Tag Archives: Barry Cryer

Corduroy LPs, a gay film & the luvvie… Who? – We dare not speak his name…

The energetic and saintly David McGillivray.

Cough, cough. I have a cough. I am now on antibiotics.

But, earlier in the week, I went to yet another launch by film producer, critic and cult movie aficionado David McGillivray.

Last week, he was launching a twice-the-original-length re-publication of his book Doing Rude Things – The History of the British Sex Film.

I blogged about it.

This week, he was back in the same upstairs rooms of a North Soho/Fitzrovia pub in London, launching the soundtrack of his controversial gay porn film Trouser Bar –  “It’s the sexy package you’ll want to fondle. A green vinyl LP lovingly wrapped in haute couture corduroy complete with lavishly illustrated insert, Paisley hankie, badge and (director) Peter de Rome‘s visiting card.”

I blogged about the film in October 2015, when it was being touted as hard-core, and in March 2016 when it was not – just well-promoted – and was first screened.

Among those appearing in cameos in Trouser Bar are Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers.

This week, as last week, David McGillivray gave a speech to the assembled, definitively eclectic, audience. He said:


Composer Stephen Thrower (left) with David McGillivray and the corduroyed soundtrack LPs. (Photograph by Alex Main)

My only purpose in being here is to lament the fact that two people who should be here can’t be here.

One is the alleged writer of the screenplay.

(LOUD LAUGHTER FROM THE AUDIENCE) 

I appreciate that response. Obviously, there’s probably nobody in this room who doesn’t know who I am referring to, but I still can’t say his name. Isn’t that marvellous?

The other person is the man for whom the alleged writer wrote the screenplay – the great erotic pioneer Peter de Rome.

How both these men would have loved both Trouser Bar and Stephen Thrower’s musical score!

Over the past year, it has been my enormous pleasure to tell the story of this collaboration throughout the world. Next week, I will be telling the story yet again in Buenos Aires – How exciting is that?

The story starts a long time ago, in 1976, when the alleged writer of the screenplay was appearing in a play on Broadway in New York. The alleged writer was a huge fan of pornography and he wrote in a letter to his friend that, while on tour with the play, he had seen in Washington the film in which Linda Lovelace was fucked by a dog. Those are his actual words.

Now, he did not say whether he liked that film but he did say, in a letter which I’ve seen, how much he admired the work of Peter De Rome.

And that is why, one day in his hotel in New York, the alleged writer wrote the screenplay of Trouser Bar. And that is his title, as well.

(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

I worked on three films with Peter De Rome.

During the production of the first, he presented me with this screenplay which had been written for him in 1976. It was still in the envelope from the hotel.

Astounded is not a strong-enough word as far as I am concerned.

For the rest of Peter’s life, I tried to get him out of retirement to make this film. But, alas, he was absolutely adamant. He was fed-up with filming. He found it tiresome.

I failed.

So, when Peter died in 2014, there was nothing else for it – I had to make it for him.

I honestly assumed that, when I contacted the John Gielgud Charitable Trust – and, due to the vagaries of English law, I CAN refer to that organisation – I honestly thought they would be delighted that we were making a film based on the only known screenplay written by the alleged writer.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location.

How wrong I was!

They were furious and litigation proceeded over a period of three years.

When they found out that we were due to start production – now, this is something I have never ever told the people involved in the production of the film until tonight – they threatened to sue me AND everybody involved.

Well, it was like a red rag to a bull. 

We went into production the following week.

I assumed that the film would never be released and I was quite happy to leave it on a shelf until every member of the Trust was dead. But the reason we are here tonight is because of two very important people, one of whom IS here.

Brian Robinson of the BFI during the shoot.

He is Brian Robinson of the British Film Institute who suggested that we could release the film without a screenplay credit.

The other person is my indefatigable solicitor, who isn’t here.

That is the reason the film premiered at the BFI, Southbank.

After the premiere, more than one person came to me and said: You must release the music on an LP, preferably corduroy-clad.

I said: It’s not going to happen, because how can it?

Well, I reckoned without the composer Stephen Thrower.

Because of his skill and determination, here is the record.


You can currently hear samples from the soundtrack online.

David McGillivray is, as ever, energetically promoting it…

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Now screening: a gay porn film with no script not written by Sir John Gielgud

Producer David McGillivray at Soho Theatre yesterday

Producer David McGillivray met me at Soho Theatre yesterday

“So what we are talking about here,” I said to David McGillivray in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday afternoon, “is a script that you filmed – a sleazy, gay, hardcore porn film and you have conned some very respectable performers like Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer and Julian Clary into appearing in this filth.”

“Yes,” said David McGillivray. “Mea culpa. Up until very recently, I did maintain that this was a gay, hardcore porn film and it got us a lot of publicity, for which I’m very grateful. I have subsequently admitted that it could now be passed with a U certificate.”

“Was that always the case?” I asked. “Or have you edited it?”

