Category Archives: Eccentrics

The English language… It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it…

(Image by Hans-Peter Gauster, via UnSplash)

A large number of these blogs over the years have been interviews or, more precisely, transcriptions of chats with other people. I record everything so that I can make certain I quote the people I talk to exactly.

I type exactly what they say.

Except, of course, there has to be a certain amount of tidying-up of what they say. I have to take out the gaps, stumbles, repetitions, umms and ahhs and errrms and general ramblings of normal speech, because almost no-one ever speaks in fluent sentences.

At college, part of the course I took involved radio production and part involved linguistics.

One afternoon, we were asked to go off in groups of three or four and have a short recorded conversation with each other about anything, then transcribe the exact words which had been spoken.

Three or four of us went off and had an interesting, fluent chat about something-or-other.

But, when the recording was transcribed – writing down every word exactly as spoken – we realised we had not conversed in sensible, coherent or even necessarily meaningful sentences. Our ears and brains had cut out all the crap and what we thought we heard was what the other person INTENDED to say rather than what he/she actually said.

So transcribing interviews is a laborious process. It can take three times as long to transcribe a chat as it took for it to happen. So an hour of chat might take three hours to transcribe even before turning it into something which flows. And then, of course, there is intonation – or even a casual or ironic glances of the eyes. Intonation and unspoken implication can totally change the meaning of what is said.

In the 1960s there was a very late-night BBC TV series which aimed to help people – mostly new immigrants – learn English. It included acted-out scenes. One such sketch took place in a Post Office with a long queue. 

When he eventually reached the counter, the first customer simply asked for “A first class stamp, please…”

The second customer – not a native English speaker, but trying to be very polite – asked for “a first class stamp, PLEASE”… The Post Office person serving him, bristled.

The point being made was that, by emphasising the PLEASE with that particular intonation in that particular situation, instead of being polite, the impression the customer communicated was extreme annoyance at having queued for so long. The sentence was polite. The communicated emotion was confrontational annoyance. The intonation mis-communicated the actual spoken words.

Because transcribing a recorded chat can be time-consuming and very dull, a few years ago, I tried to use speech recognition software, thinking it would type out what was said in real time and I would only have to do some minor tidying-up and re-punctuation of some sections.

It turned out I was being over-optimistic, as the below section of a chat with an anonymous British comedian shows. The eventual edited interview, I think/hope, showed them in their true vocally fluent light.

This is how the speech recognition software transcribed the exact recorded words…


What happened was that was. My most successful show today. And that was me as me whereas before that. I had been. Doing character based. Comedy. And I was. The. One. Who was the most successful. Because I trained for many many years to be an actor. And so I didn’t really want to do stand up. But I did that show with me and it was the most successful. And. I. Think I just felt like I’d plateaued plateaued be. That I didn’t have much else to say.

It’s all out of love with it because it was fantastic but I’ve got. To come back. With something else. I wanted it to be. And I didn’t want to rush into the mix. And I kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh. Training I’ve done about. Six Edinburgh’s in a row. By that point. You don’t want what you’ve got. Well. You know I did. Six. Shows. Including that one up to 20 as I’d been reading yeah. You know. All. Went. 

Yeah. So you need. Help basically. So I had someone. Who was amazing. Help me out. Did. She was. Just. Like. Those bums on seats. It was the least. Stressful. One. And I just felt that if I didn’t follow I wanted it to be as good. As much. And I just didn’t feel like. It. Felt like I. Felt a bit jaded my head. And. The thought of having another show and doing the same. Circuit. Again straight away. So. This. Year. I just. Might.

I mean I’ve always done. Acting and. That’s. What. I really wanted was. And. I had. Up until that point as. Where. What. I call a mortgage. Job. Which most people. Have. Which was an office job. A horrible office job five. Days a Week. With. You. Know not made to any of my strengths and just to just pay the bills. I started to build. Quite. Happy. And. I thought you know what it’s. Time to move on. So I did.


That might be an extreme case but I think it shows some of the ways real people talk, constructing thoughts as they speak… To an extent, it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it. That’s what gets results.

Conversation – and writing – is about communication and the human brain is designed to spot patterns, so clarity is often in the ear and the brain of the beholder far more than the mouth of the speaker. 

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Filed under Eccentrics, Language

Amazon’s Alexa is a psychopathic killer. Apple’s Siri is a New Age Californian…

A few weeks ago, I was in a charity shop with my eternally-un-named friend. 

A glass head was being used to display headwear.

I took a liking to it as a slightly surreal objet bizarre.

I asked the shop assistant if it was for sale.

He said, “No.”

Unknown to me, my eternally-un-named friend later found a similar glass head online and bought it for me.

She very kindly gave it to me the other day. 

I was a bit uncertain where to put it in my living room for the maximum aesthetic impact of its pointless splendour and, on a whim, asked my seldom-used Alexa electronic assistant: 

“Alexa, where should I put the head?”

This was the answer I got:

“Place the head in the freezer…”

Afterwards, I asked the same question to Apple’s arguably more sophisticated Siri assistant: 

“Hey, Siri, where should I put the head?”

“I’m not sure I understand,” was her first response.

But, when I asked again:

“Hey, Siri, where should I put the head?”

… she had second thoughts.

And her answer, as befits Apple’s more caring Californian image, included a suggestion of the “Best direction to sleep, according to Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra.”

