Tag Archives: Claire Smith

John Dowie on Bowie, Bolan, bicycles, drinking, drugs, poetry, prose and book

John Dowie is not an easy man to describe even without a hat

I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.

His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.

John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe. 

He is a man of many hats.

Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:

“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”

Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative. 

We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:

“Great cycle of life and love and death”

“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”

Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…


DOWIE: This book my first prose work.

FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.

DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.

FLEMING: So why now?

DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.

FLEMING: Picaresque?

DOWIE: Is that the word?

FLEMING: I dunno.

DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.

FLEMING: How has the book done?

An early John Dowie Virgin album by the young tearaway

DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.

FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?

DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?

DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?

DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.

FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.

DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.

FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…

DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.

FLEMING: To distract them?

DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.

“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”

“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”

“You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time…”

It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.

FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?

DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.

FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…

DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.

FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.

DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.

FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)

DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.

FLEMING: A great name, though.

DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.

FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.

DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.

FLEMING: Eh?

Warlock of Love: “It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written”

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.

FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?

DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.

FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.

DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.

FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.

DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.

FLEMING: I don’t know that one.

DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”

FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?

William Blake’s soulful Ghost of a Flea

DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.

FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?

DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.

FLEMING: On stage, though?

DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.

FLEMING: I think that might just be you.

DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.

FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.

FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?

DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.

FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

John will be in North Berwick, near Edinburgh, during August

DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.

FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?

DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.

FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?

DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.

FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?

DOWIE: Depends how long I live.

FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.

DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!

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Filed under Comedy, Poetry, Writing

Worldwide comments on Louise Reay’s husband’s self-destructive court case.

Controversial Edinburgh Fringe show

If you want to complain about something included in a comedy show you have not seen, my advice is do not sue the comic. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, it will not make you look good and the media will love it.

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay starting a crowdfunding appeal to cover court costs because her estranged husband is suing her for mentioning him in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode last year.

As far as I am aware, he has never actually seen the show, which was about political totalitarianism and what would happen if the Chinese government took over the BBC.

I saw a preview of Hard Mode before the Fringe in which Louise mentioned how sad she was about her marriage breaking up. Without details.

I never saw the show in Edinburgh. Apparently her husband objected to some comments he was told she had made in a handful of shows and she removed the comments. Now, six months later, he is suing her.

Drawing attention to something only a few people heard by going into a public court and attracting inevitable media publicity is staggeringly counterproductive. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, it triggers the Streisand Effect. I showed how the story had spread, virus-like – basically Husband Sues Comedian Wife for Talking About Him on Stage – and, since yesterday, it has spread further with people now commenting on it worldwide. The latest new references to it which I spotted on a cursory Google this morning are listed below at the bottom of this blog.

Eraserhead – Louise’s new show had to be written in 48 hours

In Australia, The Advertiser noted that the complained-of show “last year won an Adelaide Fringe Best Emerging Artist Weekly Award”. This year (Louise is currently performing in Adelaide), The Advertiser notes she was forced to write a new show Eraserhead in just 48 hours. It is “about the experience of censorship and the way it makes you feel like your identity is being erased”.

Louise is quoted as saying: “he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me. As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.”

Canada’s National Post wisely got in touch with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who actually saw and reviewed the complained-about show in Edinburgh for The Scotsman last year.

She said that the show was about freedom of speech and political oppression. At one brief point in the show, she told the National Post yesterday: “My memory of it is that (Louise) said that she’d realized that she’d also been in an oppressive relationship. But it was so minor — there was very, very little detail… I’ve seen lots of shows where people talk about relationships where they’ve gone into a lot of detail about their relationships, their marriage. Mostly what she was doing was making a political point. It seems extraordinary that he has taken this view of it.”

The Malaysian Digest quoted Mark Stephens, a libel lawyer at Howard Kennedy in London, who told the UK’s Guardian:

“There’s a long history of British juries – before they were abolished [in defamation cases] – not finding in favour of claimants when it’s a joke… This will be the first time [the issue comes] before a judge. It’s going to be a test of whether the British judiciary understands a joke – I mean that seriously. It’s a test case for the judge to see whether they will follow the same route as juries used to take, which was to throw libel cases which were based on humour out on their ear. Judges have traditionally had something of a humourless side.”

The Malaysian Digest continues: “Drawing from personal experience has been key to vast numbers of comedians’ work. Last year’s Fringe, even, featured separate shows by ex-couple Sarah Pascoe and John Robins in which they discussed their break up, the latter winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show, shared with Hannah Gadsby. Sarah Millican won the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer in 2008 for her show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice, inspired by her own divorce.

