Tag Archives: Rupert Murdoch

The death of Tony Gray of The Alberts, who linked BBC2’s awful opening to The Goons, the Bonzo Dogs & Monty Python

Tony Gray

Tony Gray was billed for the opening of BBC2

Fifty years ago this Sunday – 20th April 1964 – the BBC2 television channel was due to start with a special programme The Albert’s Channel Too by anarchic comedy duo The Alberts.

It was billed as coming “direct from the Alberts’ Television Centre” featuring (according to Radio Times) Ivor Cutler, David Jacobs, Adolf Hitler and Birma the elephant.

Instead, a fire broke out at Battersea Power Station and, separately, there was a fault in a 60,000 volt cable at Iver in Buckinghamshire which cut power in West London, including BBC Television Centre.

The opening of BBC2 was a shambles.

The Alberts performed the following night, so BBC2 had two consecutive opening nights, both utterly anarchic.

Last Saturday, I sent a message to Albion Gray, the son of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts:

Tony Gray (left), Douglas Gray (right) and Bruce Lacey (top)

The Alberts – Tony Gray (left) and Douglas Gray (right) – with Bruce Lacey (top) and dog (bottom)

I trekked out to Norfolk to chat to them in the 1980s when I was a researcher on, I guess, Game For a Laugh

Possibly Malcolm Hardee mentioned them to me. They were wonderful people. I don’t suppose they’d be up for a blog chat would they?

He replied:

My dad Tony is a bit too frail to be interviewed but Douglas is in better shape. Let me find out and get back to you.

Yesterday, I got another message from Albion. It started:

Unfortunately my father passed away yesterday, at the grand old age of 86. 

By last night, there was an obituary on the Daily Telegraph website headlined

Tony Gray was a co-founder of a musical comedy act whose brand of anarchic slapstick inspired Monty Python

The Alberts were brothers Tony and Douglas Gray. The Daily Telegraph obituary is rather low-key in saying “their specialities included bubble-blowing automata and exploding camels”.

A Show Called Fred (from left). Top row: Graham Stark, Spike Milligan, Tony Gray, Valentine Dyall, Peter Sellers. Bottom row: Kenneth Connor, Douglas Gray, Johnny Vyvyan, Mario Fabrizi

A Show Called Fred (from left)… Top row: Graham Stark, unknown dummy, Spike Milligan, Tony Gray, Valentine Dyall, Peter Sellers… Bottom row: Kenneth Connor, Douglas Gray, Johnny Vyvyan, Mario Fabrizi

In 1956, in an attempt to transfer the radio success of The Goon Show to TV, Associated-Rediffusion made the series A Show Called Fred in which The Alberts featured. It was broadcast only in the London region, was written by Spike Milligan, starred Peter Sellers and was produced & directed by Dick Lester (who went on to direct cult short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film with Peter Sellers and Bruce Lacey in 1960 and later The Beatles’ feature films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

There is an entire 25-minute episode of A Show Called Fred on YouTube. The Alberts first appear 20 seconds into the pre-credit sequence carrying musical instruments. Douglas enters first.

If you want to know what The Alberts were like – both on AND off stage and screen, think The Goons on the way to Monty Python with The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band stirred in.

Satirist John Wells famously described one of The Alberts’ 1960s performances thus:

“Moth-eaten men in beards and baggy Edwardian clothes strode on and off the stage; there were a great many random bangs and explosions, trumpets were blown, jokes were muttered and shouted, usually into the wings; the stuffed camel had its tail turned like a starting handle to the accompaniment of further bangs and more dirty men in ancient military uniforms strode on and off shouting at each other; someone appeared dressed as a bee; a mechanical dummy was wheeled on to deliver a monosyllabic political speech; a musician in grubby white tie and tails attempted to play the cello, and subversive figures winking at the audience and slyly tapping their noses were seen to lay a charge of dynamite under his chair, reel out the cable to a plunger and finally blow themselves up with another thunderous bang.”

There is a 4-minute video on YouTube of The Flying Alberts – Tony & Douglas with Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce in the 1960s.

