Following up my previous blog, in which ChatGPT decided that I had died twice – in 2019 and then again in 2020 – I decided to see what else I had done in my life.
The result I got today still refers to me in the past tense, so I presume I am still definitely dead and I seem to have had a pretty wide-ranging career making movies and appearing in documentaries of which I remember nothing.
I also seem to have been a BBC Radio producer without knowing about it.
I await payment for all these creative endeavours with deep interest and more than a little anxiety.
ChatGPT told me:
All of that was and is a mystery to me though, thank gawd, there was no mention of the movie which dare not speak its name.
Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I thought I would give ChatGPT a second chance and asked for exactly the same information again.
This time I got a far more personal-sounding response:
So my fantastic 20-25 year career in television apparently was just that – a fantasy. My wild imaginings have, it seems, completely blanked out my various hitherto unknown radio and TV appearances.
I tried one more time and ChatGPT this time decided to be mostly more accurate, though embarrassingly overly-complimentary.
As with my previous blog, I decided to quit while I was ahead, even though still dead.
Far be it from me to argue with embarrassingly sickly-sweet compliments – I say just use ’em and hope they get spread round as fact… but… erm… I don’t remember ever having written anything for the Guardian.
I know I have a legendarily awful memory but, really, my faith in the factual accuracy of ChatGPT in particular and AI writing in general is now lower than non-existent.
Yes, I know that is impossible. But we are in a strange, brave new world that has such chatbots in it…
So I tried ChatGPT again with the same question, to see if it was consistent.
I was a bit miffed that, although it reassuringly seemed I was still alive, it entirely incorrectly said I had been born in 1947 (among other false facts), so I tried again:
Well, at least I am still alive, I thought, so… Fourth time lucky…
As I had now died a second time – admittedly a year later than the first time, I thought I had better give up while I was ahead. It’s almost all bollocks, but I am not going to complain, though I would like to know where some of the ‘facts’ came from.
Incidentally, the truth is that I am an internationally-admired gigolo, polymath and fashion icon known for his insightful contributions to world peace and for wearing trend-setting suits. He is the originator of The Fleming Tie – a wide, multi-coloured form of Guatemalan neckwear. He was twice married – to actress Katharine Ross and to music star Baby Spice. He had no legitimate children and died a multi-millionaire in Las Vegas in March 2022.
With luck, ChatGPT will now assimilate that knowledge into its database…
For example, if you perform one show of the same name every month for a couple of years in London’s West End (which can be said to cover quite a large area and an exceptional number of pubs), you can legitimately say your show ran for two years in London’s Theatreland and that you were in a long-running West End show.
Someone I know looked herself up on an AI website today.
So I did the same. Well, not the same. I did not look her up. I looked myself up knowing. pretty well, what it would say.
Lovely Apple MacBook. Shame about my bank’s credit card
My bank is usually – I say ‘usually’ – very efficient and has an online site that is very useful and user friendly.
I have not just my current account with them but my credit card account.
I have removed the name of my bank from what follows because – hey! – you can never be too careful, never too paranoid, online.
So I bought a new MacBook computer back in January, using my bank’s credit card. Obviously, being Apple, it cost over £1,000.
It arrives tomorrow and, in the early hours of yesterday morning, Apple not unreasonably tried to get their payment from my credit card account.
So I got woken up at 02.21am by a text message from my bank saying they were about to send me a text message.
I then received a second text message from an unknown mobile phone number, not from my bank.
It said (I have removed specifics):
XXX Bank has noticed your XXX Bank Credit card ending XXXX was used on 01-02-2021 02.20.50, at apple.com/UK for £1249.00. This payment was declined. If this was you reply YES, otherwise reply NO. There is no need to call us. Responding to this text is the quickest way to update your account.
Now what is the correct answer to this message from an unknown mobile phone number?
Logically, I think the answer should be NO because, no, it was not me who declined the payment. But I presumed the answer they were wanting was YES because I had used the card, though not on the date and time they quoted – it was several weeks previously.
There was also no reason given why the payment was declined.
But it mentioned the correct account.
I did hesitate about clicking YES on the basis I was answering a text from a totally unknown mobile phone and, by clicking YES, I could well be triggering some premium rate phone call to some obscure country and would be charged insane amounts.
But it was 02.51am in the morning and, rather than not get the computer, I clicked YES assuming the problem was that my bank’s computer was triggered by the unusual £1,249 credit card payment.
