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Other people’s lives – in the Ivory Coast

I was in Leytonstone, East London, yesterday.

It is not one of the most glamorous parts of London.

My friend Lynn and her husband Frank were in Côte d’Ivoire – the Ivory Coast as was.

A tad more glamorous.

Both Lynn and the Ivory Coast.

I have just received this from her:

“My highlight was our police escort…”

As a fan of film car chases you would have enjoyed yesterday, as my highlight was our police escort. 

What does it tell you about a country when the traffic ploughs off the motorway instantly as this cop gesticulates madly and has us following him the wrong way down the motorway?

Only one vehicle challenged him – a white van man flashed his lights as the mad  biker drove at him and zigzagged towards him to prove he wasn’t kidding. The van gave way.  

“We approached a traffic jam at a major crossroads in Abidjan…”

We approached a traffic jam at a major crossroads in Abidjan and he careered across the central reservation into the oncoming traffic and disappeared.

It was only when our three lanes of traffic magically started speeding through the crossroads that we found he had stopped three lanes of traffic in each of the other roads so that we could get through.

When he got back to us he stood up on the footrests and punched the air  as we cheered (whilst admittedly worrying about the chaos left behind us). 

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Critic Kate Copstick on radical feminists and small dogs making Nazi salutes

Copstick at Mama Biashara shop

In yesterday’s blog, I talked to comedy critic Kate Copstick about a fundraiser for her charity Mama Biashara

The back of the Mama Biashara shop in London has a performance space. It has been used for comedy shows and, monthly, is the venue for the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Recently, Copstick was approached by Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project to stage an event titled Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which had been scheduled at another venue but that venue cancelled the show because of objections by what Copstick yesterday called ‘The Ladies of the Left’… ‘The Sisters’.

“They objected I suppose,” she said, “to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea…”

Now read on.

COPSTICK: Somehow they persuaded the owners of the venue to refuse to put it on. The gig was shot down in flames by, I assume, the radical feminists about whom it was going to be debated.

I don’t know how not allowing people to talk about something helps any situation. The only reason you would not want people to talk about something would be if you thought: Shit! We’re on a bit of a sticky wicket here and, if they talk about it, they will expose the fact that WE are talking shit.

Alfie Noakes defended himself in a article

The ‘feminist sisterhood’, generally speaking, are smart, smart, smart women. They are some of the smartest women on the circuit. So I don’t see what they have to be afraid of in allowing other people – who are arguably considerably less smart than them – just to voice differing opinions. If you ARE going to sit on other people’s opinions like that, then where do you stop?

I am a person of strong opinions myself, but I would be up for anyone challenging or debating my strong opinions and saying: “Your strong opinions are rubbish!” We are ostensively living in a free state. We don’t have a Bill of Rights but it’s kind of a given that we have the right of free speech.

JOHN: Within the law.


JOHN: Although the British legal system is not the same as justice.

COPSTICK: Anyway, Alfie contacted me and I said: “This is dreadful… Free speech… Free speech… Blah blah blah…” and I said: “Look, if you need a space, you can have the space at the back of Mama Biashara. It’s not ideal but, if content is king, then have my throne room.

So he came down, saw the space and was obviously crushingly disappointed and I was knocked-back – not for the first time – and now the gig is going elsewhere – The Star of Kings at King’s Cross next Tuesday. It’s no longer called Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? It’s now called the Feminist Talking Points Comedy Show Fundraiser with Janet Bettesworth, Nathan Cassidy, Samantha Ruth Pressdee, Tony Marese and other people. But it is still kind of debating censorship and comedy with a variety of opinion.

JOHN: When it was going held at the back of the shop, all the money was going to be donated to Mama Biashara, wasn’t it?

The Louise Reay benefit show in London

COPSTICK: Yes. Half of it still is. The other half is going to Index on Censorship.

JOHN: Censorship is a hot topic at the moment. There’s the Louise Reay gig…

COPSTICK: Yes. With comics coming together to cover some of her legal costs, which is lovely.

But all censorship is basically the same thing. With Louise, it’s her husband saying she wasn’t allowed to say various things that he claims she said during her show. I saw the show and can’t remember anything horrible being said about her husband.

