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Shoreditch dreams – Satanic stand-up comedy and Lycra-clad policemen

Perhaps it was the fact I only had two hours sleep the previous night.

But what is it with Shoreditch in London?

It seems to have aspirations to be trendy Islington but its pockets of aspiring Yuppieness have been dropped down into what, at night, seems like a set from a Jack The Ripper film – jet-black stone streets with added 21st century traffic. It’s like King’s Cross but darker and with less investment.

Shoreditch is a dark night-time nether corner of schizophrenic Hackney, where partly-trendy-yet-immensely-downmarket Hoxton meets a corner of Hackney proper and the world that was the Kray TwinsBethnal Green, which now has 1950s Brits intermingled with penniless immigrants who have nothing but hope in two generations time.

And round the corner from all this sit the glass towers and stone solidity of the City of London.

Shoreditch is a very strange place.

The area is like some darkly surreal imagining on the thin border where a dream may or may not turn into a nightmare.

So, a couple of nights ago, I went to Shoreditch after only a couple of hours sleep the previous night with these thoughts in my mind and comedy in my heart.

Yes, I have no fear of bad writing.

I went to see the weekly Cantaloopy Comedy show run by Miss D aka the interesting part-comedian, part serious journalist that is Daphna Baram.

Last time I went, the Cantaloupe pub cat stole the show, meandering across the stage and occasionally finding high points from which to look down disdainfully at the performing comedians.

This time, sadly for me, there was no cat but also, sadly, no headliner Arthur Smith, whose mother had had a bad fall. Daphna reckons I am bad luck when I go to one of her gigs. She may be right.

But the Cantaloopy bill was so choc-a-bloc, the lack of the two main attractions did not damage the show.

One highlight for me was Janet Bettesworth, who is just plain weird and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.  It had nothing to do with my lack of sleep. It has something to do with her Joanna Lumley voice, the dry sometimes almost literary delivery, the unexpected shock of red hair and her extraordinary transformation late in the act into a comedy ventriloquist with Hammer Horror hints. It was like watching a refined relative talk sweetly to you but with a whiff of the Satanic and dark deeds behind the curtains of Middle England wafting from the stage. I began, at one point, to think I must be hallucinating.

Highly entertained and utterly fascinated… but hallucinating.

This can’t be happening, I thought.

Yet it was and I was pleased it was.

I knew it wasn’t my lack of sleep. I had seen Janet Bettesworth before and was equally mesmerised before.

I had never seen David Mills before despite the fact he was recently crowned New Act of the Year – the highly prestigious award formerly known as the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year and proof that something good can occasionally come out of Hackney.

But I was amazed how a totally top-notch professional camp American of this quality had  escaped my radar. Especially as he has apparently lived in the UK for a decade. Much like Maureen Younger being a new act for me at a Pull The Other One gig a couple of weeks ago.

Curiouser and curiouser.

A few weeks ago, someone mistook me for Antipodean intellectual Clive James. At Cantaloopy, David Mills said I reminded him of Shrek. I know which I prefer. But alas I know which is more realistic.

Altogether an unusual night in Shoreditch especially when, on my walk back to the car, I bumped into Noel Faulkner just leaving his Comedy Cafe venue and, after crossing Shoreditch High Street, he became fascinated by the sight of two police cars pursuing a man on a skateboard.

“The guy should just keep going,” Noel said to me. “Police cars will never catch a skateboard.”

When I reached my own car I saw, up an adjacent side street, two policemen and a policewoman milling around in the middle of the road while another two policemen were climbing up on a wall to look over railings into a graveyard.

I wondered what the man had done. Perhaps we are on the cusp of a spate of major skateboard robberies which will be countered by Scotland Yard establishing a Skateboard Squad of Lycra-clad coppers.

Or perhaps I just need more sleep.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies

Two more tales of racism and xenophobia at ITV – both of them perfectly understandable in the circumstances

Following on from my recent blog about sex and Jewish stereotypes at Granada Television in Manchester during the 1980s, are two stories about executive perks and free cars.

I worked at ITV when money was swilling about.

After recordings of entertainment shows Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! at London Weekend Television, Mercedes-Benz cars would queue up late night, waiting to take participants off home or to their hotels – the mini-cab company used by LWT drove only Merecedes-Benz.

That was fair enough.

Always treat your programme participants well – especially on ‘real people’ shows.

But I heard interesting stories at two of the other ITV companies I worked for – about the cars which top executives were given as part of their pay packages.

At Anglia TV, two of the top men at the company had been imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II. So top executives were allowed to choose any car they liked within a certain price range provided it was not a Japanese car. For understandable reasons.

Granada TV was founded and run by the Jewish entrepreneur Sidney Bernstein. I was told that, in the early days of the company, top executives – as at Anglia – were given cars as part of their salary package, but they could only have non-German cars. Granada would not buy, rent or lease any German car. Again for obvious reasons. Though, by the time I worked there, this rule had been changed and executives could have German cars because, it was said, Sidney had been shown that using German cars made economic sense.

Perhaps that was an urban myth, though I suspect it was true.

Granada nourished myths.

But it is ironic that it was BBC TV not ITV which popularised the saying: “Don’t mention the War!”

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Filed under History, Racism, Television