John Ward in a photograph where it is probably best if you supply your own caption…
I first worked with mad inventor John Ward – designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – on the TVS/ITV series Prove It! for which he supplied bizarre weekly inventions. That was back in 1988. We paid him a fee, put him up in a local hotel and covered his travel costs. He presented his inventions in a sort-of double act with the show’s presenter Chris Tarrant.
For one show in the series, he conceived and built a ‘TV Dining Machine’:
A couple of blogs ago, John Ward shared the quirkiness of one recent BBC approach to him about his frequently ‘unusual’ inventions.
The posting of that blog reminded John of another incident, back in 2007. He told me: “The crass silliness of clueless staff was/is not restricted to just the Beeb.”
Back in 2007, he received this email (which I have edited) from the member of an ITV production team:
We are currently producing a new entertainment show hosted by (two famous UK personalities).
The show has been an instant success. It features celebrity chat, the hottest music acts and the presenters’ ‘take’ on the week’s events.
Each week we like to feature new inventions and gadgets and I have seen online your various inventions and was hoping that I might be able to speak with you about the possibility of featuring some of them on our show.
I think it would be fantastic for our show.
I would be really keen to discuss this opportunity further.
John Ward explains what happened next…
The ITV guy duly rang me up and, after a lot of patronising twaddle, he explained, once we finally got round to it, what my ‘involvement’ would be:
I was not to be appearing on the actual programme – quite why he didn’t say.
What he/they wanted was for me to send to them – at my cost! – assorted inventions I had made so that one could be displayed and talked about (i.e. taken the piss out of) each week during a filler moment on said show.
I was also to source the boxes/containers etc. to pack them up in and then pay to send them – quote: ‘by courier would be nice’ (!)
I did pose the question as to how I would get them back afterwards, but this query seemed to fall on rather stony ground. I got the overall impression that I would be ‘donating’ them to the programme.
Finally, he asked… Could I supply a list of suitable small inventions that would not take up too much space in the studio?
He then explained there was no fee, but I would be ‘rewarded’ by having my name in the end credits along the lines of: ‘Inventions supplied by John Ward’.
I pointed out that this supposed ‘reward’ would be meaningless at the end of the programme because, within seconds of the end credits rolling, they were then either squeezed to one side or reduced in size – or both – to promote the next programme.
He then went into autopilot mode and waffled on about ‘the prestige’ of being ‘connected’ with this series featuring such ‘iconic personalities’ and that I should be ‘grateful for being considered’ for a part in the production.
I think my response was fairly straightforward.
I posed the question:
“Are there still two ‘L’s in bollocks?”
He put the phone down rather swiftly after that intellectual exchange.
That poor 2007 ITV man missed-out on showcasing John’s originality – as we did on ITV’s 1988 series Prove It!
For the episode below, he had invented some very adaptable shoes:
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.
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?
87-year-old American comedy performer Lynn Ruth Miller is not just an international treasure but a national treasure. And she eventually got the UK government to agree…
Here she explains…
YOU CAN’T GET IT ALL
But I always try.
I have a little voice inside me that says, “Yes you can!!! If you want it, it is yours.”
And I listen to it.
So it was that I decided to move to Brighton, England, at the nubile age of 81.
A man named Bill Smith promised me a fascinating job, a living wage, a beautiful home and a visa to guarantee that the British Government would welcome me.
I believed him.
I should have known that anyone with such a boring name would be up to no good, but I did not. I just listened to that stubborn little voice whispering, “Go on! Do it! Do it!”
So I did.
I sold my California home, packed up my feathers, tassels and thongs and crossed the ocean, filled with optimism and hope.
I would begin a new life! I would speak like Queen Elizabeth and learn to drink tea. I would say, “Are you well?” to strangers I didn’t care about and bitch about the weather. I would be British.
It didn’t turn out that way.
I was housed in a flat above a fish and chips place and fired from my job in three months with no living wage and no visa. I still had an unmistakable American accent and I drank coffee.