JOHN: And what do we think about the dog giving the Hitler salute?

COPSTICK: Oh! For God’s sake!

JOHN: The owner of the dog was found guilty in a Scottish court. I think he supposedly put the video on YouTube to amuse his girlfriend and for some reason left it online.

COPSTICK: He was found guilty and he could go to prison.

JOHN: I’m not quite sure what the crime is. There is a law in Scotland, isn’t there, which bans sectarian singing in football matches?

COPSTICK: But that IS an incitement to hatred.

JOHN: You were trained in Scottish law and you worked as a lawyer in Scotland…

COPSTICK: Yes. There are a lot of people saying online: “Well, the guy is a horrible guy.” That is as may be, but you can’t just think people are right because they’re nice people and wrong because they’re horrible guys. You have to be able to separate the singer from the song. You can’t be found guilty in a court of law of being a horrible guy.

JOHN: Oh, I think you can.

Defamed pug dog engrossed in watching film of a Nazi rally

COPSTICK: But this specific thing. Teaching a pug dog a Nazi salute. Surely it’s making fun of the Nazi salute? I can’t believe that, if Hitler and Goebbels are looking up from the Hell where they obviously are, that they are going: “Oh vot a marvellous idea! Ziss is ver good! Vy did ve not think of zis in ze Second World Var? If vee had had small pug dogs doing the Nazi salute, perhaps ve would have vun der Var!”

JOHN: It could be said to be defamation of the dog’s character.

COPSTICK: There are terrible things happening. There are hate crimes abounding. There are people beating up people from immigrant communities. All of that we should be getting angry about. We should all be focussing on getting these people behind bars. Not being outraged by a small cuddly animal making a Nazi salute.

JOHN: It’s a case of over-reaction.

EuroNews reports on criminalising wolf-whistling

COPSTICK: Yeah. To my horror… I nearly choked on my own tonsils… There is a female MP who is bringing forward a bill to make wolf-whistling ‘hate speech’. And my reaction is: “Fuck off, you stupid, blinkered woman!”. But, on the basis of free speech, she has got a perfect right to do that just as I should have a perfect right to say: “What the actual fuck are you thinking about?”

A wolf-whistle is a compliment. It’s not necessarily the kind of compliment everyone would want, though I would be THRILLED if anyone wolf-whistled at me now.

Terrible things are happening in the world. Terrible things are happening in Kenya beyond the imaginings of the feminist community here, I think. But terrible things are happening in this country. Wolf-whistling, quite simply, is not one of them.

Something appalling like eight people have been stabbed in London in the past two weeks. There are horrendous things happening: domestic violence. Awful, awful things. Female genital mutilation is happening in THIS country and, really, why waste the possible power you have as an MP to try and criminalise wolf-whistling? And don’t witter on about “it’s part of a continuum.” It is not part of a continuum from wolf-whistling to a young girl being held down and having her nether regions sliced to bits. No. It is NOT a continuum.

JOHN: Getting back to the Nazis – always a good subject – pug dogs have got little legs. They surely can’t do a proper Nazi salute. They can only do one of those little flappy-hand half-hearted salutes that Hitler himself did.

COPSTICK: Yes, that sort of limp-wristed… Oh, you probably can’t say limp-wristed now.

JOHN: Hitler? He was a brownshirt-lifter. We will get complaints.

COPSTICK: We’ve been very jolly about it, John, but it’s a serious subject.

JOHN: Oh dear.

Jonathan Pie made a YouTube video about the Nazi-saluting dog…

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“The Secret Service” – Sometimes even a Gerry Anderson series was too weird

Yesterday’s blog described some of the oddities of Gerry Anderson’s bizarre part-puppet/part-live-action series The Secret Service starring both the real gobbledegook-talking Stanley Unwin and a puppet version of him, shot in 1968 and screened in 1969.

Here is the concluding part of the article which I wrote about it for Marvel Comics’ science fantasy magazine Starburst in 1980.

With such an out-of-the-ordinary series, it was felt that the music, too, should be something special. Composer Barry Gray told me that Gerry Anderson was originally very keen to have a title song similar to the then-popular Swingle Singers style.