Eventually, I decided by myself, without electronic advice.

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Filed under AI, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 2 – Comedy, characters, dreams…

Robert Wringham is not his real name…

Yesterday’s blog finished with:

ROBERT: So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

Now read on…


JOHN: I am not in any way a performer. No talent; no interest in doing it. There is a different mindset between performers and writers, isn’t there? I’m not remotely a performer. I can’t ad-lib fluently in spoken speech, whereas I can write I think fluently quite quickly.

ROBERT: I don’t want to be truly me performing on stage; I want to be a character. I think I can just about hold my own in terms of fast thoughts, but what I can’t do is play the character at the same time. However, in Stern Plastic Owl and my other books, I think I CAN do that.

JOHN: So, when you were a stand-up, it was character comedy…

ROBERT: Not like Alan Partridge. It’s like what I said about ‘Robert Wringham’ and the doppelgänger. I want this clear line between the real me and what I’m showing, otherwise it’s not actually a creative act. I don’t want to go out there and just talk. I want to have a character and that was why I was not very good as a performer. I couldn’t really do that.

The way I’ve found round that problem is to do these books. 

JOHN: By and large, I don’t like character comedy because, in television, I got typed as a finder of bizarre and/or eccentric ‘real people’. So I know there are loads of eccentric or even just slightly unusual people out there – well, most people are slightly unusual – and they are really interesting. So why should I watch someone pretending to be eccentric or unusual when they are not? – They are just analysing someone who isn’t themselves and fabricating a character to hide behind.

Charlie Chuck is not a subtle character study of a real type…

The closer a character act is to being real, the less I’m interested. The more ‘cartoony’ they are, the more I’m interested. Charlie Chuck springs to mind. Charlie Chuck (real name Dave Kear) is not a subtle character study of a real type of person.

ROBERT: One of my favourite comics is Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) and a lot of people don’t really think of him as a character comic although he is. You could not be like that in real life. I assume Matthew Hall at home is going to be nothing like Harry Hill.

JOHN: Yes, he’s a cartoon character – in a good way. I think really good straight stand-up comedians on stage are themselves, but slightly heightened versions of themselves. And then there are the OTT cartoony-type ones. But stand-up ‘character comedy’ tends to be just wannabe actors showing off their abilities, not performers who inherently have that odd ‘comedian’ gene.

I also don’t particularly like slow-speaking comedians. If I pay to see Jerry Sadowitz, I’m getting value for money in the words-per-minute, but slow comedians, by-and-large, I think: Just get on with it! I never liked Jack Benny. Too slow. Although, oddly, I liked George Burns.

ROBERT: To me, ‘slow’ is the ultimate cool because it’s the opposite of… When you’re nervous on stage, you go fast. A slow-speaking comedian instills a certain confidence in the room. You think: Oh! This guy knows what he’s doing! He’s going to slowly reveal the routine. It’s also very funny: almost as if they don’t care what the audience thinks.

JOHN: I guess maybe George Burns felt more Jewish to me, which I like. Jack Benny was maybe less ‘American Jewish’ humour.

ROBERT: My partner is Jewish and Jewish is a big part of our shared life. In my secret mind, ‘Robert Wringham’ is Jewish, though I don’t tend to talk about it on the page. My favourite humorists are all Jewish. 

JOHN: S.J. Perelman?

ROBERT: Yeah. Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Jon Ronson.

JOHN: So what’s next for you after Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: I’m working on my novel. It’s almost done.

JOHN: Tell me it really IS about sitting in a bathtub and it’s called Rub-a-Dub-Dub

ROBERT: Yes! It is!

JOHN: A lucky guess on my part. What’s the plot?

ROBERT: I think ‘plot’ is old hat. So, instead of going wide with a plot, go deep. It’s about the conscious state you have when you’re in the bath. You’re nostalgic. You’re thinking back. There’s this time machine effect. You’re thinking back to you childhood. So that’s what my guy in the book does. He’s remembering things, thinking of his worries, thinking on his body. There’s a lot of stuff about the body in it.

There is something called phenomenological writing, which is just the real nitty-gritty of what surrounds you. You’d be surprised how you can make that interesting.

JOHN: As I speak to you, I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun sitting in front of a station/cathedral. What is phenomenological writing?

“I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun…”

ROBERT: It’s really old. It’s a French thing. For example, Georges Perec did one where it was all in one building, but it was into the nitty-gritties. So he’d be talking about the design on the carpet for ages and going into the shagpile of this single room or the individual books in the bookcase and what they were. And it would all be in the service of something: like This is the character of the person who lives there. But it would be really deep into the nitty-gritty.

You would think: That can’t possibly be fun to read. But, actually, it’s really entertaining and interesting. What I’m doing and what Georges Perec did is playing it for laughs.

JOHN: I remember reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and wondering why she went into such detailed descriptions of people’s houses… until I realised the descriptions were actually also descriptions of each householder’s personality. The houses personified their occupants. 

This blog bit is just pure self-indulgence…

You were talking about dreams earlier on. I’m interested because I have an unidentified medical problem. I used to sleep soundly and deeply and never remembered my dreams. But now I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since June 2020 – I wake up literally every hour and, of course, sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream. I always wanted to remember my dreams because I assumed they would be surreal but they’re not. The dreams I have are very realistic not surrealistic. They have narrative storylines running through them. I am disappointed. You sound like you have better dreams.  