But that little voice whispered in my ear, “You can get that visa… You can get that living wage… You don’t have to smell like fried fish… Move on!”
So I did.
I managed to get a ‘tier five’ visa that involved me leaving the country every three months and I moved to London where the action is.
Then the little voice said: ”You have to find a way to stop running hither and thither. You are not as young as you used to be. Besides, travel is expensive. You have to get a permanent visa. Then you will be safe.”
“What about a living wage?” I asked.
“We will get to that later,” said the little voice.
So it was that I found a lovely sponsor who kept reassuring me that the three month routine was enough and I kept saying, “But it doesn’t give me medical care,” and he said, “Take your vitamins.”
So I did.
But then the worst happened.
The Home Office disqualified my lovely sponsor and I tried to find another person to give me proper papers. Each one I found either wanted to charge me three times the price of a new home in Chelsea to do the work or else decided I was too big a risk.
Meanwhile, the little voice kept saying, “Do not give up. You really CAN have it all.”
So I didn’t.
I talked to lawyer after lawyer and each one said, “The only options open to you are to marry a Brit, study at a University or to be so talented that the British people cannot bear to let you go.”
By this time, I was 86 years old and had lived alone for so long I did not close the bathroom door. My memory was like a sieve and felt I had never had any talent. But I DID have that little voice.
“If you marry, you will have to cook him three meals every single day and do other uncomfortable things,” it said. “If you study, you will have to use intelligence and that went when you lost your waistline. Try that talent thing. What do you have to lose?”
That was when I stumbled on an angel named Peter.
He and I consulted more lawyers who told me to give up and go back to America.
But Peter said, “There must be a way. Do you know anyone who can convince the Arts Council that you are indispensable?”
And I said, “My dogs are dead.”
But the little voice said, ”Just try!”
So I did.
I managed to convince a lot of people who were sympathetic to the elderly to write letters swearing I was a national treasure and, to my amazement, The Arts Council bought it.
“See? What did I tell you?” said the little voice. “The British love eccentric old ladies.”
But, sadly, the Home Office does not.
They wrote me and said, “Well, the Arts Council says you are a ‘Global Talent’ from America. But why are you still here?”
And I said, “Because there is a pandemic going on and I had to stay here or die.”
I said this once.
I said this twice.
And, finally, another angel named Kate wrote them a letter and so did cherubic Peter and the Home Office buckled.
“OK,” they said, “we will let her stay. After all she is 87. How long will it be?”
Success at last!… Lynn Ruth Miller can stay in the UK!
AND I DID IT!!
I GOT IT!
I AM HERE FOR FIVE YEARS!
THE BRITISH SAY I AM TALENTED.
I GET MEDICAL CARE.
But I didn’t get it all.
To my dismay, the visa says I cannot work as a sportsperson.
A tragic end to 87-year-old Lynn Ruth’s hopes of attaining track, field, boxing or Olympic stardom…
No rugby, no cricket, no soccer for me.
I will have to return my helmet and chest protector to Bat And Ball.
“Stop bitching,” said the little voice. “You win some; you lose some.”
We are advised to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds (Photo by Nathan Dumlao via UnSplash)
SUNDAY 29th MARCH
I woke at around 0530 this morning. I live with my grandfather. He had been out late last night and upstairs, from my bed, I could hear him opening the front door downstairs, then coming up the creaking wooden stairs. Then I woke up. There was a strong wind outside making creepy noises. My grandfather died in the 1970s.
Most supermarkets now have an hour at the beginning or end of the day set aside for older people and/or people in vulnerable categories and/or NHS staff. I was in the local Iceland store this afternoon and got talking to a man at a safe distance across a frozen food cabinet. He told me he lives in Pimlico and, last week, someone was mugged in Pimlico and their NHS pass was stolen. Apparently true. Just the NHS pass.
MONDAY 30th MARCH
Yesterday afternoon, I had a FaceTime chat with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter. It lasted 1 hour 19 minutes and she is the most sensible person I have talked to since the coronavirus crisis started. Facebook and Twitter are awash with self-pity and paranoia.
