Category Archives: Sex

Polly Trope: Late Night Ceremony plus a 14-year-old Edinburgh Fringe zombie

Polly Trope first appeared in this blog in 2014, when she was publicising her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway.

Polly Trope back in 2015 (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

This year – indeed, next week – she is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for six days (12th-17th August) … as part of a collective known as Berlingeles.

Their show at Surgeon’s Hall is called Late Night Ceremony. Their blurb reads:

“This group showcase raises a fist with one hand and holds a glass with the other against the fact that the world we live in is a complete disaster. Borders close in, rents rise, intimacy dissolves. One person’s normal is another person’s crazy. Who gets to tell their story and who must remain silent? Embodied performance, experimental music, storytelling and a secret midnight ritual.”

I thought: What is that all about?

So I talked to Polly Trope at her home in Berlin via FaceTime.

She flies into Edinburgh tomorrow.


JOHN: So, Berlingeles. Is that a pun on Berlin Girls?

POLLY: No, it’s actually a putting-together of Berlin and Los Angeles…

JOHN: Doh!

POLLY: …because half of us are coming from Los Angeles and half from Berlin.

JOHN: There are four people involved.

Brian Felsen rehearses for the show in Polly’s living room

POLLY: There used to be more. Some had to drop out. It was always supposed to be a group show. I put together some of the artists I’d been seeing on stage because I’ve been going between Berlin and Los Angeles all the time.

JOHN: Why the travelling?

POLLY: Because I fell in love with someone from Los Angeles. He is actually doing more of the going back-and-forth than I am. The pendulum is supposed to come to a halt somewhere but (LAUGHS) it is proving quite complicated to organise.

JOHN: The listing for the show on the Fringe website says: 

WARNINGS AND ADDITIONAL INFO: 

SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE 

One member of your cast a 14-year-old. Is that a problem?

POLLY: I think for that particular 14-year-old it’s alright. He’s not in the scenes of a sexual nature, but I think he’s seen such scenes before. He has been in the world of ‘horror performance’ and stage performance for quite some time. He can close his eyes when I’m performing.

JOHN: ‘Horror performance’? What is that?

14-year-old Anatol Felsen in his make-up

POLLY: Zombie stuff. In Los Angeles it’s very popular. His mother is a zombie performance artist and he has always been involved in plays his mother has done. Every month or two he will be in a show. He puts on his make-up and he does ‘horror theatre’ in Hollywood and people come because every week is Hallowe’en in Hollywood. He loves doing it and he is going to do something based on that in our Fringe show. It is going to be the first time he is doing something on his own.

JOHN: What’s the short elevator pitch for your show?

POLLY: It’s a group showcase about a lot of different types of late-night rituals. We have a seance. We have a ritual to overcome heartbreak. We have a ritual to save the world.

JOHN: And you have a 14-year-old zombie…

POLLY: …and we have me, who is going to talk about the ritual of the one-night stand.

JOHN: So it is multiple rituals.

POLLY: Yes. We have one ritual that is actually happening AT midnight, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

JOHN: I have a vivid imagination…

“People are going to come forward and be y’know… ritualised”

POLLY: It is going to be interactive and people are going to come forward and have themselves be… y’know… ritualised or… eh… ritually treated.

The midnight ritual is the one ritual where the audience takes part and the audience will be cleansed.

JOHN: Well, everyone is going to be hoping the midnight ritual is the one-night stand ritual.

POLLY: Erm, well… I don’t know if they would hope that.

JOHN: But it’s all Art… It’s performance art.

POLLY: Absolutely. Each of us has a slightly different speciality. Brian Felsen is a composer, so he is going to compose live, performing a ritual with polyphonic chant, DJ looping and tribal drumming;. Mine is more storytelling. The 14-year-old…

JOHN: … is doing the zombie stuff…

POLLY: Yes. Anatol Felsen (Brian’s son). He’s performing a musical work and monologue channelling Borges.

Darling Fitch will perform (Photograph by Jon Alloway)

And Darling Fitch is a performance artist who is going to perform a ritual in noise – electronic noises and electronic music as well as elements of the queer culture and other things that I can’t talk about because they are secret. It’s a hopeful harsh noise poetry pop opera about the end of the world.

