Tag Archives: 1980s

Paris, circa 1979, as experienced by young striptease artiste Anna Smith

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver, wrote about how A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World.

The murder took place in Paris and, after reading it, I said to Anna: “You have lived everywhere… You must have lived in Paris at some point…”

This was her reply…


Anna Smith in Ealing, London, circa 1984 (Photograph by Tony Green)

I have not lived everywhere. But I did live in Paris for a couple of months when I was in my early twenties.

My trip there and accommodation was paid for by the Canadian government, because I had organised an exhibition of paintings at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

Although I was already a striptease artist, I felt lonely in Paris, where the only people I knew were the distinguished administrators at the Cultural Centre.

The Cultural Attaché took me and a couple of Canadian artists to dinner at an expensive restaurant, where I ordered skate because I had never tried it before. The skate arrived covered in white sauce and I didn’t enjoy it much.

I spent most of my days walking for miles across the city and visiting art galleries. It was November and the walking and the galleries were very enjoyable.

I visited a small theatre on the Left Bank, whose name I forget, which specialised in erotic performance. I did not see the show but inquired of the staff whether it was possible to work there. I was told yes, indeed I would be very welcome to work with them. As usual in those days, there was no mention of work permits.

Anna Smith, striptease artist. (Photograph circa 1979.)

They showed me inside the theatre. It had a nicely sized stage which could hold about a hundred people and everything was painted black. It was daytime and there were no performances until night time. There were strong nets high above the rows of seats and I was made to understand that the actors would be performing in the nets as well as on stage. It looked like fun. 

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

But then they asked: I did understand that I would be doing a live sex act show, didn’t I? 

Ooops….

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m only a striptease artist…”

They looked at me sympathetically and kindly told me that I was very welcome to come back if I changed my mind.

The only other job I could possibly have done at the time was jello wresting (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “When women wrestle in a pit of jello – UK jelly – in their bikinis while a bunch of horny men sit by and watch.”)

But I was pretty snobby at the time and thought that was beneath my level of artistic excellence…

I would not mind trying it now though.. haha. 

I wonder if Lynn Ruth Miller would consider joining me….or maybe I could rent a sex robot, if she isn’t available…

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

When I was in Paris, I also visited The Folies Bergère – the haunt of one of my idols, Josephine Baker – and The Crazy Horse. 

The Folies Bergère were a disappointment, more like a light show than a human performance. The dancers’ costumes were illuminated with thousands of tiny lights which glowed in the dark when the lights on stage went out. I have seen more interesting displays of Christmas lights on houses in suburban Minneapolis. 

The Crazy Horse was slightly better. Although I had bought the least expensive ticket possible, the hostess seated me in the front row, likely because I was the only single woman in the house, young and dressed sexily.

The show was highly choreographed (as it still is) and I later wrote a critique for Canada’s national newspaper (the Globe and Mail), that “not one spontaneous wink” escaped from the performers.

I visited Paris a couple of times after that, when I was living in London. One time I went there with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green).

Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) & Anna Smith in London, 1984

We stayed at The Hotel Lima and in the daytime we performed in the plaza of The Pompidou Centre. We did a sort of burlesque style performance art piece. 

I was dressed in a black outfit, wrapped in flecked hat netting, my skirts trimmed with silver and violet spangles, like a nineteenth century ‘dame perdue’ and Sir Gideon Vein resembled Jack the Ripper, with his frock coat and usual blood-stained cravat. 

We played Death and the Maiden on a ghetto blaster and had a rubber knife with which we eventually stabbed each other to death. I remember slowly sprinkling corn flakes over Sir Gideon’s dying body…

We did not make very much money doing this, a small crowd gathered to watch and afterwards a kind man bought each of us a vanilla ice cream cone.

I remembered being mystified that a fat, dowdy middle aged French woman wearing ordinary clothes and playing a penny whistle badly was pulling in a small fortune in coins at the same time.

But now I realise that people must have felt sorry for her.

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Filed under Paris, Sex

The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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Comedian Ivor Dembina on how money & TV altered British alternative comedy

Liam Lonergan meets a man with answers

Liam Lonergan talked academically to Ivor

In some blogs this year, I have posted extracts from chats Liam Lonergan had with me and with comedian Lewis Schaffer for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Yesterday, Liam sent me a transcript of a chat he had with comedian and club-owner Ivor Dembina, whose weekly Hampstead Comedy Club celebrates its 20th anniversary next month. Here, with Liam’s permission, is an extract in which Ivor talks about the early days of British alternative comedy and the changes since.

