Category Archives: UK

In London soon: a little-seen Saxon comedian with a chicken on his head

Martin Soan, master maker of stage genitalia

Martin Soan – long stalked a Saxon comedian

I was in bed all of yesterday, trying to throw off the remnants of a cold which had turned my voice into a rivett-rivetting impression of a frog.

The only real interruption to my sleep was a Skype video call from comic Martin Soan, who was wondering if I was going to his Pull The Other One comedy club show in Nunhead on 29th January.

Wild hoarseness would not stop me, because it is my first chance to see live The Short Man In Long Socks – I always thought he was called The Short Man With Long Socks, but I stand – or, given my cold, lie – corrected. I presume it is a variable translation from his actual German stage name: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken.

Martin tells me it is Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken’s first live UK appearance. I think I may have seen him back in the 1980s when London Weekend Television’s Entertainment Dept had a tape with video excerpts of Vier gegen Willi a German peaktime TV show which was co-presented by a hamster. I think LWT was considering doing a British TV version but might have been put off by the fear of complaints by animal lovers. In Germany, they had to have multiple Willi doppelgängers on standby because the eponymous hamster tended to die under the hot studio lights.

There is currently a clip of Vier gegen Willi on YouTube, though the star rodent does not appear until 26 mins 16 secs into the clip.

Martin told me yesterday: “I first saw Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken 15 years ago in Leipzig, at Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town – the best club I’ve ever been to. It’s full of automata, installations, art, music and performance and is what us Londoners call ‘immersive’ – everything is out of this world and challenging. It’s a funfair of surreal proportions in a disused factory and it is VAST… Jim is a magnetic force and artists of all descriptions gravitate to him. Some aren’t even artists but genius just the same.

“Anyway one such act featured that night I went to Bimbo Town was Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken, I really, really was impressed, It was the most pointless and ridiculous act I have ever seen, but one of the best. There are three sections to the routine. Him getting ready to ‘go out’… Him ready to go out… And then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but… “

“I seem to remember,” I told Martin, “that, in Vier gegen Willi, he had a live chicken on his head.”

...a chicken...

…a chicken…

“Oh yes,” said Martin. “I forgot about that.”

“Is he possibly,” I suggested, “ever-so slightly bonkers?”

“Depends how you define it,” said Martin. “When I met him, he didn’t think any of it was mad at all. I had the feeling it was maybe a little cathartic for him.”

“Why cathartic?” I asked.

“No idea, “replied Martin. “He told me he very rarely did the act.”

“Possibly,” I suggested, “because of a lack of willing or well-balanced chickens.”

“It was just a thing he felt he had to do,” Martin explained.

“And they say,” I mused, “that Germans have no sense of humour…”

“He is fiercely not German,” Martin told me. “He is very definite that he is a Saxon not a German. Apparently he earns a very good living as an optician in Plagwitz (a suburb of Leipzig). He told me Saxons love designer glasses. He invited me around to his flat for kuchen (cake). We got on really well and he showed me his etchings. Very dark, they were – the subjects. Lots of eagles and women wearing horns. Angst is a good word isn’t it?”

“I do,” I agreed, “always enjoy hearing it said out loud.”

Too poster - Phil Kay

Kay fan: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken

“When I was back in England,” Martin continued, “I contacted him regularly to try and entice him over. I have actually booked him three times and three times he has cancelled and I got resigned to never getting him over for the club. But he’s making it on the 29th of this month because there is some opticians’ convention in London and because Phil Kay is on the bill at Pull The Other One. He has seen Phil Kay perform abroad and he’s a big fan. So he wants to perform with him.”

“Who else is on the bill?” I asked.

“Darren Walsh and a nun.”

“I’m not going to ask,” I told Martin. “Some things are best left to the imagination.”

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Germany, Performance, UK

Sex madam Cynthia Payne remembered

Cynthia on The Dame Edna Experience

Cynthia Payne as she appeared on The Dame Edna Experience

Cynthia Payne – ‘Madam Cyn’ – died two days ago. Obituaries were printed yesterday in the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and The Times – in other words, all the UK’s quality newspapers.

