Category Archives: Politics

The backward-walking man is dead. Long live the backward-walking man!

The late Michael Dickinson, circa 2014, as he appeared in the Camden New Journal this week…

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal and was sad to read about the death of Michael Dickinson.

You’ve never heard of him? Neither had I until May last year, when I was in Camden Town and saw a man walking backwards. Not just for a couple of seconds or a minute. He walked backwards the whole time.

I posted two videos of him on YouTube. This was the first:

Obviously, I looked him up online and found out he had been doing this for years and was former actor Michael Dickinson.

He had been born in either Durham or Yorkshire, depending on which legend you believe, and he studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969 alongside future actors Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By – Gay Sweatshop production at the Almost Free Theatre, 1975.

In the 1970s, he became an actor himself. In 1975, he kissed Simon Callow in Passing By, a ‘groundbreaking’ two-man show about a gay romance.

Rather miscast as Jesus in another play, he eventually mostly gave up acting and took up collage art.

In 1982, he held an exhibition in Primrose Hill and a review in esteemed local paper the Hampstead & Highgate Express (the Ham & High), said he was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

In an interview in the Camden New Journal on 25th May 2017, he claimed that he could no longer walk forwards and had self-diagnosed his condition as ‘retropulsion’.

He said: “It could be psychological, or I heard somebody say it could be a disease, but I don’t feel unwell apart from that. If I didn’t feel this retropulsion I would much prefer to be walking forwards. When it first started happening it was bewildering, to say the least.

“Occasionally people in cars blow horns at me, which is dangerous because I turn to look at them rather than where I’m going. 

“I don’t really want to see a doctor, I feel they’ll just put me on some sort of medication and I would rather not be. I can deal with it and there is no law against it. I’m careful that I had never hurt anybody, although I did hurt myself the other day when I tripped over a branch as I walked through the woods.”

From the mid-1980s for almost three decades – before he started walking backwards – he had lived in Turkey, working as a teacher and artist, sometimes telling fortunes to pay his rent.

…with one of his less insulting Turkish collages in 2014… (Photograph by Polly Hancock for the Ham & High)

He somewhat annoyed the Turkish authorities in 2006 by creating a collage which depicted leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from American President George W. Bush in a pet show. The resultant court case stretched over four years.

In 2008, he was prosecuted for insulting Erdogan by creating the collage. He was initially cleared, but the verdict was overturned in 2010 and then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was deported.

Back in London between the two incidents, in 2011, he was arrested in Parliament Square (where he was living in a tent) after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Permanently in London after his deportation from Turkey, he slept in the streets around Camden Town. While living in a cardboard box next to the Sainsbury’s supermarket there, some people who were squatting in the former police station in Hampstead met him at a soup kitchen and invited him to join their squat.

While there, he ate food discarded by shops and cafés and chucked-away in recycling bins. He made some money by telling fortunes on the street.

It was possibly not too rough an existence as it was a Grade II listed building and they had a wide-screen television set.

He was very grateful to the squatters.

He told the Ham & High: “I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Squatters are evicted from the former Hampstead police station in 2014 with their belongings, including wide screen TV

Eventually, on the afternoon of 2nd May 2014, the police evicted the squatters in the former Hampstead police station and he took to sleeping in a tent in a Hampstead cementery, though he eventually ended up in a legitimate Highgate flat by 2017.

When and why exactly did he start to walk backwards? 

Leonie Scott-Matthews of Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead told the Camden New Journal this week: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here; he got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

His friend Charles Thomson says: “It was clearly symbolic I felt. He enjoyed be­ing in Turkey and he couldn’t go back. He was walking back­wards when I last saw him.”

His friend Kay Bayliss added: “He emailed me around Christmas saying he was having phlegm problems that persisted. He was still suffering this when he emailed me on April 11 and now had serious-sounding gut problems… Michael had a very interesting life. At school all the girls loved him. He was so good looking and very complimentary even in more recent times.”

Michael Dickinson died “from peritonitis resulting from a gut obstruction”, in his Highgate bedsit, aged 70, on 2nd July 2020. 