In 1962, Peter Cook booked The Alberts for a residency at his seminal London comedy club The Establishment. They performed a Dada-inspired quiz show in which Bruce Lacey asked the questions. A description of one show said Lacey asked a question, the competitor got a bucket of whitewash poured over his head and then said: “Could you repeat the question, please?”

American comic Lenny Bruce saw The Alberts perform at The Establishment and booked them for an American tour. They crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary liner, reportedly either entertaining or annoying other passengers by riding penny-farthing bicycles around the decks. By the time they arrived in New York, Lenny Bruce had been arrested on charges of obscenity but The Alberts’ show was a success in New York. Somewhat oddly, it reportedly bombed in San Francisco which, you would think, would have been more open to their eccentricities.

The Alberts - purveyors of fine British Rubbish to royalty

The Alberts – purveyors of fine British Rubbish to royalty

Back in London, their West End show An Evening of British Rubbish ran for almost a year in 1963 (Princess Margaret went to see it twice) and they later toured the show in Belgium and France, under the title Crazy Show de British Rubbish.

An Evening of British Rubbish was released as an LP in 1963, produced by George Martin whose work with The Alberts was rather overshadowed that year by his work with The Beatles. George Martin also produced a single for The Alberts (with Bruce Lacey) featuring The Morse Code Melody on one side and Sleepy Valley on the other.

The Alberts – always very musical – are often cited as a big influence on The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Vivian Stanshall of The Bonzos said: “If there was any influence at all, it would be The Alberts or the Commedia dell’arte.”

According to their oft-times collaborator Bruce Lacey, The Temperance Seven band was originally formed by the Alberts but they were later ejected for ‘musical incompatibility’. I know no more.

The fake accounts and AGM of Albert, Lacey & Albert 1960-1961

The fake accounts and AGM of entertainment experts Albert, Lacey & Albert Ltd, 1960-1961

Around 1971, EMI issued a musical compilation album simply titled: The Alberts/The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band/The Temperance Seven and there was a later 1999 album called By Jingo, It’s British Rubbish with tracks by The Alberts, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Temperance Seven, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers

It was almost 30 years ago – in the mid 1980s – when I went up to meet Tony and Douglas Gray at home in Norfolk. I can remember very little except that it was an ex-vicarage and I liked both of the brothers immediately and immensely. I do remember Douglas played bagpipes indoors (a commendably eccentric thing to do, though never a good idea to experience) and Tony was dressed in full cricketing outfit… Neither did either of these things for any discernible reason.

Producer Danny Greenstone, who was with me on the visit, told me this morning: “I remember the bagpipe playing, but it didn’t stop at bagpipes. We were also treated to the tuba, a ukulele and other bizarre instruments. We wanted them for Game For a Laugh (of course) but I can’t remember what it was we wanted them to do. It MUST have been some kind of musical act and I think we DID get them to do it, but the details have faded. I also remember that you got a flat tyre on the way back.”

Memories fade. I only remember the bagpipes, Tony’s clothes and their personalities. I think there is a slight possibility that Douglas wore a kilt and a sporran. Perhaps I imagined it. Perhaps not.

At the time Danny and I met them, they were both working for the Sunday Telegraph and, I think other Fleet Street newspapers by driving delivery vans. This was before Rupert Murdoch fully broke the power of the newspaper unions and I have some vague memory of them telling me that they performed part of their journalistic duties by signing in (or having other people sign in for them) as M.Mouse in London while staying in Norfolk and not actually doing anything. Perhaps I imagined it. Perhaps not.

Tony (left) and Douglas Gray when they were young

Brothers Tony (left) and Douglas Gray when they were young

The Alberts had a varied and influential career which deserves to be remembered. They appeared in several Ken Russell films and in the 1965 Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium and, in 1966, they appeared in their own show The Three Musketeers Ride Again both at the Arts Theatre and the Royal Court theatre in London.

On YouTube, there is a song – sung by Tony Gray this century – which was written for The Alberts’ 1966 production of The Three Musketeers Ride Again. It is called When I Was Seventeen.

RIP Tony Gray 1927-2014

So it goes.

1 Comment

Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Surreal

British comedian Nik Coppin wins out-of-court settlement in Oz ‘racist’ case

Nik Coppin did not let Australia go to his head except in hats

Back in March, I blogged about a bizarre happening in Adelaide.

