I received this recent anecdote from John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.
It was a much normal day as such – weather atrocious outside – so I made myself busy indoors.
The doorbell rang.
I went to find a courier there holding a parcel.
On seeing me at my door, he asked for my address.
Then he asked for my name but he spoke in broken English as it was not his native tongue.
He looked at the parcel, then at me, then at his handheld wotever with an LCD screen. He checked to see if the details tallied and handed the parcel over to me.
It was my ‘dead cat’ microphone for my Sony camcorder to use alongside in lieu of the maker’s own mic when conditions are not too clever when filming outside etc.
I thanked him and closed the door and went back inside.
Before I had a chance to open the box up to see if it really was the item as ordered, the doorbell rang again.
It was the same courier.
He said he was sorry to disturb me and then said: “I know who you am!” in an excited tone.
Now armed with a big, beaming grin, he asked for my autograph.
Ever happy to oblige, I picked up a yellow coloured plain display card, A4 size, that was lying about and did the doodle/cartoon I normally do and signed it with: ‘Best wishes to Pieter’.
He seemed overjoyed, shook my arm out of its socket near enough and off he went.
A moment or two later, the doorbell rang yet again.
It was Pieter.
He stood there, pointing at the card: “Who dis?” he asked
“Me,” I said.
“No, no I want your real name!” he replied.
“That is my real name,” I told him. “I had this arrangement with my mother and father soon after I was born, so can’t really say too much about it with regard to my input on the matter as I was not consulted about it at the time.”
“Who dissa John Ward?”
“It’s me, the same as on the parcel you just delivered to me… John Ward.”
He looked slightly bewildered. He was not alone on that one.
“Is it you stage name thing you do when not doing you real work?”
“No, my stage name is Wells Fargo but I never really use it much, unless I am travelling overland.”
Flame-haired, mysteriously-banned Anna Smith in Vancouver
Just over a week ago, this blog’s Canadian correspondent Anna Smith was explaining she had been banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – and no-one would tell her why. Today, I got an update from her:
“The Folk Festival still hasn’t said why they won’t let me massage musicians, except to say that their committees and administration have been having meetings about me and they all agree that I broke their code of ethics…
“They sent me their code of ethics (which is a lot shorter than Hammurabi’s code) and the main rules seem to be about drunkenness with the interesting detail that, if a volunteer is drinking in the beer tents, they have to remove their volunteer identification badges while so doing…
“When I was there before, I was too busy massaging musicians to find out where the beer tents were even located… I will try to write them a third query letter tomorrow and then maybe their committees will hold another meeting about me.
“I am thinking that if I start a petition for Canadian musicians to sign – to say that I should be allowed to give them massages – then I probably could get quite a number of them to agree… like probably all of them!
The Breakfast Club (1985) with Molly Ringwald (bottom)
“Have people in Britain heard of the American actress Molly Ringwald?”
I had never heard of her until one day in the early 1990s when I was sent to a hotel in Vancouver to do a massage and it was her, but I didn’t know who she was. I thought she was probably the daughter of some rich dentist in L.A. because she was wearing very expensive sunglasses and had perfect teeth.
That is not unusual. Most massueses meet celebrities.
Anyhow, she seemed to like that I had never heard of her and it was funny. She said: “Oh well… I’m in Vanity Fair this month.”
She was really nice. After the massage, we talked a bit and then she showed me her computer. She was the first person to show me the internet .
Then she invited me to her film set which was on location in Stanley Park. She had me stand with the director and watch her act. She was playing a villain and the script called for her to angrily light a cigarette. The wind was playing up and making it impossible for her to light it, so the crew started murmuring: “She needs a Zippo”.
Eventually the director was forced to ask through his megaphone: “Is there a Zippo on the set?”
Someone produced one and it was passed to her and filming continued. It was funny because it was like a Zippo commercial.
Molly Ringwald in Greece in 2010 (Photograph by Pgianopoulos)
She invited me to her own trailer and to her makeup trailer and a few days later she took me out for dinner at Le Crocodile, the best French restaurant in Vancouver. I told her she would have to pay, since I had a baby at home.
She said: “Order whatever you want.”
So I ordered a seafood dish and she ordered her dinner and a bottle of wine which we shared. We stayed there quite late talking and, when the cheque arrived, I was horrified because it was around $500.
She said: ”Don’t worry. It must have been the wine.”
She gave me her address in Paris and told me to come and visit her… but I never did.
Now Molly Ringwald has become a jazz singer (her dad is also a musician).
Mainly I remember how she was so nice to me. She didn’t have to be.
I am just remembering this because of being banned from massaging musicians.
I can’t decide if I should get photographed with my hands tied with gigantic red tape or start the musicians’ petition to allow me to massage them – or both.
I can’t completely rely on the musicians because some won’t want to jeopardize their jobs at the festival so I will have to ask the ones who don’t care…
A Zippo lighter cannot solve all problems
Really, they should WANT me to be there. I have been warning everybody about the new incurable gonorrhoea that The World Health Organization has described recently. The sex workers are calling it Super Clap and reminding everyone that condoms have no substitute.
I had some problems sending out the Super Clap warnings by email though. They were being diverted and marked as spam because they contained the word ‘warning’.
