Category Archives: 1980s

An amoral legend of ITV in the 1980s…

My commented-upon 2011 blog

Back in the mists of 2011, I blogged about Malcolm Leach, a legendary if decidedly amoral figure in the on-screen promotion departments of independent television companies in the 1980s, breaking hearts and making trailers for programmes.

I mentioned his exploits included trying to buy a regional ITV franchise and persuading an existing ITV company to rent him a car, then selling it without telling them.

In 2012, someone called Jamie spotted the blog and commented:


I knew Malcolm Leach in the early 1990s and I have many fond memories of him. I just happened to think of him this afternoon – I don’t know why – and so my Googling has led me here. It would be a shame if he were no more, yet no surprise. 

The last time I saw Malcolm he was running a pub in Clifton. This would have been around 1993. I went over to visit, with my brother. 

Malcolm knew that I liked a drink back then, and he poured me a pint of cider which, in retrospect, was probably about 12%. An elderly gentleman seated at the bar said to me: “If you drink that, you won’t walk out of here.” 

Malcolm simply said: “Pay no attention to him, Jamie. He has angina and so may die at any moment.”

He cackled with laughter and lit one of his untipped fags. I drank the cider and another one too. And that is the last memory I have of that day and, sadly, of Malcolm.


Malcolm Leach got around, in more ways than one.

In 2014, itinerant voice-over announcer Keith Martin commented on my blog:


I met Malcolm. It could have been at HTV… but was it at Anglia, TVS or Southern?. Could it have been at Rediffusion or Thames or LWT? Perhaps it was at Border, Channel or even ATV? How about Yorkshire, not forgetting BFBS TV? I wish I could remember. Help!


More recently, ex-promo person Simon Kennedy spotted my blog and commented:


I remember from my time at TEN: The Entertainment Network:

The wonderful world of futuristic television channels in 1984

TEN went on air on the night of the 29th of March 1984. The launch party was held at The Kensington Roof Gardens with a feed from the satellite to the screens set up around the room. Industry figures from film and television were on the guest list, as well as our VIP, Superman actor Christopher Reeve. 

Champagne flowed as we headed towards the eight o’clock lift-off. 

Malcolm had prepared a ‘Countdown to TEN’, featuring clips taken from cinema trailers of movies with numbers in their titles. Ten was “10”, and so on, until seven, which used a clip from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. 

Standing between me and the monitor were a group of executives from Disney. The moment Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs hit the screen, they went into a huddle and left even before the end of the promo. No-one else seemed to notice this departure and a cheer went up from the guests as we headed into the first film. The festivities kept going into the night.

The next morning we were understandably late into the office, but Malcolm was nowhere to be found. It seems that the previous night, even before the party wrapped up, we received a communication from the Walt Disney company. 

Malcolm had not cleared the use of any of the clips assuming that, just because he could rent the trailers from National Screen Service, he could include them. And, with that, he drove another shiny nail into his own coffin. 

Disney now demanded that not only did we have to write a grovelling public letter of apology, we also had to put out an announcement on air that day stating we didn’t have the rights to show the clip, that we would not be showing Snow White, nor would we ever be showing Snow White. The hung-over Malcolm was dispatched to make up the announcement and get it on air as soon as possible.

Malcolm lasted a further month at TEN. 

Still I ate well – and often – at L’Escargot (the very expensive restaurant) on his expenses.


I thought Simon might have more anecdotes about Malcolm, so I Skyped him. Before talking to him, I looked up Malcolm Leach on the internet and there was a letter in The Guardian in 2001 from him.

Ex-Granada person David Liddiment started at their on-screen Promotion Dept in Manchester (where Malcolm had worked), then became executive producer on Coronation Street 1987-1991, Head of Entertainment at the BBC 1993-1995 and ITV Director of Programmes 1997-2002.

In 2001, he criticised BBC TV for not fulfilling its cultural responsibilities, which Malcolm took exception to. He wrote to The Guardian:


David Liddiment’s remarks put me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s observation that satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Having spent my working life in the same medium as David, I have never known him troubled before by such lofty concepts as “soul, individual acts of creation and communication: ideas, scenes and spectacle shared with an entranced and receptive nation”. Having presided over ITV’s slide from the mediocre to the downright pathetic, he is perhaps the last person to start lambasting the BBC.