“It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism…”

“(Louise Reay’s) solicitors have also issued a statement on the case, reading: Louise started to write her Hard Mode show when she was still with her husband. It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese Government. It was in no way a show about her husband. While performing the show after their separation, Louise mentioned her husband a couple of times but this was in the context of telling the audience how sad she was that they had recently separated.

“At certain performances of the show, she cried at this point. While she used Mr. Reay’s image of a couple of times, she invited the audience to admire how good-looking he was and expressed sadness that the marriage had come to an end. She used an image and some footage from their wedding that she had been using in her shows for years without any objection from Mr. Reay.

Mr. Reay had claimed that there are sections of the show which will have been understood by the audience to mean that he was abusive to Louise. Louise’s position is that the key sections that he claimed are defamatory of him were not intended to be understood by the audience to refer to him. During the most of these sections, Louise was playing various different characters, including a newsreader and Jeremy Clarkson. Should this case go to trial, there will undoubtedly be debate over the meaning of the words complained about and whether they can truly be said to refer to Mr. Reay.

Claire Smith’s review of the show in The Scotsman last year, by the way, said it was: “an absurdist show about totalitarianism which intentionally makes its audience feel uncomfortable. We are hustled to our feet, given identity papers and surrounded by masked guards who are watching our behaviour. In the past Reay, who is fluent in Chinese, has been sponsored by the Chinese government to create absurdist mime shows in Chinese. It is safe to say Reay and the Chinese government are getting a divorce – particularly as she has worked on this show with dissident artist Ai Weiwei. It’s a bold experimental comedy.”

In fact, the Chinese, as far as I am aware at the time of writing, have not yet threatened to sue Louise.

Louise’s TV documentary work covers difficult subjects

Incidentally, Louise’s TV documentary credits include BBC1 Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches, BBC2’s study of income inequality The Super Rich & Us, Channel 4’s series on immigration Why Don’t You Speak English?,  BBC2’s series on education Chinese School: Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, BBC4’s History of India: Treasures of the Indus and Channel 4’s History of China: Triumph & Turmoil.

I don’t think the current court case could easily be the subject of some future TV documentary. More a TV sitcom.

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page is HERE.

The latest batch of media reports are:

THE ADVERTISER (AUSTRALIA)

BBC NEWS, SCOTLAND

DAILY EXPRESS

DAILY RECORD (SCOTLAND)

(LONDON) EVENING STANDARD

GIZMODO

THE i

LINDA NIEUWS (HOLLAND)

MALAYSIAN DIGEST

MANDY NEWS online

NATIONAL POST (CANADA)

NEW YORK POST

THE SCOTSMAN

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Filed under China, Comedy, Legal system

At the Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith and his socks and a duck jockstrap gift

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks at Edinburgh Fringe

“Are you doing your traditional late-night tour of the Royal Mile?” I asked comedian and national treasure Arthur Smith yesterday, beside his new exhibition of socks.

“Yes,” Arthur told me. “And I will be introducing the13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.”

“She’s the one with only one sock?” I asked.

“Yes,” confirmed Arthur.

“Which Saturday night?” I asked.

“The 20th,” he said. “Well, strictly speaking, it’s the Sunday, because it’s after midnight.”

“What time?” I asked.

“I dunno,” said Arthur. “One o’clock? Two? I don’t care. You decide. If you put it in your blog, that’ll be the time I do it.”

So, dear reader, Arthur Smith’s legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile this year will start at 01.00am on Saturday night 20th August – or Sunday morning 21st August if you are being pedantic. The starting point, as always, is the top of the Royal Mile outside the entrance to the Castle.

“But what about Arthur Smith’s socks?” I hear you cry with some justification.

Well, tough shit. You will have to read on for a bit.

A few days ago, I got a Facebook message from one Broome Spiro asking if I fancied having breakfast with a stranger.

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

So, of course, I let him buy me breakfast yesterday morning. He turned out to be a retired immigration attorney living in upstate New York who had chucked in his job and gone to work in a pizza parlour. His son had worked in Zoo venues at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago. Broome is fan of my blog and of the weekly Grouchy Club podcast I do with Scotsman critic Kate Copstick.

“How did you stumble on us?” I asked.

“When my son was working at Zoo,” explained Broome, “my wife Penny was following the Fringe on the computer – online, you can almost be here – and we became interested in the politics behind the Fringe and the different business models – PBH and Bob Slayer – and we ran into your blog, which was ‘real’. It’s nice to have it done with historical perspective so you can understand if you are new to it all.

