Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

1 Comment

Filed under Acting, Poverty

Save Soho!

Tim Arnold stands next to a photo of his mum

Tim stands by a photo of his mum in a Windmill programme

I was chatting to singer-songwriter Tim Arnold, aka The Soho Hobo about his Save Soho! campaign following the sudden closure of iconic Soho club Madame JoJo’s.

I photographed him standing by a photo of his mother.

“Gillian Arnold,” I said, reading the name on the photo.

“Yes,” said Tim. “Mother was a Windmill girl, just before it closed down. She was the youngest nude at the Windmill Theatre at 15. She changed her name to Polly Perkins.”

“Polly Perkins?” I said, genuinely surprised. “Heavens! Really?”

“Yes,” said Tim. “That’s my mum. She was one of the first presenters on Ready Steady Go! before Cathy McGowan. She made several records in the 1960s. Jimmy Page played lead guitar for her for a time, which was inspiring for me when I started writing music. She ran her own club in Mayfair: The Candlelight Club. And then she was a TV actress in both Eldorado and, three years ago, EastEnders.”

The reason I mention this is to show Tim Arnold has quite a background in both show business and in London’s Soho.

Passers by - Madame JoJo’s last night

Soho punters passing by the closed Madame JoJo’s last night

In late October, there was a fight between Madame JoJo’s bouncers and a customer. The police report recommended the club’s licence be suspended. The club changed its manager and selected a new team of bouncers approved by Westminster Council. The Council then permanently revoked Madame JoJo’s licence and, as Tim wrote in an open letter to London Mayor Boris Johnson on 3rd December, “half a century of Soho history ended.”

The letter was also signed by Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Paul O’Grady. Pete Townshend, Eddie Izzard and a virtual roll-call of the British entertainment industry.

“What’s it all about?” I asked Tim yesterday.

“It’s quite complicated,” he told me. “What we know is that Westminster Council suspended the licence and then they permanently revoked the licence. But what we also know is that, a year beforehand, the Council was given an application by Soho Estates to redevelop that block, which would have involved demolishing Madame JoJo’s.”

“Who,” I asked, “is Soho Estates? Is that the Paul Raymond company?”

“Yes. Paul Raymond’s granddaughters.” (Fawn James & India Rose James)

“I’m surprised,” I said. “Because they quite like Soho.”

“I’m surprised too,” said Tim. “Fawn is a friend who I met three years ago, at the launch of the Soho Flea Market. It was lovely for me to finally meet her, because my grandfather used to work for her grandfather – my grandfather Dickie Arnold was actor-manager of the Raymond Revue when it toured; and, later on, he worked at the Raymond Revuebar with my grandmother.

“It was really great to make that connection with Fawn and, because she’s an actress as well, she performed in one of my videos – Manners On The Manor – which was shot at Ronnie Scott’s – playing the role of Queen of Soho.

“So I am quite confused as to how this has been allowed to happen with her being involved, because I know that Fawn supports the performing arts. And Paul Raymond supported the arts – people don’t realise this.

“I grew up surrounded by musicians, comedians, actors and singers who all, at one point or another, were given a start in Soho, largely down to Paul Raymond. He supported the arts and that is part of what his legacy should be.”

“When I interviewed Fawn on BBC1’s Inside Out a year ago, I asked her off-camera what was going to happen to Madame JoJo’s and she said it was going to have to be moved; but she didn’t elaborate. It’s also a year ago since I sang at Madame JoJo’s with Andy Serkis and The Blockheads. That’s the last time I was inside the venue.

“The sadness over the closure is not about the name. It’s about the space.

“Soho has been a stage for every emerging artist from all over the country for 50 years. Madam JoJo’s was not a pub which had been given a licence for performers to work in – it was a professional space where people could hawk their wares and showcase their talents to the entertainment industry in general which, by and large, is based in London.”

“Surely,” I said. “one little club dying isn’t going to destroy the whole of Soho?”

The London Astoria

The London Astoria – now knocked down & being redeveloped

“They’ve taken a lot of them out already,” said Tim. “The Astoria being knocked down was a shock, particularly to the music industry. That seemed to make it open season on other venues.

“I signed my first record deal with Sony after doing a gig in a basement club called the Borderline – a 200-capacity venue like Madame JoJo’s. These venues are important for up-and-coming bands. We have to keep these venues open, unless developers want to argue that TV talent shows are the only way forward for young artists to get their feet in the industry.

“People keep talking about Madame JoJo’s being representative of the gay and transgender culture. It is. But it was also somewhere bands could perform regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“It wasn’t particularly gay, though, was it?” I asked. “Lots of straight people went there for shows. It was not a gay club as such. It was cabaret, music, comedy, some gay stuff in among all that sex stuff around the Raymond Revuebar alleyway.”

“It was,” said Tim, “a microcosm of what Soho is. It’s everything – a melting pot. It does not have one single identity. Madam JoJo’s disappearing is almost like the performance heart of Soho is. It doesn’t matter what your culture, background, religion, sexual orientation is, you were welcome and that’s why it is pretty serious it has gone.

The Raymond Revuebar in its heyday

The Raymond Revuebar in its heyday

“I’m not a campaigner, I’m an entertainer. That’s the key. A campaign has arisen out of my passion for where I and my family have lived and worked for the last 50 years. I didn’t plan it as a campaign. My mother said I should write a letter to the mayor and I thought How can I make him respond to the letter quicker? So I called my friend Benedict Cumberbatch and he said he would help and, after that, it snowballed.

“Madame JoJo’s was open from 7.30pm to 3.00am. That’s a lot of entertainment. It kept performers working, earning a living, promoting what they do. Equity have come on board today and are also talking to the Council about this to try and repeal the decision.

“Where we are sitting now, in my flat on Frith Street, from Thursday to Saturday night, I see violent altercations pretty much every night dealt with by the police. It’s dealt with responsibly and none of these venues, restaurants or clubs get closed down. If a bouncer did something inappropriate on this street, they would lose their job. The venue does not get closed down and it doesn’t get green-lit for demolition. If they did that all the time, we would be able to see Buckingham Palace from here!”

The closed Raymond Revuebar (left) and Madame JoJo’s (right) in Soho last night

The closed Raymond Revuebar (left) and Madame JoJo’s (right) in Soho last night

“It sounds,” I said, “like bizarre corruption of some sort. They close down this venue where there is an application to change it.”

“I have never,” said Tim, “mentioned corruption, but I have never heard a single person this week not mention it. I’m a singer-songwriter. What do I know?

“And, of course,”I said, “in Soho, there is no history of corruption involving the police in Soho.”

“Anyway,” said Tim, “I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on a very clear message from all sides of the entertainment industry – emerging and established artists – saying You can’t keep doing this without talking to this community first.

“We can welcome any new addition – Mozart lived on this street and television was first demonstrated just a few doors down this same street – but not at the expense of taking away what we already have here.

“Having new art galleries and pop-up art galleries is all well and fine and it looks, on the surface, like the landlords supporting those art galleries are supporting the arts, but Soho IS an art gallery.”

Tim has a song called Soho Heroes

3 Comments

Filed under Gay, London, Music