Mad inventor John Ward discovers the many perils of having a famous face

I received this recent anecdote from John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.


It was a much normal day as such – weather atrocious outside – so I made myself busy indoors.

The doorbell rang.

I went to find a courier there holding a parcel.

On seeing me at my door, he asked for my address.

Then he asked for my name but he spoke in broken English as it was not his native tongue.

He looked at the parcel, then at me, then at his handheld wotever with an LCD screen. He checked to see if the details tallied and handed the parcel over to me.

It was  my ‘dead cat’ microphone for my Sony camcorder to use alongside in lieu of the maker’s own mic when conditions are not too clever when filming outside etc.

I thanked him and closed the door and went back inside.

Before I had a chance to open the box up to see if it really was the item as ordered, the doorbell rang again.

It was the same courier.

He said he was sorry to disturb me and then said: “I know who you am!” in an excited tone.

Now armed with a big, beaming grin, he asked for my autograph.

Ever happy to oblige, I picked up a yellow coloured plain display card, A4 size, that was lying about and did the doodle/cartoon I normally do and signed it with: ‘Best wishes to Pieter’.

He seemed overjoyed, shook my arm out of  its socket near enough and off he went.

A moment or two later, the doorbell rang yet again.

It was Pieter.

He stood there, pointing at the card: “Who dis?” he asked

“Me,” I said.

“No, no I want your real name!” he replied.

“That is my real name,” I told him. “I had this arrangement with my mother and father soon after I was born, so can’t really say too much about it with regard to my input on the matter as I was not consulted about it at the time.”

“Who dissa John Ward?”

“It’s me, the same as on the parcel you just delivered to me… John Ward.”

He looked slightly bewildered. He was not alone on that one. 

“Is it you stage name thing you do when not doing you real work?”

“No, my stage name is Wells Fargo but I never really use it much, unless I am travelling overland.”

“I want you real name – Christopher Biggins!”

Christopher Biggins (not John Ward)

“I am not him.”

“Why you not him?”

“I never said I was him.” 

I could see he was even more confused as he slowly looked me over and said: “I now go.” 

Off he went.

Back I went to my parcel and, as I was finally unwrapping it, yet another ding-dong on the doorbell.

Yes, once again, I beheld Pieter standing there with a lady who I assumed was in the lorry cab with him.

“I want excusing as this is Sandra, my vera good friend.”

He wanted her to meet me, whoever I was or might be. 

By this point, I was feeling quite unsure myself to be honest.

Ken Morley (Pic: Allstar/GlobePhotos Inc)

They looked at me, then at each other, then they mumbled to each other – I was not included at this point – and Sandra then spoke in perfect English:

“He is not Christopher Biggins!”

On hearing that, I was most relieved. But that was short-lived. 

“It is,” she added, “that Ken Morley bloke who used to be in Coronation Street on the telly… But I thought he was dead!”

I said I had things to do as they turned and left to wander back to the lorry.

But, just as I shut the door, I heard Sandra suggest: “He could be that Brian Blessed bloke, though… He’s got the ears for him I think….”


Below: the irrepressible Brian Blessed and the inimitable John Ward as himself (almost)

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrity, Eccentrics, Fame, Humor, Humour

George Orwell made me want to write + the real origin of Big Brother’s 2+2=5 ?

As a teenager, one of the reasons I was interested in writing was George Orwell.

I think I read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was around 12 years old and later I read his essays and books like Animal Farm and his highly-under-rated Homage to Catalonia.

I wanted to be able to write as clearly as Orwell did. 

He is not a great novelist (he can’t really do fictional characters very well) but he is a great writer, as his wonderful short essays show. I am particularly thinking of A Hanging and Down The Mine, details of which have stayed in my mind a lifetime later. There is one description in A Hanging (about the puddle) which I don’t think anyone who has read it can ever possibly forget.

Likewise, I think the most terrifying thing in Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the torture scene in Room 101 but the explanation by O’Brien to Winston of WHY he is being tortured.

Nineteen Eighty-Four also has possibly the bleakest final line – the bleakest final four words – of any book I ever read. No point looking it up – the emotional effect only comes after you have read the whole novel.

Orwell also explained why he wrote in – no surprise – his essay Why I Write and, in Politics and the English Language, he suggests six rules for good writing:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

A 1931 Soviet poster: The “Arithmetic of an Alternative Plan: 2 + 2 plus the Enthusiasm of the Workers = 5” exhorts the workers of the Soviet Union to realise 5 years of production in 4 years’ time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Creativity, Writing

An English and Japanese comedy show by an Italian and a Canadian in London 

I first met Katsura Sunshine back in 2017. He lives in Japan, the US and Canada and currently performs an ongoing monthly rakugo (Japanese storytelling) show  at the Leicester Square Theatre in London AND a regular monthly rakugo show at the New World Stages in New York.

A couple of months ago, I saw Sunshine’s London show, not for the first time. On that occasion he had, as his special guest, London-based Italian comic Luca Cupani.

They are together again at London’s Leicester Square Theatre this Sunday.

We talked on a Zoom call this week. Somewhat appropriately, given the multi-cultural and multi-national mix, Luca was in a hotel room in Milan, Sunshine was in a living room in Toronto and I was at the Soho Theatre Bar in London.

Luca (top left) with me (top right) and (bottom) Sunshine


JOHN (TO SUNSHINE): How long are your monthly London and New York shows continuing?

SUNSHINE: They’re both indefinite runs at least for the next year. I’ve just been talking to the Leicester Square Theatre about next year’s dates and the New York show has also been confirmed to the end of 2023.

JOHN: Two months ago, Luca appeared in your London show. He did rakugo (for the first time) and his stand-up; and you did stand-up (for the first time) and your rakugo.

SUNSHINE: It was a lot of fun, just like ‘appreniticing’ each other. Luca is teaching me stand-up and I’m sort-of teaching him rakugo.

