Tag Archives: bad

Good-bad comedy and bad-bad comedy on TV and at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Malcolm Hardee presents Pull The Plug!

Malcolm Hardee presents Gong Show rip-off Pull The Plug!

To rip-off American politician Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about known knowns and unknown unknowns… In comedy, there are good acts who think they are good and are good, there are bad acts who think they are good but are bad and there are bad acts who think they are bad but are good.

I am, myself, a great lover of good-bad acts and variable acts wh0 can rotate from genius to urinal on a 2p piece. In fact, you can often learn more from watching a bad-bad act than from watching a good act. Good-bad acts are to be encouraged and treasured.

When the late Malcolm Hardee and I worked at Noel Gay Television in 1990/1991, producing entertainment shows in the UK for what was then BSB, a producer called Cecil Korer came to Noel Gay suggesting a TV series called The Cockroach Show – a rip-off of infamous US TV ‘talent’ programme The Gong Show.

I loved (and love) The Gong Show which I always thought was misunderstood by people who had never seen it. People who had never seen it thought it involved bad acts. But, in fact, it involved knowingly bizarre acts: an entirely different thing. They were good-bad acts.

Unless my memory deceives me, I remember one very overweight lady on The Gong Show, dressed as Marlene Dietrich from The Blue Angel, trying and failing to get up onto a high stool while singing Falling In Love Again. It was very funny. She had great timing.

Another act involved a man (and I think also a woman) who came on and juggled a doll. Except that, after about 15 seconds, viewers (and the open-mouthed judging panel) realised it was not a doll but a real flesh-and-blood child. The act was quickly gonged off.

If only Malcolm Hardee and I could have found such an act while we were at Noel Gay…

Instead, we had Cecil Korer who, I think, had actually been responsible for Channel 4 buying and screening The Gong Show in the UK and now (1990) had this idea to rip it off as The Cockroach Show.

Cecil had a good pedigree having been, at one time, involved in BBC TV’s glorious Good Old Days music hall show. He had also commissioned entertainment shows for Channel 4, including the almost indescribable Minipops.

This mostly seemed to involve pre-pubescent little girls singing, while bumping and grinding suggestively and thrusting their hips to raunchy pop music tracks. Cecil claimed he saw it as a cute talent-type show. Many saw it as toe-curlingly and unsettlingly sexist or worse. Today, the words “Jimmy Savile show” would not be too far off the mark.

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw and Jools Holland

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw, Jools Holland

Anyway, Malcolm and I co-produced two rip-off pilots for BSB with Cecil Korer credited as producer and us as associate producers but, in fact, one show Pull The Plug! included acts chosen by him and one The Flip Show had acts chosen by Malcolm and me.

The way Malcolm tells it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

I went round the country auditioning acts with this old guy Cecil Korer and some glamorous girl he was taking round. Cecil was a TV bloke of the Old School. One of his proudest claims to fame was as producer of the appalling 1980s Channel 4 series Minipops. He liked young girls, did Cecil. Some of the acts we saw were indescribably bizarre. You had to be there. One old woman sang to backing tapes and danced about in a peculiar fashion. She tried her best to look glamorous but everything was wrong: she had no co-ordination, no glamour, nothing. Somehow, it was extremely funny and she should’ve got on the show.

In the end, we selected enough acts to do two pilots: The Flip Show, which had hand-held hooters instead of a gong, and Pull The Plug! where lights were turned off progressively until the act was in total darkness and had to stop. We recorded the shows in Gillingham with Jools Holland, Cardew Robinson and Ned Sherrin on the panel. The two pilots were not going to set the world alight, but I thought they were quite good. They never got taken up by BSB, though. We were never told exactly why.

In fact, that is not true. We were told.

We had been directed by BSB to make the two pilots “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”. We mostly ignored the second suggestion but, when BSB eventually saw these pilots, they rejected them, with apologies, because they claimed they had had a “re-appraisal” of the BSB image and the two shows were “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”.

There are some brief extracts from the shows in the Malcolm Hardee obituary video on YouTube.

