Tag Archives: Catholic

What sort of creative creature is comic Dominic Holland, father of Spider-man?

What is Dominic Holland? 

A writer of books? A stand-up comedian? The father of Spider-man?

Yes to all three.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, an anthology of original writing by comedians which I compiled and edited with Malcolm Hardee. That’s the self-promotion over.

I thought I would talk to Dominic about his latest novel without ever mentioning his son Tom Holland – the current Marvel (soon to be Sony) movies’ Spider-man.

I failed.



“You encounter a homeless person and…”

JOHN: So, you have written five novels… and the latest, I, Gabriel, published a month ago, is about what?

DOMINIC: I have always been very exercised by homelessness. I have lived in London all my life. I used to do the Comedy Store and walk down Charing Cross Road and down The Strand and see homeless people and would give them money.

But I have a thing about hygiene. If I shake a homeless person’s hand, I start to panic. I would rather not touch them. I’m not ashamed of that. That’s just how I am. If you have no washing facilities, you’ve probably got excrement and all sorts of detritus all over your hands.

I thought: What happens if you encounter a homeless person, you shake their hand and they insist on sharing a meal with you. You don’t want to eat their sandwich, but you have to and you contract a food poisoning and it keeps you off a doomed air flight. Wouldn’t that be a great starting point for a drama? That idea has been in my head for 20 years and that’s the kernel of the story. Then I designed a character who had everything and I wanted him to have an epiphany.

The epiphany for Gabriel is that he is a man of vast success and vast wealth but actually has nothing.

It’s a 3-act book. The First Act is fleshing out his character. He is an unpleasant man. He is a very highly-paid, successful surgeon. A very rarified man, very bright. But he is lost to greed. Then he has this epiphany. He realises his life has been a sham, really. And then something rather extraordinary happens in the Third Act.

Where I am most happy abiout is that nobody – but nobody – has seen the ending coming.

JOHN: You are a Christian.

DOMINIC: Habitually. All my life I’ve been a Catholic. Big Catholic family. I have four aunts who are nuns, two uncles who are priests. My whole tradition growing up was going to mass. My boys were brought up Catholic and I like belonging to a Church. I like a feeling of belonging. I belong to the comedy circuit; I belong to the Catholic Church. But my faith, I’m afraid, is not terribly… erm… vivid. I like the punctuation of mass. I go to mass two Sundays in four. I use it as a chance to just sit there and reflect on my good fortune and what I hope to do for the rest of my little time on this mortal coil.

JOHN: Your boys were brought up Catholic…

DOMINIC: Yes. Four boys.

JOHN: What does your wife do?

DOMINIC: She’s a photographer, but she’s now giving that up to run a charity we started: The Brothers Trust. 

It has been going about 18 months/two years. We didn’t want to call it The Tom Holland Foundation. He has the platform to attract money, but we thought it might seem a little bit narcissistic and narrow because Tom’s brothers are involved.

The Brothers Trust family – The brothers Holland (left-right) Sam, Tom, Paddy and Harry with parents Dominic & Nikki

Using Tom’s cachet, we put events on and all the money we get in – less the transactional costs and the charitable costs in America – you have to employ American firms to administer them – all the money WE get, we then distribute to various charities. Our own remit is to give money to charities that struggle to be heard. Not to the big charities. To small charities and charities without the big administrative costs. We don’t personally want to support charities that have got vast numbers of people flying all over the world.

For example, we have built a hostel in India through The John Foundation, who basically take off the streets girls who have been trafficked and this very virtuous doctor and his wife house the girls and train them to become beauticians or overlockers. They get security and a skill and they’re also now making our Brothers Trust T-shirts which we are planning to sell and money from that will go to other causes we want to support.

We also support a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Lunchbowl – they feed kids every day; we have bought them two 40-seater buses to take kids from the slums to-and-from school.

We support a charity in Britain called Debra which looks after kids with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa), a pernicious disease where your skin is effectively like tissue paper – there’s 5,000 people in the UK with it. It’s the same number of people with cystic fibrosis, but no-one’s ever heard of it

JOHN: You have also written a book about Tom: EclipsedWhat’s the elevator pitch for that?

“For me, the story was perfectly-formed…”

DOMINIC: It’s the story of how a young boy is spotted inadvertently, finds himself dancing on the West End stage whilst his dad is doing comedy gigs in village halls… That kid goes on to become a movie star and his old man is still playing the same clubs he was 20 years ago.

JOHN: “Spotted inadvertently”? 

