A couple of days ago, I had a chat with Tony Green who, I suppose, I have to describe as a comedy veteran.
In a tragic 21st century accident, I accidentally erased 59 minutes of the recording on my iPhone. The only snippet of an anecdote left is this one:
“…had this habit of going down to pick up the post with no clothes on and got locked out once. He said: Dave, could you phone up my girlfriend at work. She’s got a spare key. But Dave didn’t have a phone…”
With my bad memory I, of course, cannot remember how the story ended.
Yesterday, I had a chat with writer and occasional performer Mark Kelly.
I had not realised, until it came up in conversation with Tony Green, that Tony and Mark had known each other years ago but had fallen out. Tony told me why but, of course, I accidentally erased what he said.
So what follows is Mark’s version only…
“Tony and I were really good friends in the mid-1980s,” Mark told me, “and we fell out eventually over an act he started putting on which I thought was racist. The act claimed to be doing a parody of racism. But I found – particularly given the nature of the audiences Tony was encouraging…
Interrupting him, I asked: “What were the audiences like?”
“Well,” explained Mark, “Tony was in love with East End lowlife culture so, at Tony’s gigs, there would be a mixture of arty Bohemians and East End criminals, some of whom were very right wing.
“It seemed very obvious to me that this particular act, whose name I genuinely can’t remember, was getting laughs for very mixed reasons and it was all very, very dodgy. And we fell out over that. Tony is a very interesting person.”
“He is indeed,” I said. “These shows were at his Open Heart Cabaret?”
“Yes. He ran it in various locations. He briefly ran it in Chiswick – not his usual territory. The pub had a function room at the back which was on stilts and once he was about to cancel the gig because there was hardly anyone there – three or four people – but then, for no apparent reason, a coach driver pulled in and everyone in the coach went into the gig. I think maybe the coach driver went off for a drink. The gig was saved in the sense of not being cancelled, but the coach party had no idea why they were there and they didn’t like any of the acts. It was terrible.”
“A lot of the acts he put on,” I said, “were… err… very experimental.”
“At Tony’s gigs,” agreed Mark, “even I felt like Mr Mainstream Light Entertainment. Tony was quite enamoured of an act called Ian Hinchliffe, an old performance artist who would usually take all his clothes off, eat glass – which he usually did quite badly – and get blind drunk.
“The last time I ever saw Hinchliffe, he was naked, had Sellotaped his genitals together and was, of course, blind drunk. The glass-eating had gone wrong so he was bleeding from the mouth and he knocked over a couple of tables including all the drinks, horrifying the innocent people who were sitting there. That is my abiding memory of him.”
“Hinchliffe,” I said, “was quite nice except when he got drunk, which he usually quickly did. He didn’t really become a befuddled drunk; he became an aggressive drunk. But I can see why Tony found him interesting.”
“What I did find interesting,” Mark told me, “was that, even towards the end, the British Council was still sending Hinchliffe abroad, representing Britain culturally.”
“That must,” I suggested, “have caused a major deterioration in international relations.”
“I presume,” said Mark, “that he was only bookable wherever there was a bar and a drinking culture.”