Tag Archives: Chris Luby

Spencer Jones: only a bit of a Herbert

Spencer Jones - not a toilet act, despite the signs

Spencer Jones, The Herbert – not a toilet act, despite the signs

“Your comedy character is called The Herbert,” I said to Spencer Jones.

“Well,” he told me, “I wanted to call him The Dickhead. Dickhead to me is quite a nice term: He’s a dickhead – I like him. It feels like a warm character to me. But Northerners told me it was too strong.

“So then I messed-around with all sorts of names – The Idiot… The Herbert.

“I settled on The Herbert – He’s a Herbert He’s really clever at one thing. But also Check out this Herbert: quite a London phrase for He’s a bit of a prat. And Herbert Spencer wrote theories on comedy. The name just seemed to fit well.”

“How did the character start?”

“About three years ago, I did a Doctor Brown course for five days and I was awful for the whole week. I loved it but I was awful. I was the worst. But I found it really interesting.”

“Why do a clown course?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because it was trendy?”

“It wasn’t trendy to me.”

“You were no good at it, but you loved it.”

“What I loved about it was realising the magic that goes on in the audience’s head. When you do a clown class with 30 people and they’ve each got to walk on stage within the group three times, you see 90 entrances. It’s a crucial moment when you walk out on stage. Every person in the audience makes up their mind about you in different ways.

Audiences make assumptions about acts

Audiences make assumptions about acts

“Someone walks on stage and you can think: Ooh. He looks like a builder. Or Ooh. He looks like he’s got issues. Or Ooh. He looks like he thinks he’s a dancer… All these little things. When you are doing stand-up in little clubs, it’s about how you walk on stage and your opening gag: the audience make their mind up about you.”

“So,” I suggested, “like most ‘silly’ acts, you are analytical.”

“I try to be. Maybe. A little bit.”

“What is the elevator pitch for your act?”

“Oh God. I don’t know.”

“When you decided to be a comedian, were you the Herbert immediately?”

“No. Before that, I was a stand-up for a little while. I’m a kind of private person, so I found it kind-of difficult to do good stand-up. Then I did sketch comedy: I put together a little troupe called Broken Biscuits. Then I did characters – builders, Foley artists…”

“Foley artists?”

“Foley Phil. I had seen Chris Luby at the Glastonbury Festival, doing marching sounds. My Phil Foley was a bit like him.”

“The cliché is that performers hide behind characters.”

“Definitely. Though there’s a little part of myself in there. The kid in me.”

“So, getting back to the elevator pitch again…”

“The Herbert is basically physical comedy and props. And some weird music. You know what, John? I really don’t know yet.”

“How long have you been doing it?”

“Three-and-a-bit years. I just take stuff on stage that I think will make people laugh. I never thought of myself as a physical comedian or wanted to be a prop comic, but I found something to take on stage and then something else and suddenly I had props. The key thing is to go on, smile, be nice and make sure I am the biggest prat in the room.”

“Did you study drama at university?”

“I didn’t go to university. My mum always used to encourage me when I sang and when I acted and, when bullies used to bully me, I fought back and she used to say: You’re doing the right thing. But the rest of it – school – she wasn’t bothered about that. I kind of fannied around until I was 30 and then I thought: I’ve got to stop being a dick. And now I’m a professional dickhead.”

“What had you been before you were 30?”

Spencer Jones, a man of many occupations & props

Spencer Jones, a man of many occupations & props

“All sorts, I’d worked in a pastie factory. I was a teaboy and then a producer for TV commercials. I worked for the council in West Ham and Plaistow.”

“As what?”

“It was called New Deal for Communities: I used to teach kids things like radio presenting. I’ve done lots of things. Bar manager. Wedding DJ. Wedding singer.”

“So why choose to go into comedy at 30?”

“I’d done a double act when I was 16 or 17 – three gigs and we got booed off stage on the third gig by all my friends. I wanted to entertain. When I was 18 or 19, I went to Malcolm Hardee’s club Up The Creek and saw some acts get absolutely annihilated and I didn’t have the balls to touch comedy again until I was 24.

“I used to play in a junk band – gas pipes, shopping trollies, kitchen sinks and we used to open the cabaret stage at the Glastonbury Festival for a few years.”

So there you have it.

Spencer Jones is the Herbert.

A surreal, absurdist physical comedy act with lots of props.

“The act is all mumbling,” he told me. “I’m trying to get it down to just mumbling and noises. The occasional well-chosen word.”

