A flying circus through streets of Hampstead

FORMER Python star Terry Jones has written a satirical novella that comically collides disgruntled Camden Council planners with fist-shaking residents and a vicious Russian mobster.

Trouble On The Heath: A Comedy Of Russian Gangsters, Town Planners And A Dog Called Nigel (Accent Press, �1.99) tells how a simple planning application leads to a brutal bloodbath on the leafy streets of Hampstead.

The film director, broadcaster and historian, who lives a short stroll from Hampstead Heath, wrote the title as part of a special World Book Day release of 10 “Quick Reads” to encourage reluctant or struggling readers to enjoy books.

His unlikely hero is medieval history professor Malcolm Thomas who, while out walking his Jack Russell Nigel, spots a council notice about the planned demolition of two modest houses overlooking Highgate Ponds – to be replaced by a four-storey 14-bedroom monstrosity with two basement levels including an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Furious that it would block his favourite view of the ponds, Malcolm rallies fellow members of The Highgrove Park Residents’ Association to lodge an objection with Camden’s planning department – run by depressive Head of Planning Trevor Williams.

During 15 years in the post, Trevor has run the gamut of daily abuse from disgruntled developers and residents. He’s been dubbed a Nazi, had custard poured over him outside a supermarket and endured protesters spraying green paint over the departmental computers.

He now spends his days avoiding the public and deploying underhand tactics to discourage planning objections.

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When the RA carries out tree surveys and hydrological studies to prove the development will flood the wildlife sanctuary and drain the ponds, it prompts paranoid power-crazed Russian gangster Grigor Koslov – the man behind the application – to wrongly assume that these objections are backed by his arch-rival Boris Zolkin.

A man who routinely deals in gambling, illegal goods and murder will stop at nothing and, after googling the RA members addresses, he sends a henchman to kidnap Malcolm’s six-year-old Freddie in the dead of night.

There’s a breakneck car chase through the streets of Highgate, a terrifying moment when the would-be kidnapper is brained with a Singer sewing machine and a shootout that leaves Malcolm’s house in cinders and several RA members dead.

Then Malcolm decides the only way to stop the madness is to take the fight to Russia and confront the mobster behind it all.

As you’d expect from a Python, Jones has a light comic touch and observant eye for the absurdity of mundane urban life.

While the planning officers moan that Hampstead and Highgate’s writers and academics have ample time to mount repeated demonstrations because “they don’t have proper jobs”, Malcolm struggles with apathy among the RA’s ranks.

He rallies just five objectors for the obligatory local paper fist-shaking photo – only to be greeted by an ageing hack with a tiny Sony camera who disappears without getting any of their names. (Clearly not modelled on the Ham&High then.)

Jones says he wrote the title because Quick Reads is “an important initiative to get people reading” and improve access to books for people from all walks of life.

“I’m proud to be a part of the effort and I really enjoyed writing my book. I’ve always had a problem with spelling. I think I would have been classed as dyslexic if I’d been taught the “Look and Say” method instead of being taught in the old way – phonetically,” he adds.

Over the past five years, more than three million copies of the �1.99 titles have been sold via bookshops and supermarkets or distributed to libraries, prisons, colleges and projects for the homeless or travellers.

Well-known authors, including Maeve Binchy, Josephine Cox, Val McDermid and Minette Walters, have written the short, fast-paced books aimed at encouraging the third of the adult population who admit to not having the time, or inclination to read for pleasure, to pick up a book.

In addition to Jones’ book, a further nine new Quick Reads will be published on World Book Day on March 3, including Benjamin Zephaniah’s Kung Fu Trip and James Patterson’s Bloody Valentine.