One of the acts Cecil chose was, basically, a girl in her 20s dressed as a St Trinian’s schoolgirl doing quite a bit of jiggling. The acts Malcolm and I chose were more knowingly bizarre.

All this came to mind a couple of days ago, when the eternally entrepreneurial Bob Slayer sent me the pitch for his Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I think The Hive is a justification of my theory that it usually takes three consecutive years to get anywhere at the Fringe.

The first year, people are not necessarily even aware you exist.

The second year, they are aware you exist because you were there last year.

The third year, you seem an established fixture at the eternally ephemeral Fringe and have some profile.

Bob started running The Hive venue within the Free Festival two years ago.

He had an advantage in the first year that people vaguely knew of him as a solo act, though not as a venue-runner. He was also able to attract a big Fringe act – Phil Kay – to the venue.

Last year, he was getting treated even more seriously and the venue had a real buzz about it with Phil Kay and semi-breakthrough shows like Chris Dangerfield’s Sex Tourist and John Robertson‘s The Dark Room as well as the return to the Fringe of The Greatest Show on Legs. This year, I expect even more of a buzz around The Hive, so I was interested to see, as part of Bob’s pitch to acts who might want to appear at The Hive:

MY SHOW IS TERRIBLE SHOULD I STILL APPLY?
Is it really terrible? I mean so shockingly bad that we want to see it every day? If so yes apply and mark your application “Even worse than Bob Slayer’s show…”

“That was an interesting paragraph,” I said to Bob.

Bob Slayer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer in The Hive at the 2011 Fringe:. This photo can never be printed too often.

“Ah,” he replied. “We are very oversubscribed this year so I have been doing all I can to put people off. But there is always room for a real proper stinker. I realise this ‘terrible’ show slot is very important. In the past, I have mostly found these shows by accident, but you can’t rely on that.

“In the year before I took over booking at The Hive, there was a one-woman play about sexual abuse. She was on before my show and hers ended with a graphic reconstruction which she would perform to her audience of only two or three people. She was always over-running and my audience would be waiting outside… So, when she went off-stage prior to her graphic end scene, I would usher my audience into the room, telling them the intro to my show was about to start.

“Her audience would then suddenly swell and they would cheer loudly as she was entered by the devil himself. It was a beautiful piece of theatre and a perfect set-up for my show.”

Good comedy?

Bad comedy?

It can often be the same thing.

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How not to run a comedy club – and Mr Nasty’s five nightmare comedy gigs

Mark Kelly amplifies tales of bad clubs

So I was talking to comedy scriptwriter and author Mark Kelly, who used to perform as a stand-up comic under the name Mr Nasty and this is what he told me:

__________

Gigs can go wrong for all sorts of reasons, sometimes because of human stupidity.

I once did a gig at a really big student venue in Central London with a brilliant new sound system. We did a sound check and it was really, really good.

I was on first and there were about 350 people in the audience.

I started off and it was absolutely fine, but I started losing people at the back. It was a bit odd: people turning away, talking and leaving, but it was only at the back. Then I started losing more of the people now left at the back.

You can lose an audience, but why would you start losing them sequentially?

I was going very well to the people down the front but completely lost the people at the back. I did about half an hour. By the time I finished, there was a semi-circle of people round the front – maybe only about 30 people – who really, really liked my act. Everyone else had given up.

It turned out the students running the venue had forgotten to switch the sound system on. There was no foldback, so I hadn’t twigged I wasn’t being amplified.

I remember turning up at a another gig at another student venue where they were really, really proud of their brand new sound system. They showed me the speakers – Yes, they look really new and good – and they showed me the microphone – Yes, that looks really good….

But there was nothing in-between.

I said: “Where’s the amp?”

And they just looked at me.

“Oh,” they asked. “Do we need something else?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can’t plug microphones into speakers. You need an amp.”

It was quite a big venue and I had to do it without a microphone.

But worse than that was a nightclub near King’s Cross in the 1980s, when comedy was becoming popular and a lot of places decided to start hosting comedy nights even though they weren’t necessarily physically suitable.

This was the opening night and, as it turned out, the closing night as well.

There were three acts and I had opted to go on first but was also compering.