“The script that I saw ,” replied David, “did not have any indication that the author wanted unsimulated sex in it and therefore we didn’t have any. The possibility is that, when the unknown author saw Peter de Rome’s films, a lot of them would also have been soft core. So this is the kind of film we think that the unknown author would have wanted to be made.”

“And can you confirm,” I asked, “that the unknown author was Sir John Gielgud?”

“Of course I can’t,” replied David. “The author is unknown.”

“Can you confirm,” I asked, “that the author was NOT Sir John Gielgud?”.

“I can’t,” said David. “No. I have to accede to the Trust’s demands not only that Sir John Gielgud, for example, did not write the script but also that the script in all likelihood does not exist.”

David and I talked about the film for a blog last October headlined:

BEING EDITED NOW – SIR JOHN GIELGUD’S GAY PORN FILM WHICH YOU MAY NEVER SEE.

Trouser Bar

Faithfully filmed word-for-word from a non-existent script

“People are perfectly at liberty,” David McGillivray said yesterday, “to conjecture who the author may be, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“As I understand it,” I said, “last year the John Gielgud Trust were saying that the script they saw was one you could not legally film because they owned copyright on it. But now they are saying that the script they saw did not exist.”

“We are getting,” said David, “into the realms of Alice in Wonderland because, when we spoke last for your blog, I assumed that the film would never be shown, because the Trust had accused me of infringing their copyright.”

“And,” I checked, “at that point, they had seen the script.”

“They saw the script in 2012,” said David.

“This is the script that they say doesn’t exist?” I asked.

“Yes. And I can prove that they saw it, because it’s all in writing. But then, after you and I spoke last year, there was a most extraordinary volte-face. After a considerable silence and having seen the film, the Trust maintained that Sir John did not write the script and that it did not exist.

“My lawyer wrote back and immediately conceded everything and told them that the film would be released unattributed. We re-edited it – we put a caption on the front, we removed all references to the author who was previously alleged to have written the script and…”

“What does the new caption at the front say?” I asked.

“It says that this film is being distributed on the condition that its screenplay is unattributed. It is now credited to ‘a gentleman’… and that is the version that will be screened in London this Sunday at NFT1 if we do not get an injunction served on us.”

“You feel,” I asked, “that you might get an injunction for illegally making a film from a script that does not exist?”

“Anything is possible, John. Every time I switch on my computer I expect another surprise.”

“Why have you not credited the script to Alan Smithee?” I asked.

“It’s probably a copyright name, isn’t it?” asked David. “There were lots of possibilities of who this film could be credited to.”

“The Sunday screening,” I asked, “is during a gay film festival at the NFT?”

Trouser Bar

Trouser Bar – gay porn – coming soon

“Yes. And I want you to be the first to say that it is so appropriate that a film called Trouser Bar is playing at a festival called Flare. We will also be screening one of (director) Peter de Rome’s shorts – one of his most beautiful, called Encounters –  and we will be showing an extract from a film I made about Peter in which he talks about the script that doesn’t exist. The film will then go on tour in the UK in the Spring and I have just had a request from San Francisco. Ultimately, it will come out on DVD.”

“Will some of the cast be at the screening on Sunday?” I asked.

“Barry Cryer has said he will come.”

“Steady,” I said. “Steady.”

“I am very grateful to the Trust,” said David. “Although they have caused me so much stress, if it had not been for them, I would have been faced with trying to sell a soft core sex film written by somebody today’s audience has never heard of. But, thanks to the Trust, thousands of people now know who the alleged author is and they want to see the film. It is what is known as the Streisand Effect.

“If the Trust had done what I wanted, which was to support me, I would have paid a substantial amount for the rights and there would have been no controversy. Now it is a scandal and I think I have been very lucky.”

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Arthur Smith says Jimmy Carr is “working on a comedy algorithm”

Arthur Smith in a Soho alleyway

Arthur Smith at the Grouchy Club in a Soho alleyway

As Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, I was joined for this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast – in a Soho alleyway – by comedian Arthur Smith.

This short exchange cropped up:


ARTHUR
More and more, there are people creeping into the world who aren’t real. they’ve been fabricated by programmers.

JOHN
For example?

ARTHUR
Well, Jimmy Carr. I don’t think he’s a human being. He’s…

JOHN
Poor Jimmy Carr!

ARTHUR
No, he’s a synthesised creature working on a comedy algorithm that just creates jokes. But, obviously, there’s no feeling or soul or anything. And this is happening more and more. everyone’s job, soon, will be done by a synthesised creature and we’ll just be sort-of vegetables sat at home watching afternoon TV.

JOHN
But surely Jimmy Carr is a traditional old-style comedian, in fact. He tells jokes, which people don’t do now. There’s Jimmy Carr, there’s Tim Vine, there’s about three other people doing jokes and everyone else is telling stories.

ARTHUR
Yes. Because that’s all synthesised creatures can do, because they’re working on a series of algorithms, like I say. So they regurgitate the form of a joke.