So it goes.

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

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A blog written by predictive text

I thought I would see what a 7-paragraph blog would be like if I let predictive text take over and only start it off… So, with absolutely no editing by me…


The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

What I want to tell you today is gonna be a great night.

The first thing you did there is to be in the bed. The first time is a bit harsh.

The only way you could do that this app was for the iPad and it is very good for you and the free was a great way too.

The only way was a way to make it happen to you.

The first time is a bit harsh but it was the best.

You can never use Facebook for chat or later chat with a few people.

You have been an awesome person for me and you are both in a way of telling the story about the two days you were going through the door to the answer.


Having read that – written entirely by predictive text… It could almost be a Presidential statement.

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Comic Scott Capurro on comedians who lie and Gordon Brown’s hot handshake

29 days ago – yes, 29 days ago – I chatted to American comedian Scott Capurro in London, after one of the Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club ‘new material’ nights. Then I got busy and/or distracted and/or just plain lazy. I have no excuse. But here it is, 29 days later…


SCOTT: It’s great to write new material. It’s really, really exciting. And I think the audience enjoys seeing us crush and then being crushed. They like to see us fail. It’s fun. And we enjoy watching each other fail on stage because the process of what we do – creating comedy – has to have an element of failure in it, otherwise it’s never going to work.

You will never find the joke in it unless you are able to tell it five or ten or twenty times on stage in front of somebody to find out where the humour is. We will famously rehearse something for days and think: This is perfect now; I’ll bring it in… and it doesn’t get a laugh. Not a whisper. Because to us it’s funny but, to a roomful of strangers who don’t know us, they don’t get it.  So you gotta make it accessible to a roomful of people who don’t know you – again and again and again.

It’s tough for comedians, because it’s hard to remember that what you do is difficult. Even though you know it’s a speciality and a very specific talent to take something like the stabbings on London Bridge and turn that into what has gotta be a joke. The only place where you can deal with it immediately after is on the comedy stage.

JOHN: So the relationship between the stand-up comic and the audience is…?

Scott Capurro (left) in London with his husband Edson

SCOTT: There has to be a moment where the audience remembers that the lights are pointed not at them, but at that solitary figure on that piece of the wood. And the problem I think with the current way we discourse through phones and iPads and so on is we don’t make eye contact.

I find myself now, when I’m talking to people in an audience, if they’re under the age of 25 and I make eye-contact with them, they are a little bit wary of me. And that can be difficult because, to them, a punchline sounds old-fashioned – something their bigoted uncle tells at a wedding when he’s drunk.

The focus of comedy has shifted a bit and my job now is to find a way to make what I do accessible to those people as well. There is no point blocking them out or saying they don’t get it or they’re ‘too woke’ or they’re ‘too PC’ or too ANYthing.

People are in a comedy club for a reason: they want to laugh. So you have to allow them the chance to do that.

JOHN: But that is, as you say, difficult…

SCOTT: And it SHOULD be a difficult struggle or else the audience is gonna know what’s gonna happen next. When I go see a comedian, what I find cynical is when I find them predictable or they seem lazy on stage and the audience knows where it’s going. What I think is great about live performance or really any performance I like is that I don’t want to know what’s round the corner.

Now, in this country and especially in comedy for some reason, it has become difficult sometimes to deal with certain subjects.

I was in Stoke at the weekend and told some jokes about Stoke terrorism.

JOHN: Stoke terrorism?

SCOTT: Well that guy who stabbed those people on London Bridge. I told some jokes and they got quiet, but it’s my job. I would not be doing my job if I didn’t do that.

JOHN: You started a podcast recently…

SCOTT: Scott Capurro Probes – I just talk to writers, comics, politicians – people that present their work publicly.

JOHN: Politicians? Like…?

“I got a real tingle from his handshake.” (Copyright: World Economic Forum)

SCOTT: I really want to interview Gordon Brown. I met him backstage at the Hay Festival. I had just met my (future) husband the year before and we were thinking of getting married. I think it was around 2009; Gordon Brown was Prime Minister at the time. He had some really handsome bodyguards.

