Feeling slightly happier with attractive comic, actor, conman Nathan Cassidy.

Nathan Cassidy: a man hungry for publicity

I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards – for the most cunning publicity stunt to publicise a performer or show at the annual Edinburgh Fringe.

My last blog was about cunning stunts and people being origami-like with the truth in publicity for their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. You can make up your own mind whether what follows is along the same lines or not.

When I talked to comedian Nathan Cassidy in a Haggerston cafe, he told me he had just been asked to audition for Puppetry of the Penis, the globe-trotting performance group who specialise in penile origami.

“I suppose it’s a different type of stand-up,” I mused. “Why are we meeting?”

“I want to ask you to be a judge,” Nathan told me. “The Rat Pack are producing this show in Edinburgh: The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final.”

Is this just leading me towards an empty room?

He put a poster for it on the table. It said: Cassidy is an attractive man (Fringe Guru 2012).

“Did you make that up?” I asked.

“Of course I didn’t make it up!”

At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, Nathan was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

“And is this bit true?” I asked. “Thousands entered. 6 MCs survived. £5,000 cash prize. Plus an amazing headline act.

“We have scoured the world,” Nathan told me. “As all comedy competitions do. The world. The whole world.”

“Qatar?” I asked.

“Yes, the Rat Pack have been there.”

“Syria?” I asked.

“Yes, everywhere. We have a spare slot on the judging panel. Are you free? Steve Bennett of Chortle has pencilled himself in. £5,000 cash prize. Thousands of auditions and this is the Grand Final. We can’t reveal the line-up at this stage.”

“How,” I asked, “do you prove you’re a good MC in a final? Will there be a physical line-up? Will they stand there and say: And now… some fake act who isn’t there?”

Comic Jo Burke, slightly happier with Nathan Cassidy in 2015

“There are no fake acts,” said Nathan. “It’s just the MCs. The MCs will introduce each other. They have 5-7 minutes each. I will introduce the first MC and then they introduce each other.”

“Who,” I asked, “does the last MC introduce?”

“There is not a last MC,” explained Nathan. “Read the poster. There is an amazing headline act.”

“So you are the headline act?” I asked, sceptically.

“No, I’m the MC. And we have one gap on the judging panel on 14th August. Are you free?”

(After consulting my Fringe Diary) “I can move things around a bit and do it,” I said. “So Steve Bennett is pencilled in? I think he is having building work done on his house. Turning it into a replica of Citizen Kane’s Xanadu.”

“Where does he live?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not grassing him up,” I said.

“There is,” said Nathan, “a quote from Steve Bennett on my other show’s poster: Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena.

Nathan Cassidy’s sold-out O2 gigs on right

He put it on the table.

I read: The entire second row is pissed… and there are only two rows (Steve Bennett, Chortle)

“What do you think of this other quote?” Nathan asked me. “Having seen Bill Hicks, I can honestly say he’s as good as him. It’s an official quote from the Buxton Fringe.

“Did you write it yourself?” I asked.

“No! That’s what everyone thinks. It’s buxtonfringe.org.uk – The Buxton Fringe sends out about ten reviewers to review all the shows. It’s a real quote. But I want a better quote I can use. AS GOOD AS Bill Hicks doesn’t really do it for me.”

“This poster,” I said, “says the show is sold out on 14th August, but you’re not doing it on the 14th – You’re doing the MC Awards.”

“No, it’s sold out,” said Nathan. “There are other dates still available.”

“You appear to have sold out the O2 Arena in October and November,” I observed.

“Well, I’m doing the O2 Arena on 4th November, as you know.”

“Do I? Which bit of it? The main auditorium?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“Are you going to fill it? I got free tickets to see Rod Stewart because he couldn’t fill it. How much are you paying for it?”

“I can’t divulge that.”

“So this is another Cunning Stunt?”

“Of course not.”

Nathan’s 2017 was even more sold out in 2016

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August last year, Nathan put up a poster for a fake tour – Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena – with all the dates sold out throughout October/November 2017, except for a performance at the O2 Arena on 4th November 2017.

“People thought it was a fake show,” he told me, “but it was just pre-advertising for this year’s Fringe show… Bruce Dessau (comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) covered it a couple of times but, when I asked if he wanted to come to the O2 show, he didn’t reply.”

“His loss, I’m sure,” I said. “So, basically, I am going to turn up at the Three Sisters to judge this MC Awards show and there will be an empty room as you attempt to win a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award…”

“No,” said Nathan. “It’s legitimate. The Rat Pack are spending £250 on a massive poster. We are not going to do that for nothing. It’s totally real. Genuinely, I swear on my… I swear on your life and Steve Bennett’s life that a £5,000 cash prize will be given to the winner on the day. I am totally gimmick-free this year.”

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Is that not enough for you?”

“I would prefer £250 in a brown envelope,” I said.

“I am doing a third show in Edinburgh,” said Nathan, “but it’s a theatre show.”