The number of known UK deaths from COVID-19 was announced today as 1,408.
Things perked up later when the extraordinarily talented Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted the first in a series of videos about his family and being self-isolated by the coronavirus crisis.
TUESDAY 31st MARCH
In the current coronavirus crisis, we are told only to contact our GP (local doctor) in a real emergency.
Most things in life depend on your viewpoint. Take this online posting from an Online COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group in an expensive area of London:
Hello, my wife and I have been asked by our GP to self-isolate as we are showing symptoms of a viral infection. Our problem is we do not know any neighbours being newish to the zone who can shop for us and we require dog food. Our dog has IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – so she can only eat pasta and veg (broccoli, cauliflower & sprouts). If anybody can help with this plea we would welcome your contact. Many thanks.
The reaction of the person who told me was: “Honestly! People!So well connected they’ve actually seen their GP! Human beings can’t get pasta to eat let alone dogs! Middle Class entitled First World problems! Give the dog some bloody dog food, not vegan muck and it’ll soon feel better…”
A website satire not too far from reality
That reaction seems pretty reasonable to me. But, seen from the point of view of the isolated couple in a new neighbourhood, caring about their dog, their plea is not unreasonable either.
This might not be a total fantasy. Many years ago, a friend with a friend who worked in the A&E Department of a hospital told me Saturday nights had a high incidence of this type of thing including people misunderstanding the physical nature of fish…
Fish can only go one way…
You can stick a (small) fish head-first up your bottom but – remember they have scales – you cannot pull it out… Result… a visit to the local hospital’s A&E Department… And people think coronavirus is bad…
WEDNESDAY 1st APRIL
Back to reality today. A Junior Doctor in the NHS Tweeted: “Last night I certified far more deaths than I can ever remember doing in a single shift. The little things hit you: a book with a bookmark in, a watch still ticking, an unread text message from family.Pandemic medicine is hard.”
The number of daily coronavirus deaths in the UK in the last 24 hours has increased by 563.to 2,352.
A friend who lives in central London, who was ill for a week or more and is just-about getting over it emailed me:
I have definitely had it, John. Without a doubt. All the symptoms – fever for the first week, complete loss of taste/smell, dry cough, aching all over. The GP more or less confirmed it on the phone. The fever comes back sporadically. But the worst thing is not having a working nose.
I’m sure I got it on March 8th when I went to an event with my two girlfriends who also got ill at the same time as me. One is now in hospital.
There is no guarantee that one can’t get it again but the hope is that, like with other viral illnesses, I will have immunity. If there were an antibody test, I would take it.
No masking the truth… (Photograph by Ashkan Forouzani via UnSplash)
The medical people are definitely mentioning the effect on taste and smell, certainly in the things I read and my and my friend’s GPs both said that’s the clincher. It is quite different from losing your sense of smell with a cold. It is just total. If you gave me two slices of bread, one spread with Marmite and the other with Nutella, I could not taste the difference.
Smell is a useful sense – I am only now realising how much I rely on it. I can’t smell whether food has gone off, whether something is burning in the oven, whether a tee-shirt needs washing. With food I never used to throw things out on the Best By or Use By date – if it smelled OK, I would eat it. Now, not so confident.
I am fine now except nose and the odd night fever. I think once over it, one is over it. It takes a couple of weeks. If you get lung complications like my friend (and another friend who is so weak he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days) it’s fucking horrible, but I didn’t thankfully.
My cousin only has loss of smell but the two people who work for him also got it (at the same trade fair) – both young. One got a light dose like me; the other (53 years old and a fit runner) floored by it.
One can see that if one is old or infirm, this would see you off. Some friends who are Junior Doctors are very frightened of it as they’ve seen so many people with it.
Martin Soan practises his planned ascent of Mount Everest
THURSDAY 2nd APRIL
I am desolate.
Comic Martin Soan had planned an ascent of Mount Everest tomorrow. Now he has called it off. Only a week after he called off a concert at the Albert Hall.
