Category Archives: Television

Is comedy dead or dying?… What I gibbered about on GBNews last night

A couple of days ago, I was asked to appear on GBNews’ today to give my opinion on the future of comedy. 

And, sure enough, last night I appeared briefly on the Mark Dolan Tonight show. That will teach them never to invite me on a TV show again!  I can be quite fluent verbally – in writing – but I am in no way vocally fluent. I’m not a fluent speaker. I gibber.

Anyway, I was one of three comedy ‘experts’ on Mark Dolan’s show, the others being US podcaster and author Drew Allen and the wonderful British showbiz legend that is Christopher Biggins.

I think GBNews may have mistaken me for someone else, as I was called a “highly-respected comedy journalist”.

Anyway… because this is MY blog, it’s all about Me, Me Me… so here are the excerpted bits with me. Spot the inconsistencies…

Mark Dolan Tonight with (L-R) Mark Dolan, me, Drew Allen and Christopher Biggins


MARK: You’ve written extensively for many years on the subject of comedy. Do you think it’s dying?

JOHN: I don’t think it’s dying. I think it’ll probably change. I mean, it goes through periods, doesn’t it. Hello Biggins! I used to work with him on Surprise! Surprise!

I think television has changed now. In the days of Surprise! Surprise!, what producers did was they made programmes that they themselves liked which appealed to viewers. 

Alan Boyd at London Weekend TV produced Surprise! Surprise! because he liked the sort of programmes that people wanted to watch. Nowadays, I think people are producing the sort of programmes they THINK the ‘lower classes’ want to watch.

So all these Oxbridge people are making programmes for people in Essex they don’t really know.

MARK: John, do you think Brexit has been a problem for British comedy? That sort of dividing live between Remainers and Brexiteers has been a really divisive aspect in comedy. Because I do know of comedians, John, who have been cancelled for being pro-Brexit.

JOHN: Well, I think it’s a problem in Society, isn’t it? I think by-and-large – a gross exaggeration but – by-and-large comedians tend to be Left Wing because they possibly rail against authority and that’s a good thing for comedy. So most comedians are Left Wing and, if you’re Left Wing, you take certain views. And, by-and-large – by-and-large – Brexit was a Left/Right divide.

MARK: What about shows like The Mash Report which seem to be one long attack on the Conservative Party and Brexit.

JOHN: I think again, that’s because television producers nowadays make programmes for themselves and their mates who have lunch in Soho wineries. They don’t make programmes for the punters.

In my glorious days when I was young in the late 17th Century, comedy television programmes were on in peaktime. They were on at 7.30/8 o’clock at night. Nowadays comedy tends to be either on minority channels like BBC Three or very late night or at 9 or at10.30.

In my day, comedies were populist. Nowadays, in a strange way, it’s elitist, because it’s made by people for their chums not for the people who are actually watching the programme.

MARK: We’ve seen, haven’t we, some comedies being given a trigger warning at the start of the show… We saw an episode of Fawlty Towers which was actually removed from its platform for a while, even though the episode contained a message of anti-racism which the Woke Warriors didn’t seem to get the memo on. That one. 

And then you’ve got shows like Little Britain which have been Cancelled by the organisation that made them – the BBC. I mean, Little Britain – OK, it was hit and miss – but at times it was wildly offensive and wildly hilarious, John.

JOHN: Yes, I think you have to be offensive to be… I think the key thing is the word ‘PUNCHline’.

At the end of a joke there’s a punchline and you laugh at the punchline. The reason you laugh, you lose control of your body, is because you’re getting a release because there’s a surprise – something you don’t expect. It’s a release. I gibbered there, but a punchline triggers a release.

MARK: John, last word goes to you. You’ve been writing about comedy for a long, long time, who are the greatest British comedians of all time in your view?

JOHN: Oh, you and Leo Kerse, obviously. (THEY HAD TAKEN PART IN THE PRECEDING SHOW ON GBNews)

MARK: (LAUGHS) God bless you. Have you been drinking again, John?

JOHN: (LAUGHS) I don’t drink. 

It depends what you mean by ‘greatest British comedians’. Michael McIntyre is a great comedian, but I wouldn’t go and see his show because it’s gonna be the same every night. It’s a very slick show, I prefer to see very uneven shows – rollercoasters – so… I wrote Malcolm Hardee – a great comedian – ’s autobiography. So I’d like to put in a plug for Malcolm Hardee as being an anarchic comedian who should be better known.

MARK: A wonderful comedian. I was doing a show at Up The Creek, his legendary comedy club in Greenwich, and towards the end of the set I said to the audience: “I’ll be back.”

And he shouted from the side of the stage: “No you won’t!”

There you go. Comedy’s always got a victim and on that occasion it was me…

(THE ENTIRE EDITION OF THIS MARK DOLAN TONIGHT SHOW IS CURRENTLY ON YOUTUBE)

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PR, lateral thinking, political porn and Channel 5 TV’s new Tractor World…

A tractor attracter…

Even if you are on painkillers and muscle relaxant drugs for a sore spine/hip/leg/ankle… when you get an email from an unknown person called Xander with the heading TRACTORS: BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST – as I did three days ago – you tend to open it immediately.

Tractors are currently amusingly sexy in the UK because, a couple of weeks ago, MP Neil Parish had to resign after he was ‘outed’ for watching porn on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber. He said he had been looking at a tractor website and, accidentally, he had then found himself watching a porn site.