Love & the winner of Sir Michael Caine’s Award

He put the flyer on the table. The title of the show is Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love Me. It’s Deep.

The headline pitch read: FOR THE PERFECT LOVE STORY YOU HAVE TO GO TO RIDICULOUS LENGTHS.

I turned over the flyer and read out loud:

“ONE-MAN THEATRE SHOW FROM THE WINNER OF THE SIR MICHAEL CAINE NEW WRITING AWARD.”

“Who won that?” I asked.

“Me,” said Nathan. “You are very sceptical, John. You think everything is a ruse to get you along to an empty room.”

“When did you win the Michael Caine Award?” I asked.

“About ten years ago now. I did theatre before I did stand-up. I won it for a play called A Cure For The Common Cold at the Leatherhead Theatre.”

“It says here,” I said, “that you have a distinctive stand-up style. What’s that?”

“Well,” replied Nathan, “last year Steve Bennet said: Nathan Cassidy will make you slightly happier for an hour or so… So I am ‘an attractive man’ who will ‘make you slightly happier’…”

“What’s the theatre show about?”

“Something happened in the last year which reminded me of a story that happened to me starting when I was 15 and it’s a perfect love story and it would not fit within stand-up but it would fit within theatre. People think that perfect love is impossible but I am telling you a true story from my life to show it is possible. There may be a happy or a sad ending; you will have to come to the show to see which.”

“You are very persistent,” I said.

Chubby had a female agent…

“In 2010,” said Nathan, “when I first did the Edinburgh Fringe, I performed to two ladies and Roy Chubby Brown’s agent. She never got back to me.”

“His agent was a she?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes. I first met Chubby Brown when I was 12 years-old. For a 12-year-old kid, it was fun. Do you remember his song He’s a Cunt?”

“Sadly not.”

“But those two ladies have come back every year to see me and, the last couple of years, they have even given out flyers for me.”

“Is that the smallest audience you have played to?”

“No. Once at Buxton Fringe, I performed to two people in a fridge. It had a capacity of three, so it was only two-thirds full. I was gutted I had not filled it.”

“What reaction did you get?”

“A standing ovation. They loved it. Admittedly there were no seats.”

The fridge story I believed. The Roy Chubby Brown story I believed. The Puppetry of the Penis story I believed. But I was unsure about the Michael Caine story.

I Googled it afterwards. There were pieces about it online. And a photo of a young Nathan Cassidy with Michael Caine.

Who knows what truth is at the Edinburgh Fringe or anywhere? I look forward to a tranquil night alone at the Three Sisters/Free Sisters venue at 7.45pm on 14th August.

The award-winning young Nathan with Sir Michael Caine

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From Tiswas custard pies to cunning comedy awards, my petard is hoisted

ITV’s Tiswas – Good clean family fun

I can’t remember what a petard is and can’t be bothered to look it up, but it’s easy to be hoisted with your own one.

I used to work as a researcher on the slapstick-ish children’s TV show Tiswas, where people had custard pies shoved in their faces. So, sometimes, when I met people who wanted to be on the show, they felt obliged to demonstrate how ‘wacky’ and ‘zany’ they were by shoving a custard pie in my face.

Except they used a real custard pie. The Tiswas ones were actually made from highly-whipped and coloured shaving foam (it clung to you, did not stain and wiped off easily).

Now I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I have to beware of people pulling cunning stunts on me.

Last year’s Cunning Stunt Award was won by Becky Fury who not only put her flyer on the dating site Tinder to attract single men to her Fringe show but who, on that flyer, claimed she was a ‘Last Minute Comedy finalist’.

Becky Fury – burgering around yet again

Last year, the second most prestigious comedy awards at the Fringe – formerly known as the Perrier Awards – were sponsored by lastminute.com so were called the Last Minute Comedy Awards.

Becky correctly called herself a ‘Last Minute Comedy finalist’ to lure in punters thinking she was up for the ‘Big’ prize whereas, in reality, she had been a finalist in a competition run by a small comedy club operation called Last Minute in Hertfordshire. The day I saw her show, four people had, indeed, come with (and still retained when they left) that false belief. A cunning success.

But who would have thought that the lovely Becky was a grass?

Or possibly a nominator. It depends on your viewpoint.

This week, she drew my attention to a couple of comedy blurbs.

Loose Brie – never-knowingly under-promoted comedy duo

In one, comedy duo Loose Brie blurbed themselves as MALCOLM HARDEE FIRST MINUTE AWARD NOMINEES 2016 –

Like The Dangerous Brothers, Vic and Bob and We Are Klang before them, Loose Brie deal in the glorious art of high-concept, low brow, organised chaos. They’ll use their bodies in ways you didn’t think were possible. You’ll see things you can’t un-see.

All jolly and appealing except there was and is no such thing as the Malcolm Hardee First Minute Award. At least, I don’t think there is. Reality, like grassing-up/nominating someone, is often a case of personal perception.