So Barry “dashed over to France and got a meeting with Ward Swingle and his agent, who both spoke very poor English — as bad as my poor French — and I got a financial quote from them which I hastily phoned through to Gerry and everything was all set. I was going to sign the thing on our company’s behalf when I said to (Swingle), “Now, this is the rights for the world – tout le monde?”

And he said, “OhI Non, non! Non! Angleterre seulement!” Only for the British Isles. And the price was (going to be) fantastic.

So we had to scrap that. On the plane coming back, I just got a little theme in the style of Bach and started to write and I’d near-enough written a three-part fugue by the time I’d got to Britain. Then I got The Mike Sammes Singers and they did a very good job on it.”

Barry Gray enjoyed what he saw of the series: “I liked it very much, because it was a tongue-in-cheek comedy. And you had a hell of a job to tell which was live-action and which was puppet. I liked the series. There was some reason why it was only shown on ATV in the Midlands. (In fact, it was also screened in the Granada and Southern ITV regions.) I think there was some trouble with the other (ITV) contractors. I don’t know the story.”

Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracey in Thunderbirds and a long-time Anderson associate) wrote one the the Secret Service episodes. He told me he thought maybe it was a bit too bizarre. There was the not-so-small matter of Stanley Unwin’s famous gobbledegook speech – Unwinese.

Ironically, that is what first attracted Gerry Anderson to the project.

Gerry Anderson at Pinewood Studios, 1979

“I chose Stanley Unwin,” Gerry told me in 1979, “because you are not supposed to understand Stanley Unwin, even if you’re British. I thought if the Americans don’t understand him either what’s the difference? But, once again, it was one of those things where the distributors killed the programme, not the audience.

“The audience might well have done – I wouldn’t pretend that it would have been a runaway success. But it was never given a chance. The American distributors saw the first couple of programmes and said, Ohhhh, my gawd! and – zonk – the whole thing was killed stone dead.”

Shane Rimmer says, “It was a bizarre idea. I don’t know if it really worked or not. I think the talking got everyone confused. I can’t understand what Stanley Unwin is saying when he’s talking straight!”

So how were the scripts written?

“Well,” Shane told me, “a lot of it you just had to leave to him. You have to give him a line of patter that’s going to work with what he does. At that time, they wanted a lot of olde English institutional things like old churchyards and pubs and Dartmoor inns and London Bridge and you just twisted the story into that. They were totally outlandish. I mean, they really were. They were (LAUGHS) very unbelievable a lot of the things. Because he was such a bizarre character, you felt you could really go all the way with him: you could practically do anything. But (LAUGHS) I think we went a bit too far.”

I asked Gerry Anderson why Lew Grade of ATV/ITC had backed such a strange concept as a series. “He did it because he trusted my judgement and I wanted to do it,” Anderson told me.

Gerry Anderson’s Century 21 studios in Stirling Road, Slough, in 1968. (Image from the first episode of The Secret Service)

When I asked art director Keith Wilson what the reaction to this strange format was among the staff at Gerry Anderson’s Century 21 studios, he told me: “We had a unique set-up when we were at Slough. It really was unique. We’d do one complete series and then we’d have a holiday and go straight on to the next series. We just went from one series to another. So, when it came to a series like that, it was just an extension (of what we’d done before).

“This was just another idea that Gerry and Sylvia had thought up. How are we going to do this one? You’re in that way of thinking anyway — you’re used to it. But The Secret Service, I think, (LAUGHS) did take a little longer to grasp.”

The Secret Service episode information file

I asked producer David Lane if the series was only supposed to run thirteen episodes or if it had been cancelled in mid-shoot. He told me he had never been  given a specific series length in advance.

“Basically,” he said, “the studio was going to close down anyway. The produce had got beyond its cost. There is a certain value which that kind of production has. Once it gets beyond that, they (TV companies) might as well buy something else.

“I know Lew Grade always wanted, really, to produce a show for £10,000. He did say to me once: Can you produce me a show for £10,000? to which I said No. Not the way the system was set up at Century 21. It wasn’t possible.