JOHN
You’re not a joke man yourself?

ARTHUR
A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”

“Oh no!” says the man. “Why?”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m trying to im…examine you.”

I nearly fluffed the punchline… I’ll do another one.

A man goes to the doctor with a bit of lettuce sticking out of his bottom.

The doctor says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Oh, no, I like an ancient joke.

JOHN
But does this mean you’re an algorithm?

ARTHUR
Yeah, but I’m a Barry Cryer algorithm and that’s a different kind of creature altogether.

JOHN
Well, Barry Cryer is a sort of a gag merchant and Jimmy Carr’s a gag merchant. I have to say I quite like the gypsy moth joke myself.

ARTHUR
Hang on, whose gypsy moth joke is this one?

JOHN
Jimmy Carr.

ARTHUR
Oh, yeah, that one! Well he’s got in trouble again, I noticed. He’s quite clever. It was a classic; he wanted to do a very short joke and the joke was a dwarf shortage. But, of course, he was on The One Show and got in trouble for that.

JOHN
And, when people complained, he said: “Oh, grow up!” which, I thought, was a double funny.

ARTHUR
Yeah, I agree. I agree they’re good gags. I just wish he’d… Yeah, but he’s not a human, is he? There’s no heart; there’s no soul, is there?

JOHN
David Mills, who you probably don’t know, was saying that he…

ARTHUR
Yeah, I know David Mills – the American – he’s brilliant.

JOHN
He was saying he’s going to try and incorporate himself more into his act, because he’s never really done ‘himself’ before.

ARTHUR
The thing is, he was constructed, that’s why. He’s a synthesised comedian; I told you.

JOHN
David Mills??

ARTHUR
No, not David MIlls. Oh! I see! David Mills is going to incorporate…

JOHN
Yeah, David Mills is going to incorporate personal stuff whereas, before, he’s just been a man sitting on a stool.

ARTHUR
Yeah, well I think, in the end, that is a good thing to do.

JOHN
Sit on a stool? At our age?

ARTHUR
Well, you’re better off with a back to it. But I think having something of yourself is what makes you unique as a comedian whereas, if you haven’t, then you’re just a synthesiser.


You can hear the full 25-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE, in which Arthur talks about his theory of mindlessness, writing for Frankie Howard, being in a Danish pantomime, why he may go trans-gender, Shakespeare, being pedantic, semi-colons, creative writing courses, Daphne Fairfax and his several half-written novels… plus he performs the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno in the original medieval Italian. Oh yes he does.

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Being edited now – Sir John Gielgud’s gay porn film which you may never see

(L-R) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

“So I guess it starts with Peter de Rome,” I said to film producer David McGillivray at the Soho Theatre Bar in London yesterday afternoon.

“Well,” said David, “I met Peter in 2007 and eventually we made three films together, the last of which – Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn – is still going round the world. I’m introducing it in Berlin in a few hours time.”

“How did this lead to Trouser Bar?”

“Peter was a great one for pulling things…”

“Down?” I suggested.

“… out of the bag, that I never knew,” said David. “On one occasion, while we were filming him, he happened to mention that Sir John Gielgud had written him a screenplay – and there it was, in his hand. I never quite worked out why the film had never been made. He wrote it in 1976.”

“This was a porn film?” I asked.

“Yes. Peter de Rome was a pornographic film maker and Gielgud was one of his big fans. He had a lot of celebrity fans, including David Hockney, Derek Jarman, William Burroughs. I also saw letters from Sir John in which he said: Oh, I so much enjoyed that film you showed last week. Please could you show it again.

John Gielgud (right) with Ralph Richardson in No Man’s Land

John Gielgud (right) with Ralph Richardson in No Man’s Land

“So, while he was in New York, appearing in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land on Broadway in 1976, John Gielgud wrote this film called Trouser Bar, which reflected his interests. Possibly until Gielgud’s Letters were published (in 2010), people didn’t know the extent of his clothes fetishism.”

“I read that he liked corduroy,” I said.

“That was his favourite fabric,” David agreed. “But he also liked velvet, flannel, leather, denim and it was inevitable that, if Sir John was going to write a script, it was going to be set in a menswear shop. And it was.”

“If he liked ALL those fabrics,” I suggested, “it was not so much a fetish about fabrics, more a general fetish on clothes.”

“No,” explained David, “he was very particular about the type of clothes he liked and how they were worn. The letters are full of his observations on men he had found attractive because they were wearing the right trousers.”

“You mean tight?” I asked.

“Tight, yes. But they had to be cut well. He was very particular about the pockets. Trouser Bar, I maintain, is a film of enormous historical interest. Nobody knew he had written it and, if Peter had not mentioned it to me, it could well have been destroyed because Peter died last June and we’re not sure what happened to all his papers. (He lived in New York and in Sandwich, Kent.)

Trouser Bar

“The budget increased. We had to buy all the vintage clothing.”