JOHN: So how did Luca – an Italian – get involved in performing at London’s Leicester Square Theatre with a Canadian who does traditional Japanese storytelling in New York?

LUCA: Sunshine offered me the chance to be on stage and it felt like a crazy idea so I couldn’t say No. I am enjoying being out of my comfort zone. I’m already an Italian doing comedy in English in London, so I’m all for cultural cross-over.

SUNSHINE: I met Luca eight years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe and we’ve been friends for all this time. We’ve gone to see each other’s shows. When he told me he was going back to the Edinburgh Fringe this year for the seventh time – I’ve performed there four times… Well, I know how much it costs and the producer side of me said:

“Luca, to save money, just rent a West End or Broadway theatre and add that to your resume. Or, instead of that, just join me!  I’ve already got the theatre. I’ll put a kimono on you and we’ll turn it into a thing. It would be fun to do it together!”

LUCA: And it IS fun. I quite like the rules of rakugo. Okay, I cannot yet follow all of the rules but it’s fun to try to follow some of the basic rules. It’s very different from what I normally do and that’s why I like it a lot. You show yourself as being vulnerable and, even if you fail, it is still funny for the audience… I think!

JOHN: As I understand rakugo, there are set, pre-existing stories, so you are not able to script your own performance like in stand-up comedy?

SUNSHINE: Technically, you make up the first part and then you lead the theme of your made-up material into the scripted story which has been passed-down from master to apprentice through the ages. So the first part is a little bit like stand-up comedy and the big laugh is at the end. I think Luca’s perfectly comfortable with that except he has to kneel in a kimono.

JOHN: What was the most difficult thing about doing it?

LUCA: For me, kneeling down on the stage in a position which is not very comfortable, using the props in the correct way and remembering the basic rule that you look in two different directions to portray two different characters.

In stand-up, you usually talk about yourself and you are being yourself. In rakugo you have to create a story and sketch two characters very quickly and in a different style. That’s the most difficult. And the most fun.

JOHN: Sunshine, I think in the show two months ago that was the first time you had performed Western-style stand-up. What was that like for you?

SUNSHINE: At first glance, it seems like the same as the first part of a ragugo show, but the rhythm of stand-up is different: the laughs are coming much more quickly. When I was standing in front of the audience and talking in my usual Rakugo way, I sort-of felt the audience’s slight impatience more than I would have in storyteller mode.

But that sharpened me up a bit. 

I cut the material down; I cut words down. I got to more of a stand-up comedy rhythm. It was a great feeling and quite different to performing rakugo.

JOHN: And in the show this coming Sunday… ?

SUNSHINE: We will both do some (solo) stand-up comedy and both do some (solo) rakugo. Exactly the same format as before.

It was SO much fun last time. To have someone in the dressing room with me and exchange ideas about comedy and the different types of both stand-up comedy and rakugo. It was brilliant.

For me, presenting rakugo alone in New York and London… There’s a formality to rakugo. You’re in the kimono, you bow – there’s a lot of formality – and people don’t want to insult the culture. I always have to get the audience on board… This is comedy! You can laugh! Relax!

But when Luca and I walked out at the beginning of our dual show at the Leicester Square Theatre and the first half was each of us doing (solo) stand-up comedy, we had the audience going: WOOAAAHHHH!!

They knew the routine for stand-up comedy. You cheer or laugh your head off and the performers will give you all the better performance.

So leading into rakugo in the second half from a base of stand-up comedy which the audience already understood and could enjoy and relax with was a completely different experience. It was just so much more fun and easy to perform.

JOHN: Luca: did you learn anything from performing Japanese rakugo that you could use in your Western stand-up?

LUCA: The story I had was short but fun and it involved a lot of physical stuff. In rakugo, you use your face more often than I usually do when I talk. So I think it helped me to be more expressive. Also, if you know where you want to go, you can play a bit more in-between.

In stand-up, you need laughter all the way though. You ride on the energy of laughter, otherwise it doesn’t work. In a stand-up routine, you don’t always know where you’re going because you wait for the reaction from the audience. But, in rakugo, the set-up is way-way longer and you can prepare the audience, warm them up, play with pauses.

Last time what happened – and it wasn’t planned – was that, at the very beginning, when we introduced the show, we inadvertantly almost did some manzai which is another Japanese comedy form with two artists – one plays the smart guy, the other the foolish guy. Sunshine was smart; I was foolish. When we were talking to the audience and tried to warm them up, it became a sort-of improvised manzai that we hadn’t planned.

JOHN: And you will be performing together again?

SUNSHINE: I hope so. This is the last show of this year, then we’ll be starting up again next February, dates to be confirmed.

JOHN: Sunshine: how long has it taken you to get to this stage as a rakugo performer?

SUNSHINE: I’m in my 15th year. I started my apprenticeship in 2008 and it’s three-year apprenticeship – so 2008-2011. It’s basically indentured servitude.

I was with my master (Katsura Bunshi VI), no day off, for three years – cleaning his house, doing the laundry. You’re just with the master every waking hour for three years and you just watch and learn.

In 2011, I finished my apprenticeship so I’m in my 14th/15th year as a professional storyteller, which qualifies me as a master. I could take apprentices now, if I chose or if someone wanted to be my apprentice. So far, nobody’s come out of the woodwork!

JOHN: So, Luca, do you want to wash Sunshine’s laundry?

LUCA: I’m not comfortable with hair. I got rid of mine because I was tired of washing it.

SUNSHINE: (LAUGHING) He’s changing the subject!

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Japan

John Ward and the stupid TV people…

John Ward in a photograph where it is probably best if you supply your own caption…

I first worked with mad inventor John Ward – designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – on the TVS/ITV series Prove It! for which he supplied bizarre weekly inventions. That was back in 1988. We paid him a fee, put him up in a local hotel and covered his travel costs. He presented his inventions in a sort-of double act with the show’s presenter Chris Tarrant.

For one show in the series, he conceived and built a ‘TV Dining Machine’:

A couple of blogs ago, John Ward shared the quirkiness of one recent BBC approach to him about his frequently ‘unusual’ inventions.

