Writer Nick Awde wanted to interview me for a book he is currently writing.
UK comedian and Edinburgh Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer told me that Nick had received a death threat because he has written a play called Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show for the upcoming Fringe in August. The truth is more complicated than that. And it is not the first time he has been threatened.
“I did an anthology on Women in Islam and got at least one death threat out of that.,” Nick told me this morning, when I Skyped him at his home in Paris.
“So are you actually doing a physical Punch & Judy show in Edinburgh?” I asked.
“No,” he told me. “No puppets. No-one wants to put their hand up Jimmy Savile.”
“So how are you doing it?” I asked.
“It will be live actors,” Nick explained, “playing all the characters in a Punch & Judy way.”
“Dressed as Punch & Judy?” I asked.
“Still don’t know,” said Nick. “Budgetry constraints.”
“Will you be making a guest appearance in the show at Edinburgh?” I asked.
Nick laughed: “What? So the audience can beat the crap out of me? No.”
“You could be the policemen or the crocodile,” I suggested.
“Well, trying to get the crocodile into it is difficult. I don’t think there were any crocodiles supporting Jimmy Savile although, God knows, everyone was in on it. Maybe he was given the keys to the zoos as well.
“Jimmy Savile was there because Society put him there and Society’s problem after his death is trying to deal with the fact that we all put him there, especially all the pillars of Society – but we support the pillars. We all looked at him and thought There’s a creepy old man and probably a lot of people did think There’s a dirty old man. But we still went along with it.”
“So why Punch & Judy?” I asked.
“We take our children – we encourage our children,” explained Nick, “to go see Punch & Judy like we did as children and our parents and parents’ parents did before them. We go off and we laugh and joke and are wowed and throw money at the puppet master afterwards… but we are watching a man who is a wife-beater, a child-killer and who also takes on every single pillar of Society. Even if he does get beaten up by them, he ends up beating them up or avoiding them or avoiding the issue entirely. This is Jimmy Savile. He did exactly the same thing. He bullied his way through Society.”
“And,” I said, “the press reaction to the show’s imminent staging has been what?”
“The tabloid reaction so far is interesting,” said Nick. “Oh! What about the victims? they ask. Well, in fact, this format avoids the victims. The format of Punch & Judy is a great way to avoid anything to do with the victims. The match is perfect. You concentrate on Jimmy Savile and his dealings with Society.”
“But it’s not a puppet show,” I double-checked.
“Everyone said they did not want to do it as a puppet show,” said Nick. “I think it should be done as a puppet show but I don’t have any money to put it on because – guess what? – I won’t personally profit from the show. So I can’t be accused of trying to cash in.”
“So the tabloids at least can’t accuse you of that,” I said.
“The tabloids who are going to come gunning for me,” said Nick, “indeed gunning for anyone who wants to try and address things that they don’t want to be addressed or which they don’t want to be addressed in their way… These are the same tabloids who are sitting on the files which they have on people like Jimmy Savile and a lot of other people in Society, a lot of whom are big names, who are still alive and still doing it.”
“You mean in showbiz or politics?” I asked.
“Everything,” said Nick. “There’s no conspiracy about it. You and I, we understand this. We understand why they do it. Like me, I think you are very much up for the independence of the press. We don’t want the government being able to force people to hand over things like the Obama government recently did to Associated Press in America.
“I’ve seen these files. Anyone who’s worked for a long time on national newspapers will have come across a file somewhere and it’s not Da Vinci Code stuff. It makes perfect common sense that people will come to a newspaper for whatever reason. Some will come wanting money. Some will come because the police or institutions have put them down and they will go to a newspaper and say Please help me. It could be whistleblowers or victims themselves. In this case, it’s child abuse or institutionalised child abuse.
“The newspapers put it on record. They think about whether they have enough to publish and also whether it’s a juicy-enough story. Very rarely do they hand the files over to PC Plod because you never know… You could use it one day for one reason or another.”
“And these,” I said, “are the same tabloids who have been attacking your upcoming play without having seen it.”
“Yes,” said Nick, “these are the same tabloids who’ve been sitting on these documents and possibly also have files on a lot of victims – a lot more than we think – accumulated over the years. These are the same ones who want to criticise someone for trying to address Jimmy Savile’s relationship with the institutions which kept him in power for sixty years.”
“Surely,” I said, “being attacked by the tabloids is great because it’s publicity for your play?”
“Sure,” said Nick. “But incitement to violence is something different.”
“Who was inciting violence?” I asked.
“The Daily Star,” he replied and held up a double-page spread headlined:
SICK NICK DESERVES A PUNCH FOR SAVILE PLAY
Nick has written, edited or illustrated more than 50 books.
He has freelanced as a feature writer and critic for The Stage for more than twenty years, as well as being a political journalist and, more recently, a book publisher.
“What sort of books do you publish?” I asked him this morning.
Things like phrasebooks for non-European languages spoken in countries where people have been generally fucked around by things like oil politics,” he replied. “Places where it’s the ordinary people who lose out, like Chechnya, Somalia, Armenia.”
“So how does a Chechen-Somali phrasebook publisher end up with a drunken ne’er-do-well like comedian Bob Slayer?” I asked.
“Because I think he’s very political in what he does,” said Nick.
“Is he?” I asked, incredulous. “This presumably is political with a small pee?”
“Oh yes,” said Nick. “But I’m political with a small ‘p’ too. I think Bob’s Alternative Fringe is extraordinarily political in terms of what it is. It evolves, whereas things like the Free Fringe don’t evolve.
“I write in theatre very much as a political thing, because theatre really gives people a voice. You know that. The way you write about comedy and report on comedy in your blog – not just the young blood that’s coming up, but the old revolutionaries and all the rest of it. I think you can see the effect the revolutionary side of live comedy has had on people over the years.”
“Well, that’ll go straight onto my publicity,” I said. “John Fleming – Revolutionary. I can see it up in lights now.”
“I really do believe it,” insisted Nick.
“I’m all for anything provided there are knob gags in it,” I said.
“I don’t think there will be knob gags in Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show,” said Nick, “unless there might be a knob gag which would have existed in a real Punch & Judy show.”
“Well, rude bits are part of traditional satire,” I said.
“Yes,” agreed Nick. “Tits, knobs, poo, crap, dicks and farting. In satire, you are literally throwing all that at the people at the top and telling them: You are the same as us! It’s a bit of a rocky road to follow – you will be excoriated by all sides at some points – but the people who have done it well have made people think. People time and time again quote satire.”
“And I gather your Jimmy Savile show is going to be satire,” I said.
“Obviously,” said Nick, “you can’t do the hardcore stuff on television or radio but, live on stage, there can be far more hard-hitting stuff.”