ROBERT: Mine aren’t stories at all. If I do something very repetitive during the day – like doing the washing-up – that’ll end up in my dream. Repetitive things go in. Embarrassingly dull.

JOHN: I don’t seem to have nightmares. Do you?

ROBERT: No. And, if I do write things down in my notebook, it’s always things like Stern Plastic Owl. I DID once write down Stoat: Hospital with a colon between the two words. I can’t even begin to imagine what that means. 

JOHN: I can only dream of having dreams which are that weird.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Eccentrics, Performance

The oldest man in the world, a mystery moon and the broken Rule of Three…

Tonight I went to see the regular Monday Club show at the Museum of Comedy in London. I had been telling comic Siân Doughty it was an excellent place to see good acts trying out new material. She went to check it out.

Afterwards, she mentioned to me: “There was a report on the radio that the oldest man in the world has died again.”

“Again?” I asked and then realised that, of course, the oldest man in the world is forever dying.

On my train back home, I met a neighbour who told me he had heard a radio programme about exoplanets and had to look up what an exoplanet is. (I didn’t know either.) 

The programme pointed out, he told me, that our Moon has no name.

Loads of other planets have moons, some with names, some without. 

Ours is just another moon – one of gazillions – but it has no specific name. 

I had never thought about this before.

I have a cold, but that is no excuse.

I felt cheated when I got home because I felt a third quirky insight should have been visited on me. The Rule of Three had been broken.

I will sleep uneasily tonight.

Seen this afternoon – rain through my kitchen window pane – I have no point to make…

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Death of The Ratman – UK cabaret’s Dark Knight and a British ‘Joe Exotic’

Ratman & Robin – Ken Edwards (left) and Dave Potts

What do you get if you combine the British tradition of sticking a ferret down your trousers and the Room 101 section of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984? You get – or got – the admirably OTT act Ratman and Robin.

I have only just found out that Ken Edwards died a couple of weeks ago on 9th January. He was 79.

He was better-known to connoisseurs of the bizarre as the ‘Ratman’ in Ratman & Robin.

Reporting his death, the German news website news.de called him “Britischer Joe Exotic” – “the British Joe Exotic“.

I auditioned Ratman & Robin back in 1987 for the Channel 4 TV show The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross. They and their rodent co-stars arrived in a Rentokil van.

 Alas the show’s producer was not enamoured of rat acts, especially when the rodent co-stars had a tendency to escape and run round the audition room. So the Jonathan Ross show sadly remained rat free.

Ken’s Ratman inspired David Walliams

Years later, in 2012, Ken also got turned down after an audition for Britain’s Got Talent in which he ate cockroaches out of a paper bag in front of the judges.

David Walliams later said his children’s book Ratburger – particularly the character Burt – was inspired by this audition. Walliams told the Irish Daily Mirror in 2017: ”I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t go through to the next round because he was such an amazing character.”

When I met them, both Ratman and Robin seemed very relaxed and amiable: just two blokes who had stumbled on an interesting sideline; much better than making matchstick models of the Eiffel Tower or breeding racing pigeons.

Ken was a man of many animal parts. As the Britain’s Got Talent audition showed, he could also turn his creative hand and mouth to eating live cockroaches.

Asked what the cockroaches tasted like, he once said: “They taste awful. I just cannot describe them. I just think of England and a pint… It’s like having an anaesthetic at the back of the throat.” (A result of the scent they let off to repel predators.)

He also (at least once) took part in a slug-eating competition to raise money for Hyde United football club and, over the years, he raised thousands of pounds for charity.

He reportedly contributed to a few un-named Hammer horror movies, where he would allegedly provide rats and the like for unspecified “crucial scenes”.

Ken  eating cockroaches for Britain’s Got Talent

In 1987, according to the Manchester Evening News, the RSCPA attempted to get the Ratman & Robin act banned “but were unsuccessful in their efforts”.

He found himself included in the 1988 Alternative Book of Records after he stuffed 47 rats down his, admittedly elasticated, trousers. And he earned a ‘proper’ Guinness World Record title in 2001 for the most cockroaches eaten – 36 – in one minute. He did this during an appearance on TV’s The Big Breakfast.

Ken had started his working life as a projectionist at the Hyde Hippodrome cinema before moving to the Ritz Cinema in Hyde, Greater Manchester.

By the age of 18, he had started acting on stage at venues including the Plaza, Stockport and the Theatre Royal, Hyde. He then bought a concertina and started touring concert halls across the North of England telling ‘mother-in-law jokes’ but (according to the DerbyshireLive website) “demand soon dried up”. Whether this was because the North of England comedy-goers of that time were early with political correctness or because he delivered the jokes badly is a matter for conjecture. 

After that, according to the Derby Telegraph, he spent around 15 years ‘prowling’ the sewers and cellars of Manchester, earning a living as a ratcatcher.

He looked after lions, emus, giraffes and, here, a tiger cub

In the 1960s and 1970s, he also spent time working as a zookeeper at Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester, looking after lions, tigers, emus, hippopotamuses and giraffes. He had joined the Board of Directors of the Belle Vue Circus in 1963.

One day, while working as a ratcatcher, he was asked to set traps at a glove factory in Stockport and met worker David Potts.

They became friends and, together, became Ratman & Robin. 

