It's been a long time since I did any shoplifting - 31 years, to be precise, but I must have been better at it than Antony Worrall Thompson, because I didn't get caught. At least, not by the staff of Woolworths, the store that was unwittingly supplying me with 7" singles and propelling pencils. (No wonder the company went bust.)
I remember the moments of anticipation before the act; the sideways glance to check the whereabouts of others, the sudden pounding of one's heart through one's jumper, the instant dampening of one's vest with sweat...I expect it was much the same for AWOT. Although a fat man sweating at the check out would not necessarily alert the Tesco security officers to the imminence of a cheese and wine heist these days.
I was lucky. My juvenile criminality was discovered by my parents and nipped in the bud. Trust me when I say there is no deterrent more powerful than seeing the father you adore weeping at the thought of having parented a Young Offender. Real tears. He was so disappointed with me. I was so disappointed with me. And the feeling endured.
As an adult, of course, I've given myself a whole lot of other reasons to be disappointed with myself, but none (as far as I'm aware) has been criminal. Anyway, the upshot was, I didn't turn to a life of petty crime and have developed instead an exaggeratedly open way of engaging with check-out personnel, a surprising number of whom I discover to have been divorced, suffer with their backs, think the plotlines for Emmerdale are too far-fetched and hate working bank holidays.
Of course, the thing that mitigates my confession is that I was young - barely above the age of criminal responsibility - and I was not in receipt of regular pocket money. AWOT is 60 and is in receipt of large sums of cash through his various business and media enterprises. He does not need, surely, to defraud supermarkets in order to put food on his table? Isn't he supposed to be the master of conjuring up a gourmet dish from shrivelled onions, a tin of boot polish and some toe nail clippings? Any idiot can nick a bottle of wine and a piece of cheese for God's sake! Furthermore, AWOT lives in Oxfordshire. The government has decreed that austerity will never reach Oxfordshire, so that's no excuse either.
The scene of the crime was that shoplifters' paradise, the bagging area. Reformed as I am, I can see that these self-service check-outs are tests of the modern conscience. They require honesty if they are to work and, generally speaking, most people are honest. Most hard-working, tax-paying, community-minded people are honest. (They leave the ripping off to the middle class professionals: the bankers, the MPs and the celebrity chefs.)
The bagging area however, is a target for the opportunist thief. "I swear I scanned that!" is his cry as an unpaid-for packet of Gypsy Creams rolls out of his holdall. And, if he hadn't done it on repeated occasions during the preceding fortnight, this would undoubtedly have been AWOT's defence.
Only ever a sporadic viewer of Ready Steady Cook, my experience of AWOT is limited to Humphrey Lyttleton's joke: "I notice on my pack of breakfast sausages, there's a picture of Antony Worrall Thompson. Underneath it says "prick with a fork"." I expect the gag will have new life now, to be joined, naturally, by a host of quips of the sort that have dogged Richard Madeley since his notorious supermarket memory lapse of 1994.
Perhaps public scorn and a good, acerbic mocking on panel shows will serve as punishment enough. Perhaps the humiliation of being nicked in Tesco's (could've been worse, could've been ASDA) will give a privileged man pause for thought. What I really, really don't want to happen is to see that bearded face a few years down the line, leer at me as the face of Tesco in a piece of counter-intuitive marketing. I can see it now. As clearly as a CCTV image of a celebrity thief in the bagging area...
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