The following morning John Ward, esteemed eccentric inventor and designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards including the Cunning Stunt Award, was out shopping when his mobile phone rang from a withheld number.
“Warily,” John told me, “I answered it.”
It was the BBC.
John writes a weekly newspaper column for the Spalding Guardian.
Occasionally, he has been known to add in these columns, in the past, an unlikely throwaway line about how he gave up performing a Tina Turner tribute act some time ago with people citing such minor problems as his colour, height and girth – “She is taller and slimmer than me” – and the fact that wearing the high heels gave his feet a hammering.
John is is in demand as an after-dinner speaker and local personality. At some functions/events which he attended, people would occasionally ask him if he might consider “going back to doing the Tina Turner act”.
John says: “I do detect that some of them have been quite serious… They actually thought I had done a Tina Turner tribute act. In one case, a lady at one charity bash said she would have ‘dearly loved’ to have seen me performing as Tina. She was not alone. I would have dearly loved to see it too…”
Anyway he got a phone call from BBC Radio the morning after Tina Turner’s death was announced.
John tells me:
“The young BBC lady wondered if I had a moment or two as they would like to get a quote from me regarding the passing of Tina Turner as we had a ‘connection’ due to my tribute act…
“I asked how she had got my number but it was from somebody at BBC Radio Lincolnshire – so they, or somebody there, had read my stuff!
“I said Tina was a great performer and will be sadly missed by many around the world but, while we had never met personally, I felt sure Gyles Brandreth must have met her.
“Next thing was: Would I mind giving an interview over the phone, there and then, to discuss my tribute act and what inspired me to do it which might/might not be broadcast either on steam radio or online or both.”
The questions and answers went like this:
BBC: What inspired you to do it?
JOHN: I really wanted to do a George Formby tribute act but found I could not master the ukulele. So I did Tina Turner instead.
BBC: Was the Tina act easy to do?
ME: The biggest hurdle was to overcome my initial colour but, while this took some time, I like to think I nailed it.
BBC: Did you consider your singing voice on a par with Tina?
ME: She was an octave or two higher than me as many who had seen her perform in concert told me, but I was more of a visual act.
BBC: Will you be attending the funeral?
ME: The funeral arrangements have not been published yet, as far as I know, so I prefer not to comment.
“The BBC lady seemed to accept all this, thanked me for my time and said she would let me know if and when my segment would be broadcast.”
“Have you heard back?” I asked John.
“No. But later, in the afternoon, around four o’clock, someone from Central TV News rang up to find out why they had never covered the story. I asked him where he heard about my Tina Turner tribute act.
“I was told by a friend at BBC Radio Lincolnshire…” he said. “So it seems the news is spreading.”
In my last blog, a man with no settled name talked about his life in music, comedy and surrealism. One of his names was/is Wavis O’Shave and he became/remains a cult figure from his appearances on Channel 4 TV’s The Tube.
This is the concluding part of that chat…
WAVIS: When I used to do my stuff on The Tube – the surreal stuff – my intention was that people might not really laugh at the time but, three hours later, when they were on the toilet having a crap, they’d burst out laughing.
JOHN: Did you fit in at school?
WAVIS: The school I went to was like a male St Trinian’s. (LAUGHS) Honestly. The teachers didn’t throw pieces of chalk; they were throwing desks at you! They were all barmy with mental health problems.
I stood out because I had some promise. Normally, if that’s the case, you get bullied. I didn’t.
JOHN: The cliché is that, to avoid getting bullied at school, creative people get comedic.
WAVIS: No, I didn’t act the fool or anything; I was just me. But people loved the alleged charisma which I still have a bit left of. So I never got bullied. Bullies – rough lads – just kind-of took to me.
Fame: via an album about TV newsreader Anna Ford’s Bum.
I don’t feel I’ve ever had to act the fool to get by. But I have had to express whatever it is – the energy that comes out… It seems to come out as surrealism. When I was young I thought: Maybe something’s wrong with me.
When I was in my mid-teens, I was standing out like a sore thumb in Newcastle/South Shields. I didn’t want to work down the pit or in the shipyards or wear a flat cap or drink beer or all that. I thought: Is there something wrong with me? So I started reading psychology books.
JOHN: What was your ambition when you were at school?
WAVIS: Well, lots of them in my school wanted to be footballers or rock stars. I was never brilliant at football but I actually had a trial for Newcastle United on August 23rd 1973.
When I left school, the teachers had all these high hopes for me. “You’ll go to college… You’ll go to university… You’ll achieve…”
But, when I left school, I thought: That’s it! I’ve done my bit! I walked straight out of the system.