The email I got was a PR pitch plugging a new Channel 5 series (starting tonight) called Tractor World

Increasingly prestigious as my blog may be, I am surely not the first choice for publicising a TV farming series about tractors.

I thought: Either this is a wild mistake or it is an admirable piece of lateral thinking – Because of the Neil Parish MP link, you might as well pitch a tractor story to what is sometimes called a comedy blog.

So I asked Xander (Alexander Ross), co-founder of Percy & Warren – a PR agency specialising in the film, TV & entertainment industry – why he had sent me the email…


Xander and I talked about tractor PR via WhatsApp…

JOHN: Why did you contact me?

XANDER: We go to databases to put together relevant lists of people and you filtered through on Comedy and TV. 

JOHN: You contacted me, presumably, because of the Neil Parish tractor porn story.

XANDER: Yeah, we were chatting about Tractor World and thinking maybe we could do a slide show of people and tractors with a romantic Barry White song over the top of it. That might be a little too on-the-nose, but quite fun. You’ve got to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself and it just so happens now that a documentary series on tractors is coming out like a couple of weeks after the MP story.

JOHN: The producers, RawCut Television, didn’t mind you being lighthearted about their serious documentary series?

XANDER: We spoke about it and they wanted something that could make them laugh as well. It was actually a hard brief, but…

JOHN: A hard brief?

XANDER: Well, it’s a lot harder to make somebody laugh than it is to make them cringe.

A lot of the (serious) shows that come out on Channel 5 have got that sort of popular edge to them:. You take something that’s not about the London metropolitan elite or whatever but is for a more dispersed crowd – not your office worker living in the suburbs of London.

Actually, Tractor World HAS been quite a fun one to work on. If you get something like Star Wars or whatever, you’re turning down opportunities of coverage whereas, with something like this, you have to find a way to publicise it that is a little bit different or maybe even a little bit tongue-in-cheek.

For Channel 4, we do Devon and Cornwall, which has been a huge ratings success for the channel. It’s massively popular: a wholesome, kindhearted sort of programme.

JOHN: I know nothing about agriculture or tractors or muck-spreading techniques. Why should I watch a TV series about tractors?

XANDER: If you like things like Clarkson’s Farm and you’re interested in finding out about other lifestyle worlds… Good documentaries are the ones that make you interested about something in which you have no expertise. So, if you can find something that’s nice and warmhearted and has a bit of fun to it, I think you’re onto a good bet with that.

Tractors – always a sexy subject…

JOHN: I once stumbled on a BBC documentary series about the history of British motorway service stations. I have no idea how it got commissioned, but it was fascinating. It was amazing. Who knows? Maybe, in advertiser talk, tractors are now ‘sexy’ too… A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was a bestselling book only a few years ago.

XANDER: As I say, we’re working on Devon and Cornwall at the moment. We’ve also been working recently on The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge with Sandi Toksvig – another Channel 4 show. It’s about making miniature houses and stuff like that. Shows like The Great British Bake Off do very well at the moment. People like nice and warmhearted and a bit of fun.

JOHN: Your company mostly does glamorous media-type things – a master class with film producer Jeremy Thomas, the return of BBC Three to terrestrial TV…

XANDER: Yes. We were born out of the pandemic in July 2020. We were a company that sprang out of another company – Franklin Rae PR – that expanded into loads of different areas.

They had been a film and TV specialist for about 20-odd years and had moved into architecture, financial technology and stuff like that. I was heading up the (media) division, but when we were pitching for new business, people would say we were too generalist.

So we asked the CEO if we could spin it off into a separate company. We did that in July 2020 and we’ve just gone from strength to strength, very much with an international outlook… Clients in Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US; done stuff in Brazil; done a little bit with Japan, although Japan can take a lot longer than other countries.

JOHN: Why?

XANDER: Just that decisions are taken a lot more slowly. You get moved through hierarchies. You have to establish trust with one person, then move on to establish trust with the next person. Eventually you reach the decision-maker and then they decide Yes or No. It just takes a longer time to go through all those networks, but it’s worth it.

JOHN: What’s the most bizarre and interesting account you’ve worked on?

XANDER: I worked on a show a few years back called The Penis Extension Clinic

JOHN: Who did you approach to get PR for that?

XANDER: Oh, you go straight to the tabloids for that sort of stuff.

JOHN: Presumably for Tractor World, you have been going for the agricultural community.

XANDER: Yes, Farming Life and so on. Agribusiness. It’s in Farmers World today, but it’s also in the Daily Telegraph.

JOHN: What’s the Telegraph’s angle?

XANDER: They’ve said it’s something for Neil Parish to watch.

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David Mills on the difference between US and UK comedy clubs… and more…

Every week, British-based US-born comedian David Mills posts online an extraordinary 5-point bulletin called Quality Timea smörgåsbord of societal snippets, curated curious comment and interesting insights.

This week, in issue 67, there are items on the Mexican rodeo tradition, US abortion laws, personal advice from the founding executive editor of Wired magazineunforgettable movie trailers and a suspected Basque Country serial killer of gay men who is still on the loose…

We had a chat backstage when I went to the grand re-opening of South London’s unique comedy venue The Poodle Club. David was headlining the opening night, of course.