“We stuck to Sir John’s script very, very tightly when we made the film a couple of weeks ago. He was very specific about the clothes he wanted the actors to wear and, as a result of that, the budget increased enormously. We had to completely fit-out an empty shot as a men’s boutique circa 1976 and buy all the vintage clothing. Only time will tell if it was worth it.”

“How did you finance it?” I asked. “Did you just say Sir John Gielgud’s porn film and people just threw money at you?”

“No,” David told me. “I always finance my own films.”

“How much and how long?” I asked.

“£50,000 and it lasts… well, I don’t know precisely, because it’s being edited at the moment, but… about 15 minutes.”

“You didn’t direct it yourself?”

“No. I’m not a director. I haven’t got a clue. I hired a director.”

Kristen Bjorn…”

“Yes. It’s a made-up name. He said he was given that name when he worked in porn and it was inspired by the tennis player Björn Borg.”

David McGillivray

David McGillivray

“So Sir John Gielgud,” I said, “wrote Trouser Bar as a porn film…”

“Yes.”

“And it has been shot as a porn film…”

“Yes,”

“So it is not going to get a certificate…”

“It’s not going to get shown at all. The Gielgud Estate have come down heavily on me and it will never be shown in this country. They are claiming that they own the copyright on the script, though this is a grey area. I am convinced – and this is all conjecture – that they are determined this film will not be shown and they are using intellectual copyright as an excuse. That’s my opinion. The lawyer who represents the Estate won’t talk to me. The last letter I received was merely a threat: We will take appropriate action if this film goes ahead.”

“So the John Gielgud Estate is…” I started to say.

“It’s not the Estate,” said David, “It’s the Trust. I keep making this mistake. It’s the Trust that was set up in his name to give bursaries to drama students.”

“Who inherited the Estate?” I asked.

David McGillivray at Soho Theatre yesterday

David McGillivray spoke to me at the Soho Theatre yesterday

“Well, his partner was Martin Hensler who was originally on the Trust’s board before he died and I think the lawyer is an executor of the Will, so I think the Trust are his beneficiaries. I don’t know why they are behaving the way they are. I use the word They because the lawyer represents several actors who are all members of this Trust. He has said in an email: We own the copyright of this script.

“My head is on the block. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I am advised they had no jurisdiction over the making of the film, but they can prevent the exhibition of the film in this country, so I’m now looking to premiere it in America, where the copyright laws are different.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you spend £50,000 of your own money on a film that can’t be shown in this country?”

“I didn’t know that at the time. But I think I would probably have still gone ahead, because it’s a labour of love for me. I’m doing it for Peter and also because Sir John wanted this film to be made. It was his private fantasy and he would have loved to see it come to life.”

“Who is in the film?”

“Nigel Havers, Julian Clary, Barry Cryer.”

“Am I going to enjoy it if I ever see it? I’m not gay.”

“I think so. I wanted an art film that would reflect Peter’s work. I think people will appreciate the way it looks.”

“When will it be finished editing?”

The climactic orgy scene in Trouser Bar

Climactic orgy scene in Trouser Bar – as scripted by Sir John

“I’m seeing the first cut next Monday. We are also thinking about making a documentary about the making of Trouser Bar and I hope that will get the publicity I want:  Here is a film made about a film that you can never see. Why is this?

“We can make a film about the film being made, but we can’t use John Gielgud’s name. I have been advised I can’t quote from his letters, I can’t show his screenplay. I think it’s even risky to use the title of the screenplay. But we can talk about the film. So that documentary is the film you will see in this country and I’m hoping that will happen next year.

“I am trying to interest the likes of Nicholas de Jongh to appear in the documentary to talk about Gielgud and his interests.”

De Jongh wrote Plague Over England, a 2008 play about Gielgud’s arrest for ‘lewd behaviour’ in 1953.

John Gielgud as Cassius in Julius Caesar (1953)

John Gielgud as Cassius in Julius Caesar (1953)

Gielgud was arrested, three months after being knighted by the Queen, for ‘persistently importuning male persons for immoral purposes’ in a Chelsea public lavatory.

“What I don’t understand,” I said to David McGillivray yesterday afternoon, “is that, if he was arrested for cottaging in 1953 and it was publicised in the papers then, why did he not just come out of the closet when homosexuality was made legal in 1967? He never admitted to being gay.”

“He was a Victorian gentleman,” explained David, “and – this is my conjecture – I think he felt it was not seemly to ’come out’.”

“But he had already been caught out lurking in toilets,” I said

“But he was ashamed of it,” said David. “Deeply embarrassed. It was something he wanted to forget about. It had caused him trouble. For five years he couldn’t work in America.”

“So,” I said, “he’s embarrassed about being caught cottaging in 1953 and doesn’t want to come out as homosexual after 1967, but then he writes not just any old script or a slightly gay script but a porn script in 1976.”