The posting of that blog reminded John of another incident, back in 2007. He told me: “The crass silliness of clueless staff was/is not restricted to just the Beeb.”

Back in 2007, he received this email (which I have edited) from the member of an ITV production team:


We are currently producing a new entertainment show hosted by (two famous UK personalities).

The show has been an instant success. It features celebrity chat, the hottest music acts and the presenters’ ‘take’ on the week’s events.

Each week we like to feature new inventions and gadgets and I have seen
online your various inventions and was hoping that I might be able to speak with you about the possibility of featuring some of them on our show. 

I think it would be fantastic for our show.

I would be really keen to discuss this opportunity further.

Kind regards,


John Ward explains what happened next…


The ITV guy duly rang me up and, after a lot of patronising twaddle, he explained, once we finally got round to it, what my ‘involvement’ would be:

  1. I was not to be appearing on the actual programme – quite why he didn’t say.
  1. What he/they wanted was for me to send to them – at my cost! – assorted inventions I had made so that one could be displayed and talked about (i.e. taken the piss out of) each week during a filler moment on said show.
  1. I was also to source the boxes/containers etc. to pack them up in and then pay to send them – quote: ‘by courier would be nice’ (!)

I did pose the question as to how I would get them back afterwards, but this query seemed to fall on rather stony ground. I got the overall impression that I would be ‘donating’ them to the programme.

Finally, he asked… Could I supply a list of suitable small inventions that would not take up too much space in the studio?

He then explained there was no fee, but I would be ‘rewarded’ by having my name in the end credits along the lines of: ‘Inventions supplied by John Ward’.

I pointed out that this supposed ‘reward’ would be meaningless at the end of the programme because, within seconds of the end credits rolling, they were then either squeezed to one side or reduced in size – or both – to promote the next programme.

He then went into autopilot mode and waffled on about ‘the prestige’ of being ‘connected’ with this series featuring such ‘iconic personalities’ and that I should be ‘grateful for being considered’ for a part in the production.

I think my response was fairly straightforward.

I posed the question:

“Are there still two ‘L’s in bollocks?”

He put the phone down rather swiftly after that intellectual exchange.


That poor 2007 ITV man missed-out on showcasing John’s originality – as we did on ITV’s 1988 series Prove It!

For the episode below, he had invented some very adaptable shoes:

Leave a comment

Filed under Eccentrics, Inventions, Television, UK

Why people really laugh at comedians…

Last month, I was interviewed by Dr Maria Kempinska, founder of the Jongleurs comedy club circuit, who was awarded an MBE for her contribution to British comedy. She is now a psychotherapist. I talked to her for Your Mind Matters, her series of hour-long chats on the Women’s Radio Station. This is a brief extract of what I said.

… Performing comedy is a bit like performing magic. It’s all to do with misdirection. In magic, you’re looking at the wrong place when, suddenly, something happens somewhere where you are not looking.

In comedy, you have the audience going along a storyline – even if it’s just a short storyline for a gag.

You have the audience going along a storyline for a gag. They’re looking in one direction. They know what’s coming next… they know what’s coming next… they know what’s coming next… and then suddenly, out of left field, from nowhere, comes the punchline… and they react to that in shock.

It’s like a big AAAAARRRRGGGHHHHH!!! But, instead of gasping, they go: “Ahahahahaha!” and laughter is a sort of release of tension. It’s a reaction to something unexpected that happens…

(The full interview is HERE.)

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Magic, Psychology

BBC investigative reporting at its best…

Yesterday, mad inventor John Ward, who designed and makes the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards for the annual Edinburgh Fringe, sent me this email:


The other week in my Ward’s World column in the local Spalding Guardian newspaper, I made reference to ‘Our Annie’ a shopkeeper whom my mum knew. Annie would not sell ‘straight’ bananas as they had to be curved – Nothing else would do for her loyal customers.

I mentioned in the column that I once made a ‘Banana Gauge’ – basically a piece of wood with one side curved and the other straight. There was no photo in the column but here is one of my original ‘invention’.

I had forgotten about this particular newspaper column when the phone rang this morning and a young lady spoke.

“Is that Mr Ward? – the inventor John Ward?”

She worked for the BBC and, while researching assorted sources for possible news or items of interest, she had come across the said Ward’s World column.

Our conversation went roughly thus:

Q: Was the gauge digital? 

A: Nope, it was made mainly from wood. The hole was made with a drill

Q: Did it come from sustainable forest supplies?

A: Not a clue as it was a wood off-cut

Q: Where does the Off Cut tree grow? In what country?

A: Not really sure but, as far as I know, Sir David Attenborough has not mentioned it as being in danger, otherwise a film crew would have been dispatched by now.

Q: On the environmental issue, do you think it could be in danger of becoming extinct soon, though?

A: Not sure, to be honest.

Q: So what made you, as a highly regarded (she said it, not me) inventor, decide to build this gauge?

A: I had the wood from the Off Cut tree to hand… Plus a curved banana to use as a model to get the curve right.  

Q: I see… So did the straight side prove to be a challenge or what did you use to get that right?

A: I used the edge of a door which, to be honest, I had to open first. Then I held the gauge up to the edge and drew a pencil line downwards to get the angle right.

Q: I see…umm.. I assume this did not happen the first time, so how many prototypes did you construct before standing back to say: “This is the one. This is THE gauge” – Did you have your very own personal eureka moment?

A: I only had the one stab at it to be honest.

Q: So you knew straight away that this was THE one?! – That’s really remarkable, if I may say.

A: You may, you may. But it was really due to the fact it was the only bit from the Off Cut tree I had at the time… plus the local DIY store had shut by then so I could not do another as I had no material to use.

Q: I find your ‘low key’ approach to inventing quite incredible. You see the need, then you use your skills, you devise it in your mind. You don’t do any drawings or blueprint things?

A: You have hit the nail on the head, as we say in the business.

