My nine days in North Korea in 2012

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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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Ridley, said: “The presentation of men dressed as female nurses in a highly-sexualised and demeaning way is wrong, very outdated and insulting to the profession”.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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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 26: To feel that tranquility amidst the Fringe adrenaline

Today, I did my annual trip up Blackford Hill, to the south of Edinburgh. The photos below are all from today. The one above was taken in 2010.

The reason I try to go up Blackford Hill every Fringe was explained by me in a book which the website Such Small Portions published in 2013. It was titled Secret Edinburgh, sub-titled A Comedians’ Guide To The City. It had contributions from over 160 comedians and/or people listed in the Comedy section of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe Programme.

Which is why I was asked to contribute, although I was not and am not a performer.

One section of Secret Edinburgh was titled Out of Town and contributors basically wrote about their favourite places which are not in the centre of the city.

Below is my contribution in 2013, interspersed with photos taken today.

_____________________________________________________

When I was newly 18, I tried to commit suicide with pills. This was a bad idea, because I had always been shit at Chemistry in school.

I was persuaded to go into a mental home in Essex, because I had tried to kill myself. I did. But I only stayed two days and one night because they kept asking me questions when I just wanted to be left alone.

I went back to my distraught parents’ home, but it was no better there. Not their fault. So I ran away from home.

I hitched to Edinburgh which was and still is my favourite city. Ever since I was an embryo, I had gone there once a year with my parents to spend a few days with my father’s aunt, who lived in Morningside.

When I ran away to Edinburgh, I slept one night in a multi-storey car park at the foot of the castle rock. I spent another sleeping in the stairwell of a block of council flats. It was very cold.

In Morningside, I saw my great aunt on the other side of the street. I did not talk to her.

Later, I walked up the Blackford Hill at twilight to see the view: the city spread out before me, the castle rising up in the distance on the left; Arthur’s Seat rising in the distance on the right. The waters of the Forth were twinkling in the background with Fife beyond them; the lights of the twilight city were starting to twinkle in the foreground.

It was totally peaceful and now, every time I go to Edinburgh for the Fringe, at least once I walk up the Blackford Hill to feel that tranquility amidst the Fringe adrenaline.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 25: Comedy reviews, surrealism, nudity and politics

The Edinburgh Fringe splintered from the Edinburgh Festival 70 years ago and, like Christianity, has been splintering ever since.

The official International Festival and the official Fringe end on Monday; the Free Fringe ended today (Saturday); and the Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes venues close tomorrow (Sunday).

So today I saw shows for which mentions in this blog will, alas, not get any extra bums-on-seats. But, then, I think mentions in this blog only add to ‘profile’ not to bums. So apologies to them, but just think of the increasing prestige.

I always try not to ‘review’ shows or acts. I think I may have failed today. When I do this, it never ends well for me.

Cassie Atkinson (centre), a real character

I have a tendency not to like character comedy if the characters are too close to reality; I don’t mind more cartoon-caricature-like or wildly OTT character comedy. Which makes it odd that I like  Cassie Atkinson. I think it must be that the character comedy I hate is the stuff that feels like acting students doing an end-of term performance to their drama school mates. And I guess Cassie is a better actress than most! Or maybe she adds a tiny pinch of herself into even the characters least like her, so I buy into them more. I have no idea.

She does occasionally show a taste for the genuinely surreal – never a bad thing in my eyes though, alas, TV producers have no taste for the actual genuinely surreal. But now she seems to have linked up, more often than not in a blonde wig, with Kat Butterfield and Charlotte Pearson to perform sketches as Northern Power Blouse who, with luck, should be more attention-grabbing for TV producers – not that she really needs them with National Theatre work in her CV.

Lovely Lucy Hopkins – part light-fantastic

The genuinely lovely Lucy Hopkins is probably too good for British TV as her show Powerful Women Are About is said to be inspired by Mohammed Taleb’s Witches, Eco-Feminists, The Adventurers of the Soul of the World and is correctly described on the flyer as “part  electro-ritual, part theremin-experiment, part light-fantastic. Ultra-conscious comedy by award-winning, internationally-touring, terribly present clown.” In other words, it is totally un-categorisable – awkward for commissioners scared about the security of their jobs who think in terms of safe elevator pitches.

No great loss, though, as Lucy’s work is very specifically for live theatre.