Spencer’s preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe

Spencer’s preparations for Edinburgh Fringe are going well

“Has your Edinburgh Fringe show next month got a theme?” I asked.

“It’s about my daughter being in hospital,” Spencer told me. “About having no money. Being skint.”

“Autobiograpical?” I asked.

“Absolutely. If you spend five days in hospital with a kid, as a clown, you’ve gotta start messing around with the equipment.”

“What was wrong with her?”

“Meningitis.”

“How old?”

“She’s four months old now. It was full-on for a month. You’ve got to perform what you know and what’s honest to you. I try to do silly stuff, but it always gets informed by what’s going on around me.”

“What’s next?”

“I dunno. I just want to carry on trying to make people laugh. Just pay the bills. I’ve go a roof that needs fixing. There’s a short film coming out called Showtime, directed by Anthony Dickenson who is a commercials director looking into longer narrative stuff. I play a bit of a cocky stand-up comedian who’s in a bit of a pickle. In the film, I am the Daily Mail Comedian of the Year.

“I’m an actor, really. One of the main reason I started doing comedy was I figured it was a good way to get acting jobs, because I saw it as a meritocracy where, if you’re a good comedian, you get work.”

I told Spencer: “You didn’t say: I ALSO act. You said: I’m an actor. Which implies you see yourself as an actor first.”

“Yes. I’m an actor, yeah. I do quite a few commercials. I’m the current face of Barclaycard. I like an easy life. I would love it if someone just gave me a script and I learn the lines, do the thing, go home and hang out with the missus and kids. That would be the easy life… But…”

There is a clip of The Herbert’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show on YouTube.

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The most entertaining British funeral of the last 115 years – an audio recording

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s odd 2005 funeral

Whose are the greatest British funerals of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Well, there is Queen Victoria’s in 1901, Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965 and Princess Diana’s in 1997.

But, for sheer entertainment value in the last 115 years, surely not one can compare with the funeral of comedian Malcolm Hardee on 17th February 2005. He drowned, drunk, aged 55.

The printed invitation to and running order for the religious service in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich, was headed:

YOU LUCKY BASTARD!

The invitation to & running order for Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The invitation to Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The Daily Telegraph ran a news item on the funeral the following day (yes, it printed a review of the funeral) which was headlined: Funeral at Which the Mourners’ Tears Were Caused by Laughter.

The review said: “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

The Sun also ran a review of the funeral, headlined Dead Funny – Comic Mal’s Wacky Send-Off pointing out that “instead of a wreath on his coffin, pals placed a lifebelt and an L-plate. in church, the congregation leapt to their feet and applauded as if he was taking to the stage one last time. they included comics Vic Reeves, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, David Baddiel, Jerry Sadowitz and Keith Allen.”

In the ten years since Malcolm’s death, his funeral has been oft-talked about but never repeated. Well, one doesn’t with funerals.

More wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

More sentimental wreaths at the  funeral

As comedy critic Kate Copstick is still stranded in Kenya with a non-functional computer and a dodgy mobile phone, the Grouchy Club Podcast this week has posted the uncut audio of Malcolm’s funeral service. It includes tributes by Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith and lasts 75 extraordinary minutes – especially extraordinary because the laughter, cheers and applause are happening during a church service. The running order is:

Vicar intro
Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Arthur Smith
Steve Bowditch
Vicar
Hymn: For Those in Peril on The Sea
Frank Hardee (Malcolm’s son)
Stewart Lee
Vicar
Jools Holland
Arthur Smith
Jo Brand
Arthur Smith
Al Richardson
Arthur Smith & Vicar
Owen O’Neill
Alessandro Bernardi
Vicar
Quotations from, among others, Deke De Core, Steve Frost, Alex Hardee, Clare Hardee, Chris Luby, Martin Potter, ‘Sir Ralph’, Arthur Smith, Martin Soan and Paul ‘Wizo’ Wiseman
Hymn: Jerusalem
Blessing
Coffin out (worth listening to)

This year, the three annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards given in his memory…

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Awards for comic originality, best cunning stunt and for ‘act most likely to make a million quid’

…will be announced and presented during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – two hours of bizarre and original variety – in the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August, 2300-0100.

The judges this year are:

Marissa Burgess
Kate Copstick
John Fleming
Jay Richardson
Claire Smith

Comperes Miss Behave and Janey Godley will host the bizarre and original variety acts and the World Egg Throwing Federation will supervise the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships featuring star comedy names.