JOHN: Will the show have a life after the Fringe? Will you tour it?

POLLY: These particular people have just come together for the Edinburgh Fringe. I would love it to keep going, though. We are trying to set up more venues and gigs for us, maybe in the United States. If we did it in Berlin or Los Angeles, though, there would be more local performers

JOHN: Since the last blog about you in 2015, what have you been doing? Is there another book in the works?

POLLY: Yes. I wrote a second book maybe a year-and-a-half ago, which was supposed to be the sequel to my first book Cured Meat.

JOHN: The title?

POLLY: So far, it’s been called Why Don’t You Kill Me?

I wanted to write a sequel to Cured Meat but to go more into depth about the whole sex work experience… Cured Meat is very much about mental health and the drugs aspect of the story and the sex work comes in at the last minute. So I wrote a second book. Also, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, I felt that people were talking about women’s issues more. So I wrote this big long second book about my experiences with sex work. And then, after it was all done, I realised what I actually needed to do was to stick my first and my second book together.

So I’ve been working on that. It was not a very easy thing, but I’m really happy because it’s all done. Now I just have to make and market it.

Polly Trope in her living room… being mysterious

JOHN: Previously, when we have talked for my blog, you didn’t want your face shown in pictures. But you are going to be live on stage in Edinburgh and you are going to be talking about sex work…

POLLY: Yes.

JOHN: Is there a problem there?

POLLY: Kind of… It’s a slow progress for me to bring my whole identities together. It’s kinda slow but things are coming together in terms of who I represent for myself and things I want people to know about me and things I don’t want people to know about me. It depends very much how comfortable I feel talking about this.

I feel much more comfortable now talking about sex work than I did five years ago when it was still a more recent experience… I guess… It’s kind of moving towards… more transparency, I guess.

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Are the Facebook PC police about to ban me because of my sexually risqué name?

I have a Facebook account in my own name – John Thomas Fleming.

On it I post links to articles which I think are interesting and/or funny.

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

Today I tried to post a link on my Facebook page to one of the Daily Mash articles.

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

My comment accompanying the link was… “Surely it should open in Bristol?”

A reference to a jolly British euphemism for a lady’s breast.

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity”

and I was banned from posting on Facebook for 24 hours.

Robin Askwith in Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977) (Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5871814a)

I am not sure if Facebook objected to my use of the word ‘Bristol’ or the Daily Mash‘s somewhat risqué picture which was a still from one of the 1970s series of Confessions of… films… These were ‘naughty yet acceptable’ films in the genre of the Carry On… movies.

Britain has a long tradition of family filth Stretching back to Shakespeare and Chaucer and certainly including – perhaps most surprising to Americans – the traditional (ideally utterly filthy) British Christmas pantomimes for children.

The Confessions of… films were more permissive than the more innocent Carry On… films. But were still considered middle-of-the-road even then.

Obviously Facebook’s image-searching computers and more puritan-minded American tendencies need a re-tweak.

The worrying thing is that I was given the name John Thomas Fleming by my innocent parents. I was named after my two grandfathers. I believe the origin of the phrase ‘John Thomas’ is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel which I nor I am certain my parents never read.

I now fear for the good citizens of Bristol city, who face a potential blanket ban from Facebook for living where they do: a conurbation which shares its name with an example of Cockney rhyming slang.

This is all a bit reminiscent of the early days of censorship on the internet when farmers found that innocent references to their common farmyard creatures were getting them banned as pornographers… in particular, any reference to their cocks.

Oh, alright… the bloody Facebook image-searching computers actually took exception to the photo… But, really, do me a favour.

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Comedian Julian Clary and tell-all hack McG linked via sexploitation horror film

I get sent loads of PR bumph (I feel you can never get too much) including the generic PR interviews that are sent out to one-and-all in the media to plug upcoming events. Indeed, I wrote one myself a few months ago to plug a comedian’s UK tour.

The idea is that local papers etc may run the full PR interview as if they themselves had conducted it. Or edit or cannibalise it for quotes, facts and photos.

I never use these PR interviews myself.

Why bother? If I’m interested, I will chat to the person myself.

However here – below – is the exception.