“Overheads were very heavy (there were about 200 people working at the Slough studios). I can’t remember what the programmes were costing towards the end, but it was something like £20,000 which was a lot of money for a half-hour children’s show at that time (1968-1969).”

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A Simple-to-Understand Guide to North Korea for US President Donald Trump

Changgwang Street, Pyongyang, in 1986

I first visited North Korea in 1986, when the Great Leader Kim Il-sung was still alive. He died in 1994.

I went again in April 2012, shortly after his son and successor the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il died (December 2011).

His son Kim Jong-un had succeeded him and was, at that time, being referred to as the Supreme Leader.

Below are the blogs I wrote in April 2012. I wrote them on paper while in North Korea and kept them in my inside jacket pocket at all times and only posted them once I was back in the UK. I am not that mad.

A North Korean stage production in April 2012

12th April – George Orwell’s pyramid looms over the capital city Pyongyang

13th April – A land of nuclear bombs and satellite launches, but no electricity

14th April – Walter Mitty truth in an anarchic, pedestrian totalitarian state

15th April – North Koreans are not the the mindless brainwashed zombies of US propaganda

16th April – The Leaders’ spectacles

17th April – A beacon of hope for the down-trodden masses of the wide world

18th April – Phallic monuments, war lies, famine and an interview with MI5

19th April – “Confess your crimes against the people of North Korea or you will not be allowed to leave the country tomorrow”

20th April – Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

21st April – My undying admiration for their supreme leader Kim Jung-un

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A man can avoid UK Death Duties and a woman can piss in a policeman’s helmet

I told someone an untruth yesterday.

In the UK, if you die, your estate has to pay Death Duties (Inheritance Tax) on what you leave behind over £325,000… unless you leave it to your spouse, civil partner, a charity or (rather oddly) a community amateur sports club.

So, basically, your sons, daughters and other heirs have to pay tax on what they inherit in your will.

If you are Lord Bloggs and own some flash country house, hundreds of acres and an estate worth several million pounds, the Inheritance Tax can be crippling. Tax is assessed at 40% of the net value of the estate. The ‘estate’ is property, land, cash, investments, anything of real value you leave behind.

But there is a way round this tax. Not just for Lord Bloggs but for any man who leaves an estate worth over £325,000 (and, with current house prices, that is not uncommon).

If you are a man and your wife is dead, you can marry your son.

A mother cannot marry her son. It is illegal.

A father cannot marry his daughter. It is illegal.

Incest is illegal.

But there is no law against a father marrying his son.

It is one of those quirks in UK law. Much like the quirk that used to mean male homosexuality was illegal but lesbianism was not illegal.

It was never illegal for a father to marry his son because the thought of it was inconceivable and male homosexuality was illegal.

So, now male-male marriages are legal, there is a quirky loophole in the law – that a father can marry his son provided the marriage is never consummated (because incest is still illegal).

That means that if, after the death of his wife, a man marries his son then… when the man dies, the son is his spouse and is not liable for death duties/inheritance tax.

Unfortunately, I found out today that is all a load of utter bollocks.

I told an untruth. Mea culpa.

Apparently a 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act 1949 specifically prohibits a father marrying his son – acccording to the Daily Telegraph, who should know about such things.


A great pity.

I rather enjoyed the British quirkiness of it all.

Perhaps we should repeal the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act.

I was always comforted by the thought that there is still an Oliver Cromwell law on the statute books which made it illegal for anyone in England to celebrate Christmas or to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

But apparently it is an urban myth – Charles II repealed almost all Cromwell’s new laws.

London Metropolitan Police helmet

There is another urban myth that it is legal for a man to urinate on the rear wheel of his vehicle if his right hand is on the vehicle. And that pregnant women can legally urinate in any public place, including into a policeman’s helmet.

Alas, the BBC – who know about such things – say these are just that… urban myths.

Except – and this is true – the Law Commission does say that a police officer may make an exception for an expectant mother.


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An extract from an unpublished novel…

That night, she went to bed very early – 8.00pm – and couldn’t get to sleep until about midnight and then the nightmares started.

In her mind, she saw the quiet living room she knew so well on a quiet Sunday afternoon in a white-painted house sitting alone among trees. His idyllic home; their future idyllic home together. She had been away at a meeting in Manchester.