____________________________________________________

Liam Lonergan: I don’t know if you know much about the contemporary student scene.

Ivor Dembina

Ivor Dembina used to cultivate students

Ivor Dembina: Well, no… I used to. When I first came into comedy, I helped, if you like, to cultivate the student audience. I used to take little packages of comedy around the universities and colleges. That would have been late 1980s. But I wasn’t the only person doing it because students were seen as a fertile source of income – the universities had money and they didn’t have direct contact with comedians, so they’d pay someone – an agency – to put together and package a show and I did it more or less all over the country. I did that for several years. The attraction was they would pay you a guarantee. It was quite an attractive market and the big agencies – or what have become the big agencies, notably Avalon and Off The Kerb – they kind of built their foundations on those types of tours. And then what they’d do is they might sign someone up – y’know, Performer X – and say to the student unions: “Well, if you want Performer X you’ve got to have our other performers too”. It’s quite a cynical way of doing it but…

Liam: But it’s a big part of the business.

Ivor: Well, that’s the way they operated. Whereas I did it much more on a one-off basis. But I kinda lost interest in it because what happened was gradually… Well, in those days, students were still regarded as a good audience. They were interested in the world and they had what could be regarded as an alternative outlook which complemented the attitudes of the performers. In more recent years…

Liam: Well, anyone gets into university now and there’s a more… I dunno what you’d call it…

Ivor: It’s a much more corporate place, much more money-based. They’re becoming… the universities now are basically much more right wing and comedy has just become the Wednesday night entertainment after the football and the rugby and a lot of drunkenness. A lot of bad behaviour from the students. Part of the attraction used to be performing to kids who might be interested in the state of the world.

Liam: Going back to what you said about Off The Kerb and Avalon, do you think the current production agency monopolisation and the Big Four at the Edinburgh Fringe… Do you think they are taking over fringe comedy?

Ivor Dembina back in the day

Ivor Dembina – even younger than today

Ivor: Well, they have. it’s like any market. Once a market for a product develops – it doesn’t matter what it is; it could be selling coffee beans or ashtrays – then someone will come in and do it professionally and aggressively and it just happens to be Off The Kerb and Avalon.

Basically, students are lazy. Avalon and Off The Kerb spotted this. They would say: “You don’t have to worry about getting in touch with comedians. We’ll build a circuit. We’ve got these famous people and a fancy brochure. Just give us a date and we’ll send along a package. Just make sure you’ve got a cheque at the end of the night”. And the student union person thought: “Blimey. This is alright. I only have to put a poster up in the end of the bar”… Most of them just didn’t want to do any work.

The other reason it expanded was most of these student union officers were dealing with bands and bands are a nightmare. Are they gonna’ turn up? Are they gonna want a sound check all day? They want a big rider and cocaine and birds and all that. All this kind of thing. They’re just a fucking nightmare. Comedians are very easy to deal with.

Liam: So there’s not really much ego with comedians?

Ivor: Well there is but, from the point of view of the university, comedians are dead easy to deal with. All you’ve gotta do is put a microphone up, the comedian turns up… They’re an absolute godsend. They’re mostly all young, fit, fairly sober individuals and they’re just so easy to organise. Whereas, with these bands, there will always be some people who didn’t like this band or they want R’n’B and they don’t want Soul. You’ve got about five people in the band and one of them is going to be outta his nut. Comedy was and is just so much easier to put on. And relatively cheap. Much cheaper than to put on a well-known band.

Liam: Do you think comedy holds some sort of cachet now? It doesn’t seem to be low status anymore.

Ivor: I’m not sure it was ever low status. There just wasn’t as much of it then as there is now. I don’t think people look down on it. I think theatre people look down on stand-up comedy but I don’t think anyone else does. How old are you?

Liam: I’m 24.

Ivor: With people of your age, it’s now a much more widely-perceived route to showbusiness success. When I was your age, if you wanted to get famous through showbusiness, basically, you were talking about getting hold of a guitar… that was it. Or becoming an actor and then gradually… Now, people think: “Oh, if I become a comedian I can get on telly and then I can get cast in either a sitcom or maybe even a play and then…” I mean, Jack Whitehall is a classic entertainment role model. He was a pretty average stand-up, but he looked good on TV. The girls like him. He’s quite funny. He’s everywhere.

