Tag Archives: Borehamwood

“My name is Jason and I am on the hunt for the Golden Fleece of film investment”

Jason Cook with camera this week

That title is a good opening line, especially from someone with dyslexia.

I first blogged about the indefatigable criminal-turned-author-turned-film-producer Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian Jason Cook) in December 2010.

We got chatting again this week at the Broadcast Video Expo at Earl’s Court in London.

Jason currently has eight film projects at various stages of pre-production: all different genres ranging from animation to sci-fi and a true-life story based on his three autobiographical novels… and he is still looking for finance in the current bleak economic climate.

The Devil’s Dandruff, based on the first of his three novels There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, has always sounded highly commercial to me, especially given that there is a potential film trilogy there.

He has managed to keep the budget down to £2 million, which seems remarkably thrifty, given the plot but, despite having an enthusiastic letter from an ‘A’ list actor (my jaw dropped when I saw this name) he is still having problems raising the finance.

“There’s been lots of talk about David Cameron bringing finance to British independent films,” Jason told me, “but yet we’re still waiting for that to trickle down to people on the creative side. There are people out there with great ideas and great dreams, but the thing that’s lacking is the investment.

“I’m a working class lad from Borehamwood; I think if I was an Oxbridge graduate I would be more acceptable and respectable for investors. It is difficult coming from where I’ve come from. I have not mixed in the ‘right’ circles.

“I was a genuine lad who got involved in drugs, gun crime and gangsters from the age of twelve and was put in prison for my crimes – the first time for nine months. The second time I got four years and one day and I served two years and seven months.

“At that time, if the judge gave you four years, you would only serve half. This particular judge thought my crime was bad enough that I should serve longer. So he sentenced me to four years and one day, which meant I would have to serve two thirds. That’s fair enough. I did the crime, so I gotta pay the time.

“After coming out of prison twelve years ago, I got myself clean of drugs – because I was also an addict at that time – and I got away from all the crime people surrounding me and I went clean.

“I started to write about my experiences, which turned into my first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus, about where I grew up and how I got involved.

“I self-published the first book and self-publicised it because I was just a normal guy off the street who’d written a book. I had no backing. I wasn’t a sportsman. I wasn’t a glamour model who could get her boobs out. So I self-published that first one so I could start building recognition.

“I then wrote the second one The Gangster’s Runner because of the good reviews. It’s about the people I was involved with and how I was used in the underworld as a drug runner and a drug enforcer and money collector. Ecstasy, coke and hash.

“And the third novel A Nice Little Earner is how everything ties up and we all go our own ways and it elaborates on the range of characters, from politicians to judges, solicitors, barristers to every level of society. All the way from the street-seller to the user. The up-market characters are based around real people. The details have been changed to protect everyone – to protect them and to protect myself from reprisals. But the books are a big insight into the underworld in London and across the world.

“I’m not glamorising crime; I’m not making it seem good; I’m showing the bare elements of drug addicts, a young lad being blinded by the lights and peer pressure, fast cars, fast money and I’m showing the real gritty parts of real life. All real.

“I’ve always been interested in films. From an early age, I was in Elstree Youth Theatre. I started working on film sets as an extra and became a runner. I want to create films people want to see. Partly for the money but a lot of it for the creative side. I think I can tell a good story.

“The irony is I’ve been clean from drugs and crime for twelve years now but, while everyone else is falling out of pubs, I can’t get into them because I’m still on PubWatch. I was arrested for drugs and put in prison. That’s OK. That’s fair. But, when I came out, I went into my local pubs and they told me I had been put on PubWatch so I was not allowed into any pubs any more for life. I never did drugs or did any crime in any pub and I had never had any trouble with any landlord, but I was put on PubWatch for life because I was involved in drugs in the local area and around London.

“I’m still being punished for my crimes twelve years later, after being rehabilitated…

“Perhaps I should jump on the bandwagon,” Jason laughs. “I should sue the Metropolitan Police and go to the European Court of Human Rights and claim my human rights have been infringed. Everyone else seems to be doing it.”

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Crime, Drink, Drugs, Legal system, Movies

The Elstree Studios project uncovers what Sophia Loren was like in bed

Over the years, for magazines, I have interviewed quite a few film and television production people. I was never much interested in talking to stars and actors: the people behind-the-cameras were much more interesting.

If you interview a star or even a not-yet-famous actor about a movie or TV show they were in, you get a performance. If you interview the set designer or the producer or director, especially a few years later, you get golden anecdotes.