JOHN: How would you describe Quality Time?

DAVID: It’s a column, really. It’s a window onto the world. Culture & commentary.

JOHN: Very you…You were born in LA?

DAVID: No, it’s where the family ended-up in the 1980s and 1990s. I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Pennsylvania and we travelled over to California when I was about 18. My family’s now in Northern California and Oregan.

JOHN: Recently, you’ve started performing in the UK AND in the US. Are the audience tastes different?

DAVID: Yes. What I’ve found, going back to LA and gigging is that a lot of comics out there are really great on stage and they’re really warm and they have tons of charisma, but they have none of the craft that you need to play comedy rooms in the UK.

JOHN: So what do you need in the UK?

DAVID: You need jokes. You need callbacks. It needs to be quick fire. You need to keep them laughing. In the US – at least in California – I think it’s very different in New York – they are happy to just have a charming host. Someone like a party host and maybe a joke comes and maybe it doesn’t.

David at the Underbelly’s Thames-side South Bank Festival in London, 2019

When you get UK acts like me or Brett Goldstein who go over there and… joke, joke, joke, joke… they don’t know what they’re even looking at but they LOVE it.

I was over there for two months at the end of last year and the beginning of this and I thought: There’s lots of opportunity here for UK acts and for me. And they’re also looking at me because I’m American but I’m not American. So I’m sort-of this interesting thing to them.

JOHN: And yet you are one of them…

DAVID: Yes. I AM ‘one of them’. It’s good to go back. It’s nice to be around. It’s always nice to come home, isn’t it? Look at James Cordon. He’s coming home to the UK.

JOHN: Indeed. So that means there’s an empty space for a late night chat show host in the US. Perhaps a culturally-diverse person like you? They’ve had James Cordon and Craig Ferguson and Trevor Noah – all non-Americans. You are an American but, in a way you are not an American. So you…

DAVID: No. What they want is a woman. And there should be a woman. There is no woman on the late-night chat shows. Well, Joan Rivers did it. Samantha Bee does it. Others have done it, but they’ve never lasted.

What’s interesting is that James Cordon is going AND Ellen DeGeneres  is going. Ellen is daytime and Cordon is evening. Ellen’s been doing it for 19 years. Cordon was tipped to replace Ellen but it seems he’s coming back to the UK.

JOHN: So they have two spots open and they want someone sophisticated who…

Multi-cultural David at the Bar Chez Georges, Saint-Germain in Paris, 2020

DAVID: I don’t know that they want ‘sophisticated’, but they want someone who can really connect with the audience. And that’s what you see on stage in LA. All these acts really connect with audiences. They’re not looking to be stand-up comics. They’re mostly looking to be actors or TV presenters or whatever – and they just want to get exposure.

They don’t need to be joke-joke-joke good comics. They do need to be charming and dynamite and look great and be friendly and likeable. And then they get picked up from that and thrown into something like an Ellen spot.

JOHN: But you’re an actor too. You were in Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. When are you going to be in another feature film?

DAVID: Well, there’s a small film I did – a small part – which I filmed last July in Glasgow.

JOHN: A small film called?

DAVID: Indiana Jones 5.

JOHN: And Glasgow is Gotham City?

DAVID: Yes. Glasgow is New York. Whenever they want to do New York in the UK, they do it in Glasgow.

JOHN: Might you go back to the US more full-time? Like 10 months a year?

DAVID: Who knows?

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Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

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There was a funny smell inside an English prison in the 1980s…

Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…

So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.

“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…


HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”

KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.

It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…

It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.

JOHN: Why were you there?

KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.

JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.

KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.

JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?

KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.

JOHN: Of what?

KEITH: Drugs.

JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?

KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.

JOHN: Recreational drugs?

KEITH: Indeed so.

JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?

KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.

JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?

KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.

JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?

KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”

“What?” I asked.

“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.

(This would have been around 1999/2000.)

JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.

KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.

JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?

KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.

JOHN: Where do you keep it?

KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.

JOHN: Why?

KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.

JOHN: What?? In prison??

KEITH: Didn’t you know that?

JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?

KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.

JOHN: German?

KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.

JOHN: Up the Ruhr?

KEITH: Enough, John.


As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings. 

All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”

“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”

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Good Godley! – It’s the seemingly irresistible rise and rise of Janey Godley

The indomitable, unstoppable Janey Godley

Some people are just unstoppable.

Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark (a bestseller in 2005 and 2006) is published for the first time as an audio book today and she appears yet again as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You tomorrow night.

Penguin Books recently reprinted Handstands in the Dark with a new cover and new introduction. Frank Get the Door!, a book transcribing some of her viral video voiceovers, made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year. Her first novel is coming out next year. The Last Mermaid, a 2019 short film she co-wrote and starred in, won a couple of awards at Berlin and in Scotland; and she starred in a series of lockdown monologues for the National Theatre of Scotland.

In other words, she is on a roll.

Handstands in the Dark – Janey’s bestselling autobiography – still selling well after 16 years

Her nationwide UK comedy tour, which was interrupted by the Covid pandemic last year, re-starts this autumn. Her political voice-over videos have made her a worldwide viral YouTube hit complemented by animal voice-over videos and more family-friendly videos featuring her dog Honey.

