Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Amsterdam, Harrogate, Utrecht and cross-dressing

“Monroe would have been just a few years older…”

Yesterday in this blog, London-based American comic and occasional 85-year-old burlesque stripper Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her trip to Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Bangkok.

This is what she did when she got back to the UK…


Last August, when I performed in North Berwick, I met a lovely woman, Paula Stott, who told me that she was absolutely sure Harrogate would love my work. She ran events for the film society there and said she was going to find a way to get me to perform before one of their events. Did I know Marilyn Monroe would have been just a few years older than I, had she lived?

I did not know that.

Several months passed before I got a note from Paula asking if I would do a comedy performance before a screening of Marilyn Monroe’s comedy Some Like It Hot. I said of course and so the trip to Harrogate became a reality.  

The timing was a bit tight, because I came home from Bangkok two days before and Paula wanted me to go to Harrogate one day early to have a reunion of all the women who had seen me that evening in North Berwick.

So I got home to London, unpacked, did laundry, ran to see Funny Turns, a play the wonderful David Forest was in and, the next morning, packed a smaller case for Harrogate – and Holland – and off I went to see one of the most charming towns in the North of England.  

Harrogate is a lovely place: a far cry from the land of ornate temples, beautiful men dressed as women, loose cotton clothing and face masks to keep out pollution.

One of its highlights is Betty’s, a 100 year old café that features lovely afternoon teas and beautiful pastries. Everyone in Harrogate loves Betty’s but no one knows who Betty actually was.

In Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe typifies the kind of sexiness that all we girls tried to emulate: sweet, kind and innocent but hot as a firecracker, out to marry money for our security and hope that love comes along with it.  

Joe E Brown (left) and Jack Lemmon – together at last – both perfectly legendary in the final scene of Some Like It Hot

For me, the interesting part of the movie is that Joe E Brown, the secondary lead, is from Toledo, Ohio, where I was born.

His favorite restaurant was my family’s favorite one as well: Naftalin’s 

Joe E Brown is a local hero in Toledo and they even have a park named after him there. I remember him in person on stage when he played the lead in Harvey, a play about a man with an imaginary 6 foot tall rabbit.

In Some Like It Hot, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis cross-dress and, at the time the film was made, it was very common for men to dress as women for comic effect. My own uncle danced in a show called The Matzo Ball Revue in a flimsy skirt with a bangle glittering in his belly button and no-one thought twice about his sexuality. Nor did either of his wives or any of his children doubt his testosterone levels. They thought he was very funny. 

Times change and now cross-dressing can often be a statement of gender identity. In those days it was a comic gesture.

At the Harrogate screening, I was preceded by The Ukulele Ladies, a group of women of a certain age singing ukulele favorites of yesteryear.  

Then I performed my comedy about what it feels like to be 85… to a lot of people who were 85 and all I could think was: Why don’t THEY tell ME how THEY feel.

Then I flew from Manchester Airport to Amsterdam and was driven to my gig in Utrecht at Comedyhuis.

“…a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking…”

Utrecht is a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking.

The comedy gig was run by comedians and they present very low cost shows for students to enjoy since Utrecht is a university town. The set-up reminds me very much of Angel Comedy in Islington, London. The audience was similar as well: young, eager to laugh and very welcoming.  

The most interesting thing about the gig was that the line up was all women except for one man. 

One of the girls was from Detroit, Michigan, which is 30 miles from my hometown of Toledo.

Detroit is the only place I can think of that is worse to live in than Toleldo.

She, like I, had got the hell out.

The next night was Mezrab comedy in Amsterdam. It is always well attended. The last two months it has been sold out.

When I do another comedy club in Amsterdam. I have trouble getting laughs because English is the second language of most of the audience. At Mezrab, there is no problem and although the audience is hugely diverse – Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, many Dutch people – they are eager to laugh and very supportive.  

The evening was a huge success.

Once again I headlined because one of the other comedians backed out.

And, once again, I was up at 7.30am, dashed to the airport and the plane was an hour late.  