Becky Brunning is interesting because she can bill herself as being an actor in the popular Broadchurch TV series – which will certainly help her in elevator pitches and may be why her room was literally full to overflowing with punters – some people couldn’t get in. Beaming is/was her debut solo show at the Fringe and, I have to say, was/is weird.

Becky Brunning suddenly pulled out a twist with a call-back

In Beaming, she establishes herself as a likeable, ordinary, modest girl-next-door then progresses to fairly standard, well-structured, low-key observational comedy – driving tests, shopping, crisps (I think she may have lost the audience on the long crisps section of the show) and she even, unless my ears had an audio hallucination, actually delivered the straight non-post-modernist line: “Does anybody in the room like food?”…

But then, in the last 10 minutes or so, she suddenly brings in a totally different and fascinating autobiographical strand about sexuality which would and perhaps should have been an entire show in itself. This strand did not come out of nowhere – it was a call-back to a tiny fact which had been mentioned in passing earlier in the show, but she suddenly pulled out a twist on this earlier comment.

Most of her show was standard and very general observational comedy. When she suddenly switched to very specific, unique personal stuff, something happened. I hate to say she is “one to watch” – far be it from me to be cliché. But I am certainly going to see her next show.

Luca Cupani even appeals to Hungarians

Then I went to see the wonderful Luca Cupani who, at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards last night added to his glittering collection of awards the title Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion 2017.

I thought I had seen his show – It’s Me! – at a preview in London, which is why I went to see it so late in its run here, but he has developed it beyond recognition and, of course, was superb. I can never quite get my head round why he is so good.

In theory, his Italian accent and what objectively is a rather dithery, broken-up delivery should interfere with the flow of the comedy but, for some reason – perhaps because it requires a slight bit of extra attention from the listener (but not too much), he is consistently fascinating. And he knows how to structure a story.

Interestingly, the room today contained Scottish, English, Siberian punters and a  lady sporting a T-shirt saying: I SPEAK HUNGARIAN. She was Hungarian. They all enjoyed it. I was watching the Hungarian lady a lot – her English was not too strong and she loved the show.

Becky backstage at Malcolm Hardee Awards

Next stop was Becky Fury, who had hosted the wildly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last night. The chaos was not of her making – acts not turning up, acts turning up late, acts not saying in advance what they were going to do. And she handled it all masterfully, if that’s the right word, making up most of it on the spot – including swallowing a 3ft long balloon and doing a gameshow based on the health warnings on cigarette packets. Literally honking her breasts, of course, is always a crowd pleaser. And so it was tonight in her Molotov Cocktail show, ending with her successful rollercoaster of a Calais Jungle story. She dropped the political sections of the show and it still worked.

I am still waiting for the autobiographical street anarchist show which she has in her: if she ever does it, that will be a unique, perhaps literally fiery Fringe show.

If she does not get arrested.

Or even if she does.

A man conducts himself well

Rounding off the evening for me was a show called Brain Rinse – Puppetry of The Audience which threatened in its publicity to be “immersive” (almost always a horrifying idea).

In fact, it was superbly entertaining for the same reason that Herbie Treehead worked so well at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. Both Herbie and Brain Rinse’s Mike Raffone (say it out loud) have long experience in street performance, so their audience control is second-to-none. A well-structured show; the ability to ad-lib on the hoof; top notch audience psychology. All hail!

That was my day.

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

Last night, at the repeatedly aforementioned Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, Russian Egg Roulette competitor Samantha Pressdee could not stop herself taking her top off. She has a lot of ‘previous’ in this.

Samantha Pressdee – a woman never knowingly overdressed

And, while I was roaming round the hot and sticky comedy rooms of Edinburgh today, she was out in the fresh air and I do mean ‘out’.

Apparently this was the 10th International ‘Go Topless’ Day and there was a rally in Edinburgh. The stated rules included:

NO-ONE IS IN CHARGE.

AS ALWAYS THE RALLY IS ESSENTIALLY ANARCHIC AS NO-ONE HAS AUTHORITY OVER ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY OR VOICE.

Samantha sent me a ‘report’ on what had happened:


The annual Edinburgh Free The Nipple rally for International Go Topless Day and Women’s Equality Day has been a success.

Members of the public joined in with regular campaigners and an open mic was held as a platform to oppose the censorship of opinion as well as nipples.

Only one member of the public got offended, shouting at protesters: “Shame on you! You’re flaunting yourselves! I can’t bring my daughter in to this space!” 

I chased the lady whilst shimming my tits shouting: “Breasts feed children!”