The 75 minute audio recording of Malcolm Hardee’s funeral is on Podomatic and iTunes.

On YouTube, there is a 10-minute video tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren:

 

 

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My egg throwing goes into a new text book and financial provocateur Max Keiser launches his own currency

My blog yesterday was about giving a speech at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral.

An earlier choice for speaker had been juggler Steve Rawlings, who toured the UK with Chris. But it turned out he was in Berlin. He had got scouted by Cirque du Soleil, gone out to meet them and become part of their artist list.

Last night (still in Berlin) he told me:

“One of my favourite memories of Chris was when he was struggling to get gigs and I’d got him one in a club down in the South of England and had picked him up at his house and taken him to the gig.

“He did a great show, of course, and afterwards went off to the bar to celebrate while I went off to do my act.

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby recreated movie Zulu in the UK

“At the end of the night, after the gig, I found him at the bar totally drunk doing his impersonation of the songs and chants of the Zulu army – as in the movie Zulu – when they attacked Rorke’s Drift, complete with spear and shield motions.

“He was performing this to two very large and very angry-looking black guys.

“I managed to drag him away before someone killed him, but the funny thing was – being Chris – all the sounds and words of the chants would have been 100% accurate and it would never have occurred to him that sharing this knowledge with two big black guys would have caused offence.”

Steve also remembered: “Playing Trivial Pursuits with Chris was a bit pointless as he knew all the answers and would only stop going around the board when he got one wrong on purpose so you would keep playing with him”.

If you are reading this blog on the day it was posted, there is a high likelihood I will still be making my own way to Germany. I am travelling to Leipzig with comedian Nick Revell (unless something goes wrong with the trains) for the first gig at Vivienne and Martin Soan’s new Leipzig club – a sort of Pull The Other One East – at Noch Besser Leben (which translates as Still Better Living). Obviously, Nick is performing and I am not. Martin and Vivienne are not that experimental nor mental.

Going to Leipzig seemed like a good idea when it was first suggested and still seems a fairly good idea despite the fact it is a 12-hour train trip.

When this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith heard I was going to Leipzig, her reaction was: “Not Leipzig, Saskatchewan, I hope!”

“Why?” I asked. So far, there has been no response.

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

The wonderful world of sexist, slobbering Wilfredo

Comedian Matt Roper’s response was: “I’m in San Francisco, showering them with spittle tonight (as his character Wilfredo), then off to Los Angeles tomorrow. Nothing really much to write about here, except that I finally managed to make it coast to coast across the US without flying!”

This seemed mildly eccentric – and then I opened three bizarre e-mails one-after-the-other.

The first was from publishers Pearson Education, asking if they could use 79 words from one of my 2012 blogs about the World Egg Throwing Championships in a new educational textbook they are producing titled Skills For Writing. They said: “We would like to request permission to include the material, within the electronic components of our publication.”

I have no idea what this really means nor why they want to use 79 words from the blog, versions of which were re-published both in the UK edition of the Huffington Post and by the Indian news site WSN (We Speak News).

John Ward smashes the losing egg on his forehead

John Ward loses to me as he smashes an egg on his forehead

The blog’s headline was World Egg Throwing Championships: Cheaper and Funnier Than the Olympics and the words Pearson want to use are:

I triumphed in the Russian Egg Roulette heats in face-offs with two small children, who seemed to be the only children in the contest. I faced John Ward in the semi-final. I triumphed again.

In the grand final, I unfortunately faced a large man called Jerry Cullen, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. The first four of the six eggs we smashed on our foreheads were hard-boiled, leaving only two more eggs – one for each of us…

The fact that Pearson Education wanted to use this in a textbook entitled Skills For Writing was a little surprising. But not as surprising as the next e-mail I opened, which told me that Max Keiser – whom I like to describe as an American financial provocateur who appears on Russian and Iranian TV and who has occasionally appeared in my blog… was launching his own currency last night, not totally dissimilar to Bitcoin. It is being called Maxcoin.

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English channel

I asked Max to tell me more. He sent me an e-mail saying:

“Maxcoin is being developed at the University of Bristol which has some of the best crypto talent in the world. Anybody looking to get into a fast growing industry that pays incredibly well should look into their programs.”

This doesn’t help me much, but then he sent me an even more jaw-dropping e-mail detailing something that I am not allowed to talk about for another couple of weeks.

We live in interesting times, but then we always have.