“Over the years, I have collected a tremendous amount of things. My first job was with an antiques dealer, holding up stuff, and my mother made me quit after a month because I had not had a pay cheque yet, but I kept on coming home with antiques. I have this 3,000 square foot house with four 38ft tractor trailers and two barns filled with things and how I finance coming to Edinburgh is by selling things.”

Broome tests the straps of his jockstrap

Broome tests the straps of his gift jockstrap

He took out and showed me a jockstrap made from a plastic duck.

“You created it yourself?” I asked.

“Well,” said Broome, “I found the duck and designed the jock strap, but a guy called Dara Albro is the one who made it a reality.”

“Was it tested for size and comfort?” I asked.

“I was the fitting model,” admitted Broome. “I am going to present it to Paul Currie.

“Why?” I asked.

“I like his show.”

Later in the day, Broome also turned up at the Pleasance Dome for the official opening of the exhibition of Arthur Smith’s socks.

Which is where we came in.

The exhibition includes one sock belonging to (or, more correctly, formerly belonging to) the aforementioned 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.

Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick is of a mind to nominate Arthur’s sock exhibition for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award on the basis that it is “very Saatchi”.

“Have you,” I asked Arthur, “ever been prosecuted in a Scottish court for your legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile?”

“Not quite,” he said. “There was a balustrade on a corner once – well, it’s still there – and I paid a guy to stand on it and take his top off and sing Scotland The Brave and then a woman said Oh! That’s sexist! so she took her top off as well. They were a couple and had a big row. Anyway, the next day I looked, I realised there was a 40ft drop behind it and they had both been arseholed. They could have died. Maybe I would have been up for manslaughter if they had fallen. I dunno.”

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano creator Iain Gordon at Arthur Smith’s opening

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano builder Iain Gordon

Also there at the grand opening of Arthur’s sock exhibition – rather grandly titled Arturart’s Museum of Socks – was Scotsman journalist and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith.

“I am staying in a tent in Worbey and Farrell’s garden,” she told me.

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It makes a lovely splashing sound.”

“Why are you staying in a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“Because I love them. They are sweet.”

“Why a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“It’s really lovely,” explained Claire. “I’ve got a little office in there. And WiFi, a vase with lilies and a carpet. And a cherry tree. Have you heard about Lewis Schaffer?”

“Constantly,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer: sexist or vulnerable?

Lewis Schaffer in days before he went grey

“He forgot his suit,” continued Claire. ”He left it in London. He had to do his show in civies yesterday. In his jeans. But he needs his suit. He usually buys his suits from ASDA because he says they are very Armani-ish. Well, a bit. But cheaper. So he left his suit in London and had to do his show in his jeans yesterday and he is wondering if it is a subconscious desire to give up comedy forever.”

“Has he started performing comedy now?” I asked, surprised.

“I have heard,” confided Claire, “that his suit is on its way up from London.”

“Via one of his entourage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What other news?” I asked.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Loitering within tent? Claire Smith and Michael Topping

“Topping (of Topping & Butch) has given up alcohol and wants to do people’s feet in Edinburgh. He does reflexology in London. He’s really good at it. He lives in a little castle in London. He thought he would come up here and offer people reflexology.”

“People at random in the street?” I asked.

“Well, he was wanting to do it from my tent, but we haven’t really been able to organise it. We thought, if it was sunny, we could have a garden party. Get a load of people round to my tent and get their feet done.”

“Sunny?” I asked. “In Edinburgh in August? Where is your tent?”

“Near Meadowbank Stadium.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m moving to a flat between Meadowbank and Easter Road for the last four days of the Fringe. It could be noisy at the weekend.”

Meadowbank is a 16,000 seat sports stadium and Easter Road is the 20,000 seater home of Hibernian football club.

“There’s a circus tent down there now,” said Claire.

“Let us hope,” I said, “that they don’t have elephants.”

Arthur Smith and sock of 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

Arthur Smith in Edinburgh with the newly exhibited sock of the 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Edinburgh Fringe: The trauma of a 5-star review & why I don’t like fauning

Extreme absurdism reaches The Times

Extreme 4-star absurdism has now reached even The Times

Maybe absurdism and ‘outa left field’ comedians are starting to make inroads into mainstream media consciousness. Even if I have no idea what ‘outa left field’ actually specifically means.

