In this blog a couple of days ago, comic Tony Green remembered the early days of British alternative comedy. He used to perform as Sir Gideon Vein.
Our conversation continued in, of course, a pub.
“In the early days,” I asked, “were you purely Sir Gideon Vein?”
“No,” said Tony, “I used to be Mad Jock McCock.”
“Comedians and their nom-de-stages!” I said.
“One of my favourite performers in those days,” said Tony, “used to call herself The Sea Monster. Now she’s famous and who knows where I am? God bless her. I don’t believe in God, but I think she is wonderful. I am one of her biggest fans. It was Ian Hinchliffe who heckled her, not me.
“Some woman approached me in the bar at the National Theatre and said: Oh, my husband’s a big fan of yours. Would you come and say hello to him? I was really badly screwed up and he introduced me to these EST people: a total bunch of nut cases a bit like EST – The Forum. They specialised in breaking people down and building them up again.
“He booked us to do this benefit for these arseholes. They’d been calling me up saying: The problem is you hate yourself. Well, I’ve always known I hate myself. I hate everyone. You’re a misanthrope. Well, a misogynist, a misanthrope, yes. I’m filled with hate but, at the same time (he laughed) filled with love. I’m both sides of one coin.
“What The Sea Monster and I were doing there I have no idea, but we were. Apparently it was her first gig. She wasn’t doing terribly well and someone was making offensive comments. Something like F off, you fat cow! It wasn’t me, because that is not the kind of heckle I would give. It was Hinchliffe. My heckles are always constructive, not offensive.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“I might say: Look, surely you can do something better than that? For example, I won’t mention his name, but he’s got a double-First from Cambridge and I think he’s marvellous…”
“He’s marvellous as well. But there’s another one who’s got a double-First. I love both of them. Geniuses. The other one – I love his face, I love his comedy. It was not me that defaced the posters in Edinburgh.”
“How were they defaced?” I asked.
“Someone had written a very unpleasant word across his face, practically on every poster for his show in Edinburgh
“And that word was?”
“It’s a very, very bad word. It begins with C and ends with T.”
“Clit?” I suggested.
“No, but they are similar.”
“Not a million miles away,” I suggested.
“It wasn’t me that did it,” repeated Tony. “But I walked into the Comedy Cafe wearing a straw hat before this comic was well-known and he said: Hello. has the Man from Del Monte just arrived?
“I said: Is it possible for me to answer that question?
“He said: If you think you can, sir… If you think you can.
“I said: There is no need to call me sir. But from someone like you who, I have been told, is a genius, I might have expected something a little more original.
“I was then told to Shut up!
“The next comedian went on stage and said: Would that bloke with the hat shut his mouth?
“I said: I haven’t started yet. Then I noticed he was reading his lines off the back of his hand, where he had written them. I was very tempted to go up, gob on the back of his hand, wipe it with a snotty old handkerchief and say: Now get on with it! Do something spontaneous! But I just said: Don’t look at the back of your hand when you’re talking to me! There’s no need. Do it off the top of your head!
“I was then unceremoniously escorted off the premises.”
“Was Noel Faulkner (owner of the Comedy Cafe) there?” I asked.
“Oh, he didn’t mind,” said Tony. “He booked me and I booked him at my club a few times when he used to do his Jack Nicholson act”
“Jack Nicholson act?” I asked.
“Someone told him when he grinned he looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. So his act was to bring a door on stage. He’d then get an axe and chop a hole in the door, put his head through and say Heeeeere’s Johnny! He did that a lot, but he tended to run out of doors to use. At first he tried to repair old doors. Eventually he got a special door made.”
“What about the first bloke?” I asked. “The genius guy who mentioned Del Monte. Who was he?”
“I don’t like to name names,” said Tony. “I knew he was going places even then. He had a double-First from Cambridge. That’s what comedy’s all about these days. It isn’t: Look at me, like Norman Wisdom pretending to be a fool. These days, it’s: If you were as clever as I am, then you could be where I am today. Which is very, very sad, isn’t it, really?”
“But you’re as clever as they are,” I said.
“Well, we know that, don’t we?” said Tony. “But I don’t have the qualifications, which makes me so bitter and twisted. I don’t want to go into my background. It’s very, very boring.”
“I know nothing about your background,” I said.
“It’s tedious,” said Tony. “I went to the same school as whatisname. I‘ve forgotten his name – but I don’t like to mention names. The school I went to is sadly demolished. All I can say is Thank goodness for that. The headmaster was a terrible man.
“I was the best swimmer in the school. The headmaster once called me into his office and said: You’ve been chosen to represent this school. We think you could win a medal.
“I said: Oh, alright.
“He said: You don’t seem very enthusiastic.
“I told him: I just said Oh alright!
“He said: Well, just give me £2.
“I said: Why should I give you £2? It was a lot of money in those days. £2? You could buy a block of flats back then. Why should I give you £2? I asked him.
“Well, he said, you need a badge to sew onto your swimming trunks…
“Well, I said, you can pay for that. That’s my newspaper round money. Why should I pay for it?
“He said: That’s just the way it is,
“I said: I’m not paying for it; the school can pay for it.
“He said: You do realise I could make you into a mockery? If I were to mention your name in assembly on Monday morning, everyone in this school would hate you.
“I told him: You’ve got it hopelessly wrong. Everyone in this school would love me.
“That’s the thing. There was a man like that as headmaster at the school. He was supposed to be some kind of godlike figure. How off-beam was he?
“When he said in assembly There’s a boy here who has been chosen to represent the school, I don’t want to mention him… I put my hand up and said It was me! I was chosen, but I won’t pay the £2 for the badge… And I got a round of applause. He never liked me after that.
“The Art Teacher was good. The music teacher was good. And the person who gave us Religious Instruction was the same person who gave us Sex Education.”
“I never had Sex Education,” I said.
“I went to a very progressive school,” Tony replied. “They told us what the penis was for. I had no idea when I looked at it. I thought: What on earth is that for? Then, when I saw women’s bodies, I was totally confused. It was only years later I understood the concept.”
… TONY GREEN’S MEMORIES ARE TO BE CONTINUED VERY ERRATICALLY …