Tag Archives: bbc

John Ward and the stupid TV people…

John Ward in a photograph where it is probably best if you supply your own caption…

I first worked with mad inventor John Ward – designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – on the TVS/ITV series Prove It! for which he supplied bizarre weekly inventions. That was back in 1988. We paid him a fee, put him up in a local hotel and covered his travel costs. He presented his inventions in a sort-of double act with the show’s presenter Chris Tarrant.

For one show in the series, he conceived and built a ‘TV Dining Machine’:

A couple of blogs ago, John Ward shared the quirkiness of one recent BBC approach to him about his frequently ‘unusual’ inventions.

The posting of that blog reminded John of another incident, back in 2007. He told me: “The crass silliness of clueless staff was/is not restricted to just the Beeb.”

Back in 2007, he received this email (which I have edited) from the member of an ITV production team:


We are currently producing a new entertainment show hosted by (two famous UK personalities).

The show has been an instant success. It features celebrity chat, the hottest music acts and the presenters’ ‘take’ on the week’s events.

Each week we like to feature new inventions and gadgets and I have seen
online your various inventions and was hoping that I might be able to speak with you about the possibility of featuring some of them on our show. 

I think it would be fantastic for our show.

I would be really keen to discuss this opportunity further.

Kind regards,


John Ward explains what happened next…


The ITV guy duly rang me up and, after a lot of patronising twaddle, he explained, once we finally got round to it, what my ‘involvement’ would be:

  1. I was not to be appearing on the actual programme – quite why he didn’t say.
  1. What he/they wanted was for me to send to them – at my cost! – assorted inventions I had made so that one could be displayed and talked about (i.e. taken the piss out of) each week during a filler moment on said show.
  1. I was also to source the boxes/containers etc. to pack them up in and then pay to send them – quote: ‘by courier would be nice’ (!)

I did pose the question as to how I would get them back afterwards, but this query seemed to fall on rather stony ground. I got the overall impression that I would be ‘donating’ them to the programme.

Finally, he asked… Could I supply a list of suitable small inventions that would not take up too much space in the studio?

He then explained there was no fee, but I would be ‘rewarded’ by having my name in the end credits along the lines of: ‘Inventions supplied by John Ward’.

I pointed out that this supposed ‘reward’ would be meaningless at the end of the programme because, within seconds of the end credits rolling, they were then either squeezed to one side or reduced in size – or both – to promote the next programme.

He then went into autopilot mode and waffled on about ‘the prestige’ of being ‘connected’ with this series featuring such ‘iconic personalities’ and that I should be ‘grateful for being considered’ for a part in the production.

I think my response was fairly straightforward.

I posed the question:

“Are there still two ‘L’s in bollocks?”

He put the phone down rather swiftly after that intellectual exchange.


That poor 2007 ITV man missed-out on showcasing John’s originality – as we did on ITV’s 1988 series Prove It!

For the episode below, he had invented some very adaptable shoes:

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BBC investigative reporting at its best…

Yesterday, mad inventor John Ward, who designed and makes the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards for the annual Edinburgh Fringe, sent me this email:


The other week in my Ward’s World column in the local Spalding Guardian newspaper, I made reference to ‘Our Annie’ a shopkeeper whom my mum knew. Annie would not sell ‘straight’ bananas as they had to be curved – Nothing else would do for her loyal customers.

I mentioned in the column that I once made a ‘Banana Gauge’ – basically a piece of wood with one side curved and the other straight. There was no photo in the column but here is one of my original ‘invention’.

I had forgotten about this particular newspaper column when the phone rang this morning and a young lady spoke.

“Is that Mr Ward? – the inventor John Ward?”

She worked for the BBC and, while researching assorted sources for possible news or items of interest, she had come across the said Ward’s World column.

Our conversation went roughly thus:

Q: Was the gauge digital? 

A: Nope, it was made mainly from wood. The hole was made with a drill

Q: Did it come from sustainable forest supplies?

A: Not a clue as it was a wood off-cut

Q: Where does the Off Cut tree grow? In what country?

A: Not really sure but, as far as I know, Sir David Attenborough has not mentioned it as being in danger, otherwise a film crew would have been dispatched by now.

Q: On the environmental issue, do you think it could be in danger of becoming extinct soon, though?

A: Not sure, to be honest.

Q: So what made you, as a highly regarded (she said it, not me) inventor, decide to build this gauge?

A: I had the wood from the Off Cut tree to hand… Plus a curved banana to use as a model to get the curve right.  