Sally Beaton – a cunning award winner

Cally Beaton is publicising her debut solo show Super Cally Fragile Lipstick by saying her previous show Cat Call (with Catherine Bohart) “received a Malcolm Hardee Award” at the Fringe last year.

What happened last year was that the excellent Edward Hobson (a former producer on BBC TV’s The One Show) had the cunning idea that he would give an award for the Fringe show with the best first minute. On the basis that, if a show doesn’t grab you in the first minute, it is no good. He would go into shows, see the first minute and then leave. Which he did.

So I gave him one minute at the start of the increasingly prestigious two-hour-long Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last year to announce the winners of his First Minute Awards. Which he did.

Cally Beaton was the winner; Loose Brie were nominees.

Cunning and genuinely award-winning Sally Beaton

They were, to tell 100% of the truth, neither nominees nor winners of a Malcolm Hardee Award but they deserve brownie points for exploiting every opportunity. In fact, I am of a mind to possibly nominate Cally Beaton for a Cunning Stunt Award this year on the basis of her not-quite-100%- truthful plug for her excellently-named Super Cally Fragile Lipstick show at next month’s Fringe.

I did ask both her and Loose Brie if they had any quotable comments and the Brie duo sent me a frankly unnecessarily-long statement, which read:

We believe it is very much in the spirit of our show about confidence (Loose Brie Are Great, Camden Fringe, July 31st – Aug 6th) and the Malcolm Hardee Awards, to have linked our nomination for the jokey, one-off ‘First Minute Awards’ to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardees, due to them both being given out at the same venue.

Loose Brie: never knowingly under-promoted comedy duo

By claiming almost-but-not-quite falsely to have been nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award we have provided a fitting send off to, at the very least, the Cunning Stunt Award.

No need to thank us, as the nomination is thanks enough. 

We are not up in Edinburgh this year (because we are at Camden Fringe, July 31st – Aug 6th, show title: Loose Brie Are Great). But, if we were there, we can all agree Loose Brie definitely would have been nominated for several more Malcolm Hardees. Our 2018 poster quotes are likely to reflect this.

Edward Hobson at the Grouchy Club during last year’s  Edinburgh Fringe

Ed Hobson told me today:

“Cally did win and Loose Brie were nominated, but I never told them it was a Malcolm Hardee Award so I think they’re just being ‘cunning’.

“The First Minute Award is not making it to Edinburgh this year because I spent one minute planning my trip, looking at trains and accommodation and then stopped. If it can’t be decided in one minute it’s not worth doing.

“Also, with my wedding in October and getting my fiancée over from the USA, I decided it might be out of my budget.”

“Wedding?” I asked.

Ed Hobson with his possibly sedated betrothed Nikki Kvarnes

“Yes,” he said, “I’m getting married to Nikki Kvarnes, an American musician and artist.

“She was in a band called Those Darlins.

“We find out today if her visa to marry me has been granted or not. Very exciting day. She is far too talented and beautiful for me but thankfully my sense of humour paid off.”

Or perhaps hers.

Everyone thinks they’re a comedian.

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The most feared comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe and her links to crime

Could this wordsmith have saved you from a prison sentence?

At this month’s Grouchy Club meeting in London, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick, one of the judges of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

“So,” I started, “you were trained as a lawyer in Scotland…”

“Yes, I did a law degree at Glasgow University because I watched Margaret Lockwood in the TV series Justice at a very impressionable age and I saw the original Witness For The Prosecution with Charles Laughton when my whole brain was malleable. I got this idea that lawyers were there to help people… I pause for laughter.

“I really just wanted to be an actress, but then my mum died very suddenly and my dad went to pieces and I thought: We must do something to cheer up my dad. What I had always done to cheer up my dad, my gran, my mum – anybody – was do something clever – win a prize, be first in the class, something.

“So I thought: Great! I will make him magically forget the love of his life to whom he has been married for 17 years has just died overnight of a brain haemorrhage… by announcing that I am going to do a law degree.”

“Very sensible,” I said. “How long was the course?”

“Four years for an Honours degree. And then, in Scotland, you do an apprenticeship and then, if you want to go to the Bar, you do devilling.”

“Devilling?”

“They call it pupilage in England.”

“You enjoyed your law course?”

“It was great. I was drunk through most of the degree.”

“And you were bonking…”

“Endlessly. I fucked people for the same reason people climb mountains. Because they’re there.”

On his death in 2015, the Telegraph called Joe a man of “integrity and passion”

“And you wanted to be…?”

“A criminal lawyer and the really, really famous guy who all the criminals in Glasgow went to was Joe Beltrami. He was a phenomenal lawyer who judged nobody and absolutely gave everybody the best defence they could get. They had never had any women working for them other than as secretaries but I persuaded Joe Beltrami and did my apprenticeship with them and it was – fucking hell! – a bit of an eye-opener.”

“You were not doing motoring offences…”

“No. They only did the biggies – murder, armed robbery, rape. So I spent most of my time interviewing witnesses, talking to the police, collecting bits-and-bobs of evidence at prisons or in the High Court. It was a TOTAL eye-opener.”