Ashley Storrie, the daughter of my chum Janey Godley, has been nominated as Best New Scottish Comedian by Capital FM. The awards are being announced on 22nd March and you can vote here.

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What was heard and was not heard at comic Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

I was asked to speak at comedian Chris Luby’s funeral yesterday.

Chris was… umm… an audio comic. He created sound effects with his mouth…. The Trooping The Colour ceremony… Aerial combat in the Battle of Britain, including the sound of Spitfires scrambling on the ground and an aerial battle with German bombers… Formula 1 motor races.

It was an interesting funeral service. While it was happening, there was the faint sound of bagpipes far in the distance outside – despite the fact the service took place in highly-built-up Brockley in South East London. At the climax of the service, there was the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. And, during a reading by his brother, the brother’s mobile telephone rang – he could not find where the phone was for about 15 seconds and it kept ringing as he searched for it.

If I were of a less cynical disposition, I might have thought Chris was still lurking and larking about.

The theoretical duration of my speech was unknown until it happened – modern crematoria are a conveyor belt of farewells – so I wrote a 4-minute one assuming it might end up having to be cut to 2 minutes. The vicar had started looking at the clock by the time he got to me, so I cut the speech back to maybe 90 seconds on the day. This is the full 4-minute version:

* * * * * *

I’ve been asked to say something about what Chris was like as a comedy performer.

Usually, when you are a comedy performer, it is a bad thing to finish your act to complete silence and no laughter. But I saw this happen to Chris twice.

What happened was that he finished doing his act and the audience just stared at him in silence for about three seconds – which is a long time. But then there was a sudden eruption of clapping, cheers and whoops.

They had just been stunned into silence and could barely believe what they’d just seen – and heard.

And that’s what Chris did – he stunned people.

When news of his death got around, there was a Twitter exchange between the comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili.

Robin tweeted – “If comedians don’t make it onto TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it.”

Omid replied – “Chris Luby has done no TV (that’s not actually true) but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy” – Omid said – “It’s heroic lunacy.”

Apparently Chris was not a man to go on long car journeys with because, at every turn, you would get the sound of a Spitfire banking or diving as if it were attacking a Messerschmitt and every time you changed gear he would add in loud and slightly terrifying sound effects.

But, whenever people tell me of long car journeys with Chris and their urge to throttle him, they – oddly – tell it in a very warm-hearted way. They found it oddly endearing.

Arthur Smith told me:

“Chris was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner on car journeys to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like…. But he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world” – Arthur Smith said – “and I hope he’s enjoying the molecules in the stars.”

Comedian Adam Wide said his favourite visual image was…

“when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu, Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) standing at a bus-stop doing his full Battle of Britain routine while apparently waiting for a Spitfire to arrive at the bus stop.”

When Chris died, the actors’ trade union Equity Tweeted:

“We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one-man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.”

Indeed it was.

Like Chris. Once seen. Never forgotten.

I also got a message from a man called John Hawes. He said:

“I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’s famous shows.

“That was in 1979.

“I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.”

I think he affected a lot of people like that.

I know Chris’s sound effects were unforgettable. But my main memory of Chris, oddly. is not the sounds he made but his eyes. His eyes always seemed to be sparkling. They were very bright and sparkly. And that’s bright in every sense. They lit up and he WAS bright. Very intelligent. And I guess very sensitive.

I always think that, if you die and just one person cries, you have done something right in your life. You have not lived in vain. And, I think when people heard Chris had died there were a good few tears being shed.

The other side of that is that I suspect there will be a lot of laughter in heaven tonight. The angels, quite frankly, are going to be pissing themselves over Trooping the Colour.

I don’t know what angels laughing sounds like. But I used to know a man who could have done a realistic impression of what they sound like. And I’m very sad he’s not still here to do that or to do the sound of the RAF fly-past he so richly deserves.

Rest in Peace, Chris – though it will probably be interrupted by the sound of the Queen reviewing Trooping The Colour.

* * * *

When comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, Chris Luby spoke or, rather, made noises in his honour. He performed the sound of a flypast by an RAF jet. Here is a 53 second audio extract from that 2005 funeral service which is just as much of a tribute to Chris Luby himself.

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Two more memories of eccentric aircraft impersonator Chris Luby

As a result of my two previous blogs about Chris, who died last weekend, I have had a couple of other memories of him.

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

Comedy performer Adam Wide remembers:

Chris was such a one-off. Delightful and indefatigably barking… I used him SO often on corporate gigs, dressing him in many guises to pierce through the stuffy boardroom atmosphere… he never failed.