Over the last few years, she has also built-up a massive following for her weekly podcasts, online pandemic chats with her daughter Ashley Storrie, random appearances on UK radio and TV, a weekly column in The Herald newspaper (she used to have a weekly column in The Scotsman) and what seem like daily news items in Scotland’s Daily Record about her Tweets.

Ashley has appeared in various BBC TV comedy series, has her own weekly BBC Scotland radio show and today BBC iPlayer (UK only) has posted online the new BBC3 comedy drama pilot Dinosaur in which she has the lead part as an undiagnosed autistic woman. It will be screened on BBC1 on 7th June and was made by Two Brothers Pictures, producers of Fleabag.

BBC TV have also just announced a new documentary series next year: Ashley & Janey Get a Real Job following the duo round the country doing things like working on a fishing boat (!)

So, obviously, I had to have a chat with Janey.

But what I was really interested in was the extraordinary range of her online commercial merchandise – everything from the normal and to-be-expected mugs and T-shirts to – extraordinarily – greetings cards, her artwork and bottles of Janey’s own Frank Get The Door! and Aw The Sandras branded gin at £32 a bottle…


JANEY: I’m sooooo fucking tired, John!

JOHN: I’m not surprised. You’ve been running round like a blue-arsed fly.

JANEY: I think it’s just… Well, I got shingles, which I’ve never had. 

JOHN: Jesus! That’s really painful.

JANEY: It really wasn’t that bad. I kept on thinking: Have I got sunburn? Then I got these sharp pains and a rash. It went away pretty fast; it wasn’t that bad. But then I got this dizzy thing.

JOHN: Vertigo?

JANEY: It was connected to the shingles and it started the morning I was filming with Joanna Lumley. I woke up, the whole world went sideways and I thought I was having a stroke. And we were filming on an old, bumpy bus.

JOHN: Your merchandise is everything from pens and mugs, T-shirts and face masks to bottles of gin. So how did that start? You were maybe a third of the way through a national UK tour, Covid hit and you had no live comedy income at all…

JANEY: And then Frank Get The Door! (the catchphrase from her viral Nicola Sturgeon voice-over videos) became really famous so we decided to make Frank Get The Door! T-shirts. My husband Sean got on LinkedIn and somebody recommended this guy lan Adie of Promotional Warehouse in Glasgow… I called him and he said: “You came to the right place at last, because I don’t need a deposit off you. We’ll make it and we’ll share it.”

The very first wave was T-shirts, clicky pens and cups. 

I told him: “It’s not going to do very much but, even if it does, I’m going to donate 100% of my profit to the STV Children’s Appeal.”

He said: “That’s weird, but OK.”

So they went on sale that first weekend, back in June/July last year… and he phoned me on the Monday and said: “Oh my God! We have sold 7,000 units!”

The first wave brought in £25,000 for the STV Children’s Appeal, which I don’t regret. I’m still happy that happened, despite HMRC (the UK government’s tax authority)… We had to pay tax on it… If you’re selling goods for a charity – not donations but selling goods for a charity – you still have to pay VAT because it’s sale through goods. Because people could say they have passed it on to charity but not done it.

JOHN: Even if you get a receipt from the charity?

JANEY: It doesn’t matter. What happens is £25,000 goes into my bank account. But I can’t just give that £25,000 to STV and say to HMRC: “Oh, I gave it all away to charity.” I have to pay VAT on the income, because they don’t see it as charity money; they see it as you making £25,000. I still have to pay VAT on it. So about £4,000 or £5,000 went to HMRC.

JOHN: And are you still donating your profit on those items to STV?

JANEY: No. The STV Children’s Appeal stopped. But now 100% of my profit on my Emotional Lifejacket merchandise goes to the Scottish Carers’ Trust. I don’t get a penny of that myself. If you buy anything from my website that’s got Emotional Lifejacket on it, 100% of my profit goes to the Carers’ Trust. We also did a 12-hour telethon for the Carers’ Trust and so far, all-in-all, we have raised about £50,000 for charity during lockdown.

JOHN: You branched into other merchandise…

JANEY: Well Ian Adie and I just clicked. He said: “We’ll do gin; we’ll do candles”… Then my daughter Ashley came up with this beautiful range – Neural Funky – because she was diagnosed with autism during lockdown… which was quite hard for her because we had always just thought that she was (LAUGHS) a bit weird… But, y’know…

JOHN: So now you have Janey Godley merchandise, Ashley Storrie merchandise and even Honey your dachshund has merchandise.

JANEY: Yes, Honey is now an earner. She cost us £8,000 when she nearly died the year before last, so…

JOHN: You’re on a roll. You survived having zero live comedy income for the last year and…

JANEY: My agent is very good. Every single day now we have to have a morning meeting where we go through the various offers that have come through. This morning (NAME BRAND) wanted me to do an advert for (A NOT INCONSIDERABLE SUM) and he said: “No, it’s not enough.”

I go back on tour in the Autumn, have one day off and then go straight into rehearsals for (A NOT-YET ANNOUNCED PROJECT).

JOHN: Penguin have just re-issued your 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a new cover, you have the new audiobook of Handstands in the Dark out now and your first novel is published by Hodder & Stoughton next year. Penguin must have suddenly realised how good you are if they’re bringing out an audio book after all this time.

The new unabridged audio version now on sale, read by Janey

JANEY: No! The audio book is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Penguin didn’t want to do the audio version, so Hodder said We want to do it! and bought the audio rights from Penguin.

