a camouflaged field cap.

“Your friend pissed on my grafe,” the spook leaned forward.

“Thinking about it now, I wish I’d bloody joined him,” Clough replied.

“Let’s turn to you, Tuisto,” Wilson pressed on, fighting the schedule’s clock. “Where’s your German military uniform?”

Expertly, Tuisto allowed a moment’s silence to pass in order to build drama and then his chair lifted from the ground. Still seated, Tuisto rose and slowly flew above the heads of the studio audience, rotating like the Moon as it circles the Earth. Wilson patiently allowed the spectacle to play out. Tuisto hovered like a silent Harrier jump jet and finally with great skill and accuracy clunked back into his original position. Tuisto then fixed Wilson with a mischievous grin and said, “My apologies, what was your question?”

Laughter and cheers rang out. Even Hitler was ebullient.

Wilson feigned amusement: “You’ve done that before, I can see.”

“Well, where to begin,” Tuisto cried above the cheers.

“Let’s start with Christianity,” Wilson offered.

“Indeed,” Tuisto smirked. “Are you a Christian, Mr Wilson?”

“Anthony, please,” Wilson said. “In answer to your question, I’m a lapsed Catholic. I blame my grammar school education. I started asking tricky questions. Lapsed, but I’m on this planet to promote positivity. Positivity – and to encourage the city that I live in and love to reach its global potential.”

“And yet your religious wars bring out the worst in millions,” Tuisto threw back.

“Yes, depravity,” Wilson accepted. “Absolute depravity – by some, that is. But the gas chambers of the Third Reich moved things along, would you not accept?”

“You mourn ze enemies of ze Aryans?” Hitler cut in. “Your Christianity is but one chapter of a book whose pages vould stretch from here to ze sun and back. History has been hidden from ze German people by ze Catholic faith!”

Wilson stalked the stage. “So you’re saying that the Third Reich is part of a far bigger agenda, something astronomical, something supremely natural. That’s your gist here, darling.”

Tuisto gave a slow handclap. “This is history that is not on the curriculum – a Roman word, you will note.”

Wilson eyeballed the TV camera. “First Reich, Holy Roman Empire, universum regnum, the legal successor of the Roman Empire, 962 to 1806 – dates emblazoned on any ‘A’ Level student’s retina. Then along comes Napoleon and the Battle of Austerlitz, and the French control Europe. He has an idea to invade the United Kingdom, starting with a stab at Ireland. Not a single Frenchman lands in Britain or Ireland and it’s a total failure. There’s a reason it’s called the English Channel. Along comes the Second Reich, German Empire 1871 to 1918, and we all know what happened there. The Third Reich, that’s you guys…”

“And now ze Fourth Reich,” Schröder declared. “It has begun here at Hangingbrow Hall. You are all fortunate to vitness history in ze makink.”

“Only zis time, zere is a union wiz a force far more powerful zan any nation,” Hitler caterwauled. “Italy, Rumania, Japan – zese countries are derelict of fibre. Vhat fooIs ve vere! Zis is ze perfect union of ancient and modern vorlds, ze livink and dead under a single banner marchink ever onvards to ze racially pure Aryan world, and ze annihilation of all untermensch, ze inferiors – ze hordes from ze East.”

“And yet you forged an alliance with Croatia and Bulgaria,” Wilson reminded.

“Ethnically better zan ze Slav,” Schröder defended. “Croatians are descended from ze Goths and vere forced into ze Panslav ideal. But zey were not part of our grand scheme!”

“You see, your Catholic church is in reality an occupation of ancient German lands by the Roman Empire and a persecution of the German tribes,” Tuisto put forward. “They have been denied access to the old gods – denied access to the truth!”

“But didn’t God speak to your father with some inside information about a tricky weather front approaching?” Wilson asked. “The great reversal of creation.”

“Oh, I don’t know, it was a long time ago,” Tuisto responded – and this brought a laugh from the crowd and a broad smile to Hitler’s face. “Perhaps my father had been partaking of the grape. He was the planet’s original drunk, you know. Might the god who spoke to Noah be another ancient being? Perhaps we will never know the answer.”

“Now, my bible stated that Noah had three sons,” Wilson pointed out. “Shem, Ham and Japeth. You’re a turn up for the books.”