Q: Has there been any interest from any commercial concerns about marketing this device so far?

A: It depends largely on if the bananas are home-grown or imported.

Q: Really.

A: Oh yes…

She said she would get back to me “in due course”, as she feels “there is something here” that shows the British bulldog spirit thing is very much alive in these current traumatic times.

John Ward: designer, inventor, manufacturer and bendy banana enthusiast

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Journalism

The authors of “Mission Most Fowl” on comedy, publishing and their duck army

John Ryan (left) and Darren Hasler-Stott

Yesterday’s blog was a chat about the new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott. 

‘Ryan Hasler-Stott’ is actually two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and electrician Darren Hasler-Stott…

The chat continues here…


ME (TO DARREN): So you’re still an electrician?

JOHN RYAN: He’s also a musician. 

DARREN: I used to be in a band. A bit of piano. Sang quite a lot. A sort of rock band. Singer-songwriter thing. It was a long time ago.

JOHN RYAN: Thing is Darren’s like a lot of people; like how I was.

He’s a guy with a regular job. He’s very creative. And where I differed was – with his support and others’ support – I went from the regular job and took the plunge. Whereas most people never take the plunge. So I kind of dragged him a bit to go with his creativity. We’ve just come at it from different angles.

ME (TO JOHN RYAN): You don’t totally play comedy clubs. You do the cruises… This is your 20th year entertaining on the cruise ships?

JOHN RYAN: Yeah. And I’ve done the military. Went out to Afghanistan to entertain the troops. Went all round the Middle East. I’ve done police conferences, prison projects – won an award – Best Documentary at the Scottish Film Festival. I’ve done a women’s prison – tough gig.

ME: …and, during the Covid Lockdown…

JOHN RYAN: My income went down about 85%. It will slowly come back. But you know, on the circuit now, headlining is about £50, £60. Whereas, ten years ago, it was £200, £250. It’s just that the power dynamic has changed completely. You’ve got a lot of promoters filling rooms up with 200, 300 punters, charging them £15 each and paying the acts £100. 

You’ve got so many comedy courses now, just churning out hundreds of comedians, which kind of lowers the base price that people will pay. And they just live off people’s dreams basically. Whereas before there was a career path. 

“Back then… you were a career comedian: well looked-after…”

Back then, if you were with the Jongleurs circuit, you were a career comedian: well looked-after, well paid, hotels, everything. Now there’s no Jongleurs. The Glee has stepped up a bit; Hot Water in Liverpool has stepped up a bit; Alan Anderson’s gigs have stepped up.

But, other than that, it’s hard to get weekends or regular work. 

ME: I don’t know Hot Water.

JOHN RYAN: They’re basically in Liverpool and they have come up with a new business model. They’re building a 700 seater. I’ve never worked for them, but they’re packing them out. They’re going up on the energy They’re on podcasts, social media, they do gigs, touring shows. Rather than going It’s Saturday night, people pay to come in and have a laugh tonight, they’re more about seven days a week and corporate stuff an all. The North West of England is the home of comedy in the UK at the moment.

ME: Why?

JOHN RYAN: I think a hungry dynamic. 

ME: I suppose Media City in Manchester might help.

JOHN RYAN: And the same with Scotland. There’s a nice little circuit up in Scotland.

ME: London’s still important, though.

JOHN RYAN: Well, again, you see down here is where you’ll meet people. Whereas maybe when I started we gigged to get gigs, now you meet people who have half a dozen gigs and they’ve got a CV and a lot of a management. Very driven. Very much like America.

ME: Traditionally, people went to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe to be spotted by industry people from London and…

JOHN RYAN: But, getting back to our book, we see it as one of seven.

ME: Is that because it’s a lucky number? Or something to do with Harry Potter?

It’s a lucky number? Or something to do with Harry Potter?

JOHN RYAN: Number 7. Eric Cantona. (LAUGHS)

ME: What age is your book aimed at?

JOHN RYAN: I guess for the young and the young at heart. I guess 10 upwards. It’s all about understanding that there’s mischief. There’s characters. They argue with each other. But they gotta get home in time for tea. Not going to get hurt.

ME: Could that not be boring?

JOHN RYAN: Doesn’t have to be. Kids nowadays – all this whole shoot-em-up and violence… There IS violence in there.

ME: Aren’t all stories about confrontations? Confronting situations or people.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah, it’s very confrontational.

ME: There’s a villain?

DARREN: Several villains. The main villain in the first book is a guy called General Thwackeray who’s the leader of the ducks. Then, in the other books, there’ll be other villains. 

Part of the action is set around the annual Eggs Factor competition, where the ducks have a talent show. So there’s a lot of side silliness going on. There’s a paddle maker who becomes a reluctant duck hero. All he wants is some cracked corn but he keeps finding himself at the front of all the duck activity purely by chance and continually gets promoted. But all he wants is to settle down.

ME: It’s selling well to kids?

JOHN RYAN: Most of the people who’ve bought it seem to be adults. 

DARREN: They love it. And a few people in Sweden for some reason.

ME: When was it actually published?

JOHN RYAN: July 7th this year?

ME: Self-published?

JOHN RYAN: I spoke to two publishers who liked it and they were very interested and offered us the glorious sum of 7%. Net. So I said, “Okay, and do we do anything?” 

They said: “You do your publicity, your PR, your marketing.” 

ME: They weren’t going to do anything themselves?

Traditional publishing is not a green and pleasant land… (Image by Mystic Art Design via Pixabay)

JOHN RYAN:  No. Not until it gained traction. And we’re talking established publishers. So we thought: We’ll self-publish, get some traction. We’ve got a couple of animation production companies sniffing around with a view to turn it into… Well, we would like it to be a feature film. Maybe a TV series, but it lends itself very much to film because each character has a backstory. 

Because of the nature of it, because it’s comedic, no one’s allowed to get killed. So we’ve got a team of superheroes who don’t kill anyone.

