Tag Archives: 1979

A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

I asked Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, if she had any memories of Christmases past. She sent me this about a time when she was an exotic dancer and comedy performer.


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

The second time I went to England, on the QE2 liner, was in mid-November 1979. Traveling on the QE2 was cheaper than the plane fare. Ian McKellen was on the ship and he gave a little lecture about acting. He had a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t ask him anything.

When I arrived, I had £30 pounds in cash and the address of the Nell Gwyn club in Soho, where I stayed for seven years. I worked at the Nell Gwyn/Gargoyle Club and ended up living in a house on Royal College Street in Camden full of actors and strippers and comics and an ape expert (Peter Elliott) but they all went to their parents’ houses for Christmas so I was left alone for my first Christmas in London.

It was unusually snowy that year and I got very ill from running around Soho taking my clothes off in different clubs.

So I relaxed in bed. I don’t recall quite which bed, but likely it was the ape man’s, since he probably was the only one who could afford a television.

He used to lie in bed and get woken up by calls from his agent for auditions or odd jobs like teaching Romanian child acrobats to imitate chimpanzees. One time his agent called and asked if he wanted to go to Canada, to work on a film called Quest for Fire. He was an actor and ape expert… Still is. Any British movie about apes for the last forty years, he’s been in or consulted on it.

The first time I met him, he had just returned from Birmingham with a huge white bandage on one of his fingers. A female chimpanzee had tried to rape him.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

I think he was from an acrobat family…. Do they have many of those in Yorkshire?  Who knows?

But Yorkshire produced Ian Hinchliffe who was no acrobat, though he did perform tricks with broken glass.

Anyway, Peter Elliott, the ape expert, was a Desmond Morris fanatic; he advised me to read The Naked Ape and was not mean to me about being an ignorant Canadian.

One lady who lived in that house was very aloof about me and she was always pointing out how inferior people from the Colonies were. One time we were both heading into central London at the same time. I don’t know where she was off to but I was on my way to work and a bit late. It was very snowy and when I saw our bus rushing towards us I flagged it as if it was a taxi, even though we were not at a bus stop. She looked appalled and said sternly: “This is London – We don’t flag the bus here!”

But the bus stopped right in front of us and we both got onto it.

Really, I never have had any problems flagging a bus. One time I did it during a sandstorm in Sydney. Because of the storm I was the only passenger, so the driver took me all the way home. I think he had just finished his shift.

As for that lady who was so mean and had not appreciated that I had flagged the bus for her so, when she went out of town, I slept with her boyfriend who did not seem to think I was inferior at all.

Anyhow, I had an interesting Christmas alone in that tall four story townhouse. in Royal College Street.

I did not have much food, but I enjoyed watching television because there were so many talk shows, though I did not know who any of the guests were or have any idea what they were talking about. It was all very interesting because I was trying to figure out stuff like Why is Esther Rantzen so important to British people?

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, c 1983/1884

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, in a London graveyard c1984

I phoned my mother in Vancouver to tell her I was fine in London making friends with lots of fantastic strippers and nice men who were ape impersonators or who wrote poetry about their glasses (John Hegley) with friends who pretended they were dead (Tony Green) and who wrote songs about stomping on their cats (Tony De Meur). Also there was a very nice gay actor who had sex with a woman once because he was very professional and said he wanted to know what it felt like in case it ever came up at an audition.

We were all very responsible and only one of the men had ever got a woman pregnant (a comedian who is now a big Name).

I did not mention to my mother the man from British Telecom who somehow had ended up at our parties, because he was a bit older and I did not want her to worry.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984… She had to borrow the cat

“Thank God you’re alright,” my mother had told me. “I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you for a month.”

Then she told me she had phoned Scotland Yard to ask them to look for me. Scotland Yard told my mother that hundreds of girls disappear in London every day so not to call them for another six months.

I stayed for seven years in London.

I had to keep leaving to go dance in Belgium because of UK visa restrictions.