British comedian Nik Coppin was a guest on Peter Goers’ radio show on state broadcaster ABC. He was in the studio with Peter Goers.

Nik (who is half English and half West Indian) said he had chosen to support the Essendon Australian rules football team because the team (who play in black and red) were once nicknamed ‘the Blood-Stained Niggers’ and now have more aboriginal players and fans than any other AFL team.

Goers told him he was a racist and to “Get the fuck out of my studio!”

A few days later, in a list of things to see and things to avoid printed in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Mail newspaper in Australia, Peter Goers gave Nik Coppin “Minus Four Stars” as a “racist Fringe comedian”.

Nik took legal advice.

Last weekend, the Sunday Mail printed this in Peter Goers’ column:

Apology appeared in Australia’s Sunday Mail at the weekend

APOLOGY: On Sunday, March 4, in my column’s “What’s Not” section I referred to comedian Nik Coppin as “painfully unfunny racist Fringe comedian at the Austral Hotel: Minus four stars”. I acknowledge that my comments were false and made without foundation. In fact, I had not seen his show at the time I wrote my comments. I have no reason to believe that Nik Coppin is a racist or that his Fringe show contained racist material. I withdraw those comments without reservation and apologise for any hurt or embarrassment caused.

Yesterday, Nik told me what had happened.

This is what he said:

_______________________

Nik Coppin explains what happened….

The process involved in obtaining an apology and reparation for libellous and harmful comments printed in a newspaper is a very interesting one. In the eyes of the law, that which you feel would be perfectly reasonable to assume isn’t and that which you presume wouldn’t be, is.

The legal eagles certainly have a bewildering way of dealing with things.

A few people that I know and work with questioned whether it was worth it and warned that it could get very stressful, depending on how far I was willing to push it.

There is very little that I take too seriously, if I am honest. I mean, we’re all entertainers after all, right? Let’s just laugh it off and get some good ol’ fashioned PR out of it. But there surely must come a time in everybody’s existence on this here planet when you have to take a more solemn view of things and in some situations say to oneself, “Enough is enough”. You have to stand up and fight for what you believe is right.

In life, the press and certainly the world of comedy, all too often people take offence because they refuse to listen properly or shut off when they hear certain things said. This appears to be a natural reaction to things you might not want to hear, or that which touches a nerve, but it does not excuse what Mr Goers did and the Sunday Mail allowed to happen.

In my opinion, it was a vengeful and spiteful thing to do. Something you really would not expect from one of his years.

But, as laughable and nonsensical as this situation was, I had to take a more serious stance than to merely laugh off the bizarre and farcical comments. A half black man being accused of racism in possibly the most racist westernised country on the planet? My God, how ludicrous!

I should add, however, that I do not believe that Australians are racist. Well, not all of them anyway. I love visiting the place, doing the festivals, seeing the wildlife, having the banter and all the other delightful things that go along with being in such a beautiful country. But I think we all know that there are issues that need to be dealt with over there. The We’re too laid back to be racist or hate Aboriginals defence just isn’t good enough.

The amount of times I have heard white Australians say things like: “We give them money and offer them jobs, but they’re just lazy and want to get pissed all the time”.

Well, that says all you need to know about certain sentiments in a land where the indigenous population were slaughtered by the thousands and had their land, dignity, children and whatever else stolen from them.

I think any race that has suffered that and had their rights and entire way of life stripped away, has earned the right to ‘laze around’ and drink a few bevies if they choose to, don’t you?

I am not suggesting that they should attempt to ‘give back’ the country. Australia is predominately a white country but, in my opinion and many others, is black land. So those in privileged positions in Australia should be a bit more understanding and helpful in the future and support the Aboriginal as much as they can.

I mean, let’s face it, if you look at the table from the London 2012 Olympics and who won many of those medals for the UK and the US of A, maybe you could do a lot worse than support your black population, Australia. Then in a few years time maybe we Brits won’t be laughing at what little precious metal you took back ‘home’.

The thing about such a situation, though, is that – for one who earns his living as a comedian – the possibilities are many. I was considering writing a show about race and maybe religious issues and this story can underpin the whole thing.