These are the facts you pick up when you are isolated in your home and only allowed out very occasionally.
“I am quite happy it’s low, but have no idea why”
FRIDAY 3rd APRIL
There are 3,605 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK now: 684 in the last 24 hours.
The normal resting heart rate for adults over the age of 10 years, including older adults, is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Highly trained athletes may have a resting heart rate below 60 bpm, sometimes reaching 40 bpm.
My resting heart rate (according to my Apple Watch) is in the low 50s – around 53/53/54. I am no athlete.
I am quite happy it is low but have no idea why.
SATURDAY 4th APRIL
On Wednesday, my friend in Central London had mentioned another friend who was so weak “he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days”. He was admitted to hospital last night, diagnosed with COVID-19 related double viral pneumonia.
Another friend who lives in rural tranquillity in Sussex tells me she has heard tales (by telephone) in the village about joggers hassling walkers, spitting and coughing near people etc etc.
I had to tell her that Borehamwood, where I live – administratively in Hertfordshire but really on the edge of London – has always seemed to me to be surprisingly not anti-social.
Borehamwood – “It is really culturally an Essex town”
It is awash with secondary schools and Yoofs and it is really culturally an Essex town, but there is almost no graffiti. I think the aspiring anarchists must go somewhere else to be anti-social… Not something they can do at the moment, so I dunno where they are. There is no particular sign of Yoofs on the streets.
All I can imagine is that they are staying at home snorting cocaine or shooting-up heroin – both allegedly normally available in town – but this lockdown must surely have screwed the coke, crack and smack distribution system and it sure as hell must have put burglars out of work – everyone is always at home now…
These are grim times for the crime biz…
But the good news is my friend who had lost her sense of taste and smell reports back: “I had smoked salmon for lunch today. And it tasted fishy!!!!!!
I think the first time it happened I was on a Victoria Line train on the London Underground.
I was feeling quite mellow and relaxed, standing by the exit doors of the train when he talked to me.
He was a young black bloke, maybe around 19. The shrewd observer of life in London might have guessed he was a black troublemaker and/or mugger.
He got up, looked me in the eye and offered me his seat. This was maybe two years ago. It was a first.
I had got to that point in life where I look so old (and presumably appear to be so frail) that people offer me their seats in trains. And one thing always strikes me. This is, I think, a fairly accurate guesstimate of the numbers…
Around 90% or maybe even 95% of the people who offer their seats to me in trains are non-white.
It is very rare for a white person to offer me their seat.
Young men; young women; even, the other day, an older Indian guy who was maybe 50.
I think: What the fuck? How old do I look? How geriatric must I look?
But it’s almost always the same. They are non-white and (I think; I guess) are British residents. I don’t think tourists would offer their seat to me unless I looked REALLY frail and looked like I was about to drop down at any moment. Tourists would not be absolutely sure about the local protocol.
I don’t know what the social or ethnical or upbringing reason is; but it is non-white-skinned people who offer their seats to me.
And, just before Christmas, there was a more unsettling incident.
I was with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter.
An unsettling encounter on a fairly crowded London bus…
We got on a fairly crowded bus. But there was a double seat occupied by a young woman in her twenties of Chinese origin. I say that because I don’t think she was Chinese. She may have been Malaysian or similar. Mostly Chinese ethnically but not by birth.
She had a small child – presumably her daughter – standing in front of her; they were interacting. They were using one seat; the seat beside them was completely empty.
The young woman looked up and saw me approaching. I was going to let my 8-year old sit on the empty seat and stand beside her.
The Chinese woman, looking me in the eye, made to move so that I and my 8-year-old could sit down in the two seats and she and her daughter would stand, giving up their one seat. There was a look in her eye that made me think she felt I presumed I, as a white man with a white chlld, had a right to the two seats and she – a young Chinese woman with a Chinese daughter – had to defer to me.
With a look, I communicated she did not have to get up.