I shook hands with him. He’s a really big guy. He’s very attractive in person. I found him extremely attractive to talk to. Just five minutes, but really funny, charming and affable and very self-deprecating. On camera, I don’t think his warmth comes across as much as it does in life.

We had shared a stage but not at the same time. A lot of the audience who had seen him in the afternoon stayed to watch me in the evening.

On stage in the afternoon, he had praised Tony Blair and I found out later the audience had not responded very well to that.

Not having seen that afternoon performance, I spoke about what a hero Tony Blair was to me. And the audience… I don’t think they turned on me, but they were not as receptive as I normally find an audience of Guardian readers to be. I was quite surprised by their response and then a woman who still writes for the Guardian wrote a SCATHING review of my performance. It upset me for years.

But people forget that, to gay men – even now – Tony Blair is a hugely iconic supportive figure, because he introduced marriage equality. That was a big deal for us. Huge. And he says it is still a shining moment of his legacy and he still thinks very proudly of it.

People also forget that, at a lot of Gay Pride functions, Tony Blair showed up as Prime Minister. That was a big deal to us. That had not happened before.

So, however smug or supercilious or middle class you want to be, watching me, thinking that you can judge me because I happen to be a supporter of Tony Blair, you can fuck off. That’s kind of what I told them that night.

I really admired Gordon Brown. I got a real tingle from his handshake. He held it for a while. I thought: This guy’s really hot. He’s gonna win! He’s gonna win!… And then it all went sour and here we are now.

JOHN: Are you doing a podcast because it allows you to be more serious? So you don’t have to do gag-gag-gag?

SCOTT: No. I just like chat. In comedy, I am very gag oriented. I am very jokey.

JOHN: You are very fast.

SCOTT: I don’t write set-ups. I tend to just tell punchlines for 25 or 30 minutes. When I first came over from the US and was playing the UK, I was very much nicer and, when I started breaking the mainstream, I felt I had to buffer. But I don’t buffer jokes now. I don’t at all. 

JOHN: Define ‘buffer’.

SCOTT: A set-up.

There’s a traditional joke set-up. You set the joke up. You do an example. And then you tell a punch.

My mother is tough. When I was a kid, she did this to me. And… PUNCH.

I understand that structure and it’s something audiences are very comfortable with. It’s familiar. But now I skip the first two parts. I just tell the punches.

Joan Rivers – Life in Progress at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe

I learned about ten years ago how to do it, watching Joan Rivers at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then I read an interview with her where she said: “I only pay comics for the punchlines; I never ask for the set-ups.”

I thought: That’s interesting. If you only told the punchlines in a set, I wonder how many you could squeeze in. That’s what the audience is here to hear. I mean, I don’t think they give a shit about my politics or my personal response to things.

JOHN: Don’t they?

SCOTT: I think, in Edinburgh, you can break that mould and do more personal stuff. It’s actually expected of you now in Edinburgh. They want a journey. They want you to be fingered or some sort of lie.

JOHN: Lie?

SCOTT: Yeah. 

JOHN: Explain?

SCOTT: Well, at least two shows that have done very well recently, I’ve been told by the premise-creators that they weren’t true… But, oh well. It’s a show anyway. Just a show.

JOHN: So they were telling a…

SCOTT: That’s all I’ll say about it.

JOHN: Comedians are paid to go on stage and tell lies…

SCOTT: They are. But if the show is based round something and you then talk about that thing seriously in public… (PAUSE) but it’s still just a story… I find that… (PAUSE) You know what, though? You are giving people what they want.

I mean, I saw a show in preview last year and, when the artist came off stage, the artist’s management said: “You didn’t put that thing in about your father dying…” And this artist said: “I didn’t think it was necessary.” And they said: “You need to put it back in if you want to get nominated.”

And I thought: That’s fine. Why not put it in? Why not write jokes about it? That’s our job… But then I thought: But you need to let the artist do their progression. I don’t want administrative staff stepping in and telling me what creativity is.

So that’s all.

