In August 2005, three years before we first thought of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was writing a blog from the Fringe for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
On 4th August, this was what I wrote about Scots comedienne Janey Godley who, that year, was performing her show Janey Godley Is Innocent. The hardback version of her best-selling autobiography Handstands in the Dark had been published two months before this…
I HAVE THIS GREAT IDEA
“I think you should get kidnapped and murdered,” I said three weeks ago. “Think of the publicity.”
“No,” Janey Godley said sharply.
“You get publicity, the show gets publicity and you go down in Fringe history.”
“I’m no getting murdered. It’s no happening,” she told me.
“Look,” I said, “You get kidnapped in public on the Saturday night before your show starts by an unknown but very disgruntled East Glasgow gangster who has read you autobiography and taken offence. So the book gets plugged too.”
“The kidnapping would have to be in public with lots of witnesses,” I persisted. “If it happens mid-evening or late on Saturday, it will miss the Sunday papers but it will hit the Monday papers.
“Around 11.40 on Monday morning, Ashley announces – with a photo of your bloodied corpse sent in by the kidnapper – that her beloved mother Janey Godley has been killed. She can do tears and hysteria and everything. It will show off her acting skills. This will hit the lunchtime TV bulletins but not give them time to check facts in detail and it will get into the late editions of the Glasgow and Edinburgh evening papers: COMEDIAN KIDNAPPED AND KILLED AT EDINBURGH FRINGE.
“Later on that same day – Monday afternoon – around 1715, you re-appear and announce it is a stunt just in time to make the later editions of the Wednesday morning papers. And the early evening TV bulletins if they carried your death in their lunchtime bulletins. Your show opens on Thursday night and, as part of the show – the climactic story – you explains how you are innocent of this tacky stunt – You were persuaded into it against your better judgement by your beloved daughter whom you indulge too much – So… Janey Godley Is Innocent!”
“Fuck off,” said Janey Godley.
“The important thing here,” I continued, “is the timings. It all happens between late-night Saturday and teatime Monday. It has to be fast so that, at each point, you give the journalists just enough time to report the story but not-quite-enough time to fully check the background details.
“Even if it gets exposed midway through as a stunt, provided the media report it as a stunt, you get the press publicity for the show that you would have got anyway. You can’t lose. You could get prosecuted for wasting police time, but it’d be worth that in publicity terms and you could argue any fine would be tax-deductible for professional publicity.”
“NONONONOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooo” Janey Godley shouted at me. “Y’er a crazy fucking nutter! Ya fanny!… And don’t encourage my daughter to plot my murder… You know what the family’s like.”
“But she gets to show her acting ability as the distraught daughter and….”
“I will hunt you down and kill you like an animal…” muttered Janey Godley.