Blanche Cameron chooses to hide her light under a Lewis-Schaffer-flyer-shaped bushel
Fame is strange and not necessarily welcome.
I was working at Granada TV in Manchester when the station decided to move its announcers from voice-over to on-screen. One day, I was wandering along the street with an announcer who was unenthusiastic about the upcoming change.
“I don’t want people to recognise me when I buy my underpants in Marks & Spencer,” he told me.
I am quite happy living in a Facebook world. In this blog yesterday I mentioned a Facebook Friend of mine who met me and, quite reasonably, did not recognise me because we had never met.
That’s fine with me. I think it is good no-one I don’t know recognises me except occasionally when, by a process of elimination – There’s an abnormally old man in the room – they may twig I’m that blogger bloke with whom they are Facebook Friends.
Yesterday, before Mel Moon’s Sick Girl show started, I was chatting to a stranger in the audience and someone in the row behind us asked if I was that bloke who did the Grouchy Club Podcasts with Kate Copstick – he had recognised my voice.
I found this simultaneously surprising and unnerving.
Which gets us to the newspapers today.
When does a Fringe stunt overstep the mark?
In this blog three days ago, I mentioned a stunt in the Cowgate in which two people dangled on a trapeze under George IV Bridge, high above the Cowgate, as pedestrians and cars passed underneath. They did it – risking their own lives and possibly the lives of those underneath – to publicise a show. To create fame.
According to the Edinburgh Evening News today, they “could now face a police investigation over their ‘excessively dangerous’ performance amid claims that their actions crossed a line and ‘could have been lethal’.”
In 2006, the Evening News reports, “student Kate Flannery was left temporarily paralysed and suffered a fractured skull” after she was hit by a traffic cone thrown from George IV Bridge 60 feet down onto the Cowgate.
Two human bodies falling 60 feet onto other people or onto the windscreen of a passing vehicle would obviously have an even more dramatic impact.
I suspect any rivalry they had was as nothing compared to some acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, where yesterday one comic told me about their posters mysteriously being taken down. A rival comic is suspected.
Ah, Infamy! Infamy!… etc etc
Fame is transient and often localised.
Yesterday, waiting to go into Louise Reay’s show It’s Only Words, I bumped into Sara Mason, who is sharing a flat with Louise. Sara’s own jaw-dropping show is titled (entirely truthfully) Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11).
That is Burt NOT Tinky Winky on the right
It is directed by Dave Thompson, who played Tinky Winky in the children’s TV seriesTeletubbies. This is mentioned on the posters and flyers.
Sara told me: “More people know Tinky Winky now than know Burt Lancaster. More than one person has seen the picture of Burt Lancaster on my flyer and asked: Ooh! Did he play Tinky Winky? They don’t even recognise Burt Lancaster’s face.”
I was scheduled to see seven shows yesterday. These are five of them.
Mel Moon: Sick Girl
Faultless, perfect Fringe story. Warmth, laughter and potential death (potentially even during the actual performance) from a horrendous disease which continues to afflict Mel.
Louise Reay: It’s Only Words
So good I’ve now seen it twice. More than a stand-up show – performed totally in Chinese – an experiment in how visual perception overwhelms verbal communication. Very very funny. Especially for lovers of EastEnders. A triumph of charisma and eye movements.
Christian Talbot: Cheaper Than Therapy
Basically, a load of comics sitting upstairs in Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus venue talking in fascinating detail about the reality of being comedians. Last night’s subject was ‘nerves’. Sadly, tonight’s show is the last one.
Gary Meikle: Dysfunctionally In Order
Highly efficient Scottish stand-up. Anyone whose flyer has a recommendation from Janey Godley is always worth seeing. I have a feeling there is a humdinger of a confessional show lurking in there somewhere which was only glimpsed last night. He is clearly a very good club comic. I suspect he could also be an exceptional weaver of 60-minute Fringe shows.
Madame Señorita; ¿Eres Tú?
Madame Señorita: ¿Eres Tú?
I saw this show. I cannot tell you what it was about. Showman Adam Taffler persuaded me to see it on the basis he knew “a fucking crazy Spanish lady” – Paula Valluerca – Madame Señorita.
Mad, surreal and OTT does not even begin to describe the show. And possibly her.
She won Best Female Act at the London Solo Festival in 2013 and Best Theatre Play at the 2015 Carabanchel en Escena Festival in Madrid.
I worked as a researcher on her Surprise! Surprise!series at London Weekend Television. I cannot honestly say I was enamoured of her. I think she was the only star I have ever worked with who behaved like a star. But she was worth every penny she earned. On screen she was brilliantly the girl and later auntie next door.
In the 1960s, Cilla was a pop star, then her career faded. In the 1970s, BBC TV producer Michael Hurll re-invented her as a mainstream, peaktime entertainment presenter on BBC TV’s Cilla. Then her career faded. Then, in the 1980s, Alan Boyd of LWT re-invented her as an ITV entertainment presenter on Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.
In a TV tribute yesterday, comic Jimmy Tarbuck mentioned a TV interview in 1983 which revitalised her career. I asked writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle about that interview with Terry Wogan on the TV chat show Wogan.
Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith at TVS, 1988 (Photograph by John Ward)
Nigel later wrote for People Do The Funniest Things and Beadle’s About. He wrote the lyrics for Oscar-nominated animated film Famous Fred; and Baas – an animated kids’ show about sheep for Al Jazeera TV. With David Walliams and Simon Heath, he co-devised Ant & Dec’s first show for BBC TV. In 1996, it won BAFTAs for Best Children’s Show & Best Sketch Comedy.
Over the years, he has written scripts, links and sketches for performers including Mel Brooks, Basil Brush, the Chuckle Brothers, Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Jack Lemmon, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan.
“In 1983,” he told me yesterday, “I was a researcher on the Wogan show. I had never done anything like that before – researching. I had suddenly gone from promotion scriptwriting to this world of celebrities where you had to go and interview people and ask them all the questions that a chat show host would.”
“Yes,” I said. “When I was working at the BBC, I once saw the research notes for some major film star who was to be interviewed on the Michael Parkinson chat show and the researcher (in the US) had basically done a full interview in advance – all the questions; all the answers.”
Nigel later wrote several children’s books
“What happened with Cilla,” Nigel explained, “was that Marcus Plantin, my producer on Wogan, said to me: This week, you’re going to do Cilla Black. I remember saying: Really? She’s a bit yesterday’s news! I didn’t think she was any great shakes as a singer. But he said: No, no no. She’s up for revitalising her career. She had just brought out her Greatest Hits album – she was promoting it on the show.
“Marcus said to me: Go down and see Michael Hurll – he was the one who used to produce all her shows. Michael told me a few anecdotes about going and knocking on the doors – with live cameras! – they used to do a lot in the Shepherd’s Bush flats behind BBC Television Centre. It was real seat-of-your-pants stuff, going out live on television. And I asked him what she was like and he said: Well, y’know, she’s OK. She’s fine. She can be a bit of a perfectionist.”
“Some people,” I said, “have used the word diva.”
On-screen, as I said, I thought she was worth every penny she was paid. Every inch a star.
There is a clip on YouTube of Cilla singing Life’s a Gas with Marc Bolan on her Michael Hurll-produced TV series.
“Anyway,” said Nigel, “come the day, I have to meet her and, obviously, Bobby (her husband/manager) was there. We went to one of the star dressing rooms on the ground floor at Telly Centre. In her day – the 1970s – she would have been there, so coming back must have felt to her a bit like Oh, I used to be big. She must have felt a bit Sunset Boulevardy, maybe.
“But we sat down, talked about her early life, how she started and she was very open. And also she was very, very, very funny. Absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches. The moment I finished doing the interview with her, I knew this was her moment – again. I went home and told my wife Mel: I was totally wrong. Cilla is SO going to storm it on Saturday.”
“You had originally thought,” I asked, “that she might not be interesting?”
Cilla Black became cuddly girl/auntie next door
“I really had thought she was past it – and this was in 1983! I thought she’d had her moment… She had had two bites of the cherry – the 1960s as a pop star and the 1970s as an engaging TV personality. Now, come 1983, she was just trying to flog her Greatest Hits album.
“Going on Wogan had maybe seemed like an act of desperation, but it wasn’t. It was a clinical assault on stardom – again – and – My God! – it absolutely worked! She made her career that night – revitalised it. She was terrific.
“She did the show (there is a clip on YouTube) and she was hilarious and the audience were absolutely loving her. She did all the stories about John Lennon and she was big mates with Ringo – I think there was a family connection. Paul McCartney wrote Step Inside Love for her. She did all the nostalgia about the 1960s and then what it was like being a Liverpudlian and that is really what engaged people. She came across as the girl next door.
“We recorded the show on the Friday and it went out on the Saturday night. As I understand it, on the Sunday morning, Alan Boyd (Head of Entertainment at LWT) phoned her up. I think Jim Moir (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC TV) was waiting until Monday morning to phone her up but, by that time, it was too late. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that, on the Monday morning, Marcus Plantin was saying: Well, the Beeb missed a trick there. And she went to LWT for Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.
Jack and Cilla and Beanstalk, but no giant
“By that time, I was ‘in’ with Michael Hurll and I wrote a panto for her – Jack and The Beanstalk at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Michael told me: We’ve spent most of the budget on Cilla. So much so that we have not got enough money for a giant. We’ll do it all as an off-stage voice. So we did Jack and the Beanstalk without a giant.”
“Did you have a beanstalk?” I asked.
“We had one which kind of fell on stage when the giant… We had a pair of giant boots. The character Fleshcreep was played by Gareth Hunt. She had a sword fight with him. After it ended, she went to the front of the stage with Fleshcreep lying on the floor with her sword at his throat and she asked the audience: What shall I do with him, kiddies? Each day, they would all shout: Kill him! Kill him! So then she would ask them: How shall I kill him? And, one day, a kid in the front row just yelled out: Sing to him!”
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I said. “When I worked at LWT, I remember someone told me you should always avoid mentioning what size car Michael Barrymore had to pick him up or share the information about the cars with anyone because, if Cilla ever found out – and vice versa. There was rumoured to be a bit of rivalry.”
LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)
“I was told,” said Nigel, “there was a little bit of jiggery-pokery about where the pictures were. When Cilla came out of the lift on the Entertainment floor at LWT, she had to see the Cilla picture on the wall there, rather than the Barrymore picture.”