Liam: Yeah, he’s ubiquitous.

Ivor: Even more so Russell Brand. Whereas, when I came into comedy it was a bit underground. Well, underground’s not the right word. It was alternative. Now it’s part of the mainstream entertainment landscape. People visit London. They go to Madame Tussauds. They go to Camden Lock. And then they go to a night at The Comedy Store. It’s part of…

Liam: You said it’s not underground anymore… Is there a sort of notable underground scene? Is there a sort of group, a collection of comics that you can see now who…

Ivor: No.

Liam: Not at all?

Ivor: No. I think the new comics are shit. Underground? They should be underground. They should be under the fucking ground. What you are getting with the new comics is a derivation of what they see – and a pretty pallid imitation of what they see – on TV. Because it’s all now television led. You’ve got these kind of mutations of Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You – people thinking that comedy has become about showing off.

Liam: Or the other side of it. They’re doing Stewart Lee. I’ve seen quite a lot of people trying to do Stewart Lee as well. They’re trying to be underground.

Being himself at Hampstead Comedy Club

Ivor himself at Hampstead Comedy Club

Ivor: To me, comedy is about being yourself. And that’s what it is. The kids who come into it now… At university, they received an email or got a flyer saying: “We’ve got Joe X coming next week whom you may probably have seen on Mock The Week.”

They’re getting this all the time. So they assume that exposure on television is some kind of verification of status. Sometimes it is. I’m not saying everybody on television is crap. That’s not the case. But they begin to associate being in TV with being good.

So they think: “What do I have to do to be good? I’ll do something that is akin to what the people on TV are doing”. So they come up with their own variation of what is already out there and, of course, it’s shit.

If you go round the bottom rungs of the live circuit (in London, anyway. I can’t really speak for out-of-town) there’s very little that’s exciting or innovative. You’ll get gimmicks. You’ll get things like comedy and wrestling. Or comedy competitions. Or get-up-and-tell-your-best-joke. Everyone does two minutes. One comedian is gonna do another comedians’ material. The Gong Shows. Layering on excitement where no excitement really exists. We’re going to have a Bald Night. Or a Ginger Night. Or a Woman Who’s Got Three Bollocks night. Y’know, anything just to give it a spin. But there’s nothing inherently useful or, dare I say, artistic. It’s commercial gimmickry.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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Filed under 1980s, Germany, Music

A £60 government cheque and “for the second year running, no-one got shot”

Was a German allowed to live in one of these houses in 1987?

Was a German allowed to live in one of these houses in 1987?

I am staying with my eternally-un-named friend’s friend Rudiger in Nuremberg. In the 1980s, he lived in London and remembers one particular house.

“It was 15 Ronalds Road,” he told us. “A little street just up from the Holloway Road in London.”

“And you were squatting there?” I asked.

“I was young,” explained Rudiger. “I knew your eternally-un-named friend… and London was the place to be in 1987.”

“It was?” I asked.

“Two of my German friends,” said Rudiger, “they were a boy and a girl. They went to London and squatted in the house; I came after them a week later and, when I arrived in the house, it was the day they decided to split up. They went back to Germany and I stayed in this house alone.

“They split up because the girl met a photographer in London. He gave her a job and threw her out of the house at the same time, because she could then get Social Security payments from the state. I think it was £60 every month.

“She told me: I will be getting this £60 and, when the cheque comes, go to the post office and take the money for yourself.

“That was my first money in England.

“The cheque came. It was written in the girl’s name, but it was a German name and the man in the post office did not realise this. I got the £60 cheque three times and then it stopped coming – I don’t know why.

“Then someone knocked on the door of the house and asked me if I was allowed to live there and I said I don’t know. Am I? and I had to go to a court. There were no people’s names written down – just addresses.

“15 Ronalds Road was on the list and about twenty other roads and numbers, but the only people there in the court were me and a very drunken Scottish man. He was muttering, then the door opened and someone took me into a court and they said 15 Ronalds Road? I said Yes and there were three judges wearing wigs and it was a funny show.

“One asked me: What’s your name? 

Rudiger Schmidt

Are you allowed to live in 15 Ronalds Road?

I don’t know. Tell me.

“The judge said: If you don’t know, then you are not allowed to live there. Thankyou very much. Now, next case… and that was it.

