Sitting at a Lower Marsh café table, Robert Vaughan speaks softly and hesitantly. ‘The good thing about being Wolfgang Moneypenny,’ he says, fidgeting with a coffee cup, ‘is that it lets me express myself politically.’ Then he stands up, a ginormous black codpiece springs from under the table and a gaggle of city girls explode in uproarious hooting. ‘I like to think I’m broadening minds under the guise of stupidity,’ Vaughan mumbles, ramming a pirate hat onto his head.
‘Cooooool costume,’ whoops a passing child as Vaughan – sorry, Moneypenny – steps onto the street. ‘Thank you, but it’s more of a uniform,’ he quips – now in an assertive baritone – as he heads towards the South Bank. The plan is to encourage its tourist shops to stock ‘south London-specific’ postcards featuring images including Stockwell Bus Garage, the Catford Cat and a fried chicken meal. He says that this side of the Thames ‘has been colonised by the opulent, flatulent, capitalist hub’ of central London.
Moneypenny strides into a shop. The counter jockey clocks his outfit and starts like he’s been awakened mid-nap. ‘Hello, I notice you don’t stock any South London-specific postcards,’ asserts Moneypenny. He thrusts forward his stock. ‘Can I interest you in these?’ ‘Manager not in. Tomorrow,’ comes the response. ‘Very well. Tell him a representative of the Revolutionary South London Tourist Board called,’ he replies, as the clerk’s forehead attempts to knit his eyebrows into a scarf. Outside, he fills the postcard racks with cards anyway. As he does at every other shop, despite exclusive deals with a company called Kardorama. ‘Oops. I forgot about capitalism destroying independents,’ he chuckles.
Outside the London Eye, he leaps onto a bollard, pulls out a megaphone, yells ‘GREETINGS FROM SOUTH LONDON!’ and tries to sell direct to tourists. Until security ask him for a work permit. ‘It’s not work, it’s a revolutionary ethic,’ comes the retort.
Previously he’s held a ‘one-man independence for south London protest’ on London Bridge. He’s led art appreciation tours of the Elephant and Castle subways (‘which most people think of as some sort of demonic slaughterhouse’). And he’s hijacked a Lib Dem press opportunity by posing for photos and giving pro-independence interviews to the assembled press (‘They weren’t sure if it was real or not’). Future plans include reversing the gentrification of south London by encouraging people to ‘publicly rub custard into their genitals’. The general reaction to his events: ‘Bemusement, largely.’
Not so further from the Thames, though. In Elephant and Castle, he starts offering free postcards in exchange for a pledge of allegiance to the south. And it works. ‘I am leeeveeng in south London. How I no like it?’ beams a market trader from amongst his racks of shonky padded jackets. An old woman pauses by a stand of knock-off aviators to insist on three cards. And a Greenwich resident by the tube station even agrees on the need for ‘independent city status’ (if not the argument for a ‘barrier and passport system’). Job done. But, erm, what’s the result? A softer voice emerges as Moneypenny becomes Vaughan . ‘Hopefully I’ve made people like Elephant a little bit more.’ He pauses. ‘But ironically, I’ve probably speeded up the gentrification too.’ Alexi Duggins