“Did they move them around?” I asked.
“I think there was probably a bit of that,” said Nigel. “Certainly I heard the cars mentioned. And the worry that, if you had Barrymore and Cilla doing a show at the LWT studios on the same night, who would get the star dressing room? Because there was just one star dressing room.”
“But,” I said, “on-screen she was wonderful. Worth every penny. And she reinvented her career so successfully.”
“Yes,” said Nigel. “Well, what was incredible was not that she had these peaks and troughs in her career but that the peaks were SO high. Everyone in Britain knew who Cilla was. Everybody could do a Cilla impression. That is real fame.”
This morning, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional correspondent Anna Smith. She lives on a boat in Vancouver. The e-mail went like this:
Anna Smith – surprised by her good luck with The Penthouse
One day this week, I heard on the radio that an 80-foot fishing boat had capsized downriver from me, so I biked down to Shelter Island. The captain told me that, at four in the morning he had heard a gurgling sound. An hour later, he and his girlfriend scrambled to safety.
That is why relaxation tapes don’t work for me… They always have the sound of running water and, when I hear that, I get totally stressed and think: Oh fuck! The boat is sinking.”
The most relaxing place to me is a shitty hotel room. Because I worked for so many years as a stripper in places like that. So, when I’m in a place like that I feel relaxed as if I am going to be paid a bunch of money at the end of the week for lying around reading and eating well and getting dressed up sexy and taking my clothes off a few times a day to my favourite music.
I danced at The Penthouse here in the 1980s and will be doing a striptease dance there again tomorrow night. The show is a fundraiser for The Vancouver Dyke March. There are fifteen strippers and drag kings on the bill.
My friends are all amazed that I am doing a show at The Penthouse and are asking me: “How did you swing that?” and congratulating me, even though I haven’t done it yet!
It was just a lucky circumstance that I was asked to do it.
A friend was going to the 15th anniversary of Crema and her partner. Crema is a Vancouver drag king. She came out of retirement last year to do a show at Celebrities Night Club, at the celebration of life for Jim Deva.
She did a fantastic show, lip-syncing to Tom Jones’ Delilah and I was amazed that scores of women were rushing up and tipping her with bills.
The Penthouse: site of a triumphant return
So, when my friend invited me to the anniversary party I tagged along. because I had never met Crema. The other guests were all dykes wearing hockey jerseys – half were in Vancouver Canucks jerseys and the other half in Calgary Flames ones.
I got into conversation with one of the Flames and I mentioned having been a stripper and, straight away, she asked if I could perform at The Penthouse. So, of course I said Yes…
She quickly said “Its for dykes…” and I said “That’s alright!”
So that is what I am doing tomorrow night.
No 2 & No 3: JULIETTE BURTON IN LONDON
Yesterday afternoon, I had tea with actress and former BBC Broadcast Journalist Juliette Burton. She moved down from Edinburgh to London in January and, yesterday, had just come from a meeting at a TV station to discuss a new project. This is what she told me:
Juliette Burton – coming to the screen soon as Supermum
The whole point of being closer to London was to get more screen opportunities. I’m missing Edinburgh a lot, but it would be great to get more screen roles. I’m actively seeking more film roles – short film roles, screen roles of any kind.
So pimp me out, John, please! Pimp me for film roles only… nothing else… yet. We need to see how bad things get before we resort to that.
Anyway… I had this very important TV meeting today and I fell over going into the building. My toe has now doubled in size and is turning blue. A part of my anatomy doubling in size and turning blue. Is that attractive?
I was late for the meeting today – I never am normally – so I grabbed a taxi… I pushed the boat out and grabbed a cab. I know the metaphor doesn’t make sense in a landlocked city like London. I was nowhere near the Thames but anyway… The taxi driver was a chatty one and he told me he had had another woman in his cab recently.
He took her and her friends around London and chatted to her and she asked whether he could take her to the airport the next morning. So he did.
On that journey, he asked what she was doing here.
“I’m in London and Paris shooting for a commercial,” she told him.
Apparently she was very pretty – he told me that a few times.
He thought maybe she was a model as well as an actress.
The woman in the back of the London cab (Photograph by Gage Skidmore)
She was getting her plane home to LA.
“What do you do in LA?” he asked.
“I’m an actress.”
So then he spent the entire journey slagging off actors he didn’t like and telling her who was shit and overpaid. Apparently she was giggling away in the back.
At the airport he told her: “Good luck with the acting career. What’s your name? I’ll look out for you.”
Continuing this week’s semi-theme of posting extracts from my old e-diaries, below is an edited extract from my diary entry on Wednesday 11th October 2000. The Kray Twins, Reg and Ronnie, were notorious 1960s London gangsters.
Reg (left) & Ron, photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s
The weather forecast said it would be a dark grey overcast morning with heavy rain.
Reg Kray’s hearse was due to leave undertakers English & Son in Bethnal Green Road at 11.15am with the funeral itself at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, at midday.
