Category Archives: UK

The President in a comedy competition

President Obonjo

Regular readers will know I am not above getting other people to write my blog for me.

Last weekend, Benjamin Bello aka President Obonjo of Lafta Republic took part in the annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year competition.

I asked him about it.

This is what he told me.


President Obonjo

President Obonjo onstage

Comedy competitions are a great way to showcase your talent in front of industry people and to play to audiences that have never seen your act, but there are times you wonder after you have been going for years: At what point do you stop calling yourself a New Comedian? 

It has been a great year for me, reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions and winning two of them has helped raise my profile. One was based on audience voting only and the other was a combination of audience voting and the judges voting.

Reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions in one year is no mean feat… but there are comedy competitions and there  are comedy competitions.

I recall at the beginning of my comedy career I won the Luton Comedian of the Year competition and I thought I had conquered the world. I had no idea of other comedy competitions like the BBC New Comedy Awards.

I have entered the prestigious annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year twice in previous years going out in the heats and then in the quarter finals the following year. I had resigned myself to not entering again and decided instead to enter the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016. (Benjamin lives in Luton) I was runner up and, as a result, I automatically progressed to the semi-finals of the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year.

A few weeks before the semi-finals I knew I had to invite friends to come and vote and support me. Invitations went out on Facebook and I tweeted on Twitter and I spoke to a few people individually and they said they would come – I was elated.

I continued gigging across the country to get match fit.

I needed to prepare a polished five minute set.

As I sat in a coffee shop, I reflected on my Edinburgh Fringe show last year.

It was a one hour show. I received five stars with some degree of success.

I thought: Why am I stressing about a comedy competition with a five minute set?

The Leicester Square gig was on a Sunday. I turned down all other gigs the weekend before, just to relax and reserve my energies.

On the day of the gig, I could not relax. I was not worried about my set but more worried that no-one would show up and support me and that would hurt me more than not getting through to the finals. This competition includes audience voting and it does help if your friends are in the audience voting for you.

I arrived at the venue.

The first semi-final had been concluded that evening and I knew one of the comedians who had gone through to the final. He had come third at the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016.

I thought: Yes! I am going to get through to the final!

I met the comedians I was going to be competing with. Some were already in the Zone.

We walked into the venue to choose where we wanted to be in the running order.

I chose the last spot – I am the President and I should close the show.

I thought: It’s going to work! 

The venue was filling up and no-one showed up to support me.

I thought: My election strategy won’t walk tonight. I am going to be performing to an audience of friends of other comedians.

This was going to be tough no matter how funny I was. It was going to be hard to get through.

I waited in the dressing room. The MC called my name and said this was the most difficult spot. I got on stage, did my thing and I was pleased with my performance. Very pleased.

The results were announced.

I was not placed in the final.

My initial reaction was one of utter disappointment. I had wanted this so much.

As I walked out of the building, an audience member came to me and whispered: You were very funny tonight but I could not vote for you.

Another comedian said: You smashed it; you should have got through.  

As I walked home, I thought: I gave it my best shot, but who knows? I might get a wild card.

That thought – I might get a wild card – kept ringing in my ears. I got home, slept it off, checked my email.

There was a gig offer from a comedy promoter but no wild cards.

A few days later, the finalists were announced.

I smiled and wondered who was going to win.

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: yet more places to conquer

I needed to move on but I wondered if I would ever do another comedy competition. Three more are left I think: the BBC New Comedy Awards, the Old Comedian of the Year and the Silverbird Comedy Awards for those over 55.

I still have a few more years left for that last one. LOL.

I have no regrets about taking part in comedy competitions. They have been a real opportunity to showcase my talent in front of the industry and I have had great reviews from them.

President Obonjo of Lafta Republic will be taking a show to Brighton, Glasgow and the Edinburgh Fringe next year.

It will be titled The Rise of the Comedy Dictator.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, UK

The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

3 Comments

Filed under Europe, Politics, 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.”

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Sex, UK

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.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sex, UK

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.”

2 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Fame, Television, UK

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, immigration, UK