As soon as I got home to London, my body rebelled and I now have the cold to end all colds.  

However, the show must go on.

At least I think it must.

There is a video on YouTube of Lynn Ruth Miller in her other creative hat, performing at Burlesque Baubles in Cardiff in 2017

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Becky Fury celebrates the joys of an anarchist festival – but not vegans

Becky Fury – real name – has something to say

I received what follows from Becky Fury yesterday.

She is not to be confused with Becky Sharp, the heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair.

Becky Fury won a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016.

Becky Sharp did not.

Becky Fury’s Award was well-deserved.


I have just got off the plane after being at a festival in Holland. I was performing my show Political at the Dutch anarchist utopia ADM. I need a proper sleep. In my own bed and not in a makeshift hostel in the middle of a 24 hour festival.

The poster for Becky Fury’s Political show

The anarchist festival at ADM platforms international anarchist artists working in any alternative medium – for example, vegan junk food boutiques raising money for anarchist solidarity causes.

My favourite and most edgy this year was the seitan (wheat gluten) wrap stand that was raising money for the solidarity campaign to support some anarchist bank robbers.

Tag line: Better rob a bank than be a thief that owns one. 

There were a number of other insurrectionary installations and tongue-in-pierced-cheek institutions… 

Punk hairdressers God Shave The Queen.

A fetish wear salon where the primary material for the kinky creations was recycled bike inner tubes. It was called Eco Slut. (Not to be confused with, but can be used in conjunction with, The Ethical Slut, an old anarchist handbook about the now super-trending polyamory.)

Even a robot had an axe to grind

A circus without a traditional ring person but with the tag line: No Gods, No (Ring)masters.

Also more standard festival fare bands, poets and one political comic performance artist. Me. 

This was the 21st and possibly last year of the ADM festival and alternative arts showcase.

The ADM is an amazing autonomous artspace near Amsterdam which hosts several sub cultural festivals a year – or did for the past 21 years. 

The location is unfortunately now a prime dockside development area and ADM is threatened with eviction this year. On Christmas Day. 

One may wonder who would do such a cuntish act. 

My explanation is Scrooge Industries (or Industrie de Scroogen in Dutch ). One can only hope that Meester or Mrs Scroogen receives a visitation from the Ghost of Festivals Past who gives them a fat spliff of Amsterdam’s Cannabis Cup winning finest and they chill out and reconsider and join the party 

Unlikely supernatural intervention aside, there is a petition on the ADM website you can sign, if that’s your sort of thing. It is against the closure of the space. Not for it. Though there is probably a petition for that elsewhere.

The sub-header for the pro ADM petition is:

Without Subculture, There is No Culture

The ADM Petition: Without sub-culture, there is no culture

Artists need space to develop interesting work without economic restriction even if its only function is to provide creative detritus to fuel the industries of mainstream culture. 

As an example of this, I offer the 5 Euro For a 10 Inch Vegan Pizza stall at the festival. 

Veganism and moaning about vegans has been a staple of the punk movement and squat culture for years – only recently commodified and adopted by the mainstream as part of woke capitalism and priced accordingly. 

The over-priced products are voided of their revolutionary potential as they are way out of the reach of the proletariat and the vegan vanguard that lived in my squat and threw my milk in the bin after scrawling COW RAPE all over the fridge in permanent marker. 

Vegans have always been known with the prefix ‘fucking’ – but I always had more affection for the ‘fucking vegans’ when their virtue signalling went beyond taking photos of their over-priced and under-seasoned lunch on Instagram. Back in the days when Insta-gram meant having your drug dealer on speed dial and the only virtue signalling done was by the Land Rover used for hunt sabotaging and transporting the vegan burger stand to festivals to fund all this ethically sourced nonsense. 

Sorry not sorry if that offends any fucking vegans. 

If you choose to take offence, that is your choice. This is not the Oscars. Save me your acceptance speech. 

I digress. 