“At what point,” I asked, “did you discover there was no justice?”

“Fairly early on. It completely turned the way I thought about… the way I thought about everything. I had just come out of university. What the fuck did I know? Nothing.”

“Why did you stop being involved in the legal system?”

“One reason was that I was just getting so angry. Because of the unfairness of the system. You see an actual policeman standing there just lying. Not being mistaken, but telling a direct lie and then two of his friends stepping up and saying: Yes, I can corroborate what DC So-and-so was saying. Seeing that and knowing there is nothing you can do about it because the jury are thinking: It’s the police. So it’s true…

The Scottish media called Walter Norval Glasgow’s Godfather & “first crime boss”

“I learned more and more that you can be found guilty because your accent is wrong, because you look wrong, because you don’t know the right words. You can be found innocent because you have a posh fucking Eton accent and you can see the jury thinking: He’s such a nice chap; how can he have possibly done that? And there is nothing legally you can do about it, because the law is just a big boys’ game. If you try and go up against that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

“I only know the English system,” I said, “not the Scottish system, but isn’t the whole basis of the court system that you are not judging whether someone is innocent or guilty, you are judging which of two legal eagles is putting forward a better case and which is the more credible liar?”

“It’s all shite, John,” said Copstick. “I was at the point where I was thinking: Well, if the police are going to lie, then I will lie. And, that way, absolute madness lies.”

“I once,” I said, “talked to (a former Conservative Prime Minister)’s personal solicitor. He was a top city solicitor. And he told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer into the witness box without corroboration because you could never guarantee they were telling the truth.”

“The scariest people I ever met in Glasgow,” said Copstick, “were members of the Serious Crimes Squad.”

“Joe Beltrami,” I said, “was Arthur Thompson’s lawyer, wasn’t he? So that is very serious stuff.”

“I never met Arthur Thompson,” Copstick replied. “But one of the clients I worked with was a guy called Walter Norval, who was known as The Glasgow Godfather. That would be at the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, I guess. His speciality was armed robbery. He was another nail in the coffin of my legal career.

“This was a man who had stood like a colossus over the criminal world of Glasgow… allegedly… for many years with many armed bank robberies. Nobody particularly got hurt. But there were a load of sawn-off shotguns going around and a load of banks robbed. Generally speaking he was never at the robberies. He was the mastermind. You don’t get Mr Marks and Mr Spencer on the shop floor offering 2-for-1 on knickers.

Daily Record reported Norval’s 2014 funeral.

“Walter Norval was arrested. The big evidence the police had was that he had gone from the site of an armed bank robbery, driven home and parked his brown Ford Granada car outside his house with four sawn-off shotguns in the boot – like yer average criminal mastermind does. And that was what he got convicted on.

“I went in and saw him afterwards and asked him: Is this not driving you absolutely mental? It was all a lie! 

“He said: Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of things I’ve done that I’ve got away with and this I did not do but it sort of evens-out.

“And I thought: But that doesn’t excuse it! This is criminal policing at the highest level. And they’re fucking liars. I was just too angry. I was getting too angry. And angry gets you nowhere in law. Especially as a female. Emotion gets you nowhere.

“You have to know when you’re beaten. I would have ended up being found out to have fiddled something. It just made me so angry.”

“If a crime is committed in England,” I said, “the police investigate the crime and find the person they believe committed the crime. Then they go to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide if, on a balance of probability, they will get a Guilty verdict in court. In court, it’s nothing to do with finding out the facts because the facts have already been investigated and the accused is presumed to be guilty unless ‘proven’ innocent. In court, it’s about two trained liars in a competition to see which performs better.”

“Up to a point,” said Copstick. “It’s a game. It’s like chess. I think what you’re struggling to say is that there is a massive dichotomy between law and justice.”

“I went to a grammar school,” I said, “which was a bit up itself. So it had a ‘debating society’ and the most admirable thing you could do there was argue on and win a proposition you did not believe in yourself. To me, that’s dishonesty. But that’s the basis of the legal system. You are very argumentative.”

“Yes,” agreed Copstick.

“Once you decide to take one side,” I suggested, “you will argue that case come what may.”

“Now I can be Devil’s Advocate,” said Copstick. “Back then, I was completely incapable of doing that.”

The argumentative side of Copstick will be on show next month when she and I host the daily Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe 14th-27th August, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The Grouchy Club has been labelled by The Scotsman as “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” and by me as “a rolling Copstick diatribe”.

After the Fringe finishes, the Grouchy Club continues monthly in London.

For anyone on the receiving end of one of her comedy reviews in Edinburgh – Best of luck.

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Life in the 1960s: a world of murderers, spies, criminals, politicians, mysteries.

Micky Fawcett lived life in the Krayzy Days

So, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a journalist:

“I am looking for more information on Teddy Smith’s background….particularly place and date of birth, but in fact anything… Is there any chance you can help? I’m interested in Smith because of certain connections to other areas of research, namely political issues.”