Sir John gielgud (Photograph by Allan Warren)

Sir John dressed well (Photo: Allan Warren)

“Well,” explained David, “it wouldn’t have had his name on it at the time. He was perhaps somewhat naive. He enjoyed Peter de Rome’s company and they used to go to gay bars together in New York – he was quite open in that respect… but Peter made a film called Kensington Gorey and John said Oh, I’ll do the voice-over – forgetting that he would be instantly recognised because he had one of the most identifiably voices in the world. He didn’t think that through and possibly he didn’t think it through when he wrote this script either.

“I think it’s important we know more about Gielgud the man as opposed to Gielgud, the world’s greatest Shakespearean actor. He was human like the rest of us. He had a jolly good time ogling men in trousers. He was writing constantly to his friends about the delight he took in seeing men in tight trousers. It wasn’t a secret then and I don’t think it should be a secret 40 years after he wrote the script.”

THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP TO THIS BLOG HERE

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Namedropping in Soho: How I got no blog from Arthur Smith & Barry Cryer

The Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe 2014 brochure, as launched

Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe brochure had a very noisy launch

I went to the launch of the Big Four venues’ Edinburgh Fringe brochure last night. It was held downstairs at the Soho Theatre in London.

Amid the noise and sweat, I bumped into comedian Arthur Smith.

He claimed (you can never be too sure with Arthur) that he had bumped into Gilded Balloon venue owner Karen Koren just a few minutes before and she had asked him to go on stage and introduce the launch, but he was a bit vague about what was actually being launched.

“I don’t want to be over-prepared,” Arthur told me, “so, even though I appear to be going on stage to introduce this event we’re at – whatever it is – I don’t know where I’m performing at the Fringe or when – but I do know I AM on.”

In fact, he is performing for ten days (15h-24th August) at the Pleasance Courtyard.

“I must arrange to do a blog with you,” I said. “I have a blog-jam at the moment. Too many blogs recorded and not yet posted. But you’re worth it.”

“I’m going upstairs to have a fag,” he said. (Note to US readers: a fag = a cigarette)

This seemed like a good idea at the time. Go and stand outside the Soho Theatre and talk to Arthur Smith briefly while he smokes a cigarette. He has a quick fag. I get a quick blog. Arthur is always quotable.

“What are you doing at the Fringe?” I asked.

Old grey eyes is back at the Fringe

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?” – “A number of them.”

“I’m reprising my Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen, Volume 2 show from last year,” said Arthur. “Which is a bit lazy in a way: I’ve never done that before. On the other hand,  I enjoyed doing it.”

“Did Leonard Cohen enjoy you doing it?” I asked.

“I can’t say too much about that,” said Arthur. “You’ll have to come to the show. I’m sorry, I can’t comment further on this.”

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?”

“A number of them.”

“Really?”

“No. Well, I have had a letter from a lawyer, but he’s a friend of mine. He sent me a birthday card.”

“So, what are you doing at the moment?”

“I’ve just come back from four days rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate. And I’m doing a bit of a tour here and there. I’m around the country doing a one-man show, I’m reprising Leonard Cohen and I’m re-training as a carpenter.”

AAAHHHH! I thought. Here is a jolly light-hearted blog about Arthur Smith rambling around the countryside with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

But it was not to be.

At this point, comedy promoter Hils Jago of Amused Moose walked up, heading towards the launch.

The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. People he knows will pass by.

“Come and be in John’s blog,” offered Arthur.

“I’m fine,” said Hils Jago. “I’m quite happy being out of John’s blog.”

“I am thinking of getting people to pay me not to be in it,” I said.

“I’ll give you £5 if it can just last another two minutes,” said Arthur. “I’ve finished me fag.”

“Already?” I asked.

“I only ever smoke half.”

The throbbing downstairs launch at Soho Theatre yesterday

Sweaty downstairs launch – London’s Soho Theatre yesterday

Then comedy writer Barry Cryer walked up. He had escaped from the throng downstairs, possibly to get some air.

“It’s John’s blog,” explained Arthur.

“My increasingly prestigious blog,” I corrected him.

“It’s John’s increasingly prestigious blog,” said Arthur without much enthusiasm, “Barry, I want to ask you a bit about this launch do. They’ve asked me to say something.”

“I don’t know what the score is,” said Barry. “All I know is the volume downstairs  is already astonishing.”

“It’s the Big Four,” explained Hils.

“The Free Fringe?” Arthur said, feigning ignorance.

“Well, there are now four free fringes,” I said innocently. “The Free Fringe, the Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Pay-What-You-Want and the Freestival.”

“I’m going to start one up with Barry Cryer,” said Arthur. “The Old Men in The Meadows free show, every afternoon.”

“We could do an operatic one,” suggested Barry. “The Free Faustival.”

At this point, comedy actress Sally Phillips walked up on her way to a meeting.

When Barry met Arthur met Sally yesterday in Soho

When Barry met Sally with Arthur Smith yesterday in Soho

To repeat. The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

Arthur and Sally chatted.