This week, definitively absurd Mr Twonkey got a 4-star review and near double-page spread in The Times, which (like Martha McBrier’s 5-star review in The Scotsman) had an immediate effect on audience numbers.

Then, yesterday, Lewis Schaffer got a 5-star review in The Scotsman. This too had an immediate effect. He sent me a text saying: “Feeling bad about it.”

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who wrote the review, told me: “Lewis is upset. He told me not to review him. I did it without telling him. So I said: Lewis, you’d better buy the paper. Now he’s in bits.”

Lewis Schaffer’s 5-star anguish

5-star anguish for coffee-stealing Lewis Schaffer

I told her: “He is bound to be upset. Five stars! His reputation is in shreds!”

Critic Kate Copstick told me: “Lewis Schaffer stole my coffee today. I was sitting at the Community Centre. He came out of his show with an entourage and I told him: I’m terrible sorry. I’ve heard all about it. I don’t know what Claire Smith was thinking of. If it had been me, I would have been kinder and not have given you more than 3 stars.

“Although he was obviously emotionally devastated by the review, he managed to quickly get it up… on his mobile phone, I mean… and let everyone around him read the review. It’s a lovely review, but he was so upset he started sipping my coffee – Oh! This is delicious! Just like American coffee! – and, because he was so distraught, I let him drink it all. He was chuntering on about the star-chasers who just go and see anything that has 5-stars.”

The star system for reviews also came up as a subject at yesterday’s Grouchy Club. Co-host Kate Copstick was scathingly against it. Two members of the audience staunchly defend it, on the basis that it was just quicker than reading the reviews.

Peter Michael Marino - six stars

Not a compilation show – a compilation review

Abigoliah Schamaun (as mentioned in a blog last week) has taken to putting stars on her posters from fictional publications. And Peter Michael Marino, whose show precedes The Grouchy Club, yesterday started putting ‘compilation’ stars on his flyers. He proclaims a 6-star review from Fringe Guru/Broadway Baby – on the basis that Fringe Guru gave him 3 stars and Broadway Baby gave him 3 stars. The combined quote of the 6-star review is Outrageous! Hitler!

He told me Fringe Guru had used the word Outrageous! in its review. So presumably Broadway Baby reviewed him as Hitler! I thought it better not to ask for details of the full quote.

After The Grouchy Club, I bumped into my comedy chum Janey Godley on the pavement outside The Counting House. She started raving to me about the joys of Comics and Graphic Novels: the shop next to the venue.

“In the very first week of the Fringe,” she told me, “I got really sick. I went in there, didn’t know them, but they let me lie on their couch and they had a random dog called Bonnie who jumped on the couch with me – Why wouldn’t he? – Then they all went away to get drunk – they’re a wee bit hippie – and forgot I was there and locked me in.

Janey points out her favourite shop

Where do you find a comedian in Edinburgh? In a comic shop

“So I was locked in the comic shop with ten minutes to go before my show – at the window screaming – with a dog barking and folk passing by who thought it was a show – Why would it not be? It’s the Fringe. Eventually, I got out in time and did my show with Bonnie the Dog at my heels. So now I can go in to the shop whenever I want and have a nap and I have coffee and tea in the back, sandwiches in the fridge and I have a dog to stroke. Now piss off. I have people to see.”

And with that, as Kevin Spacey said in The Usual Suspects, she was gone.

So I went to see Pat Cahill’s show Panjandrum, a bizarrely endearing mix of something, something and something. Not quite sure what. I think it was probably echoes of English Music Hall, a bit of absurdism and something indefinably original. There was a metal hat and a large bomb involved along the way. He had built the bomb himself.

Then came my worst nightmare.

I had been invited to see the well-reviewed and much-touted Follow The Faun but I think, somewhere along the way, I had failed to read the small print.

Faun and games for everyone except me

Faun & games for everyone except maybe me

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I hate being part of anything where people do things in unison. I abhor community singing. I would have hated the Second World War. All that bleeding singing jaunty songs together. Anything where ‘bonding’ en masse is involved I loathe.

I hate dancing.

I am a fat slaphead of an unspeakable age. I am well past my prancing prime. But, even when I was in my teens and twenties, I hated dancing. I am not and never have been filled with any hint of an inkling of any desire to be joyful through moving in unison with other people and waving my arms and legs about. I would rather kneel in an orange jumpsuit for ISIS.