My favourite visual image was when we were organising a treasure hunt for a computer firm all over the village of Beaulieu and its environs and Chris was dressed as a RAF pilot (with a sound system) at a bus-stop doing the full Battle of Britain whilst apparently waiting for the 617 Spitfire to come along.

And I have also received this message from John Hawes:

I was 13 years old when I met Chris Luby. He was a cadet and I was treated to the first of many of Chris’ famous shows.

That was in 1979.

I haven’t seen him in 25 years and it brings a tear to my eye knowing he has been entertaining people over the years and to read the wonderful stories of Chris and his adventures. He was a special man and will be missed.

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Memories by other comedians of comic impressionist and eccentric Chris Luby

Chris Luby - the forces’ favourite

Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts

Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.

In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.

It is a very British thing.

Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.

Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All are now dead. So it goes.

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.

In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:

His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.

“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”

Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.

In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:

Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…

Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.

Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.

A Twitter conversation between comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili on 28th September 2012 went:

ROBIN INCE: If comedians don’t make it to TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it (true of all I suppose).

OMID DJALILI: Chris Luby has done no TV but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy, it’s heroic lunacy.

ROBIN  INCE: I never had a lift with him because I had been warned of those long air shows all the way up the M1.

This refers to Chris’ habit of doing his aeroplane impersonation act on long journeys (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

Comedian Charmian Hughes said yesterday:

I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.

Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:

One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.

Brian Damage remembers:

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Hardee comedy intermingled with Luby quiz nights.

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.

We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.

Promoter Kev Wright says:

I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as thats the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.

Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.

I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:

Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.

Chris Luby - once met, never forgotten

ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act

I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.

His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.

The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.

When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.

Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.

Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.

Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!

Even the trade union Equity Tweeted:

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.

Arthur Smith told me last night:

He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.

Jenny Eclair Tweeted:

Oh please can all the mad, bad, bonkers and wonderful old timers from the old days of alternative comedy stop dying?

and, when I asked her about Chris Luby last night, she told me:

I just remember when Malcolm offered me out-of-town gigs asking if Chris would be in the same car and taking the train rather than be trapped with him doing Spitfires in my ear!

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The death and life of comic Chris Luby

Chris Luby R.I.P

Chris Luby R.I.P

Comedian Chris Luby has died.

He fell downstairs at home and was taken to hospital. There was bleeding in his brain which the doctors could not stop and he died just before noon yesterday morning.

At one time, he was managed by the late Malcolm Hardee and, together, they ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Rotherhithe until Malcolm drowned there in January 2005.

Chris Luby’s stage act was, to say the least odd.

Malcolm booked him at his Tunnel and Up The Creek clubs and in shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. I think I can do no better than quote what was said about Chris in Malcolm’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:
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Another act who was always popular both at The Tunnel and in Edinburgh was Chris Luby. We had met when we were both in The Mad Show. His act was then – and still is – making noises with his mouth. He does loud oral impressions of wartime aeroplanes, racing cars and the entire Trooping The Colour ceremony. He does machines, drums, military people and that’s his act. It’s 20 minutes long and, really, he’s made a jolly good living out of it, considering.

On stage, he has a military air – a bit Air Force – but he was never in the RAF, only in the Army Training Corps when he was a kid. When I met him, he had been a Civil Servant for about 15 years. A real boring, pen-pushing job. He lived on a council estate in Bromley, South East London.

At the time, he didn’t have a car, so I used to give him a lift home every night after The Mad Show. And, every night, he’d make exactly the same noises. I would start the engine and he would go:

“Chocks away!”

I would put the car into first gear and he would make first gear noises.

We would come to the first bend and he’d do the screeching of tyres and yell out:

“Bank left! Bank left!”

He did exactly the same thing every night for three months and I never hit him once.

On one journey back from Manchester, Arthur Smith actually gave him £50 to keep quiet. Arthur had put up with it for 20 minutes, then he got his money out.

Chris has two children and was married to a very nice Anglo-Indian lady from whom he’s recently split.

It’s a talented act, but limited.

Just before the Falklands Conflict started, he was over there. And just before the Gulf War he went over to Saudi Arabia to entertain the troops. I think he probably started those wars off.

He could have made a fortune just travelling round Army and RAF bases during the Cold War. I tried to get him into that circuit. There was an organisation called CSE (Combined Services Entertainment) run by Dennis Agutter, actress Jenny Agutter’s dad – the only man with bigger testicles than me. The problem is Chris is no stranger to the World of Drink. On stage he’s alright but, after the show, he becomes a bit of a nuisance around a lot of the places.