I arrived in Bethnal Green Road around 10.25am, when lots of large men with thick necks and short hair were leaving a burger shop to make their way to the church. They were ‘security’, wearing three-quarter length black overcoats, black trousers, white shirts, black ties. On the right arm, each wore a blood-red ribbon with the gold letters RKF – presumably Reg Kray’s Funeral. Each also wore, on their left lapel, a small red rectangular badge with the yellow letters RKF.
Up side streets, opposite the undertakers, were vans with satellite dishes on top to transmit back pictures of the funeral procession to broadcasting companies
Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.
As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe in Bethnal Green Road, where the Kray brothers used to meet for cups of tea, some local resident was being interviewed outside.
In the streets behind St Matthew’s Church, there were five or six or more communications vans parked for TV stations, some with dishes on top, some with tall extended masts.
On the flat roofs of the buildings opposite English and Son perched video cameras, stills photographers and people just standing waiting for the cortège to start off.
A large crowd stood around the undertakers’ entrance and along the pavement opposite; some stood on waste bins. The old-fashioned glass hearse had six black horses in front of it, the contours of their black harnesses picked-out with silver lines, their black blinkers decorated with silver lines and 18 inch tall black plumes rising from the top of their heads.
As the crowd watched, an enterprising TV cameraman passed by, dangling off the back platform of a red double-decker bus to get a tracking shot of the hearse and crowd.
Along the left side of the horse-drawn hearse, a wreath spelled out
in white flowers with a thin red floral outline and, at around 11.10am, a long white floral wreath was put on the roof of the hearse facing right. It spelled out in white flowers:
Funeral directors English & Son in 2012 on Google StreetView
At 11.13am, the coffin emerged and a sky-blue helicopter appeared and hovered overhead. Two teenage girls were standing next to me and, as the dark brown highly-veneered wood coffin containing Reg’s body was lifted into the hearse, they grabbed hands, excited at just being there.
In the crowd, cameras were lifted to take shots of the coffin: some were lifted up in the air and clicked blindly. Some were the standard old-style 35mm stills cameras; some were new digital stills cameras. Changing times.
I walked back along Bethnal Green Road towards Vallance Road, where the three Kray brothers had lived with their mother. As I passed Pellicci’s Cafe I looked inside and it was being renovated: gutted out for new walls and furnishings in front and back: everything changing.
There were only scattered groups of people waiting along Bethnal Green Road but, at the junction with Vallance Road, all four corners were more crowded. Opposite the Marquis of Cornwallis pub, I got chatting to a man in his late 50s who had come to see Reg’s twin brother Ronnie’s funeral procession a few years ago.
“Have you read the books?” he asked me. He told me he had read all the books.
He told me he had not been brought up in Bethnal Green and did not live there now: he lives in Peckham but he came, he said, to look.
Ronnie’s funeral in 1995 had been much more crowded, he said: “The pavements were packed solid shoulder-to-shoulder.”
Today, there were smaller, more scattered groups of people, not streets lined solid with people. Now the street market and shopping trips were continuing behind the people who were – rather than lining the streets en masse – in groups and individually standing at the edge of the pavement. When Ronnie was buried, the Krays were myths; now they were just interesting.
When the hearse drawn by six black horses and followed by a queue of low-sprung black limousines turned into Vallance Road, the police stopped all the oncoming traffic, including an ambulance.
Toby Von Judge cut an interesting figure
Illegal prize-fighter Roy Shaw was there, looking less startled than normal. And Toby Von Judge from Wimbledon.
Among all the bulky black-coated men, Toby stood out by being quite small and dressed in a tan-coloured three-quarter-length camel-hair coat which had two military medals (with short ribbons) attached well below the waist at the left front. His face was lined, his hair black but heavily-tinged with grey and in a pony-tail at the back. He had another medal on a red ribbon round his neck.
Another man had what looked like a slightly melted plastic face and I did wonder if he had at one time had had plastic surgery to change his features but he had then aged, unnaturally changing the shape of the artificial skin.
Arriving late was a roly-poly black man with a black bowler hat.
The funeral inside the church was relayed to those outside by loudspeakers around the church’s exterior: around four at the sides and two at the front.
The ‘security’ seemed to have been influenced by militaristic films. The fact everyone had black coats, pasty white faces and red armbands gave it a rather Nazi colour tone.
On each side of the church door stood three heavy-set men, one behind the other, facing forwards, hands in pockets, legs apart. There was then a slight gap and, about three feet in front of each trio, stood another man facing forwards. Then, between these men and the entrance to the railing-lined semi-circle in front of the church, stood 5 men on each side facing each other, at right angles to the church door men, forming a corridor of men through which entrants had to pass. These men tended to stand legs apart, their hands clasped in front of their genitals. Within the railing-bordered semi-circle, two men stood at each corner of the building facing forwards. It was a display of power rather than actual required security: a security system copied from Hollywood war movies rather than normal showbiz funerals.
I realised later that there were fewer men on one side of this phalanx than the other. The side with fewer men was the side which had lots of press cameramen massed behind the railings. Fewer men made the view less obscured. I also noticed that all the ‘security’ men’s trouser legs were slightly too long: there was a concertina of wavy black material bunched at the bottom of each leg just above the shoe.