To err in a blog is human; to digress is divine

But this is John’s blog, so that is traditional and part of the idiosyncratic construct of the oeuvre.   

My point is that, without free space, we end with no culture or a battery culture. Without nurturing and protecting artists, we end up with the artistic equivalent of battery hens laying mass-produced low-grade products for market. 

One would hope there would be a revolution in the hen house – or should that be a coup?

One would hope the fashion for things organic and free range would extend to people but one imagines that there is a lack of imagination that will mean this is not the case.

It betrays a lack of joined-up thinking – but nowadays everyone writes on keyboards.

Anyway, I should have written this article before I left the sanctity of the artists’ utopia in Amsterdam.

I have performed at five arts festivals this year and that was by far the finest. 

I have included some pictures for you to enjoy. You have seen them here first before they end up in adverts and their creators end up in the gutter. 

Viva the revoloucion! 

No Pasaran!

And come see my show Political when it’s next in your town or the one you’re squatting in the way that creative industry professionals do when they take over a town for their creative industrial professional ends.

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Filed under Anarchy, Performance, Politics

Six days in March: mafiosi in Prague, war in Serbia, Yanks in Amsterdam and a flying saucer in the Thames Valley

I have no time to transcribe the blog I should be writing today so, as always in such cases, you get a copy-and-paste from my e-diary – in this case, starting today 16 years ago in 1999


MONDAY 22nd MARCH 1999 – AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

Amsterdam (Photo by Massimo Catarinella)

There are precipitous stairs up to my new hotel. This, as with other houses in Amsterdam, is because there are two storeys below the two-storey hotel and people live vertically because, at one time, house tax was based on the width of your house so everything was built narrow.

The hotel is run by two thin gay men, probably in their late-40s or mid-50s, heavily wrinkled like white prunes.

The room has a brown carpet, pink bedsheets and bedspread; high light green walls with horizontal hanging ivy atop one of them. When trams pass, there is a thunderous rattling through the tall, single-glazed window. I think I may move soon.

TUESDAY 23rd MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with the Englishman who runs the TV station where I am freelancing. We previously worked together at TV stations in Prague in 1994 and 1995. He says Prague has changed since I was there; the various foreign mafias have taken over large sections of society; it started, he says, with the privatisation of taxis. The TV operation we both worked for in Prague was sold (at a loss) by UIH to Time-Warner last week; but, in return, UIH got Time-Warner cable interests in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europe has become the new Wild West.

WEDNESDAY 24th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

Dinner with three workmates. One of them observed that the Dutch give a bad time to Germans – shop assistants are coldly difficult to them in shops etc – because of the Second World War. As we ate, NATO planes and cruise missiles were starting to attack Yugoslavia/Serbia/Montenegro/Kosovo.

THURSDAY 25th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

In McDonalds, the assistant was giving a hard, contemptuous time to a well-dressed family of Russians who spoke very bad English.

FRIDAY 26th MARCH – AMSTERDAM

At breakfast in the hotel, there was an American couple: he was wide and tall like some American Football player, she was much smaller and much younger. The TV was tuned to BBC1 News. The American couple had missed the start of the bombing of Serbia, presumably because they were travelling around. Their abbreviated conversation went:

Him: “What’s going on?”

Me: “NATO has started bombing Serbia.”

Her: “What’s NATO?”

Him: “North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It’s…what is it?…The big six?” (LOOKS AT ME)

Me: (CONFUSED)

Her: “I thought that was just a trade organisation.”

Him: “No, it does some policing, too.”

At Schiphol Airport in the evening, there was a group of very jolly people in their 20s – about a dozen – on the travelator in front of me. It turned out they were going to my Gate. And they were drunk – amiable, jolly and drunk. It came as no surprise they were travelling on Finnair to Helsinki as the only times I had encountered Finns before – in Leningrad in 1985 – they were all amiable, jolly and staggeringly drunk. Something to do with the strict drink laws in Finland: at that time, Finns came across to Leningrad, sold denim jeans and Western goods to Russians and got very charmingly drunk on vodka.