I then got another text message from the unknown mobile phone number saying:
Thanks for confirming this was you. If you still need to make this payment, please wait 10 minutes and try again. There is no need to call us.
So I was now being told by the unknown mobile phone number that, despite or because of clicking YES, the purchase had been cancelled and I would have to make the £1,249.00 payment again.
I looked up my bank’s normally useful website and eventually found the number to phone for Help on my credit card.
I phoned it and – obviously I first had to go through two or it might have been three automatic machines giving me choices of where to go – I reached the Helpline which had an answering message saying it was closed until 0700.
I got back to sleep around 0300 and, when I woke up properly around 0900, I checked my credit card account online to discover the £1,249.00 had been un-declined and was quite correctly pending. So all that crap about If you still need to make this payment, please wait 10 minutes and try again was bollocks.
My reaction… (Photo by Brian Lundquist via UnSplash)
I phoned my bank’s alleged Helpline and was told if I still needed to make the payment I should make it again – in other words buy the computer again – despite the fact the money had now been accepted as legit. Much other bullshit swirled around, too tedious for even me to repeat.
I mentioned all the above to a friend who told me much the same thing had happened to her. She was with the same bank. On that occasion, she simply cancelled her purchase, re-bought it again with another bank’s credit card and had no problem.
When the US chain Borders opened up its own-branded bookshops in the UK a few years ago, I found browsing there a frustrating experience because they had no category for BIOGRAPHY (or autobiography). Someone told me this was fairly standard in the US but certainly not in the UK, which seems to have an unquenchable appetite for biographies.
In the case of Borders UK (which collapsed in 2009), they bookshelved biographies according to subject. Which meant you had to sometimes guess what they thought the subject was. How do you categorise Brian Blessed? Eccentric? Actor? Mountaineer? Does the biography of Lawrence of Arabia go under Military, Middle East or Gay?
In the case of my chum Janey Godley, her autobiography Handstands in the Dark runs the gamut from child abuse to British gangsters to Scottish social history to drug culture, psychology and more. Sometimes Borders categorised it as ‘Comedy’ because she is best known as a comedian.
This week, my chum – journalist, songwriter, comedian Ariane Sherine – she too is difficult to categorise – started a series of YouTube videos called Ariane Sherine Eats Clean and Gets Lean. It is about losing weight.
Ariane talks about her eating and other problems on YouTube
It has some chance of being successful because it is the sort of thing that might appeal to housewives in mid-America, which I understand is where the viral hits come from – as well as from spotty teenagers in the US and elsewhere, who will appreciate the underwear sequences.
The first introductory ‘episode’ was rather different to what you might expect from a series of videos about losing weight. In Ariane’s own words: “It features my #MeToo story of being sexually assaulted hundreds of times and my struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD and weight gain.”
You could also throw in jaw-droppingly honest psychological insights.
The odd thing about this introductory video to her series is the YouTube category she put it under.
She categorised it as ‘Comedy’.
You can use multiple tags on a YouTube video, but can only define it as being in one Category.
These are the possible categories:
Autos & Vehicles
Film & Animation
How to & Style
News & Politics
Nonprofits & Activism
People & Blogs
Pets & Animals
Science & Technology
Travel & Events
Which is the correct category for a dark, autobiographical, psychological piece covering sexual assault, mental problems, eating disorders and suicide?
Ariane has tagged her Introduction video in multiple ways, but she has put it under the category ‘Comedy’ because she is currently primarily known for her humorous musical numbers.
I like the English language. Even – or perhaps especially – when it approaches the abstract.
Yesterday, there was a message meandering around Facebook which people were re-posting and which said:
If you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, comment with a memory you have of us. After you’re done, post this on your wall. You’d be surprised with what people remember about you.
It seemed fairly pointless, so I posted a version which said:
If you’re reading this, especially if we have never met, comment with a completely fictional memory you have of us. You will be visited by angels and small woodland creatures wearing corduroy culottes.
Below is the result: a series of unconnected, often surreal, almost abstract thoughts which I find strangely comforting and mesmerising.
I have partially anonymised the respondents, all of whom are highly admirable people. A few of them I have actually met, but they have not let that get in the way of their literally fantastic free-flowing thoughts…
MIKE: We met when I caught you giving my unicorn a hand job. Things went steadily downhill from there.
PAUL: Fight Club.
DARREN: You looked better dressed as Mary Poppins than I did as Batman.
ALEX: You used to steal my tuck shop money at school. You also taught me Geography.
