UK Comedy: the death of a magazine, a website and a forgotten comedian

No more mustard after this year

No more Mustard magazine after this year

Last week, it was reported that Mustard comedy magazine is to cease publication; the final issue will be out in a few months.

I think I have a temperature. Last night, I kept waking up every half hour in bed and my pillow was wet with sweat. Things are a bit swirly this morning.

I am staging two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and I am a multi-award-winner. I think, perhaps, I should have mentioned that on my posters.

When I was 11, I won an award at school for handwriting. As a prize, I was given an abridged version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Why I was given that book and why it was the abridged version, I do not know.

My award as Best Awards Founder

My no doubt increasingly prestigious award as Best Awards Founder

A century later, in 2010, I was given a Fringe Report award as ‘Best Awards Founder’ for awarding the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. It was even better that that, as the actual physical awards for which I was given an award for awarding awards were actually designed by a Ward – mad inventor John Ward.

Fringe Report was a quirky online publication covering the Edinburgh Fringe and the London theatre Fringe. It closed in July 2012 after ten years of sterling reviews, features, parties and occasionally eccentric awards.

Yesterday afternoon, I supped tea with its erstwhile editor John Park, who told me that all the Fringe Report material is going to be archived by the British Library “so that, in future years, people can read without payment some of the flavour of what happened in this great area of the experimental arts at the start of the 21st Century.”

All the online text will be transferred into a series of physical books.

“We’re planning about 14 volumes,” John Park told me. “One for each of its 10 years.”

“Eh?” I said.

“There will be 11 volumes, as it started and ended mid-year,” he explained.

“Eh?” I said.

“Then one for all the awards certificates,” he explained. “And one for articles still in notebooks which were never written up for the site – our editing backlog. And one as a cumulative index of all the other volumes.”

“Ah!” I said.

I used to attend the Fringe Report social events

Fringe Report monthly social (photo by Catherine Balavage)

“The books will probably be A4, hardback bound,” said John. “All of the photographs of awards ceremonies, Fringe Report ‘First Mondays’ meetings and other social events are being donated as several hundred digital images. The films and soundtracks of about 4 to 5 years of Fringe Report Awards are being donated as digital files. The books will be compiled by us and designed into books by Richard Dragun who designed all our awards certificates. Compiling the books and indexing who is in all the photos is likely to take a year, so it will probably be completed around the middle to end of 2014.

“The main Fringe Report site will go offline during 2013, at the latest by November but probably before.  We’ll probably keep the WordPress site online after that, at least into 2014.”

So some memories of people passing through the transient world of live performance will be preserved. Something I try to do – slightly – in this blog.

Yesterday, I also got an e-mail from my occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who has memories of the live UK comedy scene as long or longer than mine.

“Did you ever see The Brixton Bank Manager perform?” she asked me. “He was very personable, great to work with and grew fine tomatoes on his window ledge. He was also known as Richard Elkin and Norby West. He was possibly the most elderly of the comics on the circuit in 1986. A very funny man.”

He started performing at festivals and in the streets in the 1970s with a pornographic Punch and Judy act and as The Amazing Percy Main.

The Brixton Bank Manager - “Cheques should be made payable to Richard Elkan  * Bollocks baffle madness - the old family motto

Photo of Norby West in the 1980s – autographed  “Cheques should be made payable to Richard Elkan [aka the BBM*] *Bollocks baffle madness – the old family motto”

“In the 1980s,” Anna told me yesterday, “he telephoned the Open Heart Cabaret which Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) was running. I answered the phone and a cheery voice at the other end said: Hello – This is the Brixton bank manager. I thought it must be a wrong number as we were far too impoverished to have any reason for a bank manager to call, but he quickly explained: I’m not really a bank manager – that’s my stage name….

“Who knows, he may have worked in a bank once. He had an ageless quality. He was going to newcomer comedy nights when he was in his seventies. He had an infectious childlike enthusiasm, combined with a professional sort of manner.”

His Norby West character was billed as “the granddad from hell” and described as “geriatric filth disguised as satire”. When he died in 2009, the Chortle comedy website quoted comedian Paul Foot as saying:

“Richard retired about six years ago because the smoke in the clubs affected his ancient lungs and we remained friends. I would pop round to his flat, he’d give me a stale biscuit and we would laugh at amusing moments from our comedy careers. Richard was an entertainer for most of his life. He continued writing plays and other things after his retirement. He never lost his creativity or sense of fun and will be massively missed by me and other comedians.”

Now Richard is forgotten by new generations of comedy club goers. He died of pneumonia at the age of 80.

So it goes.

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