About a month ago, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward got in touch with me about cult TV series The Prisoner. He thought he might have the original ‘No 6’ badge which star Patrick McGoohan wore in the series. I wrote a blog about it.
John Ward wearing The Prisoner’s No 6 badge from MGM
I found the blog piece delightful and fascinating. What a story, and what a wonderful set of items to now own! Not heard of MGM sending actual artefacts before. Photos yes, artefacts no!
I personally think this is unlikely to be an original badge, and agree with one of your conclusions that this may have been something reproduced and sent to various folk who wrote to Patrick McGoohan / MGM. The reasons I believe it may not be genuine are as follows (and I’m not saying this to annoy or depress, but to help John Ward build an overall picture for these wonderful items):
a) Number Six only wore/used his badge for around 5 seconds, in a scene from the episode Arrival, where he is handed the badge outside of the Hospital in The Village (in reality, Castell Daedraeth in Portmeirion). He immediately tears off the badge and tosses it into a Village taxi. At no other point in the episode, or series, does he wear the badge (you may recall he defiantly states “I am Not a Number!” at the start of each episode). Because of this, the badge will not have been used in any beach scenes and therefore any ‘sand’ is likely to be coincidental.
b) The series’ propsman Mickey O’Toole, who was in charge of creating and organising the badges, when interviewed about the series, spoke at length regarding the re-use of the Number 6 badge. As extras from the series who appeared in Portmeirion when they shot the series from September 1966 were keeping their own numbered badges as souvenirs, the production crew found themselves short of numbered badges, so re-used the Number 6 badge by adding other digits, so there are 3 different Number 66 background characters in the first episode Arrival, for example, produced by simply stenciling another ‘6’ onto the existing ‘6’. Therefore, the original ‘6’ badge probably didn’t last beyond those first two weeks of filming, as it was modified to become a different number.
However, that’s not to say that other Number Six badges were created and not used – such items were not catalogued, so you’d be justified in arguing that other 6 badges could have been produced. However, filming and production on the series was completed in February 1968 and, as such, it’s highly unlikely that any aspect of the series’ production remained at the studio for 12+ months after that.
By mid-1968 the props were broken up (with a few taken home by members of the production crew earlier that year (See https://www.theunmutual.co.uk/propscostumes.htm for some examples) and the costume store at MGM moved to nearby ABPC Studios (now known as Elstree Film Studios) for use in other series. By the time your letter was sent from MGM in 1969, it’s therefore incredibly unlikely that any aspect of the series remained at MGM to be mailed to you as it had all moved a year or so before.
But there certainly cannot be any proof that this is NOT an original 6 badge used in production, as the design certainly 100% matches those used in the finished episodes.
The Sohemian Society billed last night’s event thus:
At the beginning of the sixties Barry Miles was at art school in Cheltenham; at the end he was running the Beatles’ Zapple label and living in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. This is the story of what happened in between.
In the Sixties is a memoir by one of the key figures of the British counterculture. A friend of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Miles helped to organise the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading. He co-founded and ran the Indica Bookshop, the command centre for the London underground scene, and he published Europe’s first underground newspaper, International Times (IT), from Indica’s basement.
Miles’s partners in Indica were John Dunbar, then married to Marianne Faithfull, and Peter Asher (brother of Jane Asher). Through Asher, Miles became closely involved with the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, and In the Sixties is full of intimate glimpses of the Beatles at work and play. Other musicians who appear include the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. This is the real story of the 1960s, from the inside.
The old Foyles building at 111-119 Charing Cross Road, London (Photograph by Tarquin Binary)
One of Miles’ more inconsequential yet fascinating memories was of Foyles Bookshop in London and an enterprising person he knew.
The old Foyles building in Charing Cross Road was a labyrinthine collection of books, arranged not logically by subject but confusingly by publisher and there was a Byzantine system of buying a book (if you could find it) involving two, possibly three, separate members of staff in different locations, so punters were meandering all over the place, books in hand, with no check on what, where or why.