My friend Lynn’s partner Frank had asked me to get him some schnapps at the airport duty free – stuff you can only get in Schiphol. It comes in an opaque brown bottle. I couldn’t see it, so I asked a man who was stacking the drinks shelves: “Do you have any schnapps?”

Inevitably, I was standing right by the schnapps: he pointed to two different brands, both in white bottles.

“I was asked to get some schnapps in a brown bottle,” I said: “Do you have any in a brown bottle?”

He looked at me as if I was mad, almost shrinking backwards, and replied:

“No, we do not have schnapps in a brown bottle.”

The EasyJet plane to Luton took off two hours late because:

a) the incoming plane broke down in Luton and
b) they had to fly a replacement plane into Amsterdam and
c) they said: “Air traffic over Western Europe has been disrupted by NATO”

I suppose squadrons of giant B-52 bombers taking off from Gloucestershire and flying to Serbia would do that.

SATURDAY 27th MARCH – BOREHAMWOOD

John Ward drives home in his Wardmobile

John Ward driving to his home in his self-made Wardmobile

My chum mad inventor John Ward has built a flying saucer. Today, with his son, he was collecting it from a garage in Weybridge then coming round to collect some stuff from me on his way home to Northamptonshire.

On the way to me, he was stopped by a Thames Valley police car with flashing lights and siren. Inside was a Sergeant Whittaker.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked Sergeant Whittaker.

He told John they had looked at their cameras and seen John and his son driving along the road in their car pulling an object brightly painted in fluorescent orange, red, yellow and blue.

“You are a distraction,” Sergeant Whittaker told John.

“Thankyou,” said John.

“Don’t be flippant,” Sergeant Whittaker warned him.

Sergeant Whittaker then appeared to flounder around trying to find something on which to arrest John.

“Have you got a licence for that?” Sergeant Whittaker asked, pointing at the flying saucer.

“It’s a trailer,” John replied.

“It has a seat in it,” observed Sergeant Whittaker.

“Ah,” said John, “But it has no engine in it: so it is legally a trailer.”

John Ward knows about these things.

At this point, an old man on a motorcycle passed by and was so amazed by the flying saucer and the police car with the flashing lights that he lost control of his motorcycle, hit the central barrier and fell off.

“Look!” Sergeant Whittaker told John. “He was distracted by your… your… thing!”

“No,” argued John. “It’s all your flashing red and blue and white lights distracted him.”

Sergeant Whittaker said accusingly: “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? We could have arranged a police escort.”

“You’re joking,” said John.

“No I’m not…..Where are you going with it?”

“I’m dropping in at a friend’s in Borehamwood to collect some stuff, then taking it home.”

“Oh no you’re not. You’re a distraction. You’re taking it straight home.”

At this point, John phoned me on his mobile.

“Are you phoning the press?” the sergeant asked.

“Not yet,” said John.

“I know you from somewhere,” Sergeant Whittaker said. “Have I seen you on television?”

“No, I’m not him,” said John. “Reg, the bloke with the glasses in Coronation Street. People sometimes confuse me for him. But I’m not him.”

“No, you’re not him,” agreed Sergeant Whittaker, “but I think I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Eventually, Sergeant Whittaker got in John’s car and his policeman mate drove the police car. They set off in convoy, lights flashing and escorted John’s flying saucer to the border of the next police area – where a Buckinghamshire police car took over.

“Is that it?” the Buckinghamshire policeman asked when he saw the flying saucer. He had obviously been expecting something like a vast over-hanging mobile home on a pantechnicon.

When the Buckinghamshire police car reached the borders of Northamptonshire, there was a Northamptonshire police car waiting for them.

“Oh,” the Northamptonshire policeman said on seeing John, “It’s you.”

“Have we met?” John asked him.

“No,” said the Northamptonshire policeman.