Q: I see… So did the straight side prove to be a challenge or what did you use to get that right?

A: I used the edge of a door which, to be honest, I had to open first. Then I held the gauge up to the edge and drew a pencil line downwards to get the angle right.

Q: I see…umm.. I assume this did not happen the first time, so how many prototypes did you construct before standing back to say: “This is the one. This is THE gauge” – Did you have your very own personal eureka moment?

A: I only had the one stab at it to be honest.

Q: So you knew straight away that this was THE one?! – That’s really remarkable, if I may say.

A: You may, you may. But it was really due to the fact it was the only bit from the Off Cut tree I had at the time… plus the local DIY store had shut by then so I could not do another as I had no material to use.

Q: I find your ‘low key’ approach to inventing quite incredible. You see the need, then you use your skills, you devise it in your mind. You don’t do any drawings or blueprint things?

A: You have hit the nail on the head, as we say in the business.

Q: Has there been any interest from any commercial concerns about marketing this device so far?

A: It depends largely on if the bananas are home-grown or imported.

Q: Really.

A: Oh yes…

She said she would get back to me “in due course”, as she feels “there is something here” that shows the British bulldog spirit thing is very much alive in these current traumatic times.

John Ward: designer, inventor, manufacturer and bendy banana enthusiast

 

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ECCENTRIVIA: The joys and perils of writing in the English language…

The funeral of Prince Philip takes place in England today and it seems to have encouraged an outbreak of dodgy journalese… First of all I read this on a BBC post…

One can only imagine what connections the military units had had with Prince Philip on the grass, which is how that can be read.

Later, this more jaw-dropping Antipodean literary blunder was spotted online:

It is easy to make an English language faux pas.

English can be a subtle language, as this Facebook posting (also today) makes clear:

 

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The linguistic joy of the BBC Shipping Forecasts and the soothing Share prices

The joy of Fisher, Dogger, German Bight and sweet Rockall…

Today, my eternally-un-named friend drew my attention to the online Shipping Forecast page on BBC Sounds. She told me: “I really loved listening to the Shipping Forecast. In childhood it was on in the background… Fisher, Dogger, German Bight…”

I too have fond memories of the Shipping Forecast bulletin at the end of daily transmissions on BBC Radio 4. It was and still is the must-listen-to weather forecast for anyone in the seas around the British Isles. The sea is divided into areas including Faeroes, Fair Isle, North Utsire, South Utsire and sweet Rockall.

In the good old, long-gone days of my early youth, I not only found the Shipping Forecast soothing to listen to, but even more soothing was the now sadly abandoned reading of the latest Stock Market share prices – what were considered the main ones – at the end of (I think it was) the Radio 4 Ten O’Clock News every weekday evening.

It was so relaxing to listen to abstract words and numbers without having to concentrate on their meaning. It was like someone reading you a bedtime story in a foreign language where you understood the sounds of the words but not their meanings.

Listening to Italian-language comedy has much the same effect on me. I don’t speak Italian. But I enjoy listening to the linguistic rhythm of Italian jokes which I don’t understand.

If the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had combined the sound of the Shipping Forecast and the share prices and incorporated those into his Transcendental Meditation format, who knows how the world might have been changed for the better?

Sigh.

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Death is no barrier to being interviewed by the BBC about the General Election

BBC graphic for their wide-ranging 2019 General Election coverage of the living and the dead…

We are in the throes of a UK General Election campaign with the result declared in December… on Friday the 13th. Yes, Friday the 13th, This does not bode well.

Mad inventor John Ward designed and makes the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. He was also a valued member of the Monster Raving Loony Party under its late leader Screaming Lord Sutch and Minister for Inventions in The Eccentric Party under its late leader Lord Toby Jug. 

John Ward seems to loom large as a figure of impending death for the leaders of such parties.

Anyway, yesterday John Ward received a phone call from an enthusiastic young BBC Radio 4 researcher.

The conversation went thus:


John Ward being interviewed by a Russian TV crew (don’t ask)

BBC BOY: We are having a General Election.

JOHN WARD: I noticed. If some of us don’t like the result, we can perhaps ask for a re-run until we get one we’re happy with.

BBC BOY: Errr… Yes. How many candidates will be standing for Eccentric Party in this election?

JOHN WARD: Beats me. I have no idea.

BBC BOY: So – It’s a surprise tactic, then?

JOHN WARD: If you call raising the dead a surprise tactic, then it’s a definite Yes on that one.