In addition to the bizarrely arranged publisher sections, there was a Second Hand Books section and a Rare Books section.
If you were enterprising, as Miles’ acquaintance was, you could pick up several books from the Second Hand section and take them to the Rare Books section and sell Foyles’ own books back to them, all without leaving the shop.
It is lateral thinking and enterprising amorality like this that built us an Empire and makes me proud to be British.
“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”
“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”
“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”
“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”
“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”
“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.
“You know all the best people,” I said.
“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”
“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”
“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”
“Oh good grief!” I said.
“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”
“Which year was this?”
“The early 1960s.”
“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”
“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”
“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.
“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.
Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)
“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.
“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”
“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”
“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.
“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”
“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.
“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”
“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.
“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.”
“We?” I asked.
“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”
“Nash?” I asked.
“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”
“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.
“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”
Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.
“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night…
“He said: Alright, you got it.”
“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.
“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…
Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir
“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.
“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”
“So he bought it?” I asked.
“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!
You have no idea how I and other people suffer for this blog.
At the moment, I have comedy performer Matt Roper staying in my spare bedroom for the next four weeks. Well, he may emerge occasionally. Matt performs as comedy singing character Wilfredo. His father was stand-up comedian George Roper, who rose to fame on Granada TV’s stand-up series The Comedians in the 1960s, along with Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and others.
“I don’t have a blog today,” I told Matt this afternoon. “You’ll have to give me one. I always tell people that, as a boy, you were bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee and you say you weren’t. There must be a blog in that.”
“You’ve always got Johnnie Hamp as a blog,” suggested Matt about the legendary Granada TV producer.
“He’s very interesting,” I said, “but he’s up in Cheshire.”
TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height
“Next year,” persisted Matt, “it’s the 50th anniversary of a TV show he produced called The Music of Lennon & McCartney. Brian Epstein (The Beatles’ manager) was very loyal. Not the best businessman, but a very loyal man to people who had given him a helping hand.
“By 1965, The Beatles didn’t really need to do a Granada TV show but Johnnie had been one of the first people to put The Beatles on TV in a regional Granada show Scene at 6.30. It’s on YouTube.
“In 1965, Johnnie had this idea The Music of Lennon & McCartney and there was this huge spectacular in Studio One at Granada TV and he flew people in – Henry Mancini played If I Fell on the piano;Ella Fitzgerald; Cilla was on it; Peter Sellers reciting A Hard Day’s Night as Richard III. That’s on YouTube.”
“What were Cilla’s knees like?” I asked.
Matt ignored me.
“Johnnie Hamp,” he continued, “brought Woody Allen over to do a TV special – it’s the 50th anniversary of that next year, too. It’s the only television special Woody Allen ever did. Just for Johnnie Hamp at Granada. There’s a clip on YouTube.
“Johnnie told me recently: Back in those days, we didn’t care about ratings; creativity was more important. I mean, The Comedians was interesting because, today, no-one would take a chance on giving twelve unknown comics a primetime TV series.”
“Was it him or his brother who had a wooden leg?” asked Matt.
“That was Denis Forman,” I said. “It might have been metal.”
“I’ve got a Beatles-related story you could end your blog with,” said Matt.
“Just tell me what Cilla Black’s knees were like,” I told him.
“My dad,” said Matt, ignoring me, “told a story of when all the Beatles’ brothers and uncles in Liverpool – all the men of the family – heard that The Beatles were smoking drugs. What’s all this? they went. They took the train down from Lime Street to Euston to sort the fookin’ whatever’s going on owt. We’ll sort this fookin’ droogs thing owt.
“And the story goes that, three days later, they all got off the train back in Liverpool Lime Street saying: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
“I’d better take a photo of you,” I said, “for the blog.”
“Not if you’re going to go on and on about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.
Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece
Three days ago, I posted a blog about gangster Reg Kray’s funeral. It happened today in 2000.
When I was talking to my chum Lou for a blog last month, there was a collection of funeral ‘programmes’ on a shelf in his living room. One had a picture of a couple being married. It was the running order for the funeral at the City of London Crematorium of Laurie O’Leary, who died on 27th April 2005.
He was a music business manager, tour manager and lifelong friend of gangsters The Kray Twins, Reg and Ronnie.
Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men
In 1963, Laurie O’Leary managed part of the Krays’ Knightsbridge club Esmeralda’s Barn. In 1966, he managed Sibylla’s club, partly owned by Beatle George Harrison. In 1968, for ten years, he managed the legendary ‘A’ List music business club The Speakeasy.
He tour managed acts including Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Peggy Lee and Otis Reading.
Yesterday, I got a response from ‘Sandy Mac’. This turned out to be someone I met at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. This is what she wrote yesterday:
I was born in 1946.
I was about seven years old or a bit younger and sometimes looked after by a neighbour with a small daughter. I rarely saw her husband but, on this occasion, he was at home.
He and I were in the front room sitting in front of the fire. Amidst the chat, I looked up to see this ‘thing’ in his hand which he urged me to touch.
I remember feeling uncertain, confused if not a bit frightened at what he was asking, although I didn’t know why.
I remember him saying: “Go on. It won’t bite.”
Then his wife called us to the kitchen to eat. I can’t remember how I felt after that as we all sat around the table.
I do know that I didn’t tell my mother, but I didn’t go to that house again.
A happy coincidence maybe, but no explanation was given.
In my early twenties, I remember working for one particular employer who was an absolute menace around women. He also wielded quite a lot of power. Not a happy combination. As well as witnessing my employer’s behaviour towards women at first hand, I heard accounts from other people too. This would have been in the mid-1960s.
That sadly was the climate of the times.
Police at that time, I remember, were loathe to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Oh how I applauded Erin Pizzey when she opened her first refuge in Chiswick in the early 1970s.
I was an ‘unmarried mother’ at sixteen and was sent to a mother and baby home, run by nuns in Stamford Hill.
The stigma was huge in 1962, only matched by my mother’s disappointment in me.
My daughter will be 52 this year with three boys of her own. She was reunited in Canada with her father and his lovely wife. She and her dad had about ten years to get to know one another. She was with him when he died a few years ago now.
In a blog last June, I mentioned that, in the ‘Revised and Updated’ 3rd Edition of John Pearson’s highly-respected book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. it was implied that legendary London gangsters the Kray Twins had killed their driver Billy Frost in the 1960s but, in fact, I had tea with Billy Frost in 2009 and we had exchanged Christmas cards ever since.
Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days clears up many myths and misconceptions about the Kray Twins. I was chatting to him this week at his regular haunt The May Fair Hotel in London.
“I know how that strange story about Frostie got round,” he told me.
“Is it in your book?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he told me. “There are so many things. I could have written two books.”
“I hope you will,” I said.
“A fellow I know named Willie…” Micky told me. “He’s from Aldgate – his real name is Wolf – and he was brought up round Petticoat Lane. He was a very shrewd guy – a sharp Yiddisher guy – and he used to make a few quid, which attracted The Twins and he was terrified of them.
Micky Fawcett at the May Fair Hotel in London
“One day, there was a knock on his door and a couple of fellers asked for him. He wasn’t there, but his wife got him on the phone and they said to him: The Twins want to see you.
“Well, I can’t drop everything and go and see them now, he told ‘em. He said: I’ll meet you outside The Beehive – a pub nearby. They’ve got a car park there and, if you pull in, I’ll come with you then.
“We was having trouble with The Twins at the time and Willie was a good friend of mine. A good friend. He told me and two other guys what had happened.
“We told Willie: We’ll give ‘em a little reception party when they arrive at The Beehive.