When we turned up, there was no obvious performance space. They said they would clear a circle on the dance floor: they would put a microphone on the dance floor with a light on the microphone.

So the first problem was that we had to perform in the round, which isn’t ideal for comedy, particularly not with one microphone, because I had a guitar as well.

What happened was they ejected everyone off the dance floor – and the people dancing were not best pleased at this – then turned all the flashing disco lights off, put a microphone with stand in the middle of the dance floor and turned the light on to illuminate the performer at the microphone.

But, when they turned the light on, it also turned on the strobe light.

“Can you turn the strobe light off?” I asked.

It turned out they couldn’t, because the strobe was somehow connected to the only lighting which could be used in the centre of the dance floor.

So the choice was to perform in the dark or perform in the strobe light.

Faced with this and the desire to be paid, we decided to perform possibly shorter sets in the strobe light.

I was the first act and I had never performed comedy in the middle of a strobing light. Trying to get your timing right was not easy. I didn’t even make ten minutes. I got a blinding headache and everyone else just abandoned it.

The audience were at best bemused. They’d come for the disco; they hadn’t expected comedy anyway. The idea of some bloke standing there at a microphone with an acoustic guitar round his neck in a strobing light… They just stared at me…

A venue that was even more badly thought-out was a gig I played in Middlesbrough in the early 1990s.

I turned up at this pub which had been running comedy gigs for a few weeks and I was going to be headlining with a local act supporting.. The pub had bouncers outside and looked like a bit of a heavy pub, but not too bad.

I got the train up from London, got there early and wandered round the pub, but couldn’t find anything that looked like a stage area. It was a very big pub and there were lots of different alcoves where small groups of people could drink. Scattered around the pub were maybe 20 small CCTV-type screens which were showing the best bits of various comedy shows – big laugh, short clip stuff.

It turned out that they had one small alcove into which no more than half a dozen people could fit and they set up a microphone on a stand in this alcove with a camera in front of it.

In order to do the gig, you had to perform to the half dozen people in the alcove and to the camera. This was relayed round the pub on the small CCTV-type screens.

So the idea of the ‘live’ comedy performance was, essentially, just performing to a camera.

The local support act was on before me. So, suspecting what was going to happen, I walked round the pub when he was performing and, sure enough, no-one was taking the blindest bit of notice of him because they’d already had all the laughs they were going to get from the comedy clips.

He came on. The sound was terrible and the camera was not at the best of angles. No-one was taking any notice of him.

So I went on and had to do nearly an hour performing to, at most, five people I could actually see and I pretty much opted to perform to them and, if anyone watching on the screens decided to enjoy it, it was entirely up to them.

The idea that live comedy could possibly work in that situation was absurd.

Topping that venue in awfulness, though, was a gig I vaguely remember was somewhere just off the M25 orbital motorway around London and, in fact, it would actually have been easier performing on the M25 itself.

This was again in the early 1990s.

This guy had seen me somewhere, really liked what I did and booked me for the opening night of his comedy club.

He was on the phone to me for a long time and seemed very enthusiastic about comedy. He said he’d made quite a bit of money and had bought this pub. He had decided to re-design it himself because he wanted a ‘real’ comedy venue. He went on and on about how much thought he’d put into it. I was going to love it. I would absolutely love performing there, because it was a custom-built comedy venue.

Three of us – all fairly decent established acts – came out from London for the opening night and there were some teething problems in the sense he had forgotten to do any advertising.

There was actually no audience whatsoever expecting a comedy show. He literally went out into the street and tried to drag people in. However, the  pièce de résistance of the evening was his architectural design.

When the three of us walked in, we couldn’t quite spot the stage. It was a very large room with a very high ceiling. As my eyes ran up the wall, about 20 feet up, there was a very large enclave.

You had to go in a door at the side of the bar, up a rickety wooden staircase and into what the guy described as a stage area which had an inbuilt disco console which could not be moved. So, in the actual stage area, although it was quite deep, the actual width you could use was quite small.