The main thing about the story though, is that it’s a stand-alone. There will be seven stand-alone stories. The next one basically involves a couple of penguins. They are childless and they find what they think is an egg. They think it’s an egg – a gift from heaven – because it fell from the sky. But it’s actually a nuclear timer.

ME: Have you got an elevator pitch?

JOHN RYAN: We have a mighty duck army hell-bent on taking over the world. The only thing standing between them and world domination are a team of…

DARREN: …misfits.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah. Wind in the Willows meets Dad’s Army,.. 

ME: The Dirty Dozen with ducks?

JOHN RYAN: It’s a harmeless, mischievious adventure of what we would have seen on Saturday morning cinema back in the day. It’s basically about how you overcome obstacles by working together. Just a glorious romp.

ME: …with ducks.

JOHN RYAN: With ducks and crazy characters. And badgers.

DARREN: Yeah. Badgers are like…

JOHN RYAN: …jobsworths.

DARREN: They know all the rules.

JOHN RYAN: They issue the permits.

DARREN: Our four genetically-modified characters are our superheroes and then Waldo, who’s a bee, they kind of pick-up along the way.

JOHN RYAN: He’s basically been kicked out of his hive for being annoying.

ME: Is he based on anyone?

JOHN RYAN: Sort of loosely based on us, really… Me. An annoying, buzzing feller. 

ME: Oh, come on now!

JOHN RYAN: The thing is I don’t socialise with comics. My social network is mostly people like Darren, who are what you could call ‘real people’.

It’s an interesting game I challenge all comics to do. Go through your WhatsApp messages, look at the last 5 or 10 people you’ve contacted. See how many are NOT comedians. Because then you’ll see where your friends are. I think you have to maintain your feet in the real world. Most comedians live in an abstract world surrounded and reinforced by other comics. Consequently, they don’t understand why they can offend or upset people.

We are all about inclusivity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Publishing

A surreal book about a duck army written by a non-existent author

“Mankind has gone. There is now a fierce Duck Army that is determined to take over the world…”

That’s the pitch for a new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott.

In fact, Ryan Hasler-Stott is two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and Darren Hasler-Stott, of whom more below.

So I talked to them…

John Ryan (left) with Darren Hasler-Stott


ME: Why did you write a children’s book? Because it’s commercial?

JOHN RYAN: No, because we’re both big kids.

ME (TO JOHN RYAN): I talked to you for a blog in July 2021 and you were just about to publish A Mission Most Fowl back then. That was over a year ago.

JOHN RYAN: I think we got a bit distracted. We built an extension. Covid Lockdown happened. My work went. Darren’s work went. He’s an electrician. I wanted to get a new bathroom. Darren is the go-to guy with ideas.

ME: You wanted an electric bathroom?

JOHN RYAN: We got carried away. It started with the bathroom and spiralled. Before we knew it, we were driving diggers round the back garden, digging holes.

ME: Hold on! He’s an electrician; you wanted a bathroom. Electricity and water… Not compatible.

JOHN RYAN: Electricity and water both involve currents.

ME: You have a point.

JOHN RYAN: We wanted to publish a book and build an extension. What I’m saying is we’re not limited by imagination. 

ME: This doesn’t explain the year-long gap in publishing the book.

JOHN RYAN: Darren likes to do things properly. 

Book published with more details HERE

ME: It was just going to be called A Mission Most Fowl. Why is it now called Tag Tinsel: A Mission Most Fowl? What does that even mean?

DARREN: The main character used to have a label attached to him – a tag. Tinsel was the name they gave him. You just put the two together.

ME: The two of you met on a writing course in 1999. Why did you need a writing course? It’s just going to teach you bad rules. There are no rules. 

DARREN: I think it taught us everything we did NOT want to be or do really.

ME: It taught you what you did not want to write?

JOHN RYAN: There were a lot of people there who wrote traditional stories. Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; there’s a misunderstanding; it all comes right in the end. Whereas Darren’s story…

DARREN: I did a short story. Basically about a guy on the run who’s being pursued by a bloke who’s dressed as a magician. A bloke who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia for hearing voices. But basically he’s house-bound and the neighbour had a dog and, to keep the dog from getting bored, he played the radio all day – talk radio. So he’s driven mad by talk radio in isolation. 

ME: But again: Why did you need a writing course? 

JOHN RYAN: I was working for the Council and I wanted to write and someone said: “No-one’s gonna buy your writing if you work for the Council.” He said: “If you do stand-up comedy, you get to perform on TV. I didn’t want to do stand-up comedy; I just wanted to write for kids. So, literally for my birthday, I signed up to a Writing For Kids course, 

I couldn’t attend the first week because my daughter was going to be born any day. So what did they have next? They had a Creative Writing course. So I did that and met Darren. He supported me getting into stand-up. He came to all my early gigs. He’s got a great sense of humour.

ME: Whose is it?

JOHN RYAN: Terry Pratchett. Very much.

ME: So what’s your own sense of humour?

JOHN RYAN: More Billy Connolly.

ME: So Ryan’s a fantasist and you are an anecdotalist?

JOHN RYAN: Well, I have an observational eye. So, consequently, the Mission Most Fowl story then evolved from a traditional Good v Evil set-up and, along the way, Darren’s kind of Pratchettesque brain came up with ideas that my brain doesn’t even consider. There are a lot of weapons made from unusual objects.

Organic weaponry, exploding fruit… and ducks

DARREN: Organic weaponry. Exploding fruit, an organic supercomputer called MAD – Mission Accessory Device – a MAD computer. 

ME: You and Darren met 22 years ago and it’s taken you this long to decide you wanted to write together? 

JOHN RYAN: Well, no, over the years, when I’ve had ideas for stand-up, I’d run the ideas past him. So we spent a lot of time building an extension, laughing and going: “Here’s an idea!” 

ME: And the plot is…?