I have blogged about Teddy Smith before. He was an associate of the Kray Twins, London gangsters in the 1960s.

So last week I had a chat with my chum Micky Fawcett, author of Krayzy Days, a definitive book on the Krays which goes beyond them into Micky’s dealings with the Unione Corse, the US Mafia et al.

Micky told me: “The full story with me and Teddy Smith is that there’s no story. He was one of those people who was just there and it was as if he’d always been there. I dunno where he came from.

“I remember walking out of the (Krays’) house one time and he said: They get on my nerves. It’s so boring. Talking about violence all the time. Any type of violence. It gets on my nerves. They oughta know what I did to get myself certified and into Broadmoor. And that was the end of that conversation. He told people he was the youngest person ever in Broadmoor. He was sent there as a borstal boy. I dunno if that’s true. But it’s what he told people.”

“So he must have been under 23 when he went into Broadmoor?” I asked.

Teddy Smith without his cigarette holder and little dog

“I dunno where or when he was born. He had relations who lived at the top of Dartmouth Park Hill in Highgate. He was a bit sort of middle class.”

“What was he doing for the Krays?” I asked.

“Don’t know.”

I looked at Micky.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I never give it a second thought. He was just there. He used to walk around with a little dog and a cigarette holder. He was gay, but he weren’t camp. Nothing effeminate. And you just accepted it: Oh, yeah, he’s gay. I told you before about that time we met Francis Bacon, the painter. I didn’t like the look of him. Francis Bacon. Well, I weren’t impressed.”

“This bloke who got in touch with me,” I said, “seems to think there’s some political angle with Teddy Smith, which I don’t think there is, is there?”

“No,” said Micky, “but the connection would be Tom Driberg the MP – I’ve seen writers since say he and Teddy Smith were lovers. I dunno if that’s true or not.”

“Well,” I said, “Tom Driberg did put it about a lot.”

MP / Soviet spy Tom Driberg

“I didn’t know who Driberg was at the time,” said Micky. “Didn’t care. He was just this tall feller standing around.”

“He was supposed to be,” I said, “a Soviet agent working via the Czechs.”

“Ah, was he?” said Micky. “He used to be a cottager, hanging around in gents toilets.”

“Did you ever meet Lord Boothby?” I asked.

Lord Boothby was a peer of the realm, a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. An entertaining politician a bit like Boris Johnson is now. Except Boothby mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people and politicians. He put it about a lot.

“No, I never met Boothby,” Micky told me, “but a pal of mine did. We were at the billiard hall one day and a feller called Albert Lovett said to me: See that kid over there? He’s ‘avin’ an affair with Lord Boothby. I had never heard of Lord Boothby. Not interested. And Albert said: He’s been telling me what they do. He gets their trousers off, gets them to bend over and smacks their arse with a slipper… He was a burglar.”

“Who?” I asked. “Lovett?”

“No. Lovett was a con man. The kid – Leslie Holt – he was a burglar. Another pal of mine, called Boy Boy Clifford, was a receiver. He was quite well-respected among everybody. He came from Hoxton originally. Dead now.

(Left-Right) Lord Bob Boothby, Ronnie Kray and Leslie Holt

“Leslie Holt took Boy Boy up to see Boothby and Boothby said: Hello… Hello… Get him a drink, Leslie. So Leslie went off and came back with a gin & tonic or whatever. And Boothby said: I said get him a fucking drink! You don’t call that a fucking drink, do you? Top it up! And they got talking and Boothby said to Boy Boy: Would you like to fuck my wife? That’s true. And that was a difficult one for poor old Boy Boy to answer.”

“Well,” I said, “supposedly Boothby had had a long-term affair with Harold Macmillan’s – the Prime Minister’s – wife.

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

“I dunno if he meant it,” said Micky. “Would you like to fuck my wife? Maybe it was just a show-off. He was a terrible show-off, Boothby. He liked shocking people.”

“What,” I asked, “happened to Leslie Holt?”

“He got murdered in Harley Street by the dentist.”

“Because?” I asked.

“He knew too much. They doubled the… They gave him an injection… This is the newspaper story, not my story.”

“So who wanted him killed?” I asked.

“Upstairs. The powers that be. Or it might have been the dentist himself or his friends or… I dunno.”

Then Micky and I got talking about the ‘suicide’ of boxer Freddie Mills.

At Freddie Mills’ Nite Spot in the 1960s – (L-R) Teddy Smith, Micky Fawcett, Johnny Davis, Reggie Kray, Freddie Mills, Ronnie Kray, Dicky Morgan and Sammt Lederman (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

Freddie Mills was a major British boxer – a former world light heavyweight champion – a regular on TV panel shows and entertainment shows. A boxer-turned-TV personality a bit like Frank Bruno. Except Freddie Mills mingled with criminals as well as showbiz people.

His suicide is interesting because it has always been rumoured he was murdered. One widespread rumour is that he was murdered because he was ‘Jack The Stripper‘ – someone who had been going round killing prostitutes.