I think he likes the social life involved in showbiz. I don’t think he has ever thought he would be a star. The night I thought his career might not be a roaring success was the night I saw him drunk at The Comedy Store.

At the time, Wizo was running a ‘Fun Bus’. He had got sponsorship from a lager company and had hired a double-decker bus. Every week during the summer, he got various comics to perform on the bus and they could do whatever they liked. The comics could tell the driver where to go or take the audience off the bus or whatever. He asked me to do it one week and I took Chris Luby along.

The bus was parked near Aldwych and Chris got the whole audience drilling in the street. All in lines. He was shouting:

“Stand by the left! Quick march!” and all that.

Then he got them all shouting like American Marines:

“We-are go-ing on-a bus! We-are go-ing on-a bus!”

The he got them marching at double-quick time. We all got on the bus and he started pretending it was an aeroplane:

“Fasten your seat-belts!”

There was a microphone on the bus and he started doing his World War II aeroplane act, which was good. So I took the bus down to The Montague Arms pub in New Cross, south of the River, where there was a talent competition. I entered the competition – I played the mouth organ – but I don’t know if I won or not because we had to take the bus back to central London. We got back about 10.30pm and, by this time, Chris had been drinking some of the free lager provided by the sponsors. He wanted to carry on celebrating, so we went to The Comedy Store. He got drunker and drunker and, in the end, he was asked to leave. I think he was one of the first comics to be thrown out of The Comedy Store.

It was now about 2.00 in the morning. I was a bit drunk myself, but not as drunk as Chris. We got an N77 night bus which went from Charing Cross to right outside my house in Greenwich and quite close to Chris Luby’s house. When we got on the bus, Chris couldn’t manage to get upstairs, but I did. I went upstairs; he stayed downstairs. After a few minutes, I heard him doing his act again. He thought we were back on the original bus. He was shouting at the bus driver:

“Engage thrust! Bank left! Chocks away!” and all the noises he does.

Eventually, the bus driver and passengers could take no more. We stopped at New Cross and, as I looked out my upstairs window, I saw Chris being thrown out the double-doors and lying flat on the pavement. New Cross is about two miles from where Chris lived.

The next morning, I phoned his wife because I wondered what had happened to him. She said she didn’t know what had happened to him, but said he had given a cab driver a cheque for £83.

Once, Chris was supposed to be doing a gig for me, but it turned out he had to go to court accused of groping a woman’s bottom on a train. He had been arrested by the Transport Police. I went on the second day of the trial to give him a character reference if he was found guilty. But he was found Not Guilty. He was very pleased when he was acquitted.

The next day, the Daily Mirror published a picture of Chris Luby and his agent Malcolm Hardee but they got the names transposed so it looked like I had been the bloody person accused of being a groper. I had a suit on for the court appearance; I can look remarkably normal if I put my mind to it.

After the court case, he took voluntary redundancy. He’d been in the Civil Service for years so he got quite a huge chunk of money.

One night after that, Chris, Mark Hurst and Brenda Gilhooley were all booked to appear at The King’s Head (in Bungay, Suffolk) and they drove up separately from me. I had gone up with Pip for the weekend and Paul Fitzgerald was going to provide us all with a big meal before the gig. I told Chris Luby to ring up when he arrived at the pub and I’d give him directions to get to the cottage. He rang me up at about 5.30 in the afternoon and I gave him instructions for the six mile drive.

The meal was ready at 6.30pm – no sign of Luby.

At 7.30pm – no sign of Luby.

The gig was due to start at 8.00pm.

At 8.00pm – no sign of Luby.

So we went off to the gig. On the way, we found him. Between the pub and the cottage, Chris had spotted a private Aeroplane Museum where this mad bloke collects aircraft and has put them in the back garden of another pub. Chris saw missiles and old aeroplanes, stopped and went in the pub. He was in Heaven. He had aeroplanes and alcohol and wasn’t interested in the meal.

In the end we virtually had to drag him to the gig.

The King’s Head is one of those old-fashioned pubs with a courtyard where they used to put the coaches. The landlord had about five kids between about the ages of 8 and 12. After the gig, at about midnight, I looked out a window and Chris Luby was drilling all these kids with broomsticks over their shoulders, getting them to march round the courtyard:

“Eyes right! Quick march!”
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R.I.P. Chris Luby.

A character.

So it goes.

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