So, while it was confusing, angering and frustrating having what I can only consider a foolish, arrogant Adelaidian ‘celebrity’ full of his own self-importance doing a childish, vindictive thing like calling me a “painfully unfunny racist” in a popular newspaper without even seeing my show or listening to me or doing his research properly… Was it worth it going through with the fight and standing up for what you believe in, in the face of a form of oppression?

Definitely.

And, to those who doubted whether it was the right thing to do, I say to you…

I would it again and again and again.

And so should you.

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Comedy, Legal system, Newspapers, Racism

UK comedian Nik Coppin accused of racism in Oz by white Peter Goers who “couldn’t tell” the colour of Nik’s skin

Nik Coppin not wearing a baseball cap and not looking down

(This was also published by Indian news website WSN – We Speak News)

British comedian Nik Coppin wrote to me last night:

__________

This situation in Adelaide has really hit me for six. Not because I can’t handle the shit that Peter Goers has sent my way, but I really can’t believe that an interesting and amusing story about Australian history and sport was met with such closed-mindedness, rudeness and ignorance!

It’s not just the way he verbally abused me in the studio and tried to get me to bow down on the phone, but to actually put in print that I am racist????”

__________

Last week, Nik was a guest on Peter Goers’ radio show on state broadcaster ABC. Nik (who is half English and half West Indian) told Goers he had chosen to support the Essendon Australian rules football team because the team (who play in black and red) were once nicknamed ‘the Blood-Stained Niggers’ and now have more aboriginal players and fans than any other AFL team.

Goers told him he was a racist and to “Get the fuck out of my studio!”

Laughing Horse boss Alex Petty, who is partly staging Nik’s show, was also part of the radio interview.

“It was one of the most bizarre radio interviews I have ever been involved with,” he told me yesterday. “The interviewer even thought Nik was a Canadian. The next day, he said to Nik: “I couldn’t tell that what colour your skin was, as you had a baseball cap on and looked down a lot”For telling an anecdotal story about the change of racist attitudes in Australia, a middle-class, out-of-touch and unprofessional white man calls mixed-race comedian Nik Coppin racist! It is completely unjustifiable.”

I occasionally have my blogs printed in the Huffington Post.

It is a fairly automatic routine. If I submit ‘em, they get published. But there was one which I sent them which was noticeably not printed. It discussed and used the word ‘nigger’.

I asked a black chum of mine whom I have known for over twenty years what she thought. “Love the article,” she said, “Interestingly, I have to say that I hate it more when I hear one black person call another a ‘nigger’, probably because it‘s being used when another adjective or noun would do.”

Nik told me last night:

__________

The word ‘nigger’ is a very interesting one. Powerful, perhaps the most powerful in the language, but I feel that it exists in a very strange and grey area. It’s not a swear word as such, like ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ – words that can’t really be used in any context without being deemed offensive – but, aimed as a term of abuse, it is far worse than any other.

However, in the context of a story, especially an historical one, why can it not be used? To not use it at all, even to outline a point or tell an anecdote is surely like brushing racism or certain aspects of it under the carpet, is it not?

I have experienced racial abuse from both sides of the black and white coin, so I, too, exist in some ways in some kind of grey area, in that I get it from both sides and could also be seen as racist against both sides, again depending upon the context. The British comic Ian Cognito ironically went on stage after me, years ago, when I was a new act and said: “If your mum was white and your dad was black, surely you would be grey? That amuses me to this day.

A story I have told that has actually sparked some degree of controversy was when I tried to stop an African man from sexually abusing a drunk young girl in the Meadow Bar in Edinburgh and, after repeatedly and politely asking him to stop, he told me that I was nothing to him – not a true black man – so to stay out of it. He repeatedly called me a “worthless half cast bastard”. He racially abused me to exert some kind of power over me in light of me not letting him have his way with a vulnerable young female friend of mine.

I have been there before with being called ‘hybrid’, ‘mongrel’, ‘half cast’, by black people (as well as ‘nigger cunt’ by white people) so, given that I had given him so many chances to play nicely with the girl and retract his racist abuse of my heritage, which he refused to do, I dropped the N-bomb on him. He, like many I have told the story to, became offended. After what he had done and said? Where is the sense in that? Even less sensical, he told me that I shouldn’t call him that because he had mixed race children! WTF????