Ken was a late developer. His talent for carrying out bizarre stage acts was initially unveiled on the British TV show Over The Top when he was 39. After that, Ratman & Robin appeared on various TV shows throughout the 1980s including The Russell Harty Show though, sadly, not The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross.

Poster boys for eccentric rodent excesses

David Potts, his ‘Robin’, said Ken would often catch the vital co-stars of their act – the rats – in traps in Manchester’s sewers and then clean them up and look after them in his six garden sheds before using them in the act.

In 1985, Ken told reporters: “Our rats are really well treated… The rats are all caught from sewers, shampooed, deloused, and kept in special galvanised cages.”

David said Ken’s home “would often contain around 150 rats, a pet mink and even a Mexican coatimundi – a type of racoon”.

Not surprisingly, Ken became a bit of a local hero in Hyde.

Reminiscing on a local website in 2011… someone called ‘Tom’ remembered: “I once saw Ken walking a ring-tailed lemur on Great Norbury Street, near to the George pub.”

Ken, daughter Catherine and inevitable rats

Another contributor – ‘Westar Steve’ – added: “He used to live on Chapel Street and in his house he used to sleep in a coffin and he had two fangs put in his mouth instead of two normal teeth. Last time I saw him, he had a stall on the flea market on Ashton Market and he was living in a caravan near that Alexander Mill in Hyde”

His friends and family became used to his OTT behaviour and Ken said: “If I were to actually do something normal, THEN they would react!”

In 1988, he told the Liverpool Echo: “I put the rats down my trousers… It’s boring but the audience loves it.”

According to the Manchester Evening News: “One of Ratman & Robin’s most controversial acts revolved around a ‘Coffin of Blood’ performance, which involved Ken being handcuffed inside a Perspex coffin. Assistant David would inflict several wounds to his body and then introduce 30 wild rats into the coffin, while audiences watched in horror as they fed off his open wounds.”

Allegedly, he used to sleep in a coffin

Ken once said he loved to take himself “to the limits of disgust” with the act: “I just think of the money,” he told the Liverpool Echo in 1988. “I soon realised people love to be disgusted.”

He was unsurprisingly sometimes called an eccentric: “He loves offending people,” a friend said, “piercing pomposity and giving his audiences a belly laugh.”

His publicity card in 1990 proudly proclaimed the opinions of various journalists: 

“…a very complex man”

“…that strange man”

“…yuk”.

RIP Ratman. 

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Filed under Animals, Cabaret, Eccentrics

Anna Smith’s memories of ‘perverts’ and Canadian strip clubs last century

Anna Smith retouched her nose in this late-20th century picture…

Over the years Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, has been sharing current life insights from Vancouver and memories from her colourful past as an exotic performer. These have occasionally triggered other people to share their own sociologically-interesting memories.

On 15th April last year, I posted a blog headed A ‘PERVERT’ COMMENTS ON HIS MEMORIES OF A STRIP CLUB IN CANADA IN THE 1980s

This was actually a collection of various people’s reactions to a 2014 blog.

Yesterday, someone calling himself ‘G Man’ commented on the 2021 ‘Pervert’ blog:

Awesome post! I remember coming here in 1995 when I was 18, the only place that would let me and my friends in at the time. It was wild and reminds me of how great the city was at that time. Even though by that time most of the ladies that performed looked like they could’ve have been our grandmothers…lol!

and a Dave Hughes responded to that ‘G Man’ comment with:

By 1995 some of them were grandmothers!!!

Anna Smith last night sent me her own reaction to ‘G Man’:


Hahahahaha….

Well, that sounds like he was there before I got to be Granny-age, but glad to hear my friends were working at Le Strip as long as they could. Too bad the business closed or I’d still love to go back there as a 63 year old and do a 14 day shift (seven days, seven nights), like I used to. It was so much fun!

It was well before cell phones proliferated but, being strippers, we required certain amenities – like a shower, a bidet and of course a payphone which was a large sturdy device installed on a central wall in the dressing room… so we could make our bookings at other clubs, check up on our babysitters and our boyfriends.

So, while we were getting ready to go on, we would sometimes be witness to some funny conversations…

Like: “No, I am not giving you a blow job. No. No. No. You are NOT getting another blow job till I get back the keys to my Chevrolet Camaro!  NO!”

Another time, we heard a fabulous black dancer from California named Goldielox telling us how furious she was with R.D., because he had stolen her very expensive fur coat in Montreal. 

Goldielox was called that because she had very long blonde hair. She had quite the act. She was a statuesque and perfectly formed woman, with a toned body and large breasts. She arrived on stage wearing a flashy costume, roller skates and a top hat. She would eventually take off her bra but place her breasts into the top hat and skate around like that for a while.

It was Goldielox who gave me the job to go to Newfoundland, the best paid job, and one of the funnest I ever had. She had been booked to go there because a new club had opened up, just outside of the capital, St. John’s. They wanted a big act to open the club. It was the first strip club in Newfoundland.

“What am I gonna do, Nurse Annie? – I don’t want to go to NEWFOUNDLAND on my BIRTHDAY! But I can’t let them down… Would you please do it for me? It pays $1,400…” 

That was about four times more than I’d ever been paid, so I jumped at the chance and had a fantastic time. I even went out on a cod fishing boat and caught a cod to bring back to Toronto and bought some nice hand-knitted toques for my parents.