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Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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Death is no barrier to being interviewed by the BBC about the General Election

BBC graphic for their wide-ranging 2019 General Election coverage of the living and the dead…

We are in the throes of a UK General Election campaign with the result declared in December… on Friday the 13th. Yes, Friday the 13th, This does not bode well.

Mad inventor John Ward designed and makes the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. He was also a valued member of the Monster Raving Loony Party under its late leader Screaming Lord Sutch and Minister for Inventions in The Eccentric Party under its late leader Lord Toby Jug. 

John Ward seems to loom large as a figure of impending death for the leaders of such parties.

Anyway, yesterday John Ward received a phone call from an enthusiastic young BBC Radio 4 researcher.

The conversation went thus:


John Ward being interviewed by a Russian TV crew (don’t ask)

BBC BOY: We are having a General Election.

JOHN WARD: I noticed. If some of us don’t like the result, we can perhaps ask for a re-run until we get one we’re happy with.

BBC BOY: Errr… Yes. How many candidates will be standing for Eccentric Party in this election?

JOHN WARD: Beats me. I have no idea.

BBC BOY: So – It’s a surprise tactic, then?

JOHN WARD: If you call raising the dead a surprise tactic, then it’s a definite Yes on that one.

BBC BOY: But, joking apart, are you willing to record a little piece over the telephone if we set a time up convenient for you?… Or can you give me a contact for your leader, Toby…

JOHN WARD: It might be slightly inconvenient for the leader to take part in an interview as he is – and I have this on good authority – very much no longer with us.

BBC BOY: No longer with you?

JOHN WARD:  As in, well… dead… and he has been in this current state since last May.

BBC BOY: Dead?

JOHN WARD: Although it might be said that some supposed living Members of Parliament could be classed with the same status even though they are breathing and putting on a dashed fine show of things.

BBC BOY: (LAUGHS, THEN A PAUSE…) So this is a publicity thing in order to gain more votes for Eccentric Party candidates?

JOHN WARD: No. Brian is, until further notice, dead.

BBC BOY: Brian?

JOHN WARD: Brian Borthwick – Lord Toby.

BBC BOY: So can we record a few quotes, if we can sort out a time to record over the telephone?… About items on the Eccentric Party Manifesto and its aims.

JOHN WARD: One of our key things is to make it law that researchers should bone up on their subject matter before contacting people.

BBC BOY: (LONG PAUSE) But really, is it possible to have a word with Lord Toby Jug as we want to explore the alternative vote?

JOHN WARD: You could look up Yellow Pages under S for Séance and book me a seat once a venue is sorted.

BBC BOY: You’re not being very helpful.

JOHN WARD: Moi?

BBC BOY: I will have to pursue other avenues. It’s a pity. I do believe that people should be aware there are other political choices, however vague they might be… It is the British way of life.

JOHN WARD: Till death us do part.

BBC BOY: You’re really not being very helpful.

JOHN WARD: I’m trying my best. I am limited by mortality. It constrains us all.

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How the Angry Brigade’s anarchists helped create the UK’s Bomb Squad

Angry anarchist Stuart Christie

This morning, Stuart Christie (who knows about such things) commented on a 2015 blog of mine entitled The Angry Brigade, British anarchists – the real bombers were never arrested?

Stuart’s comment was:


What complete and utter bollocks from your friend ‘Sam Taylor’. The four people arrested at 359 Amhurst Road had only recently moved there, in the spring of 1971, and were living quietly and clandestinely keeping off the radar, the identities of at least two of them having been discovered by the police and recently published in Hue and Cry. They were never a ‘collective’ in any sense of the word. ‘Sam’s’ account is a concoction of urban myths and befuddled memories.


Stuart told me this afternoon he has “nothing really to add, just trying to put that little canard to bed”.

But he sent me a copy of Edward Heath Made Me Angry, the third party of his trilogy memoir, with permission to quote/extract from it.

For those who don’t or can’t quite remember that time, I think this section from Stuart’s book gives a good flavour.