At a desk in the room, by French windows leading out to the large garden, the man in his thirties sat writing. Or maybe he was reading. Yes, he was reading. He liked reading at the desk, not in a comfortable sofa, because he said it did his back in. He slouched if he sat too long on sofas. So he would have been sitting at the desk, reading. Sitting in the wicker chair he felt most comfortable in. He would not have heard the man stalk up behind him on the thick white carpet. She saw the man dressed from head-to-toe in black, wearing a balaclava. Like he was storming the Iranian Embassy or delivering Black Magic chocolate to his beloved in a Cadbury’s chocolate ad on TV. The police had told her the framed photograph of her had been on the floor next to him when they found his dead body; it would have been one of the last things he saw, they said.

She hoped so, anyway. She hoped he hadn’t heard the man stalk up behind him, hadn’t turned round and known what was going to happen, hadn’t felt the fear rise within him. No, he hadn’t known until the last moment. Her picture was sitting on the desk. It would have been sudden. A black-gloved hand pulling his head back. Another black-gloved hand bringing the knife suddenly round in front of the throat, slicing from one side to the other while the blade pushed in as it cut. The sudden inability to breathe. The loss of consciousness. No, he wouldn’t have known what was happening. Then she realised he would have felt his own warm blood spurt up from his cut throat onto the underside of his chin and we would have been unable to breathe; it would have been like suffocating and she woke up screaming and drenched in sweat.

If you cut someone’s throat, it takes about ten or twelve seconds for them to die; it’s faster if you stab them through the groin – then it takes about four seconds – but that’s seldom an option. Anything over four seconds is a long time to know you’re dying. And twelve seconds is a long time to know it. You obviously can’t talk after your throat has been cut, but you hear your own gurgling and gasping and gargling sounds. You realise what’s happened; you know that, in a few brief seconds, you’re going to be dead. All your plans were pointless.

I saw a man’s throat cut in 1979 and I timed it. He ran to the bathroom, squirting blood everywhere, and managed to get a towel round his neck and then died. Took a little while. Twelve and a half seconds. I timed it when I played the footage back. Watch and learn was always my motto.

In the border town of Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland in the 1970s, in embroidery and sewing classes, little schoolgirls used to knit black woollen balaclavas; they were never told why, but it helped them learn domestic skills which were useful to them later in life.

I was brought up in a local Conservative Party Club in North West London because my parents ran the bar. My father used to tell everybody that he was a trooper in the Life Guards but that all he ever did during the Second World War was to hand out bullets and blankets. That was his War. Bullets and blankets. Nothing special. Sometimes, when he was pissed, which was most of the time, he’d get my air rifle and start drilling with it – strutting up and down in the Conservative Club bar and ‘presenting arms’ and all that. He’d put it up on his shoulder… “Who goes there?… Whose keys?… The Queen’s keys… Pass friend!”… all that bollocks. He didn’t do it to amuse me; he’d do it in the bar at the Conservative Club for the members and they’d all laugh because they were all ex-warriors and loved it. I reckoned my dad was an idiot. He hadn’t fought; he had done fuck all during the War and here he was strutting up and down pretending to be a real soldier.

Because he worked in the trade, running the bar, in those days the licensing laws said he had to close the bar at three in the afternoon and he’d have a proper sleep in the afternoons; then, later, get up and have a wash, then go down and serve drinks all evening. My mum used to tell me late in the afternoon:

“Go wake your dad”

and I used to be mortified. She wasn’t stupid; she sent me for a reason. You could shout at him – really shout – when he was asleep and he wouldn’t hear you. So you had to keep shouting louder and louder and then maybe shake his shoulder gently. But, if you touched him even a little – fuck me – did he wake up! And he woke up violent. He’d automatically swing his fist at you. Then he’d be angry that you’d made him upset and he’d taken a swing at you and he’d storm around for an hour or so. He had a terrible temper. Why I thought he’d never hurt anyone in his life I don’t know, because he’d hurt me. Physically.  A very, very dangerous man. He’d knock my mum about and then bang me and he had a hard job dealing with his own violence. Swung from aggression to remorse to aggression.