“Was historical accuracy ever the Bible’s strong point?” Tuisto dismissed. “It states that my father lived to be 950 years old, but I could have sworn we celebrated his 1,000th birthday. Who was counting? He had, as you English say, ‘a good innings’.”

Boycott smiled, then checked himself.

“But that would make you thousands of years old,” Wilson pressed. “You’ve clearly seen better days but you don’t look old enough for a bus pass yet.”

“A bus pass?” Tuisto chortled. “That is most amusing. I have seen moving pictures of your modern transportation on the television. Incredible things, quite incredible. Wild colours, unusual motifs.”

“That’s right,” Wilson accepted. “If you think the swastika is a decent piece of graphic design, I suggest you seek out our wonderful Double M logo from 1974 and the words Greater Manchester Transport in lower-case Helvetica script. Designed by Ken Hollick – a Londoner. But I won’t hold that against him.”

“You must understand zat ze Aryans are truly ancient,” Schröder cut in. “Zey bred through electrical means rather than by… ahem, copulation. Zat came much later from interbreedink wiz lower species many, many centuries ago. Ze female is, sadly, to blame for zis great fall from grace. But possibly wiz selective breedink, such paranormal powers can be reclaimed. Ze extermination of all other inferiors vill hurry zis process along. Worth a go, ya? Destruction, Herr Wilson, is completely necessary before any peace can be contemplated. It is for zis reason zat Hangingbrow Hall became so important to ze Reich strategy. It is essential for ze eternal Fourth Reich. Ze power here is staggerink. Ze house is a stopper on top of a vell of unspeakable magnitude. If ve could understand zis force, who can say vat zis might mean for ze Aryans and ze future of ze Germanic tribe.”

“OK, you’ve said your bit,” Wilson commented, “but have you considered that you might be playing with fire – and if you get burnt here, you could end up with very sore fingers? But I suppose that’s where your man Tuisto comes in.”

“Man?” grinned Tuisto. “I prefer demi-god.”

“My apologies,” Wilson said, and placed his hand on his chin. “But sometimes there’s a fine line between demi-god and demagogue.”

Tuisto spluttered. “Your lack of respect is astounding.”

“Tell us what your role is here,” Wilson continued. “You’re an agent, a link between two worlds. A sort of priest or vicar.”

“I have provided a conversation with Them,” Tuisto stated.

“Them?” Wilson frowned. “Who, or what, are Them?”

“That is indeed the key question, Anthony, and one which I cannot fully answer at this time,” Tuisto replied. “I have been waiting here for hundreds of years to understand more, but you must see that our scale of time cannot be compared with the billions of years that these superior entities have been living for.”

“And yet you have their ear,” Wilson continued. “Whatever Them are – or is – they listen to you, and Them, in turn, provide you with information. They allow you to remain here unharmed and have given you, it would appear, endless life.”

“True enough,” Tuisto accepted. “Oh, and this helps too…”

He carefully pulled a hand-sized bronze lump from his pocket.

“And this is?” Wilson enquired.

“I call it the Receiver,” Tuisto explained, studying with awe its polished lustre. “It is wonderful, isn’t it? I found it nearby, oh, I don’t know, 1,500 years ago. You see, I have been in the British Isles for such a considerable time. It is metal, look. It has a hole in it, and I use this to communicate with Them. I haven’t aged a day since I first came across it – so it must be doing me some good! I talk into it, and if I place my ear to the hole, I hear voices. It is Them.”

“Could I have a look at this ancient telephone?” Wilson enquired.

“It is precisely what you are already doing!” Tuisto replied with confusion. “You look with your eyes, not your hands.”

Hitler elbowed in: “Ve liff in a magical vorld that is littered wiz clues guidink ze German to ze old order. ‘Them’ is ze forces of destruction – violence and disorder. Ze true vays of nature. I fancy you vere hopink we vere in league wiz ze Deffil himself! Is zat not so, Engländer? Ve haff one aim, and zat is returnink Germany to its former glory – to a perfect time! But ve must massacre our opponents in ze first instance, ze beast-people, even zose lukevarm to our plans, with utter ruthlessness! Remoofe zem from ze script!”