Part 3 of Stuart’s fascinating memoir


What was loosely called the ‘Angry Brigade’ had received its baptism on 22 May the previous year with the discovery of a bomb in the foundations of the new high security police station in Paddington. This had been followed on 30 August by a bomb at the Putney home of Sir John Waldron, the Commissioner of Police. 

Following the bomb attack on his home, Sir John had made it the top priority to capture those responsible and ordered a complete reorganisation of the Special Branch. Ferguson Smith, the head of Special Branch, was promoted to the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner and the heads of its three main sections – Operations, Ports and Administration – to Commander. For Waldron it was now something personal.

I now knew why Palmer-Hall had asked such apparently irrelevant questions when he was interviewing me about the First of May Group attacks on Iberia Airlines at Heathrow. He had mentioned Roehampton and the West End, places nowhere near Heathrow.

On 8 September, a week after Waldron’s house had been targeted, the Chelsea home of the new Conservative Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson QC, had also been bombed. He, too, had been successful in suppressing the news. It was Rawlinson who had defined the Tory no-holds-barred policy on ‘law and order’ in a pre-election speech to the Society of Conservative Lawyers. His speech was the opening engagement of a new class war — the Tory equivalent of the Confederate forces firing on Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861.

One can understand why Robert Carr might have been bitter. This was where ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ came in. They were the signatories on the letter claiming responsibility for the attack on his house. Rawlinson’s bomb had been claimed by the ‘Wild Bunch.’ Albert Meltzer had also been asked why people would use those names when carrying out ‘outrages.’ ‘What names should they use – their own?’ he replied.

Stuart was cleared in 1972 of being part of the Angry Brigade

Before Carr’s house was bombed, only the police and a few news editors had heard of the Angry Brigade. But the name had been used a month earlier in a note to the underground newspaper International Times (IT) claiming responsibility for a machine-gun attack on the Spanish Embassy on the night of 4 December. The machine-gun used, a Beretta M1938-42, was later shown to have been the same one used in the First of May Group attack on the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square three years earlier. Overnight, the ‘Angry Brigade’ had become headline news — and every pundit had his own explanation as to its origin.

How the name ‘The Angry Brigade’ came about, will probably never be known with certainty. It doesn’t really matter. Fiction writers and academics have tried to slot in the Angry Brigade with the student movement or middle-class dropout hippies. One writer wrote a fantasy novel called The Angry Brigade, which he claimed was written from taped interviews with them, which he later destroyed. He, too, portrayed the Angry Brigade as student dropouts – caricatures of the caricatures. On top of this, they were all on drugs.

The names ‘Angry Brigade,’ like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ and the ‘Wild Bunch’ were intended to be light-heartedly ironic. They could equally have used ‘William Brown and the Outlaws.’ The names were chosen, presumably, in an attempt to avoid the quasi-military or political pretentiousness of those used by other action-oriented groups of the times. And although I was never present when any of the communiqués were written, I always imagined the surreal telegraphese of the language of the communiqués to have been inspired by the Jack the Ripper ‘Dear Boss’ letters, and written in surroundings similar to that depicted in Ilya Repin’s famous painting of the Zaporozhie Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan.

The Carr bombing brought massive pressure to bear on Scotland Yard from the Cabinet Office. The investigation, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Habershon under his regional senior officer, Commander Dace, was given top priority. With this new authority, Habershon immediately recruited a team of around 30 officers from the Flying Squad and the Special Branch, a group which soon became known as the ‘Bomb Squad.’


 

Stuart Christie’s mugshots in General Franco’s Fascist Spain

BACKGROUND: Stuart Christie was accused of being part of the Angry Brigade but, in a 1972 trial, he was acquitted of related charges.

Before that, back in 1964, he had been arrested in Spain for possession of explosives, allegedly to assassinate Spain’s Fascist head of state General Franco. He faced a military trial and possible execution by garotte but was, instead, sentenced to twenty years in prison.

He was released after three years, according to the Spanish authorities, after a plea to them from his mother.

He has written about this time in his book Granny Made Me an Anarchist: General Franco, The Angry Brigade and Me. Back in 2010, investigative journalist Duncan Campbell and Republican novelist Ronan Bennett‘s screenplay based on the book was on ‘the Brit List’ – the prestigious annual list of “Best Unproduced Screenplays from the UK“.