“You had to pay a fine?” I asked.

“No,” said Rudiger. “I asked someone in the court I am not allowed to live there? What shall I do? and the woman said Do nothing. You will get sent a letter and, in this letter, you will be told whether you have to leave or not… And I never got a letter.”

“So how long did you live there?” I asked.

“After this judge told me this,” said Rudiger “I lived there maybe six or seven weeks.”

Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom

An angry man with a big hammer objected to what happened

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, this morning I got a message from comedian Phil Zimmerman in London

I blogged a couple of weekends ago about going to his potentially dangerous annual party. It is held at his mostly-normal-looking house in Ealing, West London.

I say his parties are ‘potentially dangerous’ because, in 2011, a neighbour started taking potshots at the late-night revellers with an air rifle.

I only passed fleetingly through the early section of this year’s party.

“After you left,” he told me this morning, “there was live music on the bedroom stage and a very loud noise band came on at about 1.20 am, whereupon a very angry man with a big hammer appeared at the front door. Fortunately, we had a bigger bouncer there to scare him away. For the second year running, no-one got shot.

“Although I have been involved with these parties for about eight years now, I can’t take any credit for the weird and wonderful set up, which is all the masterwork of my Buddhist mate and landlord Johnny Fags N Booze, aka Nigel Noize – or, as my friend Robert called him, the new Andy Warhol.

“He is planning to enter the house for the Turner Prize at some point.”

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Filed under 1980s, Legal system, London

How did the chicken swallow the sword? German Humour in the 1980s

Martin the speech theraüist in Nurenberg last night

West Ham fan Martin in Nuremberg last night

Shortly after I got an iPhone – my first smartphone – I went to Kiev not quite understanding the concept of roaming charges. I did not use the phone. I was in Kiev for three days. On my return to the UK, got a bill for £170.

I am in Nuremberg at the moment with roaming and everything else apart from WiFi turned off.

I am staying with a very interesting man called Rudiger Schmidt, but there is a problem with his home WiFi and it is only now I am here that I find out Nuremberg is known for not having a lot of free WiFi.

I met a man in a bar last night – not a phrase you will often find in this blog.

He was – indeed, still is – a speech therapist called Martin (a German) from Hamburg who supports West Ham United football club and who visits the UK two or three times a year to see West Ham play. He told me not only that energy prices in Germany are rocketing (which is what UK newspapers are also currently obsessed with) but that bars, cafes and restaurants here (unlike in the UK) are increasingly wary of providing free WiFi for customers because of the unpredictable and increasing cost.

But enough of my cyber traumas.

This blog may well be eventually posted by pigeon.

My new chum Rudiger Schmidt’s main memory of coming to London in the 1980s is of a sword-swallowing chicken.

“Why did the chicken swallow the sword?” I asked.

“It was the 1980s,” Rudiger replied.

“Ah,” I said.

“It was a rubber chicken,” continued Rudiger.

“The performer,” I asked, “swallowed a sword which was inside a rubber chicken?” with vague memories of seeing this act surfacing in the back of my mind.

“No,” said Rudiger. “The chicken swallowed the sword.”

“That’s why it was so clever,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who had seen the act.

“A rubber chicken?” I asked.

Rudiger remembered the 1980s yesterday

Rudiger talked of DEBAKL last night

“Yes,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Rudiger was so impressed with the chicken that he bought one himself… A rubber chicken… Did you then perform the act yourself in German?”

“I tried,” said Rudiger.

“Where?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“There’s a little children’s theatre nearby here ,” said Rudiger, “and we had a show in the 1980s called DEBAKL – as in ‘debacle’. It was an acronym for German Entertainment Needs Culture.

“I staged a show for adults every first Thursday in the month, when people who could do anything interesting for seven minutes could perform. They could do whatever they wanted to do. I moderated (compered) the shows. So I did the rubber chicken sword swallowing act there.”

“Were people impressed?” I asked.

“Yes, very much,” said Rudiger.

“But you’ve stopped doing it,” said my eternally-un-named friend, with a slight hint of sadness in her voice.

“It was in the 1980s,” explained Rudiger.

“Ah,” I said. “You did not want to be up-staged by a rubber chicken?”

“Yes,” said Rudiger.

“Do you still have the chicken?” I asked..