They had been quite reasonably and very politely only using one seat, so my 8-year-old was able to sit down in the empty seat without affecting them and I stood by the eight-year-old; there was no other empty seat nearby.
But the look in the young woman’s eye – that she had to defer to a white man – unsettled and still unsettles me.
Another incident happened just after Christmas.
I had arranged a meal with a chum in a Japanese restaurant in Soho. My chum is of Polynesian/Chinese descent. There was a queue of about four other people, mostly Japanese,outside the restaurant, including my chum; she had arrived before me.
“Did you see that man with the zimmer frame?” she asked me.
I had passed him. He had just turned round the corner.
“He told us all to get off the street and get out of the way,” she told me, “and to get back to where we came from.”
The queue was not blocking the pavement.
I went back to the corner but he was no longer there.
I can think of one reason why he had to use a zimmer frame.
The Christmas/New Year period roughly coincides with the 9-day Jewish Hanukkah holiday.
The confusing menorah at Hanukkah in Borehamwood…
I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, just on the NW edge of London. For reasons unknown, there is a fairly high Jewish population; and a fairly high Romanian population. We have two Romanian grocers… one generic Balkan grocer also catering for Romanians… and now a triple-fronted Romanian restaurant in the high street.
This year, in the shopping centre, to celebrate Hanukkah, there was a large menorah installed – made out of balloons – and a few tressle tables. The gents supervising it all wore skullcaps/kippahs and long beards. They looked Jewish. There were DJ disco tracks playing on a loudspeaker. The music was a mixture of Jewish music and what sounded confusingly like black Caribbean music.
As I was loitering around listening to all this with some bemusement – OK, to be honest, the scene looked like a Jewish celebration, with West Indian music playing, manned by black-bearded members of ISIS – I realised quite a lot of the passers-by were speaking to each other in an Eastern European language that was not Russian. (I sort-of learned Russian at school.) I surmised the language was Romanian.
So there was this scenario where fairly recent immigrants from Romania were walking through a typically English shopping centre at Christmastime where some Jewish festival was being celebrated (there was the large menorah made from balloons) while West Indian music was playing.
I suspect this was culturally beyond confusing to them but, somehow, I also find it very reassuring.
Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.
I got an email from him:
“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back.
“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.
“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”
So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.
And I have only just transcribed it.
I got severely side-tracked.
The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…
Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia
NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.
JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.
NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.
JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?
NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.
JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.
NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing.
JOHN: And the comedy?
NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.
JOHN: I want to go there.
NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey.
JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.
NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.
JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?
NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.
JOHN: With what?
NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.
JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.
NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”
JOHN: So Bobcat is better?
NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.
NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.
JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?
NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.
JOHN: So why Bobcat…?
NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.
NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…
JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?
NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.
JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…
NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?
This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)
NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.
JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?
NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.
JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?
NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.
JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.
NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.
NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.
JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?
NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.
JOHN: You seem happy.
NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.
JOHN: You’re on them?
Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London
NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.
After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy –analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.
JOHN: Because of Perth?
NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.
JOHN: Why was it long overdue?
NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.
But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.
It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.
So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.
JOHN: And you are OK now?
NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.
JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.
NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.
JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.
NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectionedimmediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.
Lord Toby Jug – he changed his name legally from Brian Borthwick by deed poll – had been a guitarist in a band with Screaming Lord Sutch. Sutch had given him the nickname ‘Toby Jug’ because he was a little rotund in appearance. As leader of the Eccentric Party, he wore a top hat which had previously belonged to Sutch.
He was expelled from the Monster Raving Loony Party in 2014 by then party leader Howling Laud Hope (this is British politics for you) over comments Lord Toby had made about UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and for his criticism of pub chain J D Wetherspoon, a company which the Loony party had been attempting to attract as a sponsor.