DOMINIC: Tom was spotted at a local YMCA disco dancing class and he ended up playing the lead in Billy Eliot in the West End… As I say in Eclipsed, it’s a fluke. The whole thing has been a fluke. A happy fluke.

JOHN: You say ‘village halls’, but you did play places like the Comedy Store in London.

DOMINIC: Yes but, John, you know and I know that, back in the day, I was mooted as one of the ‘Next Big Things’ – and it didn’t happen. And there’s no rancour on my part. I performed at the Comedy Store last weekend and I’m proud to be on that stage because a lot of my mates from my generation aren’t doing it any more. The fact that I’m still being booked to go on last at The Comedy Store means you’ve got chops. I would love to have made it. I didn’t. But, for the book, it’s a perfect juxtaposition. For me, the story was perfectly-formed.

My first novel Only in America was spawned from selling a screenplay. I did a gig in 1995 in Cleethorpes. Didn’t get paid. Long way. I was on the train coming home to London, cold. I had already won the Perrier Award as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993, I had been on television, I was becoming well-known. So I thought: This is rubbish! I can’t keep going to Cleethorpes for no money. I’m going to write a film.

So I wrote a film and sold it to Norma Heyman, who is the mother of David Heyman – He produced all the Harry Potter films. Norma Heyman’s husband John was a big-shot producer. 

Norma Hayman said to me: “You are the new Frank Capra.”

JOHN: Wow!

DOMINIC: I didn’t even know who Frank Capra was. I had to look him up. But I had these very exciting meetings in Soho and, over the next two or two-and-a-half years, I sold that script two or three times and then it fell over. But that story inspired my first novel Only in America.

Dominic Holland in Soho, London, last week

I then sold Only in America to the BBC and to Hollywood film producers. I went to Los Angeles and had meetings with Big Time agents who said: “This is great! We’re gonna make your movie! Frank Oz was going to direct; Bette Midler was going to be in it… And then it fell over.

So, when Tom started on his journey in the West End, it was a funny story in my head… When he was cast in his first movie (The Impossible, 2012) and was long-listed for an Oscar… THAT for me was a perfect story, because I had tried and failed and Tom was succeeding.

So I end the story on a Los Angeles red carpet with Tom being long-listed for an Oscar and I thought: Well, that’s a hilarious story. I had been spending all this energy trying to make it as a writer and become a new Richard Curtis and, with no problem at all, my boy was going: Dad! Watch! Over here! and making it…!

I finished the book when he was 16 and, since then, he has become a proper movie star.

I didn’t get films made. It’s a small nut to crack and most people don’t crack it and I am one of that ‘most’. But, being one of the ‘most’ and having failed, I was then presented with a beautiful piece of storytelling. Here’s my failed efforts to make it in Hollywood and then here’s my bloody son, with no efforts, BOOM!… and I’m thrilled.

People say to me: “Are you jealous?” and I think: Well, if you think that, you don’t know who I am.”

JOHN: Fuck me, well I’m jealous but, then, he’s not my son…

(BELOW, TOM HOLLAND, PROMOTING SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME IN BALI, AS VIDEOED BY HIS BROTHER HARRY HOLLAND)

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Movies, Writing

Forgotten famous British comedians and Sean Brightman’s comedy condoms

Sean Brightman at the Sanderson Jones gig

Sean Brightman this week at Sanderson Jones’ Internet gig

Yesterday, I blogged about Sanderson Jones’ geeky new comedy night All Your Internet Are Belong to Us and how this month’s show developed into a bit of a gross-a-thon.

But, before it went so entertainingly off-the-rails, it had stayed on its geeky theme with the end of a ‘tumblr battle’ between comedians Sean Brightman and Stuart Laws in which, for about three weeks, they had created collections of tumblr images.

Stuart Laws had created a collection of comic ‘riders’ demanded by performers.

Sean Brightman had gone for his rather more ambitious A-Z of Alternative Comedy – The Alternative Alphabet.

This proved interesting because, the All Your Internet Are Belong to Us show had a full audience of average-aged comedy punters, many of whom had simply never heard of a few of the famous comedians whom Sean had chosen.

Sic transit gloria.

It was an age thing. I guess it also demonstrates the power of television.

Comedian Charlie Chuck - aka “Donkey!"

Comedian Charlie Chuck – now popularly known as “Donkey!”

When Sean showed his tumblr graphic for Charlie Chuck and asked, “Does anyone know who this is?” someone immediately shouted out in a throaty voice: “Donkey!”