The audience that night got to look up the nostrils of three comics who teetered on the edge of the 20ft high performance alcove trying not to fall out, trying to perform comedy halfway up a wall to an entirely bemused audience down below.

There was little applause. He had – literally – had to persuade people off the streets. They were all just standing around drinking and occasionally looking upwards.

My understanding is that was the opening and closing night of his comedy club.

The guy who ran it was very nice, very keen, genuinely loved comedy and had sunk all his money into this. He wanted it to work, but he obviously had not asked advice from any comics.

There’s a lesson there.

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Unmasked: the man who stood in Leicester Square with no message

Last week, I wrote a blog about a man who “stood in Leicester Square with a placard saying he had absolutely no message for the world

His name was Phil Klein.

It was not his first time in Leicester Square and here, indeed, is a YouTube clip which appears to have been shot in 2007, before he became a man who held a nihilistic placard:

In retrospect, I have to say, when I stopped and talked to him on a whim last week, he did look vaguely familiar, as did the name. But I thought that was because Phil Klein is not that uncommon a name and comedy maverick Phil ‘Pigeon Man’ Zimmerman is a British alternative comedian while Alan Klein was the American who managed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

After my blog was posted, though, UK comedy cognoscente Ian Fox told me: “Phil Klein used to be a comic.”

When he was working as a comic, one description of his act (I think penned by Phil himself) was: “His humour incorporates themes on being Jewish, coming from Hampstead, George Dubya, how the Aussies love the English really. Though, if all else fails, he is liable to down a pint (or more) on stage.”

Ian Fox told me that “Phil performed in the Canon’s Gait venue at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe. Every day when he finished his show – he never used a microphone, just shouted at the audience – he’d be quite sweaty and in the change-over period between shows I’d ask him how it went. He always answered the same way: I think I need to work on my material.”

That 2005 Fringe show was called A1A Phil Klein and the Fringe Programme description read: “An honest, warts-and-all exploration of being messed up and Jewish or a blatant attempt to be first in the programme? Take a seat for half an hour on the rollercoaster that is Phil’s life.”

He appears to have got no review for the show, but he was less lucky in 2006, when his show on the PBH Free Fringe was titled The Growing Pains of Amos Phineas Klein Age 33 And A Third and the Chortle comedy website’s one-star review said:

“When a comedy show is free, you have to expect an audience that isn’t 100 per cent focused on the show. But you don’t normally expect it of the comedian. Amos Phileas Klein spends almost the whole of the second half of his show playing with his phone. At first I thought he had some notes on the set stored on there that he was looking up: unprofessional but forgivable. But it soon becomes clear that this isn’t the case ­ it seems he is involved in a text conversation with someone, while delivering in an increasingly distracted fashion. It’s a truly shocking degree of contempt for his audience.”

Future Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Jay Richardson, writing in The Scotsman, suggested: ”It’s less a comedy gig than a hostage taking.”

After reading my blog last week, Brian Damage, who runs the Pear Shaped Comedy Clubs told me: “Last time Phil did Pear Shaped he borrowed £10 off me and fell asleep,” and, on the Pear Shaped website, Brian writes that Phil “was for many years our chief competitor. However he has now retired to spend more time with his personality.”

Around 2005, Phil used to be co-promoter and co-compere of The Funny Bone comedy club in Finchley Road, near his home in Hampstead, as well as running another comedy night in North London at The Culdesac. In May 2005, Chortle wrote:

“Regular compering at the small empire of open-spot gigs he runs in central London has given him a level of comfort at being on stage, but even with that near-daily experience of performing, he still doesn’t appear naturally funny… He comes across relatively effortlessly as a nice enough bloke, but there’s a yawning gap between that and the X-factor that will elevate him from the open mic circuit. On current form, it’s a gulf Klein cannot bridge.”

This is a YouTube clip of him performing in London, it seems likely, in 2006:

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British Airways PR… BA = Bloody Awful

BA spells bad service

I had forgotten how awful British Airways are.

I remember flying with them to Dublin when they were trying to take-on the budget airlines. Their answer was to fly old aircraft and chop one third off the width of some of the seats. You could see where they’d done it. You had to be a contortionist or a famine victim to travel comfortably.