In 2015, Lord Toby told me: “I left the Monster Raving Loony Party because they didn’t like my stance – as told to national newspapers – on Nigel Farage and UKIP. I said UKIP claimed to be fruitcakes, loonies and crackpots but that’s our area. They tried to nick our Holy Grail of loonies. Another reason I left was because I met Nigel Farage and some of his sick-you-fonts and I thought they were closet racists and decided that should be put in the public domain. UKIP are far too eccentric, far too potty. Extremists.”
On the rebound from the Monster Raving Loonies, Lord Toby formed The Eccentric Party, whose policies included:
putting super glue in lip balm to fight obesity
taller buildings for higher education.
a 15% phone bill discount for people who stutter
He stood in various General, county and local elections but surprisingly never won.
Boris Johnson (left) in Uxbridge with Lord Toby Jug in 2015
In 2015, he stood in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency against Boris Johnson and Howling Laud Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party. He polled 50 votes.
According to his obituary in The Times in May 2019: “He thought Johnson would make an ideal member of the Eccentric Party, even offering to stand aside as leader if his rival would defect. Later he had second thoughts. I went round with a jug of water and a comb to tidy his hair, Jug recalled. But he’s too much of an extremist for us — a tad too bonkers.”
The original Eccentric Party candidate in that Uxbridge election had been Chris Dowling who fell ill and Lord Toby replaced him. Chris had been an optimist and told me, in 2015:
“Even though this is still the greatest democracy in the world, the political system in this country is outdated and it needs to be revamped. I’m gonna win by a landslide majority here.”
“Against Boris?” I asked.
“Yeah. He’s a bigger loony than I am… Sooner or later, Boris Johnson will be the Prime Minister of this country.”
“I think so too,” I agreed.
“Everything I’ve seen about Boris Johnson,” said Chris, “he’s just seemed a buffoon and I quite like that about him.”
Far from that being a drawback in British politics, it might seem to be a prerequisite.
Political seer Chris Dowling (bottom) and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls in 2015…
Perhaps that should have read ‘comic politician and anarchic rock ‘n’ roller’.
Screaming Lord Sutch holds the record for losing in UK Parliamentary elections – more than 40 between 1963-1997.
Since the article was published yesterday, there has been a lot of reaction and feedback.
John Ward tells me:
The key question asked is why he committed suicide.
Nobody really knows. In these cases, how can anybody be in a position to really know for sure? The recorded ‘verdict’ is one thing; the real reason only he knew.
He used to ring me at odd hours to talk about anything ‘daft’ or run ideas past me. The general feeling is he was a manic depressive behind the mask. (Think of Tony Hancock maybe?)
John Ward and Lord Sutch fêted by Time Life
On one occasion, he rang to ask if I knew we were both on the same page of a Time-Life book – part of a series titled Library of Curious and Unusual Facts– he pointed out he didn’t mind sharing the page with me!
Another time, he rang to ask if I was busy. He put the phone down at his end, then I heard things being moved about which lasted about five minutes or so. Then he came back to the phone to tell me he had moved his mother’s sideboard around, then her display cabinet which she had her china pieces in, then he proudly told me that he had had a ‘cabinet reshuffle’.
His mum (glad she and mine never mingled!!!!!) was a card in her own right.
I rang on one occasion to speak to him – they lived in the same house in Harrow – and, bearing in mind the many times I had spoken to her before, she asked:
“How do you know my David? Did you vote for him? How do you know I’m his mother cos you called me Mrs Sutch and he don’t have a wife you know, not now anyway…”
It was worse if you forgot the time of day and rang while he was in bed. Most days he rose after 1 or 2 in the afternoon – like most in the ‘show business’ as he would have got home in the early hours of the morning after a gig.
She would usually say: “My David is in bed – I’ll go and get him/fetch him – hang on.”
Then she would put the phone down on the table in the hall and you heard her go clumping up the stairs, stand at the top of the landing and then shout out:
“David – are you still asleep or not?” (!)
After a muffled reply from his door, it was then clump-clump-clump back down the stairs and she would pick up the phone and say:
“I think he’s coming down…”
Not 100% positive, mind – just ‘think’.