What I am saying is that, for me, Follow The Faun was an hour of torture. It involves going into a darkened basement room and following the dance moves of a satyr with large horns. It is a combination of 1960s/1970s hippie, trippy Glastonbury-type Acid-fuelled love-in, 1980s/1990s Ecstasy-fuelled Rave dancing and The Wicker Man with a lot of sexual miming and a bit of wannabe human sacrifice. You may think I am joking about that last bit. I am not.

I hated it. Though I am not averse to a bit of human sacrifice.

But…

I am not the target audience.

Everyone else – young, lively, outgoing people (mostly girls) in their twenties – LOVED it… They L-O-V-E-D it. Beaming faces, pogo-ing bodies, sweat pouring, occasional screams of joy.

London’s theatrical mask falls

This is not the figure of a graceful satyr used to joyful prancing

If you are an optimistic, outgoing, life-loving, youngish, Rave culture dance-loving lively person, go and take part in it.

If you are a grouchy fat male slaphead well over 35 who likes cynical endings to films and looks a bit like a bald, lightly-bearded Hattie Jacques… avoid.

More to my taste was the show I saw after that – the ever-dependable Frank Sanazi with his Iraq Pack – Saddami Davis Junior, Osama Bing Crosby and Dean Stalin. The full house at the Voodoo Rooms was packed tighter than a cattle truck and the audience was well-up for an hour of bad taste songs about mass murder and dictators in hiding – so much so that, when the subject of people on the run and in hiding came up, an audience member threw Madeleine McCann’s name into the mix.

You can’t beat a bit of continually-updated bad taste for a good Saturday night out in Edinburgh. And it is good to see ISIS and Tony Blair added in there among the Biggies of Badassness.

There is a Follow The Faun video on YouTube

… and one of Frank Sanazi, solo, singing his signature tune.

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Filed under Bad taste, Comedy, Dance

‘Old’ comic Lynn Ruth Miller, journalist Claire Smith & paedophile Jimmy Savile

My damaged big toe

I am now hobbling in a way that sadly befits my age

Things are not going well. The sharp edge of a heavy wooden shelf fell on the big toe of my right foot. I am now painfully hobbling in a way that sadly befits my age.

There is also a national rail strike next week but the good news is I will not notice it because, ever since Govia took over my local Thameslink franchise (they also run Southern trains – officially recognised as the most inefficient train system in the UK), there have been trains cancelled all over the place due to lack of drivers and yesterday, on the way to Brighton – a series of catastrophes – as we approached Crystal Palace and arrived in East Croydon heading south, the on-board information board displayed the words “approaching St Pancras”.

Croydon is on the southern edge of London. St Pancras is north of central London. They are around 11 miles apart as the pig flies. And we were travelling in the opposite direction.

I arrived in Brighton four hours after I left home – normally a two hour journey.

Lynn Ruth Miller and Claire smith yesterday in Brighton

Lynn Ruth Miller & Claire Smith talked yesterday in Brighton

I was travelling to Brighton to meet comic Lynn Ruth Miller and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges Kate Copstick and Claire Smith (both comedy critics for The Scotsman newspaper). We were going to see a show (not Lynn Ruth’s).

Inevitably, this did not happen.

The show we were seeing fell through and I got a message from Copstick saying she could not be there because a surveyor was coming round to her flat. She is selling her flat in Shepherds Bush, West London, and probably moving to a canal boat in Barking, East London. Despite my warnings about Barking, which is even worse than her bite.

Inevitably, shortly after I met up with Claire Smith and Lynn Ruth Miller, I got a text from Copstick which started:

“The fucking surveyor isn’t coming till next fucking Tuesday now!!! The entire fucking flat is transformed but I will never keep it like this…”

It continued in much the same vein.

Lynn Ruth Miller  + Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & chip shop, Brighton

Lynn Ruth Miller & Roy Brown of Bardsleys fish & chip shop  (Photograph by Claire Smith)

By this time, Claire, Lynn Ruth and I were eating in the fish and chip shop which currently hosts Lynn Ruth’s art exhibition (which I blogged about recently). The paintings are being taken down on Monday.

“I don’t know what to do with them,” said Lynn Ruth. “I’ve got nowhere, but they have to come down.”

“Why is (comic) Will Franken wearing a dress?” asked Claire.

“Where?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“All over Facebook. All these pictures of him wearing a dress.”

“I don’t know,” replied Lynn Ruth.

“This weekend,” Claire continued, “I have to interview Puddles, The Clown With The Golden Voice. On Skype. In mime.”

Puddles the Clown may be mis-quoted

Puddles the Clown With The Golden Voice may be mis-quoted

“Where is he?” I asked.

“America.”