When I flew out to China three weeks ago, British Airways had (no surprise here) managed to over-book the flight, so they downgraded me a class. As a Scot brought up among Jews, I did not particularly mind, as they gave me £75 compensation and said the difference in price on the tickets would be refunded.

The difference in the ticket price, of course, has not yet been refunded, but what is more interesting is the way they gave me the £75, which was to hand me a British Airways Visa card with £75 on it. They told me I could withdraw the money through any ATM and, although I would normally have to pay for ATM withdrawals, the first withdrawal would be free in this case.

It was not until I got back home to the UK that I realised ATMs dispense money in £10 or £20 notes, not £5 notes. So I can withdraw £70 but not £75. I emailed British Airways over a week ago asking how to get round this problem. I imagine I could somehow pay an extra £5 into the account (though I am not sure how, as the card is not linked to any known bank or bank account) but then, if I withdraw £80, that might count as a second piece of dealing with the card so I might be charged for withdrawing the money?

Who knows?

With BA, anything is possible.

They are trying to foist their Visa cards on people who have not asked for them and presumably intentionally make if difficult to cash any compensation money they allegedly give you.

As I say, I contacted BA more than a week ago by e-mail – because contacting anyone who will admit to responsibility by phone is apparently impossible. No reply. So their attempt to cultivate good PR has resulted in me thinking they are incompetent and/or possibly devious wankers.

This image of BA was not helped by talking to my friend Lynn, who used to work in PR for several TV companies and who travels Business Class. She tells me that, having paid an extortionate amount of money for a Business Class seat, you may find yourself sitting staring at some random BA staff member on flights. It has happened to her. BA’s response? Tough shit. I paraphrase their response but do not misrepresent it.

“In World Traveller Class and in Business Class,” she told me this week, “the crew fold-down seats, which the crew use during take-off and landing, can be given to any BA staff who want to travel on the flight. So you can literally find yourself staring someone in the face in a very unrelaxed way for the whole of the journey. You can’t easily settle down when you’re eyeballing someone else and you can’t stretch your legs out.

“They’re allowing BA staff to use them for the whole of the flight if there are no spare seats. Which, for one thing, doesn’t seem very safe and, for another, means you’re not getting the leg room you’ve paid through the nose for.”

This reinforces my image of BA.

BA = Bloody Awful…

Frankly, I’d rather fly in a North Korean Air Koryo Tupolev smelling of petrol fumes; at least they try their best.

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“The Room” – The best bad movie?… And how to heckle cult movies properly.

Tommy Wiseau at the Prince Charles Cinema last night

There are a lot of films labelled “the best worst movie ever made” – for example, Killer Bitch – and where better is there to screen those movies than at the admirable Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square in London?

This cinema does not just organise sing-alonga Sound of Music and swear-alonga Team America screenings. Oh no.

Upcoming treats include The Charlies – their alternative Academy Awards held on Oscar night – plus a Friday The 13th all-night marathon screening of Parts I-VIII and a Troma Films triple bill of The Toxic AvengerClass of Nuke ‘Em High and their new film Father’s Day – introduced by Troma boss Lloyd Kaufman.

It has taken me some time to catch up with The Room – not a Troma film but an independent movie made in 2003.

British writer and social commentator Charlie Brooker said after its London premiere (at the Prince Charles) in 2009: “I don’t think there is a word that can describe that experience… Possibly the most unique movie-going experience of my life”

Other cinema-goers that night called it “Like a tumour” and “Absolutely blissfully indulgent in the most peculiar and perverted way”.

The Room’s writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau’s message to the audience at that London premiere was: “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourselves but please don’t hurt each other.”

Last night, I went to the Prince Charles’ first midnight screening of The Room introduced by Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero.

You know you may be in for a treat when there is a stall in the foyer selling T-shirts, £10 posters, DVDs and other knick-knacks and people are having their photo taken with the director…. It is also unusual, in my fairly extensive experience, to find your feet crunching on dozens of plastic spoons as you walk into your row of seats – spoons provided by the cinema. It has become a tradition to throw plastic spoons at the screen… A reference to an unexplained shot of a spoon in the movie – in a framed photograph standing on a table.

