Tag Archives: Bob Boyton

Hackney Empire man lied for Geoffrey Archer + naked mental breakdowns

Roland Muldoon at his book launch yesterday

Roland Muldoon at yesterday’s book launch

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

L.P. Hartley could have been writing about the 1980s.

In 1986, Roland and Claire Muldoon re-opened Edwardian music hall the Hackney Empire in London as the home of ‘New Variety’ where stand-up comedy intermingled with dance, music, panto, opera, Caribbean farce and much more. Their background was in political theatre. They aimed to be ‘an Alternative National Theatre’.

Nineteen years later – in 2005 – the Muldoons were squeezed out after local government politicking, a series of failed internal coups, being starved of subsidies, the imposition of bankers and bureaucrats on the management board and much else. It is quite a tale.

In Roland’s book, how The Empire struck back

Roland on how The Empire struck back

Now Roland Muldoon has written a book called Taking On The Empire: How We Saved The Hackney Empire For Popular Theatre. Presumably he has had the text checked by libel lawyers, just in case.

I went along to the book launch in Hackney yesterday afternoon.

“We once had a dream before the Hackney Empire,” Roland Muldoon said, “that we would take over a castle in the Midlands and run an alternative motorway cafe. Luckily, we moved on to the Empire instead. We had great ambitions in those days to take over the world. And we still have.”

One anecdote told in Roland’s book is of a fundraising event to keep the Empire going. Author and politician Jeffrey Archer donated an item for the auction: an Andy Warhol silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe. Archer had recently declared he would run for Mayor of London, although the Tories were undecided whether this was a good idea for them, given Archer’s somewhat dodgy image. So he may have been as much attracted to the charitable-sounding self-publicity as to publicising the Hackney Empire.

Roland and Claire arranged a publicity photo shoot with Jeffrey Archer and Ken Livingstone (whom the Labour Party had already told not to apply for the Mayoral job) plus comedian Griff Rhys-Jones and the lead in the Empire’s forthcoming panto Dick Whittington.

In his book, Roland writes: “Controversy and accusations of telling porkies seemed to follow Jeffrey Archer around wherever he went. Out of the blue came the question Are you aware that the Marilyn isn’t a genuine Warhol print?”

It turned out that, after Warhol had run off his own limited edition silkscreen prints, his friends came along to his studio and ran off some more for themselves. The Archer print was not one of the Warhol originals.

Roland says: “A reporter from the Daily Telegraph pressed me hard: Did he lead you to believe he was donating a genuine Andy Warhol or not?No, he never said it was, I lied, despite my total dislike of his politics. I couldn’t bring myself to slag off a benefactor and I was dubious about any benefit it would bring to our campaign if I did. Now I’ve done it. It’s out – I lied for Geoffrey Archer.”

Books are clearly a growth industry for people in the comedy business.

At the book launch, comedian Hattie Hayridge was telling me she had checked with Penguin Books and her fascinating 1997 autobiography Random Abstract Memory is out of print, so she is now able to re-publish it herself, though she finds the technology rather daunting.

Bob Boyton (left) with Mark Thomas

Authors Bob Boyton (left) and Mark Thomas yesterday

I also bumped into Bob Boyton, another stand-up turned author, who told me about possible follow-ups to his novel Bomber Jackson Does Some.

He also told me about what he claims was the only time he ever performed naked.

“It was about 27 years ago,” he explained. “There was something called The Mastery, which was related to The Actors’ Centre, which was related to Esalen, which was a real hard core growth movement thing from California. The idea was it helped actors to break down.”

“Sounds quite dangerous,” I said, “to encourage people to break down emotionally, unless you really look after people.”

“What it didn’t do,” said Bob, “was to say that you should take the leap on stage and in rehearsal, but the rest of your life should be ordered.

“So they did this weekend called The Mastery and I was very cross, because they sort-of encouraged people to break down. If you survived, at the end of the weekend, you broke into little groups and did a little sketch. I was already enough of a practising stand-up to realise that sketches have to be something special to work.

“So I was in the middle of this grim sketch with these actors who all played drama students and I played the caretaker who was sweeping up after them and the only way to liven things up was, each time they finished a chorus, I’d come on with me broom and I’d shed an article of clothing… I was a lot slimmer then.”

“And you felt better for this?” I asked.