“Why in mime?” I asked.

“Because he doesn’t speak,” explained Claire, as if this was perfectly normal for an act called The Clown With The Golden Voice. “I am going to ask him questions by doing mime and he is going to react visually and I am going to write down what happens.”

“Are you an expert mime?” I asked.

“Well,” shrugged Claire, “I did agree the other day that I am going to do interpretive dance at (comic) Michael Topping’s funeral. He is going to have a dress rehearsal, because he wants to see his own funeral.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, “but this mime interview with Puddles The Clown – isn’t there a risk of mis-quoting him?”

“Well,” Claire argued, “journalism is a parasitic art form but, in this case, I get to be creative. I get to describe what’s happening and my relative, subjective perception will be correct.”

“But,” I said, “the poor man is going to be mis-quoted left, right and centre.”

“If he gives me a gesture I misinterpret…” laughed Claire.

“My grandfather choked chickens. He really did…” said Lynn Ruth Miller.

We both looked at her.

“…and, if you had seen my grandmother you would understand why.”

Lynn Ruth reportedly still a youngster

Lynn Ruth is reportedly a mere youngster at the age of 72

“You are,” I prompted, “in the final of the Old Comedian of the Year contest.”

“Yes,” she said. “but I’m the only one that’s actually old. I’m 81. You only have to be over 35 to be in it.”

“And,” said Claire, “the Chortle report said you’re 72.”

“That’s almost defamation at your age,” I suggested.

“Why,” asked Claire, “did they think you were 72?”

“Because I use products,” said Lynn Ruth.

“Chicken soup?” I asked.

“Schmaltz,” she replied. She is Jewish. “It gets rid of the wrinkles. The only problem is you have to pluck the feathers.”

“Schmaltz?” I asked.

“Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat,” she explained.

“I had no idea that was the origin,” I said. “Anyway, back to the Old Comedian of the Year…”

“I’m not only the right age,” said Lynn Ruth, “but I have two of my own hips, my own knees and I don’t dye my hair.”

“You don’t dye your hair?” I asked.

“No I don’t, which means the carpet doesn’t match the drapes.”

“Why are you living over here in the UK?” I asked.

Lynn Ruth tried to tempt me in the Max Miller room of the fish & chip shop

Lynn Ruth tried to tempt me in the Max Miller room of Bardsleys fish & chip shop yesterday

“I was hired to be a presenter on Brighton Lights, a TV show, and I was promised I would have a salary, a place to live – that I paid for myself – and a visa and I could live here for the rest of my life. I was living on the Pacific in a gorgeous house. It was perfect. They kept telling me: You’re going to have a wonderful life in Britain! I spent $4,700 of my own money to bring all my stuff over here. Then, last December, they ran out of money. With my visa, I have to leave the UK this November.

“So that’s my next problem. But people want to help me. That’s what I love about this country – which you all get resentful about – that you help people. I love that.”

“There was a bloke on British TV,” I said. “Jimmy Savile. He helped loads of young people on his show Jim’ll Fix It.”

“I went to his 80th birthday party,” said Claire. “I wrote a couple of articles about it.”

“Was he a clown and a children’s entertainer?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“Not a clown,” I said.

“He didn’t like children in the right way,” said Claire. “He fucked children up the arse.”

“I knew that,” said Lynn Ruth.

The Scotsman,” said Claire, “ran a series of articles in which people who were well-known talked about things they loved about Scotland. I thought: Well, Jimmy Savile could talk about Glencoe.

“Ah, of course,” I said, “he had a cottage in Glencoe!”

“And,” said Claire, “I had this idea that maybe because he had been famous for so long that that was why he was so weird and maybe, when he was in Scotland, he was more natural.”

Jimmy Savile - the truth revealed in the edit

Jimmy Savile – not Scots

“He was from Scotland?” asked Lynn Ruth.

“No,” said Claire. “He’s from Leeds, where I’m from.”

“As was the Yorkshire Ripper,” I said. “Is there a connection?”

“There is,” said Claire. “One of the Ripper murders was right outside Jimmy Savile’s house and on my walk to school.”

Lynn Ruth said: “Did you know he was a paedophile?”

“Well the weird thing,” explained Claire, “was that everyone knew in a way, because it was always gossiped about in newsrooms that he had sex with dead bodies in morgues and all the things that came out later. But I didn’t believe it.”

“It was,” I said, “so OTT it was unbelievable.”

“To have sex with dead bodies,” said Claire. “You think: Well that surely can’t really be true. But actually it was. The only person who told the truth at the time was Jerry Sadowitz.”

