My new Patreon page… Eccentrivia

I have just launched a new Patreon page which you may or may not be interested in.

There is no accounting for taste.

This blog will continue to be free, but the Patreon stuff, emailed to subscribers at least weekly, will cost the just-about-throwaway and far-less-than-princely sum of £5 per month.

What will be included in the Patreon mailouts is hopefully hinted-at in the title:

John Fleming’s Eccentrivia

There are two pieces already written and accessible to subscribers:

  • Skateboarding with Paul McCartney
  • How to be an arsehole and prosper in Hollywood

Similar delights will follow at least monthly and probably more often (though not often enough to become annoying!)

The online Patreon ‘pitch’ is this…


I aim to collect often quirky stories and insights into what may not be reported or not fully reported elsewhere. 

In the past, I have researched and produced both peaktime and cult British TV shows – often with eccentric elements – written/directed/produced TV promotion/marketing audio visuals for broadcast TV, promoted European TV station launches, written for magazines about the movies, edited bestselling books, staged variety shows, financed a film heavily featuring genuine criminals and been arrested by the Syrian Army in Beirut. 

Along the way, I have also worked for BBC News, ITN, written a comedy obituary for The Independent and written questions for a children’s game show on Basque TV in Spain… I cannot juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute but would like to meet someone who can. I guarantee to write one piece a week and may well create more. 

My occasional online blog (which I started in 2010) remains free online at http://blog.thejohnfleming.com

More about me on my old-fashioned website at www.thejohnfleming.com

QUOTES ABOUT ME:
“Well-regarded” (Broadway Baby)
“Enigmatic biographer” (Bruce Dessau’s Beyond The Joke)
“Daft man – He’s brilliant” (writer/comic Janey Godley)
“You are on your own planet. Stay there.” (Chris Tarrant)
“The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle comedy website)
“Fleming knows a bit about comedy’s extremities” (Fest magazine)
“I’d rather be dead than have that bastard misquote me…” (Albert Einstein)

***
Look, me old mate, it’s only a fiver a month and you can opt out at any point…


So take a look at the John Fleming’s Eccentrivia page now or forever live with overwhelming regret and shame.

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Filed under Blogs, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

Has the UK’s National Health Service any idea about what it is actually doing?

I have blogged about the chaos in the UK’s National Health Service before. The larger a bureaucracy, the larger the potential chaos.

I was in hospital for a week in May last year – with abnormally high calcium levels and dangerously low kidney function. This was reversed by a week’s worth of intravenous bisphosphonates – a drip to you and me.

But I have not had a full night’s sleep since June last year (ie exactly 12 months ago). No-one knows why I had the calcium/kidney problems and no-one knows why now, when I eventually go to sleep at night, I wake up at least once every hour every night with my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert, forcing me to drink water.

As no-one has been able to diagnose the cause, there is no treatment. 

Currently, I have appointments with a Calcium Man in July, a Respiratory Man in August and a Kidney man in October.

One of the 6 pages of my Blood Test results

Yesterday morning, I got a 6-page print-out of my latest blood tests. I also got a call from another man at my local hospital to arrange a ‘Water Deprivation’ test two days before I see the Calcium Man. 

The Water Man was arranged by the Calcium Man.

The Calcium Man told me that it would be an early-morning urine test and I would not be able to drink liquids for several hours before the test.

Yesterday, the Water Man (who was a tad dithery) told me I would have to do “a 12-hour fast” before the test so I would not be able to eat or drink anything after 6.30pm the previous night. He had not told me what time the test would be.

“Oh,” I said, slightly surprised, “is my appointment at 6.30 in the morning?”

“9.30 in the morning,” he replied.

A slight pause.

“Oh,” I said, with a sinking heart. “So really a 15-hour fast.”

A slight pause at the other end of the line and then some linguistic confusion along the lines of “Umm… Err” followed by some audible recalculation.

“7.00pm,” the Water Man said, having recalculated the 12 hour gap before 9.30am. “So you can’t eat or drink anything after 7.00pm the previous night.”

I know when there is no point asking any more questions.

We left it at that.

But this does not increase my confidence in the efficiency of the UK’s National Health Service. I guess each generation thinks its doctors are experts and know what they are doing. Frankly, I do wonder if giving up on the application of leeches to the body was a good idea.