JOHN RYAN: Basically, there is a mighty duck army who want to take over the planet. The humans have left Earth. And the only thing between them and all the technology that Man left behind is our team of superheroes who live in a cave. So, to draw them out the cave, the ducks do outrageous things. The team will come out of the cave. And then the ducks will capture them get the technology and all will be well.

But it never quite works out like that. 

ME: They “do outrageous things”?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. So they set up incidents around the forest. They’ve got two brothers who love to dig holes. So they dig holes and set traps. But they can never remember where the holes are. Yeah, they love to dig holes. It’s what they do best. 

ME: When people write books, they’re usually based on their own lives or minds.

JOHN RYAN: I do get worried for him sometimes.

DARREN: (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN RYAN: We see this very much as a kind of Harry Potter for the 21st century.

ME: …with ducks… 

JOHN RYAN: With ducks, yeah. And, along the way, other animals… There are badgers. 

DARREN: The premise of the story is that The Darkness arrives and changes the world. The Darkness arrives. Humanity goes: “That’s it. We’ve had enough. We’re off.” So they leave the planet and the planet then returns to its default position. 

ME: Its default position?

DARREN: All the continents around the world come back together so you have one big super continent…

ME: Named…?

JOHN RYAN: Pangaea. Some animals perish in The Darkness and others go underground. Once The Darkness clears, the ducks – because there’s more of them than anything else – are gonna be in charge…

ME: You could get sued by The Darkness music group for defamation.

DARREN: We could.

JOHN RYAN: …but, prior to The Darkness, the animals were genetically engineered to work in the military by the humans. So, when the humans went, the animals that had been genetically modified bred and formed their own little cultures.

ME: CIA dolphins with bombs on their backs I can understand. How were the ducks used militarily?

JOHN RYAN: The ducks were a byproduct of it all because some birds were released that had been trained – interbred with other birds – to perform different tasks. So for example, you’d have birds that were hunters or security.

In our superhero team the cat is a psychic cat and she is an empath. The dog is a guard dog but he can breathe underwater so he patrols the rivers. The Aqua Dogs patrol the rivers. The battle chickens were bred for fighting.

ME: And the ducks…

JOHN RYAN: I’ve always had a slight fear of ducks.

ME: Because…?

“They’ve got faces.” – “Frenchmen have got faces.”

JOHN RYAN: They’ve got faces, ain’t they? 

ME: Frenchmen have got faces.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah, but they don’t live near me. You know when you used to go feed the ducks? I never liked ’em come too close to me. Never trusted ‘em. Also sexually they’re very violent. 

ME: Have you had personal experience of this?

JOHN RYAN: I have been to Fairlop Waters. And I’ve seen duck orgies.

ME: There are definitely no CIA dolphins with mines on their backs in the book?

JOHN RYAN: No.They might be in a further book. We have to get past the Yetis first. There’s a whole world of animals that…

ME: Yetis?

DARREN: That’s another book…

ME: Not Yetis…

DARREN: Each book will be a mission that the team go on. A series of missions.

ME: There’s movie potential here. Casting?

JOHN RYAN: Dawn French as a duck. There’s a bee and we see Ardal O’Hanlon playing that part.

ME: Is there a serious point too any of this? Are you sneaking philosophy into a children’s book?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. Heroes may change, but being heroic stays the same…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Children, Humor, Humour, Surreal

3rd Colin Copperfield – speechless at Pete Townsend’s staging of “Tommy”

In the last couple of blogs, I’ve chatted to Colin Copperfield about what happened backstage on Jesus Christ Superstar and about his East End upbringing – His sizzling showbiz autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is on sale now. 

Over the years, he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles and his multiple West End appearances have included not just Jesus Christ Superstar but also The Who’s Tommy


“Did everything go smoothly?” – (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Tommy was the stage musical based on the Who’s album…

COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.

JOHN: Did everything go smoothly?

COLIN: (LAUGHS) It was the previews… We’d been rehearsing all afternoon. I was in the dressing room with Steve Devereaux, who was playing the father, and I went to say something and nothing – literally nothing – came out of my mouth. I wrote down: STEVE – I’VE LOST MY VOICE! 

He ran downstairs to the production office where Pete Townshend was and said: “Come up! Col’s lost his voice!” 

So Pete Townshend came up.

Pete’s almost deaf from all the years of playing and I’ve got no voice. The understudy could not stand in for me. He said: “I don’t know all the staging of it yet.”

So Pete said to me: “Give me the script and I’ll go on in the wings with a microphone. You mime it all and I’ll sing it in the wings…”

So, on stage, I make my big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything, I grab the microphone and I mouth (COLIN SINGS) “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball…”

Pete’s in the wings singing…

I’m miming (COLIN SINGS) “From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played ’em all…” and Pete is singing (COLIN SINGS) “Even on my favourite table…” 

And we sang all the wrong words all through the rest of the song, because Pete had changed the order of the verses round for the stage show.

There was a very famous throat doctor named Norman Punt

JOHN: Punt?

COLIN: Punt. They got him to the theatre and stuck a thing down my throat and he said: “You’ve got a virus.”

Opening night was three nights later.

He said: “The understudy will know it by tomorrow. You must go home. You can’t talk for three days, till you come to the opening night. Until you go on stage in three night’s time, you cannot talk to anybody or sing.”

So I didn’t do anything for three days.

“… with flashing lights on it and everything”

I go on stage after three days and off we go again. My big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything. I grab the microphone and… the microphone wasn’t on.

Luckily somebody managed to give me another one. 

I thought: I’m doomed! I’m absolutely doomed!

But the show ran for seven months and Pete Townshend was there most nights. It was completely booked-out. Brilliant reviews. It would have carried on, but there was a play already booked in – Flowers For Algernon – with Michael Crawford. Pete Townshend was producing our Tommy and he couldn’t get another theatre in London to transfer it to. We did the cast recording, but I don’t think it was ever released.

JOHN: Why had Pete changed the order of the verses for the show?

COLIN: I have no idea, because it made no difference at all. Though it was longer. The overture was changed to call it the underture.

