UK: My Other Side - Fear and loathing of conforming.

UK: My Other Side - Fear and loathing of conforming. - Former PizzaExpress boss, now head of Belgo, Luke Johnson's taste in film, books and music is refreshingly catholic.

by Rhymer Rigby.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Former PizzaExpress boss, now head of Belgo, Luke Johnson's taste in film, books and music is refreshingly catholic.

Luke Johnson likes too much. So much, in fact, that half an hour's conversation on his extracurricular interests yields six films, six authors (and a few dozen books) and at least six different kinds of music. But, for all this profusion, 'you might argue that I'm a lowbrow', he says, 'because it's all escapist rubbish.' True, but you might just find it refreshing to meet a 36-year-old businessman who admits to liking the creative endeavours of his own century.

So, trashy and 20th century. It's no real surprise, then, that the common thread running through Johnson's favourite films - which include Point Blank, Assault on Precinct 13, Repo Man and The Graduate - is their Los Angeles setting. And, though he names no favourite, he is most effusive about The Graduate: 'I just think it's an ingenious description of how, by the late '60s, you had these spoilt kids in LA with no purpose in life.

This chap graduates from university, doesn't know what he's doing, suddenly finds he's having an affair with Mrs Robinson and then falls in love with her daughter - it's all very funny and all very messy.' Johnson also enjoys many of these films as period pieces: 'I like the idea that you can switch on a movie and be in the '60s.'

Also set in the western US, though a few years on, is Johnson's 'one-off favourite' book. He recalls being spotted reading it, years ago, by Sir Jeremy Isaacs (who would later found Channel 4): 'Young man,' boomed Isaacs, 'that is a very dangerous book - I don't think you should be reading it.' The subversive work in question was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson's factional account of time misspent with his attorney in that particular desert town, the pair of them 'power-fully twisted' on drink and drugs. 'Although it is dangerous, at the same time, it's hilarious and brilliantly written. If I compare it to the modern-day equivalent, I just think a lot of up-to-date drug writing is very low-calibre.' Fear and Loathing has stood the test of time - though to be fair, Thompson, in Vegas, driving a red convertible crammed full of whisky, cocaine, mescaline and acid, did have more to play with.

Johnson comes from a musical family and, though he does listen to classical, he used to DJ at Oxford and his favourite music - David Bowie, Lou Reed and classic dance stuff - is from the late '70s and early '80s. Yet, Johnson adds: 'If I had to pick one song, it would be House of the Rising Sun by The Animals.'

To recap, we have a film about cuckolding your father's business partner, a book about scoffing drugs by the bucketload and a song about a whorehouse - does any of this have any bearing on the business world? Not really but then Johnson doesn't think it should: 'Business is about down-to-earth facts and money - by all means listen to some beautiful Bach or rip-roaring Rolling Stones in your car on the way to the meeting but once you're in the meeting, that's that.'

Nor does he believe in art as a success accessory: 'There's a particular sort of businessman who, once they get to a certain age, although they don't really like music, decide that they're the world's biggest opera fan. They think that going to the Royal Opera House is all part of the trappings of being a rounded success, along with the trophy wife and everything else. It's just conformist bullshit.'.

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