There is currently a 72-minute documentary about The Angry Brigade on YouTube. I can’t guarantee the facts are true…

 

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Donald Trump’s message to the world on climate change… and my bad back

My spine got damaged in 1991. I got hit by a large articulated truck. It has never mended properly. My spine, not the large articulated truck. I think the truck survived unscathed.

Occasionally, though thankfully rarely, if I twist or bend slightly oddly, my bones go out of alignment at the bottom of my spine (I think that’s what happens) and I have to sleep on the floor for three nights which, somehow, sorts the problem out.

It is Saturday morning now. The bones went out of alignment on Monday morning and I am still moving slowly around inside my house with the aid of two walking sticks and a stick which picks things up off the floor or low-lying surfaces. Every now and then it feels like an anarchic invisible presence stabs a long sharp sword into my back at the bottom of the spine..

I am seeing a new osteopath later this morning. I discovered on Wednesday that the excellent osteopath I have gone to since maybe 1992 died two years ago. So it goes. It gave me quite an unexpected shock. You don’t expect healthy medical people to die before you. Certainly not osteopaths. I mean, he was a strong man.

But back to me… and my back.

I also have a cough. Not the normal and – I’m told – very annoying dry cough which I have had since my early twenties and which I inherited from my father who had it throughout his known life. This is a dry, hacking cough given to me a couple of weeks ago by an eight-year-old who, in all other respects, is entirely amiable.

So, every now and then, I suddenly get slight coughing fits which result in what feels like 10-15 rapid atomic explosions at the bottom of my spine with the pain then zooming out in all directions.

What I am trying to say is that, although I have been sleeping a lot, I have been occasionally waking up unexpectedly. And I had a dream. It is 5.00am in the morning as I write this. I woke up unexpectedly, in the middle of a dream.

Yesterday, there were worldwide protests about climate change.

I had a dream about President Trump. Never a good thing. It woke me up. He was speaking about climate change. His speech went something like this. Truly. Would I lie to you?


The whole Global Warming thing is #FakeNews – Did you see that footage of the big winds in the Caribbean recently? Big winds. Cold. Wet. Big winds. Not hot weather! What are those guys in the Bahamas even thinking about? Build your houses of brick! Have they never read The Three Little Pigs? Dumb.

Global Warming is #FakeNews started by #BadHilary to hide her crimes and made worse by #BadObama’s policies. But I saw a Fox TV program on rising ocean levels last night. Those Fox guys are great. Great. And rising sea levels is real. It’s all real. Really real. And dangerous.

Rising sea levels will affect important US infrastructures – oil installations, golf courses and historic national sites like Mar-a-Lago in Florida

But it’s easy to fix, right? I figured out how this morning over breakfast. I have time for breakfast, right? Right. And no-one else has thought of this.

My people told me about a Wikipedia news report on this Greek guy called Archie Meads. Hundreds of years ago. People have forgotten him. But I rediscovered him. He was a stable genius. It takes one to know one, right? 

And Archie Meads had this idea. If you take something out of water, the water fills the space where you’ve taken out the object. Right? Obvious. But people have forgotten that. I figured it out again.

So the fastest, quickest, simplest way – it’s quick and simple, right? – is to kill all the whales in the oceans. Take them out and  that will create all these big, big gaps. And the water will rush in to fill the gaps. It’s pure science. And the ocean levels will get lower.

I have asked the guys at the Pentagon to work out a plan to do this as quickly as possible.

Kill the whales and keep America great. And safe. And dry.

It’s simple.

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President Obonjo announces his chat show and starts his Brexit coup de force

Copstick & the seldom-seen real Benjamin Bankole Bello

As previously mentioned here, 

BBC Studios and E4 (part of Channel 4) have ripped-off Benjamin Bankole Bello’s well-established comedy character President Obonjo for their reprehensible non-broadcast comedy chat show pilot which looks remarkably like a wildly offensive piece of racism which could have come straight out of the 1930s or 1950s.