BBC BOY: But, joking apart, are you willing to record a little piece over the telephone if we set a time up convenient for you?… Or can you give me a contact for your leader, Toby…

JOHN WARD: It might be slightly inconvenient for the leader to take part in an interview as he is – and I have this on good authority – very much no longer with us.

BBC BOY: No longer with you?

JOHN WARD:  As in, well… dead… and he has been in this current state since last May.

BBC BOY: Dead?

JOHN WARD: Although it might be said that some supposed living Members of Parliament could be classed with the same status even though they are breathing and putting on a dashed fine show of things.

BBC BOY: (LAUGHS, THEN A PAUSE…) So this is a publicity thing in order to gain more votes for Eccentric Party candidates?

JOHN WARD: No. Brian is, until further notice, dead.

BBC BOY: Brian?

JOHN WARD: Brian Borthwick – Lord Toby.

BBC BOY: So can we record a few quotes, if we can sort out a time to record over the telephone?… About items on the Eccentric Party Manifesto and its aims.

JOHN WARD: One of our key things is to make it law that researchers should bone up on their subject matter before contacting people.

BBC BOY: (LONG PAUSE) But really, is it possible to have a word with Lord Toby Jug as we want to explore the alternative vote?

JOHN WARD: You could look up Yellow Pages under S for Séance and book me a seat once a venue is sorted.

BBC BOY: You’re not being very helpful.

JOHN WARD: Moi?

BBC BOY: I will have to pursue other avenues. It’s a pity. I do believe that people should be aware there are other political choices, however vague they might be… It is the British way of life.

JOHN WARD: Till death us do part.

BBC BOY: You’re really not being very helpful.

JOHN WARD: I’m trying my best. I am limited by mortality. It constrains us all.

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The President in a comedy competition

President Obonjo

Regular readers will know I am not above getting other people to write my blog for me.

Last weekend, Benjamin Bello aka President Obonjo of Lafta Republic took part in the annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year competition.

I asked him about it.

This is what he told me.


President Obonjo

President Obonjo onstage

Comedy competitions are a great way to showcase your talent in front of industry people and to play to audiences that have never seen your act, but there are times you wonder after you have been going for years: At what point do you stop calling yourself a New Comedian? 

It has been a great year for me, reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions and winning two of them has helped raise my profile. One was based on audience voting only and the other was a combination of audience voting and the judges voting.

Reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions in one year is no mean feat… but there are comedy competitions and there  are comedy competitions.

I recall at the beginning of my comedy career I won the Luton Comedian of the Year competition and I thought I had conquered the world. I had no idea of other comedy competitions like the BBC New Comedy Awards.

I have entered the prestigious annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year twice in previous years going out in the heats and then in the quarter finals the following year. I had resigned myself to not entering again and decided instead to enter the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016. (Benjamin lives in Luton) I was runner up and, as a result, I automatically progressed to the semi-finals of the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year.

A few weeks before the semi-finals I knew I had to invite friends to come and vote and support me. Invitations went out on Facebook and I tweeted on Twitter and I spoke to a few people individually and they said they would come – I was elated.

I continued gigging across the country to get match fit.

I needed to prepare a polished five minute set.

As I sat in a coffee shop, I reflected on my Edinburgh Fringe show last year.

It was a one hour show. I received five stars with some degree of success.

I thought: Why am I stressing about a comedy competition with a five minute set?

The Leicester Square gig was on a Sunday. I turned down all other gigs the weekend before, just to relax and reserve my energies.

On the day of the gig, I could not relax. I was not worried about my set but more worried that no-one would show up and support me and that would hurt me more than not getting through to the finals. This competition includes audience voting and it does help if your friends are in the audience voting for you.

I arrived at the venue.

The first semi-final had been concluded that evening and I knew one of the comedians who had gone through to the final. He had come third at the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016.

I thought: Yes! I am going to get through to the final!

I met the comedians I was going to be competing with. Some were already in the Zone.

We walked into the venue to choose where we wanted to be in the running order.

I chose the last spot – I am the President and I should close the show.

I thought: It’s going to work! 

The venue was filling up and no-one showed up to support me.

I thought: My election strategy won’t walk tonight. I am going to be performing to an audience of friends of other comedians.

This was going to be tough no matter how funny I was. It was going to be hard to get through.

I waited in the dressing room. The MC called my name and said this was the most difficult spot. I got on stage, did my thing and I was pleased with my performance. Very pleased.