This could take anything from mere minutes to hearing “Your tea’s ready and on the table” at my end before he came to the phone.
But, in fairness, he didn’t clump-clump-clump down the stairs.
It was so surreal it reminded me of The Goons with Minnie Bannister & Co…
“Is that you, Min?”
“Oh… You’re not sure?… I’ll ask you later then, when you know…”
I am glad I was in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ otherwise I would never have met this amazing and unique man.
John tells how he met Sutch in his Spalding Guardian piece.
(L-R) John Ward, James Whale and Screaming Lord Sutch were hit by a power cut and a blizzard
Initially I had no idea I would ever be meeting David Edward Sutch but we were both individually booked to appear on a late-night television chat show some years ago – rather inspiringly called The James Whale Radio Show – that went out late from (then) Yorkshire TV in Leeds, live on a Friday night.
We got on okay as we did the show, which suffered a minor power cut live on air due to a blizzard hitting the area, but we coped.
Afterwards, we eventually got back to our hotel at about half past one in the morning, going through snow drifts with our driver complaining he was cold though he had a fur coat on.
Back at the hotel, we realised there was no chance of getting a bite to eat at that hour but, as we had rooms opposite each other, we took our kettles out onto the landing, plugged in and then brewed up a cuppa each, nibbled on the small packets of complimentary biscuits as we chatted and put the world to rights – It always seems to work better sitting on a decent bit of floral patterned carpet and supping tea.
A few months afterwards, after phone calls and assorted meet ups, he made me his ‘Minster of Inventions’ as he was then the leader/instigator of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
For the life of me I could not work out why or how I had upset him so much that he would bestow such a title on me but, in fairness, I never asked.
Our ‘best’ achievement between us – his idea, my design – was a ‘Manifesto Muncher’.
He used to throw other political parties’ written manifestos into it and it churned them out again in the form of toilet rolls – so at least the end product was something to go on.
Lovely sense of humour – Why can’t all politics be like this?
Even though he is no longer with us, the interest in him now, twenty years after his death, never ceases to wane although we live in an age where supposed ‘celebrity’ is seemingly an everyday commodity. No sooner do we get used to one supposed ‘celeb’ then another comes along.
But no sign of there being another David Edward Sutch so far – or even anything like him. And, like him or not, it’s a safe bet he will still be remembered in years to come.
In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to a man who had decided to see what it was like to be homeless for one day on the streets of Manchester.
Now 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller gives her own views on homelessness and being stalked in Glasgow…
Here she goes…
I was so successful using my college Spanish in Barcelona (blogged about here) that I decided to give myself the acid test and go someplace where I REALLY could not understand anything anyone said.
Last week I went to Glasgow.
The Markee de Saw (left) and Miss Innocence Bliss in Glasgow
I headlined at the Allsorts Cabaret in Katie’s Bar. This is a burlesque cabaret hosted by the Markee de Saw and Innocence Bliss, both regulars on the burlesque circuit.
And that was when I got stalked…
It was really very thrilling.
A very young man came into the club while I was waiting to go on stage. He sat very close to me and smiled significantly.
I smiled significantly back.
What else could I do?
I couldn’t SAY anything because there was a show going on.
At the interval, I left to put on my costume and his eyes followed me right into the dressing room. This was a brand new experience for me. I found it very awkward to get down to my undies knowing his eyes were right there in the room. After all, we had not even been introduced.
I returned to my table and there he was looking more significant than ever!!!!!
I managed to haul myself on stage and he was right there with a hand up (to the stage, not my costume). I finished my song about being old just in case no-one noticed (but I think they all did). I sat down next to my stalker and he spoke his first words to me.
I think he said: “Would you like a drink?”
But it was hard to catch what he said because, by this time, he had had several shots himself and the music was very loud and he was having a difficult time forming a coherent sentence.
I think that’s a Glasgow thing.
In seconds, a large glass of white wine appeared as if by magic and the young man fastened his eyes on my bodice. I think he was trying to find my cleavage, which resembles an elongated pleat these days. But his brain couldn’t process what that was.