At the end of that week, Goldielox showed up in Newfoundland to do her act the following week. We were both staying in an old hotel on a main street in St John’s, because the new strip club didn’t have any accommodation. We were driven out there every night by the club owners.

Goldielox was in an upbeat mood. She was having fun teasing the very young hotel clerk (who had never met a Black person before). She tried to give him diction lessons, which was funny because she had a heavy drawl herself and he had the Irish-sounding Newfoundland accent. She’d had flyers printed up advertising her show and put on her stage costume with the top hat and took off on her roller skates, up the steep and foggy cobbled streets of the port city, calling out, whirling around laughing and handing out flyers to everyone she met.

The ‘perverts’ back in Toronto were true fans, who loved our different characters and the friendly way we interacted with them from the stage as much as they loved our not-always perfect looks – according to the standards of the 1970s. And we loved most of the regulars for all their foibles… 

…like the guy who paid us cash for prints of our lips on paper napkins; the three buddies who always went there whenever their mate had extra money to share with his friends to tip us. And the three old geezers who sat in the front row and sometimes got a bit carried away. One time I looked down and noticed the three of them enthusiastically wanking in time with the music. 

There was also the charming, rotund, inebrieated Catholic priest who stood just inside the front door and routinely propositioned us with offers of filet mignon dinner. A fascinating offer but we squeezed past between him and the ticket booth.

And there were the teenaged boys who ran up the two flights of worn carpeted stairs on a dare and then stood blinking and panting in the darkness before being reprimanded and quickly expelled… and the University of Toronto engineering students who called annually to hire the beautiful Roxy (who had long blonde hair, full breasts and apparently wasn’t afraid to ride a horse) to play Lady Godiva, for a university prank and a photo op.

One time, after the club brought in ‘private table dances’ an older Chinese man paid for a private dance and spent the whole time silently staring directly at my muff, as if he was hypnotized. At the end, he asked me quickly: “Do you like Chinese food?”

The Toronto strippers have always been pretty good at organising themselves. 

When the City of Toronto tried make us get licensed as ‘Adult Entertainment Parlour Attendants’, we fought back because we thought that sounded insulting. We were not attending to anything or anyone. And we worked in bars and theaters, not in fucking PARLOURS for fuck sake. We were entertainers not ATTENDENTS!!! 

So eventually the city backed down and licensed us as ‘Burlesque Entertainers’. 

We still had to pay a huge annual fee for our licence, though, and wait in line with hundreds of taxi drivers at the start of the year and have our photos taken for our wallet-sized ID card.

I lost that card somewhere along the way. Too bad. It shows a black and white photo of me looking young and furious and it didn’t have an expiry date on the card, so it was fun to have on hand, whenever I was asked to produce a government photo ID. It was always accepted as such, though not the most common identification there was.

The stripper ID cards provided years of employment to two senior city official inspectors, whose full-time job was to casually saunter into one of the hundreds of Toronto strip clubs, order a beer and watch all the shows, take discreet notes and then afterwards figure out which of dancers did or did not have licences. 

They always seemed to be in a good mood.

There have been several non profit organizations started by strippers in Toronto, including C.A.B.E. (Canadian Association of Burlesque Entertainers), Maggies, which was recently featured in a Rolling Stone article and a new one Work Safe Twerk Safe which I only recently heard of, but it seems very effective and informative.

OK, back to sleep for me now. 

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Filed under Canada, Eccentrics, Sex

Stories of legendary UK comic Jimbo…

This week, esteemed comic Noel James posted an announcement about a last minute act appearing on the bill at his Cafe Play club in Mumbles, Swansea,Wales, this Saturday, 6th November.

The act is the legendary and sadly not widely-enough fêted UK comic Jimbo (not to be confused with Australian comic Jimbo Bazoobi)

The news on Facebook of our British Jimbo’s booking elicited a fair number of comments, almost entirely from other comedians:


Jimbo: the man, the myth, the mirth…

Andy White
Did my first ever gig with Jimbo. Didn’t gig with him again till a couple of years ago. He was proper funny.

Mark Hurst
First Jimbo gig I witnessed he was introduced, made his way thru the audience, onto the stage, paused briefly at mic, as if about to speak, then carried on, off the other side of the stage, back thru the crowd and straight out the pub door…

Jez Feeney

yep I saw similar… hilarious

Noel James
ha ha yes sounds like Jimbo at his best.

Addy van der Borgh
One of the funniest opening 5 minutes I’ve ever seen… fiddling with the microphone, the mic stand, starting to speak, stopping etc. Great timing.

Noel James
Addy van der Borgh – so that’s where you got the idea from !!

Addy van der Borgh
I was first! Actually it’s an old commedia dell’arte thing. So there x

Adam-Morrison Jones
Absolute legend.

Neil Masters
Once at a gig on Tottenham Court Road in London, Jimbo took the mic outside of the pub so nobody could see him. Then he started to interview himself , sort of Voice 1. “please speak.” Voice 2. Lots of weird sounds and silly grumbles for 3 minutes then baritone “NO!” Then back inside , bowed and left the stage.

Andrew Max O’Neill
Amazing.