COLIN: Showbiz is all a matter of luck.

JOHN: Partly. But also talent. You’re a singer, dancer, songwriter. You can also write. Now you’ve written this astonishing book It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing!

There’s no money in writing books, though.

“The account was hacked in September…”

COLIN: Not only have I discovered there’s no money, I’ve discovered there’s less than no money… because I got hacked. I only just found out the week before last that my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account was hacked before this book was even released last October. 

I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t got any royalties. Eventually a guy who was good at computers said: “Your money’s been going to a girl with a strange name.”

The account was hacked in September last year right up until now. It’s only now that Amazon Kindle have closed the account that was going to the hacker. All the money I made up till about three weeks ago was going to a hacker.

JOHN: You’ve also written a whole new musical: Paradise Lane.

COLIN: Yeah. Still trying to get that one on.

JOHN: It’s written?

“Written and all recorded. CD’s all done.”

COLIN: Written and all recorded. CD’s all done. Got a very good agent. 

JOHN: It’s credited to Colin Satchell, not Colin Copperfield.

COLIN: When I wrote it a couple of years ago, I thought I should revert to my original name, which I did.

The Australian guy I wrote it with, Dave Mackay – the first record producer I ever worked with – said: “What’re you changing your name for, mate?”

I said: “It’s something new. I thought I might as well revert to my name.”

JOHN: Yes. You have a brand; you should build on the brand. What’s Paradise Lane about?

“It’s based on my dad… down Petticoat Lane”

COLIN: It’s about a market in the East End.

JOHN: It’s a tribute to your piano-playing father?

COLIN: Exactly that.

COLIN: It’s based on my dad, who worked on the stalls down Petticoat Lane Market, selling shoes. The one-size-fits-all shoes he flogged were so cheap that they didn’t fit anybody.

JOHN: So he was a dustman and a piano player AND a flogger of dodgy shoes…

COLIN: Yes, weekdays he was a dustman with some evening busking; at the weekends he was down Petticoat Lane; and, in the evenings, he was stooging at the Theatre in Stratford. That’s a helluva career, isn’t it?

JOHN: I’m surprised he had time to have two children. He lived long enough to see you succeed?

COLIN: Yeah. He lived till he was 80-odd.

Rave Stage review of Wall Street Crash at Talk of the Town

My mum and dad remained down-to-earth. When Wall Street Crash were starring at Talk of the Town (in London’s West End), the venue made a huge cardboard cut-out – huge – of the band – of us standing outside.

We played Talk of the Town a number of times a year: two or three weeks at a time.

My mum and dad came along a few times.

The last time we were there they came up on the train and asked the front-of-house if they could buy the cut-out. They were going to take it home on the train.

JOHN: They must have been so proud.

COLIN: So proud.

JOHN: Why did Wall Street Crash come  to an end?

COLIN: It had just had its time, really. Television variety had finished. We’d been on all those shows – Morecambe & Wise, Cannon & Ball, Des O’Connor – and all the  clubs had closed – Blazers in Windsor, Baileys, Talk of the North, the Night Out in Birmingham – all those.

Back then, we had been able to go from one club to another, but that had all finished and that was the end of the band, really. We had had 25 years out of it.

It had just had its time.

When we started off, our manager, who had managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck at the time… We did our first Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium and he was dropping me off at my little flat in Islington. And I said to him: “Jerry, how long do you think we’ve got?”

He said: “If you all behave yourself, I reckon you’ve got a good three years.”

We didn’t do any behaving ourselves but we lasted for 25.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music, showbiz, Theatre

An East End child, my mum and Dean Martin – Colin Copperfield (2nd of 3)

In yesterday’s blog, actor, dancer, singer and songwriter Colin Copperfield talked about his time performing in London’s West End in Jesus Christ Superstar

He started in showbiz aged 14 and, as well as multiple stage appearances, appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. His autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! was recently published.

Colin was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

He told me: “I had a bit of a tough upbringing…”


JOHN: You did 25 years performing with Wall Street Crash but you’ve worked solidly all over the place as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter because you’re a hyphenate. You can turn your voice and your feet to everything. 

COLIN: I could do it all well enough. I was never the best singer; I was never the best dancer; I was never the best actor. But I could do it all pretty well – not bad.

JOHN: More than not bad, I think, given your career…

COLIN: You’re very kind. 

Early band rehearsal – Colin is centre, behind microphone

JOHN: You started in a band at 14.

COLIN: Well, we did a lot more rehearsing than we did gigs. It was a good little band, though. A couple of the others went on to be session musicians.

JOHN: At 14, you wanted to  be a rock star?

COLIN: I wanted to get out of school, basically. I was so bad at school academically.

JOHN: So was Churchill. 

COLIN: That makes me feel better. I only found out about ten years ago I was dyscalculic (difficulty understanding or learning maths).

I can remember very long Shakespeare speeches but I can’t add anything up. Numbers are a complete blur.

COLIN: Before I was in Jesus Christ Superstar. I had done my bands and a solo cabaret act. I’d done the ships and then I was doing the clubs. I went and worked on the cruise ships and round the Mediterranean for three years. And I did the Superstar cast album before I went to Australia.

The ships were fantastic. We did one-hour versions of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! As an actor, it was the equivalent of doing Rep. It was a different show every night.

The guy who directed the shows – Jeff Ferris – also worked for Cameron Mackintosh.

Colin’s inspirational mum and dad (at the start of WWII)

JOHN: Your family background was theatrical?

COLIN: My dad Wally worked at the Theatre Royal in Stratford (London) as a ‘stooge’. He was a dustman during the day and a stooge at night. When visiting comedians – all the top comedians – people like Max Miller in those days – used to come in… he worked with a lot of the top comedians just by being a straight-man – a ‘stooge’. 

JOHN: The comedians didn’t have their own straight men touring with them?

COLIN: No. Especially the American comics who’d come over. He’d give them the local references to make.