In 1980, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison (reduced to 6 months on appeal) for running a brothel where “elderly men paid with Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women”.

Personal Services - billed as “from the director of Monty Python’;s Life of Brian

Personal Services – “from the director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian”

At the time, the tabloid newspapers had a field day reporting this sex case. But I reckoned only the Daily Mail captured the real flavour – that it was not about sex but about English eccentricity.

Two feature films about her were released in 1987 – Personal Services and Wish You Were Here. She stood for Parliament twice.

In the obituaries, a family friend Kevin Horkin described her as “a national treasure” and an “extremely colourful archetypal English eccentric”.

A friend of mine lived in Streatham at the same time that Cynthia Payne was ‘in business’. This is my friend’s memory of her:


I remember Cynthia well from her frequent shopping forays with her wretched wheeled shopping trolley down Streatham High Road post-prison. She was forever wandering around the High Road with her tartan shopping trolley as boring and common as ever wanting to be noticed. Everyone accompanied Cynthia on her shopping expeditions when they became entangled in that sodding shopping trolley. 

She was a boring, everyday empty vessel whose personality deficit was filled in and manipulated by the male media. ‘The tart with a heart’ has always been a lie that men delude themselves with. The truth is abused/mentally deficient women on drugs/drink. 

Streatham was hell when the story broke, with street prostitutes screeching all night outside my house near the Odeon when the pimps withheld their drugs. They were on the High Road instead of the backstreets and, even when I moved away from the High Road, there was a prostitute in the street – always high and aggressive, until one client destroyed her house after beating her up and so the landlord could finally evict her.

Cynthia was just dull, unlike the real Streatham personality Eddie Izzard, happily strolling the streets in his fringed suede jacket, always intelligent and amiable.


Cynthia Payne appeared on ITV’s The Dame Edna Experience chat show in 1987 – the other guests were actor Sir John Mills and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. There is an extract on YouTube. She is introduced 5 minutes in.

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Prime Minister enters pig and prize winning sex worker enters politics.

Yesterday's Daily Mail story online

Yesterday’s Daily Mail story online

Yesterday, the Daily Mail alleged that Prime Minister David Cameron, when at Oxford University, put his penis into a dead pig’s severed head as part of a Piers Gaveston Society initiation ceremony.

While trying to guess the source of this story, political blogger Guido Fawkes yesterday mentioned an allegation by the Cherwell student newspaper that Michael Gove (later Secretary of State for Education) participated in a “five-in-a-bed romp” while president of the Oxford Union debating society.

The connection between politicians and sex is long-established.

In June 2013, I blogged about Charlotte Rose when she had just won the Sex Worker of The Year title at the British Erotic Awards. Recently, she won another award – for Recognition to the Industry – from UKAP, the UK Adult Producers’ Network. So I Apple FaceTimed her yesterday.

“It all started last year,” Charlotte told me, “when I did the face-sitting protest. On 1st December, the government created amendments to the 2003 Communications Act so certain activities were now deemed illegal online and face-sitting was one of them. So, on 12th December, I got about 350 people outside Parliament singing Sit On My Face by Monty Python while sitting on people’s faces.”

“Fully clothed?” I asked.

“Fully clothed,” said Charlotte. “It was a cold day. And I did my William Wallace speech at the end: You can try and ban our liberties, but you can never take our sexual freedom. You can see the speeches on my YouTube channel.

We got support from lots of people. I’ve always had support from Lembit Öpik – and from Rupert Everett since I did the Channel 4 documentary Love for Sale with him.

“I did three porn protests. I did the face-sitting one in London; I did the spankathon in Manchester; and I did the whipathon in Brighton.

“I’ve got a new petition coming up which I’ve just started to allow two independent sex workers to be able to work together for safety in regards to brothel keeping. Brothel keeping is against the law. In 2010, Labour looked at allowing 3-4 sex workers to work together. 10,000 signatures would start the ball rolling. 100,000 signatures will hopefully get me a debate if I can get the right people on board with it.”

“You’ve run for Parliament in two by-elections, I said. “Did you decide to do that as a result of the face-sitting protest?”