After two or three hymns and a couple of reminiscences of Reg, the final song was Frank Sinatra’s famous recording of My Way. By the time the funeral was over, the sun had come out and, as My Way started…
Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again Too few to mention…
Roberta Kray, the widow of Reg Kray
gliding out of the church doors were two priests in flowing purple and white robes, one of whom had the grace to look slightly embarrassed at the showbiz element as they led the black suited men and Reg’s grieving wife Roberta (with female friend) out of the church.
As the ‘congregation’ following them emerged, there were conversations, handshakes and shoulder-slappings: a big funeral like this is a chance to socialise and re-cement or create new business contacts.
“I ain’t seen ya for abaht four yeers,” one crew-cut man said to another: “Ow are ya?”
Among those coming out of the church, I noticed the actor Billy Murray. And playwright/actor Steven Berkoff was around somewhere. And there was Toby Von Judge again in his camel-hair coat walking with a slightly taller woman wearing fake suntan, a short black dress and very bleached very fake blonde hair.
As the coffin came out, one woman in the crowd clapped on her own for about five seconds, then it was taken up by others, then others.
Police closed the surrounding roads for Reg’s funeral hearse
As the crowd slowly dispersed and the helicopter hovered overhead, I wandered along to the large junction of Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Heath Road. The helicopter, which had been hovering over the church now came and hovered over the road junction which was crowded with people on all corners and on all the traffic islands. Reg’s body was now in a car.
Yellow and white police motorcycles blocked the junction while two other police motorcycles led the cortège across slowly, but it was the walking black-coated men with red armbands preceding the cortège who cleared a way for the long line of vehicles.
As the hearse passed by, on the right side of the coffin were the words in white flowers:
As another limo passed, a woman on the traffic island where I was standing said excitedly to her friend: “It’s Frankie! – Frankie’s in that car!” And, indeed, he was – Mad Frank Frazer, looking impassive.
We had heard the coffin car approaching because, as it came along the road, the sound of clapping came with it. Along from the other end of Bethnal Green Road, across the road junction and away, on to Chingford Mount Cemetery in Essex.
The gravestone of twins Reg (left) & Ron Kray
At the cemetery, there was a flypast by a lone Spitfire chartered from Duxford air museum. The Spitfire – a symbol of Britain when Great.
Afterwards, someone I know who was also at the funeral told me: “I didn’t speak to Frank, but I called his number and Marilyn’s (Frank’s wife) voice is on the Answerphone saying: Frank’s out shooting… for TV I mean…”
There is a compilation of BBC TV and ITV News reports of Reg Kray’s funeral on YouTube.
I cut several pieces out of our conversation about his book Krayzy Days.
But the joy of writing a daily blog is that you can correct omissions.
Today’s blog takes up roughly where yesterday’s conversation finished…
“Reading all the rubbish that had been written, motivated me to write my book,” I quoted Micky as saying yesterday. “I wanted to write a book saying what idiots the Twins really were,” he added. “And how amusing.”
“Has it been cathartic, writing the book?” I then asked him.
“It’s enabled me to re-live it,” Micky told me. “You’d have to read the book to understand how amused I was by the Twins.”
“You said they were idiots,” I prompted him.
“Monty Python and Michael Palin,” said Mickey, “did a brilliant… That nail-the-head-to-the-floor thing came from headlines in the Daily Mirror. But it was a foot that was nailed to the floor and it was the Richardsons. They did it with a knife to a feller. But the Krays were getting the blame for it.”
Arthur Thompson had a ‘heart of gold’
I cut the rest of the conversation, but it went on:
“In Glasgow,” I said, “Arthur Thompson had a habit of crucifying people but he was said to have a heart of gold, because he once had a man nailed to the floor in front of the man’s wife, but left behind a claw hammer so she could take out the nails.”
“Oh,” said Micky, “Arthur Thompson. They came down to London once. I got on very well with the Scotsmen I met. And, in the Army, you find the Cockneys and the Scousers and the Jocks from Glasgow all seem to get on OK with each other.”
Micky then went back to talking about the legend of the Krays.
In fact, I had tea with Billy Frost in 2009, during the filming of Killer Bitch and we have exchanged Christmas cards ever since. I think he was happily living at home in the East End of London when The Profession of Violence was first published in 1972.
In a blog in June 2011, I wrote: “It’s amazing how people allegedly killed by the Krays over forty years ago can be so lively.”
This came to mind when I chatted with Mickey Fawcett this week and I mentioned the fact that it was in print in various places that the Krays had killed Billy Frost in the 1960s, yet I had met him in the 2000s.
“That rumour didn’t half go around a lot,” said Micky, “and there’s Teddy Smith. Have you come across that one?”
There’s a lot of news here in Milan – if only I can remember it
I have a notoriously bad memory.
Last night, I watched some slides taken by a friend whom I met on a trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1989. We also went to Nepal and Tibet together in 1990. I could not remember most of the incidents on the slides.
Apparently, in 1990, we drove by coach from Kathmandu to the Friendship Bridge which marks the border between Nepal and Tibet. For surreal Chinese bureaucratic reasons, we then had to walk unaccompanied over the border for around six or seven miles to link up with our Chinese guides and their coach. I remember none of this. I thought we must have switched coaches at the border.
I could not remember about 75% of the people we travelled with on those trips either – including some bloke I shared a room with for about two weeks
Then there was the photo of the mind-reading parrot in Kathmandu.