The results were announced.

I was not placed in the final.

My initial reaction was one of utter disappointment. I had wanted this so much.

As I walked out of the building, an audience member came to me and whispered: You were very funny tonight but I could not vote for you.

Another comedian said: You smashed it; you should have got through.  

As I walked home, I thought: I gave it my best shot, but who knows? I might get a wild card.

That thought – I might get a wild card – kept ringing in my ears. I got home, slept it off, checked my email.

There was a gig offer from a comedy promoter but no wild cards.

A few days later, the finalists were announced.

I smiled and wondered who was going to win.

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: yet more places to conquer

I needed to move on but I wondered if I would ever do another comedy competition. Three more are left I think: the BBC New Comedy Awards, the Old Comedian of the Year and the Silverbird Comedy Awards for those over 55.

I still have a few more years left for that last one. LOL.

I have no regrets about taking part in comedy competitions. They have been a real opportunity to showcase my talent in front of the industry and I have had great reviews from them.

President Obonjo of Lafta Republic will be taking a show to Brighton, Glasgow and the Edinburgh Fringe next year.

It will be titled The Rise of the Comedy Dictator.

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How Cilla Black re-invented herself, courtesy of Terry Wogan, in 1983

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Cilla Black died two days ago. So it goes.

I worked as a researcher on her Surprise! Surprise! series at London Weekend Television. I cannot honestly say I was enamoured of her. I think she was the only star I have ever worked with who behaved like a star. But she was worth every penny she earned. On screen she was brilliantly the girl and later auntie next door.

In the 1960s, Cilla was a pop star, then her career faded. In the 1970s, BBC TV producer Michael Hurll re-invented her as a mainstream, peaktime entertainment presenter on BBC TV’s Cilla. Then her career faded. Then, in the 1980s, Alan Boyd of LWT re-invented her as an ITV entertainment presenter on Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

In a TV tribute yesterday, comic Jimmy Tarbuck mentioned a TV interview in 1983 which revitalised her career. I asked writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle about that interview with Terry Wogan on the TV chat show Wogan.

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith at TVS, 1988 (Photograph by John Ward)

Nigel later wrote for People Do The Funniest Things and Beadle’s About. He wrote the lyrics for Oscar-nominated animated film Famous Fred; and Baas – an animated kids’ show about sheep for Al Jazeera TV. With David Walliams and Simon Heath, he co-devised Ant & Dec’s first show for BBC TV. In 1996, it won BAFTAs for Best Children’s Show & Best Sketch Comedy.

Over the years, he has written scripts, links and sketches for performers including Mel Brooks, Basil Brush, the Chuckle Brothers, Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Jack Lemmon, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan.

“In 1983,” he told me yesterday, “I was a researcher on the Wogan show. I had never done anything like that before – researching. I had suddenly gone from promotion scriptwriting to this world of celebrities where you had to go and interview people and ask them all the questions that a chat show host would.”

“Yes,” I said. “When I was working at the BBC, I once saw the research notes for some major film star who was to be interviewed on the Michael Parkinson chat show and the researcher (in the US) had basically done a full interview in advance – all the questions; all the answers.”

Nigel with some of his children’s books

Nigel later wrote several children’s books

“What happened with Cilla,” Nigel explained, “was that Marcus Plantin, my producer on Wogan, said to me: This week, you’re going to do Cilla Black. I remember saying: Really? She’s a bit yesterday’s news! I didn’t think she was any great shakes as a singer. But he said: No, no no. She’s up for revitalising her career. She had just brought out her Greatest Hits album – she was promoting it on the show.

“Marcus said to me: Go down and see Michael Hurll – he was the one who used to produce all her shows. Michael told me a few anecdotes about going and knocking on the doors – with live cameras! – they used to do a lot in the Shepherd’s Bush flats behind BBC Television Centre. It was real seat-of-your-pants stuff, going out live on television. And I asked him what she was like and he said: Well, y’know, she’s OK. She’s fine. She can be a bit of a perfectionist.

“Some people,” I said, “have used the word diva.”

On-screen, as I said, I thought she was worth every penny she was paid. Every inch a star.

There is a clip on YouTube of Cilla singing Life’s a Gas with Marc Bolan on her Michael Hurll-produced TV series.

“Anyway,” said Nigel, “come the day, I have to meet her and, obviously, Bobby (her husband/manager) was there. We went to one of the star dressing rooms on the ground floor at Telly Centre. In her day – the 1970s – she would have been there, so coming back must have felt to her a bit like Oh, I used to be big. She must have felt a bit Sunset Boulevardy, maybe.