“Are you doing the Gilded Balloon again this year?” I asked Barry.

“Yes,” he said. “Been doing that for eleven years, but Ronnie Golden and I are going up together separately this year. So I‘m performing with Colin Sell from the radio show. We’re going to have a piano on the stage (at the Gilded Balloon).”

“A grand?”

“No, an upright. A concert grand would take up the whole of the stage in the Wine Bar.”

“Are you going to be tinkling the ivories yourself?”

“No, no. I can just about sing, but…”

Barry then told me a story from which I will extract the comedian’s name, in case it is misunderstood.

Barry Cryer, comedy storyteller, yesterday

Barry yesterday revealed he has not met two Popes

“(Name of comedian),” said Barry, “who I was with the other day – one of my oldest friends – Two friends of his came to see me do a gig with Ronnie Golden and told (name of comedian): We didn’t know Barry could sing! And (name of comedian) said Of course he can. He used to be black!

I laughed.

“I must tell Brian that,” Barry mused.

Is Lewis Schaffer here?” I thought.

“Sally – Barry,” Arthur interrupted. “Barry. Do you know Sally?”

“I know and respect her,” said Barry.

“There’s no-one,” said Arthur, “that Barry hasn’t met…”

“With the exception of two Popes,” said Barry.

“Which two?” asked Arthur. “Oh yeah, Constantine and…”

“I want to ask Sally what she thinks,” said Barry. “There’s a spirited debate downstairs. Do you like women being described as actors rather than actresses?”

“I don’t care,” said Sally. “It just seems a bit pointless.”

Maureen Lipman and I had a real up-and-down argument,” explained Barry. “She said Of course we’re actors! and I said You do the same job in the same way, but do you call a waitress a waiter?

“Yeah,” said Arthur, “but you don’t call a traffic warden a traffic wardeness.”

After my Edinburgh Fringe chat show in 2013, Arthur Smith left Edinburgh (Photo by  Brian Higgins)

Immediately after my chat show in 2013, Arthur fled Edinburgh a broken man (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Are comedy women comediennes?” I asked. “Janey Godley calls herself a comedienne and she’s from Glasgow, so it’s not an affectation.”

“I try to avoid…” started Sally.

“I’m with Maureen,” muttered Arthur.

“We did a Comic Relief together years ago…” said Barry.

“Yes,” said Sally.

“…with Mel Smith,” continued Barry. “We were supposed to be comedy writers sitting round a table. You were there and he was supposed to be the producer of EastEnders and we had no lines. He just kept looking at us going Ideas! Ideas! Ideas! It was a running gag. So we had to get someone to keep us going through the afternoon. So Danny Baker was there…”

“Barry,” said Arthur, “Sally’s come to meet someone…”

“It’s like Tourette’s with me,” said Barry. “So I got the mobile out. I said I”ve gotta leave. I’m doing the warm-up for Eminem tonight. So that became the running gag. Baz has to leave. He’s doing the warm-up for Eminem. Mel said: Baz, what do you do before Eminem comes on? And Danny Baker said (in a posh English accent) Are there any motherfuckers here from Northampton?

Arthur said: “Poor Sally’s just…”

And, at that point, the merry throng broke up.

I lament the loss of a blog about Arthur Smith rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

And – Did I mention? – The moral is Never stand outside Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

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Crowd funding the man who wrote for Tony Hancock ten years after he died

(Versions of this piece was also published by the Huffington Post and Indian site We Speak News)

Robert Ross yesterday – cheers to donations

Robert Ross has written books on the Carry On films, Fawlty Towers, Marty Feldman, The Goodies, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, Sid James, Monty Python – the list goes on and on and on.

But his latest book Forgotten Heroes of Comedy is not being handled by a ‘traditional’ publisher. It is being ‘crowd-funded’ by Unbound.

“The way the pledging works,” Robert told me yesterday, “is that, for donating £10, you get an eBook version and your name in the back of the book. For £30, you get a hardback copy, an eBook and your name in the back. For £50, you get all that plus I sign the hardback. For £150, you also get invited to the launch party. For £250, we throw in a pub lunch with Barry Cryer and me, which some people have paid for already. And, if you pay £1,000, you can have the forgotten comedy hero of your choice added into the book.”

“Has anyone forked out the £1,000 yet?” I asked.

“Well,” Robert told me, “I have had offers of £1,000 not to write about some people – like Jimmy Clitheroe and Peter Glaze. Someone was very anti-Peter Glaze. But he’s still going to be in the book because I liked him on Crackerjack as a kid.”

“So what is the criteria for getting in?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Robert, “You have to be a professional comic and not had a book written about you nor had the whole TV docu-drama thing or the Unforgettable-type documentary made about you. And you have to be dead. I’m not going to say that a person is alive but hasn’t worked for ten years, so they’re forgotten. You’ve definitely gotta be dead.”