Malcolm Leach, Bath


So he was alive and thriving in 2001.

And I Skyped Simon Kennedy to see if he knew more…


Simon: “There are a lot of stories you can’t blog about…”

SIMON: The last time you and I talked was about 30 years ago at TVS.

JOHN: I guess… So… Malcolm was a bit of a character…

SIMON: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: What are some of the other Malcolm stories?

SIMON: Well, there are a lot of stories you can’t blog about, because some of the people are still alive. (I HAVE CHANGED ALL THE NAMES IN WHAT FOLLOWS)

Dick Waterstone had employed Malcolm at Granada in Manchester and mistakenly took him under his wing. When Dick got the job as Head of Presentation and Promotion at TEN The Entertainment Network, he took Malcolm down to London. 

Malcolm had a very pretty young wife whom we met once but who was then bundled up back in the train to Manchester and remained there while Malcolm began to pick off the women friends of his younger promo producers.

There were about three of us in our early twenties. Pete Beacham had a friend called Sarah, whom Malcolm took a fancy to and they were a little bit of an item for a time until she discovered about the wife up in Manchester.

We then had screaming phone calls coming into the TEN offices. “No, Sarah, Malcolm isn’t here right now. No, really.”

To go into an edit suite and watch a man swigging wine and chain-smoking Gitanes at eleven in the morning was something in and of itself. But it was the Disney thing which finally did for him.

JOHN: He seemed to be irresistibly attractive to women for some bizarre reason. Maybe it was the ‘bad boy’ image.

SIMON: It must have been that. He was one of the most remarkably ugly men I can ever remember meeting.

JOHN: I just remember him as being a bit chunky and shapeless.

SIMON: He was a pain-in-the-ass to work for – he was my boss – because he was so mercurial. ‘Hot and cold’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

The last I heard of him must have been in 1984 when he was given the bum’s rush from TEN and we had one very quick drink before he announced he would be leaving us. He didn’t tell us why. He said he was going to go over and meet his good mate Raúl Castro in Cuba, because he was good friends with ‘the Castro boys’. And that was the last I heard of him. Whether he’s still with us, God only knows.

JOHN: Someone definitively told me he was dead. Though maybe he is going to reappear in Cuba, having conned his way into power. Nothing would surprise me.

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Filed under 1980s, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Television

Casual cocaine-snorting in the 1980s…

In the 1980s, people would stick their nose in if asked…

Someone said to me that, today, she does not know anyone in the media who takes cocaine.

I suspect she should go out and meet more people.

But I remember… I guess it was in the 1980s sometime… I had an interview for a project…

I guess it must have been for a contract as a Researcher at a successful independent TV production company…

The owner of the company sat at one side of a desk and I sat facing her. She did not impress me because she seemed a bit uninterested in the whole process as if it were just a necessary but dull chore she had to go through. As, indeed, it was.

About a third of the way through the interview, she took out some cocaine and offered me some.

“Thanks,” I said, shaking my head politely. “I don’t.”

So she put some in a line on the desktop in front of her, made a tube of paper and snorted it while continuing with her explanation of what the upcoming TV programmes were about and how the company was organised. 

I didn’t get the job. 

I do not think she was doing the coke thing as a test for me to see my reaction.

I think it was just a perfectly normal, casual thing to do like (in those days) smoking a cigarette or sipping some tea.

We had never met before.

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The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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Comedian Ivor Dembina on how money & TV altered British alternative comedy

Liam Lonergan meets a man with answers

Liam Lonergan talked academically to Ivor

In some blogs this year, I have posted extracts from chats Liam Lonergan had with me and with comedian Lewis Schaffer for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Yesterday, Liam sent me a transcript of a chat he had with comedian and club-owner Ivor Dembina, whose weekly Hampstead Comedy Club celebrates its 20th anniversary next month. Here, with Liam’s permission, is an extract in which Ivor talks about the early days of British alternative comedy and the changes since.

____________________________________________________

Liam Lonergan: I don’t know if you know much about the contemporary student scene.