Everyone knew who Kevin Eldon is, presumably because of his current TV series; before that, I suspect, most comedy-watchers knew the face but not necessarily his name.

Everyone, of course, knew Stewart Lee but no-one knew his hero and inspiration Ted Chippington.

No-one in the audience had heard of the great Stanley Unwin – admittedly more of a personality than a comedian, but he did gain television fame in his day. Sean admitted Stanley was “not really an alternative comedian, but there is fuck-all else for ‘U’.”

Oy! Oy! - Who the hell is this unknown famous bloke?

Oy! Oy! – Who the hell is this unknown famous comedy bloke?

And absolutely no-one in the full room knew who Malcolm Hardee was, despite I think valiant efforts by me over several years to link the phrase ‘the godfather of alternative comedy’ and the name ‘Malcolm Hardee’ together in the comedic collective mind…

As Sean explained to the audience: “This is Malcolm Hardee. He was a famous… well, not too famous… but he was quite famous… erm.. around the comedy scene… especially round London… for being the… the… he was… Just buy his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. You’ll find out all about alternative comedy. He’s a comedy legend. He sadly died.”

Afterwards, I chatted to Sean.

“Why?” I asked. “Why do the tumblr Alternative Alphabet?”

“It was an educational device to teach people a little bit about alternative comedy,” he told me.

“Are you being serious?” I asked. “Are you going to take it into schools?”

“I think it could live on longer than a tumblr battle,” replied Sean. “It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’m a designer as well as a comedian, so I present things all the time and this was a nice way of combining my skills.

“I’m doing a show with my wife Renata at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, which is going to be a PowerPoint presentation. It’s called Philip and Marjorie’s Marriage Preparation Course For Regular People and The Gays.

A man with a mission - well, quite a lot of missions, in fact

A man with a mission – well he owns rather a lot of missions

“Renata and I got married in September in a Catholic church. I’m not a Catholic. They send you on a marriage preparation course and you can either do it over five weeks or you can do it over one day. We did it over one very warm Saturday last year and it just struck us both how hilarious it was.

“In many ways, it’s good to get 26 or 27 couples together in a room and work through different scenarios and troubleshoot various areas of marriage that might come up.

“The spark for our show was that the couple teaching the course had been reading off this Comic Sans presentation – endless Comic Sans slides – and they stopped for a second and decided to ad-lib something. They looked at us all up and down and said:

“OK. You may have seen what’s going on in the news. How many of you, by a quick show of hands, believe that gay people should be allowed to get married?”

“A lot of people’s hands went up, including ours.

“They were taken slightly aback by this and I thought Wow! We’re at a Catholic event with a lot of people who ARE Catholic, yet there’s a big groundswell of support for this. 

“So the idea for our show is that these two (fictional) bumbling characters are doing a marriage preparation course and they’re trying to modernise things when, really, they probably shouldn’t and they don’t really have an understanding of the issues.

“But the show will be done from a place of love. Trying to walk that fine line between being offensive and putting on a show that’s educational and a bit different.”

“Renata’s a comic herself?” I asked.

“She is a comic, explained Sean. “She was performing a lot in Australia and then came over here to pursue comedy and met me. But then she had a horrible back accident and had to rest and stop. She broke her coccyx and had to take time off. So she’s just finding her way back into it now and she’s helping me run my We Love Comedy gig in London.”

“She was born in Australia?”

“Yes,” said Sean. “Australia’s a great place. I’d love to live there at some point in the future.”

“But,” I argued, “it’s just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

Australia - a big desert with bits round the edge

Australia really IS just a big desert with bits round the edge

“Yes,” agreed Sean. “Desert is the word, but it’s not what we’ve got here. It’s summer here now and it’s snowing outside. We had plans to move to Australia, but we’ve put them off because we’ve now adopted a three-legged dog and a cat.”

“Have you done the posters for your Edinburgh show?” I asked.

“We’re going to do very simple printed leaflets,” replied Sean, “of the sort you’d see in a church. And then we’re going to staple condoms to them.”

“This afternoon,” I said,” I was talking to Kate Copstick and she told me that, if you go to Poundland, you can buy 12 condoms for £1.”

“It’s been worth talking to you tonight,” Sean said and left quickly.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Fame, UK

You meet the most extraordinary people at the Edinburgh Fringe

Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.

Do I look Jewish?

American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.

He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”

Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”

Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”

Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.

“No. Sorry,” I replied.

Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.