JOHN: Penguin are mad. You are on a roll not just in the UK but in the US because of your Trump sign.

JANEY: And Hodder want me to write another book.

JOHN: Fiction or non-fiction?

JANEY: Fiction.

JOHN: You should do a sequel to your Handstands in the Dark autobiography. It ends on a cliffhanger. You could go from the end of the first book to some new climactic point – the Trump Is a Cunt sign maybe.

Janey’s iconic comment went viral and is now available as a greetings card from her online shop.

JANEY: I don’t think I want to, John.

ASHLEY (IN THE BACKGROUND, FROM THE KITCHEN): Mum! We keep getting people saying: When’s the next book in that series coming out!

JANEY: (BIG THEATRICAL SIGH)

ASHLEY: You have the distinct privilege that you can talk about the changing fucking dynamics of women in stand-up comedy from the 1990s to now. You have the excessive privilege that you can explain that to people who don’t understand it. You can explain what the fuck you had to go through so they can now get upset about an ‘inappropriate’ man brushing their arse!

(PAUSE)

JOHN: Anyway… The novel you’ve written which is coming out next year – Was it easy to write?

JANEY: It was so hard to write it in lockdown. For one thing I had just had shingles. Plus my confidence was shot-to-fuck and I was really, really busy doing all the other stuff. I couldn’t focus on being creative because I kept on panicking that We’re all gonna die! So I was writing bits but kept on fixing bits and kept on fixing bits and…

Then Ashley and I were stood in the kitchen one night and she said to me: “Just fucking write it! If it’s shite, just write all the shite out of your system. It’s a vomit draft. Get it all out!” So I did.

Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie – the dynamic duo of Scottish comedy (Photo: Andrew Laing)

I sent the ‘vomit draft’ off to Hodder and they got back to me after a week and said it was one of the best first drafts they’d ever had. They said it was publishable as it was, but the editing process since then has been really good.

Epilepsy Scotland gave me their offices to write it in and I got a researcher, Caitlin, who was fucking great.

Another Janey Sunday Times bestseller

JOHN: And, in the meantime, you published Frank Get The Door!

JANEY: I didn’t think it would sell but, fuck, did it sell! It was in the Sunday Times bestseller list. 

JOHN: Your videos go viral, so presumably there are sales of Frank Get The Door! worldwide because you are now known worldwide.

JANEY: And I’m about to write a Honey book – a family-friendly book.

JOHN: You will make Honey immortal.

JANEY: (LAUGHS) How are you now, John?

JOHN: Same as before.

JANEY: Can I be the headline act at your funeral when you die?

JOHN: Sure.

ASHLEY (FROM THE KITCHEN): Would you not rather have me? I’ve got TV credits. I’m just saying I’m in three upcoming television series.

JANEY: Yeah. You might be better with her headlining your funeral.

JOHN: How about you both as joint headliners?

ASHLEY: I don’t share my billing, but thankyou for the offer.

JANEY & ASHLEY: (LAUGHTER)


Janey’s main website is at http://www.janeygodley.com

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My weekly diary No 39: self-delusion, Scots pronunciation and Janey Godley

 

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 38

…BEWARE! OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD…

The Komsomolskaya (Circle Line) metro station in Moscow (Photograph by A.Savin via Wikipedia)

SUNDAY 11th OCTOBER

I remember returning to Granada TV in Manchester after a trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s and saying the beautiful metro stations were only in the middle of the city.

I had gone out to the ends of a couple of metro lines where the stations were just dull concrete monstrosities and I had gone into supermarkets where there were lots of empty shelves and only one type of anything on sale; maybe only 3 types of biscuits.

 

Someone I worked with at Granada told me I had been taken in by Western propaganda about the USSR.

They had never been outside the UK.

People hold very strong second and third-hand opinions: even moreso in the new world of social media.

MONDAY 12th OCTOBER

…and the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in people, has amplified and magnified their faults.

Today I mentioned to a friend one stand-up comedian who has crossed that not-so-thin line from being self-obsessed to being an uncaring cunt. It’s school bully mentality. Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility. He doesn’t care if people die provided he gets attention and people look at him.

“Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility” (Image by Jon Tyson, UnSplash)

I paraphrase… slightly… from March this year: “COVID isn’t real. It’s just a panic. The panic will all definitely be over in a couple of weeks. By April 6th. Because I say so… and here’s a photo of me posing in the park. Don’t I look great?”

It’s like a 16-year-old with no conscience. Reality doesn’t exist outside himself. What he says becomes the truth in his mind because he said it.

Or like Donald Trump. You just say what you want and in your own mind it becomes reality. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you say you never said it and that becomes your reality because no-one outside yourself is a real person. They’re like bits of furniture around you, not people.

 

Self-obsession creating a genuine schoolboy bully mentality. Crossing the line from self-obsessed to uncaring, self-deluded cunt.

Great on a comedy stage. Not so good in reality.

One of the best posts I saw early in the pandemic – I wish I had copied it so I know who wrote it (not anyone I actually personally knew) was to the effect of:

I thought my friend had wasted the last ten years of his life sitting around doing nothing and being a failure. How wrong I was! It turns out he must have been spending all his time at home studying epidemiology and virology to a level which puts to shame all those academics and doctors who have spent decades practising in the practical professional medical field. And now he is sharing his wisdom with us all on Facebook.