“So we go there and wait and, when they come along, we make our presence known and we’ve got guns, which we show ‘em and they run – jump in their car – and, as they pulled away, I took a shot at one of ‘em through the back window just to let ‘em know we were serious. Nothing more than that.
“I turned round and said to Willie: Well, THEY won’t come back, will they?
“And he said to me: You’ve hit him, you know – That hit him!
“I said: No it didn’t – It missed!
“And he said: Mick. I’m telling you that hit him. I saw him slump.
“I told him: I’m sure it didn’t.
“It took a little bit of time – no-one heard nothing. Willie lived over in Essex, but his brother Davey still lived in Aldgate. So he told him: Have a listen round. See what you can hear about it.
Billy Frost – still sending Christmas cards
“So, a bit later, Willie got in touch and told me: I’ve found out who that was. David said there’s a geezer called Frostie. He’s disappeared. No-one knows where he is.
“And it went on from there and Willie would still probably think The Twins had disposed of him out of embarrassment.”
“Even to this day?” I asked.
“I think he would,” Micky told me.
“Are you on Billy Frost’s Christmas card list?” I asked.
I met a man at a party who works at a London gaming club – watching what goes on and making sure everything runs smoothly.
He told me he used to be a dealer at the Playboy Club in Park Lane in the 1960s. He also worked at Aspinall’s private gambling club and at a gaming club in Berkeley Square which was owned by Mafia-linked Hollywood actor George Raft until he sold it to Britain’s Barclay Brothers. The Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency’s building later stood on the site. He also worked a club opposite the old MI5 building in Curzon Street (the latter had no windows on the ground floor, a bomb canopy at first floor level and windows for machine guns at the corners). There was an MI5 bunker underneath one of these clubs; stairs went down for several storeys.
He told me he believed missing peer Lord Lucan (a friend of John Aspinall) – the day after he killed the family nanny – fled with help from tycoon James Goldsmith who owned large areas of various countries in southern Africa into which someone could disappear without trace. Lucan was born in 1934. He is probably now dead from old age after a happy ‘retirement’.
So it goes.
The man at the party also had a story about the killing of a Playboy bunny and the disappearance of an Arab who was probably responsible. Another Arab had accidentally became an arms dealer and ended up in a mental home in the UK.
The Sultan of Brunei’s personal identity card for all occasions
And the Sultan of Brunei had once been asked for identification at the Playboy Club and took a Brunei banknote out of his wallet, pointing to the picture of himself.
In its heyday, he claimed, the Playboy Club in London made three times the total amount made by all the other clubs and the magazine profits combined so, when it closed, it brought down the then Playboy empire. At the Playboy Club in Park Lane in its heyday, a man (who is still alive) had closed-circuit TV monitors in his office showing various parts of the club, including a camera in Playboy Bunnies’ changing room.
The man at the party told me the only way he could stay sane among the unimaginable amounts of money moving around was to think of it all as plastic not money.
You meet people at parties.
They tell you things.
They may or may not be true.
There is footage of 1960s Playboy Bunnies on YouTube.
Here is a track called Way Back in the 1960s from The Incredible String Band’s 1967 album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, released one month after The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:
Tomorrow night, BBC2 is screening The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour for the first time in 33 years. It is being preceded by an Arena documentary about the making of the film.
I saw a preview of both at the National Film Theatre earlier this week. What people who were not alive at the time of the film’s first screening will make of both I cannot begin to imagine.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is how L.P.Hartley started his 1953 novel The Go-Between.
The same could be said of the 1960s. They are almost unimaginable now.
I remember seeing what was, this week, the wonderfully colourful and beautifully stereo-sound-mixed Magical Mystery Tour when it was first broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day 1967 in black and white on mono TV sets. Like most other people, I thought it was a right old dog’s dinner of incomprehensibility.
It mostly still is, but it has aged rather well.