“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”

“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”

“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”

The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.

“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.

“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”

“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.

“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.

The leaflet said:

Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!

All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.

I was tempted to convert.

There was a Jewish thread running through the day.

A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.

That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…

We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.

What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.

I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.

“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”

You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.

I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.

I will re-phrase that.

I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.

Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former  professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!

One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.

Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.

After that, Charlie Chuck and I we were off to the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party at the Counting House, future scene of the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 26th August.

Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.

But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.

The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.

Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.

The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.

The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.

The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.

I felt very much like the lens.

It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.

Then my phone rang.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.

“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.

“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”

Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.

The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.

Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”

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Filed under Comedy, Racism, Scotland, Theatre

Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Sex

The convent school comedienne who now does the sand dance in Brighton

A few days ago, I blogged about a bizarre night at comedy club Pull The Other One in Herne Hill and a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears.

Charmian Hughes, who compered an early part of that show, tells me she has now received from the aforementioned gent “a special painting for being intellectual… apparently it has Egyptian connotations.”

This is presumably because the mysterious and rather eccentric gent was impressed by Charmian’s… erm… unique on-stage sand dance, part of her latest hour-long show Charmian Hughes: The Ten Charmandments which she is performing for the next three Sundays at the Quadrant on the Brighton Fringe.

Her show claims to reveal ancient wisdoms “straight from the camel’s mouth” and she will be taking it up to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Charmian was one of the first six girls admitted to Westminster Boys’ School in 1972 which, she says, was a bit of an “intense experience” for her.

“I had come straight from my convent boarding school,” she tells me. ‘I had been educated privately in minor fee-paying convents as the only Catholic in my Protestant family – an accident of various widowings and divorcings. At Westminster, the housemaster who interviewed me hated the head, John Rae, and I think admitted me to annoy him.

“My mother didn’t even really believe in girls’ education – she’d love Afghanistan – but she wanted to shaft my father for the fees and also thought I’d get a rich husband. She really did. My dad never paid up and my mother was very disappointed in me not getting married at 18. But she did frighten off all my male chums by demanding whether their intentions were honourable in a shouty voice.”

From such beginnings are comedians made.

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The Prime Minister, sex, sleaze, prostitutes and Boris Johnson

A friend of mine – an Englishman in Italy – used to work for a large international conglomerate and, in the 1990s, once had to take a briefcase stuffed with cash to Rome Airport and hand it over to a civil servant. Everyone accepted that was how the wheels were greased. That was how the Italian state worked.

I also used to know someone involved with an Italian TV show which had to employ a girlfriend of now-deceased Prime Minister Bettino Craxi on their series. In fact, that underestimates her role: she actually arranged orgies for Prime Minister Craxi. My chum thought, “Ooh, now there’s a big secret I know about!” But then he discovered everyone knew about the supposed ‘scandal’ and it was almost routinely printed in Italian newspapers and magazines; everyone just accepted it. That was how the Italian state worked.

So I am a tad surprised as well as being in moral confusion about the current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s problems.

He is immensely entertaining, which is always a bonus in my eyes. A bit like London’s current mayor Boris Johnson but with dyed hair. My heart takes flight when I hear any news item about either Boris or Silvio. I just know it’s going to be knockabout laugh-a-minute stuff.

But now Silvio is accused of having sex with an under-aged prostitute. This is not good. He faces a court case and a potential 15 years in prison. This is definitely not good.

The age of consent in Italy is generally 14, though 13-year-olds can legally have sex with partners who are less than three years older. This seems much too low to me but, if that is the law in Italy, then that is what good Italians Catholics have decided is morally acceptable. As I understand it, the girl involved in the Berlusconi case was 17 when the alleged sex took place and, while prostitution is legal in Italy – just as it is in the UK – it is illegal in Italy for a man to have sex with a prostitute under 18.

So the girl involved was three years over the general age of consent but one year under the legal age for sexual consent as a prostitute. This seems a very complicated moral quagmire within Italy, though I can see why sex with a prostitute under 18 is proscribed.

However, both Silvio and the girl totally deny sex took place. If they both deny it, then quite how evidence can be presented that it did take place I don’t know. There was a payment of £6,000 but apparently well after the alleged sex allegedly happened and Silvio and the girl both claim the payment was connected to something totally different. He also got her released from police custody in a separate incident, but that is more abuse of power than directly relevant the sex charges. It’s all a bit murky but sounds too circumstantial for a prosecution.