“No. Clacton-on-Sea was in October last year. It was a great opportunity for me to really talk about sexual freedom of expression. Then, when the second by-election came up in Rochester & Strood in November, I thought Well, I may as well. I quite enjoy it. But that is when I actually realised it’s like standing on top of a mountain screaming what you know is right yet nobody is listening. Unless you’ve got a good wedge of money behind you, you’re nothing.”

Charlotte on FaeTime yesterday with her latest award

Charlotte seen via FaceTime yesterday with her latest award

“Did you meet Nigel Farage of UKIP?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What’s he like?”

“He’s just like a guy you’d get pissed-up with in a pub. There aren’t many people where I find there’s something I dislike, but he just has such a smarmy way about him. You don’t know if he IS coming across genuine or if he’s just a people-pleaser. I think it’s his mouth. His mouth doesn’t portray honesty. You know how some people have a wiggling corner of their mouth sometimes when they lie? It’s like horses.

“I don’t like horses because their eyes have no iris, so you can’t see where they’re looking. I’m just so wary of a horse – it’s probably one of the only animals where you would never know if it’s going to turn on you. Because it’s got no iris, you can’t read it.”

“Nigel Farage,” I said, “comes across as the man next door, but he was a commodity broker, wasn’t he?”

“Then he’d make a perfect hotelier,” said Charlotte, “because normally anyone who has stocks or assets or is an accountant goes into hotels but they lack the charisma. They probably have the same level of charisma as a caterpillar.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “Nigel Farage could become the new Basil Fawlty.”

“Mmmm…” said Charlotte.

“How did you do in the elections?” I asked.

Charlotte made a promotional reel for her Rochester election bid.

“At Rochester & Strood,” Charlotte told me, “Britain First got 13 votes more than me. I can understand that Britain First has got some very patriotic points of view, but the majority of it was a racist, damaging stab and I thought: People would rather vote for racism than the choice of sexual expression.

“Whereas I believe, if people were having more sex, the serotonin levels in their body would be fantastic and everybody would be happy. We wouldn’t have time to be vindictive or have hatred towards people. We would be smiling more.

“Did you read that story about judges in the court system who got sacked for watching pornography at work? I would rather have my court judge watch pornography before my court case. If he’s just had a wank, I know he’s going to be level-headed, very happy and I’m not going to have a problem. I think I would specifically ask that, if I was up in court for anything, I want my judge to go and have a wank before he listens to my case.”

“Now there’s a project for you,” I said.

Charlotte & Erotic Award as Sex Worker of the Year

Charlotte with her 2013 Sex Worker of the Year award

“I’ve got a new project,” replied Charlotte, “called The Sex Avengers. That’s up-and-coming for January. I want to build an army of support – not a hierarchy – activists, then industry, then the public. A huge directory: a one-stop shop that people can go to.”

“If you are an Avenger,” I asked, “what’s your super-power?”

“I think to deliver strength and positivity in my speech. I’ve done a lot of speeches now and I love sharing what’s happening. But, rather than being a speech that moans, I build positivity, I build energy, I build unity. I think that’s my strength: to be able to share energy and build on positivity.”

“You have moved to London recently,” I said. “Why?”

“Well, I was already involved in The Sex Workers’ Opera and the travel time from the West Country…”

“Opera?” I interrupted.

“Yes,” said Charlotte. “The Sex Workers’ Opera. It’s an award-winning show. We’ve been running it since 2013. We put it on at the Arcola in Dalston last year and won the Pioneer Award at the Sexual Freedom Awards which used to be called the Erotic Awards. We are hopefully doing a documentary for Channel 4.”

“Do you perform in it?” I asked.

“Yes. You can see a video of me performing The Dom Song on YouTube. That was in the first ever production.”

“It’s a proper classical opera?” I asked.

“No. It’s more like a hip-hopera. It’s a bit more funky. Two hours. We’ve got scenes about prohibitionists, the Soho raids, the porn laws. It’s 50% sex workers and 50% allies.”

“Sex and music?” I asked.

“I’m also going to be putting on events to promote the Sex Avengers. Ben Dover is a good friend of mine and he plays the drums for a tribute band called Guns 2 Roses. It would be absolutely fantastic if I could find people in the sex industry who play an instrument and we actually form a rock band and go round all these events promoting sexual freedom through music. That would be great.”