Wilson stepped back from Tuisto, Hitler and Schröder and pondered for a moment. “Earlier on during this eventful evening, a few us battled with a pygmy woolly mammoth from an American children’s television programme,” Wilson explained. “This creature was a figure of long-standing anxiety for our friend Mark E Smith and yet the three of us had to unite to defeat this adversary. Why not something from my own imagination or Tim Healy’s? Why Mark’s specifically?”

“Vas zis upschtairs in ze side of ze house zat faces ze evil tree?” Schröder asked.

“The evil tree – that’s gone,” Wilson calmly relayed. “Tried to eat Brian Clough over there and then was torn from the ground by a whirlwind.”

“Oh dear!” Schröder grinned. “You guys haff had ze stomach-full tonight, haff you not? Zere is a particularly – how vould you say? – playful spirit in zat part of ze property. Perhaps your ‘Schmit’ has ze overactive imagination or maybe special powers zat you are unaware of. It obviously vanted to impress him or attract his attention. But a woolly mammoth, you say? Zat is interestink. Ve had one of ze SS guys brutally murdered up zere by Pittiplatsch – a puppet from ze German TV. It’s like ze brown Moomin wiz fried eggs for eyes. Another soldier escaped but lost a leg in ze process but was able to speak of their plight. We were cross with Tuisto and Them after zis incident but, you know, it was a small setback. Ze ‘big picture’ and all that.”

“Are you sure Them are committed to the long-term Reich plan?” Wilson asked. “I mean, do they give a fig about your claims of racial superiority?”

“Them – they have long, long memories,” Tuisto stated. “They also play games for their own amusement, Anthony. I’m sure you are aware of the Greek myths. It is a sense of humour unlike anything a human can comprehend. You might consider it… pranksterish.”

“You’re a bit of a prankster yourself, Tuisto,” Wilson reminded. “Some would label you ‘murderer’. You killed a local woman and her children on these premises, among countless others.”

“A shroud of respectability was required, this is true,” Tuisto revealed. “A family provided the means so that I might assist the greater cause. To inform the German High Command of the supernatural capabilities of Hangingbrow Hall, I needed access to modern communication and this entailed what you might call a public face.”

“Were the three children your own?” Wilson asked.

“What use do I have of children?” Tuisto spat. “They were her own offspring from a previous relationship. The gatekeeper smashed a hole into their quarters on their first evening here and gave peculiar life to an entertainer’s dummy that I was once given as a gift. I liked its jovial features, I must admit. I hoped I might have controlled our resident spirit but… well, it wanted its fun. The dummy carried out the deed.”

“But you did nothing to bloody stop it!” Clough called from the front row.

“This information is piffling!” Tuisto laughed. “It is of no use to our entertainment this evening.”

 “You lived a lie,” Wilson continued. “You deceived innocent people. They took your assumed Swiss name and paid the ultimate price. You also filled a wall with bodies hundreds of years ago, didn’t you? As a prank? And these are just a few of the crimes we’ve discovered. What is the purpose of all this death?”

“All gifts,” Tuisto smiled. “Payments. Keeping the landlord happy. Simple offerings to the old gods. You see, there is no easy escape from Hangingbrow Hall to the higher plain. Spirits here become trapped as if in a spider’s web. They might drift around for a few hundred years but ultimately they are consumed. This is like no other place on the planet, my friend. I recognised that the Receiver had magical properties and this offered me the ultimate gift of never-ending life – to be as one of the old gods. And then by chance to find this location! I will live as a king in the Fourth Reich for all time, and only the Germans have the technical ability, mental foresight and the will to make a deal with the ancient world and create a new reality! But such negotiations can’t be rushed and time is on our side. All this is inevitable and it will be.”

Finger raised, Wilson was on the verge of posing another question – How did the whales get here? – when a commotion from the rear of the gym-cum-TV studio forced an unexpected pause. A fit of wild coughing and spluttering was heard, and what sounded like the agonised cries of multiple strangulations occurring at the same time. Chair legs scraped the timber floor and a rush of activity ensued.

What was going on? Using his hands, Wilson shielded his eyes from the spotlights in an attempt to find out but all he could see were figures hurrying to the source of the disturbance.

Doktor, doktor, schnell, schnell!” was heard above the din.