I remember nothing of this creature but there it was, captured on film.
Nope. No memory at all.
My eternally-un-named friend has suggested that maybe my memory was affected by the accident I had in 1991 when I hit the back of my head. I have blogged before about how, since then, I am unable to read printed books although, oddly, I can write them on a computer screen.
Maybe that is why.
But my memory has always been bad. I tend to remember trivia but, then, I’m interested in trivia.
The title of the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera translates as The Evening Courier but it is the morning newspaper here. That’s Italy for you.
Yesterday, Corriere Della Sera carried a photo of Richard Gere kissing a woman. Today it has a photo of George Clooney kissing a woman and the caption says they have a special look in their eyes.
There is also a news report about a tunnel which has taken twenty years and 120 million Euros to build but now the authorities are unable to finish it because they can’t afford the tarmac.
And there is a report about the entertaining politician Silvio Berlusconi’s girlfriend who was unable to get to the toilet yesterday because she was surrounded by photographers. It is quite a lengthy report.
Meanwhile, in an interview today in the weekly Italian gossip magazine Oggi (Oggi, of course, means “today” not “weekly”), John Travolta admits the reason he is in “great shape” is due to yoghurt and Scientology.
Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles in London last night
In December 2010 I blogged about the wonderful Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino, both world-class performers. They should be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million like other rockers of a certain age.
At the moment in London, you can stumble on the most unlikely, highly-talented musicians playing in the most unlikely of venues.
“Why’s your album not on iTunes?” I asked Paul.
“Just because I’m not together enough to do all the PayPal and bank accounting and all that kind of stuff you have to do.”
“How can people buy it, then?” I asked.
“Only if they see us. It’s a rare and precious thing.”
“You could be selling around the world on iTunes,” I said. “Not just in the UK.”
“Well,” replied Paul. “A man contacted me on my Facebook account from New York and asked me if I would send a copy of Friendly Street to him, so I did and he sent me a cheque for whatever £10-and-postage is in dollars. He was a very nice man.”
“You should put the album – and the individual tracks – on iTunes,” I told Paul. “You might find you have fans in Texas or you might become a big hit in the Ukraine. As far as I know, Right Said Fred are still mega-stars in Germany – they were a couple of years ago – and they make a very good living. Here in true UK, Right Said Fred are yesterday’s one-hit wonders; in Germany, as I understand it, they’re still selling shedloads.”
“Weren’t they Princess Diana’s favourite band?” Paul asked.
“Well, there you are,” I replied. “You can overcome any set-back. You have to be on iTunes. If you put your album on iTunes, the two of you might become a hit around the world.”
Even if they only became a cult hit in China or India, they could be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million.
Everyone should have aspirations.
And there’s still time. It just needs luck and distribution.
Creative excess or compromised, homogenised TV success?
My blog yesterday was about when performers should just give up because they are not going to ‘make it’.
Someone criticised me for apparently setting the choice up as: Appear on TV or fail.
That is not quite the situation, but it is, alas, very close to it.
It depends on your definition of ’success’.
To make money, to be really successful, you currently pretty-much have to do TV. (The internet may enter more into the equation at a later date.)
Of course, creative and aesthetic success is not the same as making lots of money. But, if you are the greatest artist/creator/performer in the world and no-one sees what you do, then there is little point in doing it – you are doing it for yourself. Making money is a sign of acceptance and appreciation by a large section of the population.
But, when I go to the Edinburgh Fringe, I tend not to see the already-famous, already highly-financially-successful acts because I prefer to find what I perceive as more ‘original’ acts. To get any form of mainstream success, I think you have to homogenise your act to some extent and lose some of the unpredictable originality.
I am not saying that is a good or a bad thing. I just happen to prefer to see less well-known acts. I am prepared to plough through 90% mud to find a diamond rather than watch perfection in plastic. And, to an extent, you learn more watching imperfect shows than perfect homogenised shows.
I was recently in North Korea, where the level of stage and event professionalism makes shows on Broadway, in Las Vegas and in London’s West End look like amateur night at the village hall. But – hey! – I could not face seeing those OTT North Korean mega-shows too often…
For the British comedian, struggling to eke out a living and get more than three people to come to his/her show, television is the Holy Grail. And it is simple mathematics.
If you do a shit TV series that is an appalling, disastrous failure and “gets no ratings”, that means it may be getting 300,000 viewers. That is no audience at all in TV terms. But, to be seen by that number of people in sold-out 100 or 150-seater venues would take forever and have less impact.
If you play the Edinburgh Fringe for 29 nights and sell out your 100-seater venue every night, that is a massive success in Fringe terms, but it is only 2,900 people over the course of a month compared to 300,000 people in one night on a failed TV show. And those 300,000 people are possibly seeing you in each of six episodes of the TV show and are more likely to pay to see you live and to buy your DVDs…
If you appear on a successful TV series, you may get 5 million viewers or top-of-the-range 9 million viewers in one night. If only 1% of them like you, that is 50,000 or 90,000 people as opposed to 2,900 in a smash-hit, month-long Edinburgh Fringe show. If only 50% of the TV show’s audience like you, it is 2.5 million or 4.5 million new fans aware of you, possibly in a single night. And, of course, in actual awareness terms, it is 5 million or 9 million who have suddenly seen you ‘selling’ your ‘product’.