Ivor Dembina

Ivor Dembina used to cultivate students

Ivor Dembina: Well, no… I used to. When I first came into comedy, I helped, if you like, to cultivate the student audience. I used to take little packages of comedy around the universities and colleges. That would have been late 1980s. But I wasn’t the only person doing it because students were seen as a fertile source of income – the universities had money and they didn’t have direct contact with comedians, so they’d pay someone – an agency – to put together and package a show and I did it more or less all over the country. I did that for several years. The attraction was they would pay you a guarantee. It was quite an attractive market and the big agencies – or what have become the big agencies, notably Avalon and Off The Kerb – they kind of built their foundations on those types of tours. And then what they’d do is they might sign someone up – y’know, Performer X – and say to the student unions: “Well, if you want Performer X you’ve got to have our other performers too”. It’s quite a cynical way of doing it but…

Liam: But it’s a big part of the business.

Ivor: Well, that’s the way they operated. Whereas I did it much more on a one-off basis. But I kinda lost interest in it because what happened was gradually… Well, in those days, students were still regarded as a good audience. They were interested in the world and they had what could be regarded as an alternative outlook which complemented the attitudes of the performers. In more recent years…

Liam: Well, anyone gets into university now and there’s a more… I dunno what you’d call it…

Ivor: It’s a much more corporate place, much more money-based. They’re becoming… the universities now are basically much more right wing and comedy has just become the Wednesday night entertainment after the football and the rugby and a lot of drunkenness. A lot of bad behaviour from the students. Part of the attraction used to be performing to kids who might be interested in the state of the world.

Liam: Going back to what you said about Off The Kerb and Avalon, do you think the current production agency monopolisation and the Big Four at the Edinburgh Fringe… Do you think they are taking over fringe comedy?

Ivor Dembina back in the day

Ivor Dembina – even younger than today

Ivor: Well, they have. it’s like any market. Once a market for a product develops – it doesn’t matter what it is; it could be selling coffee beans or ashtrays – then someone will come in and do it professionally and aggressively and it just happens to be Off The Kerb and Avalon.

Basically, students are lazy. Avalon and Off The Kerb spotted this. They would say: “You don’t have to worry about getting in touch with comedians. We’ll build a circuit. We’ve got these famous people and a fancy brochure. Just give us a date and we’ll send along a package. Just make sure you’ve got a cheque at the end of the night”. And the student union person thought: “Blimey. This is alright. I only have to put a poster up in the end of the bar”… Most of them just didn’t want to do any work.

The other reason it expanded was most of these student union officers were dealing with bands and bands are a nightmare. Are they gonna’ turn up? Are they gonna want a sound check all day? They want a big rider and cocaine and birds and all that. All this kind of thing. They’re just a fucking nightmare. Comedians are very easy to deal with.

Liam: So there’s not really much ego with comedians?

Ivor: Well there is but, from the point of view of the university, comedians are dead easy to deal with. All you’ve gotta do is put a microphone up, the comedian turns up… They’re an absolute godsend. They’re mostly all young, fit, fairly sober individuals and they’re just so easy to organise. Whereas, with these bands, there will always be some people who didn’t like this band or they want R’n’B and they don’t want Soul. You’ve got about five people in the band and one of them is going to be outta his nut. Comedy was and is just so much easier to put on. And relatively cheap. Much cheaper than to put on a well-known band.

Liam: Do you think comedy holds some sort of cachet now? It doesn’t seem to be low status anymore.

Ivor: I’m not sure it was ever low status. There just wasn’t as much of it then as there is now. I don’t think people look down on it. I think theatre people look down on stand-up comedy but I don’t think anyone else does. How old are you?

Liam: I’m 24.

Ivor: With people of your age, it’s now a much more widely-perceived route to showbusiness success. When I was your age, if you wanted to get famous through showbusiness, basically, you were talking about getting hold of a guitar… that was it. Or becoming an actor and then gradually… Now, people think: “Oh, if I become a comedian I can get on telly and then I can get cast in either a sitcom or maybe even a play and then…” I mean, Jack Whitehall is a classic entertainment role model. He was a pretty average stand-up, but he looked good on TV. The girls like him. He’s quite funny. He’s everywhere.

Liam: Yeah, he’s ubiquitous.

Ivor: Even more so Russell Brand. Whereas, when I came into comedy it was a bit underground. Well, underground’s not the right word. It was alternative. Now it’s part of the mainstream entertainment landscape. People visit London. They go to Madame Tussauds. They go to Camden Lock. And then they go to a night at The Comedy Store. It’s part of…

Liam: You said it’s not underground anymore… Is there a sort of notable underground scene? Is there a sort of group, a collection of comics that you can see now who…

Ivor: No.