I finished my wine and I think he said: ”Would you like another?”
So I nodded (significantly, of course).
I was obviously right because another glass of wine appeared before me.
And then my stalker took my hand in his and looked even more significantly into what was left of my eyes.
He tried to stand and failed.
I was having a bit of trouble focusing myself, but I took his arm to help him up and that was when the bartender threw him out of the bar.
I was still glowing from this romantic encounter when I boarded the train the next morning to return to London Euston.
My hosts and I walked to the station. It was supposed to be a 30-minute stroll but, partly because my legs are now approximately the size of a chihuahua’s and partly because my thoughts were still locked into memories of the sexiest night of life, it took us an hour to get to the station.
We only had ten minutes to get to the train.
My host said he would dash to Sainsbury’s and buy me lunch: a banana, a tangerine, a croissant and a small yogurt.
As I toddled to my coach, he galloped toward me with a huge bag and thrust it in my arms. When I opened it, I realized he must have thought I wanted to feed the entire coach. I discovered a quart of water, a bag of tangerines, a large bunch of bananas, two croissants and a tub of yogurt ample enough to feed 400 starving Armenians during their revolution.
I managed to eat one of each thing and a few spoonfuls of the yogurt and then pondered on what the hell I would do with all this food because I am Jewish and we do not throw out food.
Meanwhile, the discussion in the coach drifted from Brexit to the homeless problem.
The woman sitting across from me waxed eloquent on the outrageous way people were pretending to be homeless and fooling us by wearing tattered clothing when, as soon as their day was over, they ran around the corner and jumped into their Mercedes to motor to their luxury flat in Kensington.
I pointed out that some of them really do need our help and she said: “Really? I know for a fact that most of them earn at least £300 a day and they spend it all on heroin or cocaine.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “it would be best to give them food instead of money so they do not spend that 20p we thrust in their empty cup on drugs.”
“Absolutely not,” she said. “They won’t take food anyway. They just want to finance their disgusting habits.”
As she waxed eloquent on the sins of the charlatans sitting on our street corners, I remembered my friend Kevin who reminded me that, if I give money to someone, I have no right to tell him what to spend it on.
“Did you ever think,” he said, “that drugs might be their only escape from a life too horrible for us to contemplate in our warm comfortable homes with our tables laden with food?”
The train pulled into Euston station and I took my huge bag of food and water along with my suitcase and my backpack with me on my way to Kings Cross to catch the Piccadilly line to go to Covent Garden.
As I trudged to the station, I saw one of these very homeless people we were analyzing on the train.
He was a young man in his twenties, shivering in the cold, with an empty cup sitting forlornly at his feet.
I stopped and handed him the bananas, the bag of tangerines and the water but, before I could manage to throw a few coins in that empty cup, he was halfway through the first banana.
I thought of that woman sitting in a comfortable coach sipping her wine and nibbling at her gourmet salad.
I thought of the comfortable place I go home to every night and the refrigerator stuffed with more food than I need and I wept.
I wept for that poor man sitting before me so desperately hungry. He could not wait to eat that banana.
I wept for that woman and all those like her who cannot see the hunger and the extreme need of people forced to subsist on the paltry coins we throw at them as we hurry from our warm homes to our comfortable offices or to the theatre or to a posh dinner that costs more than they will get in a year in that paper cup that sits at their feet.
One missed paycheck, one lost job, one debilitating illness… that is all it takes to put every one of us on the street, begging strangers for help.
I do not have answers for how we can stop this growing homeless situation.
I do know that my giving that boy a bit of fruit did nothing to solve the bigger problem.
But what else could I do?
So I hurried on to Covent Garden to judge an LBGTQ heat in a club.
I laughed a lot and drank some wine, but I couldn’t get the memory of that hungry boy out of my mind.
When I got home that night, all I could think of was the people I walk past every day on the street and how little we all do to help those who are not as lucky as we are.
And then I ate my dinner and began to plan for my trip to Amsterdam.