PR man Greg Day is plugging the fact that the Horror Channel in the UK will be screening cult director Pete Walker’s 1976 horror and sexploitation movie Schizo this Saturday. And today Greg sent me his PR interview with the film’s screenwriter David McGillivray who has occasionally turned up in my blog before – notably in 2016 to plug his would-be notorious gay sex film Trouser Bar.

David McG is publishing his inevitably scandalous, tell-all autobiography Little Did You Know in a month’s time and I have already arranged to chat to him the day after its press launch.

But I won’t be asking him about Schizo… So here, as a teaser, in its full glory, is the PR Q&A for Schizo:


SCHIZO – “When the left hand doesn’t know who the right hand is killing!!”

Q: SCHIZO is unusual in your body of work with director Pete Walker because the concept and narrative were not of your choosing. How much of a problem was that for you?

A: Huge. I thought the script that we re-worked was terribly old-fashioned and this led to big arguments with Walker that ended our relationship.

Q: You often play a cameo in the movies you’ve written – You’re ‘Man at Séance’ in SCHIZO. Any particular reason?

A: I liked to write myself parts so that I could observe Walker at work. He was an extremely talented exploitation director who influenced the remainder of my career.

Q: SCHIZO exhibits many Hitchcockian references and Pete Walker cites Hitch as a hero. Is he for you too?

A: Yes, of course. Psycho is one of my favourite horror films.

Q: You’ve written many films for many people in so many genres, but what’s your own personal favourite?

A: My first film for Pete Walker, House of Whipcord. It was very exciting because it was the kind of film I’d dreamed of writing.

Svengali – The Rocky Horror that got away

Q: Just prior to SCHIZO you wrote a pop opera in the Rocky Horror vein for Pete Walker titled SVENGALI based on George du Maurier’s Gothic melodrama. Do you regret that project being shelved?

A: No, it would have been a disaster. Walker realised this and cancelled it almost before I’d typed the final page of the script.

Q: Your autobiography Little Did You Know is published in June. Rumour says it’s not your typical memoir though, so what’s it all about?

A: I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that after its publication I will never work again.

Q: Your love/hate relationship with Pete Walker is common knowledge. Are there any more scandalous revelations about that in the book?

A: Oh yes…

Julian Clary – Never knowingly understated

Q: You write a lot of the material for a comedian. How did that business relationship begin and is this the nearest you can get to the Golden Era of the British sexploitation film you so brilliantly essayed in your book Doing Rude Things

A: Writing smut for Julian Clary is my day job. I enjoy it immensely. I have written for him for something like 37 years. In Julian’s latest show, which tours the UK before playing the London Palladium on 8th June, unsuspecting audience members are subjected to so-called ‘Heterosexual Aversion Therapy’. If you sit in the front row, you deserve all you get.

Q: You’ve announced your next film project is The Wrong People based on the novel by Robin Maugham. So you have no intention of retiring from the film industry just yet?

A: I love movies. I am fresh from a meeting with a director who bravely has chosen to take on this project. But, in all likelihood, it is so controversial that probably it will finish both our careers. If Little Did You Know hasn’t finished mine already.

Q: Finally, SCHIZO receives its Horror Channel premiere on Sat April 27th. Will you be watching?

A: I’m pleased Horror Channel viewers will get the chance to see it, but will I be watching? Certainly not. I can’t bear to see my own work, which is all dreadful.

David McGillivray – the soon-to-be-autobiographer – never a man to mince his words

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Becky Fury in Morocco with the Tantra teacher & the boy with the magic penis

Late last night, I received this from from Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Becky Fury…


I am travelling in Morocco.

John said there was probably a blog in it. 

I told him I wasn’t sure where.

He said: “Find someone interesting to interview.” 

I am travelling with Jade Lotus, who is a Tantra educator and her boyfriend who has a magic penis. 

So I asked her about that.


(L-R) Becky Fury, Jade Lotus and the boy with the magic penis

BECKY: When we first met, you had just graduated from Kings College, London, with a law degree and now you are a globetrotting Tantra educator on a mission to give yourself and the world better orgasms… What happened?

JADE: By the time I finished my law degree, I realised law was really boring and I wanted to do something more fun with my life. But I  still wanted to help people and realised if people got more help with their sexuality than maybe they would need less help with their divorce papers. So being a Tantra educator was a win-win situation for everyone.