‘President Obonjo’, though, is not a former African strongman for nothing, even if ousted from his ‘Lafta Republic’.

In the last couple of days, a fight-back has been organised and, next Sunday, a (probably 25-minute) President Obonjo show will be recorded for unleashing on the internet. As both BBC Studios and E4 have said in writing that they believe there is room for two former African dictators in the comedy firmament (one original; one their own rip-off) no doubt they will both be rushing to take on President Obonjo. After all, surely no-one could believe there is any two-faced bullshitting going on by either. 

Part of the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush

So I talked to comedy critic/judge (Scotsman newspaper, Perrier Awards, Malcolm Hardee Awards) and TV producer (Eurotrash and sundry sport and sex documentaries) Kate Copstick and ‘President Obonjo’ about their plans for next Sunday’s recording in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.


JOHN: So what is it?

COPSTICK: It’s a President Obonjo chat show with interview guests. It’s not a TV pilot. It’s hopefully a mind-boggling world wide viral video.

JOHN: And the basic idea is…?

COPSTICK: The conceit is that the President is not a stupid man and he realises, as I think many of us have, that Britain is falling apart, from the Mother of Parliaments downwards. Never has the time been better for a coup – a power-grab – and President Obonjo has got a bit of previous in this area.

OBONJO: Now is my time.

JOHN: Where is the Lafta Republic?

OBONJO: Close to Wakanda.

JOHN: How long were you a dictator there?

OBONJO: Well over ten years.

JOHN: Why did you get thrown out?

President Obonjo knows a lot about coup d’états

OBONJO: I didn’t get thrown out!… Just over ten years ago. I came on a state visit to Britain to meet your Queen and discovered comedy. My people in Africa found out I was no longer on a state visit, there was a coup détat and I have been here ever since – President Obonjo has been performing comedy for ten years.

JOHN: Who took over in control of the Lafta Republic?

OBONJO: No-one.

JOHN: So it is much like Britain.

OBONJO: Precisely. There is a gap in the leadership in Britain and I am the man to fill it.

JOHN: Parliamentary democracy clearly is not working. We need a strongman.

OBONJO: Change we can believe in. Now is my time.

COPSTICK: Also, this is the 21st century and we could be doing with a black man in charge.

JOHN: Are we allowed to say President Obama was not really black?

OBONJO: He was brown.

JOHN: And only half-Kenyan – his dad. Whereas President Obonjo is all Lafta.

David Lammy made an inspirational speech

OBONJO: David Lammy, when he became a British MP, was so inspirational in his speech about how he never thought he was going to be in Parliament and everyone kept rooting for him to be the first black Prime Minister… That was good, but it has not happened.

COPSTICK: Prime Minister, Shrime Minister. We wanna cut through all that because democracy self-evidently is not working. Boris Johnson has had a very good stab at being a dictator… 

OBONJO:… and it has not worked.

JOHN: And, clearly, one-man rule CAN work in Britain because our absolute monarchs succeeded – Henry V took over France. Henry VIII did us proud and took us out of a European religious union. Elizabeth I, though not altogether a man, created an English Empire. It proves that absolute power in the hands of one person works in Britain. Let’s not mention the Germans.

COPSTICK: It absolutely works and President Obonjo has an absolute groundswell of support from the live comedy industry.

JOHN: You can create the Lafta Republic right here in Britain.

OBONJO: Change we can believe in. Yes we can.

COPSTICK: This show which we are recording next Sunday is a chat show, but it is also a show of force with the guests representing large special interest groups within the UK. It will be a tour-de-force.

OBONJO: It will be a coup-de-force.

#JusticeForObonjo !

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The man who predicted in 2015 that Boris Johnson would become UK PM

(L-R) John Ward, radio & TV presenter James Whale and political leader Screaming Lord Sutch

Britain relishes eccentrics.

Today, Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister of the UK.

And today I got a message from mad inventor John Ward, famed throughout the land – some land – as designer of the late-lamented Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. Among his many other claims to fame is that he used to be Minister for Inventions for both the Monster Raving Loony Party and  The Eccentric Party.