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How Cilla Black re-invented herself, courtesy of Terry Wogan, in 1983

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Cilla Black died two days ago. So it goes.

I worked as a researcher on her Surprise! Surprise! series at London Weekend Television. I cannot honestly say I was enamoured of her. I think she was the only star I have ever worked with who behaved like a star. But she was worth every penny she earned. On screen she was brilliantly the girl and later auntie next door.

In the 1960s, Cilla was a pop star, then her career faded. In the 1970s, BBC TV producer Michael Hurll re-invented her as a mainstream, peaktime entertainment presenter on BBC TV’s Cilla. Then her career faded. Then, in the 1980s, Alan Boyd of LWT re-invented her as an ITV entertainment presenter on Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

In a TV tribute yesterday, comic Jimmy Tarbuck mentioned a TV interview in 1983 which revitalised her career. I asked writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle about that interview with Terry Wogan on the TV chat show Wogan.

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith at TVS, 1988 (Photograph by John Ward)

Nigel later wrote for People Do The Funniest Things and Beadle’s About. He wrote the lyrics for Oscar-nominated animated film Famous Fred; and Baas – an animated kids’ show about sheep for Al Jazeera TV. With David Walliams and Simon Heath, he co-devised Ant & Dec’s first show for BBC TV. In 1996, it won BAFTAs for Best Children’s Show & Best Sketch Comedy.

Over the years, he has written scripts, links and sketches for performers including Mel Brooks, Basil Brush, the Chuckle Brothers, Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Jack Lemmon, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan.

“In 1983,” he told me yesterday, “I was a researcher on the Wogan show. I had never done anything like that before – researching. I had suddenly gone from promotion scriptwriting to this world of celebrities where you had to go and interview people and ask them all the questions that a chat show host would.”

“Yes,” I said. “When I was working at the BBC, I once saw the research notes for some major film star who was to be interviewed on the Michael Parkinson chat show and the researcher (in the US) had basically done a full interview in advance – all the questions; all the answers.”

Nigel with some of his children’s books

Nigel later wrote several children’s books

“What happened with Cilla,” Nigel explained, “was that Marcus Plantin, my producer on Wogan, said to me: This week, you’re going to do Cilla Black. I remember saying: Really? She’s a bit yesterday’s news! I didn’t think she was any great shakes as a singer. But he said: No, no no. She’s up for revitalising her career. She had just brought out her Greatest Hits album – she was promoting it on the show.

“Marcus said to me: Go down and see Michael Hurll – he was the one who used to produce all her shows. Michael told me a few anecdotes about going and knocking on the doors – with live cameras! – they used to do a lot in the Shepherd’s Bush flats behind BBC Television Centre. It was real seat-of-your-pants stuff, going out live on television. And I asked him what she was like and he said: Well, y’know, she’s OK. She’s fine. She can be a bit of a perfectionist.

“Some people,” I said, “have used the word diva.”

On-screen, as I said, I thought she was worth every penny she was paid. Every inch a star.

There is a clip on YouTube of Cilla singing Life’s a Gas with Marc Bolan on her Michael Hurll-produced TV series.

“Anyway,” said Nigel, “come the day, I have to meet her and, obviously, Bobby (her husband/manager) was there. We went to one of the star dressing rooms on the ground floor at Telly Centre. In her day – the 1970s – she would have been there, so coming back must have felt to her a bit like Oh, I used to be big. She must have felt a bit Sunset Boulevardy, maybe.

“But we sat down, talked about her early life, how she started and she was very open. And also she was very, very, very funny. Absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches. The moment I finished doing the interview with her, I knew this was her moment – again. I went home and told my wife Mel: I was totally wrong. Cilla is SO going to storm it on Saturday.”

“You had originally thought,” I asked, “that she might not be interesting?”

Cilla Black became cuddly girl/auntie next door

“I really had thought she was past it – and this was in 1983! I thought she’d had her moment… She had had two bites of the cherry – the 1960s as a pop star and the 1970s as an engaging TV personality. Now, come 1983, she was just trying to flog her Greatest Hits album.