Not the actual sword-swallowing chicken

Sadly not the lost sword-swallowing chicken

“I have lost the chicken,” replied Rudiger. “We did the DEBAKL shows in the 1980s for about one year and then we stopped in about 1988 and then, maybe two years later, we did another two shows and stopped then, but we did another show in 2009 and I have a video. Do you want to see it?”

“For sure,” I said.

But sadly the chicken was not on the video, the video developed problems halfway through and, because of cyber problems, I cannot upload the footage.

Such is cyber life.

I feel cursed.

But the video did include a man dressed as a butcher who sang what appeared to be a traditional German song while wearing a blood-spattered white apron. He was standing by a small, furry toy pig and waved a meat cleaver as he sang. Rudiger told me that the lyrics were mostly Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop!

Another act had been videoed in the 1980s in a local underground station.

“You are not allowed to go in the tube without a ticket,” explained Rudiger.

The four man comedy group on the video danced to music for a DEBAKL audience of perhaps 20 people sitting on the steps inside the underground station.

“If the controller had come,” laughed Rudiger, “all of them would have had to pay!”

The four performers danced in a row. The first three had giant signs round their necks saying (in German) POTATO. The fourth had a sign saying HEAD. So, dancing, their signs read POTATO – POTATO – POTATO – HEAD. There was also a man dancing while wearing a vertical tube with a flat cardboard hat.

“What is he supposed to be?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“He is a tube of mustard,” explained Rudiger.

At the end of the act, through interference on the video picture, it appeared that objects were being thrown.

“The audience are throwing things at the performers?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Rudiger, “the acts could be extremely good or extremely bad but they had to be interesting. The audience could throw round metallic pot-cleaning sponges at the acts and we counted how many were thrown. The act which had most round metallic pot-cleaning sponges thrown at them won a prize.

“When the audience came into the theatre, each member of the audience was given five round metallic pot-cleaning sponges and you could throw one or two or more at an act, but you had to ration yourself because you only had five to last you for the entire show.”

“Did they,” I asked, “throw these sponges at acts they liked or at acts they hated?”

“It did not matter,” said Rudiger. “What mattered was if the act was interesting. One guy could make a cucumber glow. It was a really good act.”

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Filed under Comedy, Germany

An anti-Semitic and possibly sexist story – unless it’s true, in which case it’s just very quirky

When I was working at Granada TV in Manchester in the 1980s, there was a story I was told by more than one person which was supposedly true, though who knows if it was?

It could well have been true.

Relevant to this story is the fact that the owner/boss at Granada was Sidney Bernstein, who was Jewish and who, though very liberal in his political and social outlook, could also sometimes be slightly strait-laced morally.

Granada, like all TV companies, had people working through the night in various parts of the building, doing all sorts of things. ‘Mr Sidney’ had an apartment on the roof of the Granada building in Manchester and it was not unknown for him to wander round the office building at night in his slippers.

But, on the night in question, it was a security man who was wandering amiably about the building, making sure that everything which should be locked was locked and that everything was generally safe and secure.

This particular night, in one office, the security man found a couple having sex over a desk.

He was duty bound to report it, which he did the following morning.

Discussions were had about what to do because, clearly, this was not behaviour to be encouraged; for one thing, the couple should have been working, not making the beast with two backs.

But what to do about it?

The decision went all the way up to Sidney Bernstein – literally “up”, as he lived on the roof.

“Sack the man!” Sidney said. “We can’t have this sort of thing going on!”

However, it was then explained to him that the man was a key member of staff in a very complicated on-going production and he could not easily be replaced. If he were sacked, it would stall the production process and it would cost a fortune.

“So, if we can’t sack him, sack the girl!” Sidney countered.

But it was pointed out to him that this might be seen as sexist.

“Well, sell the desk!” said Sidney.

And they did.

Granada sold the desk.

At a profit.

It was told to me as true by more than one person.

You’re right.

It can’t be true, can it?

Sometimes I’m just too innocent for my own good.

In the early years of Granada TV, every office had one – and only one – picture on the wall. It was of P.T.Barnum, to remind everyone employed by the company that – even if they were working on a serious programme – they were in showbusiness.

That is true.

Granada nourished myths.

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POSTSCRIPT

Blog reader Mike Taylor tells me:

“I’ve often heard a similar story about Lord Reith at the BBC, however in that story it was a high profile presenter they couldn’t sack. In this story though Lord Reith had the desk burnt.”

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Filed under Racism, Sex, Television