BECKY: Whilst we were flying to Morocco you were making a GIF for your website that involved an image of your boyfriend’s penis. As the person in the seat next to me exclaimed: “Have you no shame?”

JADE: I think people should only feel ashamed if they hurt other people. Shame and guilt is a mechanism of social control that is used to stop people blossoming. We are in Morocco which is a country ridden with shame and guilt: sexual shame in particular. You would be hard-pressed to find someone here who isn’t deeply ashamed of their body and their desires – and unfortunately people pay for this in many ways, not just sexual enjoyment.

In terms of sex. we should not feel ashamed unless what we do doesn’t involve consent. 

We are sexual beings and shame is a psychological barrier that stops us from fulfilling our potential.

As I mentioned before, we are in Morocco.

The Gare Evil – “hell on earth”

The dirt on the streets, the tatty buildings and the broken sign at the railway station that reads ‘Gare Evil’ or ‘Evil Station’ is a reflection of the manifestation of hell on earth that sexual shame creates.

BECKY: So is good sex a revolutionary act?

JADE: Yes. When a person is stuck in a cycle of sex as tension-release instead of getting the full experience of sex, they are stuck in a low-grade experience and this will be reflected in their life.

We are in Morocco. People earn tiny wages, there are no workers rights and therefore people are treated badly as employees. This is a projection of the sexual repression.

If we can dispose of the shame and guilt associated with sex, then we open ourselves as people and as a society and we can start to evolve. The more pleasure we find in sex, the more value we find in ourselves as individuals and in each other.

Good sex is a beautiful, peaceful revolutionary act that has the power to overhaul ourselves and eventually the world.

BECKY: In your GIF, the boy has a magic penis. Just the boy in the GIF? Or all boys?

JADE: All boys have magic penises. All penises are magic and all vaginas are magic. (LAUGHS)  All sexual organs hold energy. 

Most men think sex is about ejaculation. Imagine if we channeled that energy, that life force, into healing ourselves. If we used that energy to feed our intelligence, our creativity, our projects, to get what we want in life rather than throwing it away. That’s a big part of Tantra.

BECKY: So how do you know that that’s not just hippy bollocks?

JADE: ’The hippy’ is a recent phenomenon. This is old knowledge and people have been using these practices for thousands of years. They’ve been passed on despite the efforts of governments to repress and destroy them and they are gathering in popularity again because they work.

Telling men to have sex and not ejaculate sounds crazy but…

Telling men to have sex and not ejaculate sounds crazy but, with some effort, men have found they can have full body orgasms, find more energy, focus… and that their lives have been changed in amazing positive ways. 

Misdirected male sexual energy is a dangerous force, even within Tantra. 

There have been lots of scandals recently and all of the scandals have involved male teachers who just use it to try to get laid. 

That is one of the reasons Tantra is traditionally taught by women.

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Kate Copstick and the sexually-abused girl being held in a Nairobi hospital

British journalist and occasional TV producer Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. 

In the last couple of extracts from her diaries (HERE and HERE) mention was made of a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who was raped by her father, recently gave birth to his child and was being held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

This is in clear contravention of last year’s Kenyan High Court ruling on detention of patients which states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees.

Now read on in these extracts from Copstick’s diaries this week…


MONDAY

Kenyatta National Hospital.

I am there the entire day. I am not one of life’s gifted ‘waiters’.

This is a place Kafka himself would struggle to create.

It is a big monster full of little monsters.

I go from little social worker to Head of Department, to Bill Management to Finance to Administration, back to Finance then back to Social Work. 

We are in “just following orders” territory here. 

But, in Kenyatta National Hospital, we get: “We are waiting for feedback”. 

The buck is thrown around like a rugby ball in a grudge match and it is blindingly obvious that none of these people gives even the tiniest, the most transient, the least fuckity of fucks about a 14-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her father who has now been held like a prisoner for over one month. 

They see a bit of paper. And they see their nice quiet office. Some see nothing because they are simply too incompetent. Some worry because they see a mistake that they have made. All rush to point fingers in the direction of anyone else. None is bothered by the law of Kenya.