“The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet… Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?” (Photograph by Ivan Mani via UnSplash)

 

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Health, Medical

A fond memory of eccentric – and very noisy – comedy performer Chis Luby

John Ward made the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Mad inventor John Ward is a man of many parts, many of them going spare. He designed and built the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and I have occasionally booked him on TV shows. 

One was in 1988 on the weekly ITV series Prove It! Participants had to ‘prove’ they could do something bizarre.

John now writes a weekly column for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and today he remembered fellow eccentric Chris Luby. Here are some of his memories:


The late Chris Luby was absolutely brilliant at ‘noise impressions’ such as a WW2 spitfire starting up, going down a runway and into battle, trains on the underground that to the untrained ear sounded very real plus many more.

I first met him some years ago when we both appeared on an ITV telly show called Prove It! presented by Chris Tarrant

We both recorded the pilot show plus both appeared in the first episode while I appeared in the whole series on a thirteen week basis presenting assorted inventions and gadgets.

Chrises Tarrant and Luby

Day one was rehearsal day with everybody involved getting to know each other, then going through our paces plus a studio run-through, then – all those still breathing – off to our designated hotels for a clean-up before dinner.

I was on the same table as Chris (Luby) for dinner/supper and it was an experience sitting there, looking at the menu while hearing about The train now leaving platform whatever… and going through to Kings Cross station, with all the assorted sounds and voices.

He sat there, menu covering his face, making these noises and, apart from the fact they were ‘spot on’ and very realistic, my thoughts were: “Does he ever stop!?”

He was doing his impression of whatever plane it was as the waiter came over to us to ask if we were ready to order. I said we would, just as soon as my companion came in to land.

The look on the poor waiter’s face was a classic as he didn’t know what was going on but then nor did I… but I was learning – I hoped.

The first night we spent in the lounge bar area of the hotel and, yes, he carried on going like a good ‘un with his assorted impressions of objects and people.

Eventually it was off to bedtime and I did sleep very well all things considered as it had been a really long day.

So imagine being woken up the next morning by what sounded like a detachment of the Grenadier Guards at the bedroom door, ‘marching on the spot’ outside.

I know I had asked for an alarm call but this was pushing it a bit.

I then heard what could be called a sergeant major’s ‘rallying call’ or “Git ‘art of bed, you ‘orribel little man!!!” as it dawned on me (well, it was by then daylight) it could be only Chris Luby. 

Does he ever stop? I asked myself.

Chris Luby – N0-one ever slept in HIS shows

His initial appearance had him in a Coldstream Guard’s uniform, coming through the middle of the stage curtains, making the sounds of a marching regiment… hobbling on crutches as he had broken his leg a week or so beforehand.

Culture didn’t come any better than this.

He used to perform about a twenty minute act consisting of assorted ‘sounds’ or noises, many military based and he made a decent living from it on the comedy circuit.

Sadly there is not much on the internet about him apart from the fact he passed away in January 2014 following an accident at his home when he tumbled downstairs.

That ended the life and sounds of ‘The Man of Many Noises’.

He wasn’t what you might call a ‘mainstream’ entertainer but anybody you mentioned his name to in ‘the show business’ always broke into a smile as they all seem to have a Chris anecdote.

He was one of those unique but talented people that, once met or seen, never forgotten.


SoundCloud has an audio clip of Chris Luby impersonating an RAF fly-past at the legendarily raucous church funeral of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…

…and YouTube has a clip of John Ward (though sadly not Chris Luby) on Prove It!

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

Waisting time with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wristwatch in Italy…

News reaches me from my friend Sandy in Italy that the national media have suddenly discovered an unhealthy interest in Kim Jong-un’s wristwatch.

Every time the North Korean leader is not seen for a few months or does not appear at an important Party event, there are rumours about his death and/or health. He has just reappeared after an absence of a month and the niche group of North Korea watchers in the West are split over whether he was:

a) dangerously ill

b) having an internal Party fight with someone or

c) just having a rest

Apparently one school of thought in Italy is that his most recent non-appearances were because he was either terribly ill or on a strict diet.

Sandy tells me:

“He has obviously lost a lot of weight. His clothes hang baggy and his round face is less round… The name ‘Slim Jong-un’ comes to mind.