The movie is basically a series of pop videos – before pop videos had been invented – loosely linked with the story of strangely old-fashioned people (and The Beatles) going on an old-fashioned mystery coach trip travelling through an old-fashioned Britain shot and edited in then avant-garde, occasionally psychedelic, style.
One point well made in the Arena documentary is that Magical Mystery Tour was a cross-over between the old and new cultures. And it is very British. Even the concept of a mystery tour in a coach to an unknown destination is in itself bizarre to Americans.
The documentary is very evocative of 1967 and features, I’m glad to see, occasional mentions of hippie newspaper the International Times (I wrote for a much later and not-very-good rebirth of it in 1974) and plentiful quotes from the highly influential Barry Miles whom I blogged about last year.
As a schoolboy, I kept a diary but, annoyingly, wrote nothing about watching the original Magical Mystery Tour transmission. And, equally annoyingly, I have copies of International Times issue 21 (17th-30th November 1967) and issue 23 (5th-19th January 1968) but not the issue published at the time Magical Mystery Tour was transmitted.
it Issue 21 – Kill The Blacks!
The cover of issue 21 of what was then billed simply as The International Times said:
It’s not the colour of your skin, it’s the colour of your heart. KILL THE BLACKS! KILL THE BLACKS!
The cover of what was by then called “it The International Times” said:
A GUIDE TO A NEW AGE AND THE ECSTATIC RETURN OF EVERYONE BLESSED
In that issue, DJ John Peel wrote in his regular Perfumed Garden column:
it Issue 23 – Everyone Blessed!
1967 was a year when I finally broke out of the shadows and found sunshine and laughter all around and within me. Many people have walked into my open heart and lodged there and I find that the more who wander in the more room there is for others. I’m certain that during this amazing year I must have unwittingly offended a few by forgetting a name, a face, a meeting, a phone number or a letter. To anyone so hurt, I’m truly deeply sorry. I would not have done it for the world – and there have been many new worlds this year.
This winter you should not overlook the trees. There is still so much to see without the leaves. They cast such shapes against the sky and make mosaics of the clouds. Even in dark, wet and hurried-feet London there is beauty everywhere and everywhere is unmarked.
Your wardrobe leads to Narnia, your mirror leads to a wonderland. It is better than you can know to breathe the air that you breathe because, by so doing, I kiss you and you me and there is something now unseen and unknown that connects us. Thinking about that is really good, it warms me and I inhale you and you refresh me. Thank you.
That was written in the issue of International Times dated 5th January 1967.
Three years earlier, on 1st January 1964, BBC TV had transmitted the first edition of Top of The Pops, presented by DJ Jimmy Savile.
Now we know Savile was feeling-up and raping under-age girls in BBC TV dressing rooms during that period.
Different people have different perceptions of reality at different times.
Now we are in the 21st century.
The BBC screenings tomorrow are timed to plug a release of Magical Mystery Tour on DVD, Blu-Ray and a double vinyl edition of the original UK EP release.
Oddly, the YouTube trailer for the new release has had embedding disabled, but this is a less high-res clip from the original Magical Mystery Tour film, first screened only six months after The Beatles released their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:
Over 50 years ago, comedian Peter Cook’s comedy club was one of the multi-media trio which created the satire boom in the early 1960s.
There was live comedy at Peter Cook’s club The Establishment; there was Peter Cook’s Private Eye magazine; and, on TV, there was That Was The Week That Was – the original pilot for the show had been a series of satirical sketches based on The Establishment Club. When Cook was in New York, performing in Beyond The Fringe, the BBC re-fashioned the show and replaced Peter Cook with David Frost. Cook later half-jokingly complained that Frost’s subsequent success was based on copying his (Cook’s) own stage persona and that his only regret in life had been once saving Frost from drowning.
The original Establishment Club started in London in August 1961 and lasted until 1964. It was at 18 Greek Street in Soho which, before that, had been the Club Tropicana boasting an All Girl Strip Revue. Cook replaced the sign with one saying London’s First Satirical Nightclub. It is now the Zebrano Bar.