JOHN: You mentioned earlier in our chat that you’d been involved at the Buddhist monastery in Scotland. So your Buddhist inclinations…
WAVIS: I’ve never claimed to be a Buddhist. I’m non-religious. It just so happened that their system of Vajrayana felt natural to me, like I already had it innate.
Because of that Tibetan connection though, in 2012, there was a Tibetan lama who had found his way to Lincoln, where I was living. He didn’t have anywhere to stay. So I invited him to live with us. He had to keep going back to India for whatever reasons but, whenever he was in England, he lived with us.
This did not go down well with the missus.
The Tibetan lamas are very patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist. We had him living in a caravan. The missus did put up with him but in the end, after five years, I had to sack him. Things weren’t working out.
Every time I came home, it would be like: “You meditate… Meditate… Meditate…” The missus was not liking this and – fair do – there wasn’t the balance there.
The wife drives. I don’t. One day, she was driving the lama and me in our Jaguar. He’s in the front. I’m in the back. Suddenly, the wife lets go of the steering wheel and gets the lama in a headlock. They were struggling. He had never been in a headlock before. He’s not supposed to be touched by females.
JOHN: What was the outcome? I can’t help but feel a car crash may be involved.
WAVIS: Oh no, she wasn’t being irresponsible. She could be a stunt driver in a James Bond movie. Her talents are extreme.
JOHN: It was a brief headlock, then she put her hands back on the wheel?
JOHN: Somewhat surreal.
WAVIS: And it actually did happen.
JOHN: Why did she put him in a headlock?
WAVIS: I don’t know.
JOHN: You never asked?
WAVIS: I remember once, many many years ago, five of us were crammed in a car to go down to a Debbie Harry exhibition in London for the day. It was a long day. When we came back, one-by-one, everyone was going to sleep and then the driver nodded off.
We’re on the motorway.
I was sitting in the back and thought: I suppose I’d better wake him up.
JOHN: No car crash?
JOHN: Vic & Bob took the surreal Geordie crown on UK TV. But you were about eight or so years before them.
Newspaper coverage of Wavis’ various exploits were extensive but his fame was cult not household
WAVIS: If you want to be a household name, you have to have people remember your name and identify your face. That is fame. I sabotaged both by changing my names when they were successful and masking myself in different disguises. I didn’t want to be a ‘household name’.
I actually gatecrashed the music business and television, but I didn’t want to remain in there.
I enjoyed being on the radio. I enjoyed being on the television.
But then I’d scarper.
JOHN: Why didn’t you want to be a household name?
WAVIS: Because then people want to be your manager, bleed you dry, tell you what you can do, tell you what you can’t do and stuff like that. I just wanted to be a cult cult cult. But it was always difficult to suppress commercial interests. Each time, it would snowball; it would get bigger and bigger; and I would think: I’ve got to retreat, because I don’t want to be a household name.
In 1983, Channel 4 offered me a six-part 30-minute series for my character ‘The Hard’, on the strength of my appearances on The Tube.
But I didn’t want to know, because I could have become a ‘household name’. I much prefer radio, where they don’t see you. I didn’t want to be part of ‘Celebrity’. I never set out to be a celebrity. I just shared what I could do and had a laugh with it.
People would say, “You’ve MADE IT in the record business… You’ve MADE IT in television.” They themselves would kill to be in those situations, but I didn’t want to be in either. I wanted to continue doing my sketches and songs and share them… appear for a time… then disappear.
JOHN: Under yet another of your many names – Dan Green – you were an author and researcher on the Wollaton Gnomes – In 1979, a group of children claimed to have seen about 30 small cars each with a gnome driver and passenger wearing yellow tights, blue tops and bobble hats. You researched what happened.
WAVIS: People want to put you in a shoebox. In the case of Wavis, it’s as an off-the-wall performer. But, if you say: “Oh, but I’m also a very serious writer and researcher and have had books published,” they’re kind disappointed. They always prefer the comedy. People would much prefer that I’m just this Wavis character they have seen more of.
But in my own private life – some of it possibly coming from the Tibetan mysticism – as Dan Green – I’ve written about world mysteries and tried my hand at being a bit of a British Poirot.
I – well, Dan Green – did a very controversial American DVD in 2011. I did a tour of American radio stations – I didn’t go there physically. I’ve appeared on Sky TV as Dan Green. There’s millions of Dan Greens, which is helpful for me as I just hide in among them.
Dan Green had a massive website, but I took it down last April. I was Dan Green from about 2005. I faded Dan Green out and retired him last April. He was too time-consuming.