 

He is not alone. I showed the above diary entry to another comedy industry person I know to test the reaction and they thought I was describing them… I was not…

TUESDAY 13th OCTOBER

Findochty, Findockty or Finechty? (Anne Burgess, Wikipedia)

Life is full of surprises. Today I discovered my eternally-un-named-friend – to my considerable surprise – can pronounce the Scottish ‘ch’ sound correctly. Something few English people can do. For example, they mis-pronounce “Loch Ness” as “Lock Ness” and let us not even go anywhere near Auchterarder or Auchtermuchty.

The explanation seems to be that my eternally-un-named-friend, as a child, was partly brought up in Aden with an Arabic-speaking local as her childminder. A similar sound to the Scottish ‘ch’ turns up in Arabic. For example, though the English call the Gulf state Ba-rain, the locals pronounce it Bach-rain with a sound not too far from the Scottish ‘ch’ or the Welsh double-L as in Llandaff or Llanelli…

So, like me, my eternally-un-named-friend can correctly pronounce the Moray/ex-Banffshire town Findochty… even if the locals themselves pronounce it Finechty.

You can seldom second-guess the pronunciation of British place-names.

WEDNESDAY 14th OCTOBER

 

As if things could not get more bizarre in the current world of coronavirus, a BBC Location Man rang my doorbell mid-afternoon today. He was looking for a location for a forthcoming drama about an ex-SAS man and thought my house looked like somewhere an ex-SAS man would live.

Clearly the ex-SAS man in the drama must be on a downward spiral!

My next-door neighbours have the advantage of a recently-built conservatory at the back. I think I may have scuppered my dramatic chances by telling the Location Man this.

THURSDAY 15th OCTOBER

A comedian of my ken told me today that they are having a bad time in the current world of coronavirus semi-lockdown.

Always look on the bright side of life… Really… No shit…

My words of little wisdom were to suggest that, for a creative person, when things are shit, that’s the time to write it down or to pour it out onto your mobile phone voice recorder for cold creative use later.

Shit requires therapy and is raw material for creativity which is self-therapy. The act of creating can distract and distance you from the shittiness of reality by making it more abstract.

I then looked in a mirror and saw a man with his head up his own arse.

FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER

Janey Godley, Have I Got News For You & Nicola Sturgeon

My Scottish hyphenate chum Janey Godley – the stand-up comic-author-actor-Twitter star-viral YouTube sensation – appeared tonight on both BBC1’s Have I Got News For You AND, in Scotland, on the STV Children’s Appeal in which she performed a comedy sketch with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Janey has just published her latest book Frank Get The Door!

She has another book (possibly two) out next year.

Anyone who has read her jaw-dropping best-selling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark knows that she came from abject poverty with little chance of succeeding in anything except possibly getting put in prison.

The fact that, in a single evening, she appeared on one of BBC TV’s long-established, widely-watched peaktime entertainment shows AND appeared on ITV in tandem with the political leader of Scotland is a tribute to her talent, dogged determination and increasing public popularity. And she has done it all herself.

It is also a reflection on the mindlessness of London-centric Oxbridge-educated executives and commissioners that she does not have her own TV series.

SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER

 

Showbiz, though, is full of scarcely-believable OTT life-stories.

Constance Smith – from Hollywood to homeless – a scarcely-believable OTT true life story

I stumbled on Impulse (1954) on Talking Pictures TV this week. The leading lady in this Hollywood movie was Constance Smith, an English actress I had never heard of. So I looked her up and… Wow!

For starters she was Irish, not English.

She was born in 1928, the first of 11 children, won a Hedy Lamarr lookaline beauty contest in Dublin when she was 16, got a contract with producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Hollywood…

… married British actor Bryan Forbes in 1951 and was a presenter at the 1952 Oscars. By the time her contract expired (she was sacked) in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced on her by the studio and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. She divorced Bryan Forbes in 1955.

As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate with her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol.

She acted in a run of minor films in Italy between 1955 and 1959 and, during her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Back in Britain, in 1962, she was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing her then boyfriend, the documentary maker and film historian Paul Rotha.

In 1968, she stabbed Rotha for a second time and was charged with attempted murder. She and Rotha married in 1974. She also tried several times again to kill herself.

Her last few decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner.

 

She died in June 2003 in Islington, London, aged 75.

Some people win in Life. Some people lose.

Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
Experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.

Life is shit and then you die.

I just looked in the mirror again.

Yup. You guessed right. That man is still there, with his head still up his arse.

… CONTINUED HERE

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An amoral legend of ITV in the 1980s…

My commented-upon 2011 blog

Back in the mists of 2011, I blogged about Malcolm Leach, a legendary if decidedly amoral figure in the on-screen promotion departments of independent television companies in the 1980s, breaking hearts and making trailers for programmes.

I mentioned his exploits included trying to buy a regional ITV franchise and persuading an existing ITV company to rent him a car, then selling it without telling them.

In 2012, someone called Jamie spotted the blog and commented:


I knew Malcolm Leach in the early 1990s and I have many fond memories of him. I just happened to think of him this afternoon – I don’t know why – and so my Googling has led me here. It would be a shame if he were no more, yet no surprise. 

The last time I saw Malcolm he was running a pub in Clifton. This would have been around 1993. I went over to visit, with my brother. 