“There were photos in an Italian newspaper on Friday with three close-ups of his wristwatch strap from 2019 and 2021… showing which hole he had it on to measure how much weight he has lost.

“He must,” she added, “think the Western press is totally barmy.”

And who is to gainsay him?

Giant statues of Kim Il-sung (left) and Kim Jong-il (right) in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang (Photograph: April 2012)

“Another theory being published,” Sandy tells me, “is that he only put on weight in the first place to resemble his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung… and, now his authority is consolidated, he can go back to what he really looks like. A bit like method acting. Do you think he plays air guitar to Bohemian Rhapsody?”

This seems unlikely as, last Thursday, the New York Times quoted Kim saying that South Korean K-Pop music was “a vicious cancer corrupting young North Koreans’ attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” North Korean state media warned that, if left unchecked, it would make North Korea “crumble like a damp wall.”

The New York Times explains: “North Korean state propaganda has long described South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars. (But) through the K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs, young North Koreans learned that, while they struggled to find enough food to eat during a famine, people in the South were going on diets to lose weight. South Korean entertainment is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows.”

As well they might. Last December, North Korea enacted a new law with increased sentences to 5-15 years in labour camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment. The previous maximum sentence was 5 years hard labour.

Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il was a great movie fan and appeared in the movie Team America.

(If any North Koreans should be reading this, can I point out I live in North Carolina in the USA and my real name is Margaret Smith.)

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy, Newspapers, North Korea

There was a funny smell inside an English prison in the 1980s…

Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…

So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.

“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…


HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”

KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.

It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…

It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.

JOHN: Why were you there?

KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.

JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.

KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.

JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?

KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.

JOHN: Of what?

KEITH: Drugs.

JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?

KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.

JOHN: Recreational drugs?

KEITH: Indeed so.

JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?

KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.

JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?

KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.

JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?

KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”

“What?” I asked.

“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.

(This would have been around 1999/2000.)

JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.

KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.

JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?

KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.

JOHN: Where do you keep it?

KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.

JOHN: Why?

KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.

JOHN: What?? In prison??

KEITH: Didn’t you know that?

JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?

KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.

JOHN: German?

KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.

JOHN: Up the Ruhr?

KEITH: Enough, John.


As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings. 

All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”

“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”

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Filed under Drugs, Prison, Television

Anarchy in the UK’s National Health Service during the Covid 19 pandemic…

(Photograph: Jr Korpa via UnSplash)

Occasionally I start a blog with a variation on: 

What’s the point in  having a blog if you can’t be self-obsessed?

This is one of those blogs. But we don’t get to that bit until towards the end.

At the time of writing, England is almost out of Covid Lockdown. 

On June 21st, all restrictions may (or may not) be lifted. The chaos caused has been, of course, even worse in large bureaucracies like the NHS.

This morning I got an email from someone I know. 

“If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,” it said, “below is a cut ‘n’ paste of an email from my son about his wife, Sue.”

I have changed the names to protect their privacy. The email he attached read:


Dear Dad,

Hope you are doing OK.

All OK here – except that Sue had an interesting unexpected phone call last week. The number was not recognised, but she answered because it was a local number. 

The person introduced himself as her consultant and said it was urgent that he speak to Sue Simpson. 

Sue said she was speaking, then the consultant asked her why she had not attended any of her appointments over the last 18 months, at which point Sue pointed out that they had cancelled her three booked appointments and she had not received any more. 

Last January Sue had some scans – CT scan, X-ray, cat scan and bone density scan because the year before she broke three vertebrae in the accident, as you know.

She never got the results due to cancellations as a certain pandemic hit. 

We wondered why the results were not passed on to her GP but the consultant said they were too important to give to the GP and had to be dealt with by themselves… But they were obviously not important enough to keep the three appointments!!!!.

 Anyway, the consultant asked if Sue was sitting down, so Sue said she could cope standing up. The doc then said that Sue should start three new medications immediately as she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and he was sorry but this diagnosis was made after his scans nearly 18 months ago. 

It means she has missed out on 18 months of meds and it could cause permanent damage to her spine and other bones. Basically, he said that if she has a severe jolt to her body there’s a possibility of her spine being crushed and possible loss of feeling. 