Schröder, his trademark look of cruel amusement momentarily absent, shifted along the perimeter of the room to gain a better view of the spectacle. Ear-piercing shrieks rang out – “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” At this, Wilson rushed through the seating and found himself alongside Schröder.

“What is it?” Wilson enquired. “Cramp?”

“Chokink, perhaps,” Schröder replied sternly, who then pushed through the ring of onlookers to take personal command of the situation.

Through the gap Wilson spotted the three cooks sprawled on the floor, writhing, twitching and gurgling, their empty Golden Wonder Pot Noodles – a prize half an hour previously – laid like spent bullet cartridges beyond outstretched hands. A middle-aged medic with an old leather bag rushed to the scene and once through the scrum of onlookers was able to crouch and examine the afflicted. He checked pulses and shone a small but powerful torch into unresponsive eyes.

The medic turned to Schröder and gravely shook his head. “Dead, Major!” he melodramatically confirmed. “Poisoned!”

Schröder’s porcine face turned translucent white and beads of sweat popped on his brow. He seized one of the Pot Noodles from the ground and speed-read the English words on the container. Breathless with anger, he picked out Wilson and tapped the plastic. “Telefision man – vhat is zis?”

Wilson placed a hand on his forehead, mind racing. Poison? He’d almost eaten one of the instant snacks himself! They must have been laced with some deadly compound far more powerful than the powdery ingredients housed within. But by who? “We found them in the house upstairs,” Wilson offered as an explanation. “We had no idea…”

A raging Schröder approached Wilson and removed his leather gloves. Using these, he slapped Wilson’s face twice, once with a forward stroke and another on the backhand. “Lies!” he yelled. “You vere sent by ze British government to kill us wiz your plastic pots of death. And you almost succeeded in your assignment. Now, ve haff no cooks and vill haff problems ascertainink flavoursome food! Vhat haff you to say?”

“Is this all real?” Wilson squinted.

“You vill find out how ‘real’ this is,” Schröder roared. “Guards, take ze prisoners to zeir cell and… bring forth ze guillotine!”

Amid the furore, an SS guard spotted that Hitler was slowly morphing into a bright ball of searing red light and raised the alarm in the nick of time. “Achtung! Ze Führer is furious! Run for your life!”

At first, it felt like somebody had inadvertently opened a large window during a hurricane. Hitler by now had become highly animated, flapping his arms in a style reminiscent of scientist Magnus Pyke on video fast-forward. Using his supernatural strength, he sent fold-away seats flapping from the floor which smashed at staggering velocity into the wood-panelled walls. As confusion built, soldiers knitted their fingers across their scalps for protection and crouched while sobbing as splinters and chair fragments rained down on them. Wilson suggested a getaway to his famous associates but as they joined the stampede for the exit, a group of grim-faced German soldiers barred the way and lifted their firearms. “Kommen Sie! Ze game is up! Come wiz us, Tommies!”

Wilson glanced back into the pandemonium and saw Tuisto and Schröder knelt by Hitler’s frame cowering like dogs as their Führer unleashed his ire. The floor manager and camera operator clung to the 1960s television camera, their faces betraying their abject fear, before both were decapitated by flying seats. A gun was jabbed into Wilson’s spine and he was informed in no uncertain terms that he should keep moving.

Eventually, the British prisoners were pushed back into their small cell and the heavy door slammed shut. A tinkle of keys indicated that the door was locked in two places.

Healy covered his face with his hands. “So we end up getting our heads lopped off – and by the sound of it, that’s just the start of our troubles. Then our souls become prisonah here – for an eternity. Let’s hope there’s a snooker table, eh?”

“Even so, a decent bit of telly back then, Tone,” Smith chuckled. “You’ve still got it – I’ll give you that.”

They each rested on the floor, backs leant up against the cold wall, and a heavy silence descended as they contemplated their grisly fate.

“Do you know who I wish were ’ere wi’ us now?” Boycott spoke.

Clough lifted his head. “Harry Houdini?”

Boycott shook his head. “No Brian. Peter O’Toole. Instead of mopin’ abart, ’e’d be coming up with a plan of escape.”

“Aye,” said Clough. “But he’s not here, is he?”

Go to Chapter 31: Save the whales.