Mark Hurst
Then there was his first open spot at the Comedy Store. This was in the days when the open spots went on at the end, about 2am. He went on, did a bit of muttering and mic-stand fiddling, then collapsed into a heap on the stage. The MC not knowing what he was doing didn’t know if it was part of an act, stood at the side for a minute, that seemed like an hour, with people shouting out, whilst he lay motionless. Eventually, MC had to step over him, “Jimbo, let’s hear it for Jimbo.” At which, he jumped up and bounded off’.

Phil Davey
yeah i was there for that. compere was Kevin Day. Kim Kinnie was absolutely furious.

Dan Willis
Heard he once stripped naked,
Walked off leaving his clothes,
Never returning to get them..
I’ve gigged with him about twenty odd times – mostly doing gags, but I did see him setting fire to his own hair, without any apparent plan for when it took flame…

Phil Dins
Fantastic act. X

Gary Sansome
Great guy, I remember him doing a set at Huddersfield University and just walking straight out of the venue from the stage. Hope he is well.

David Hadingham
In the early days me and Jimbo (of course back then he was known by his real name James Fancyknot) shared a flat together where we would come up with all these great ideas, I wonder where he is now?

John Mann
Ha. Was discussing his antics only today with Alan Francis and Geoff Boyes.

Jez Feeney
Bloody hell???? Maaaaaaaaaalcolm!…..saw Jim at Sunday Night with Malcolm Hardee many a time… always an occasion… didn’t recognise the photo at first… proper old school… wonderful.

Glad he’s still around …would love to see him on Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow.

Steve Day
The story, and I assume everyone knows this in one form or another, when he was offered a paid gig in a pub somewhere out of London. Travelled there, but due to low audience numbers the landlord pulled the gig but agreed to pay the acts. Jimbo says since he’d come all this way he’d do his spot anyway. Goes on, is Jimbo for ten minutes, finishes.

The landlord says, “I’m not paying you for that!”

Noel James
his hair’s a bit whiter, but he’s still around, still gigging.

James Sherwood
Jimbo did my favourite ever topical gag. He described a story in that day’s paper about a pig farmer who hid some jewellery in the sty, the pigs ate the jewellery, now he has to comb through their excrement to get it back. “So I’m looking at this story and I’m looking at it… and COULD I THINK OF A JOKE?”

Matthew Baylis
A million years ago I did a writing day that jimbo was at – run by Chris Head. Jimbo had worked up a set (with Chris) as a drunken old-school comic dressed in a hideously believable Vegas style suit. It was mostly physical comedy and noises but it was quite brilliant and highly bookable.

I saw him at a gig a month later and he had dumped the routine and was back to ‘normal’.

John Fothergill
Did a minute or two then climbed out of the window behind the curtains and left in his car when I was mc in north London once.

Noel James
if i’d known he was this popular i’d have booked him to headline!

Ian Stone
He turned up at the East Dulwich tavern one night. He’d travelled from Milton Keynes with a moose head. He got introduced, walked on with the moose head, did the gig and never mentioned it, left the venue and then got the train back to Milton Keynes.

Robin Deb
Climbing out of the window at the Comedy Brewhouse and just… going home. oh, some punter complained they paid a fiver so he dropped one in her pint glass and then left…. HERO!

Mark Hayden
I’ve gigged a few times with Jimbo. I remember some silver suit or something that he wore that was out of the seventies or something. He also came and did Mr Ben’s gong show in Leeds. I asked him in my email to him are you sure as it’s a long way to come and do a gong. Sure enough he turned up. He must be nearly 80 now.

Dan Antopolski
He once did a bit shoving dogfood into a soft toy dog’s face that Sean Lock said was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

Matt Kirshen

First time I met Sean, he was delighted to hear that Jimbo was still going. As as I am right now.

Pete Cracknell

He turned up at an open mic spot at The Father Red Cap, a gay pub in Camberwell. The audience were expecting Drag, flamboyance and music. They got Jimbo. It didn’t go well.

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Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch, Princess Margaret and the Pub Quiz Mafia…

Paul Vickers with clock sans cuckoo spoke on FaceTime

Twonkey aka Paul Vickers is back at London’s Soho Theatre on Tuesday with a new show. 

Well, sort of.

I talked to him on FaceTime. He lives in Edinburgh.


JOHN: You didn’t play the much-cut-back  Edinburgh Fringe this year.

PAUL: No, because it kept wavering. I was due be doing it at Dragonfly again, but then that got closed for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak.

JOHN: You’re coming down south for your Soho Theatre show: Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch. Didn’t you have a Twitch show before?

PAUL: Yes, there was Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. This one is more like a ‘Best of Twonkey’ show.

The difficulty is selecting what the best is. I’ve just chosen what I think the best bits are and hope people will agree with me. I mean, really, Twonkey started as a joke and just got out of hand. 

It was something I did off the cuff. I didn’t think: Oh, I’ll be doing this for over ten years. I just thought: I’ll do one Edinburgh Fringe and see what happens. But then you get addicted; you get on the treadmill of doing it.

I am feeling a bit like James Bond, in the sense that I’ve created a franchise and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’d like to pass it on to someone else.

JOHN: Who else could do a Twonkey show though?

PAUL: Princess Anne was on the list.

JOHN: Have you asked her? It’s worth asking because you’re likely to get a reply from some official which you could quote… Who else?

PAUL: Peter Crouch, the footballer. John Craven was mentioned.