Basically, The Room is a seriously-intended soft-hearted movie about relationships which almost unbelievably cost $6 million to make. In Los Angeles, it was promoted using a single expensive billboard in Hollywood showing an extreme close-up of Wiseau’s face, with one of his eyelids in mid-blink. The ad ran on this expensive billboard for over four years.

Wiseau also reportedly paid for a small TV and print campaign saying The Room was “a film with the passion of Tennessee Williams”.

Where the alleged $6 million budget for the movie or the money for the billboard came from are just two of many apparently inexplicable mysteries surrounding the film.

In truth, last night’s screening of The Room disappointed me, because the constant heckling by the audience has not yet settled down into ritual.

I once attended a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the World Science Fiction Convention which was almost a brand new work of art in itself. Not only were audience members dressed-up as characters, but the heckling involved shouted responses and set-ups to what was being said on screen, to create whole new surreal conversations.

Last night’s screening of The Room – inevitably billed as The Best Worst Film Ever Made – was simply a licence to be rowdy, with people laughing (in often random places) for the sake of laughing, random heckling, random throwing of plastic spoons and wannabe hecklers yelling out mostly failed attempts at post-modernist humour. The heckling was mostly over the on-screen dialogue. To work effectively, movie heckling has to be in-between the dialogue.

The film, though, has a lot of potential for would-be creative hecklers.

There is much to be developed from an early heckle of “What does it mean?” and a later one of “This is a pointless scene!”

I loved and laughed heartily at an utterly irrelevant shot of an ugly dog in a flower shop (you had to be there) and almost laughed as much at the completely pointless picking-up by the central character of a newspaper lying on the sidewalk.

The pointlessness of certain specifics is what, it could be argued, makes The Room one of the truly great bad movies.

I thought it admirably odd that the male characters are often tossing a baseball between each other – in one noted scene in an alleyway, four of them wear unexplained tuxedos while throwing the ball and talking… until one of them trips over in carefully-framed giant close-up for no plot or artistic reason at all.

It is also rare for one of the female central characters in a film to say she has breast cancer and is going to die… and to be greeted with loud laughter and enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The cancer is never referred to again in the movie and, every time the woman touched her daughter’s face (which she does a lot), the audience shouted out “Cancer!”

The audience and the screening was at its best with recurring heckles. Throughout the film, there were justified yells of “Shut the door!” and, during repeated and unnecessary lengthy pans along the width of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the audience would chant: “Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go! – Go!” until the pan finished.

Quite what it must be like for Tommy Wiseau to know his seriously-intended film about relationships is being laughed-at and abused I can barely imagine. But he seems happy to take the money. He did, after all, make the film as a serious drama but now markets it as a ‘dark’ comedy.

I particularly recommend that irrelevant shot of the ugly dog in a flower shop. I would seriously consider seeing the film again simply just for that one shot.

But – and this is important – one piece of advice to you if you do see it.

See it in the cinema.

And do not sit in the second row.

Dozens of thrown plastic spoons fall short and it is like being in the French army during the English archers’ onslaught of arrows at Agincourt.

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The British telecom incompetence contest continues…

As an addendum to my recent blog about Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media apparently competing to be the most incompetent telecoms company in the UK, Virgin Media seem to be inching ahead.

I was babysitting – well, triple child sitting – at a friend’s brother’s home on Saturday night. The house has WiFi but, perhaps foolishly, I did not check whose.

When we got there, it turned out to be Virgin Media and, of course, there was no WiFi signal.

“When I had Virgin Media in my home,” I said forlornly, “the Wifi only worked for about 40% of the time.”

“Ah,” my friend’s brother said nonchalantly, “I think we had less than that this last week.”

At least Virgin Media are consistent.

They provide consistently bad service.

But, then, in Woodford Green – well within London – my O2 mobile phone and dongle’s reception are, at best variable. So O2 are still trying hard.

And I expect Pipex/TalkTalk to fight back with more cold calling in the coming week.

So the competition is still wide open.

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