“Going on Wogan had maybe seemed like an act of desperation, but it wasn’t. It was a clinical assault on stardom – again – and – My God! – it absolutely worked! She made her career that night – revitalised it. She was terrific.

“She did the show (there is a clip on YouTube) and she was hilarious and the audience were absolutely loving her. She did all the stories about John Lennon and she was big mates with Ringo – I think there was a family connection. Paul McCartney wrote Step Inside Love for her. She did all the nostalgia about the 1960s and then what it was like being a Liverpudlian and that is really what engaged people. She came across as the girl next door.

“We recorded the show on the Friday and it went out on the Saturday night. As I understand it, on the Sunday morning, Alan Boyd (Head of Entertainment at LWT) phoned her up. I think Jim Moir (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC TV) was waiting until Monday morning to phone her up but, by that time, it was too late. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that, on the Monday morning, Marcus Plantin was saying: Well, the Beeb missed a trick there. And she went to LWT for Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

The panto Nigel Crowle wrote for Cilla

Jack and Cilla and Beanstalk, but no giant

“By that time, I was ‘in’ with Michael Hurll and I wrote a panto for her – Jack and The Beanstalk at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Michael told me: We’ve spent most of the budget on Cilla. So much so that we have not got enough money for a giant. We’ll do it all as an off-stage voice. So we did Jack and the Beanstalk without a giant.”

“Did you have a beanstalk?” I asked.

“We had one which kind of fell on stage when the giant… We had a pair of giant boots. The character Fleshcreep was played by Gareth Hunt. She had a sword fight with him. After it ended, she went to the front of the stage with Fleshcreep lying on the floor with her sword at his throat and she asked the audience: What shall I do with him, kiddies? Each day, they would all shout: Kill him! Kill him! So then she would ask them: How shall I kill him? And, one day, a kid in the front row just yelled out: Sing to him!”

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I said. “When I worked at LWT, I remember someone told me you should always avoid mentioning what size car Michael Barrymore had to pick him up or share the information about the cars with anyone because, if Cilla ever found out – and vice versa. There was rumoured to be a bit of rivalry.”

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

“I was told,” said Nigel, “there was a little bit of jiggery-pokery about where the pictures were. When Cilla came out of the lift on the Entertainment floor at LWT, she had to see the Cilla picture on the wall there, rather than the Barrymore picture.”

“Did they move them around?” I asked.

“I think there was probably a bit of that,” said Nigel. “Certainly I heard the cars mentioned. And the worry that, if you had Barrymore and Cilla doing a show at the LWT studios on the same night, who would get the star dressing room? Because there was just one star dressing room.”

“But,” I said, “on-screen she was wonderful. Worth every penny. And she reinvented her career so successfully.”

“Yes,” said Nigel. “Well, what was incredible was not that she had these peaks and troughs in her career but that the peaks were SO high. Everyone in Britain knew who Cilla was. Everybody could do a Cilla impression. That is real fame.”

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Comic Daphna Baram, the alien police, the Fringe & a Royal in a Croydon disco

An Irishman, a scotsman and a Jew...

An Irishman, a Scotsman and an Israeli…

In yesterday’s blog, Cassandra Hodges mentioned applying for a visa to work in the US.

But, of course, several people working on the UK comedy circuit are not British.

Daphna Baram – an Israeli – has been here for several years and has two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in August – Bombs, Booze and Haggis Strikes Back and Something to Declare.

This is the second consecutive year for Bombs, Booze and Haggis – “We are flyering it as a Scotsman, an Irishman and a Jew,” she told me.

“But not in that order,” I suggested.

“No,” agreed Daphna.

“I have hay fever,” I warned her when we started talking.

“I have a sore back,” she countered.

“From what?” I asked.

“I was just carrying a heavy bag. I’m generally broken.”

Daphna had a heart attack several years ago.

Daphna Baram has got Something To Declare

Daphna Baram has got Something To Declare

“I think,” she told me, “for the first few years after a heart attack, you are very healthy because you had the scare, you quit smoking, you go to cardio rehab. You want to get back to your glory. A year after the heart attack, I was super-fit: I could run for 45 minutes, I was quite thin, I was on top of things. But then comedy happened. It’s more of a struggle keeping fit when you spend every night in pubs.”