We have to take it one step at a time. But it does explain why she’s lost so much weight and her bones and muscles really play her up. 

Waiting 18 months for results has meant that she’s lost 18 months of medication and her health has got worse.


That was the email which was forwarded to me. 

If you remember, there was a reference to “If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,…”

The rest of this blog is really an aide-memoire to myself.

Feel free to abandon ship.

I have been not 100% since I was hospitalised for a week last May with a high calcium level and dangerously low kidney function. I am still an outpatient with The Kidney Man at my local hospital. They only realised I had dangerous calcium/kidney problems by taking blood tests; all other tests showed no problem.

I am booked-in to see him again, in-the-flesh, on 14th June which is reassuring because I have not had a blood test since 19th October last year.

I was also supposed to have a telephone appointment with ‘the Respiratory Team’ at my local hospital last month – on 11th May. The appointment had been made by my Calcium Man way back on 30th November last year so, on 10th May, the day before the appointment, I thought it wise to check if it really was going to be in the flesh or by phone. In fact, the Calcium Man had asked for a Respiratory Team appointment on 27th November and it had taken to 2nd January to actually confirm an 11th May appointment in writing.

When I phoned, I was told the appointment had been cancelled altogether back on 21st February because there would be no doctor available on 11th May. I had never been notified of this cancellation. But I was told would not have to make another appointment as it was now “in the system”.

Obviously, the next day, I checked with the secretary to my Calcium Man’s secretary, who said she would sort it out.

So, on 20th May, I got two letters, both dated 18th May.

One told me my 11th May appointment had been cancelled and I had a new appointment on 14th September. The other told me my 14th September appointment had been cancelled and replaced by a 9th August appointment. Both letters, as I said, were dated 18th May. Both arrived in the same post.

Now we reach the even-more self-obsessed bit.

I have had vertigo since January. Its seriousness comes and goes. When it is not serious, I just feel light-headed and not 100% in control of my balance. 

Yesterday morning, just after midnight, for about an hour, without any warning, I had very very very bad vertigo… then with added bad diarrhoea, then with added vomiting.

After that, I managed to sleep for four hours, which was quite an achievement as, since coming out of hospital last May, I have not had a single full night’s sleep – I wake up at least once ever hour, very dehydrated.

Yesterday, when I did wake up – at around 0530, I was a bit better though, if I stood up, I was still dizzy and wobbly.

Mid-morning, a text arrived from the Kidney Team at my local hospital. My appointment with the Kidney Man on 14th June has been changed – “due to COVID19” – from a face-to-face meeting to a telephone call. “We will phone you in due course” it said.

This was – erm… – somewhat disappointing as it means no blood tests.

The Kidney Man had said when I talked to him by phone on 15th February that I would be contacted about a further blood test by one of two local hospitals, but I never was. That’s large bureaucracies for you.

Anyway, yesterday I was told my next ‘meeting’ with the Kidney Man would be by phone… so no blood test there.

That was yesterday morning.

Then, just after midday, the SEVERE vertigo came back, including my bedroom walls whizzing round, it appeared, both from right to left AND from left to right. Who knew this was possible? That only lasted for about half an hour and the rest of the day was just a bit wobbly inside my head.

This morning I feel a bit light-headed.

To be continued, I feel…

Though who knows when?

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Filed under Medical

Godzilla vs Kong: People are voyeurs – interested in re-action not just in action.

When I was at college, I read some research about movie violence.

By studying viewers’ eyes when watching violence on screen, they found that people do not watch the action, they watch the re-action.

So, when one man punches another in the stomach, the viewer does not look at the fist hitting the stomach, he (or she) looks at the face of the man being hit. 

When one man shoots another and a special effects blood capsule is exploded to spectacularly simulate the bullet hitting the body, they do not look at the spurting blood, they look at the face of the person being shot.

Human beings do not watch the action, they watch the re-action.

People are interested in people, not things.

This was brought to mind again when I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong last night.