Malcolm knew that I liked a drink back then, and he poured me a pint of cider which, in retrospect, was probably about 12%. An elderly gentleman seated at the bar said to me: “If you drink that, you won’t walk out of here.” 

Malcolm simply said: “Pay no attention to him, Jamie. He has angina and so may die at any moment.”

He cackled with laughter and lit one of his untipped fags. I drank the cider and another one too. And that is the last memory I have of that day and, sadly, of Malcolm.


Malcolm Leach got around, in more ways than one.

In 2014, itinerant voice-over announcer Keith Martin commented on my blog:


I met Malcolm. It could have been at HTV… but was it at Anglia, TVS or Southern?. Could it have been at Rediffusion or Thames or LWT? Perhaps it was at Border, Channel or even ATV? How about Yorkshire, not forgetting BFBS TV? I wish I could remember. Help!


More recently, ex-promo person Simon Kennedy spotted my blog and commented:


I remember from my time at TEN: The Entertainment Network:

The wonderful world of futuristic television channels in 1984

TEN went on air on the night of the 29th of March 1984. The launch party was held at The Kensington Roof Gardens with a feed from the satellite to the screens set up around the room. Industry figures from film and television were on the guest list, as well as our VIP, Superman actor Christopher Reeve. 

Champagne flowed as we headed towards the eight o’clock lift-off. 

Malcolm had prepared a ‘Countdown to TEN’, featuring clips taken from cinema trailers of movies with numbers in their titles. Ten was “10”, and so on, until seven, which used a clip from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. 

Standing between me and the monitor were a group of executives from Disney. The moment Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs hit the screen, they went into a huddle and left even before the end of the promo. No-one else seemed to notice this departure and a cheer went up from the guests as we headed into the first film. The festivities kept going into the night.

The next morning we were understandably late into the office, but Malcolm was nowhere to be found. It seems that the previous night, even before the party wrapped up, we received a communication from the Walt Disney company. 

Malcolm had not cleared the use of any of the clips assuming that, just because he could rent the trailers from National Screen Service, he could include them. And, with that, he drove another shiny nail into his own coffin. 

Disney now demanded that not only did we have to write a grovelling public letter of apology, we also had to put out an announcement on air that day stating we didn’t have the rights to show the clip, that we would not be showing Snow White, nor would we ever be showing Snow White. The hung-over Malcolm was dispatched to make up the announcement and get it on air as soon as possible.

Malcolm lasted a further month at TEN. 

Still I ate well – and often – at L’Escargot (the very expensive restaurant) on his expenses.


I thought Simon might have more anecdotes about Malcolm, so I Skyped him. Before talking to him, I looked up Malcolm Leach on the internet and there was a letter in The Guardian in 2001 from him.

Ex-Granada person David Liddiment started at their on-screen Promotion Dept in Manchester (where Malcolm had worked), then became executive producer on Coronation Street 1987-1991, Head of Entertainment at the BBC 1993-1995 and ITV Director of Programmes 1997-2002.

In 2001, he criticised BBC TV for not fulfilling its cultural responsibilities, which Malcolm took exception to. He wrote to The Guardian:


David Liddiment’s remarks put me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s observation that satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Having spent my working life in the same medium as David, I have never known him troubled before by such lofty concepts as “soul, individual acts of creation and communication: ideas, scenes and spectacle shared with an entranced and receptive nation”. Having presided over ITV’s slide from the mediocre to the downright pathetic, he is perhaps the last person to start lambasting the BBC.

Malcolm Leach, Bath


So he was alive and thriving in 2001.

And I Skyped Simon Kennedy to see if he knew more…


Simon: “There are a lot of stories you can’t blog about…”

SIMON: The last time you and I talked was about 30 years ago at TVS.

JOHN: I guess… So… Malcolm was a bit of a character…

SIMON: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: What are some of the other Malcolm stories?

SIMON: Well, there are a lot of stories you can’t blog about, because some of the people are still alive. (I HAVE CHANGED ALL THE NAMES IN WHAT FOLLOWS)

Dick Waterstone had employed Malcolm at Granada in Manchester and mistakenly took him under his wing. When Dick got the job as Head of Presentation and Promotion at TEN The Entertainment Network, he took Malcolm down to London. 

Malcolm had a very pretty young wife whom we met once but who was then bundled up back in the train to Manchester and remained there while Malcolm began to pick off the women friends of his younger promo producers.

There were about three of us in our early twenties. Pete Beacham had a friend called Sarah, whom Malcolm took a fancy to and they were a little bit of an item for a time until she discovered about the wife up in Manchester.

We then had screaming phone calls coming into the TEN offices. “No, Sarah, Malcolm isn’t here right now. No, really.”

To go into an edit suite and watch a man swigging wine and chain-smoking Gitanes at eleven in the morning was something in and of itself. But it was the Disney thing which finally did for him.

JOHN: He seemed to be irresistibly attractive to women for some bizarre reason. Maybe it was the ‘bad boy’ image.

SIMON: It must have been that. He was one of the most remarkably ugly men I can ever remember meeting.

JOHN: I just remember him as being a bit chunky and shapeless.