I was constantly in trouble over my work permit in Belgium and eventually I had up go to a Belgian doctor in London’s Harley Street to get my vaccines updated and a certificate saying I was mentally fit to strip in Belgium.

Once in Brussels, we had to sign elaborate contracts in quadruplicate in French and Flemish which had hundreds of items including that if we were performing trapeze or with wild animals we were responsible for obtaining our own insurance.

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Filed under Christmas, London, Nostalgia

The Demolition Decorators’ act in 1979: provocation and nudity at a London pub

The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…

The Demolition Decorators’ online album Don’t Say Baloney

The Demolition Decorators’ online album, released in 2005

The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an album Don’t Say Baloney in 2005.

I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley aka 1970s Spudikins

“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”

“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.

“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.

“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.

Demolition Decorators at Glastonbury 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

Demolition Decorators perform at Glastonbury Festival, 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.

“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.

“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.

“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.

“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.

– What would you like to see?

– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?

– Yes.

– I wanna fuck ‘er.

– Right… What’s your name?

– Bill.

– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?

– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.

– Right.

“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.

“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.

“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.

“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.

“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.

“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.

“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.

“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?

From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?

Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.

So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.

“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!

“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.

“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.

“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”

“Where are they now?” I asked.

“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.

“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?

A young Tony Green (right) with unknown monster (Photograph by Anna Smith)

A young Tony Green (right) at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.

“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.

“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”

Diarist Paul Lyons remembers the Demolition Decorators online HERE… And there are memories of Glastonbury 1979 HERE.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Music, Performance

Gerry Anderson on making movies and the state of the pre-Thatcher UK in 1979

In blogs earlier this week, I ran an intro and the first part of an interview I had with TV and film producer Gerry Anderson in 1979. The interview was published  two years after the first Star Wars movie had been released and one month before Margaret Thatcher was elected for her first term as British Prime Minister. This is part of the conclusion of that interview…

Your series Space:1999 was refused by all three US Networks despite its very high production values. Why?

I think the reason is all too clear now. (Pause) It was ‘serious’ science fiction. On the other hand, so was Star Trek. But, you know, Star Trek got away with it because of (studio) politics. A studio (Desilu) was sold to a Network (NBC) and part of the condition was that they bought Star Trek with it. Then they took it off the air and 12,000 fans – who were probably the only people who watched it in the States – went to NBC and demanded its return. And then it became a cult show. But, I mean, it never had high ratings ever. It’s a show all on its own. I think Space: 1999 suffered from being British.

It didn’t get networked in Britain either. Why do you think that was?

I don’t know the answer to that. I wish you could tell me.

Well, at the time, programme planners for regional ITV companies were very jealously guarding their control over films and film series. There was a lot of resistance over networking film series.

I really don’t know. When I see some of the rubbish that is networked…

It was shoved away into Saturday morning slots on some ITV stations.

Well, I think we were killed before we even started. If you don’t get simultaneous networking, then the newspapers aren’t interested in commenting; if they don’t comment, people don’t watch; it’s like the hoola hoola bird going in ever-decreasing circles until you disappear up your own channel.

I heard somewhere that the original stars of Space: 1999 were to have been Katharine Ross and Robert Culp.

Not Katharine Ross. Robert Culp was interviewed. We met in Beverly Hills. I’m a great fan of his because he’s a very, very competent actor and has a very great charisma. He arrived and I said, “Right, I’ll tell you what the series is about…” And he said, “Look, before you tell me what the series is about, may I say a couple of things?” So I said, “Certainly.” He said, “First of all, I am a superb actor.” And I said, “Yes. That’s why we’ve invited you here.” He said, “Fine. But what is not generally known is that I am also an outstanding writer.” So I said, “Well that, I must confess, I didn’t know.” And he said, “Finally, I am an even better director.” Now all of those statements may well be true. But, knowing what television production means, where you’ve got one picture a fortnight going through – one hour every ten days – in my view the lead artist hasn’t got the time or the physical strength to cope with leading the series and be involved with the writing and also criticise the direction.