I can see why it made a fortune in China – the casting and plot are aimed to attract a Chinese audience. But… But…

Well, OK, it is a wonderful piece of film-making. The Special Effects should possibly be nominated for an Oscar and the Editing certainly should. Technically it is wonderful; but I was totally uninvolved. It was like watching a complex machine that had a lot of moving parts doing lots of complicated things. It was endless action (1 hour 53 mins) with almost no emotional involvement. It was about things happening, not about people experiencing things. It’s a nice distinction but I think it’s an important distinction. Movies at their best are about emotional voyeurism. 

Oddly, Godzilla vs Kong seemed, to me, a bit similar to another film I saw last week – Peter Rabbit 2. Which was not helped by the fact they seemed to attempt to graft a Guy Ritchie plot into a cute children’s situation.

Lots of things happening but emotionally uninvolving.

I have advised I think four people about writing their autobiographies and, each time, I have told them not to make the mistake of listing everything that has happened in their lives.

There is a limit to the amount of space they have. If they just list what happened in their lives, no matter how action-packed, it gets to be uninteresting.

People – ordinary readers/viewers – are interested in people not facts. They read autobiographies – and see movies – to get vicariously and voyeuristically involved in events which they have either experienced themselves or in events they could never themselves experience. In both cases, they want to identify with what the central character or central characters experienced.

With autobiographies, no ordinary reader is interested in ploughing through a long superficial list of brief ‘things that happened’. It is much better to find one event that epitomises what the central character was going through at a particular time… then expand on that event – make it more not less detailed; more vivid, more relatable.

With movies, 1 hour and 53 minutes of constant fast-cut action palls after a while. Godzilla vs Kong has no real central character (not even Kong). It is about things happening, not people.

And it also seems to be at least two – possibly three – different film plots sticky-taped together to appeal to too many disparate groups. The script was reportedly cobbled together by a writers’ room of at least eight people, with three credited for the story and two for the screenplay.

More is not necessarily always better.

Variety‘s review coined a good phrase for what I experienced last night – “actively bored”.

But what do I know? At the time of writing this blog, the movie has made around $436 million at the theatrical box office on a relatively low production budget of $160 million plus a low $70 million promotional budget (Forbes‘ estimates) and the YouTube trailer has gathered over 93 million hits.

Variety reported that break-even would be $330 million, so expect a sequel…

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The four elderly women who robbed three banks… trying to get arrested…

(Photo by Maxim Hopman via Unsplash)

I received an email today from Malcolm Hardee Award designer John Ward. He said: “My friend Alan sent me this. He’s not sure if it’s fiction or fact…”


There were these four women who, although retired after long successful careers, found themselves living in less than acceptable flats and having little or no money to enjoy life with. 

Then one day, after reading the daily paper, one of them suggested that they needn’t continue to live hand to mouth and why not rob a bank. Then they would get caught and spend the rest of their lives in comfort, where everything was there for them.  

At first they thought it was a joke but then, after a while, they thought: Why not?

Because they all had specialist knowledge – in planning, research and stage make-up – they planned to rob a large bank in a month’s time.  

The day came and they were all disguised and had managed to get some guns (not real ones) and did the deed.  

However, they got away with a huge amount of money and did not get caught.  

They were not sure what to do next, then decided to go for it again and robbed another bank, again collecting a huge amount of money. 

The police could not find this gang who ‘dressed as and pretended to be old ladies’ (!) and put more resources into finding this ‘smart’ gang of clever thieves.  

The ladies robbed one last bank and had enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. 

They were never caught and the story only came out when the last lady alive was able to write it all down and have the book published after her death.


Presumably this story is untrue because – apart from anything else – there would have been some publicity about a non-fiction book with that story.

But there is (I think) an urge to WANT to believe it’s true.

And I am not quite sure why.

We are talking three bank robberies, presumably terrifying bank employees.

Why the need to WANT to believe it? The psychology of the reader is far more interesting than the psychology of the supposed robbers. 

Or is it just me?

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Filed under Crime, Urban myths

Good Godley! – It’s the seemingly irresistible rise and rise of Janey Godley

The indomitable, unstoppable Janey Godley

Some people are just unstoppable.

Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark (a bestseller in 2005 and 2006) is published for the first time as an audio book today and she appears yet again as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You tomorrow night.