I moved to Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, on the edge of London, after the massive MGM studios had been knocked down and replaced with office blocks and houses. For several years, a full-sized medieval castle had stood by the main road out of town, left over from the movies Ivanhoe (1952), Knights of the Round Table (1953) and The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955)

It was replaced by a Chinese village for Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) and, later, The Dirty DozenWhere Eagles Dare and 2001: A Space Odyssey were shot there.

At one time, there were six separate film studios in the small Hertfordshire town. Only two remain now.

As someone said last night, it is odd to think that this very ordinary high street in Borehamwood – Shenley Road – has seen filming for the three Hammer Pictures’ versions of On The Buses and that, literally, you are walking down the same street Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Simon Cowell have walked and driven down. If you stand on the station platform, you know Gary Cooper and James Mason stood there, waiting for a train back into London.

The studios where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his first ‘talkie’ Blackmail, later became the ATV Elstree Studios (despite the fact they are in Borehamwood, not Elstree) where major US stars like Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis Jnr were brought in to shoot TV spectaculars because they did not want to be dragged up to ATV’s Birmingham studios. By the time I moved to Borehamwood, ATV’s Elstree Studios had become the BBC’s Elstree Studios.

One of the first things the BBC did – alas – was to paint over the eccentric and ornate Muppet cartoons in the canteen which bored members of the Muppet Show production team had done in secret one night. They thought the canteen was dull so they painted Muppets on the walls; ATV, to give it credit, kept them. As far as I can remember, they were painted round an archway.

I once walked round an outdoor set of Will Shakespeare’s London on the backlot at ATV Elstree. Shortly after I moved to Borehamwood, the BBC built their Albert Square set for EastEnders on the same spot. It was originally only a three-sided square and, from my back bedroom, I could look into it. As I never watched the show and, somehow, I was never in my back bedroom when they were filming exteriors, it was not until after they later built the fourth side of the square that I realised what it was. I could have rented my back bedroom out to fans if I had known.

The BBC studios’ modest entrance is surreally between two ordinary suburban houses up a very ordinary-looking suburban side street. When I first moved to Borehamwood, excited teenyboppers and older, fatter people used to sit on garden walls by the entrance on Wednesday afternoons and evenings waiting to spot pop stars because, at that time, Top of The Pops was recorded there. For the first year of EastEnders, much the same people – young fans and overweight older people – sat outside trying to spot the soap’s stars as they went in and out.

But the two big film studios in Borehamwood in its heyday were the former MGM Studios (screen credits always said ‘filmed in Borehamwood’) and, a three-minute walk away, the Elstree film studios (screen credits always said ‘filmed in Elstree’ which were/are actually also in Borehamwood). The Elstree films included the first three Star Wars movies and the Indiana Jones movies; now they shoot Big Brother and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire there.

Last night, I went to the launch of ‘The Elstree Project’ at the University of Hertfordshire, which apparently has 2,800 students in its School of Creative Arts.

Where are they all going to work?

The project, jointly started and run by Howard Berry of the School of Creative Arts and Elstree Screen Heritage, aims to create an oral history of Elstree Studios by interviewing the people who worked in the Borehamwood studios (I suspect it’s called The Elstree Project because ‘Elstree’ sounds more glamorous than ‘Borehamwood’). They aim to interview not the megastars who worked at the studios but the actual technicians and behind-the-camera production people.

The ‘launch’ of the Elstree Project is perhaps an odd phrase given that, over the last year, they have already shot 30 hours of material – interviews with 22 people.

People like the man who painted Darth Vader’s costume in Star Wars as well as legendary ATV/ITC production supervisor Johnny Goodman and Stanley Kubrick’s producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan,

Paul Welsh of Elstree Film Heritage got an MBE for saving the studios when the rapacious company Brent Walker tried to destroy them – half were turned into a large Tesco superstore, but the other half were saved after a campaign in which the local government authority eventually took over the studios.

Paul says: “I’m hard-pressed to think of a major film star who has not worked at Elstree. I’m hard-pressed to think of a famous pop star who hasn’t filmed there, be it David Bowie, Paul McCartney or Take That. You could go to the pub across the road from the Studios, before it became a McDonalds, and see Tony Hancock or Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum or Trevor Howard drinking in there.

Over the years, the studios in Borehamwood have produced TV and movie productions like Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, Star Wars, Grange Hill, EastEnders, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dambusters, The Muppet Show, The Shining, The Railway Children, Murder on the Orient Express, The Avengers and Inspector Morse – although set in Oxford, the production office for Inspector Morse was in Borehamwood and the local Barclays Bank would sometimes crop up in scenes set in Oxford.