“I’ve heard there’s a chap who claims,” said Micky, “that he was duped into taking Freddie Mills to a spot where this chap’s father had hired two gunmen who came in from America, shot Freddie Mills and went away again. Mafia men.”

“Did he get killed because of the Jack The Stripper thing?” I asked.

“No. The story I was told is that Freddie Mills lost all his money and went downhill and got depressed and miserable and threatened to blackmail this guy who had connections with the Mafia who got him shot.”

Actor George Raft (centre) with Ronnie (left) and Reggie Kray

“He was going to blackmail him because of his criminal connections?” I asked.

“Yes. It was at the time when the Mob were in the West End in London.”

“The time when actor George Raft was coming over?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Micky.

Mickey talked more about George Raft in a blog last year.

They were different times back then.

But yet not very different from today.

Human nature is human nature.

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How to edit your script and not be invisible at the Edinburgh Fringe (etc)

To be pompous… and, if I can’t be pompous here, then where can I be?…

If you fancy yourself as a wordsmith on stage or screen, my advice is to write as little dialogue as possible.

If your work of genius would work as well on radio as it would on stage or screen, then it needs visuals added.

Television is not radio.
Movies are not radio.
The stage is not radio.

That’s a big thing of mine.

If a script will work on radio, then it is probably a bad script for stage or TV/movie production.

Having said that, Johnny Speight and a lot of Galton & Simpson TV shows are all dialogue….

So what do I know?

One Foot in the Grave, though, has loads of visual gags. There’s a gag where the phone rings and Victor, asleep on a chair, sleepy, reaches down and picks up a small dog.

The tortoise episode has visual gags aplenty. There are loads of surreal visuals in Grave which don’t rely on spoken words.

And, of course, allegedly the British public’s most beloved and memorable TV comedy sequence is not Ronnie Barker’s “four candles” routine nor John Cleese’s ‘dead parrot’ routine but the visual gag from Only Fools and Horses.

Just because something ain’t got spoken words doesn’t mean it ain’t a good piece of scripting.

Clint Eastwood says he told Sergio Leone to cut acres of his character’s dialogue out of the original script of A Fistful of Dollars. He told Sergio: “I can do those two lines of dialogue by just one look”.

The 2mins 40secs pre-credits opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West is brilliantly scripted but has only three short, totally inconsequential lines of dialogue.

So write a stage or screen script.

Then go through it and try to cut out as many words as you can because, if you can, they are unnecessary.

Then go through it again and try to cut out as many of the necessary words as you can and replace them with something visual.

If words can be cut out and the point made visually, that’s miles better – though, if it’s for a stage performance, the people at the back have to see it. So subtle eye movements may be invisible.

And I get SO annoyed when performers sit or lie on the floor in venues bigger than the ones they are used to.

It may have worked in some room above a pub with an audience of 5 but it don’t feckin’ work when you are sitting in the audience at the back of a non-tiered room with even only three rows of people seated in front of you. If the performer’s head is below the heads of the people sitting in the front row then the odds are that even the person sitting in row 4 can’t see it clearly if at all.

End of pomposity. Raises eyebrow. Slaps forehead. Says nothing.

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One of comic Malcolm Hardee’s famous stunts. The legend… And the real truth

Malcolm Hardee: a shadow of his former self

In a blog in January this year, I mentioned that Darryl, one of the squatters on the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley boat, was thinking of producing a one-night-only Edinburgh Fringe play about Malcolm.

This now seems to be happening at The Hive venue on Wednesday 23rd August under the title Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink – two days before the last ever annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Malcolm was famous for his stunts at the Fringe. One of the most famous was writing a review of his own show which he conned The Scotsman newspaper into publishing in 1989.

In his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he described this jolly prank:


One year, we were playing at The Pleasance venue and, as normal, when you open the first week, there’s no-one there. All the other shows at The Pleasance had been reviewed by The Scotsman newspaper. Again, we were ‘wrong side of the tracks’. They hadn’t come to review our show. I was feeling bitter. So I thought I’d write my own review for them. 

Malcolm’s stunt-laden autobiography

I got a copy of The Scotsman and picked out a reviewer’s name at random – William Cook. I talked to someone I knew who used to write reviews for The Scotsman and found out how to do it. All you do is type it out in double-spacing. That’s the trick. 

Then, with Arthur Smith, I wrote a review of my own show, put William Cook’s name at the bottom, folded it up, put it in an envelope and went to the Scotsman’s offices at about 9.00pm when all the staff had gone home and gave it to the porter. Sure enough, next day, they printed it. After that, the show was full up. 

Then The Scotsman went mad because someone told them I’d done it and William Cook didn’t speak to me for years. I don’t know why. I presume he got paid for it.


This week, I asked William Cook what he remembered of all this.

“Since it was all so long ago – I make it 28 years – tempus fugit! – I’m not sure there’s much (if anything) I can add. I’d been writing reviews for The Scotsman for a grand total of about a fortnight and I had never even heard of Arthur Smith or Malcolm Hardee – although I naturally saw them perform and interviewed them quite a bit thereafter.”