“Have you,” I asked, “explored the option of not spending every night in pubs?”

“I am a comedian?” answered Daphna. “What am I supposed to do?”

“So what’s your solo show about?” I asked, sneezing.

“This is my fifth Fringe year and third solo show. Something To Declare is a show about me immigrating to this country – stories about my efforts to integrate into British society. Partly successfully… No. I think wholly successfully… I think it will be interesting to do it in Scotland. It is a bit of a different premise in Scotland.”

“You now,” I said, blowing my nose, “have an indefinite leave to remain in Britain.”

“Yes,” said Daphna, “finally.”

Matt Roper,” I said, “just got a visa for America which says he is an alien with extraordinary abilities.”

“I tried to get that here a few years ago,” Daphna told me. They called it a Highly Skilled Migrant at the time. I had been under a year in the country and I had published a book in English, I was writing for national newspapers, I had a Fellowship at Oxford University…They said: Listen, madam, you are not a Highly Skilled Migrant. So I had to register myself with the alien police for a few years.”

“The alien police?” I asked. “What? Slanted-Eyed Greys?”

A grey alien, as depicted by Wikipedia

A ‘grey’ alien in Wikipedia

“No. I was the alien. They were the police. Then they changed the name to something else.”

“Probably couldn’t take the laughter,” I suggested.

Daphna’s show Something To Declare is partly about The Britishness Test which aliens have to take.

I sneezed, then asked: “That’s the one with questions no British person can answer? Like What year did Richard II ascend the throne?

“They’ve got a particular obsession with Henry VIII,” Daphna told me, “which I ascribe to the fact the Home Office is in Croydon and he was a bit of a lad.”

“Eh?” I asked, startled. “What has Croydon got to do with it? Did he go down the disco there?”

“Yeah,” said Daphna. “He was a player. I can see him do that.”

“I think,” I said, “you have failed the Britishness test here.”

“I passed!” she insisted.

Daphna is one of the orphans of Cowgatehead. After the chaos caused by the Free Fringe take-over of the venue, she is now performing at Just the Tonic at the Caves. The Cowgatehead fiasco lost her £600. She is currently crowdfunding.

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Filed under Comedy, immigration, UK

Top farter Mr Methane is related to the Queen of England (& possibly Scotland)

Mr Methane: his patriotic music

Mr Methane issued a ‘ring tone’ to celebrate Diamond Jubilee

My chum Mr Methane is the world’s only professionally performing flatulist.

He farts for a living.

And a very good living it is.

His sister recently decided to look into the family history.

“Yes,” Mr Methane told me, “Margaret decided to do our dad’s mum’s side of the family first, because we didn’t know a lot about them.”

“Our dad’s mum was a Hulley but, in olden times, they also spelled it Hooley. We had a great granddad in Sutton, near Macclesfield, called Jasper Hulley and he had 19 children.”

“Bloody hell,” I said.

“Yes,” said Mr Methane, “he really got going. He had two wives – I think because he wore the first one out. Going back through Jasper’s family, we ended up in among the Brindleys.

“Margaret said: Ooh! We’ve got Brindleys in the family!”

“You can,” I told Mr Methane, “get tablets for that.” He ignored me.

James Brindley with his Barton Aqueduct in the background (by Francis Parsons, 1770)

James Brindley with his Barton Aqueduct in the background (by Francis Parsons, 1770)

“She only follows the direct bloodline,” he continued. “The ones who did the deed which means we exist.

“I said to her: I wonder if we’re any relation to James BrindleyI knew he had served his apprenticeship at a place called Gurnett near Sutton. The Brindley Society say James was one of the thinkers and doers that made the Industrial Revolution kick-in.”

“Is that because of the canals?” I asked.

“Well, he was a millwright. He came from Wormhill in the Peak District. He understood water power and he also got himself abreast of steam power, so he was working on the first factories and he was big friends with Josiah Wedgwood of Stoke – the pottery man – and the Duke of Bridgewater in Manchester.”