Liam: Not at all?

Ivor: No. I think the new comics are shit. Underground? They should be underground. They should be under the fucking ground. What you are getting with the new comics is a derivation of what they see – and a pretty pallid imitation of what they see – on TV. Because it’s all now television led. You’ve got these kind of mutations of Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You – people thinking that comedy has become about showing off.

Liam: Or the other side of it. They’re doing Stewart Lee. I’ve seen quite a lot of people trying to do Stewart Lee as well. They’re trying to be underground.

Being himself at Hampstead Comedy Club

Ivor himself at Hampstead Comedy Club

Ivor: To me, comedy is about being yourself. And that’s what it is. The kids who come into it now… At university, they received an email or got a flyer saying: “We’ve got Joe X coming next week whom you may probably have seen on Mock The Week.”

They’re getting this all the time. So they assume that exposure on television is some kind of verification of status. Sometimes it is. I’m not saying everybody on television is crap. That’s not the case. But they begin to associate being in TV with being good.

So they think: “What do I have to do to be good? I’ll do something that is akin to what the people on TV are doing”. So they come up with their own variation of what is already out there and, of course, it’s shit.

If you go round the bottom rungs of the live circuit (in London, anyway. I can’t really speak for out-of-town) there’s very little that’s exciting or innovative. You’ll get gimmicks. You’ll get things like comedy and wrestling. Or comedy competitions. Or get-up-and-tell-your-best-joke. Everyone does two minutes. One comedian is gonna do another comedians’ material. The Gong Shows. Layering on excitement where no excitement really exists. We’re going to have a Bald Night. Or a Ginger Night. Or a Woman Who’s Got Three Bollocks night. Y’know, anything just to give it a spin. But there’s nothing inherently useful or, dare I say, artistic. It’s commercial gimmickry.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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A £60 government cheque and “for the second year running, no-one got shot”

Was a German allowed to live in one of these houses in 1987?

Was a German allowed to live in one of these houses in 1987?

I am staying with my eternally-un-named friend’s friend Rudiger in Nuremberg. In the 1980s, he lived in London and remembers one particular house.

“It was 15 Ronalds Road,” he told us. “A little street just up from the Holloway Road in London.”

“And you were squatting there?” I asked.

“I was young,” explained Rudiger. “I knew your eternally-un-named friend… and London was the place to be in 1987.”

“It was?” I asked.

“Two of my German friends,” said Rudiger, “they were a boy and a girl. They went to London and squatted in the house; I came after them a week later and, when I arrived in the house, it was the day they decided to split up. They went back to Germany and I stayed in this house alone.

“They split up because the girl met a photographer in London. He gave her a job and threw her out of the house at the same time, because she could then get Social Security payments from the state. I think it was £60 every month.

“She told me: I will be getting this £60 and, when the cheque comes, go to the post office and take the money for yourself.

“That was my first money in England.

“The cheque came. It was written in the girl’s name, but it was a German name and the man in the post office did not realise this. I got the £60 cheque three times and then it stopped coming – I don’t know why.

“Then someone knocked on the door of the house and asked me if I was allowed to live there and I said I don’t know. Am I? and I had to go to a court. There were no people’s names written down – just addresses.

“15 Ronalds Road was on the list and about twenty other roads and numbers, but the only people there in the court were me and a very drunken Scottish man. He was muttering, then the door opened and someone took me into a court and they said 15 Ronalds Road? I said Yes and there were three judges wearing wigs and it was a funny show.

“One asked me: What’s your name? 

Rudiger Schmidt

Are you allowed to live in 15 Ronalds Road?

I don’t know. Tell me.

“The judge said: If you don’t know, then you are not allowed to live there. Thankyou very much. Now, next case… and that was it.

“You had to pay a fine?” I asked.

“No,” said Rudiger. “I asked someone in the court I am not allowed to live there? What shall I do? and the woman said Do nothing. You will get sent a letter and, in this letter, you will be told whether you have to leave or not… And I never got a letter.”

“So how long did you live there?” I asked.