And now The Establishment club has been re-started by amiable Laughing Stock record label boss Mike O’Brien, who has a treasure trove of early alternative comedy club recordings… by actor/comedian Keith Allen, with whom I worked at Noel Gay Television around 1989… and by journalist Victor Lewis-Smith who also produces TV programmes.
Victor (an otherwise entirely admirable chap) once threatened me with legal action for uploading onto YouTube a sales tape for a planned documentary by Keith Allen about comedian Malcolm Hardee’s funeral. I thought this was an over-reaction, as what I uploaded was what his company were using to try to generate interest in the suggested programme from TV broadcast companies. The documentary eventually failed to find a buyer and the full footage of the funeral and its aftermath still languishes unseen on a shelf somewhere; it had originally been planned for Channel 4 transmission but the TV station backed-out, I am told, because Malcolm was “not well-known enough”.
But, anyway, this highly creative trio have re-started The Establishment club in Soho.
According to Keith Allen last night: “We’re trying to re-open the Establishment Club at its old premises in Greek Street as a members’ club. The idea is that we will create a room where you can come in and your expectations will be undermined. Anything can happen. It might involve somebody coming up and talking about something very interesting and pertinent and you listening; it might involve you dancing; it might involve you doing anything. Anything is possible. And the time is right, now, to make sure that anything can be possible. Which is why we’re doing the Establishment Club.”
For the moment, though, there are planned monthly performances at Ronnie Scott’s Club in Frith Street.
On their opening night this week – on Wednesday – they had comedians Terry Alderton, Arnold Brown, Phil Nichol and others, plus ex-rogue MP George Galloway saying he thought Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was innocent of the rape allegations he now faces. According to the review in today’s Independent by Julian Hall, a former judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards, “ultimately, this tribute to Pete was a dud”.
I was unable to go to the opening night but did go last night with low expectations and I thought they managed to pull off the almost impossible. They have re-imagined The Establishment for 2012. They have the makings of a very entertaining and potentially even occasionally controversial comedy club here. Except it is not a comedy club.
Miss Behave at the Malcolm Hardee Awards last month
At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I saw what appears to be the rise of Cabaret with acts and shows like Dusty Limits, East End Cabaret, Lili La Scala’s Another Fucking Variety Show, Mat Ricardo’s Voodoo Varieties, and Tricity Vogue’s Ukelele Cabaret providing more laughs, entertainment and originality than, arguably, most stand-up comedy.
Indeed, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show this year was compered not by a stand-up comic but by cabaret legend Miss Behave and it was more a cabaret variety show than a stand-up comedy show.
So, last night, The Establishment did have two excellent stand-ups on – Scott Capurro and Paul Sinha – but they also had their house jazz band, the James Pearson Trio plus comedian Lee Kern with a video story about Twitter and the astonishingly good (and strangely un-introduced) Dickie Beau performing a red-haired, red-costumed drag act mimed to genuine recordings of an increasingly drunken Judy Garland.
We also had Ophelia Bitz screening a sadly ineffective compilation of early 20th century hard core porn films involving fellatio and cunnilingus (neither erotic nor, to a 2012 Establishment audience, shocking) but – again on the Rise-of-Cabaret theme – performing some stonkingly good songs… In my opinion, anyone who manages to rhyme “cunnilingus” with “music by Mingus” at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club is worth the entire price of admission.
And then we come to what were, to me, the two most interesting ‘acts’ of the night.
The Strypes are an astonishingly good 4-piece rock band from Cavan in Ireland. Keith Allen introduced them as having an average age of 14 though, on Irish TV’s Late Late Show in April, they were said to have an average age of 15. But, whatever, they are very young and very, very talented. Like all starters, they are copying. There are bits of the Rolling Stones, bits of the Beatles, bits of Jimi Hendrix, even bits (I thought) of the Velvet Underground – the shades of the lead singer.