Penguin Books recently reprinted Handstands in the Dark with a new cover and new introduction. Frank Get the Door!, a book transcribing some of her viral video voiceovers, made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year. Her first novel is coming out next year. The Last Mermaid, a 2019 short film she co-wrote and starred in, won a couple of awards at Berlin and in Scotland; and she starred in a series of lockdown monologues for the National Theatre of Scotland.

In other words, she is on a roll.

Handstands in the Dark – Janey’s bestselling autobiography – still selling well after 16 years

Her nationwide UK comedy tour, which was interrupted by the Covid pandemic last year, re-starts this autumn. Her political voice-over videos have made her a worldwide viral YouTube hit complemented by animal voice-over videos and more family-friendly videos featuring her dog Honey.

Over the last few years, she has also built-up a massive following for her weekly podcasts, online pandemic chats with her daughter Ashley Storrie, random appearances on UK radio and TV, a weekly column in The Herald newspaper (she used to have a weekly column in The Scotsman) and what seem like daily news items in Scotland’s Daily Record about her Tweets.

Ashley has appeared in various BBC TV comedy series, has her own weekly BBC Scotland radio show and today BBC iPlayer (UK only) has posted online the new BBC3 comedy drama pilot Dinosaur in which she has the lead part as an undiagnosed autistic woman. It will be screened on BBC1 on 7th June and was made by Two Brothers Pictures, producers of Fleabag.

BBC TV have also just announced a new documentary series next year: Ashley & Janey Get a Real Job following the duo round the country doing things like working on a fishing boat (!)

So, obviously, I had to have a chat with Janey.

But what I was really interested in was the extraordinary range of her online commercial merchandise – everything from the normal and to-be-expected mugs and T-shirts to – extraordinarily – greetings cards, her artwork and bottles of Janey’s own Frank Get The Door! and Aw The Sandras branded gin at £32 a bottle…


JANEY: I’m sooooo fucking tired, John!

JOHN: I’m not surprised. You’ve been running round like a blue-arsed fly.

JANEY: I think it’s just… Well, I got shingles, which I’ve never had. 

JOHN: Jesus! That’s really painful.

JANEY: It really wasn’t that bad. I kept on thinking: Have I got sunburn? Then I got these sharp pains and a rash. It went away pretty fast; it wasn’t that bad. But then I got this dizzy thing.

JOHN: Vertigo?

JANEY: It was connected to the shingles and it started the morning I was filming with Joanna Lumley. I woke up, the whole world went sideways and I thought I was having a stroke. And we were filming on an old, bumpy bus.

JOHN: Your merchandise is everything from pens and mugs, T-shirts and face masks to bottles of gin. So how did that start? You were maybe a third of the way through a national UK tour, Covid hit and you had no live comedy income at all…

JANEY: And then Frank Get The Door! (the catchphrase from her viral Nicola Sturgeon voice-over videos) became really famous so we decided to make Frank Get The Door! T-shirts. My husband Sean got on LinkedIn and somebody recommended this guy lan Adie of Promotional Warehouse in Glasgow… I called him and he said: “You came to the right place at last, because I don’t need a deposit off you. We’ll make it and we’ll share it.”

The very first wave was T-shirts, clicky pens and cups. 

I told him: “It’s not going to do very much but, even if it does, I’m going to donate 100% of my profit to the STV Children’s Appeal.”

He said: “That’s weird, but OK.”

So they went on sale that first weekend, back in June/July last year… and he phoned me on the Monday and said: “Oh my God! We have sold 7,000 units!”

The first wave brought in £25,000 for the STV Children’s Appeal, which I don’t regret. I’m still happy that happened, despite HMRC (the UK government’s tax authority)… We had to pay tax on it… If you’re selling goods for a charity – not donations but selling goods for a charity – you still have to pay VAT because it’s sale through goods. Because people could say they have passed it on to charity but not done it.

JOHN: Even if you get a receipt from the charity?

JANEY: It doesn’t matter. What happens is £25,000 goes into my bank account. But I can’t just give that £25,000 to STV and say to HMRC: “Oh, I gave it all away to charity.” I have to pay VAT on the income, because they don’t see it as charity money; they see it as you making £25,000. I still have to pay VAT on it. So about £4,000 or £5,000 went to HMRC.

JOHN: And are you still donating your profit on those items to STV?