“Well, I got a shag that night,” replied Bob, smiling broadly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Publishing, Theatre

Comedian-turned-novelist Bob Boyton is the real “Bomber Jackson” McCoy

Bob Boyton at last night’s book launch for his first novel

For someone who is allegedly an ex-comedian, Bob Boyton can certainly still draw a big crowd. I went to the book launch for his first novel last night and the fairly large venue was overflowing with people into the next room and included such iconic figures as Tony Allen, Arnold Brown, Dave Cohen, Tony Green, Mark Kelly, Nick Revell and Mark Thomas.

It was a slightly frustrating evening, as two of those people told me absolutely cracking stories but said they didn’t want me to blog about them.

However, Bob Boyton made up for it.

I first mentioned his book in a blog a couple of months ago.

Now Bomber Jackson Does Some has been published.

The novel is about an ex-boxer and heavy drinker who has ‘done time’ in prison.

The blurb reads:

What chance has a bloke got of going straight when it’s been twenty years of boozing and prison since his last big fight? That’s what Bomber Jackson has to discover when he sets out in search of love and sobriety. 

It’s the early hopeful years of the Blair government but hope is in short supply for an edgy homeless ex boxer and what else can he do but pick himself up and start again every time life knocks him over…. except slowly bit by bit he seems to get the feel for what a new life would be like if only he could stay away from the drink. Then just when Bomber could be saved there comes a final act of loyalty and violence which might leave him dead or in prison for a very long time.

Bob has never been sentenced to prison and has never been a professional boxer (though, in my previous blog about him, he drew a parallel between being a boxer and being a stand-up comedian).

He says: “One thing people ask you when you’ve written a book is Well, is it true?

“My novel stands at around 74,000 words and there’s about another 30,000 that I discarded. It covers a period of about 18 months or two years and I think in all that time Bomber Jackson has a crap once. By anyone’s standards, if he were a real person, he would be quite constipated. There’s truth and reality there in the novel, but a lot of the writing is in the editing.”

In 1982, he started an involvement with people at Arlington House, a hostel for homeless men in London’s Camden Town.

The hard-drinking Irish writer Brendan Behan lived there at one point, as did George Orwell, who wrote about the experience in his book Down and Out in Paris and London. It also turns up in the first line of pop group Madness’ song One Better Day.

“I knew guys who both lived and worked there,” Bob explained last night, “They were guys who, I think, the mainstream would apply the term ‘dosser’ to. But they were all individuals; none of them were stereotypes.

“There were about 800 people staying there at the time.”

Some of his Arlington House contacts took him to a pub one evening, Bob says, “to test me out – and also because it was a Thursday, so I’d just got paid and could buy beer”.

The pub was called The Good Mixer and later became an epicentre of alternative music but, at that time, “it was run by a bloke with one leg and the only rules were you could have as many fights as you wanted but you wouldn’t get slung out unless you broke glasses. If you broke a glass, that was it. End of. You were barred for at least 24 hours. I put up a front, so the Arlington House blokes must have been convinced I had the necessary bottle.

“I’ll be honest with you, I did look down a bit on these geezers. I thought they were different from me, but it was quite a bad part of my life and I was probably only three or four wage packets away from where they were. That was the start of my background with homeless people.

“Bomber Jackson Does Some” book cover

“We did have a few ex-footballers at Arlington House and I was struck at the time by the difficulty for somebody who had ‘been someone’ and then they weren’t. Being a bit different, they’d got the chance to get away from the factory or building site and then that chance had disappeared but they hadn’t saved dough. That’s one of the factors built into the novel.”

Reviewing the book, Boxing News said Bob “looks like he’s good for a few rounds”.

The Independent newspaper wrote that the dialogue “resonates with authenticity”.

And comedian/writer Mark Thomas says: “No-one but Bob could tell the stories he tells in this book because of who he is and where he’s been. In a world of artifice he stands out. He’s the Real McCoy.”

Indeed he is.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Boxing, Comedy, Writing

A stand-up comedian is like a boxer

Bob Boyton: from punch-lines to punches

A couple of days ago, I blogged about seeing Mark Kelly’s second try-out of his show-in-the-process-of-being-written Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act, which took place at Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club. Comedian Martin Soan was also in the audience.