But, strutting and posing and staring, they have an extraordinary presence. Keith Allen introduced them by saying to the audience:
“You know one of them is going to end up on the crack pipe. One of them is going to ‘come out’ and ignore his female fanbase. And one is obviously going to end up on heroin. You decide which one it’s gonna be…”
They have a very strong drummer and a very strong bass player holding everything together. An amazing, charismatic-voiced lead singer. And a lead guitarist to die for, mixing Keith Richard stares with soaring fluid guitar and dropping-to-the-knees Jimi Hendrix moments.
They are amazing. They are copying, but copying from the best with years to develop. They believe in what they act out. They are living the dream.
Last night, The Strypes also performed what was, to my ears, a version of My Generation better than The Who’s version.
The other extraordinary ‘performer’ at The Establishment last night was Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was sacked in October 2004.
He, like George Galloway, believes that Julian Assange is not guilty of the rape charges. (I am not so sure myself.)
Craig Murray said last night that he believes there is “a really strange alliance between the liberal/Left Guardianista Establishment and the Right Wing Murdoch commentariat to attack Assange. Even suggesting he might be innocent seems to be somehow socially disgraceful, something you’re not allowed to say in the media. I’m pretty convinced he’s innocent.
“I came across Extraordinary Rendition, torturing people to get intelligence, shipping people into Uzbekistan in order for them to be tortured… So I resigned and blew the whistle, which any honest person would do. But I found myself immediately charged with sexual allegations. I was charged with issuing visas in return for sexual favours.
“All of these people blew the whistle and all of these people, in the week following blowing the whistle, were charged with unrelated criminal offences. And that’s what ‘they’ do. All the male ones were of a sexual nature.
“It’s extraordinary that this happens so often to whistleblowers and people just don’t see it. I know, because they did it to me, what they’re doing to Julian. And the media should damn well know it too, but the media doesn’t publish it. What I’ve just said about all these people who, one after the other, have been charged with sexual offences after blowing the whistle… Has anyone read that in the mainstream media? No. Because the bastards will not publish it.”
“Are all whistle-blowers perverts?” someone shouted out from the audience.
“Well,” said Craig Murray, “it’s extraordinary that that narrative could be accepted. I was fighting the government like hell over Extraordinary Rendition and arms in Iraq. In the middle of that fight, did I suddenly decide I was going to blackmail a visa applicant into sex? Brigadier Janis Karpinski – the senior female in the American Army – she blew the whistle on Rumsfeld’s torture techniques – did she actually come home and the very next day decide to go shoplifting?
“It makes no bloody sense. And yet the media accept these stupid narratives. For me, it’s very scary. I don’t think people realise the extent to which the corporate ownership of the media combines with an ultra-corrupt political elite who have poisoned our society.
“I blew the whistle on torture. People were being boiled alive. I mean it. People were boiled alive. I actually got a pathology report on dissidents who were boiled alive in Uzbekistan. They had a factory, in effect. And it wasn’t just there. Mubarak was doing it (in Egypt). Gaddafy was doing the same (in Libya). These dictators were boiling people alive, were torturing people for the CIA, for MI6, who were shipping people around in order to be tortured, in order to get intelligence which exaggerated the strength of al-Queda, which exaggerated the Islamic threat.
“And the reason for that is the government was using that largely invented threat in order to clamp down on civil liberties and opposition at home.
“We are besieged by a single narrative in the media. All we have is social media, the internet, to fight against it and try to build up networks for a wider dialogue. I’m certainly hoping that what you’re doing with The Establishment club will give a chance for people like me – who have got something strange and different to say, something that you don’t get to hear every day on the normal media – to come along and say it.”
I should mention, here, that I do not necessarily agree with everything I quote other people as saying in this blog, but that last bit about The Establishment club I agree with.
Long live The Establishment club!
Though I am old enough to know that hoping is not the same as getting…