When the other car had gone, the Northamptonshire policeman told John: “They’re mad down south. It’s a waste of time. They should be out catching criminals. I’m going back to the station.”

And off he went.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Eccentrics, Holland, Police, Yugoslavia

More injured and bloody comedians cause chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence - concentrated comedy

Casual Violence – injured minds, bloody strange, very funny

James Hamilton of comedy sketch group Casual Violence has been nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award in two consecutive years for his bizarre writing. This year, Casual Violence are performing not one but two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

When I first saw one of Casual Violence’s shows, I wrote of  James: “I think he might need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. There’s something very original in there – I just don’t know what the fuck it is”

My opinion has not changed.

Yesterday afternoon, I was heading to see the new Casual Violence show House of Nostril at the Pleasance Courtyard when a tall young man handed me a flyer for Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of the Dark with Jorik Mol.

For some reason, I asked: “Are you Jorik Mol?”

“Yes, John,” he replied.

“People keep telling me I should meet you,” I said.

“We met a couple of years ago,” Jorik said.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him, “Where have you been?”

“I was in Amsterdam for a year,” said Jorik.

“I’m not surprised,” I said, “You’re Dutch.”

Jorik Mol up against a wall at The Pleasance

Jorik Mol – very pleasant at The Pleasance yesterday

“I was convalescing from clinical depression,” continued Jorik, “I basically spent a year in a haulage container doing voices to myself.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because what else is there to do in a haulage container? I also read Tolstoy’s War & Peace.”

“You mean the big metal containers they transport on ships?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You need money to afford a haulage container,” I suggested.

“You don’t,” said Jorik. “I was given one. I was a student at the University of Amsterdam and they give them out to people who either live very far away from Amsterdam or who are strange. The containers have all been turned into flats. There’s a window at the front and a window at the back.”

“When did you stop living in a container?” I asked.

“I’m still officially living in a container in Amsterdam,” Jorik told me. “But I’m moving to London next month, going back on the comedy circuit and starting to study a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.”

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

“Is that where Jeremy Bentham sits stuffed?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Jorik.

“And you’ll be gigging on the side?” I asked. “Comedy is difficult.”

“No,” said Jorik. “People say comedy is easy but, when you’ve been through severe clinical depression and hospitalisation, maybe everything is easy.”

“Ah…” I said. “Stand-up comedians and mental hospitals…”

“Mental hospitals are great,” said Jorik. “I was punched in a mental hospital. People in the mental hospital really fucking hated me.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because,” said Jorik, “I’m young, I can speak and I can read novels. There was a guy in the mental hospital who was like the alpha male – he was like a white van man. He thought I was threatening his position in the ward. There were seven completely inert people there, three of whom had regular ECT treatment. So there wasn’t a lot of pride to rule over as the Lion King he thought himself to be.

“One day I woke up late, because I was on a lot of medication, and I was about five minutes late for finger painting or whatever I was supposed to do and the guy just came up to me and just knocked me out.

“I am pretty proud that I am so viscerally annoying that I annoyed someone out of severe inert depression.”

“It sounds like good training for playing comedy to British audiences,” I said.

“Absolutely,” said Jorik.

It turned out he and I were both at the Pleasance to see Casual Violence’s House of Nostril, as was uber-mindreader Doug Segal (he, of course, already knew in advance that we were going to bump into each other).

It was a full house as, indeed was Casual Violence’s other show – Om Nom Nominous at the Voodoo Rooms. It is their ‘greatest hits’ show which I also saw yesterday and, inevitably, it was very weird, very funny, strangely dark, strangely melancholic and the full house pissed themselves laughing.

PekkaStrangeboneComedyShowpiece

Pekka & Strangebone’s accident-prone Fringe show

I also saw Pekka & Strangebone’s Comedy Showpiece at the Voodoo Rooms – another odd sketch show with a dash of darkness added to basic (this is a good thing) silliness. There were three cast members. One had twisted his ankle – the bone had popped out then popped back in again. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day. Another of the trio had fallen onto a piece of broken glass in the Meadows and gouged a great bloody hole in his hand. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day.