I am not proud of myself for dropping that N-bomb on him and I should have perhaps taken the moral high ground, but I feel he deserved it in that instance. I make a wee joke of the story when I tell it in front of audiences by saying that all the Scottish locals in the Meadow Bar were looking at a black man and mixed race man racially abusing each other and thinking “I thought WE were racist!”

The really interesting thing about this story is that most people only flinch at the use of the word ‘nigger’. Him attempting to sexually molest a young girl – that’s OK – him calling me a worthless half-cast bastard – ooh, strange and not nice – but you called him a WHAT????

‘Nigger’ is a terrible word to use, especially when using it offensively or aggressively, but is it worse that being called a ‘hybrid, ‘mongrel’, ‘worthless half cast bastard’? It seems that it is in most people’s eyes. And should we really be banning it from everything and everywhere, even stories of the past? I don’t think so and we certainly should not jump to conclusions about someone being racist just for using the word if relevant and in context… should we, Mr Peter Goers?

Racism is a horrible and backward thinking way of life, but there are massive differences between race hate, a joke about a race, a racist joke, a story about race etc. People seem all to quick to lump anything to do with race in one basket, which is totally wrong in my opinion. By all means stamp out racism, but don’t do it by way of brushing it under the carpet.

True racists and race-haters are terrible, nasty people that have no place in modern society, which is why they whisper and meet in places on the quiet so often. When your ’cause’ makes you have to do that, then surely you must realise that your plight has failed. And since intelligent and forward-thinking people know that these people are to be looked down upon and shunned, I like to use the term, ‘Racists are the new niggers’.

Which is why I simply can’t let Mr Goers off the hook if I can help it. He has by calling me a racist, in effect, called me a nigger himself. I am not that stupid or ignorant to think or feel that way about any race of people with derision, scorn or hate. I simply don’t have that capacity within me.

I will be using these stories, examples and opinions and many more in my shows next year. Not necessarily at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, but certainly at all the festivals in 2013.

__________

Yesterday, in a list of things to see and things to avoid printed in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Mail newspaper in Australia, Peter Goers gave Nik Coppin “Minus Four Stars” as a “racist Fringe comedian”.

Alex Petty told me yesterday: “The implied accusations of racism by Goers (on the radio) have been put in print by the same person and this is going to be taken to solicitors, the Australian press complaints process and the editors and owners of ABC Radio and the Sunday Mail.”

This story may well have some way to run. And with good reason.

5 Comments

Filed under Australia, Comedy, Racism

Duck! The dangers of Chinese subtitles, kidnap and Rupert Murdoch’s flying bus

Yesterday, I went to see a movie The Beginning of the Great Revival (aka The Founding of a Party), which was screening in London as part of the China Image Film Festival. It seemed to be very good film. A sumptuously made movie. Of course, if you work for the state film company, have a virtually limitless budget and you are making a movie about the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, this could help. But I thought I espied a director who had been influenced by Sergio Leone’s historical epics.

I say The Beginning of the Great Revival “seemed” to be a very good film because, alas, despite opening and closing titles with English translations, the actual two-hour long historical epic turned out to be in Chinese with Chinese subtitles.

This reminded me of the time I sat through Sholay at the National Film Theatre when they had accidentally rented a print of the epic Indian language movie with French sub-titles.

I speak neither French nor Hindi but you cannot fail to enjoy an all-stops-pulled-out Bollywood film where (as always) people randomly burst into song and the hero has both his arms cut off yet continues to fight in true action man style. (Both Sholay and Monty Python and the Holy Grail were released in 1975 so I doubt if either ripped off the idea of an armless hero; it must have been the spirit of the times.)

I also do not speak Mandarin nor read Chinese script and my knowledge of Chinese history 1910-1921 is a tad hazy, but The Beginning of the Great Revival was never less than interesting. You can see why in the (subtitled) trailer on YouTube:

I was brought back to some form of reality when I came out of the cinema and read Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper The Daily. The front page story was:

DUCK! – Anyone’s guess where 13,000-pound satellite will hit

sub-headed as:

READY TO TUMBLE! Satellite hurtles toward Earth – and scientists can’t say when or where it will hit

This was a story I had never heard of before – and I had seen the lunchtime news on BBC TV yesterday.