“After this judge told me this,” said Rudiger “I lived there maybe six or seven weeks.”

Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom

An angry man with a big hammer objected to what happened

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, this morning I got a message from comedian Phil Zimmerman in London

I blogged a couple of weekends ago about going to his potentially dangerous annual party. It is held at his mostly-normal-looking house in Ealing, West London.

I say his parties are ‘potentially dangerous’ because, in 2011, a neighbour started taking potshots at the late-night revellers with an air rifle.

I only passed fleetingly through the early section of this year’s party.

“After you left,” he told me this morning, “there was live music on the bedroom stage and a very loud noise band came on at about 1.20 am, whereupon a very angry man with a big hammer appeared at the front door. Fortunately, we had a bigger bouncer there to scare him away. For the second year running, no-one got shot.

“Although I have been involved with these parties for about eight years now, I can’t take any credit for the weird and wonderful set up, which is all the masterwork of my Buddhist mate and landlord Johnny Fags N Booze, aka Nigel Noize – or, as my friend Robert called him, the new Andy Warhol.

“He is planning to enter the house for the Turner Prize at some point.”

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Why the Greatest Show on Legs started their infamous Naked Balloon Dance

This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.

Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.

Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.

Martin and Vivienne Soan at home last night

Martin & Vivienne at home  last night

Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.

“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.

“I’ve never been there,” I said.

“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.

“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.

Totnes - like a model village but real... or maybe it is surreal

Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?

“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.

“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.

“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…

Aleister Crowley - "the wickedest man in the world"

Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”

“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.

“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”

My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.

“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.

“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”

“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.

“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”

“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”

After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…

“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”

“I can’t remember,” said Martin.

“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.

“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”

“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!

“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”

“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….

“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”

“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”

“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”

“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.

“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”

“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”

“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”

“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”

“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”

“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.

“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”

“Eat your pudding,” said Vivienne.

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Travel

Memories of the Falklands War, the IRA bombings and Glastonbury in 1982

Felexible Anna Smith

Anna Smith, a peacenik in 1980s

Yesterday, I quoted a hedgehog memory of this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. At one time, in the 1980s, she tried performing comedy.

“Possibly my comedy career did not advance,” she told me today, “because I was consumed with altruism for hedgehogs, meeting with Generals Against The  Bomb and rescuing young children who had inadvertently ingested pages of LSD at the Glastonbury Festival.

“In 1982, an elderly actor – George Walton, of Soapbox Children’s Theatre – was letting us stay for the summer in the spare bedroom of his house in Forest Gate, East London. Next door lived a young  boy who spent his days in his garden howling the Tarzan call – Ah-AH-ah… Ahhh-AH AH! – quite musically. I used to wonder if he would write Tarzan – The Opera, when he grew up. Sadly, he didn’t.

“I remember I was staying at this house in Forest Gate not long after the IRA bombing of a bandstand in Regent’s Park. George Walton was upset about the bombing as his nephew had been one of the musicians playing in the bandstand when it exploded. The nephew was not killed but, tragically, he was made deaf. After that, I always made a point of crossing the street near embassies, unless it was one that I was protesting outside of.”

1982 was also the year of the Falklands Conflict.

The 1982 Falklands Conflict - same year as IRA attacks

The Falklands 1982 – same year as IRA attacks

“The war with Argentina was of especial interest to me,” Anna tells me, “because I was born in Argentina and thus an Argentine citizen for life. So, technically, I could have been considered an enemy alien. I remember in English kindergarten in Argentina I had been taught that the islands in the South Atlantic were The Malvinas in the morning and The Falklands in the afternoon, depending on who was teaching the class…

“When I travelled in and out of England during the Falklands War to my striptease assignments in Brussels, the British immigration officials would look askance at my place of birth – though some, seeing my Canadian passport (and shapely figure), added kindly: Ah well, you can’t help where you were born, love…

In some parts of East London, there were street parties being held under banners saying  SIXTY MORE ARGIES KILLED!!! and the like.

It was the same year I went to the Glastonbury Festival.

“We had met a child called Joseph when we were selling anti-nuke badges at a small festival at Crystal Palace. He looked a bit like a monkey. His ears stuck out. He was about eleven. He seemed to be a precocious and unusually solitary child, very outgoing, but always alone. At Crystal Palace he lagged about our area, talking very intelligently. We wondered whether we would see him again and he then asked if we were planning to go to Glastonbury. We were and told him we would be near the train ride.