The Elstree Project sounds like it will come up with some colourful anecdotes of life at the studios.

“I couldn’t see anybody today doing the jokes that we used to do with Roger Moore on The Saint,” says one of the interviewees. “I mean, to throw a bucket of water over the star – you wouldn’t get away with it.”

“The only thing I remember about Sophia Loren,” says another interviewee, “was her nose. I couldn’t believe it. She was a beautiful woman but, when she lay down in bed and I was at the end of the bed, I looked at her and thought to myself Oh she’s nice! and all that stuff – like you do – but her nose – Oh my Gawd – it looked like the Blackwall Tunnel. She was so beautiful standing up but, laying down…”

This is what people want to hear.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Television

An ordinary day in Borehamwood: I become trapped in my rubberwear

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, which can occasionally have its moments.

Last night, there was the weekly ritual of spotlights on the skyline and distant roars as an eviction went ahead in the Big Brother house. The house is built in the former water tank at Elstree Studios, which is why contestants entering or leaving the house have to climb up steps, go through a door, then go down steps again – they are going over the side of the water tank.

Sadly, I moved here a few years after the late night fire at Elstree Studios when Stanley Kubrick was filming The ShIning – the heat from the fire caused his polystyrene snow to rise and float, causing polystyrene snowfall over part of Borehamwood.

But yesterday was an ordinary day in Borehamwood.

I went for my annual check-up at the optician. Every year, I think my eyesight has deteriorated badly and I may be going blind. Every year, they tell me:

“No, there’s not much change: it’s just your age.”

Next week, I am going to South West Ireland and a friend, who has been trying to persuade me for almost a year that my rarely-worn Wellington boots are two sizes too small (in fact, they are a little tight but perfectly OK) got me to go into a shop to try on some new, larger, Wellingtons.

“Your old ones scrunch your toes up,” she insisted.

My friend can be very insistent.

“It was bad for Chinese women,” she told me. “And it is bad for you.”

I went into the shop for a quieter life, though I was slightly torn between that and wanting to go home and go to the toilet.

I tried on a pair of grey Wellington boots two sizes bigger than my current ones.

“Too big,” I said, relieved, thinking this would free me for the toilet trip home.

“We will try them one size smaller,” my friend insisted. “That will still be one size bigger than the ones you have now.”

“They don’t seem to be in green,” I said weakly. “They are only in grey. I think they should be in green because we are going to Ireland. It will cheer the Irish up.”

My friend was insistent: “I will go get an assistant and see if they have a green pair.”

Unfortunately, they had a pair. I put the right one on. It was a little tight to get on but, once on, it was very comfortable.

“That’s OK,” I said, grudgingly.

I put the left one on.

“They’re just the right size,” I said, grudgingly.

I took right one off. A bit of a struggle.

I tried to take the left one off.

It would not come off.

My friend tried.

I tried again. My friend tried again.

It would not come off.

I tried again. And again. And again.

It would not come off.

My friend tried, pulling the toes and heel.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

It was a bit sore on the toes.

A shop assistant tried.

The green rubber Wellington boot would not come off.

At this point I realised I still wanted to pee.

Rather a lot.

A second shop assistant arrived, pulling me nearly off seat when he yanked the boot at the heel and toe.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

“We may have to cut it off,” the second shop assistant said.

“Well, it might not be necessary,” I said. “I had a circumcision a couple of years ago. I didn’t think it was necessary; the doctors did. I eventually agreed to it because the doctors told me it would be no skin off my nose.”

I looked at the shop assistant. He did not laugh.

“We may have to cut it off,” he repeated.

My friend nodded.

My toes were feeling sore.

“I have a high instep,” I explained.

“Do you want to buy them?” the shop assistant asked.

My friend and I looked at him.

“The boots,” he said. “Do you want to buy them?”

He was not joking.

“No,” my friend replied patiently. “He would have to sleep in them because he can’t get them off.”

A third shop assistant arrived and tried and failed to pull them off. My toes were getting sore; there was what felt like a bit of a sprain on the ankle; and, every time someone pulled, I was having to hold onto the sides of the seat to avoid being pulled off onto the floor.

I was now desperate to go to the loo and all that rubbing and sliding of my bottom backwards and forwards on the seat had now aroused the back-up of shit building-up on my colon or intestines or wherever-the-hell it builds up. It was getting quite insistent about heading for the exit in both retail shop and bodily terms.