Mario Fabrizi,” I suggested.

“Absolutely,” said Robert Ross. “He’ll be in the book.”

Arthur Haynes,” I said. “The biggest name in TV comedy in the early 1960s.”

“Arthur Haynes is going to be in the book,” said Robert, “although he is going through a little bit of a resurgence now because Network DVD have just released two or three volumes of his shows and Paul Merton did a BBC4 show on him. Ironically, ITV were a lot better at keeping stuff than the BBC who tended to junk things quite willy-nilly. With Arthur Haynes, almost a complete collection of his shows exist. They just haven’t been re-screened. So he’s been forgotten.

Max Miller: not forgotten

“People like Tony Hancock are not forgotten because his shows have been broadcast ever since. There are some music hall comedians who are still remembered – like Max Miller who made a lot of films and he has a statue in Brighton and a fan club. So he won’t be in the book because he’s not a forgotten comedian, even though you could ask the guys in this pub who he was and they wouldn’t know.

“It’s almost like a tightrope. The comedians have to be interesting and justifiable to be remembered but not too famous to have been ‘done’ before. It’s ones I think should have been celebrated more than they have been.”

“Traditional publishers,” I suggested, “must have been wary of a book about forgotten comedians?”

“Well, that’s why Unbound are great as publishers,” said Robert, “because they will take a chance on proven writers and help them do their dream projects. They give writers a chance to take something out of the bottom drawer that no-one’s wanted to do so far. They have authors like Julie Burchill, Terry Jones, Katy Brand, Robert Llewellyn, Jonathan Meades and Hardeep Singh Kohli with books that are very personal to the writer.

“The major selling point of Forgotten Heroes of Comedy – though they are forgotten comedians – is that, if you love comedy, all these people intertwine with Frankie Howerd, Morecambe & Wise and all the greats and each one will be championed by a contemporary comic or comedy writer… so Danny Baker’s going to do an introductory piece on Peter Glaze, Terry Jones will do Ronald Frankau. I’ll write the major article about the comedian, but they’ll do a couple of paragraphs about why they love them so much – Why the fans of, say, Mark Gatiss or Stephen Fry should find out about these people because they made them what they are today.

“The original idea was that the book would include around 120 or 125 comedians and have about 1,000 words per person. That’s gone a bit mad now because, since I started doing it, I’ve written at least 2,000 on some people. I’ll try and preserve the fun thing on the page. And, as I write it, I’m dropping in autobiographical bits about how I remembered them as a kid, things my dad told me about them and stuff like that.”

“How did you first get interested in comedians?” I asked.

“When I was small, my dad – bless him – illegally taped Hancock’s Half Hour shows and Goon Shows off the radio and he would play those to me. They were almost like my lullabies. Then my mum and dad worked out at an early age that I would stop crying if they put me in front of a TV and I fell in love with uncles and aunts like The Two Ronnies and Hattie Jacques and Frankie Howerd. I developed an obsession with comedy. When I was about ten or twelve, I wrote scripts for Tony Hancock who, at that point, had been dead about ten years – just writing silly half minutes.”

“So you wanted to be a comic?” I asked.

“No,” said Robert firmly. “I was just fascinated by comedy. I wanted to write about it. I wanted to be a writer. Around the age of fourteen, I was writing film quiz books on old films – comedies, westerns, old horror films. I loved old films. I was trying to get published at fourteen – very precocious. but I didn’t get published. I started writing my Carry On book when I was sixteen – it wasn’t published for another ten years. In between, I worked for a bit and went to university.”

“Worked for a bit doing dull things?”

“Worked for British Rail, the Ministry of Defence, all very hush-hush.”

“You can tell me,” I said.

“No I can’t,” he said. “But I only worked in ‘proper’ jobs for about three years before university. I graduated in English and Film Studies and got the Carry On Companion published within about six months of leaving university. Ever since, I’ve written about one or two books a year, supplemented with CDs and DVDs and sleeve notes and commentaries for DVDs and radio shows.”

“And the idea for Forgotten Heroes of Comedy first came to you when?” I asked.

Monty Python’s Terry Jones does not live in Muswell Hill

“In 1999,” explained Robert. “I was having dinner with Terry Jones – so it was the 30th anniversary of Monty Python. I was having some take-away curry at his house in Muswell Hill – he’s moved now, so you can’t find him there – and he had this 78 record player and he was going through his records.

“He had all sorts of weird and wonderful things like Laurence Olivier reading poetry – and he had this one of Ronald Frankau – a song called Winnie The Worm – a quite double-entendre laden song – and he played this and I said I like Ronald Frankau and he said No-one’s ever heard of Ronald Frankau. He’s one of those forgotten heroes of comedy and then he said, That’s a great idea for a book. I’ll do the foreword and you write it. So I said OK, fine. And that was 13 years ago because, as you suggested, publishers don’t want to do a book about people who are forgotten.