Afterwards, I got talking to comedian-turned-writer Bob Boyton about a novel which he has spent ten years writing and which is going to be published in May. But we got sidetracked into the link between boxing and comedy.

What’s the book about?” I asked Bob.

“It’s called Bomber Jackson Does Some,” he said. “The eponymous hero is a homeless ex-boxer called Anthony ‘Bomber’ Jackson. It’s not autobiographical, but I did do some boxing training while I was writing it. I trained with Mark Reefer, an ex-Commonwealth champion who didn’t become famous despite being a champion. He was good but perhaps not big enough at his weight. A great trainer. Someone who lavished love on his training. And I’ve worked with homeless people for many years, so there’s also a link there.”

“Is it a funny novel?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he replied. “A couple of jokes in it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t like novels with jokes in ‘em,” Bob told me. “I hate when you buy a novel by a comic and he hasn’t really developed enough plot or done enough work on the characters, so he just pads it out with bits of his routine. I think it’s disrespectful of the novel and of fiction. And it’s a bit disrespectful of your act.

“It’s a problem for comedians,” he continued, “that there’s no legacy with comedy. A little bit, maybe, if you’re one of a golden few. I heard Max Miller on record and he was obviously strong and then Jimmy Jones done a lot of his material. But generally, in 150 years time, no-one’s gonna go That’s a great gag, that!… In 150 years time, Jeremy Hardy’s act won’t make any sense.”

“So your novel isn’t autobiographical?” I asked.

“Well,” laughed Bob, “I did research some of the drinking myself.”

“Why did it take you ten years?”

“There were times I just got fed up with writing the bloody thing. I kind of knew there was a story to be told. It is a bit like being a stand-up, thinking Right, I wanna deal with that subject so I’m gonna write a gag about it. It’s just a much longer process with a novel. When I was doing stand-up, I could write a gag and probably try it out in two nights time and then I might keep it in or not. Whereas I found you can spend ten years writing a novel. That’s probably why you need an editor.

“Bomber Jackson is a bloke in his mid-40s. His last big fight was at least 20 years ago… which he fucked-up because he’d been drinking when he should’ve been training. He’s fallen into criminality and those various things that happen to boxers because, if you’re good at hurting people, then you’re worth a lot of money to unsavoury characters.

“He’s just come out of prison and he knows he’s gotta find a different life. He’s done a lot of prison, a lot of small sentences and he goes in search of redemption and I hope the book keeps the reader wondering whether or not he finds it.. right to the end.”

“Why write about a boxer?” I asked.

“Well, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’m a boxing fan and I’m drawn to it because they are very much like comedians. So I started off… I don’t think it lasted very long but… It was a kind of a metaphor for when I gave up stand-up…. You do it on your own. It’s not like football, where you can blame other team members.”

“Fighting the audience?” I asked.

“Well, not so much fighting but, it’s you – if you win, it’s great. And, if you lose…”

At this point, Ivor Dembina was passing by and heard what we were talking about.

“The thing about comedians,” Ivor said, “is that we’ve all seen each other die the death on stage – everyone. However good you are, however famous, we all know you’ve been there. So there’s that kind of gut respect. And, with boxers, even though they’re competing, they all know they have put themselves in that same position of being humiliated. So there’s that kind of bottom line respect.”

“I remember,” I said, “Ricky Grover (boxer-turned comedian and actor) “told me that, when you box, all that matters is that you don’t humiliate yourself. Humiliation is the worst thing.”

At this point, Martin Soan passed by.

“I’ve based my whole fucking career on being humiliated,” he said as he passed.

“Every comedian…” Ivor continued, “All of us – We’ve all died the death. We all know what it’s like. You never forget that. And you respect other people because they go back. Even though they got booed off, they went back and had another go. You respect them. It’s the same with boxers. A boxer can take a really bad beating, but he’ll go back and fight again.”

“That’s right,” agreed Bob. “Not many boxers gave it up because they lost. The business might have given them up in the end. But either they’ve made enough money and they’ve realised they want to go out somewhere near the top. Or they just can’t get any fights.”

At this point, Bob and I gave up talking about Bomber Jackson Does Some. The conversation moved on and people talked about Malcolm Hardee, Ian Hinchliffe and pissing in wardrobes. I must have another chat with Bob Boyton about his novel at some point before it is published in May.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Sport, Writing