“Are the Wellingtons waterproof?” I asked.

“Of course,” the shop assistant replied, surprised. He looked at me: “They’re rubber Wellingtons.”

The three shop assistants went away to get the manager. My friend tried again.

“Careful of the toes,” I said, holding on tightly to the sides of my seat,

By now, a nearby middle-aged couple had stopped trying on new shoes and were just sitting back watching our floor show with considerable interest.

“I have a high instep,” I explained to them.

“If the assistants can’t do anything,” my friend said, “I’m calling the fire brigade.”

I smiled, though I was thinking more of a warm toilet seat and sausages.

“I’m not joking,” my friend insisted – and I knew she was not. My friend can be very insistent. She took out her mobile phone. “You have your leg and your foot stuck in a Wellington. The fire brigade can cut you out. That’s what they’re there for.”

About eight seconds later, the manager and third assistant arrived with a pair of scissors.

I thought of toilet seats and the movie Murder on the Orient Express.

The train remains trapped in a snowdrift as detective Hercule Poirot tries to figure out whodunnit. When the case is finally unravelled, the snowdrift is cleared and the train is free to continue onwards. I have always thought the symbolism was wonderful. I wondered if, as they finally released my foot and leg from my rubber prison, I would piss down my leg and shit would explode out of my bottom.

I will spare you further details.

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy

Has Tesco got so big that it does not care about PR or charging one price?

There was a report on the Guardian website a couple of days ago about someone who was almost thrown out of a Tesco store for attempting to compare prices on the shelves. He had noticed a bizarre piece of pricing in which it was more expensive (per bottle) to buy Highland Spring water in 4-packs than in lesser quantities: the opposite of what a casual shopper would assume.

This is something I had noticed myself. There was a surreal period where, at my local Tesco, it was significantly cheaper to buy four individual cans of Red Bull than to buy a 4-pack of Red Bull – the opposite of what you would expect. No special offers were involved; this was the normal, everyday price.

In the case of the Guardian reporter, when he was seen on the Tesco security cameras to be standing by shelves writing down something on a piece of paper, the store’s deputy manager approached him and, when told he was “writing down prices”, responded:

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s illegal… It’s illegal to write things down and you can’t take any photographs, either. If you want to check the prices, take the item to the till and pay for it there. The price will be on the receipt.”

The store manager told him the same thing.

I thought this might be a quirk. But, when I posted a link to the Guardian article on my Google+ account, someone responded:

“I got escorted from Tesco for taking a snap of price tag on my phone. The same thing – item packed in bulk was 100% more expensive than buying four separate items.”

Someone posted on the Guardian website:

I saw a splendid offer there the other day, some revolting looking snack, 20p each or 4 for a £1.00…

And someone else posted:

Recent gems include:
Fruit squash: £1.35 a bottle or 2 for £2.75
NCG soups: £1 or 2 for £3.00
Bread: £1 a loaf or 2 for £2.00.

There are two things here.

What on earth are Tesco doing with their pricing policy? Occasionally you see TV ads claiming Tesco prices are cheaper than their competitors; and they put prices online. But the company has no actual single price throughout the country – or even in the same neighbourhood. Smaller Tesco Metro stores already routinely charge more for items than larger Tesco stores.

I live in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. The Tesco store there charges lower prices on everyday items than the Tesco Metro in Radlett, three miles away in the next small town.

Tesco has no uniform pricing. Although it buys in bulk at a set price, it does not sell at a set price and is taking different profit margins from customers in different areas and even at different stores within the same area.

Its TV ads, which quote specific prices for specific products, wrongly imply that there is a single standard price for all items at Tesco. There is not. You go into a Tesco store, you take pot luck on what you pay.

And what’s with this surreal leaping on anyone who dares to attempt to write down the prices in their stores?

Tesco has got so big it appears to have lost control of itself.

1 Comment

Filed under PR, Shopping

Advice on how to spot a conman in the movie industry (and elsewhere)

I popped along to Elstree Film Studios for a chat with the indefatigable Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name, though I am sure he is also dynamic).

The Jason Cook I know is a former gangster’s runner turned author and film producer with more energy than the National Grid.

His production company The Way Forward Productions, based at Elstree Studios, has a slate of seven feature films in various stages of preparation. His sales agent says the first picked up quite a bit of interest at the recent Cannes Film Festival. It is The Devil’s Dandruff, based on Jason’s autobiographical novel There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus (the first in his autobiographical trilogy of books).