JANEY: No. The STV Children’s Appeal stopped. But now 100% of my profit on my Emotional Lifejacket merchandise goes to the Scottish Carers’ Trust. I don’t get a penny of that myself. If you buy anything from my website that’s got Emotional Lifejacket on it, 100% of my profit goes to the Carers’ Trust. We also did a 12-hour telethon for the Carers’ Trust and so far, all-in-all, we have raised about £50,000 for charity during lockdown.

JOHN: You branched into other merchandise…

JANEY: Well Ian Adie and I just clicked. He said: “We’ll do gin; we’ll do candles”… Then my daughter Ashley came up with this beautiful range – Neural Funky – because she was diagnosed with autism during lockdown… which was quite hard for her because we had always just thought that she was (LAUGHS) a bit weird… But, y’know…

JOHN: So now you have Janey Godley merchandise, Ashley Storrie merchandise and even Honey your dachshund has merchandise.

JANEY: Yes, Honey is now an earner. She cost us £8,000 when she nearly died the year before last, so…

JOHN: You’re on a roll. You survived having zero live comedy income for the last year and…

JANEY: My agent is very good. Every single day now we have to have a morning meeting where we go through the various offers that have come through. This morning (NAME BRAND) wanted me to do an advert for (A NOT INCONSIDERABLE SUM) and he said: “No, it’s not enough.”

I go back on tour in the Autumn, have one day off and then go straight into rehearsals for (A NOT-YET ANNOUNCED PROJECT).

JOHN: Penguin have just re-issued your 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a new cover, you have the new audiobook of Handstands in the Dark out now and your first novel is published by Hodder & Stoughton next year. Penguin must have suddenly realised how good you are if they’re bringing out an audio book after all this time.

The new unabridged audio version now on sale, read by Janey

JANEY: No! The audio book is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Penguin didn’t want to do the audio version, so Hodder said We want to do it! and bought the audio rights from Penguin.

JOHN: Penguin are mad. You are on a roll not just in the UK but in the US because of your Trump sign.

JANEY: And Hodder want me to write another book.

JOHN: Fiction or non-fiction?

JANEY: Fiction.

JOHN: You should do a sequel to your Handstands in the Dark autobiography. It ends on a cliffhanger. You could go from the end of the first book to some new climactic point – the Trump Is a Cunt sign maybe.

Janey’s iconic comment went viral and is now available as a greetings card from her online shop.

JANEY: I don’t think I want to, John.

ASHLEY (IN THE BACKGROUND, FROM THE KITCHEN): Mum! We keep getting people saying: When’s the next book in that series coming out!

JANEY: (BIG THEATRICAL SIGH)

ASHLEY: You have the distinct privilege that you can talk about the changing fucking dynamics of women in stand-up comedy from the 1990s to now. You have the excessive privilege that you can explain that to people who don’t understand it. You can explain what the fuck you had to go through so they can now get upset about an ‘inappropriate’ man brushing their arse!

(PAUSE)

JOHN: Anyway… The novel you’ve written which is coming out next year – Was it easy to write?

JANEY: It was so hard to write it in lockdown. For one thing I had just had shingles. Plus my confidence was shot-to-fuck and I was really, really busy doing all the other stuff. I couldn’t focus on being creative because I kept on panicking that We’re all gonna die! So I was writing bits but kept on fixing bits and kept on fixing bits and…

Then Ashley and I were stood in the kitchen one night and she said to me: “Just fucking write it! If it’s shite, just write all the shite out of your system. It’s a vomit draft. Get it all out!” So I did.

Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie – the dynamic duo of Scottish comedy (Photo: Andrew Laing)

I sent the ‘vomit draft’ off to Hodder and they got back to me after a week and said it was one of the best first drafts they’d ever had. They said it was publishable as it was, but the editing process since then has been really good.

Epilepsy Scotland gave me their offices to write it in and I got a researcher, Caitlin, who was fucking great.

Another Janey Sunday Times bestseller

JOHN: And, in the meantime, you published Frank Get The Door!

JANEY: I didn’t think it would sell but, fuck, did it sell! It was in the Sunday Times bestseller list. 

JOHN: Your videos go viral, so presumably there are sales of Frank Get The Door! worldwide because you are now known worldwide.

JANEY: And I’m about to write a Honey book – a family-friendly book.