ANIL: Remember when we got really pissed and killed that copper?
KEARA: I am so happy about that time I never slept with you. I will treasure that moment forever. Thanks for the memory.
ROBERT: Do you remember that time we got stuck on the train outside Bognor Regis? They wouldn’t open the doors until the engineer came and everyone sat around singing Abba songs. I think your dancing went a bit far, mind you.
ALI: We had booked you for the wedding reception but you were not what was expected. Tracey thought it was Bob Fleming from The Fast Show. We are indeed divorced just as you predicted.
STEPHEN: Imagine my surprise, when but a small orphaned boy in Calcutta, your family would take me in and bring me up as one of their own. I didn’t mind sleeping in the wardrobe and was an honour to polish your shoes. I even came to enjoy the beatings. The handcuffs didn’t chafe much at all.
PETER: I lent you £7,075. Are you ready to pay it back yet?
ANDREW: Our eyes met… what the rest of me was doing I don’t recall.
KERRY: I was the getaway driver when you and Jeremy Paxman robbed that Kardashian bint. I was dressed as a badger and you wore black… Ah yes, I remember it well.
LINDA: Auditioning for Girls Aloud. You joined the Spice Girls. I joined Take That.
RODERICK: Meeting you in person.
DOIREANN: I was an unwitting and rather stupid rodent stuck down a well and you fished me out and gave me some food. I briefly acknowledged your help then ran away and continued my stupid rodent life. Sorry about that. I developed a sense of remorse, uncharacteristic of rodents, so that may be my comeuppance!
STEFANIA: I still have your corduroy culottes….
MARTIN: It wasn’t my only homosexual experience, but it was my last.
ALEXIS: Why don’t we see culottes anymore?
JONNY: We had a Star Wars themed wedding, I was the butch, you were the bitch and Mr and Mrs John Fleming lived happily ever after in a galaxy far far away.
TRIONA: I remember the teeth.
KATE: Don’t beat me again with your meatstick, daddy!! Sorry, just had a bit of a flashback there…
A.J.: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; we were fighting a battle for good against evil. On the Sega Mega Drive in 1992.
IAN: …and then you brought out the handcuffs and I said: “Unless you’re a cop you can forget it.”
ALIAS: Remember that time in the late nineties when we were testing out those prototype virtual reality goggles and we got trapped inside the elk hunting simulation after the computer became self aware? Good times.
ANDY: As my slightly older alter ego YOU need to post the fiction stuff as you only exist as my plausible deniability.
ROSIE: When Barbra Streisand didn’t know when to go home.
KENNY: I did actually meet you once, but you were too busy filling Les Dennis’ trousers with Marmite in the lobby of Yorkshire Television.
JANE: Crikey, I remember that time in Goa when we trod on a snoozing python… but it didn’t seem to mind it was so doped, thankfully.
EVELYN: So glad you told me there was loo roll flowing from my skirt tail. Complete gentleman. Thank you.
SIMON: You went all improv. We had to leave the scenes on the cutting room floor. Shame, as I thought that your SpiderBat look was something the audience of today would want to see.
COLIN: ‘Nam ’67.
JEZEBEL: We’ll always have Paris. One day, we may be forced to take it back.
JAMES: You were an extremely tender lover and taught me so much. I’d certainly never considered doing THAT with THOSE before.
KEV: I was the one who nudged your petri dish and helped you discover penicillin.
HENRIK: It was in an earlier life. You were one of Napoleon’s generals, I was a bumblebee who just happened to fly by.
GEOFF: There was that time in Bogota when some local dropped mescaline into our drinks and we lost a weekend in dreams.
DONNA: Now I just want a cute woodland creature!
JACKIE: I taught you the meaning of the word respect, then I barked like a dog…
ALASTAIR: We were both competing at the Annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Championships. There was a lot of phlegm flying about!! (I give Ariane Sherine some credit for that – not the flying phlegm, I mean me getting this idea – I remember her calling you John Phlegming in one of her Adventures Of A Stand-up Comic.)
ZHURONG: I only added you because I thought you wrote James Bond.
NOEL: That time we used to run guns for the Zapatistas into Chiapas. Crazy times!
ZUMA: That time you gave birth to a creepy baby and said: “It’s not mine”. Hah so funny!
My daily blog has not appeared for a couple of days because WordPress, which hosts it, had some technical problem which meant it was impossible for me to save or post anything. And, even if you pay them, they do not provide Support – you have to post on user forums with no guarantee of any response from anyone.