“After that, every time I saw Terry, he said Have you got a publisher yet? and I said No. Not got a publisher yet. But now Unbound have picked it up.

“If people sponsor it by pledging money up-front to get it going,” I said.

“Yes,” said Robert.

“You are only including forgotten recent comedians?” I asked. “Would you do an 1862 music hall act? You presumably wouldn’t do Greek comedy.”

“I’m gonna go back to maybe the turn of the last century, when people were making gramophone records. Maybe back to 1890.”

“So not the first Punch & Judy man in London?”

“No, that’s more a historian job than a comedy historian job.”

“Only British comics?” I asked.

“I’m doing Americans too. British and American at the moment.”

“Americans such as?”

Shemp Howard.”

“Who he?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Robert. “The forgotten third of The Three Stooges. He was the one who came in to replace Curly, the bald one, when he got very ill and died and he was there for a good seven or eight years making lots of films, but no-one knows who he is.”

“So,” I suggested, “you wouldn’t have an entry on Zeppo Marx, but you might do one on Gummo Marx?”

“At the moment,” said Robert, “Zeppo is in, because Zeppo left early. And maybe Gummo will be in as a footnote to Zeppo.”

“You’ve got a great life,” I suggested, “writing about your heroes.”

“And, by virtue of doing that,” said Robert. “you meet some of your heroes and some of them become really good mates, which is quite bizarre.”

“I never want to meet my heroes,” I said. “People who seem great on screen tend to turn out to be shits and people you assume are going to be shits turn out to be great.”

“You can meet a few people who are not nice,” said Robert.

“Charlie Drake?” I suggested.

“Well, I never met him and he was never a hero of mine.”

“So tell me some awful story about some person without naming them.”

“No,” said Robert. “I might want to use the stories for the book! And, if I tell you a story about some anonymous person, I’ll be hounded with Who was this person? – You’ve got to pay for the book to find out who people are. I’ll slag them off in the book, I promise – if you pay me.”

Which brings us to the point of writing this blog.

Can anyone lend me £1,000?

It will go to a good cause.

(As an aside to illustrate how interesting this proposed book might be, Ronald Frankau, whose Winnie The Worm Robert heard at Terry Jones’ home… is the father of Rosemary Frankau, who co-starred in the long-running 1980s BBC TV sitcom Terry and June and grandfather of Sam Bain, who co-writes Channel 4’s sitcom Peep Show.)

Here are Robert Ross, Terry Jones and Barry Cryer talking about the book…

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Gags, foreplay, punchlines and the theory of male and female orgasms in British comedy

Yesterday, I went to a comedy conference at the British Library in London and learned a few things.

Lucy Greeves who, with comedian Jimmy Carr, wrote the book The Naked Jape: Uncovering the Hidden World of Jokes, used the interesting simile that a joke is like a knight’s move on a chess board – it goes forward, then there’s an unexpected sideways move. That’s the punchline.

And  Chris C.P. Lee (now a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Salford, but previously a performer in cult musical comedy group Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias) claimed there were no comedy double acts until the 1920s for legal reasons – because two people performing on stage in the UK were legally defined as being part of a theatrical “play” and music halls were not licensed for theatrical performances at that time.

The most jaw-dropping claim, though, came from Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire who said research showed that, when a man tells a joke, 70% of the women in an audience laugh. But, when a woman tells a joke, only 30% of the men in the audience laugh.

There was no explanation of this.

But maybe it really is true that men and women laugh at different things.

Long-time comedy scriptwriter and performer Barry Cryer suggested that women laugh at life, whereas men laugh at gags.

And comedian Arthur Smith suggested, perhaps rather mischievously, that jokes are appreciated like an orgasm: men like an exciting build-up and a sudden release of tension – a gag with a quick punchline – whereas women prefer stories to gags – a slower, longer build-up.

But, as the old saying goes, to get a hit record you need a song AND a singer.

Back in the showbiz mists of the last century, I remember being at the Edinburgh Fringe and every night for three weeks standing in the balcony of the original Gilded Balloon – before the venue got burnt down – watching the end of comedian Sean Lock’s act. He used to try out a different new gag every night and, if I worked, he would add the gag into future shows and remove an old one.

There was one gag he tried – involving a fork and doggie style sex – which I was fascinated by because it was a very good gag but, as far as I could see from my very good vantage point looking down on the audience from the balcony, all the men laughed at it but none of the women did.

Unusually, Sean persisted with this gag fo three or possibly four nights – with no laughs from the women – until all the men AND all the women laughed. After that, ever night, everyone laughed. As far as I could hear, he had changed none of the words and had not changed the delivery. I asked him what he had done.

“I changed the way I said it,” he told me. “I made myself slightly more innocent. So it’s less threatening.”

I tried to spot this in future performances but, even after he told me, I couldn’t see what he had changed.

The successful result, though, was clearly there to see and the difference was dramatic.

The sign of a great comic. Which Sean is.

You need a song AND a singer to have a hit record.

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