The exclusive that really is not very interesting.
Back in 2011 my mate Paul and I were chatting on the phone and he said: “You know you really ought to go on twitter. You’d love it because it’s right up your street. All that bollocks you make up and ranting you do – it’s the perfect place – twitter.”
It was true that for about a decade – indeed ever since I’d gone online I’d been making up stuff and posting it on the internet. And it was mostly bollocks, a minor diversion from my serious writing and full-time job. My background was in theatre and a bit of TV and I was churning out yet another play in 2011 that was never to see much of the light of day.
I’d always enjoyed a bit of pranking on the side and did it to fill in the time in between everything else. Among other sins, I’d created a Henry Rootish American student who wrote emails to the BNP trying to open a French bank account and I’d become a popular figure on an American poetry website, posting earnest doggerel under a fictitious name. I found it entertaining and useful to make this stuff up and I liked Peter Cook and Joe Orton’s work in that vein and this seemed to be in that tradition.
So I followed Paul’s advice and opened a twitter account – in the name of a famous person. And after a bit I realised that people really thought I was this famous person – which freaked me out – but being an irresponsible individual I decided to up the ante. I ‘killed off’ the account in a live tweeted dalek attack on a croquet lawn and turned it into Jacob Rees-Mogg. Back then Mogg was not hugely well known and this played right into my hands. My job involved a lot of moving about and a lot of time on buses and trains and it became a joy to ‘create’ this character. Jacob himself was initially unamused and threatened to do something (but never did).
Mogg was perfect satirical material in 2011. Like Cameron he was an Old Etonian, but unlike Cameron he wasn’t hiding it. I could ridicule this return of the old guard by using its own weapons against it.
I was also writing bits of TV satire and it became a bit of a calling card.
But then things began to get out of control. After writing a blog on Rees-Mogg’s behalf, arguing that there should be tax relief on Mansions I was gobsmacked to see the real Mogg turn up on Newsnight discussing that very subject. Private Eye later reported that this was because someone had read my piece, which literally contained the phrase ‘A Modest Proposal’ and taken it to be the real McCoy.
After tweeting the word ‘floccinauccinihilipilification’ I was taken aback when the real Mogg, some weeks later, deployed that very word in the House of Commons. It was apparent – bizarrely – that the target of my mockery was not only reading my tweets but apparently plagiarising my satire for his own ends.
One day I got contacted by the BBC Broadcasting House programme asking me if I would be prepared to meet the real Rees-Mogg on air. I was very wary of doing that, preferring my anonymity and also aware that if I did it I may subsequently struggle to take the piss. We had also met briefly, several times, a few years previously and I was worried that he might recognise me. Anyway after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and quite a bit of flattery I agreed – on one condition – that I do it under a pseudonym.
“Well what would you like to be called?” The nice man at the BBC asked.
I was reading the book “Alone in Berlin” at the time and the central character in that story is Otto Quangel. That character spends a lot of time spreading information in secret and anonymously – so I said ‘Otto’ – and then ‘English’.
My real name is Andrew Scott and I’d like to say it was a clever and well thought out juxtaposition playing on the idiosyncrasies of my own name – but that would be a lie – it was spontaneous. And it stuck.
I opened a twitter account in that name and started to tweet as myself and express my own opinions and even do a bit of blogging. After a bit, I had a few thousand followers, after a bit more I found people offering me stuff and asking me to write articles. If I had planned any of it or given it the amount of thought I gave the many unproduced plays, pitches and film scripts I wrote in my twenties and thirties I suspect none of it would have happened this way.
Since 2016 and Brexit I have plugged away and written (far too many) tweets and articles and as my profile has grown inevitably some people have begun to ask who ‘Otto English’ is. For the most part I have enjoyed my anonymity and comforted myself that many of my heroes from Eric Morecambe, to George Orwell and David Bowie used pseudonyms to write or perform. (And I am not comparing myself to any of those people – you should hear me sing.)
In further mitigation – in the meantime another problem has arisen – namely ‘the other Andrew Scott’. That brilliant actor has taken all the SEOs and as there is some crossover between the two of us – in that I still occasionally dabble in theatre and the arts – it has seemed sensible to stick with Otto rather than get confused with Moriarty.
But you can’t go about the place calling other people out when you yourself are not being transparent. More and more I’ve felt hypocritical attacking the likes of Tommy Robinson for hiding behind pseudonyms when I myself am using one. In recent months it has also led to some people trying to use it as a stick against me – despite my real name being prominently displayed at the bottom of my Politico articles.
So in short my name is Andrew Scott, hello. I live in London. I am a fairly boring person who hasn’t had to struggle much in life. I’ve worked in TV and theatre and education – and I now (finally) make a precarious living by writing things – so please send me work and failing that fine wine. You can call me Andrew, Otto, or even ‘wanker’ if you prefer.
Oh – and thank you Paul – you were right and remind me to buy you a pint sometime.