I am there six hours. Everyone is going home. I give up. Even David, who has been waiting outside, is practically catatonic with boredom and no one does nothing better than David.

I go and meet Mary of the Mary Faith Home. We have been in touch during the day. 

She has just had a 12-year-old girl left with her who is so badly infected and damaged she cannot sit down. So far, they think, she has both syphilis and gonorrhea. Makes sense as she was being abused by both father and uncle over several years. Since she was five. 

Mary leans forward and says, “She told me her uncle said to her: I know here at the front is for your father. But here at the back, this is mine.”

THURSDAY

Latest update on 14-year-old Faith, currently going into her fifth week of incarceration at Kenyatta National Hospital. I have spent days in the place trying to get anywhere near an answer, let alone an explanation, much less a result. But today the CEO has sent a minion down from on high to take her file. 

The excellent Standard newspaper printed a full page piece on illegal detention of patients in Kenya and hospitals yesterday.

Coincidence ?? 

Hopefully the continuing abuse of this poor girl will be ended sooner rather than later. I have never experienced anything like the working – and non-workings – of this place.

TODAY – FRIDAY

Faith is still detained illegally in Kenyatta National Hospital.

Now, apparently, it is because the Director of Corporate Services has failed to sign a bit of paper.

Apparently he is in a meeting.

… CONTINUED HERE


Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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Michael Livesley: The Bonzo Dog’s Viv Stanshall & understanding masculinity

Michael Livesley has been reviving the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Vivian Stanshall’s iconic show Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End  for nine years with sundry Stanshall-related co-stars.

Now, he is doing two final shows – on December 7th (next Friday) at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and on December 12th at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

The Daily Telegraph described the show as “a combination of Downton Abbey and Gormenghast set to music”.

We had a chat in a Wetherspoons pub in London.

Why is he doing two more shows? 

Why is he stopping?


MICHAEL: I can’t do any more. Nine years of having someone else in yer head is enough – especially when that person is Vivian Stanshall.

Viv Stanshall: the original Sir Henry

It’s a lot of work and it has kicked open a lot of doors for me and it’s great fun but it’s enough. We did the album with Rick Wakeman and Neil Innes. We did the Bristol Old Vic with Stephen Fry. We’ve done the London Palladium, the Glastonbury Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve done the Millenium/O2 Dome in London. A lot of other stuff. And we will be filming this one at the Bloomsbury Theatre for a Sky Arts thing.

JOHN: So why?

MICHAEL: In March this year, I was living in a village between Winchester and Andover in Hampshire – which is where we recorded the album in the shed – and it was great. But ultimately you run out of road in these places. There was nothing happening, so it was time to move back to Liverpool and I thought: Let’s put something in the work diary – and it’s the 40th anniversary of Sir Henry.

JOHN: And what happens after these two shows?

MICHAEL: There’s a Rodney Slater’s Parrots gig at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool on 14th December. And I am doing the Edinburgh Fringe myself next year.

JOHN: Doing what?

MICHAEL: A show called Half the Man because I’ve lost five stone in three months and I intend to be half the man by the time that happens and my stand-up, when I do it, is all about my observations of being brought up by a single mother and a grandmother: the challenges of establishing your manhood within that female environment.

That’s why I hang out in Wetherspoons: so I can hang out amongst real men. These places are almost like social breweries, because they filter out the impurities in society like me and give us somewhere to reside for a while. It’s a place that’s essentially filled with wounded gazelles: divorced men, single men, who salt their wounds with warm lager. I fit right in here.

JOHN: By drinking?

Michael, in Wetherspoons, has given up drink

MICHAEL:  I am treating myself to beer today because it was my birthday last week. But, other than this, I’ve not drunk beer since August.

JOHN: And you are giving up Sir Henry too…

MICHAEL: I’m not denigrating it in any way – it’s fucking genius, but it’s not mine. It’s a bit of imposter syndrome. But, paradoxically, doing it has enabled me to find my own voice in a strange way: it gave me the vehicle to get on stage in front of people.

I sort of made a compromise when I was 16 to be a musician rather than a performer and this gave me the excuse to take it on. That’s partly what I want to explore with Half The Man. There’s a conversation to be had about what masculinity is and isn’t.

JOHN: You are gonna talk about ‘Northern folk’?