Giving them grief on Twitter seemed to have some slight effect – eventually. To a partial extent. I got this message:
Let us know if we can help with anything! Here’s how to export your content and take it with you.
It might have been useful if WordPress could have sorted out the technical problem which means I cannot post any blogs. I might have thought WordPress would be more concerned with their software not working rather than helping people to leave.
After WordPress getting more Twitter and Reddit grief orchestrated by this blog’s South Coast correspondent, Sandra Smith, I got some reaction from a WordPress ‘staff’ member (whom you apparently can’t contact normally) – which was minimal and apparently transient, as I have heard no more from him.
But, about three hours later, when I tried again, the problem had disappeared. I had changed and done nothing. So I can only assume WordPress corrected the fault and never bothered to tell me.
As Facebook Friend Alias Robert Cummins succinctly put it: WordPress is amazingly shit, in all sorts of tiresome and complex ways, which I’d really rather not go into this late in the evening.
That is his real name, by the way – the one he was given at birth – Alias Robert Cummins. It is a bizarre story and one probably worth a blog at some point.
John Ward’s toilet accessory has a gun, silencer and loo roll
In the two days of missing blogs and navel-gazing, the world still turned, with John Ward, designer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards getting some publicity in Lincolnshire of all places because today the James Bond film SPECTRE is released and, a couple of years ago, John designed a combined gun-rack and toilet paper holder.
He used to own a gun licence himself: something that never made me sleep easy in bed.
When no new blogs were being posted the last couple of days, the old one getting most hits was last Wednesday’s blog, about David McGillivray’s new short film of a previously un-produced gay porn script Trouser Bar written in 1976 by Sir John Gielgud.
David McGillivray (left) during the filming with Nigel Havers
The film (still in post-production) includes performances by Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers. One blog reader user-named ‘Ludoicah’ commented:
I’d say with a cast that includes Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer that there is zero chance of this being any sort of a porn film, gay or otherwise, and it is probably, at most, a mildly risqué sketch.
To which David McGillivray replied:
Incorrect. It’s utter filth, liable to deprave and corrupt. I was blindfolded while I was producing it.
Sir John Gielgud’s script was inspired, it seems, by his love of men in tight trousers, particularly trousers made from corduroy.
Last Thursday, the day after my blog on the film appeared, the following was posted (with photo) on Trouser Bar’s Facebook page:
Trouser Bar still – corduroy trousers un-creamed by Sir John
I’ve just seen the rough cut. Sir John would have creamed his corduroy jeans at this close-up.
It also quoted Sir John’s letter to Paul Anstee of 19th October, 1958:
“The students at the schools and universities [in Pennsylvania] are a wonderful audience, and a good deal of needle cord manch is worn (very badly cut, and usually only partly zipped!) so my eyes occasionally wander.”
Also posted on the Trouser Bar Facebook page was this quote from a Galton and Simpson comedy script for Hancock’s Half Hourin 1958:
Sid: “Hilary St Clair.”
Tony: “Hilary St Clair? I bet he’s all corduroys and blow waves”
with the comment:
Even in the 1950s it seems that corduroy was associated with homosexuality.
All this, plus a photo on my blog of Sir John Gielgud with Sir Ralph Richardson in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, made Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – ask::
I wonder what kind of porn Ralph Richardson wrote?
and to mention:
Comedian Tony Hancock – Is this the face of a 1950s criminal?
I bought a Tony Hancock album last week at a junk shop. A woman wondered to me whether he was a criminal.
“He wasn’t a criminal,” I said, a bit annoyed. ”He was a comedian!”
“He looks like a criminal,” the woman countered, doubting my certainty.
“It was the 1950s,” I said, exasperated. “Everyone looked like a criminal back then.”
Bob Pipe in alien invasion mode at Soho Theatre yesterday
Six degrees of separation, eh?
Matt Roper, who performs as the singer Wilfredo, is living in my spare room for another couple of weeks.
I was talking to TV and video producer/director Bob Pipe at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday and the fact that Bob recently directed the video for Wilfredo’s Christmas song (out soon) never came up because neither of us twigged that we had Matt in common.
“We’re making a 90 minute version of our web series,” he told me. “We’ve written a first draft a lot of which encompasses the sketches from the web series. James Wren (of the Hen & Chickens theatre) is co-writing and co-producing it with me. Now we’re crowdfunding to get the development money – £13,586 – so we can hire a line producer and a script editor or script doctor.”