“But we sat down, talked about her early life, how she started and she was very open. And also she was very, very, very funny. Absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches. The moment I finished doing the interview with her, I knew this was her moment – again. I went home and told my wife Mel: I was totally wrong. Cilla is SO going to storm it on Saturday.”

“You had originally thought,” I asked, “that she might not be interesting?”

Cilla Black became cuddly girl/auntie next door

“I really had thought she was past it – and this was in 1983! I thought she’d had her moment… She had had two bites of the cherry – the 1960s as a pop star and the 1970s as an engaging TV personality. Now, come 1983, she was just trying to flog her Greatest Hits album.

“Going on Wogan had maybe seemed like an act of desperation, but it wasn’t. It was a clinical assault on stardom – again – and – My God! – it absolutely worked! She made her career that night – revitalised it. She was terrific.

“She did the show (there is a clip on YouTube) and she was hilarious and the audience were absolutely loving her. She did all the stories about John Lennon and she was big mates with Ringo – I think there was a family connection. Paul McCartney wrote Step Inside Love for her. She did all the nostalgia about the 1960s and then what it was like being a Liverpudlian and that is really what engaged people. She came across as the girl next door.

“We recorded the show on the Friday and it went out on the Saturday night. As I understand it, on the Sunday morning, Alan Boyd (Head of Entertainment at LWT) phoned her up. I think Jim Moir (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC TV) was waiting until Monday morning to phone her up but, by that time, it was too late. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that, on the Monday morning, Marcus Plantin was saying: Well, the Beeb missed a trick there. And she went to LWT for Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

The panto Nigel Crowle wrote for Cilla

Jack and Cilla and Beanstalk, but no giant

“By that time, I was ‘in’ with Michael Hurll and I wrote a panto for her – Jack and The Beanstalk at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Michael told me: We’ve spent most of the budget on Cilla. So much so that we have not got enough money for a giant. We’ll do it all as an off-stage voice. So we did Jack and the Beanstalk without a giant.”

“Did you have a beanstalk?” I asked.

“We had one which kind of fell on stage when the giant… We had a pair of giant boots. The character Fleshcreep was played by Gareth Hunt. She had a sword fight with him. After it ended, she went to the front of the stage with Fleshcreep lying on the floor with her sword at his throat and she asked the audience: What shall I do with him, kiddies? Each day, they would all shout: Kill him! Kill him! So then she would ask them: How shall I kill him? And, one day, a kid in the front row just yelled out: Sing to him!”

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I said. “When I worked at LWT, I remember someone told me you should always avoid mentioning what size car Michael Barrymore had to pick him up or share the information about the cars with anyone because, if Cilla ever found out – and vice versa. There was rumoured to be a bit of rivalry.”

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

“I was told,” said Nigel, “there was a little bit of jiggery-pokery about where the pictures were. When Cilla came out of the lift on the Entertainment floor at LWT, she had to see the Cilla picture on the wall there, rather than the Barrymore picture.”

“Did they move them around?” I asked.

“I think there was probably a bit of that,” said Nigel. “Certainly I heard the cars mentioned. And the worry that, if you had Barrymore and Cilla doing a show at the LWT studios on the same night, who would get the star dressing room? Because there was just one star dressing room.”

“But,” I said, “on-screen she was wonderful. Worth every penny. And she reinvented her career so successfully.”

“Yes,” said Nigel. “Well, what was incredible was not that she had these peaks and troughs in her career but that the peaks were SO high. Everyone in Britain knew who Cilla was. Everybody could do a Cilla impression. That is real fame.”

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The paedophile sculptor and the image on the front of BBC Broadcasting House

(L-R) Edward Taylor, John Lloyd, Richard Edis, Jon Glover last night

(L-R) Edward Taylor, John Lloyd, Richard Edis, Jon Glover

Last night, the highly-esteemed Sohemian Society held a celebration of British radio comedy, featuring producers John Lloyd (The News Quiz, Spitting Image, Have I Got News For You, Q.I.), Edward Taylor (Does The Team Think, The Navy Lark, The Men From The Ministry) and Richard Edis (Brain of Britain, My Music).

They had many interesting anecdotes about the production of comedy programmes, which I won’t steal from them, but one presumably widely-known story which I myself had never heard was told by performer Jon Glover about John Reith, the dour, Scottish, first Director General of the BBC.

