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Forty-five years ago Lieutenant Muammar Gaddafi was photographed walking down Piccadilly on his only visit to Britain. It was April 1966 and Gaddafi, then aged 23, had come over to be trained by the British Army. "I put on my Al-Jird [Arab robes] and went to Piccadilly," Gaddafi said later. "I was prompted by a feeling of challenge and a desire to assert myself."

The young Libyan did not think much of swinging London. He resisted the blandishments all around him to eat at Charles Forte's new Friar Tuck snack house, to buy trendy men's gear from Smart and Weston or to see Michael Craig in Funny Girl at the Prince of Wales Theatre. "I did not explore the cultural life in London," said Gaddafi who, according to his official biographer, "felt alienated by the people shoving past each other and scurrying in and out of endless rows of bars, restaurants and other places of entertainment."

The photograph on the facing page of the young Gaddafi was taken by one of his fellow Libyan officers on the training course. I first saw it at the surrogate Libyan embassy in Washington DC in 1986. I was there filming for BBC Panorama in the aftermath of President Reagan's bombing raid on Gaddafi's Tripoli headquarters. Reagan had identified the Colonel, who had seized power in a coup in Libya 17 years earlier, as a prime sponsor of international terrorism-"the mad dog of the Middle East".

The US had cut off diplomatic relations with Libya in 1980 and sent its diplomats packing. But Gaddafi had managed to set up an "information office", guarded by hard-eyed men, close to the Capitol. Reagan's bombing of Tripoli had been highly controversial in Britain, from where Mrs Thatcher had enthusiastically permitted the F-111s to take off. This, I felt, gave the Gaddafi-in-Piccadilly photograph a certain piquancy; and I acquired a copy from one of the officials at the information office, along with further and better particulars of the Brother Leader's time in Britain.

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Guy Lankester
April 11th, 2017
1:04 PM
I am writing a play about Gaddafi and came across this which I found very interesting. Strangely I had a scene already with Gaddafi commenting on Britain and the city v the countryside in similar to fashion to how you describe. Would love to talk to you more on Gaddafi. He was based at Bovington in Dorset at some point I think too, which is where T E Lawrence had a house. Do you know what Gaddafi felt about Lawrence?

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