Now I’m retiring Wavis. This chat is his last appearance.
JOHN: So what’s next?
WAVIS: What’s left of me?… I don’t know.
(AT THE MOMENT, THERE ARE CLASSIC CLIPS OF WAVIS ON YOUTUBE ON ‘THE TUBE’ )
So I have been talking to a man whose real name I do not know. He performed as Wavis O’Shave on the 1980s Channel 4 TV music series The Tube, often in bizarre comedy sketches as ‘The Hard’. But he has also appeared as Foffo Spearjig, Pan’s Person, Mustapha Dhoorinc, Mr Haggler, Howay Man and many more.
Before The Tube, in 1980, he had recorded an album called Anna Ford’s Bum referring to the TV newsreader and, in 2004, he recorded a CD single Katie Derham’s Bum referring to another TV newsreader.
In 2021, he wrote and recorded what he claimed was the world’s first palindrome song Mr Owl Ate My Metal Worm.
Nameless talked to me via FaceTime (in a theatrical wig)
JOHN: Because it was screened at an awkward time, I almost never saw The Tube, so I’m fairly unaware of your extensive fame.
WAVIS: A lot of people, if you mention my names, they say: “Oh yeah, The Tube! Oh yeah, Anna Ford’s Bum! Oh yeah, The Hard!”… and then the missing years. They think I’m either dead or in prison. They don’t realise that, sporadically, I just erupt and record a song or do something else that warrants attention, then I disappear.
JOHN: At heart, you’re basically a music person…?
WAVIS: Well, Wikipedia says I’m a comedian and a musician. People always ask: “What are you? Performance artist? This, that, whatever?” And I say: “I’m a Wavis O’Shave.”
JOHN: In 2004, Chris Donald of Viz magazine said you’re not a musician, you’re not a comedian, you’re “a sort of cross between Howard Hughes,Tiny Tim and David Icke”.
WAVIS: Well, Malcolm Gerrie, the producer of The Tube, said I’m a mixture of Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin and Lee Evans. That’s a bit more credible, isn’t it? And he knew me quite well. But, really, I’m a fat, skinny nowt, if that’s helpful.
JOHN: Nowt? Sounds like a plug for your own alleged autobiography I Felt Nowt. I typed that title into Amazon and it came up with ‘felt roll’ which was, indeed, a page for a roll of felt.
WAVIS: Yeah. I’m quite happy with that. It only goes up to 2013, I think, and I’ve had some amazing adventures since then.
JOHN: You think?
WAVIS: I haven’t read it for ages…
JOHN: You have read your autobiography?
WAVIS: I have. It starts at the beginning of my illustrious media ‘career’ – around 1975.
People wanted me to get it in book form but I thought I couldn’t justify it. The thing is, John, people wouldn’t believe it past Page 10. They would think it was made up. A fiction, because my life has been so ‘alternative’.
JOHN: You were very matey with Simon and Chris Donald of Viz…
WAVIS: Yes. I had quite a lot of interaction with Viz at the time and was their Patron Saint. They visited me at my mothers’ ‘bit of shanty’ once and she told them all about her visits from the god Pan whom I’d summoned. I can’t recall what he was being summoned for, maybe for not having a portable sheep pen licence.
JOHN: You have been called a “forgotten hero of the North East”.
WAVIS: I’m not forgotten!!! Those people! I’m not kidding. The name Foffo Spearjig has been nicked and used by so many people. There’s two Wavis O’Shaves on Facebook who are not me. It’s all out of control. Always has been.
JOHN: You have done ‘Celebrity Ambusahes’. You harried Debbie Harry. There’s a photo.
WAVIS: I’m living in the North East at the time and friends are watching their heroes and heroines on telly and I tell them: “Why don’t you go and meet them? You can!” And they didn’t.
It started for me with Debbie Harry; then it was Britt Ekland and so on.
At the time, Debbie Harry was the hottest pop act on the planet and you weren’t allowed to take photographs because they had their own photographer. So I asked Chris Stein: “Any chance?” And he went and asked her and he came back and said: Well, yeah. It’s fine so long as you promise you won’t sell ‘em.
So I was lucky to get those photographs, but I didn’t just want to stand next to her so, out of my back pocket I got something like a 5’9” polystyrene nose and we took the picture.
JOHN: You had a very big back pocket.
WAVIS: I do.
At the time, I’d released some vinyl and both theNME and Sounds picked up on it and were praising me and normally the NME and Sounds were deadly enemies like Celtic/Rangers. But they both loved Wavis, so I was getting lots of good press regularly and, when I took these pictures from what I called Celebrity Ambushes, they would appear.