Jon Glover told the assembled throng:

Eric Gill’s carving of Prospero and naked, child-like Ariel on front of Broadcasting House, London (Photo by David Castor)

Eric Gill’s carving of Prospero and naked, child-like Ariel on front of Broadcasting House, London (Photo by David Castor)

“Lord Reith wasn’t that keen on comedy, but there was a sort of anarchy going on in the building of Broadcasting House in that, if you look at the facade of old Broadcasting House you’ll see some Eric Gill sculptures on the front.

“Eric Gill not only slept with his children but sculpted directly onto the Portland stone outside Broadcasting House in mid-winter, wearing a smock and no knickers and BBC secretaries were commanded not to look up as they went into the building.

“And he did a very famous statue of Prospero and Ariel and he gave Ariel an extremely large ‘protuberance’ and Lord Reith is reported to have one night tried to climb the scaffolding and chip away at it.”

I find the story almost impossible to believe – the vision of John Reith climbing up his own scaffolding to chip away at a work of art he presumably commissioned. But it is a good story – and bizarrely satisfyingly neat in the idea (given recent stories) that a paedophile carved above the main entrance to the BBC’s headquarters a man holding the naked figure of a child.

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Oy! What do you say to the frustrated organiser of a Jewish comedy day?

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

The Edinburgh Grouchy Club, being revived in North London

I mentioned this last year. Pay attention.

On 22nd February this year, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reprising our Edinburgh Fringe show The Grouchy Club for a Jewish Comedy Day at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. Neither of us are Jewish and the tickets are only £5. Life is full of constant surprises.

The organiser of this fine upcoming Jewish Comedy Day is Arlene Greenhouse. We met when she came to see a couple of Grouchy Club shows in Edinburgh last August.

Arlene is also organising a Kitchen Komedy show tomorrow night at the Hendon Park Cafe headlined by US comic Avi Liberman. It promises: “Kosher food, including yummy sushi.”

So yesterday, obviously, I had a chat with Arlene at Hendon Park Cafe.

Yesterday, she paid for the food.

Afterwards, I realised I had forgotten to take a photo of her for this blog. So I Googled “Arlene Gorodensky mum’s the word” on Google Images.

To find out why that name, you will have to read further.

This is not a picture of Arlene Greenhouse

Not the real Arlene Greenhouse

The interesting thing is that the first actual facial image to be displayed by Google Images was one of Wonder Woman.

“I like asking the questions,” Arlene told me yesterday. “I don’t like being judged.”

“I don’t judge,” I told her.

“This is my debut into – I dunno,” said Arlene. “Promoting? Organising?”

“Well, you’ve got a great line-up for the February Comedy Day,” I said, “present company excepted. I’ve read the programme. What do you see it as?”

“It’s celebrating Jewish comedy,” said Arlene, “like a spa day – where you come and get your fill of laughter and feel better for five days afterwards.”

“It’s just a talky-talky day?” I asked.

“No,” said Arlene, “We have everything. We have…”

“Strippers?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes, we do have a stripper,” said Arlene. “We have Lynn Ruth Miller performing. But, more seriously, it’s always been a very important part of our culture to be able to laugh at all the hardship. My first gig, I performed at…”

“You performed?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said, “but I find research is over-rated.”

Still not a photo of Arlene Greenhouse - This is Roseanne Barr

Not Arlene Greenhouse – Roseanne Barr

“My very first gig ever – if I can call it a gig,” said Arlene, “I was on-stage with Roseanne Barr in Montreal in 1983 (Arlene comes from Montreal) and we were volleying Jewish jokes back-and-forth.”

“This,” I asked, “was when Roseanne Barr was still unknown?”

“No. she was already known.”

“So your first gig was onstage with a famous comedienne?”

“Yeah. And – though my daughter thinks this is a lie – I did tell Ellen DeGeneres in 1982 after her show in a little seedy basement comedy club in New York that she was gonna be famous. She was so amazing. The type of humour I like. She was talking about bridesmaids and how the bride chooses her ugliest friends to walk down the aisle and, to make doubly sure she shines, she puts them in slime-green bridesmaids dresses.”

“How long were you doing comedy for?” I asked.

“I wasn’t,” said Arlene. “I have had one gig maybe every two decades. I have done about six now. My biggest regret in life is that I never wrote for Joan Rivers. I could never figure out how to do it.”

“You had the opportunity?” I asked.

“No.”

“Why should you have written for her?” I asked.

“Because my humour is the same as hers.”