When I came out of their show, I told them they should try to get publicity on the basis of being the most accident-prone show in town – or the show with most accidents soonest. Then (this is true) I checked my iPhone for e-mails and there was one from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It was headed:

PLEASE, NO MORE INJURED AND BLOODIED COMEDIANS…

I thought I started to hear the theme music from The Twilight Zone.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards disasters

The increasingly medically challenged Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show

Then I opened another message. It told me that Miss Behave – who broke her heel in Dublin a few weeks ago and is compere of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August… is NOT.

The message read:

“Not possible for me to stay without cutting my foot off and clubbing myself to death with it.”

Miss Behave, rightly, is going back to London to recuperate rather than continuing to damage herself by leaping around Fringe shows in Edinburgh.

I asked Janey Godley – the comedienne who can handle any situation – if she could compere the Malcolm Hardee show instead. She said Yes. Yippee!

Then I opened another e-mail…

It was from Andy Dunlop, the President of the World Egg Throwing Federation. He will be supervising the Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August. Except that he will not be…

The e-mail said:

Andy Dunlop in happier days

President Andy Dunlop in happier days

I am meant to be in Australia right now but I am not…..

My wife is unwell and starts Iodine 131 radiotherapy on Friday. Currently she is exhausted, can’t sleep, faints a lot, is over heated and very very grumpy.

As from this Friday she will also be radioactive for some considerable time and in quarantine at home for at least 14 days. This prevents her from being left alone, cuddling cats or sleeping with husband. She is upset about item 2.

My suggestion that I bugger off to Edinburgh for a few days may lead to suffering from a beating and probably divorce although it would reduce my risk of cross contamination by gamma and beta emitters.

I am unable to predict her recovery and thus am unlikely to make it for the 23rd but John Deptford, our World Vice President, is available due to his Russian Visa not coming through.  He is better than I at compering. Can he crash at yours?

I said Yes.

But it is going to be a crowded night in my Edinburgh flat on Friday 23rd August.

There will be me, John Deptford, Martin Soan, Mr Methane.

Four men and one bed.

It could be a Richard Curtis comedy.

If Mr Methane farts, he may die.

Perhaps all of us will.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Holland, Humor, Humour

Life is stranger than fiction but Jaffa Cakes can be far, far more terrifying.

The strange, sinister and terrifying texture of a Jaffa Cake.

Some time in the closing years of the last century, I had dinner with two workmates – Suzie and Simon – at a Uruguayan restaurant in Amsterdam. I have changed their names.

I mentioned that I had once worked at a Soho facilities house in London with a girl who was terrified of Jaffa Cakes because she found their texture frightening.

“It’s the texture.” she told me. ” They’re dark and it’s the way the light reflects off the dark curves of the chocolate.”

 I  had thought she must be joking until someone innocently brought some Jaffa Cakes into the office and she had to flee the room.

“I can understand that,” Suzie said, “I don’t like the look of Jaffa Cakes either.”

Simon and I looked at her.

“It really is the texture,” she continued. “I don’t like things like Aero chocolate bars and bathroom sponges. It’s the little holes – the circular shapes. There’s something sinister and un-natural about them. Even though I know some sponges are natural. But they’re un-nerving.”

I mentioned to Suzie and Simon that one of the Dutch videotape editors at the TV station where we all worked had appeared as The Artful Dodger in her school’s stage production of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver.

“Oh!” said Suzie, suddenly interested. “I played the Artful Dodger in a school play, too. When I met my husband years later, I told him about it and he said he wasn’t surprised, because he was always physically attracted to the sort of girl who could play the role of the Artful Dodger.”

Simon said he knew he wasn’t gay because recently, in Dublin, he had had his twice-a-decade dabble and knew he wasn’t.

Suzie and I were slightly taken aback but tried not to show it.

It was a strange dinner.

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Filed under Comedy, Food, Sex, Surreal, Television

John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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