Anna Ford’s Bum led to the Sunday People…
I ended up on the front page of the Sunday People with Anna Ford, which was quite a big thing. She was the gentleman’s top totty at the time and here’s this ragamuffin from Up North singing about her bum in a national newspaper.
My last celebrity ambush was only a couple of months ago – Harry Hill. I mentioned our mutual friend Gary Bushell and told him: “Gary said many years ago that Wavis was Harry Hill before Harry Hill was Harry Hill, but, mind you, you’re not a bad Harry Hill anyway.”
That was the last one. The next-to last one was Tyson Fury, the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. I laughed all the way home after that. What had I been doing? I’d been in the middle of all these really massive blokes, sense of humour not that prominent, and I’m wanting him to sign a poster of The Hard.
JOHN: How did Tyson react?
WAVIS: My success rate has always been 99.9%, catching people one-to-one. But he was surrounded by his bouncer folks and one of them just took one look at me with me ‘Hard’ poster and said: “He doesn’t do autographs”.
Then, as he went into the building, we exchanged glances… I have stared him out, technically… he went into the building and signed autographs for these VIP people who paid £320 to get them! That’s Showbusiness, folks!
JOHN: So you didn’t get one.
WAVIS: Well, I didn’t really want it. I just wanted to be there because it was ridiculous. What was I doing there?
Locally, up North, the first celebrity I ever mixed with was Spike Milligan around 1975/1976.
“The idea was to play anything that wasn’t music.”
I had a group I called the Borestiffers. We did a ‘world tour’ of two dates at our local hall in Southshields. I had to fill in a form. I said it was for ‘poetry recitals’. All the rival gangs came – they’d kill each other on sight – and the hall was quartered by all these rival gangs who had come to see what on earth was going on. They didn’t know what to expect.
I came out with an illuminated Subbuteo floodlight strapped on my head with my wacky little band and I’m doing my songs and I just managed to finish it before the chairs started getting thrown at each other from the rival gangs.
The idea of the Borestiffers was to play anything that wasn’t music. We had empty suitcases for drums, Bullworkers and we genuinely had a kitchen sink, because someone was having their kitchen done. We had everything and we freaked everybody out so much that they didn’t know how to react.
I thought: Right! I like this reaction!
JOHN: …and so you decided to do comedy?
WAVIS: People want me to be a comedy/haha person. But nobody’s one person.
WAVIS: He can’t stop laughing… Anyway, I studied there and had a lama teacher – a celebrated rinpoche – Akong Rinpoche. He was murdered in China in 2013. I had Akong as a teacher in 1977 and I seemed to already know the stuff. What I got into was a thing called Vajrayana – you may have heard of the ‘crazy wisdom’ of Vajrayana.
It kind of frees outrageous behaviour.
I thought: This is the way I seem to be. Polar opposites. I’m up here at the apex, sitting with the emptiness of the Vajra diamond and the supreme oblivion where you can really bamboozle people with your behaviour.
And this was the formulation of Wavis.
When I left the Community, that’s when I got into recording the vinyl.
The reason I ended up doing sketches on music shows is… They said “Come on in and sing your Don’t Crush Bees With the End of Your Walking Stick or You Think You’re a Woman Because You Don’t Eat Fishcakes… Come on and do one of your songs.”
And I thought: No. I don’t work like that. If you want me to do songs, I won’t do songs… “Can I do a comedy sketch instead?”… I kinda wrote one on the spot for them. Sketches and characters pass though my brain. It never dries up.
So I ended up doing sketches on The Tube. A national audience. Four million people a week.
JOHN: And it all goes back to the Samye Ling Temple? You wanted to bamboozle people with surreality?
WAVIS: Well, the crazy wisdom of the Tibetan teachings do allow for… Well, you gotta end up talking about the unconscious mind. Surrealism is like a bubble rising up from the bottom of the lake.
The origin of comedy interests me, John. I’m very into neurology.
My wife – we’ve been married 38 years – has very high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. She worked for the Ministry of Defence. She has had to put up with me for 38 years. She says it’s like living with Zelig.
I live with two people who have Asperger’s – my wife and her son – and there are other immediate family members on the spectrum as well. All quite clever. Cambridge University have studied the family. They actually came here and did DNA swab testing. That’s how I met Simon Baron-Cohen in 2013 or so.
Researchers have pointed out that when serious people like Oliver Sacks take psychedelics, they report back that – ooh – you see UFOs, you see fairies… BUT lots and lots and lots of people have also reported seeing circus clowns.
JOHN: And the conclusion is that they see clowns because…?