“So,” I asked, “you must be a frustrated writer-performer?”

“I’d prefer to write,” said Arlene. “I do like the limelight but I would prefer to write, because you can do that in your pyjamas.”

“You should write for Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer not to be confused with Arlene

“About a year ago,” said Arlene, “I went and saw Lewis Schaffer and I said: Lewis Schaffer! Gimme the mike! and I got up and he was heckling me the whole time and I  felt very comfortable with that because, when I was growing up, you sat around the table in my house and you heckled each other. That’s how we communicated. There was never a compliment. It was like: You think you look good? You don’t look good.”

“Lewis Schaffer is at your February Comedy Day too,” I said, “interviewing critic Bruce Dessau.”

“Yeah. He’s not gonna embarrass me is he?”

“Lewis Schaffer?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t really know Lewis Schaffer, do you?” I said.

“I do.”

“Well of course he’s going to embarrass you,” I told her.

“Oh God,” said Arlene. “I’m gonna have to threaten him. Seriously.”

“You like his act?” I asked.

“I like a comedian in a jacket. It makes a big difference.”

“Potatoes have jackets,” I said. “I preferred him when he dyed his hair. Why don’t you do something about writing? They’re crying out for writers at the BBC.”

“I did write a sitcom script,” said Arlene. “I thought it was quite good.”

“I’m working on something very similar myself,” I told her.

“About what?”

“About whatever you are about to tell me. The trouble with the Beeb is that they’re inclined to steal people’s ideas. So what did you do with your script?”

“I sent it to the BBC and that was it.”

“You heard nothing back?” I asked.

Arlene shrugged.

“So,” I said, “this thing tomorrow night…”

American comic Avi Liberman (right)

American comic Avi Liberman (right) will be in Hendon…

“I met this guy Avi Liberman on Facebook,” Arlene told me. “He said he was coming to London so I said: Do you want me to organise a gig for you?

“My cheap psychology,” I said, “still tells me you are a frustrated comedy performer. Or writer. You…”

“I am such a frustrated comedian person,” agreed Arlene.

“But, in real life…” I prompted.

“I’m a psychotherapist,” Arlene told me, “but I’m winding down, because I do find comedy a lot more…”

“Me too,” I said, “You could spend a career doing therapy on comics.”

“Look at Lewis Schaffer…” said Arlene. “I’m talking as a psychotherapist now, rather than as a comedy audience. Lewis Schaffer is funny, but he has a fear of success. If he would just put the effort into it, he would be top, top. You have all these students doing academic papers on him because he really is something to study. This whole persona built on failure. Is it a persona? Is it the self? What is it?”

“I think,” I said, “that loads of comedians sabotage their careers intentionally. Well, maybe subconsciously. They know what it’s like to fail and to struggle and they know they can cope with that: the empty, slight pain in their stomach.”

“They know they can deal with the familiar,” said Arlene.

“Yeah,” I said. “But they’re subconsciously frightened of succeeding, because it’s the unknown. Lewis Schaffer would be a great presenter of documentaries – or be good on TV panel shows – because he’s got lots of interesting views and odd knowledge but he can’t duplicate the exact same word-for-word act time-after-time, which is what the want for stand-up on TV. What sort of psychotherapy did you specialise in?”

Arlene Greenhouse - Mum’s The Word

Arlene’s 1996 book on mummy’s boys

“Nothing. Eclectic. But I also wrote a book in 1996: Mum’s The Word: The Mamma’s Boy Syndrome Revealed under my maiden name Arlene Gorodensky. It’s been translated into about six languages. I made no money out of it. Somebody has.”

“That’s publishing for you,” I said. “Are comedians mummy’s boys?”

“Not necessarily,” Arlene said. “I married my husband because he’s very funny.”

“What does he do?” I asked.

“He’s a lawyer. That’s not funny, but he’s probably one of the funniest people I know. When we have an argument, I always say to him: The only reason I don’t dump you is because you’re so funny. He proposed to me on our first date and, afterwards, he said: My mother told me to ask all women to marry me so they know I am serious and I’m not going to waste their time. I was the one out of a hundred that said Yes to him.”

“You said Yes on the first date?”

“Well, I didn’t say No.”

“Where was your first date?”

Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse as she wants to be seen...

Arlene Gorodensky-Greenhouse as she wants to be seen…

“He took me to the Savoy and told me: You’re going to have a very hard time getting married. I was 36 and he was 48. Neither of us had ever been married. The only good piece of advice my mother gave me was: Marry rich. Did I listen? No.”