“As in the Bridgewater Canal?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Mr Methane. “He built the Bridgwater Canal and that changed everything, because suddenly the Duke of Bridgewater could transport lots of his coal much cheaper than he could by packhorses. It completely changed the economics of moving stuff around.

Mr Methane’s modest, mild-mannered alter ego Paul Oldfield

Mr Methane’s modest, mild-mannered alter ego Paul Oldfield

“And Josiah Wedgwood wanted his factories not just to be making pottery but also delivering it all over the country. He wanted his raw materials in and his goods out. So the new canals were a transport revolution. In the end, my sister found out that James Brindley is our great-great-great-great-great uncle.

“So we were quite happy in the knowledge that we were linked to this guy who helped launch the 18th century’s equivalent of the space age.

“But then my sister said: I’ll go into the Bowmans now. They were related to us and they were a noble family who had their own crest. They were very early in the Quaker movement and got locked up. Some of them stood up in church at Alstonefield, Derbyshire, and renounced the Church of England and they were put in prison, because Quakerism was a bit naughty.

Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart from his bottom

Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart from his bottom in the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at Edinburgh Fringe

“Then, through the Bowmans, we ended up in the Beresfords who are a proper noble family from Fenny Bentley in Derbyshire. They’ve go a family tomb there. One of my relations is Thomas Beresford. He was called Sir Beresford of Beresford.

“He had about 16 sons and the tomb doesn’t have his effigy, because the tomb was made much later and they didn’t know what he looked like. So the sculptor made a shroud and, on the tomb, he’s in a shroud that looks not unlike a sack tied at one end. It’s a bit like a magician’s act, I suppose. It’s a shame about Keith Harris, isn’t it?”

“Eh?” I asked, startled.

“He died, you know,” said Mr Methane.

“The ventriloquist?” I asked, surprised. “I know. Is he related?”

“No, no,” said Mr Methane. “I was just thinking about magicians’ acts and Keith Harris came into me head. Apparently Orville (his ventriloquist’s doll) has taken the death terribly. He just lies there, saying nothing…

The Beresford Bear

The Beresford Bear

“Anyway… Thomas Beresford… He was a proper nobleman and it says on the Beresford family tomb that the Beresfords were from Beresford Dale. Their crest has a bear on it and there’s a Beresford Society.

“Margaret rang up the genealogist there and went through it all with him and he said: Yeah, you’re in the family.

“Sir Thomas Beresford is like my 13th granddad. As a nobleman, he had to raise an army of at least ten men and go fight with the king whenever he was asked, so he fought at Agincourt… Well, they’re not sure if it was Thomas Beresford himself or his father.

“And that was quite exciting, until we found out his mother was Lady Elizabeth Bassett and the Bassetts of Blore and the Beresfords for years just fought and nicked each other’s sheep. Blore is the next parish down from Beresford Dale and Fenny Bentley.

“Then, when you get into the Bassett (earlier called Basset) family, it just goes mad. You just end up related to every noble person around. They went all over the place from Cambridge to Wales to Cornwall. The Queen is descended from one of the Sir William Bassetts – there were loads of them.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The queen Mother

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

“There’s a family strand that goes through the Cavendishes, then the Bowes-Lyons – the Queen Mother was a Bowes-Lyon – to the present Queen. She’s probably like a 1,017th cousin of mine or something but the Queen and us are definitely in there in among the Bassetts.”

“And your sister Margaret is still researching?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Mr Methane, “Following what the Bassett Society and The Beresford Society have done, we’ve got back to Thurston de Basset, who was Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. That’s where we’ve ended up.

“And apparently two Bassetts were among the King’s counsellors at the signing of the Magna Carta. I see a whole American market here. I think I might just give up farting or build a theme round it that includes the family history. I think I might have found my route into after-dinner speaking.

“So I think I have to go up-market now. Not just common-or-garden farting but noble farting. I mean, Thurston de Basset, Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings – They were firing arrows at King Harold in 1066 and I’m still farting darts out of my bottom at balloons on stage all these years later. It must be in the genes.”

M Methane, distant claimant to the throne of England

Mr Methane, distant claimant to the throne of England, displays the bottomless pit of his patriotism

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Filed under Comedy, History, Humor, Humour, Royal Family, UK

Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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