WAVIS: Well, yes, why should they see circus clowns? Is it indicating … Is it possible… that the origin of comedy resides somewhere in the unconscious mind? Or, certainly, on another level of consciousness? Very serious stuff this, isn’t it?
JOHN: A lot of people find clowns very frightening…
WAVIS: That’s true.
JOHN: You must have had a career before the surreal stuff. You mentioned Zeus to me in an email. Everyone knows Zeus, but you also mentioned Hera. Now that’s relatively obscure.
WAVIS: Hera? Is she obscure? When I was a child, one of the first movies I saw was Jason and The Argonauts and that has got a lot to answer for. Life can be dull, mundane and boring. But I wanna be off! The other movie I saw that inspired me was Ursula Andress as She.
I went to the movies when I was ten. I wanted to walk into the screen. A search for the ultimate female. Ayesha (She). I have studied all that (Greek) stuff, but not as an academic.
JOHN: Ayesha and Jason: that’s all fantasy stuff. You were interested in fantasy?
WAVIS: Ah!… Ah!… Well, Wavis is a fantasy figure. How many times have I had to say to people that Wavis is just a fig roll ment of your imagination? I have no end of names. I was called Callum Jensen when I went on Stars in Their Eyes. Well, Steve Harley had been a friend, you see…He sent his own guitar to use on the show and let me keep it…
(Photos by Rock Staar and Harrison Fitts via UnSplash)
Today I was asked by two single girls whether they should go on holiday next week to Spain or to Jamaica. The price is about the same but the weather forecast is better in Spain.
I advised them to go to Jamaica because a bad holiday in Jamaica would yield more vivid memories, better anecdotes and would sound far more glamorous in the future telling than a good holiday in Spain.
Sometimes it is better to think in long-term story potential rather than short term enjoyment.
So, initially, I asked ChatGPT AI to write me a 250 word political manifesto on the benefits of cannibalism. Why not?
It came up with this answer:
I feel there is a missed opportunity there but, unfazed, I asked it to just come up with a more generic 250 word political manifesto to win a UK general election. This was the AI’s suggestion
I think this template must be the one used by all UK political parties (with some minor spelling changes) and look forward to hearing it being spouted (again) by both Conservative and Labour Parties (and possibly the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and minor parties like the Liberal Democrats) at the next Local, the next General and all subsequent elections.
Every year in April, UK pensions rise and you are told the amount of your new weekly payment in a letter which arrives in late February or early March.
That happened this year to my chum. The increase in the pension happens on 11th April this year. Every year, in February or March, she receives the letter informing her what she will get from April onwards.
But my chum has somehow managed to lose the letter she received from the Department for Works & Pensions in February, telling her the new pension rates which she will get from April. The one she gets, updated appropriately, every year. And she can’t remember the new amount, which is made up by adding four separate smaller amounts together.
So she phoned up the Pensions Service to ask if it was possible to send her a duplicate of the lost letter.
She was told it is not possible to send her a duplicate of that letter because they are not allowed under government rules to send out the letter until after the new pension rates come into force on 11th April.
She said, not unreasonably:
“But you already sent the letter to me – at the end of February…”
Yes, she was told, but they are not allowed to post the letter to her until after the new rates come in.
“You are not allowed to send me until April a letter you already sent to me in February?”
“Yes. We cannot send you that letter until April. You could phone up after 11th April to ask for the letter to be sent.”
“…The letter which tells me what I am going to be paid from 11th April?”
“But I can’t get a duplicate of the letter I received in February telling me how much I will receive in April until I have already received the money in April.”
“Yes. We are not allowed to send you the letter until April.”
“The one you sent in February.”
The search continues for the letter always sent every year in February or March which cannot be sent until April…
Three-hour power cut here yesterday – no internet, no mobile phone, no text, no landline – Their excuse seems unlikely to cover this.
The reason given by the relevant company was:
It seems odd that both electricity and phones were affected.
I thought electricity cables and landline phone cables were separate – let alone mobile phones which go through the air – otherwise why have all the phone masts and BT Towers? Surely the BT Towers are there (according to the original edition of Beneath The City Streets) as part of a post-apocalyptic microwave communication system?
And, if landline and electricity lines ARE linked, then the electricity company could be supplying home phones and WiFi instead of or as well as the phone companies.
Am I being paranoid to think it might be a rather unlikely excuse to cover-up a cyber attack?
If so, it’s an admirably all-encompassing cyber attack…
It seems far too efficient for the Russians (judging by their incompetence in the Ukraine). I have always been a great admirer of Chinese originality.
Am I turning paranoid? Are conspiracy theories my next stop?