I saw a repeat of The Story of Variety with Michael Grade on BBC TV recently. The argument was that variety is dead. Michael Grade (unusually) was wrong. Two things yesterday proved this to me: the Royal Wedding and a monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, home of Only Fools and Horses – no connection with the Royal Wedding.
At school, I took British Constitution for ‘A’ Level so i am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. If left to my own devices yesterday, I might have switched on BBC1 to see the RAF fly-past at the Royal Wedding and perhaps I would have watched the drive back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in case anyone got assassinated.
As it was, I was with a friend who is a feminist republican. (Note, if you are an American reader, a republican is almost the opposite of what you might think: more left wing than right wing).
Of course, like almost all British republicans, she is obsessed with reading about and watching the Royals and following the soap opera and I had to sit through the whole thing on TV.
We had recently sat through Lindsay Anderson’s surreal movie If…. together and yesterday, when it got to the marriage bit where camp-looking churchmen in kitsch golden dresses were intoning sleep-inducing words and the congregation was awash with politicians, Royals, the upper classes and Elton John, I half expected Malcolm McDowell to appear high up in the Abbey among the gargoyles desperately firing an AK-47 at the congregation who would flood out the doors of the Abbey into Parliament Square where mortar bombs would explode.
Perhaps my mind wandered a little.
But men intoning the word of God in funny costumes always stimulates the surreal nodes in my brain.
My friend did make the interesting point that, apart from Kate Middleton, the colourful service was an entirely male affair apart from two nuns sitting to one side dressed in drab grey among the men in bright colours and the presumably-repeatedly-buggered choirboys in white surplices. It looked to me like the two nuns had been hired from Central Casting. One was unnecessarily tall and the other was unnecessarily small. It was like watching that classic comedy sketch where John Cleese is upper class and Ronnie Corbett is working class.
I am Sister Superior; I am taller than her and nearer to God… and I am Sister Inferior; I know my place.
Even when they sat down, the tall one was twice the height as the small one – that never normally happens. I began to fantasise about special effects and trapdoors in the pews.
The real pisser for me, though, was that the BBC TV director managed to miss the shot of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flying down the length of The Mall. That was the only reason I was watching the thing – other than the possibility of visually interesting assassinations – and it was almost as bad as ITN missing the Royal Kiss on the balcony when Charles married Di.
Everything else was so impeccably stage-managed, I couldn’t understand why they missed the shot. I particularly loved the trees and random greenery inside Westminster Abbey though I found the chandeliers distracting. I don’t remember chandeliers inside the Abbey. Did they come with the trees as part of a special offer from B&Q?
The Royal Wedding guests included Elton John, an invisible Posh & Becks and the distractingly visible two nuns.
In the evening, I went to the monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, which similarly attracts performers who come along to see the show but not to participate. This month it was writer Mark Kelly, actor Stephen Frost and surreal performer Chris Lynam. As I have said before, you know it is a good venue if other performers come to see the shows.
Pull The Other One is not a normal comedy show in that its performers are almost entirely speciality acts not stand-up comedians. If you need a break from reality, I recommend Pull The Other One as a good place to go. And the compering is usually as odd as the acts.
With Vivienne Soan on tour in Holland, the always energetic Holly Burn – the Miss Marmite of Comedy as I like to think of her – compered with Charmian Hughes and the latter performed an Egyptian sand dance in honour of the Royal wedding. Don’t ask, I don’t know, but it was very funny.
Martin Soan, Holly Burn and massed wind-up puppets performed Riverdance.
The extraordinarily larger-than-life Bob Slayer surprisingly did balloon modelling and unsurprisingly drank a pint of beer in one gulp.
Juggler Mat Ricardo (to be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this August in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show) still has some of the best spesh act patter around.
Magician David Don’t – who had variable success last month when he used blind-folded members of the audience throwing darts at each other – unusually succeeded in an escapology act involving a giant Royal Mail bag, although it’s the last time I want to see a banker with no clothes on and a Union flag coming out of his groin.
Earl Okin did wonderful musical things with his mouth.
And, to round off the evening Matthew Robins, with ukulele and accordion accompaniment, performed a shadow puppet story about murder and mutilation and a visit to the zoo. It is rare to see a shadow puppet show about someone getting his fingers cut off with pliers, his sister hanging from a rope and the audience spontaneously singing along to “I wanted you to love me, but a snake bit my hand…”
But it is more interesting than watching the Archbishop of Canterbury with his grey wild-man-of-the-desert hair wearing a gold dress and a funny pointy party hat in Westminster Abbey.
Pull the Other One – on the last Friday of every month – is never ever predictable and Stephen Frost, keen to appear, lamented to me the fact it is fully booked with performers until November.
Most interesting line of the evening – of the whole day, in fact – came from Earl Okin, who pointed out what a historic Wedding Day this was…
Because it was exactly 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun.
“It doesn’t bode well,” Earl said.