“NASA scientists,” The Daily said, “are shrugging their shoulders with little or no idea when – or where – a satellite the size of a bus will fall to Earth. The latest projections last night were that the defunct NASA satellite would tumble to Earth from space sometime this afternoon, but because the satellite is free-falling, the space agency and the U.S. Air Force cannot make a precise prediction about when and where it will hit.”

According to the article, NASA claimed the chances of someone being hit by a piece of falling debris was 1 in 3,200 and the debris would fall along a 500-mile path.

Those odds of 1 in 3,200 seemed surprisingly low to me.

“The only confirmed case of a person being hit by space junk,” The Daily told me, “was in 1997 when Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was grazed on the shoulder by a small piece of a Delta rocket.”

NASA has apparently warned people against touching any part of the satellite they might find lying around on the ground.

“While it contains no hazardous chemicals,” The Daily reported, “the space agency said people could potentially be hurt by sharp edges.”

Apparently what NASA calls “medium-sized junk” falls back to earth about once a week. Debris the size of a bus falls about once a year. When bits of the Skylab space station (the size of a house) fell onto parts of Western Australia in July 1979, local authorities fined NASA $400 for littering.

I thought I should perhaps check if anything the size of a bus had fallen on London while I was in the cinema watching the glorious founding of the Chinese Communist Party in The Beginning of the Great Revival so I got a London Evening Standard (which is now owned, like the Independent newspaper, by an ex-KGB man).

Its front page news was a story about a boy who had been encouraged to read by the Duchess of Cornwall. I could not find any story anywhere about anyone being killed by a bus from outer space falling on their head so, when I got home, I checked the BBC News channel (no unusual deaths; no mention of death from above) and then checked my e-mails to find one from mad inventor John Ward – designer and fabricator of the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

He told me he had been booked by the University of Lincoln to appear on 12th October at something entitled An Eccentric Symposium – Tomato Tomäto.

Among other billed events and speakers at this academic symposium are ‘Project Pigeon’ (“an art and education project that works with pigeons as a vehicle to bring people together”), the World Egg Throwing Championships and a talk on Gender, Exercise and Art by Anthony Schrag, an artist now living in Scotland whose work, according to the University of Lincoln, “focuses on blowing things up, climbing on things and occasionally kidnapping people”.

I could take no more.

I went to bed.

When I woke up this morning, the BBC News channel was reporting that the NASA spacecraft could not be found, but it had passed over the UK twice during the night and was now “the size of a refrigerator”.

They also reported Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning to the world that we live in dangerous economic times.

Fuck the economy. Where is the fridge?

2 Comments

Filed under China, Eccentrics, Movies, Newspapers, Science

The tsunami of anarchy which will be released by the death of newspapers

Last night, I went to the Fulbright Lecture at the British Library, given by the Financial Times’ editor Lionel Barber.

The subject was “Adapt or Die: The Future of News and Newspapers in the Digital Revolution”.

In 2009, more than one hundred US newspapers closed down and, in 2007-2009, newspaper advertising revenue fell by 10% in Germany, 21% in the UK and 30% in the US. Circulations for printed newspapers are falling like lemmings as readers and advertisers move online.

One saving thought seems to be that people may be prepared to pay for comment and analysis, though probably not for general news. The Financial Times is in the fortunate position of being a niche newspaper. It mostly reports on a specific subject area where people are prepared to pay for analysis, comment and specialised reports.

But newspapers in general have not been delivering news for the last 50 years.

I am ancient enough to have been at college doing Communication Studies (radio, TV, journalism, advertising) when the first issue of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun was published.

The guy who supervised the journalism part of our course was the Production Editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. On the morning the first edition of the new Sun was published, he went through it page-by-page with us, pointing out that all the main stories were not News as such: they had all been reported in the previous evening’s TV news or were, in some way re-heated old news.