“Yes you did,” I said. “He’s a lawyer!”

“She wanted me to marry a doctor,” explained Arlene. “I’ve been a disappointment to my parents.”

Arlene is performing comedy at the Hendon show tomorrow.

It will be interesting.

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology

A racist blog featuring three taxi drivers, PR Max Clifford, a BBC DJ and gorillas

Potential Edinburgh Fringe legends Ellis & Rose

Malcolm Hardee Award winners Ellis & Rose aka Alison Rose

Yesterday, at Soho Theatre, I accidentally bumped into Malcolm Hardee Award winning comedy duo Ellis & Rose.

Rose told me they had once been billed by a hard-of-hearing comedy promoter as ‘Alison Rose’.

Ellis told me he had just realised that, when I have no material for my blog, I simply paste-in sections from my old diaries.

In fact, he is only half right. I also do it when I have no time to transcribe (let us say) three long interviews.

So here are some Guy Fawkes Day extracts from my old e-diaries.


November 1999

DJ Chris Evans (very big in radio) with Joss Stone (Photograph by The Admiralty/Wikipedia)

DJ Chris Evans (very big in British radio) with Joss Stone (Photograph by The Admiralty/Wikipedia)

In the evening, I went with a French girl to a Guy Fawkes night party at an ex-Radio 1 DJ’s home. We arrived a little late and the French girl asked someone: “Have you already burnt the gay?”

This week the press have been carrying a story about Spice Girl Geri Halliwell having an affair with disc jockey Chris Evans.

“Well, I don’t know if they are or they aren’t,” the ex-Radio 1 DJ told me, “But I’ve been told by one who’s been there that he’s got the most enormous knob.”

PR Max Clifford told this ex-DJ a few years ago, when she was at Radio 1, that, if she gave him £50,000, he could make her massively famous by fabricating an affair.


November 2000

A black cab racing through London with no sign of a glove

London black taxi cabs are a hotbed of anecdotes and racism

I met three taxi drivers and someone who ran a facility house in Soho.

An Asian taxi driver told me he had taken a computer studies course at Reading University but hated computers and so was now driving. He said he had played second team for one of the County Cricket clubs, but could have played for Pakistan.

“Are your parents Pakistani?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “But I know influential people.”

A Nigerian taxi driver told me he spent three months of every year driving cabs in New York. He lamented the fact the British government had no control of the country. “People are allowed to demonstrate and cause chaos,” he told me. “Britain needs stronger leadership.”

A white cab driver took me to Soho for my daily video edit. He told me he lived in the East End near Canary Wharf. He was a disillusioned racist who, of course, started: “I’m not racist, but…”

He said he was going to leave London where he had been born and bred because “it’s no longer my city. Me and my kids are foreigners in it”. His local mayor (in Tower Hamlets) was an Asian and, whereas his kids’ school had no religious assembly in the morning because that would be unfair on non-Christians, they had to observe Ramadan (he claimed).

“All I want is a level playing field,” he said. “The council’s building 4-bedroom flats now. That’s not for the likes of me. They’re building them for their own kind because they breed. And round my way, the Bengalis run the heroin trade and, if you get in their way, they just kill you.”

Ironically, he was talking of emigrating to Grenada in the Caribbean.

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

Irrelevant yet strangely relevant picture of an African  gorilla

At the editing facility in Soho, the audio suite was run by 32 year-old woman with an English accent, but who had been born in Edinburgh.

Aged 6, she had gone with her family to Zambia for four years. While she was there, she and her classmates were held hostage by Zairean guerrilla rebels for a period. She did not know how long. The teachers told the children the men outside were just stopping by on their way somewhere else and, when she was told they were guerrillas, she was very impressed because she thought they must be very educated gorillas.

Her father piloted the local Flying Doctor plane and, returning to the UK, flew executive jets chartered by celebrities and businessmen. He was friendly with Edinburgh-based pop group The Bay City Rollers at the height of their fame. She remembered travelling with them in cars – they were lying on the floor or bent down covered with coats to avoid being seen by their fans. Knowing them gave her prestige at school and fans offered her money for the bathwater the boys had used.

Later, in her teens, she went through a Goth phase with bleached blonde hair and now, aged 32, her boyfriend is a 25 year-old freelance gardener who was adopted. He has no interest in finding out about his real parents, but knows his father was olive-skinned and his mother was a lifeguard.

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Filed under Racism, Radio, UK