MICHAEL: Well, talk about growing up in the 1980s, growing up in the North without a dad in a very small village in Lancashire where it was all Catholic and shit… it was no picnic… Some people have a really tough life. This was NOT a really tough life.

JOHN: But…?

MICHAEL: But because me mum weren’t married, it used to rile the teachers in this Catholic school. Our side of the street were Catholic and the other side were Protestant; and we’re only talking about the 1980s. I remember standing in the front room with the curtains shut when the Protestants were on their Walk.

JOHN: The Catholics had a walk too?

MICHAEL: It was kind of like a Virgin Mary thing with a cart with stuff on it.

The teachers at my school had also taught me mum and all me uncles and aunties. I would get a school book and there would be me auntie’s name in it from 30 years back. The teachers were all long past retirement. There was a guy who taught me in the 1980s and he had been in the First World War! Fuck knows how old he was! He had a yellow streak in his hair because he always had a fag in his mouth. He reeked of whisky and had yellow teeth and used to beat the shit out of us.

I saw him take a little girl who sat next to me out to the front of the class and he pulled her knickers down and bare-bottomed smacked her. She was a 5-year-old! Real men don’t beat children. That ain’t masculine! That’s just complete and utter barbarism.

There is a whole confusion about what masculinity really is. The sort-of imposition of masculinity in those communities was completely at odds with what I believe masculinity is.

There was one murder in the village where I grew up. 

JOHN: How many people in the village?

MICHAEL: About 300 or 400. It was a mining village.

JOHN: What was the murder?

MICHAEL: This guy – Mulligan – murdered his girlfriend in the local woods. His dad was the village wife-beater. This sounds like bullshit but there WAS a village wife-beater. Everyone knew he did it. He was the guy whose wife had a black eye going for the bread on a Sunday morning. Everybody knew it and everybody tolerated it.

My mum used to say that men love women but they don’t like them. That ain’t true in general but in that village – that little place – I think it was.

Anyway, so when Mulligan stood up in court and they asked him why he’d murdered his girlfriend, he said: “I thought that’s what you did.”

That is true.

And you can buy into that, because all he had seen all his life was his dad knocking bloody hell out of his mum.

And that is quite incongruous because, in the world I grew up in, the women were in charge. Everyone colluded in the illusion that men were in charge but they were not and I don’t think that’s a peculiarly Northern industrial thing. I think that goes across the animal kingdom. And the frustration and anger that that situation brings about with the section of the population that are physically stronger is… Well, that’s the kind of world I grew up in. 

When I was 16, I started working in a pub and, on a Sunday morning, they would put trays on the bar with black pudding and tripe and cheese – a peculiarly Northern Catholic thing which I had not been aware of at home, because alcohol played no part in my upbringing. 

Until I started work, I was not aware of 50% of life, because I was brought up in a 100% female household. It was a male thing. On a Sunday, men went to the pub, ate meat and left the women at home.

In my home, we had a half-bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky that me grandad won in the Catholic club in the 1970s that remained untouched until me mum met the man they called Barry and then it went within a week. 

JOHN: The man they called Barry?

MICHAEL: Her boyfriend. My mam met the man they called Barry when I was 13. He was just a fucking alcoholic wanker. 

JOHN: Is he still alive?

MICHAEL: No. Everyone’s dead. That’s the crazy thing about the North. Within about 20 years, every fucker’s dead. There’s no longevity.

JOHN: So this is your next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show – with a few laughs thrown in.

MICHAEL: In one of your blogs, you said every successful Edinburgh comedy show needs a dead dad story!

JOHN: Yes, at about 40 minutes into the hour…

MICHAEL: I’ve got nothing BUT dead dads, not that I’ve ever met me dad.

JOHN: I saw a show the other day and the comic wasn’t good enough to sustain 60 minutes. The show sagged at about 32 minutes and I thought: You need a dead dad story in there…

MICHAEL:  After nine years of doing someone else’s work, you end up with this big backlog of things you wanna say yourself.

JOHN: And you now have nine years’ experience of how to say things.

MICHAEL: Yes. I had no father figure to explain where I should fit in… it’s all that stuff I want to explore… and doing Sir Henry has given me the legs to realise how to do that.

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