SIMON: He was a pain-in-the-ass to work for – he was my boss – because he was so mercurial. ‘Hot and cold’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

The last I heard of him must have been in 1984 when he was given the bum’s rush from TEN and we had one very quick drink before he announced he would be leaving us. He didn’t tell us why. He said he was going to go over and meet his good mate Raúl Castro in Cuba, because he was good friends with ‘the Castro boys’. And that was the last I heard of him. Whether he’s still with us, God only knows.

JOHN: Someone definitively told me he was dead. Though maybe he is going to reappear in Cuba, having conned his way into power. Nothing would surprise me.

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Rest in Peace: British showbiz legend Nicholas Parsons and other gentle men

Nicholas Parsons – much loved by generations of Brits

I was at a crematorium in Hampshire today. For a celebration of the life of my cousin’s husband, Michael. He was that seemingly rare thing: a kind, decent and gentle man. My cousin chose well marrying him.

When I left, within less than a minute of me switching on my phone again, there was a BBC newsflash that Nicholas Parsons had died, aged. 96.

And it started to rain.

Truly.

I grew up watching Nicholas Parsons on TV. He played the upper-class and slightly up-himself ‘posh’ foil/neighbour to Arthur Haynes’ working class character/tramp in a ratings-topping ITV comedy show The Arthur Haynes Show, written by Johnny Speight (before he created Till Death Us Do Part).

So, as a child, I suppose I thought of Nicholas Parsons as the character he played – a bit of a posh bloke thinking a bit too much of himself. Sort of a cliché actor type, if you see what I mean.

Later, when I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, I guess in the early 1970s, there was a story in the local Hampstead & Highgate Express about some girl who had been sexually attacked on Hampstead Heath and afterwards she went to the nearest house she found which, as it happened, was Nicholas Parsons’ home.

My memory is that she was effusive about how wonderful and helpful, how kind and considerate, caring and efficient he was, helping her with the police and so on.

I always thought much more of him after that – he was not just some posh sitcom actor/foil on a television show but a good person – a human being.

A few years later, I was working in the on-screen promotion department at Anglia TV in Norwich, where he fronted their big ITV ratings-getter Sale of the Century. (It was getting over 21 million viewers weekly.)

One way to rate TV ‘stars’ I always found was that, if they ate in the canteen with the plebs and the canteen ladies liked them, then they were OK as human beings. The canteen ladies at Anglia TV always liked Nicholas Parsons. (A parallel was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, early in their careers, in the Granada TV  canteen in Manchester.)

His TV gameshow was getting over 21 million viewers weekly

One day, Nicholas Parsons came into the promotion office at Anglia TV and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why – I think maybe he was asking advice or plugging some travel project he had – but he – the big Anglia and ITV Network star – was, as ever, amiable, modest and charming – not in a schmaltzy showbiz promotional way but in a genuinely normal person-to-person way.

His image was, I suppose, of a constantly-smiling, slightly cheesy, always ‘on’ old style showbiz star.

But, on the two occasions I briefly met him in the flesh, he was anything but that. He was, if I have to choose a naff but exactly true term, a ‘real’ person. It was impossible not to like him.

An unlikely meeting of minds in 2007…

The second time I briefly met him was when he was a guest on Janey Godley’s Chat Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I met him on the steep stone steps behind what had been the old Gilded Balloon, was at that time The Green Room venue and has since gone through various names.

He was, again, a charming, keen-to-please and keen-to-be-helpful, slightly frail gentle man. (He was 83 at the time and I thought to myself: He is going to pop his clogs soon… That was 13 years ago and he was still going strong last year!)

As a result of being a guest on that show, he – the seemingly definitive comfortable ‘Home Counties’ man – and Janey – the definitive tough wee East End Glaswegian – seemed to bond because, as I understand it, his parents had sent him to do manual work in the Glasgow shipyards in his youth to ‘toughen him up’. As a result, despite his image as ‘Home Counties Man’, I think he felt an affinity with working class Glaswegians.

Janey turned up multiple times later both on his own Edinburgh Fringe chat shows and on his long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. The BBC tried the format on TV in 1999, but it didn’t catch on there. It has been running on radio since 1967.

On her Facebook page this afternoon, Janey posted this tribute to him:


Just a Minute – Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas

#NicholasParsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of “us” he loved stand up.

The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that “lifted” our spirits at the Fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.

He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the Fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him


That is Janey’s opinion.

TV chat show host Graham Norton Tweeted this afternoon: “Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with. His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all!”

I can’t say, personally, that I have ever warmed to men as a species. I’m more of a cat person. Cats have a nobility and (if you feed them) an amiability that is usually sorely lacking in men.

So it is a very great loss when genuinely decent gentle men die.

Nicholas Parsons had three wildly successful, long-running, overlapping showbiz peaks – The Arthur Haynes Show, Sale of the Century and Just a Minute – and, quite rightly, memories of him are splattered all over TV and radio news, in print and on the internet.

My cousin’s husband Michael – whose memorial celebration was packed to standing room only in a small Hampshire town today – tried to follow the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

Michael lived his life to the full and added to it the other key ingredient: kindness. I think he and Nicholas Parsons shared that.

At the end of the celebration of Michael’s life today, the poem One At Rest by that prolific writer Anon was read out. It ends:

And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry.
Matters it now if time began
if time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all
and I am now at peace.

RIP Michael and Nicholas.

Or, as the Tralfamadorians would say:

So it goes.

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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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Filed under Comedy, Politics, satire, Television