“A month later he found us exactly there. He had very much enjoyed the train ride and he came round to talk with us frequently.

1982 - the Glastonbury Festival

1982 Glastonbury Festival – children on acid

“On the last day of the festival, he popped by and I was not there. When I returned, my friends said he had been there with some strange sheets of paper with tiny cartoons printed on them. He had wondered whether the papers might be drugs. My friends did not know and he had wandered off into the crowds…

“I realised that it was likely LSD and we started looking for him. We tried to get to the main stage so they could announce that there was a missing child wandering around Glastonbury alone and probably very high, but they wouldn’t let us anywhere the stage, because Alexei Sayle was on and they thought we were merely rabid Alexei Sayle fans trying to get near him, touch him or whatever. So we were stuck with the futility of trying to explain: NO WE DONT WANT TO TOUCH ALEXEI SAYLE!

“Eventually we got them to make the announcement – I think it may even have been Alexei Sayle who made the missing child who resembles a monkey announcement – and the crowd laughed at first, not sure if it was a set-up for a joke. We only mentioned the monkey because of his ears, poor kid…

“He was found and brought to the Samaritans in an enormous white tent overflowing with cots and stretchers and people crying, overdosing on drugs and vomiting and lying on blankets.

“Most of the volunteers were very concerned about the location of the remaining acid. But, at some point, one of the supervisors realised that the emergency tent with its Samaritan acid scavengers and vomiting addicts was not a good environment for any child and Joseph was moved to the cosy living room of the Eavis farmhouse, where he was cared for and we sat waiting for his parents to show up while he hallucinated, seemingly happy, as green lasers lit up the darkness outside.”

Anna lives in Vancouver now.

“I was out at the river yesterday,” she told me. “At 6.00pm. the CBC announced that some of the salmon fisheries seasons were open. Several species of salmon have arrived at the mouth of the Fraser. At 8.00pm I was out watching the fish jump.”

Different times, different lives.

“I hope Joseph is OK now,” said Anna.

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Filed under 1980s, Drugs, Music

I can only barely remember Malcolm Hardee’s old comedy club The Tunnel

Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Club in the 1980s
(photo courtesy of Steve Taylor)

In the early hours of this morning, I was talking to a friend who knew the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. She met him as a neighbour before she knew he was a comic or a club owner and she did not go to his Sunday night Tunnel Club primarily for the comedy.

“I used to play pool there,” she told me.

“Not to watch the shows?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” she said. It’s late. I can’t really remember. I must’ve not watched the shows sometimes because I was playing pool. I didn’t go there that often, because it was a long walk in the night from Greenwich, where I lived.”

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much at all,” I said.

“But you can’t remember what happened yesterday,” she said.

I have a notoriously bad memory. I have to write everything down.

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much either,” my friend said. “So you’re never going to get a blog out of this.”

“Was the stage in a corner?” I asked. “You came in the door and turned right, didn’t you? But I think there was something odd about the positioning of the stage.”

“The bar was in the middle,” my friend explained. “On one side were the pool tables; on the other side was the bar; and, at the end was the room with the show in.”

“Was it a separate room?” I asked, surprised. I remembered it being one large pub room.

“It was quite a large room,” she said. “It wasn’t pokey. That was pleasant for a start. And the fact there were two pool tables and one of them was usually free. That was great. Then there was sometimes someone I fancied there. I loved that.”

“The audience always threw beer glasses at acts they didn’t like,” I said.

“It wasn’t dangerous for me,” my friend said, “because I always stood at the back. I didn’t sit in a seat.”

“I remember standing,” I said. “I don’t remember seats. Were you there the night Babs what’s-er-name got hit by a glass?”

“No,” my friend said, opening up her laptop computer to check her e-mails.

“Look, John,” she said, “I’m too tired to remember. Phone up Lewis Schaffer if you want a blog. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be feeling pissed-off. Is it Tuesday and Wednesday he does his Soho gigs? Phone him up and ask him how his gig was last night and say how you went to someone else’s show. That’ll cheer him up.”

The Tunnel film documentary

“People who never went to the Tunnel think it was a rowdy bear pit,” I said. “Well, I suppose it was. People were always throwing glasses at the acts. That’s rowdy. Even if they only threw them at bad acts.”