After that, I paid closer attention to what was actually printed in newspapers and developed my taste for the Daily Telegraph. If you look at most newspapers, you can actually visually see that they are magazines. The Guardian is a prime example. Look at its news pages and you see big rectangular blocks of text which analyse and/or give insight into news stories. But they are almost never reporting new News.

The Daily Telegraph has lots of columns with different little inches of different stories, most of which have not been included in the always superficial TV and radio news. I blogged a couple of months ago about how I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

And, except at election times, the Daily Telegraph tends to keep the old-fashioned division between news and comment (which most US newspapers also maintain).

Newspaper and TV News editors used to be – and still are – gatekeepers to what is considered news. But, with the internet, power has in theory moved from publisher to reader.

In fact, forget gatekeepers. Forget gates. Think dams. One gigantic dam behind which is all the water in the world.

In the past, newspaper and TV News editors were in charge of dams which kept most of the water behind their dams and let a few selected trickles through. Now the mother of all dams is opening and uncontrolled, uncontrollable amounts of information are going to be unleashed not just day-by-day but second-by-second.

In my erstwhile youth, if you wanted to find out facts, you had to go to a library. Librarians and the publishers of encyclopaedias were the damkeepers of knowledge. Now Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and their ilk are opening the dams which should result in almost all (and, in theory all) current and past knowledge being available instantly anywhere in the world.

If you are sitting on a camel in the middle of the Australian desert outside Alice Springs then, on a 3G device, you are now able to instantly find out which films are being screened at all the cinemas in Glasgow tonight or which dates the Emperor Caligula ruled Rome – and you can download and read a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield or Homer’s Iliad.

In future, it seems, all news will be available to everyone pretty-much instantly via Twitter, Facebook and every other social network known and as yet unknown to man and woman. The first news of the US attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May came on Twitter.

What will be needed is what, last night, Lionel Barber was understandably most scathing about – so-called news aggregators like The Huffington Post (which sometimes carries my blogs), The Drudge ReportThe Daily Beast and even Gawker, whose slogan is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”. At the moment, these (depending on your viewpoint) could be said to pirate other news sources and regurgitate the selected news.

The Financial Times currently employs 130 foreign correspondents to collect and interpret news abroad. What will be needed in future, I presume, is some way of analysing, interpreting and compacting news from several hundred million correspondents including the blogosphere.

Newspapers may become aggregators.

No, I have no idea how or if that will happen.

And I have no idea what will happen.

But traditional newspapers were dead 50 years ago; they just did not know it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Internet, Newspapers, Politics, Television

Why the Malcolm Hardee Awards are the REAL Fringe Comedy Awards

(This blog was also published by the Huffington Post)

I hate to be bitchy, but those other Edinburgh Fringe comedy awards – the ones that used to be called the Perrier Awards, which seem to have had almost annual name changes since then and are now, it seems, forever to be called “the former Perrier Awards” – well, Perrier must be laughing all the way to the bar… they no longer have to fork out any money but they still get their name splattered all over the media every August, associated with youth-attractive comedy…

I am a bit behind in the Twittersphere, but recently I saw a tweet from those other awards – the corporate Voldemort whose name we should not speak – and it said:

“Team enjoying traditional opening night supper before it all starts with annual lunch tmrw….”

I felt proper sorry for my own sweat-shopped Malcolm Hardee Award judges.

They toil in the vineyard of comedy talent, searching for strange and wonderful new saplings (sometimes freakishly deformed ones) and they get nothing, nowt, zilch – not even a name-check unless you look carefully on some obscure page of the Malcolm Hardee website.

I think there is a danger – much as with charities – of getting too much sponsorship. There is a danger of the mechanics of the search for talent becoming as important as the search.

Of course, if some company wanted to throw money at the Malcolm Hardee Awards,  I would probably be delighted. Where is Bill Gates when you need him? He may make shit computer software (I’m an Apple man myself) but he has user-friendly money that does not crash and who cares about children in Africa?** As Malcolm used to say:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Round the edge – fish.”

I would be a little uncomfortable with sponsorship money to run the Malcolm Hardee Awards; it would feel like it was somehow against the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The whole spirit of the Fringe is to come up to Edinburgh every August and tear up your own hard-earned £50 notes while standing in the pouring rain.