“Is there a market for 1950s-style sci-fi?” I asked.
Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal
“I think people do want the unexpected,” said Bob. “I mean, The Artist won Oscars – that was a silent movie in black & white – and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was successful. I think there still is a market for honing old tropes.
“The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! will have modern CGI special effects, a modern style of acting, modern editing. There won’t be wobbly sets!”
“So it’s not really a pastiche,” I said.
“No. It’s not going to be a parody or a spoof.”
“More like,” I suggested, “Star Wars, which was not a parody but an homage to 1930s sci-fi serials?”
“On a lower budget! But, yes. The web series is very much in that vein. With humour.”
“So the film comes out of the web series of the same name…”
“Yes, we did the original web series for £16,000 for a production company called ChannelFlip – part of Shine. YouTube were funding production companies to create original content and ChannelFlip was one of 10 or 12 who were given £1 million each to create original channels. What ChannelFlip pitched was The Multiverse, with sort-of sci-fi home of geek content and I heard about this and pitched the idea to them of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and they said Oh, We want to do a 1950s sci fi alien invasion spoof! So they gave me £16,000 to make it.”
“How long did you have to make it? ” I asked.
“From commission, they gave me three weeks to supply a trailer. They wanted two trailers and then a series of ten episodes of 3-4 minutes. They wanted the trailers before the series, which was a challenge.”
“I made the first trailer. Then Warwick Davis saw it. ChannelFlip had him as an ‘ambassador’ for Multiverse to publicise their business. He loved it and asked if he could be in it, so I wrote a role specially for him. We shot all his stuff in one day up in Peterborough.”
“Showbiz is a glamorous world,” I said. “How did you start?”
“When I was in college, around 1998/1999, I did a HND in Media Production at North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design and our end-of-year project was to make short films. I made a 5 minute short version of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! back in 1999. I didn’t have access to proper actors and I had just watched Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and thought: I can do that!
“Then I started in TV as a runner and worked my way up to AP level – at North One and ITV. North One created the ‘list’ format.”
“Things like TV’s 100 Funniest Hats?” I asked.
“Yes. I worked on a lot of those shows. I worked for Endemol as a researcher on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.
We thought – perhaps wrongly – it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a milk jug to promote his science fiction film
“At Warner, in 2007, I co-set-up a comedy website called Comedy Box – record sales were going down and Warner were looking for new areas to invest in. We got John Lloyd in to be our figurehead, much like Warwick Davis was for ChannelFlip. We ran Comedy Box for a year – five sketches every week – but we couldn’t find revenue; this was only a year after YouTube had been set up.
“We were about to fold everything up and then MySpace came along – do you remember MySpace? They were setting up MySpace Comedy so they bought all our archive and we became their production company to supply original content. At that point, we went away from the John Lloyd esque sketches into more prank reality stuff. But, then, again, that part of MySpace folded in a year.
“And I’ve been freelancing ever since working on things like The Matt Lucas Awards – I did behind-the-scenes stuff for that; Dick and Dom’s Funny Business. I was a digital producer on The Voice this year – creating the content for their social media sites and producing the highlights show The Voice Louder on BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
“So why 1950s science fiction films?” I asked.
One of Bob’s 1950s movie inspirations
“I’m a big fan. Films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet. And when I was growing up, on TV it was the era of Red Dwarf, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“Your interest,” I asked, “was in American B films, as opposed to British ones like Hammer and the Quatermasses.”
“Well, there’s a writer called Phil Whelans who used to write on The 11 O’Clock Show and be in Bill Bailey’s band and he runs an evening called Grand Theft Impro.
“When we made the web series last year, he brought an Englishness to The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and suggested we go for a more Quatermass kind of feel. He plays a Quatermass kind of doctor character in the web series: much more stoical than American.
“The challenge is trying to make a 1950s alien invasion movie applicable to the modern market. Do you remember the The Comic Strip Presents films with loads of celebrity cameos? There will be four or five strands running through our feature film, peppered with celebrity cameos.”
“Have you got an elevator pitch for it?” I asked.
“Our tagline is ALIEN INVASIONS REALLY SUCK.”
“What cost over-all?”
“We think between £250,000 to £500,000 but, if we get in some script doctor who has worked on major films and a great line producer… At the moment, the production company is The Forgery Club which is also a comedy night we run – a sketch, character and themed night.”