Twonkey’s greatest latest seen soon in Soho

JOHN: Why would Princess Anne be ideal to do a Twonkey show?

PAUL: It was thought she might give it a bit of dignity. But Princess Margaret was the fun one. She used to get stoned with the Incredible String Band, apparently.

JOHN: And now it’s too late…

PAUL: Yes. But I feel like Roger Moore gearing up for Octopussy. It won’t feel like that once I get going again. At the moment I’m in that nervous period.

It will be like Diamonds Are Forever when I get going.

JOHN: You haven’t performed as Twonkey for a while, because of the lockdowns…

PAUL: Yeah. I’ve been more into band stuff. (More on his band Paul Vickers and The Leg in my blog of February this year)

JOHN: Are you going to do less Twonkey and more music?

PAUL: I think it might be a bit like that, yeah. We were gonna try and incorporate a band thing in the new show, but we’re not really ready: it’s such a long process with the band.

JOHN: Your shows tend to have music in them, but you mean the band could actually be part of a Twonkey show?

PAUL: That could happen. I’ve always wanted to do that. The main thing that stops me is expense and all the Edinburgh Fringe venues are basically just like a plug in the wall. It would have to be a big enough venue to fit six people with equipment on the stage.

JOHN: Anything planned after the Soho Theatre and before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

A cultural dessert – the Custard Club

PAUL: Well, I did write another show that I had been going to do in 2020: Twonkey’s Custard Club. I had an elaborate idea involving custard as currency and where desserts had become the main meal.

JOHN: That works for me.

PAUL: I was all geared-up to do it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but then all the lockdowns happened and I couldn’t do anything for almost two years.

JOHN: So why are you not doing Twonkey’s Custard Club as your Soho Theatre show?

PAUL: Well, I kept opening the Word document and I thought: I don’t know how I feel about that now… There had been enough time for doubts to creep in. Previously, there had never been enough time for doubts to creep in because, every year, I barely had enough time to get a coherent show together for the Fringe.

I think everyone’s gone through this thing where you had a structured life and, during the pandemic, it wasn’t there any more. And then you start thinking: Do I really need to do that any more? Is that important? Do I LIKE doing that? It’s quite stressful.

Paul Vickers and The Leg – all six members of the band…

All those things came into the equation, so I became a bit more serious. The new band album is quite serious. I got quite into that during the pandemic – crafting a really good album.

JOHN: What was Twonkey’s Custard Club like?

PAUL: There was a book that had 100 pages with the same picture on every page. It was a tankard and a sleepy/romantic Alpine scene. There was a whole bit about if that book did exist, how would you interpret it? You would probably automatically think there might be a slight difference between the pictures and start looking for it. But there was no difference.

JOHN: Was any custard involved?

PAUL: In that bit, no. It was not custardy that bit. It wasn’t ALL custardy.

There will be a couple of custard songs in the Soho Theatre show – the ‘Best of’ show – despite the fact they’ve never been heard by anyone before.

JOHN: Seems reasonable.

PAUL: If the gig at the Soho Theatre goes well, that’ll help me make my decision on what to do.

If everyone’s like You can’t stop doing that! That’s great, Paul! that’s one thing. But, if it ends with people booing and asking for refunds, then… (LAUGHS)

Twitch bound… the Wobbly Waiter from Twonkey’s Custard Club…

There are some amazing puppets that Grant’s made for the show. The Wobbly Waiter of the Custard Club has got leg braces and everything. It was going to have custard and wobbly things on the plate. You bomb about and create absolute chaos with him because it’s very heavy and impossible to control. So it’s the perfect foil for comedy activity. 

JOHN: You haven’t done Twonkey at all during the pandemic?

PAUL: Well I did a pub quiz as Twonkey in a little pub called The Hoppy in Edinburgh and that went really well. That was the first time I’d done Twonkey in ages.

JOHN: How does Twonkey do a pub quiz? Surreal questions?

PAUL: Well, there’s a lot of things I do that make it not work.

JOHN: Is that the basis of Twonkey? Making it not work.

PAUL: Essentially. For example, at the pub quiz, I was forgetting to read out all the answers and no-one had any idea who was winning, not even me because I had forgotten to count it up.

JOHN: What happened at the end?

PAUL: My brother tried to make sense of it all and we did crown a winner.

Woodland Creatures bar, home of an unconventional pub quiz

JOHN: You had hosted pub quizzes before?

PAUL: When I did it on Leith Walk, I used to do it at a place called Woodland Creatures. But the trouble with pub quizzes is that people take them very seriously and the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia came round. I was like the new kid on the block.

JOHN: Who are the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia?

PAUL: Well, there’s a few of them that do the pub quiz circuit. Some of them do five or six pubs. I used to think the host for a pub quiz was probably a local schoolteacher with a bit of knowledge and time on his hands but – nah – it’s much more cynical than that.

The Pub Quiz Mafia were like: What’s this guy up to? Because I was going against the conventions of pub quizzes…

JOHN: … like giving the answers…

PAUL: …erm… yes. It was controversial at first. I had one round where I showed a clip from a film and people watched it really carefully, thinking the questions were going to be about that clip… but then I’d ask questions about a completely different film.

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey – unconventional is now standard

At the start, it was quite popular. I had a dominatrix doing the score cards. She was in latex and stuff.