And getting sponsored by some large conglomerate would not seem to be keeping alive the spirit of Malcolm – ironically. Because, if BP, Rupert Murdoch or Microsoft had thrown money at him when he was alive, he would have taken it and screwed them for everything he could.

In a recent interview in The Scotsman, the immensely talented comedian and actor Phil Nichol said:

“I want to be like Malcolm Hardee… He was inspirational. I went to his funeral and there must have been 800 people there, who had all been inspired by him.”

I joke that, when organising anything in Malcolm’s memory (he drowned in 2005), I am in a win-win situation. If everything goes smoothly, it will reflect well on me as a slick and efficient professional. If it all falls apart into a desperate, shambolic mess, it will seem I have upheld the true Heath Robinson spirit of Malcolm’s shows – and it will reflect equally well on me as a master of mayhem.

I think, of the two options, I prefer the second.

I organised full-blown variety shows in Malcolm’s memory at the Hackney Empire, London, in 2006 (five hours), 2007 (five hours), at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh in 2009 (90 minutes) and now, this Friday, in the ballroom of the Counting House in Edinburgh (2 hours)… to be preceded by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debates on Monday/Tuesday and spaghetti-juggling on Wednesday/Thursday. It is the first ever Malcolm Hardee Week and is part of the Free Festival – all the shows are free. I hope Malcolm would have approved.

All the acts will perform without any payment; they do it purely to honour Malcolm’s memory; and I take no fee of any kind; I do not cover any of my costs.

That is not really pure altruism. I feel I could not ask top acts to perform for free if there were any suspicion that I was dodgily making any money in any way from the stuff… as Malcolm might have done!

Originally, in 2007, I was going to buy the other Malcolm Hardee judges a good slap-up meal to thank them for their work. The practicalities of getting them all together at any given time was too much to cope with, so I just gave up. Now, if they are lucky, they might get a cheap drink each during the Fringe.

It is not a well-honed, efficient machine which sees every show and sifts everything scientifically. I specifically chose as judges critics whose normal jobs at the Fringe involves seeing lots of shows anyway. And I chose a quality spread – The Scotsman, The Times, The Independent, The List, Time Out.

This year, the judges are me, Kate Copstick of The Scotsman and ITV1’s Show Me The Funny; Dominic Maxwell of The Times and freelance Jay Richardson of The Scotsman, The List, Chortle etc. Next year, another quality paper’s comedy critic will be joining this merry throng to choose the Malcolm Hardee Awards.

It’s a ramshackle old way to choose awards, but it seems to have worked so far. We aim to spot and encourage new talent, outrageous publicity stunts and generally make the Fringe a less sombre, corporate entity. More anarchic.

That is why the Malcolm Hardee Awards are the real Edinburgh Fringe Comedy awards…

** OK, I was joking about not caring about children in Africa. In fact, 100% of any money given at the Malcolm Hardee Week shows goes to Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. I apologise for this outbreak of morality. I will try to curb it in future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

‘Cockgate’ orchestrator replaces Rupert Murdoch pie-man at Edinburgh Fringe

As Jonnie Marbles (the Rupert Murdoch pie-attacker) is now stuck down South in the heathen wastes of England on Monday (he was a possibility), the last person on the panel for the first Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debate on Monday is now confirmed as comedian and promoter Bob Slayer, orchestrator of Kunt and the Gang’s current ‘Cockgate’ publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe – much blogged about here in the last few days.

He joins ITV1’s Show Me the Funny judge Kate Copstick aka Cruella de Cowell plus the “godmother of Scottish comedy” Janey Godley and American film director Paul Provenza (The Aristocrats).

The proposition is that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish”. The debate should be… erm… lively… and funny at The Hive in Edinburgh – on Monday (22nd August) at 6.15pm. No tickets; free entry as part of the Free Festival; contributions to the Mama Biashara charity welcome at the end.

The next day (Tuesday 23rd August) at 6.15, the proposition is “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!”

Debating that are Viz creator Simon Donald, BBC1’s controversial One Show presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli, Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison and Laughing Cows compere Maureen Younger.

It should be a lively start to Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Psychology