“Jerry Sadowitz,” I added, “said: Never trust anyone whose voice is like the sound of someone having a wank.

Claire Smith at the fish and chip shop yesterday

Claire Smith at the fish and chip shop in Brighton yesterday

“I had this idea,” said Claire, “that maybe it was just a media construction and, if I saw him in his own house, he was just an eccentric person and not so odd. But, at his birthday party, he was just cold. There was nothing there. When I got back, the News Editor asked: What’s he like? And I said: I’ve got no idea. He’s hidden and he’s hiding something. But I don’t know what it is. I wondered if it was because he was gay or something.”

I said: “I always thought he was gay because he wore brightly-coloured clothes and kept going on about how much he loved his mother.”

“You think that makes someone gay?” asked Lynn Ruth.

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Lesbians in Brighton, a 101st birthday party, but no news of any stripping

Mrs H on her 101st birthday

Mrs H celebrated at her 101st birthday party in Catford

I went to a 101st birthday party in Catford on Saturday night for ‘Mrs H’.

She was dancing at her 100th birthday, in her youth did a lot of walking and camping and now drinks a bottle of brandy every week. A lesson to us all.

Meanwhile, camping of a different type…

I keep getting mistaken for gay comedy icon Michael Topping. I think it is the eyebrows and the lack of hair atop our heads. We are not mistaken for each other. I am mistaken for Michael not vice versa. It is in the nature of fame.

When I worked at Anglia TV, someone called me ‘Peter’ for two years. I never corrected him; I felt it would have seemed churlish.

Claire Smith in Brighton yesterday

Claire Smith took a selfie in sun-kissed Brighton yesterday

Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and Scotsman comedy reviewer Claire Smith was impressed by Ali Child and Rosie Wakley’s show All The Nice Girls at the Brighton Fringe. It is about music hall entertainers who were secretly lesbian.

Ali came out 18 months ago, after getting together with Rosie, whom she met in (of all places) Lesbos. Elsewhere, Rosie performs as Sinatra-esque  lounge singer Ronnie Rialto and, with Ali, she performs as Behind the Lines.

All The Nice Girls is based on the true story of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney – music hall singers of the 1920s who had an on/off relationship with each other.

There is a 1922 film clip of them on YouTube.

Claire tells me: “When Ali and Rosie started researching the show they were hoping to find some original sheet music – but hardly anything existed. Then a friend in the British Library found some very old original recordings, so they have recreated the songs from them. The lost recordings also ended up on an album.

Ali child & Rosie Wakley - All The Nice Girls

Rosie Wakley and Ali Child – All The Nice Girls in Brighton

“The songs are lovely, fresh and funny with surprisingly fruity lyrics. Ali and Rosie have done an amazing job of bringing back to life this forgotten bit of entertainment history.”

The man from the British Library was also at the show.

“Ali and Rosie make lesbianism very appealing,” Claire tells me.

Ali Child, Michael Topping and Rosie Wakley (Photograph by Claire Smith)

Rosie Wakley, Michael Topping and Ali Child yesterday (Photograph by Claire Smith)

They must do. Claire also tells me that Michael Topping too thinks the show was “delightful – very warm and intimate and funny”. So much so that he says it has inspired him to become a lesbian.

Meanwhile, I await news of a previously-mentioned strip show in Vancouver.

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A comedian’s blood, the Lady Gaga of comedy and Monty Python with chips

Texts flew through cyberspace last night

Texts flew through cyberspace…

So, last night, I was getting a train from my home in Borehamwood to see Joel SandersAngry Boater show by the Grand Union Canal in Haggerston, when I got a text from Juliette Burton.

“Driving past Borehamwood,” it said, “on my way to Putney to do a 5 minute gig after recording a Mills & Boon audiobook all day for the RNIB.”

Joel’s show started off slightly weird. Well, the show had not even started.

He sat at a table and, when the last member of the full-house, pre-booked audience walked through the door, asked her to help him. He then took a blood pressure reading. She was his witness.

His blood pressure was apparently very high. His show is about being angry and living on canal boats.

Joel Sanders through th porthole

Joel Sanders – The Angry Boater – through the porthole

I have to say his hugely enjoyable show was very calmly – even gently – presented. It climaxed with the true and ongoing story of how the engine of his canal boat has been buggered. A new one may cost him £8,000.

Afterwards, I asked him about his show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“Fringe?” he replied. “Everyone assumes I will be at the Fringe! I did it in 2011 and found it a miserable period so I don’t have any plans to return – at least not this year.”