The hysterical woman responded: “I know! My daughter has seen my tits loads of times!” before telling a photographer to “Fuck off!”

I wrote FREE LOVE on my chest in protest of the threatened extradition of alleged hacker Lauri Love.

He is appealing in the High Courts this November on the grounds that, because of his Aspergers and severe depression, he would be unable to cope in the US prison system and would commit suicide.

For more information see freelauri.com


So there you are.

Comedy reviews, naked tits and political activism.

For what more could one ask?

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 24: The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winners 2017

The late, out-standing comic Malcolm Hardee.

The final increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show took place in the ballroom of Edinburgh’s Counting House.

The winners chosen by the five judges earlier in the day, with awards presented by critic Kate Copstick and Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee during the show, were:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY
Terry Alderton for his successful self-reinvention and, well, for originality

MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
Mark Dean Quinn for his simple yet successful subversion of the star system of comedy reviews by putting other people’s quotes and stars on his own flyers.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD
Rob Kemp, currently performing in the Elvis Dead.

The Awards Show, compered by Molotov Cocktail street anarchist and comic Becky Fury, concluded with the increasingly prestigious annual Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation and John Deptford, Vice President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Italian comic Luca Cupani is now officially the 2017 Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion, having previously represented British comedy in Canada.

I have to add, with some humility, that I was also the recipient of a surprise prize for my work on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards over the last ten years: 16 cans of Red Bull, bought by the three female members of the judging panel for supervisory services rendered.

Earlier in the day, World Egg Throwing President Andy Dunlop revealed to me that there has been a recent outbreak of exploding intestines across the UK.

“There is methane produced inside the human body,” former-fireman Andy explained, “and when you have surgery using laser scalpels, that is enough to ignite it and there have been a number of fatalities in operating theatres in which intestines exploded into the room.”

Vice President John Deptford, who (this is true) left for Peru four hours after the Awards Show finished, took 7 seconds of video footage of the two hour show.

Brevity can be a virtue.

Context is King.

The ballroom of The Counting House was left with some unfortunate egg stains, indelible memories and an inexplicable smell of paraffin.

You had to be there.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 23: A takeover bid for the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Arranging the increasingly prestigious two hour annual Malcolm Hardee Awards Show is forever like juggling spaghetti with people dropping in and out of availability and not quite saying what they might be doing.

The good news is that I can never fail… so far.

If it is a triumph, then it is a triumph.

(L-R) Brian, Cheekykita and John Deptford

If it falls apart, then it is a fitting tribute to Malcolm’s anarchic ways.

As I arrived for the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club at the Counting House Lounge this afternoon, manager Brian – whom Kate Copstick has decided to call ‘The Comedy Concierge’ – was sitting at his barrel, talking to Cheekykita who was, of course, dressed in an impressionistic lobster costume…

…just as World Egg Throwing Federation Vice President John Deptford arrived for his Russian Egg Roulette duties at tomorrow’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of the Counting House.

Inside, Phil Chippendale and his stitches arrived again, this time hidden under a plaster, which he raised for photographic effect. Later, Malcolm Hardee Award Show host Becky Fury practised her mind control technique on Phil.

The revelation of the Chippendale stitches


Becky practises mind control on Chippendale

 

Complicated rhythms and tsunamis of words

After that, I had time to see Jon Long’s show Jon Long Winded.

I know him as a strong comic song performer on the London comedy circuit, but he turned out to be even better at length (45 minutes) in a totally crammed upstairs room at Cabaret Voltaire.

Very very warm audience spiel… very complicated musical rhythms and tsunamis of words… and a glimpse of a sad Fringe-style confessional-type story in there hidden by the warm spiel. Well worth seeing anywhere.

After leaving Cabaret Voltaire, in Cowgate I bumped into Nathan Cassidy, a man who could easily have been broken by his tragic Malcolm Hardee non-nomination this year.

But he instead suggested he could take over the Awards from next year and might, he implied, change his name to Nathan CassHardee to facilitate this process.

The jury is out on that one.

(L-R) Helen Wallace, John Deptford, Luca Cupani, Tony Green, Mr Balaclave, Louisette Stodel – Part of the comedy industry audience at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club in Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 22: Psychopath viciousness v Malcolm Hardee Awards

In the morning, I got queries because some prat had put comments on multiple performers’ listings on the Edinburgh Fringe website congratulating them for winning the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. The messages were signed ‘Malcolm Hardee’.

None of them had won.

Malcolm drowned in 2005.