“Well,” my friend reminded me, “at that time, people threw glasses at punk bands. If you went to see a rock band, no-one was able to dance any more. Disco had vanished because people were spitting and pogo-ing.”

“The Tunnel was 1984-1988, though,” I said.

“All I know,” my friend said, “is that, in the late-1970s, there was a sudden moment when lots of pogo-ing was happening and people were spitting.”

“That was before AIDs,” I mused.

“The bands on stage were spitting at the audience,” my friend continued. “You didn’t want to sit in the front rows. If anyone danced, the floor was taken over by young men pogo-ing and bashing into each other so, if you were a woman, you couldn’t dance. That was what social nights out were turning into half the time.

“People throwing glasses at acts in The Tunnel wasn’t surprising. That’s what was happening at the music gigs as well. Musicians on stage would swing the microphone stand and whack it around with people going Whoooaaa! and ducking their heads. You would think Doh! I’m not going near the front. Punk started in 1977, but it was pretty well established by, say, 1979 and, after that, things were getting more and more seedy.

“Before then, people used to wear T-shirts saying LOVE and stuff with rainbows and hearts printed on them. After Punk started it wasn’t just ripped shirts and razor blades and studs and chains round the trousers… people had emblazoned on their T-shirts Oh, fucking hell! and Wot you looking at? and Fuck off, cunt. No-one was having Love and Peace on their T-shirts any more. So, a few years later, if people in a comedy club are throwing glasses…”

“The Tunnel must have been filled with smoke,” I said. “because people were still smoking inside pubs and clubs. It must’ve smelled of beer and fags. I don’t remember.”

“I don’t remember the smell,” my friend said, looking at her computer. “I’ve got a lot of spam.”

“Malcolm and I could never remember when we met,” I said. “It must have been around 1985 or 1986 because he was managing acts and I was looking for acts which might be useful on TV for Surprise! Surprise! or Game For a Laugh. I think I went to The Tunnel and saw Gary Howard and maybe The Greatest Show On Legs.”

“There was that guy with the dog,” my friend said.

“The Joan Collins Fan Club,” I prompted. “Julian Clary.”

“He was on at The Tunnel a lot,” my friend said. “It seemed to me, when I went, he was often on. I didn’t go that often. One time someone I knew stopped and chatted to him because they knew him from Goldsmiths College in New Cross.”

“I’ve never associated him with Malcolm,” I said. “Maybe he was around Malcolm before my time or maybe I’ve just forgotten.”

“He was there a lot,” my friend said. I remember Jerry Sadowitz too.”

“I must have seen him perform there,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I first went there. I can’t remember. I knew Malcolm around the time he released that album for Jerry – Was it called Gobshite? – It had to be withdrawn in case Jimmy Saville sued for libel.”

“I remember Harry Enfield,” my friend said. “I don’t remember seeing him perform… He was there as… someone who…”

“…who was in the audience,” I prompted.

“Well, he wasn’t in the audience,” she said. “He was a friend of Malcolm’s. I don’t remember seeing him perform. Just like Jools Holland went along as a friend of Malcolm’s, but I don’t remember seeing him perform there.”

“I remember the man who tortured teddy bears,” I said. “He was wonderful. Steve something-or-other. He had a wheel of death for the teddy bear.”

“I didn’t particularly think of it as a place to watch acts,” my friend said. “It was a chance to go out and I went along to play pool. I liked playing pool in those days. There was the odd person to fancy and the music was nice.”

“It was always easy listening music before the show, wasn’t it?” I said.

“People like Etta James,” my friend agreed. “At Last. I don’t know if Martin Potter (the sound man) used that track at The Tunnel, but he always put it on at Up The Creek.”

“Once,” I said, “I asked Malcolm why he didn’t play rock music before gigs, because that was more the audience, and he told me he played more sophisticated jazz-type stuff because he thought it put the audience in the right mood to see people perform comedy. Relaxed them. I thought Malcolm chose the music, but you told me it was Martin Potter.”

“Etta James singing Sunday Kind of Love,” my friend said,” He always played that because it was Sunday.”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“You never do,” my friend said. “That’s why you write things down.”

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Music, Punk, UK