The best thing Michael McIntyre ever did in career terms was go on Britain’s Got Talent as a judge. He was already well-known by live comedy fans and TV comedy fans, but Britain’s Got Talent has phenomenal ratings across the board.
TV creates wider awareness.
But getting a TV break, of course, is well-nigh impossible – especially if you are a truly original act.
You have to be able to replicate the act for the TV director or, at least, make a good stab at it. On a big show, the director is maybe going to see the act rehearse twice in the afternoon and then shoot the show in the evening. In the rehearsals, he needs to see where the pauses are, where the glances are.
So, if you have an only-average comedian who performs a set script, who can do the words and pauses exactly the same then – to a lot of TV directors and producers – that is preferable to a really, really original act which is totally unpredictable. And, if the only-average act’s material runs to the same duration within 5 seconds every time it is delivered, then Christmas, New Year, the director’s 18th birthday and the Royal Jubilee have all come together.
A not-utterly-brilliant, not-utterly-original but OK act that is dependable is ‘better’ for TV than an utterly original, unpredictable act that is not going to be the same every single time it’s done.
With TV shows, you are talking about large amounts of money, even on the cheap ones. And, if you are talking about a peaktime show on BBC1 or ITV1 – which is where the large audiences are – you are talking serious, serious money. You cannot waste it by risking it on people who are brilliant only 60% or even 75% of the time.
Some acts – maybe not the best acts – CAN deliver good dependable performances and acceptable material 100% or 98% of the time.
You can edit an act’s material in theory but, with some of the best, most original, most unpredictable acts, it is very difficult to edit out material and keep up the TV pace.
Televised performances tend to need a faster pace than stage performances because there is no ‘atmosphere’ as such. In a live show, you can feel the atmosphere in the air. The adrenaline in the air keeps you ‘high’. On TV, the ‘atmosphere’ that keeps you ‘high’ on interest and excitement is artificially created by the timing of the visual cuts and the mixing of the sound from various microphones.
I know one comedian who has been on TV a fair amount, but he is never likely to become a major star in his own show, or even headline a big show, because he does not know, even when he starts to perform, exactly what he will say. If you give him a script, he may diverge from it.
I can think of another act who has perhaps four or five hours of comedy material which they use all the time – with occasional new additions and lots of reactions to the audience – but the stage show is never the same twice.
And another act – sublimely brilliant – where there may be ‘headings’ in the person’s brain, but it is totally ad-libbed.
Those last two acts would make great TV presenters on pre-recorded shows – presenting their own documentaries, for example, where a strong personality would dominate – but neither tells brief punchlined gags. They are not stand-up comedians in TV terms.
A TV stand-up comedian is someone who can deliver two minutes to camera. Or someone who can be on a panel show delivering some pre-scripted lines and perhaps ad-libbing one or two short sentences in a sequence. Brief. Succinct. With a traditional punch-line every time. Guaranteed laugh-laugh-laugh material.
Being a personality-based comedian is great on some TV shows, but not for stand-up comedy shows. TV wants sound-bites. It wants sequences which can be edited to fit into a greater jigsaw.
Comedians who are brilliant at long-form storytelling have no real outlet on TV at the moment.
There is one comedian who always gets amazing reviews. Amazingly-stonking reviews. You could die happy if you got even one of those reviews. You could not write better reviews for yourself. And, I think, a lot of other acts do not understand why this person gets those reviews because they have only seen bits-and-pieces of this particular act.
At 5 minutes, the act is nothing special, because they’re not a gag-based act. They’re not Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine (all of whom are superbly creatively successful in the gag-based comedy genre which TV requires).
At 20 minutes, the act is fine. But doesn’t stand out totally from other acts.
At 30 minutes in length, it’s better.
At 60 minutes or 90 minutes or 120 minutes it is amazing. Utterly brilliant.
It would work on a chat show or if the person were used as a presenter, because it is a personality-based act. But, because it is not a gag-based act and cannot be chopped in the editing process, it is not an act which can really be screened as part of a show with multiple comedians in it.
To get a useful TV break, by and large, comedians with true originality have to compromise. To a certain extent, they have to choose between lots and lots of money by appealing to a wide TV audience… or being able to do totally original stuff on stage (but not on TV) with quite a high risk of failure.
There is an act, famous on the circuit and among fans of alternative comedy but unknown by the woman standing in a bus queue in Leamington Spa.
This performer’s act used to contain maybe 5% of extraordinary, near-genius originality. But there was often 40% that did not work at all, 40% that was average and 15% that was quite good. I liked seeing the act. But that sort of act would never get on TV because it has 80% of nothing exceptional, 15% of sort-of-so-so-OK material and 5% of really good stuff.
That particular comic has evened the act out a bit more now: maybe 85% is good and 15% is average.; occasionally maybe 1% of near-genius peeps through. So he has much more likelihood of getting TV success. But I preferred watching the old act where you got 5% of amazing near-genius with 40% of stuff that didn’t work at all..
To be cynical, it is a choice between compromised financial comfort with the added bonus of ego satisfaction… and creative satisfaction over something which is likely to be widely unseen and unknown by audiences.