He drank 50 bottles – 25 pints – of Whitbread light ale every day. Easy. My mum counted sometimes, just to check. It was only a pale ale; not strong stuff. But he’d start at 8 o’clock in the morning when he was ‘bottling up’. Then he’d have a couple just before breakfast. He was an alcoholic, but wasn’t really visibly pissed after his 25 pints. He could function perfectly well after drinking 50 bottles but, then, he only had to stand behind the bar and serve drinks. On the other hand, if you gave him just one small Scotch after all that, then he became a lot more than a bit of a handful.

When he died, his name was put in the Life Guard magazine and one of his old mates contacted them, got my phone number, rang me up and told me what a wonderful father I’d had.

I told him, “Yeah, he would’ve been a wonderful father if he hadn’t been drunk all the time!”

And he said, “Your father never drank when I knew him.”

This bloke was putting together a scrapbook of people he had known to give to the Life Guard Association after he died, so he wanted photos of my dad. And this guy told me he had been on five ‘X’ missions behind German lines in Occupied Europe with my father, ‘doing little tasks’ – blowing something up, assassinating someone, things like that. He was, obviously, a rather military man, this friend of my father’s and he told me:

“I can tell you for sure that, with my own eyes, I have seen your father ‘cut’ eleven men. He used to kill the sentries.”

He told me my father had only got upset once.

“There was this young German looking at his pay book,” he told me, “when your dad came up behind him and slit his throat. The German dropped his paybook and it fell to the ground and your dad picked it up and inside the paybook was a picture of the German’s wife and three children which he’d been looking at when his throat was slit. And your dad handed the bloke his paybook back as he lay there dying – propped it up and, in his last split second, the last thing the young German would have seen was the picture of his wife and three children. Your dad just stood there looking down at the dead German and eventually I had to tell him, “Come on, we gotta get on!” and your dad had tears in his eyes but wiped them away… and, two minutes later, he killed another sentry. Cut his throat… He did what he had to do.”

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Malcolm Hardee Awards designer confesses 1980s transvestite activities

While in the introverted Edinburgh Fringe bubble, I missed last week’s BBC News report that Ludlow Hospital had “turned down a £2,500 donation from a group of men dressed up as nurses after bosses said the outfits were demeaning”.

The BBC report explained:

BBC News report

The group, which was supporting Ludlow Hospital in Shropshire, raised the money by pushing a bed around the town.

Jan Ditheridge, chief executive of Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust, said the behaviour was “insulting”.

A letter to Peter Corfield, chair of Ludlow Hospital League of Friends, from Ms Ditheridge and chair of the trust Mike Ridley, said: “The presentation of men dressed as female nurses in a highly-sexualised and demeaning way is wrong, very outdated and insulting to the profession”.

Mr Corfield said the bed-push fundraiser had taken place every summer for decades involving men from the local community and was “light-hearted”.

He said proceeds from this year’s event had been earmarked to provide ECG machines for the outpatients and minor injuries departments at Ludlow.

“We have therefore now had to withdraw the funding for those items,” he added.

Alison Hiles, whose husband took part in the event, said: “Nobody’s complained, everybody seems to enter into the spirit of it, locals know that it’s going on, those that aren’t local really enjoy the event and always have a chat with the lads and willingly give money, nobody forces them. I really don’t know why all of a sudden that it’s a problem.”

In a new, shocking twist to this story today, Malcolm Hardee Awards designer John Ward confessed in a personal e-mail to me:

Revealed: Ward’s shocking 1980s activities

In the mid 1980s myself and a group of like minded friends covered the best part, if not all, of Northamptonshire’s town carnivals plus St Ives and Newport Pagnell dressed as nurses and we too gathered a lot of money in each town that went to the respective carnival funds.

Nobody ever complained, quite the reverse as we were invited to other events along the way.

Here is a photo from the jolly ole snap-shot album of me in my regalia – I had borrowed the outfit from a nurse friend of ours who worked at Kettering General Hospital – on a dinky bike I made from scrap that folded up into a ‘medical bag’ I carried along the assorted parade routes that was pulled out and rode after ‘pursued patients’.

John Ward with some of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which he designed and made


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