Arthur Smith this week remembered the glamour of it all

Earlier this week, I asked comic Arthur Smith what he remembered.

“The story as it is usually told,” I began, “is that Malcolm wrote his own review. Did he write it? Or was it both of you?”

Arthur laughed. “I wrote every word. My memory is that his show had been going a week or so and it wasn’t getting big houses. So he shambled into the bar one day and said to me: Oy! Oy! Do you wanna write a review of my show?… So I said: If you like… And he told me: I’ve found a way of getting it into The Scotsman. I guess he must have been buttering-up some critic and –  typical Malcolm – he had a bit of deviousness in mind.”

“Surely not,” I said.

“It only,” Arthur told me, “took me half an hour or something like that. Obviously, Malcolm wanted me to write it very favourably, but not so they would read it and say: Fuck off! That’s not a real review! It was a fairly straightforward kind of review in a way.”

This is what Arthur Smith wrote and what The Scotsman printed:


Malcolm Hardee shambles on-stage in an ill-fitting suit looking like a debauched Eric Morecambe and initiates the funniest show I have seen in Edinburgh this year.

The infamous fake Edinburgh Fringe review

Hardee delivers some gross but hilarious one-liners before giving way to John Moloney, “angry young accordionist”; his sharp and aggressive observations had the audience hooting with laughter.

Then Hardee, who looks like he lives in a bus station, introduced the open spot. On the night I went a 13-year-old called Alex Langdon did a standup routine which put many of his professional elders to shame.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Terri Rodgers, who walked on looking the epitome of a sweet old lady but then introduced her puppet friend Shorty Harris, who proceeded to tell a string of jokes that made Gerry Sadowitz’s material sound like Jimmy Cricket’s. This is alternative ventriloquising of the highest order.


Note: Terri Rogers is mis-spelled as Rodgers. Jerry Sadowitz, at that time, would occasionally and, I think, fairly randomly sometimes spell his forename as Gerry.

Brian Mulligan, who was, at that time, half of comic duo Skint Video, said last week: “It wasn’t completely gushing which I thought was very amusing.”

“That’s right,” Arthur told me. “Maybe, in a way, I should have gone: This is the greatest show ever. But maybe I thought that would alert the sub-editor or something. It was quite a good review. They didn’t have stars then but I would have given him 5-stars.

“I’d written reviews before for people. I had a column in the Guardian where I could write anything I liked provided it was vaguely arts-based and I reviewed a friend’s show – I don’t think I’d even seen it – and I just gave it 5-stars as a favour.

The former Scotsman building – now The Scotsman Hotel

“Anyway, I wrote the Scotsman review for Malcolm and, maybe two days later, there it was. I recall it really caused quite a kerfuffle. They got very upset about it.”

This week, writer/performer John Dowie told me: “I recall the editor of The Scotsman releasing one of the greatest ever closing-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted remarks: We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again.

Arthur Smith’s opinion today is: “I thought they took it a bit more seriously than they really needed to. They went on about the freedom of the press. It was just a great stunt, really, though I suppose it made them look a bit like cunts… but not really.”

“Did Malcolm tweak the review at all?” I asked.

“No,” Arthur told me. “It was printed exactly as I wrote it. I would have written it by hand back in those days and he must have typed it up and handed it in.”

In fact, exactly how it was delivered to The Scotsman has got hazy in the mists of time.

Last night I talked via Skype to Woodstock Taylor in Edinburgh. She was the then-journalist who actually told Malcolm how to submit the fake review.

“How did you know Malcolm?” I asked.

Woodstock Taylor, taken  sometime back in the mid-1990s

“We had a dalliance,” she told me. “I had been dallying with (another now high-profile comedian). He dumped me, then Malcolm seized the opportunity and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We dallied for a while, then stayed friends after we stopped dallying.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“Basically,” she told me, “I used to review for The Scotsman. I was the comedy critic for several years, before William Cook got there. He took over my patch.”

“William Cook said,” I told her, “that he had only been in the job about two weeks when this fake review came out.”

“That’s right,” said Woodstock, “because I had been going to do it and then I didn’t.”

“So that,” I said, “was how Malcolm knew how to submit a review to The Scotsman. But do we now own up to the fact you told him how to con The Scotsman?”

“I think so,” said Woodstock. “It’s been 28 years. I’m not likely to write for them again. They’re not very likely to come and review my Fringe show this year. And, in any case, I have a different name now.”

Founded in 1817 – survived Hardee in 1989

“So how,” I asked, “did the fake review come about?”

“Malcolm kept coming up to me and pestering me to do a review of his show and I was trying to explain to him that I didn’t have any control over what was reviewed. I would have done him a review if it had been allowed and possible.”

“This was after you dallied?” I asked.

“Ooh, ten years after. He kept saying – about a review – Oh, come on. You can make it happen. And eventually, he got this idea and I told him how it was done.”