He wrote to me:


The phone rang yesterday.

A Press Association bod calling

Could they have a quote from or on behalf of The Eccentric Party regarding Boris Johnson being voted in as Tory Prime Minister?

I replied: “Never! – Really? – Who would have thought it…?”

“Can I quote you on that?” said the man from the Press Association. 

“You can if you like…,” I told him. 

He then asked who I was…

They can be so hurtful at times.

I pointed out that the leader of the Eccentric Party was now ‘brown bread’ as of a few months ago and possibly the party itself also.

The man from the Press Association said he was sorry to hear about it.

I said it was in those newspaper things at the time or just after his demise, I believe, as it wasn’t pre-booked as far as I am aware.

But, undeterred, the man from the Press Association asked: “So who would it be best to speak to then?”

I said he could go for gold and get in touch with Screaming Lord Sutch

“Have you a contact for him?” the man from the Press Association asked.

Was it the late Ken Goodwin who used the catchphrase “I’m too good for this place…”? 

I am beginning to get the same feeling.


For the uninitiated, Screaming Lord Such, creator and leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, died in June 1999. So it goes.

I would have thought the Press Association, the major news agency who distribute news to UK national, regional and local newspapers, might have noticed. Or might have read my recent blog HERE.

On the other hand, I was myself shocked to hear that Lord Toby Jug, leader of The Eccentric Party had died on 2nd May this year, at the age of 53. So it goes.

I first blogged about the Eccentric Party in January 2015 and profiled Lord Toby Jug in May 2015.

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

Lord Toby Jug – he changed his name legally from Brian Borthwick by deed poll – had been a guitarist in a band with Screaming Lord Sutch. Sutch had given him the nickname ‘Toby Jug’ because he was a little rotund in appearance. As leader of the Eccentric Party, he wore a top hat which had previously belonged to Sutch.

He was expelled from the Monster Raving Loony Party in 2014 by then party leader Howling Laud Hope (this is British politics for you) over comments Lord Toby had made about UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and for his criticism of pub chain J D Wetherspoon, a company which the Loony party had been attempting to attract as a sponsor.

In 2015, Lord Toby told me: “I left the Monster Raving Loony Party because they didn’t like my stance – as told to national newspapers – on Nigel Farage and UKIP. I said UKIP claimed to be fruitcakes, loonies and crackpots but that’s our area. They tried to nick our Holy Grail of loonies. Another reason I left was because I met Nigel Farage and some of his sick-you-fonts and I thought they were closet racists and decided that should be put in the public domain. UKIP are far too eccentric, far too potty. Extremists.”

On the rebound from the Monster Raving Loonies, Lord Toby formed The Eccentric Party, whose policies included:

  • putting super glue in lip balm to fight obesity
  • taller buildings for higher education.
  • a 15% phone bill discount for people who stutter

He stood in various General, county and local elections but surprisingly never won.

Boris Johnson (left) in Uxbridge with Lord Toby Jug in 2015

In 2015, he stood in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency against Boris Johnson and Howling Laud Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party. He polled 50 votes.

According to his obituary in The Times in May 2019: “He thought Johnson would make an ideal member of the Eccentric Party, even offering to stand aside as leader if his rival would defect. Later he had second thoughts. I went round with a jug of water and a comb to tidy his hair, Jug recalled. But he’s too much of an extremist for us — a tad too bonkers.

The original Eccentric Party candidate in that Uxbridge election had been Chris Dowling who fell ill and Lord Toby replaced him. Chris had been an optimist and told me, in 2015:

“Even though this is still the greatest democracy in the world, the political system in this country is outdated and it needs to be revamped. I’m gonna win by a landslide majority here.”

“Against Boris?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a bigger loony than I am… Sooner or later, Boris Johnson will be the Prime Minister of this country.”

“I think so too,” I agreed.

“Everything I’ve seen about Boris Johnson,” said Chris, “he’s just seemed a buffoon and I quite like that about him.”

Far from that being a drawback in British politics, it might seem to be a prerequisite.

Political seer Chris Dowling (bottom) and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls in 2015…

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