My favourite Jason Cook project, though, is the animated Rats in Space.

It’s a great title and it’s currently looking for finance.

We found we were both equally bemused and amused by the fact that, with potential movie investors, a person’s sartorial impressiveness is often in inverse proportion to their financial ability. People who turn up to meetings unshaven in scruffy shirts and torn jeans often have shedloads of money to burn. People who arrive looking well-heeled in neat Armani suits and spotless shirts are often bullshitting.

Maybe it’s because people with a lot of money don’t need to impress anyone, so don’t care what people think of them.

Whereas conmen and shysters are meticulous in their clothing and manners because they need to impress people for the hustle to work.

Of course, some shabbily-dressed men are just shabbily-dressed men.

I have been told I am living proof of this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, PR

How an Apple iPad could finally cure my concussion and help me forget the embarrassing toilet incidents

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about Jason Cook, who is dyslexic but has written three gangster novels and I mentioned that, since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book – not since I got hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in Borehamwood.

I have written books since 1991, but I am physically unable to read them. Always best not to mention this to a publisher.

In 1981, ten years before the accident, I contributed three chapters to the anthology Anatomy of the Movies (which I have just now looked up on Amazon and copies appear, astonishingly, to be selling for £57.60 upwards; sadly I get none of this).

But, since 1991, I have been unable to read any book, though I have written several.

I have no actual memory of getting hit except I was standing on the pavement at a junction. What I have reconstructed in my mind is that I was rushing down to the post office on Saturday morning to send a friend her birthday card before the final midday collection. At a junction, I stood on the pavement and turned round to see if any traffic was coming. The driver’s cab of a large truck passed me by but the front corner edge of the wider, protruding container behind it hit me on my turned-round shoulder, breaking my collar bone in two places.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I didn’t know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall.

I don’t remember any of that. But, from what I do know, that’s what must have happened.

I do have flashes of memory after that. I remember lying on the ground looking up at a group of people looking down at me; some were kneeling. I remember being in an ambulance and being asked my name and address.

“Ah, you need to write down my details,” I remember saying to an ambulance man.

“No,” he replied. “I’m just checking you know who you are.”

I remember looking at the ceiling while being wheeled along a corridor in Barnet Hospital.

I have only hazy memories. I think I had about ten or twelve stitches in the back of my head, but I can’t remember. I was theoretically in the care of whichever doctor(s) looked after concussion and brain damage; but I was in an orthopedic ward for people who had broken bones because of my collar bone. So the brain doctor upstairs who had responsibility for me didn’t visit that downstairs orthopedic ward because it wasn’t his area and the nurses in the ward I was in were only observing me for the specialist who didn’t come.

I had enough trouble trying to remember if you put the plastic toilet seat up or down when you sat on it. Sitting on the white ceramic of the bowl didn’t seem to quite work and was distractingly cold on the buttocks. And I can tell you the curved edges dig into your bum. I spent a week there. In the hospital, not in the toilet. I was eventually released from the hospital when a very weary and over-worked junior-looking doctor from the ‘mind’ ward came down to the ‘bone’ ward and said I seemed to be OK. He was very kindly but was just about to go home for some much-needed sleep and appeared to me to be in much worse condition than I was. But what did I know?

It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder – but only after I went to a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine not the NHS).

It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion.

I kept thinking I was better but my mind kept draining away for periods. I would come home, sit on the sofa and look at the wall, blankly, unable to think.

To formulate thoughts in my mind, I needed words and the words would not come to my mind nor come together. I could not hold thoughts together. It was like I could feel my nerve-endings or brain strands like little hands reaching out and trying to connect with one another but not quite being able to reach each other. I could almost put the thought together but could not quite reach. My brain was like thin vegetable soup with separate strands of spaghetti floating about like living worms trying but not quite able to touch each other.

When I tried to read a newspaper, I could only read about three lines of the first paragraph before I lost concentration. It was like looking at an object but then your eyes de-focus. I could see the words in newspapers and magazines OK but, after two or three lines, I could not hold their meaning together in my brain.

It was a flash forward to my own inevitable senility.

After a couple of weeks being OK, I would think I was better, but then my mind would go into vegetable soup mode again for two or three days. Then I would think I was better again. Then it would go soupy again. There was no NHS aftercare, of course, because I had been no-one’s specific responsibility. This went on for nine or ten months.