“He just,” I said, “put it in a tray one night, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Woodstock, “in those days, all you had to do was phone up the paper, reverse charges, and ask for the Copy Desk and then just read them the review.”

“So,” I asked, “he just phoned up and said: Ello! This is William Cook!?”

“Yeah. That’s exactly how it was done.”

“Poor old William Cook,” I said.

William Cook: now a successful author on the comedy industry

“I think it probably made him,” suggested Woodstock. “Nobody knew who he was before and everybody did afterwards.”

This made me wonder, when the editor of The Scotsman said We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again, what those steps actually were.

John Dowie told me: “When I mentioned it to Malcolm, he said: It’s a code number which you have to attach to the copy. But I know what it is. I gave a journalist ten quid and he told me. I could use it. But it’s somebody else’s turn now.

The last ever Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards take place at the Edinburgh Fringe next month, billed as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s the Last Ever Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – and It’s Free!

One of the three awards is the Cunning Stunt Award for the best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe performer or show. There is a piece on how to win a Cunning Stunt Award HERE.

As for William Cook, he did not bear a grudge. When Malcolm drowned in London in 2005, he wrote a generous obituary for the Guardian which was headed:

MALCOLM HARDEE

PATRON SINNER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY,
HE WAS RENOWNED FOR HIS OUTRAGEOUS STUNTS

It concluded:

On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged on the Wibbley Wobbley to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the river where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

(Video produced by Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon venue in Edinburgh)

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Massages, Molly Ringwald & musicians

Flame-haired, mysteriously-banned Anna Smith in Vancouver

Just over a week agothis blog’s Canadian correspondent Anna Smith was explaining she had been banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – and no-one would tell her why. Today, I got an update from her:

“The Folk Festival still hasn’t said why they won’t let me massage musicians, except to say that their committees and administration have been having meetings about me and they all agree that I broke their code of ethics…

“They sent me their code of ethics (which is a lot shorter than Hammurabi’s code) and the main rules seem to be about drunkenness with the interesting detail that, if a volunteer is drinking in the beer tents, they have to remove their volunteer identification badges while so doing…

“When I was there before, I was too busy massaging musicians to find out where the beer tents were even located… I will try to write them a third query letter tomorrow and then maybe their committees will hold another meeting about me.

“I am thinking that if I start a petition for Canadian musicians to sign – to say that I should be allowed to give them massages – then I probably could get quite a number of them to agree… like probably all of them!

The Breakfast Club (1985) with Molly Ringwald (bottom)

“Have people in Britain heard of the American actress Molly Ringwald?”

“Yes,” I told Anna. “The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and all that. But why?”

This is the reply I got from Anna:


I had never heard of her until one day in the early 1990s when I was sent to a hotel in Vancouver to do a massage and it was her, but I didn’t know who she was. I thought she was probably the daughter of some rich dentist in L.A. because she was wearing very expensive sunglasses and had perfect teeth.

That is not unusual. Most massueses meet celebrities.

Anyhow, she seemed to like that I had never heard of her and it was funny. She said: “Oh well… I’m in Vanity Fair this month.”

She was really nice. After the massage, we talked a bit and then she showed me her computer. She was the first person to show me the internet .

Then she invited me to her film set which was on location in Stanley Park. She had me stand with the director and watch her act. She was playing a villain and the script called for her to angrily light a cigarette. The wind was playing up and making it impossible for her to light it, so the crew started murmuring: “She needs a Zippo”.

Eventually the director was forced to ask through his megaphone: “Is there a Zippo on the set?”

Someone produced one and it was passed to her and filming continued. It was funny because it was like a Zippo commercial.

Molly Ringwald in Greece in 2010 (Photograph by Pgianopoulos)

She invited me to her own trailer and to her makeup trailer and a few days later she took me out for dinner at Le Crocodile, the best French restaurant in Vancouver. I told her she would have to pay, since I had a baby at home.

She said: “Order whatever you want.”

So I ordered a seafood dish and she ordered her dinner and a bottle of wine which we shared. We stayed there quite late talking and, when the cheque arrived, I was horrified because it was around $500.

She said: ”Don’t worry. It must have been the wine.”

She gave me her address in Paris and told me to come and visit her… but I never did.

Now Molly Ringwald has become a jazz singer (her dad is also a musician).

Mainly I remember how she was so nice to me. She didn’t have to be.

I am just remembering this because of being banned from massaging musicians.

I can’t decide if I should get photographed with my hands tied with gigantic red tape or start the musicians’ petition to allow me to massage them – or both.

I can’t completely rely on the musicians because some won’t want to jeopardize their jobs at the festival so I will have to ask the ones who don’t care…

A Zippo lighter cannot solve all problems

Really, they should WANT me to be there. I have been warning everybody about the new incurable gonorrhoea that The World Health Organization has described recently. The sex workers are calling it Super Clap and reminding everyone that condoms have no substitute.

I had some problems sending out the Super Clap warnings by email though. They were being diverted and marked as spam because they contained the word ‘warning’.

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