Many years ago, I used to write film reviews. The previews to which critics were invited by film distributors started in the morning and ran until about teatime. You saw perhaps three films per day.
One day I was invited to review the soft core ‘erotic’ movie Emily, starring unknown Koo Stark. At the time, she was an aspiring actress. I did not go because I had had a run of soft core films to sit through and the thought of what I presumed would be yet another averagely-directed parade of pointless breasts at 10.00am in the morning was too much for me to face.
A few years later, I was walking past the front of the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street, Soho, when I saw three people kneeling around a body lying face-down in the gutter. It was a girl in what looked like a very expensive coat. They seemed to be attending to her, so I walked past.
In the next day’s newspapers, I read it had been Koo Stark, by then the former girlfriend of Prince Andrew. She had been taking photos of someone outside the Prince Edward Theatre (she was a professional photographer at the time), stepped backwards off the kerb to get a better angle and was hit by a taxi. She recovered.
Last night, I was standing outside the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho with comedy writer Mark Kelly. Koo Stark was not there. The theatre is currently running the musical Jersey Boys.
Yes, that’s irrelevant. All of it.
“Is he still alive?” I asked Mark.
“Yes,” Mark replied.
“Well, I had better change his name in my blog,” I told Mark. “And I will just say it is a city in northern England.”
“OK,” said Mark.
So this is not exactly what Mark told me…
So it’s the early 1990s and I am performing as a comedian by the name of Mr Nasty and I get a phone call from this guy called Dave who puts on comedy shows in a northern city.
It’s a Saturday night gig I have vaguely heard about. It pays well into three figures – a reasonable amount at the time – plus hotel accommodation.
I get a train up to this northern city and the gig’s fine: local acts with me headlining at the end. There are well over 100 people there. I have been told that Dave has taken quite a lot of acid in his life, but he seems nice – a little scatty, but OK.
At the end of the gig, Dave gives me the money which is what we agreed and says, “I’ll take you round to where you’re staying,” which is where the nightmare begins.
Dave is not totally out of it, but is a bit stoned. It’s about one o’clock on what is now a Sunday morning. It’s the dead of winter. It’s snowing.
We are in the back of a cab and we drive across this northern city which I do not know. We pull up outside a very large, grim-looking building which has no lights on. I have a guitar case and bag. He takes out two keys and says: “This one’s for the front door; this one’s for your room.”
“It’s this building?” I ask. “You are sure?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Just go in there. This is where you’re staying.”
I think it’s a bit odd, but I get out of the taxi. I have the keys. I have all my stuff. The taxi drives off and I’m left standing in front of this very strange, grim-looking building with no lights.
I open the front door with the first key. It’s completely dark inside. I step into what looks like a dark, large space. There’s no sound. There’s no-one around – certainly nothing like a hotel porter. It’s absolutely freezing cold; it’s snowing heavily outside, so just being indoors at this stage seems like a bonus.
I know which room I’m supposed to be in because it’s on the second key, but I have no idea which floor it’s on and, in the distance, I can hear kind of groaning sounds. It’s beginning to feel like an Abbott & Costello in The Haunted House type scenario.
These groaning noises don’t seem as muffled as you’d expect in a hotel nor the sort of noises your average hotel guest would make.
By now my eyes are getting accustomed to the darkness.
I dimly see this number on what appears to be a door and it’s not that far off my number. So I inch down the corridor and find a very flimsy door with my number on it. I open the door, go in and then realise I am in a dosshouse and this is a key to one of the cubicles.
The building is full of alcoholics, mad people, the desperate homeless.
It’s obviously massively illegal because there’s no internal lighting. There’s no Health & Safety.
So I think, “Okaay…. I’m inside, it’s snowing outside and I can lock the door and there is a light switch in the room.”
I turn the light on. There’s a heater on the wall, which doesn’t work. The water in the sink doesn’t work. The place is filthy. There’s a hole in the windowpane and snow has come through and is piling up on the bed.
This is in the days well before mobile phones.
I am somewhere in this northern city which I don’t know. I haven’t got a clue which part. It’s now about two on Sunday morning. It’s snowing outside and inside. I am absolutely freezing. I have a guitar case and a bag. And I have no home phone number for Dave anyway.
So I walk up and down the corridor all night with my coat on trying to keep warm and, when daylight comes, I take the milk train out of the city.
You might reasonably expect that would be the end of the story… You might expect that Dave and I would require no further contact.
But, about eighteen months later, my phone rings…
(…TO BE CONTINUED…)