Since then, I can read newspapers and magazines with no problems, but I cannot read printed books.

Too much print. Too much density of words.

Whether it’s a psychological or physical problem I don’t know.

But I CAN write (and read) books on my computer. I think it’s because the amount of text you see at any given time is much less. Somehow this doesn’t flummox my mind the way holding a 300-page book in my hand does.

Since 1991, I have written comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (published 1996)…

I edited the anthology Sit-Down Comedy (2003) which involved commissioning original work from 19 comedians and then badgering them to deliver the stuff; some just delivered perfect manuscripts; some needed suggestions and help; some needed careful editing; it was a bit like juggling meerkats.

I then edited comedian Janey Godley’s utterly amazing autobiography Handstands in the Dark (I can say that because I did not write it and it was justly a top ten bestseller in 2005 and 2006)…

And, in early 2010, I wrote the first 55,000 words of a 70,000 novelisation of the by-anyone’s-standards controversial movie Killer Bitch. The publisher pulled that one two weeks before I finished the manuscript because all the supermarkets and WH Smiths refused to handle the book (despite the fact they had not read any of it). I might still revive/finish that one, though I’m useless without deadlines.

Anyway, I have written and/or edited/proof-read/shepherded all of the above, but I have not read any of the published printed books.

However, I have an Apple iPad with its gob-smackingly beautiful iBook application.

You can make the pages sepia, change the font and size of the text and turn a page with your finger just like a real book. The corner or edge of the page curls over as you move your finger and you see on the back of the previous page the reversed text and illustrations which were on it.

I adore it.

It is a thing of beauty.

And I think I could read a book on it, just as I can read a manuscript on my normal computer.

I have not yet tried a whole book, but I feel the urge coming on.

The Apple iPad could yet save me from illiteracy.

Oh and – yes – I do have trouble reading printed TV and film scripts too.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Health, Internet, Newspapers

A hard man is good to find

I was in the bar at Elstree Film Studios last week, which can feel a little like swimming in the recently dangerous waters off Sharm-el-Sheikh, surrounded by sharks circling for prey – though, in the current economic climate, the dead eyes are more desperate that deadly (unless, one presumes, you go into business with them).

Fortunately, though, I was there for a drink with the extremely amiable and apparently totally indefatigable criminal-turned-author Jason Cook (not to be confused with the amiable and I’m sure equally indefatigable comedian Jason Cook).

The first Jason Cook’s film company moves into production offices at Elstree Studios today.

He is one of those interesting people who are a just joy to meet, although I suspect living his life was considerably less enjoyable than sitting back and hearing about it. He is a dyslexic ex-con, who was smoking and selling hash from his bedroom when he was 12. By the time he was 16, he had moved on to ecstasy and became involved with local gangsters. He carried knives and guns, took steroids and worked out at the gym to build himself up. By 17, he was helping alleged gangsters collect debts – related to money-lending, drugs, anything.

Eventually, by now addicted to cocaine, Jason was given a seven and a half year prison sentence, of which he served two years, nine months. During this stretch in one of Her Majesty’s finer residential establishments, he joined the education programme and volunteered for a ‘drug-free wing’, where he was given help and support to kick his habit.

As part of the rehabilitation programme he was encouraged to start writing about his experiences and this inspired him to write his first partly autobiographical book, There’s No Room for Jugglers in my Circus (2006). This was followed by The Gangster’s Runner (2009) and the upcoming A Nice Little Earner ( to be published in 2011).

It’s a rare thing to find an optimistic story about a hard working indefatigable person who has overcome the odds and could succeed because of sheer personal determination.

Jason’s first two novels are being used by local community ‘drug awareness’ groups; he does an impressively heavy schedule of book signings in Waterstones etc etc; and he is trying to raise finance for the first of a movie trilogy based on his books – thus the move into Elstree Studios today.

But one of the strangest things he told me is that his definitely – indeed, definitively – ‘hard man’ books are mostly bought by women. Neither he nor I understand why as, from all the above, you can tell they appear to be resolutely “lads” books about “the Chaps”. One theory Jason has is that his books are being bought by women as presents for their men; the only other possibility would seem to be that women are somehow moving from ‘chick-lit’ to tougher books.

Perhaps they, like Mae West, believe that “a hard man is good to find”.

PS If you have couple of million pounds to invest, Jason Cook is your man. That’s the author/producer not the stand-up comedian, though I’m sure that other Jason Cook wouldn’t turn it down either.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Crime, Movies