JOHN: You will make Honey immortal.

JANEY: (LAUGHS) How are you now, John?

JOHN: Same as before.

JANEY: Can I be the headline act at your funeral when you die?

JOHN: Sure.

ASHLEY (FROM THE KITCHEN): Would you not rather have me? I’ve got TV credits. I’m just saying I’m in three upcoming television series.

JANEY: Yeah. You might be better with her headlining your funeral.

JOHN: How about you both as joint headliners?

ASHLEY: I don’t share my billing, but thankyou for the offer.

JANEY & ASHLEY: (LAUGHTER)


Janey’s main website is at http://www.janeygodley.com

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Mad inventor has knee replacement surgery in the age of Covid… or not

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward had a hip replacement in 1998, a knee replacement in 2002 and his other hip was replaced in 2007.

Guess what. 

He now needs his second knee replaced.

John appears to be re-constructing himself but remains unreconstructed.

“When my first hip was replaced,” he told me, “I encountered a Chinese doctor in the early assessment stages and it seems somebody at my local clinic, who ‘knew’ me, had put a note on my folder that I had appeared on ITV’s Game For a Laugh a few years before and so, when the doctor spotted this, he suddenly shouted out: ‘Haaaa! – You breen on Game for a Raft!!!!!!!!’…

“This was the nautical version, I am given to believe.”

John was supposed to have his new knee replacement two Tuesdays ago (12th May). But it never happened.

This is what he told me in emails:


TUESDAY 11th May – 1316 hrs

I went for me tests last week, had a chat with the nurse and the physio at Grantham Hospital and had ‘final’ swab tests this past Sunday morning (9th May) at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital and then, if the tests are all OK, the operation is tomorrow (12th May), reporting for duty at 7.00am.

From what I can gather, the op will be in the afternoon or thereabouts, possibly late morning as it’s a sort of ‘conveyor belt’ routine by the sounds of it. ‘In theory’, I should be back in the ward late afternoon to early evening.

From conversations with the nurse and the physio, I will stay in hospital for a couple of days ‘in theory’ then, unless ‘anything’ happens (infections etc). I should be out possibly Friday or Saturday – with Sunday at the latest – but we shall see!


TUESDAY 11th May – later that same day – 1814 hrs

The op is not going to happen tomorrow, as I have just had a call from the hospital to say the surgeon has been called to deal with a ‘high trauma’ case. I got the impression it’s a road traffic accident.

So now the op is going to happen – all being well – this coming Sunday, 16th May.

…unless, of course, another nut-job gets into a traffic accident…

Yours, a slightly pissed-off patient.


SUNDAY 16th May 

Panic over, as I am back home 😦 

I was in the ward, just getting ready to go on the trolley down to the operating theatre, when they noticed a small cut/wound on my leg – This reads as ‘an infection’ in their book so they cancelled the op…

I will go back (hopefully…) in the next 3-4 weeks for the op as the cut/wound will be healed up by then.

I must admit it’s not much of a cut/wound but, with this bloody coronavirus, they are not taking ANY chances.

Going back to bed now as I have been up since half four this morning and it’s been a bit stressful, moreso the waiting for a lift back.

They did get a  taxi for me, so full marks there.


MONDAY 17th May

The small wound/cut happened when I was out shopping… Some dozy arsehole banged me leg with a shopping trolley outside Sainsbury’s.

Had my op gone to plan last Wednesday (12th May), I would not have suffered this ‘injury’ although who will play me when they do the film I can’t even think about at this moment in time.

Yesterday, the surgeon was sympathetic. He explained he would not operate as the risk was too high, more so with the virus adding into it all. He seemed more upset then me to be honest.

He said I was not the first or the last and this does happen quite often. 

This didn’t really fill me with joy.

He asked if I had suffered other, similar events. I told him no, not that I could recall. But my biggest failure – or regret – was  not ‘coming out’ as a lesbian years ago as I missed out on having my own series on Channel 4 and my own range of cosmetics.

Judging by his response I think I have a new fan.


I asked John if he was a good patient.

“Interestingly,” he told me, “I seem to be on ‘first name’ terms with all the surgeons/consultants I have encountered so far, while fellow patients address them as Mister.”

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