She was like Carol Vorderman from Countdown. She was the brain and the discipline of the quiz and I was like Richard Whiteley, sitting there not having a clue what was going on, but being charming in a way I suppose. If I messed up, the dominatrix would keep me in line.

JOHN: She would whip you into shape?

PAUL: (LAUGHS) There was no whipping involved, but she made it known she was displeased. And she got angry with people who weren’t behaving in the crowd. After she stopped helping out, I was just sort of floating because I forgot I was doing a pub quiz. And it turned out that really frustrates people.

JOHN: What were you thinking if you forgot it was a pub quiz?

PAUL: Well, I start off thinking: Oh, this will be fun. And then I lose interest because it’s a pub quiz. I suppose I’ve made it my own. You could say it’s just a bad pub quiz.

JOHN: You should do a bad pub quiz at the Edinburgh Fringe. People would flock to it.

PAUL: Maybe… I will send you a link to my new video: Everyone Loves Custard. It will be in the Soho show.


And he did…
 

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A word with a Ward, Award-maker, leaves worried BBC journo wordless

Dapper designer John Ward, earlier this week, wearing one of his many professional hats…

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog about this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe. The trophy itself – as with all Malcolm Hardee Awards – was designed and made by mad inventor John Ward.

Dr David Weeks’ academic analysis…

Among John Ward’s many other accomplishments are writing a weekly column – Ward’s World – for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and ‘starring’ in psychiatrist Dr David Weeks’ 1995 academic book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness.

Yesterday, I got an email from John Ward:

“A BBC Three Counties Radio bod rung me up just now – asked me about the Malcolm Hardee Award and asked was I willing to do an over-the-phone interview later today.

“Then he asked me if I had any connections with Edinburgh other than the Awards side. 

“I said: My psychiatrist lives there (as in David Weeks) and then things seemed to get sort of quiet and he said he would ‘get back to me later’.

“I have heard no more.”

Obviously the BBC has to ‘up’ its reporters’ inquisitiveness.

They should have been even more interested by the mention of a psychiatrist and should also have asked the obvious question: “If you live in the middle of England, why do you have a psychiatrist in Scotland?”

John Ward is also featured (among many other appearances) in the 2015 documentary film A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics by Academy Award winning director, John Zaritsky.

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A DIY guide to getting and making an Edinburgh Fringe comedy award…

This morning, a month after this year’s cut-down-by-Covid Edinburgh Fringe finished, the 2021 Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner was announced. Yes, a month after it finished. 

The late Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home

Alas no attempt was made to link the fact that the Award and the dead-but-impossible-to-forget comic Malcolm Hardee himself are both late.

Normally, there are three Malcolm Hardee Awards but, with no Fringe last year, with Covid still stalking the land and with staggeringly fewer shows at the Fringe this year, it’s a miracle there was any award at all.

As for the lesser Fringe awards… There were no Edinburgh Comedy (aka Perrier) Awards at all this year. And the eponymous TV channel did not attempt to award any prize for ‘DAVE’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

Fittingly, then, the winner of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year was Will Mars, who announced his own ‘(Some Guy Called) DAVE Joke of the Fringe 2021’.

A cunning stunt indeed.

The TV channel’s annual prize is awarded after multiple allegedly top comedy industry professionals assiduously scout for jokes to nominate a shortlist and the final winner is decided by an allegedly carefully supervised public vote. 

This year, Will Mars just got together a few gags from people’s shows and then wandered up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh trying to find anyone called Dave who would pick a winner from the bunch.

Surprisingly, finding someone called Dave turned out to be almost as difficult as picking a winner.

The chosen winning joke was Masai Graham’s:

“I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but, when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”

The shortlist of other jokes – inexplicably Caesar-centric – which Will had got together included:

Adele Cliff: “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.” 

Ben Clover: “Getting a caesarian is dangerous in Russia. If they open you up and find a little girl, they open her up to see if there’s another.”

Ivor Dembina: “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.”

Sameer Katz: “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”

Leo Kearse: “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”

Will Mars’ own: “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”

Tom Mayhew: “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”

Rich Pulsford: “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”

The trophy for the one-off 2021 Award itself was designed and crafted by mad inventor John Ward, who has designed and made all the previous trophies.

But you can’t just knock-off a Malcolm Hardee Award in a minute or two. Oh no. Oh my dear me, no. Quality counts.

You need raw materials and then you have to decide what the fuck to do with them…

Once you have ’em, you have to shape ’em and craft ’em…

Then, if you’re talented like John Ward, you have to tart ’em up into a final trophy…

John Ward (he’s the one on the right) with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2021

John Ward told me: “It’s basically Malcolm’s bonce, with real imitation hair, plus the specs mounted on an ‘H’ shaped base for Hardee.

“I used a BAFTA type theme but tried to take the piss out of it with the silver (on the right) symbolising the bland year and half it’s been with Covid and the golden ray of laughter (on the left) is pure (if that’s a suitable word) Malcolm with a hearty grin.”

“With real imitation hair?” I asked. “From where?”

“From a fabric shop I patronise for such things…”

“Such things?” I asked.

“I use it to make wigs and I buy it by the yard as you never know when you might run out of the hairy stuff…” replied John.

Here is a reminder of John Ward.

Here is Will Mars’ typically non-promotional speech accepting the 2021 Cunning Stunt Award…

 
And here is the base of John Ward’s trophy…

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