JOHN: So your dad was a dustman who really wanted to be a showbiz star but he had to support a wife and two children…

The banjo uncles (centre front) with their East End mates

COLIN: Yeah. My dad was REALLY frustrated. My two uncles were very famous buskers.

By day, they were crane drivers around Silvertown Docks, Canning Town Docks, that area. 

But they were also the most amazing banjo players and they played all the local pubs at night – often outside the pubs.

If they were playing inside, my dad would sometimes go along and play the piano with them… which would have been fabulous if he could have played the piano. (LAUGHS) He used to do this technique called ‘vamping’

His fingers could land anywhere. There was no technique to it at all, but it seemed to work.

JOHN: So he wasn’t off-key, but he…

COLIN: He wasn’t OFF-key, but he wasn’t IN-key. It was his own way of doing it. I think my uncles (LAUGHS) played even louder just to drown him out.

JOHN: To play ‘badly’ but entertainingly is really difficult – You have to be a very good piano player, like Les Dawson.

“We worked (safely) with Rolf Harris a lot…”

COLIN: Yes. He was a lovely guy. I worked with him. I used to dance with this group called The Young Generation. We worked with Rolf Harris a lot – on The Rolf Harris Show. After us, with Dougie Squires, they turned into The Second Generation.

I was rehearsing the Les Dawson television showwhen he was massive. We were doing this dance routine and I was waiting for my cue to enter; the door opened and it was Les Dawson.

He went: “You a’right?”

I said: “Yeah. You awright?”

He went: “Naw. I got terrible diarrhoea.”

That was my introduction to Les Dawson. He was a really lovely bloke.

JOHN: He didn’t seem to have a big ego.

COLIN: I was so lucky to work with all the people I did, because I got to work with the end of ‘showbisiness’, really.

Lots of zingy gossip in Colin’s autobiography

The most miserable git we ever worked with was Dean Martin. Miserable sod. We were supporting him at the Victoria Apollo Theatre in London. We were there for ten nights with him. He never used the theatre at all. He would come up to not even the stage door; he would come up to a pass door in his limo and walk straight onto the stage. Afterwards – straight off the stage into his limo and off. He had a little bar made by the side of the stage with curtains round it with all the optics in it and everything.

JOHN: So he did drink a lot? I thought it was just his schtick.

COLIN: Well, no, I don’t think he did drink. Or, if he did, not the nights we were with him. We’d be waiting to go on first. We’d do 15 minutes, then it’d be Dean Martin. He went on straight after us and he never once went into this little bar.

Straight onto the stage. Sing. Mock drunk. And walk straight past this bar to his car.

JOHN: Your mother… Was she in showbiz?

COLIN: No. My brother THOUGHT he could sing and he REALLY wanted to be in show business but he was completely tone deaf. 

JOHN: So, when you were 14, you were a music person. In the rock bands, you were the singer?

COLIN: Yes. I could play the guitar but didn’t: I just purely sang. 

JOHN: But then you got into dance…

Young musical Colin with his encouraging mum

COLIN: Only because my mum – she was a real Cockney – said: “‘Ere. You gotta lose yer accent,” she said, “and you gotta ‘ave more than one string to yer bow if you’re gonna go into showbusiness.”

So the dancing is down to my mum. 

I played with some show bands and dance bands. I did a bit of everything coming up. Then my singing teacher said: “It’s all very well doing all this but you need to get some theatre stuff… They’re auditioning tomorrow at the Prince of Wales Theatre (in London) for the Harry Worth stage show in Great Yarmouth.”

Summer seasons were big business then. They would last three or four months. You could almost go from Summer Season into (Christmas) Panto. I was singing with a show band at the time.

It was an open casting. Number One in the Hit Parade was Tom Jones: Love Me Tonight. I went along and didn’t really know anything and all these hundreds of guys before me in the audition, they were all singing (COLIN SINGS) “My boy, Bill! He’ll be tall and tough as a tree, will Bill. Like a tree he’ll grow…” (a song from Carousel).

At the audition, I gave my Love Me Tonight music to the pianist who was doing the accompaniment and he said: “Are you really gonna sing this?” and I said “Yeah…??”

So I started singing (COLIN SINGS) “I know that it’s late and I really must leave you alone…”

Immediately they said: “Thankyou, Thanks very much, Colin…”

The pianist told me: “Wrong type of song.”

I rang my singing teacher and told him: “One line and they said Thankyou very much…

“What did you sing?”

Love Me Tonight.

“You prat; come round here now…” 

And he told me: “Learn this… (COLIN SINGS) On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky… Go back tomorrow. They won’t remember you.”

So I went back the next day. Same rehearsal pianist. “Thank God, mate,” he said. “You got more of a chance with this one…”

Harry Worth was a very big name in Great Yarmouth…

I sang: (COLIN SINGS) “On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky…” and they said: “Do you want to do three or four months with Harry Worth at The Britannia Theatre in Great Yarmouth?”

JOHN: They didn’t recognise you from the day before?

COLIN: No. And that was my start in proper showbiz.

JOHN: Were you called Colin Copperfield at this point?

COLIN: Yes. Back in the rock bands I was still Colin Satchell but then I started doing my own cabaret act and, for that, I turned into Colin Copperfield. Everybody at the time was called something like that.

JOHN: You did 900 TV shows in 26 countries, 5 albums, 11 singles, 3 Royal Command Performances. 

COLIN: Yes. I was almost as busy as my dad. I was so lucky. A lot of times I was just in the right place at the right time.

JOHN: Well, it’s talent AND luck, isn’t it? You can get just so far with luck. There has to be some talent to last. You have multiple talents and you’re still working. Your mother gave you good advice.

COLIN: Luck is so important in everything in life. Like after I finished on Tommy

JOHN: This was the musical based on the Who album…

COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.

JOHN: Tell me more…

…CONTINUED HERE
with The Who’s “Tommy” and a brand new musical

1 Comment

Filed under Books, London, Music, showbiz