He is a very busy man for someone concerned with his high blood pressure and general health. He recently interviewed Jim Davidson and Matt Lucas on-stage at Bethnal Green’s Backyard Comedy Club and, tonight, he is interviewing Harry Hill there.

“My next thing,” he told me, “once I get the engine sorted, is to take the Angry Boater show up the canal and set up impromptu shows in the nether. Wherever I moor up, I’ll find a venue, spend a week promoting it, do the show, move on and repeat. I want to be P.T. Barnum on a boat. Show up in villages and small towns – places with very little entertainment – and try to create some hype. It has got to be easier than London.”

Juliette Burton’s selfie in a car last night

Juliette Burton’s selfie in her car last night

After that, I got a train home to Borehamwood and, on the way, had a text message conversation with Juliette Burton about how her gig had gone. she is the queen of complex 60-minute multi-media reportage shows, so I thought 5 minutes must ironically have been very difficult.

“Well,” she told me, “my 5 mins tonight was very interesting. Alex Martini, the lovely MC, greeted me saying he was a huge fan thanks to your blog and then bigged me up massively before bringing me on stage. I had been told a strict 5 minutes, but then I was told 10-15 minutes cos I was such a ‘big name’.

“I was incredibly flattered but really wasn’t sure my added-on material deserved the praise. According to Alex, I am ‘the Lady Gaga of comedy’ because I have an entourage. I rather like that. But I did turn up at the gig totally alone. And my dress wasn’t made of luncheon meat, sadly.”

In the British circuit comedy, it has to be said, only Lewis Schaffer has an entourage. Everyone else only has fans.

“I honestly don’t know how I went,” Juliette told me. “My ad libs got more laughs than anything. I spouted some stuff about recording the Mills & Boon book today, which they seemed to like.

“They laughed at me saying I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act as a teenager and, the more I insisted it was not a joke, the more they laughed. Weird. Alex said he was heartbroken to learn I had a boyfriend.”

“How,” I asked, “did the Mills & Boon recording go?”

“I have never,” replied Juliette, “said the words ‘nubbin’ and ‘thickness’ so much in one day.”

“Nubbin?” I asked her. “Do you mean ‘knobbing’?”

“No!” she texted back, “Nubbin! It is used like the word ‘bud’.”

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

I remain mystified by nubbin but, by then, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and Scotsman comedy reviewer Claire Smith had started texting me from the South Coast, where the Brighton Fringe is in full swing.

“Tonight,” her first text said, “was the official opening of Lynn Ruth Miller’s art exhibition at Bardsley’s of Baker Street – which is one of Brighton’s oldest fish and chip shops.”

Lynn Ruth Miller, now aged 81, has one of the youngest minds on the UK comedy circuit.

“As well as showing Lynn Ruth’s paintings,” Claire told me, “the chip shop is also the permanent home of the Max Miller Society’s collection. There is a little room at the back where you can eat your fish and chip dinner surrounded by posters of the ‘Cheeky Chappie’ and cards with his jokes. They also have one of his floral suits in a glass case.”

“This,” I asked, “was a grand opening for Lynn Ruth’s art exhibition? Who was there?”

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller collection

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller heaven (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“The first to turn up,” Claire told me, “was Carol Cleveland from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  She told me she loved taking part in the Monty Python reunion shows at the O2 because one of the best things for her was that she finally got to act. As well as doing the dolly bird stuff she also got to play a couple of roles that used to be played by Graham Chapman in drag.”

“How is Lynn Ruth?” I asked.

“Busier than ever,” Claire texted. “I’ve seen her in two shows at the Fringe. Not Dead Yet – which is a musical version of her life story – and Eighty! – which is a show about growing old and continuing to have lots of fun. Last night turned into another of her chip shop salons – with a huge group of friends and admirers eating at a giant table as Lynn Ruth held court.”

Kate Copstick,” I texted back, “was telling me she might go down to Brighton just to see Lynn Ruth in the fish and chip shop. I could be persuaded too.”

Lynn Ruth Miller  + Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & chip shop, Brighton

Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & Chip Shop + Lynn Ruth Miller (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“I’m not sure if there is a programme for these,” explained Claire, “or if they just happen when Lynn Ruth decides to do it. But I am sure if La Copstick were in town a salon would spontaneously arise.”

I think I must phone my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth) who lives near Brighton and see if she fancies some fish and chips in exchange for me having a kip (not to be confused with kippers) in her spare bedroom.

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