They could be lying through their teeth, of course, though I’m not sure why a young prostitute would not admit sex took place if she is going to become rich on selling the whole story to the media.

There is also the question in my mind of why on earth Silvio Berlsconi would have to pay for sex with a girl. Call me cynical, but the man is a billionaire, he owns a string of high-profile populist TV stations so he can get anyone he wants onto TV and he is the most powerful politician in the country! Any one of those three facts, in my experience, would mean lithe young nymphettes would be throwing themselves at him for free every day! The casting couch stretches beyond the movie business.

Heavens! Nymphettes throw themselves at impoverished comedians in dodgy basement clubs on a nightly basis let alone powerful billionaires who can get them on several national television series.

BBC News reported that Silvio Berlusconi reckons he has been in court over 2,500 times during various cases over the years. He has been accused of tax fraud, corruption, infidelity, Mafia involvement, you name it. I’m surprised he hasn’t been accused of illegally importing birds’ eggs. At least once he was accused of paying bribes on behalf of his companies at a time when no large company in Italy could operate without paying bribes. It struck me as a purely politically-motivated prosecution. That was/is how the Italian state worked/works.

Last year he was accused of being a member of an alleged secret organisation allegedly called P3 – a revival, it was said, of the infamous Masonic lodge P2 – Propaganda Due which existed from 1946 to at least 1981 and of which Silvio really was a member.

I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent of the current charges. He is certainly not an innocent man in general. And Italy – run by P2 and the Mafia from the end of the Second World War to perhaps the mid-70s – is most certainly not an innocent country.

P2 comprised prominent politicians, industrialists, bankers, journalists and military leaders, the heads of all three Italian intelligence services and even the pretender to the Italian throne. In 1977, P2 took over the influential Corriere della Sera newspaper; it was rumoured to be involved in the 1982 killing of ‘God’s banker’ Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London, and it even had rumoured links to the 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station and the 1978 killing of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the heavily-infiltrated Red Brigades (allegedly because he had started to talk about NATO’s secret Gladio network).

It feels to me that Silvio is being stitched-up at the moment. He may very well be a reprehensible, ageing sleazeball, but this is a case where every fact seems to swirl in very muddied waters indeed.

It is not as if Silvio Berlusconi was running a prostitution racket, is it…

Is it?

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The IRA sympathiser and the SAS man: a true story

Once upon a time an Italian historian told me this true story about his friend ‘Alan’ who was in the British SAS. (I have changed the name, although the SAS man is now dead)…

Alan had gone to prominent public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62. After that, he returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and he joined a privately-run special services group. They were used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda, in the Qatar affair where the Emir’s brother was shot and various other exotic things. Finally, in 1969, he was employed as one of a group who were to go and kill Colonel Gadaffi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Alan was persuaded by the authorities to join the British Army’s SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

On one occasion, they were about to raid some houses in Catholic West Belfast but wanted to find out in advance details of what they would face. So they stole a car in Protestant East Belfast, drove into West Belfast and, pretending they were members of a Protestant gang, kidnapped a man who could tell them, put him in the boot of their car and drove back to East Belfast. Their plan was to threaten to kill him, then question him and return him to West Belfast. But, when they tried to get him out of the boot of their stolen car, they found the lock was jammed shut. They had stolen the car but they had never tested the lock on the boot.

So they drove round to the British Army Barracks’ vehicle workshop. The Army mechanics, in full uniform, just touched the lock with a screwdriver and the boot suddenly sprang open without warning. The Catholic nationalist lay there, looking up at his kidnappers standing with uniformed British Army mechanics. They slammed the boot shut again and tried to figure out what to do.

The nationalist now knew he had been kidnapped not by a Protestant gang but by the British Army. Alan went and talked with his commander.

“I don’t care what you do with him,” the commander said. “It’s your problem. Solve it.”

So they took the nationalist out of the car boot, injected him with a knock-out drug and drove him across the border to Shannon Airport in the Irish Republic. A British ‘asset’ at the airport put the man – still deeply asleep – in a seat on a scheduled flight to New York. The man woke up around the time he was landing in United States with no passport, visa or documents. On landing, he was immediately arrested for trying to enter the country illegally.

He had no explanation of how he could have flown from Shannon to New York on a scheduled flight and his story about being kidnapped by the British Army in Belfast did not fit the known facts. He spent ten days in a cell in New York, while they tried to figure out what was going on. By the time he was sent back to Belfast, the SAS had made their raids and the whole affair was over. To this day, he must be a very puzzled man.

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