I felt that this would be a great danger and so, very politely, I said, “Thank you very much and goodbye.” And, equally politely, he said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” We didn’t have any kind of argument. I respected his point of view. Whether he respected me, I don’t know. But the interview terminated there.

That poster on your wall is for the new Space: 1999 film , isn’t it?

Yes. I think Destination – Moonbase Alpha, is going to be damn good entertainment, particularly for people who like science fiction. What I think is a great shame is that here we have Superman on screen with its $50 million or whatever budget. Close Encounters with its $20 million budget. We’ve got some mighty expensive pictures on the screen at the moment. Even Star Wars was almost $10 million when it was made and probably now the same picture would be $25 million. With Destination – Moonbase Alpha we have two television episodes (Bringers of Wonder, Parts 1 & 2) strung together and the title reads: Sir Lew Grade Presents a Gerry Anderson Production and it doesn’t say it’s two television episodes strung together. The damage it does is that people who’ve seen all these (other) fabulous pictures now go and see that and say, “I would’ve expected something a bit better than that from Gerry Anderson.”

I’ve heard you say you’d like to move more into theatrical presentations.

Well, hopefully I’ll never see television again. That means if I were offered a good television series this afternoon I would crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate and do it and love every minute of it. But it is such a terrible strain, producing one hour a week, that I would much prefer to do theatrical – that is cinema – pictures. At the time of this interview, I’m at the point of a very, very big breakthrough. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about or who’s involved because it would spoil the chances of the picture going.

Is it for a studio or for an independent?

It is a major subject with a major studio, a major director and a major star. And a fantasy subject. We’re right on the knife-edge at the moment.

If it works out, you’ll be producing again. Why do you produce rather than direct?

I always wanted to direct and I made the fatal mistake of thinking if I start my own film company and I’m making my own pictures, when it comes to the director, I will be able to direct. That’s how I hoped to become a director. Instead of which, you find you are so busy organising production that, when it comes to the crunch, you have to take somebody else on because you can’t handle it yourself.

You have directed, though.

When we first started, I directed 26 Twizzles, 26 Torchys, 52 Four Feather Falls, the pilot of UFO – I’ve directed an awful lot of our stuff.

Do you think you’re a bankable director?

No, certainly not. Because most of the films I’ve directed have been puppet films and bankable directors are directors who have directed theatrical (cinema) pictures that have made millions of dollars. I haven’t directed any theatricals, so I can’t be bankable.

You were saying there are a lot of big-budget films around at the moment. There’s a danger in big budgets, isn’t there? With a big budget you do what’s easiest whereas, with a small budget, you have to be more creative.

Well, this is Gerry Anderson feeling sorry for himself. I think, in an ideal world, people who have for years worked on a small budget and therefore got the very best out of each pound or dollar… when science fiction took off, those were the people who should have been given the chance to take the big budgets and produce something really sensational. But business doesn’t work that way. Americans are so much more adventurous than British people at the moment. They get the money and they arrive at London Airport with their sack containing $20 million and they’re certainly not going to come into a British studio and say, “Can you recommend a British producer to whom I can give this $20 million so that he can make himself a fortune?”

That is not going to happen so, consequently, people like myself have not benefitted from this tremendous book in science fiction. It is, in the main, American money. The profits, as in the case of Star Wars, which was shot in Britain, will go back to America to encourage further investment for new American producers. British technicians have gained, but that’s short-sighted. The profits are going back to America. They are not remaining here and they will not fund future British productions.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to get backing in Britain?

Why do I think that is? Why, as we sit here, are we likely to have a State of Emergency in the next 48 hours? Because, sadly, this lovely country of hours which, at one time, had so many wonderful qualities, is falling apart. People don’t think any more; people are lazy here; people don’t want to work; people don’t want to take chances; people are out of touch with new ideas. It’s a national disease.

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Filed under Movies, Politics, Science fiction, Television