Performers with experience of the Fringe thought the messages were odd but dismissed them as fake. Many newer performers took them at face value, thought they had won an Award and were then disappointed.

In at least two cases, performers new to the Fringe were in tears.

I contacted the squatters who are staging a comedy play Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink tonight, the central conceit of which is that Malcolm faked his own drowning and has returned to the Fringe. Yesterday, they were keen to promote it.

They claimed it was not them.

I posted on social media a carefully measured and restrained message:


Someone is posting on the EdFringe site entries for random performers telling them that they have won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

They have not.

The shortlist was announced on Monday

The winners are not decided until Friday. No-one has yet won any Malcolm Hardee Award and only those on the short list could win.

This has so far resulted in several people being disappointed and at least two people being reduced to tears.

If anyone knows the psychopathic cunt who is trying to hurt other performers, let me know. And if anyone would like to break the fucking legs and arms of the person doing it, I would be obliged.


Picture of a Chippendale comedian in stitches

In a physical injury totally unconnected with this, comic Phil Chippendale turned up at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club a couple of days ago after a visit to hospital.

He told us then that he had had four stitches in his head but, today, he revised that to say it was only a three stitch wound, “but it read like a four”.

Ian Dunn of the British Comedy Guide, a regular at the Grouchy Club, told us he had managed to get a question included on BBC Radio’s Round Britain Quiz about Edinburgh Fringe comedy awards, including a cryptic reference to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which no-one, including a professional comic on the team, managed to decode.

Malcolm used to listen to Round Britain Quiz in prison and dazzle his fellow prisoners with the number of questions he got right. They never twigged that he listened to the repeat transmission with them, but had already heard the first transmission alone.

In the evening, on the way to see the former Wibbley Wobbley squatters’ one-off performance of Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink, I met submariner comic Eric who said that he had received a “weird” message this morning about winning a Malcolm Hardee Award. He had dismissed it as fake because, as he has been very successfully performing his Tales From The Sea show here for the last ten years, it was unlikely he would suddenly win an award for Originality.

Which. alas, brings us to Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink.

Malcolm used to introduce new acts with: “Could be good; could be shit.”

Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink was previewed in New Cross last Friday. Someone who saw it emailed me:


Last night I saw a play called Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink… I think it was probably one of the worst I have ever seen on so many levels – Oh dear. I think it’s heading for Edinburgh. Definitely SHIT… with capitals. Only potential redeeming feature they tried to put the Balloon Dance in at the end. Two of them got naked with a balloon – I have seen car crash things before which are amusing because how shit they are. This is not one of those. One of the cast at the end tried to show some spirit of the balloon dance, got naked and then said “Sorry, no choreography” and then another cast member got naked so was stupid.


The problem with the new, improved version tonight was that it was incoherent.

Being a shambles is forgivable. Being incoherent is not.

After asking who in the audience had heard of Malcolm Hardee (it was about half-and-half), a lady appeared on stage who (I think) gave some background but in such a thick somewhere-in-Europe accent that I have no real idea what she said. And I knew the subject. What the less clued-up people in the audience made of it I can’t begin to imagine.

There were two funny things in the one hour duration.

A piece of wooden scenery fell over three times (unintentionally) and there was a giant silver fish about 18 inches long which a cast member attempted to put in his mouth (nothing to do with Malcolm).

The real Malcolm Hardee (top) and the re-enacted version

The plot seemed to be confused about whether it centred on the police looking for Freddie Mercury’s stolen birthday cake or looking for Malcolm who had returned from his fake death or looking for multiple people pretending to be Malcolm.

Along the way, there were bizarre miscalculations like lighting a firework which was not stuck up a bum (what was the point?)… having an un-choreographed shambling around balloon dance with three naked men and a half-naked woman (why bother and why insert a woman wearing panties?)… and an admittedly funny gag involving a teabag (except it is actually a famous, allegedly-true, story about Tommy Cooper, totally unconnected to Malcolm).

There were also bizarre basic errors like saying Malcolm was aged 31 in 1985 (he was born in 1950) and that, when the police lifted his body out of the dock, he was holding a glass (it was a beer bottle, according to the police report at the Coroner’s Court).

A shambles might have been a fitting tribute.

Incoherence and pointlessness is not.

It was a disappointing evening.

When an irrelevant fish and falling scenery get the biggest laughs, you know you have problems.

And, on the way back to my flat, a cash machine swallowed my bank card.

Life.

Tell me about life.

Publicity for Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink

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