Tag Archives: con

Why it is impossible to libel the Edinburgh Fringe

Last March, I wrote a So It Goes blog here headed:

ANSWERS TO NINE COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY INNOCENT FIRST-TIME PERFORMERS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE

As it is again that time of year when performers – especially comics – start thinking about arranging shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, last week I sent the same piece (with figures updated) to the UK edition of the Huffington Post, which occasionally prints pieces by me and which did not exist until summer last year.

Lazy of me, I know, but the advice is still relevant and, I think, helpful and true.

Imagine my bemusement when my piece appeared under the headline:

ANSWERS TO SEVEN COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED BY INNOCENT FIRST-TIME PERFORMERS AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE

“Mmmm… That’s interesting,” I thought. “I wonder why they have cut two out?”

It did not matter particularly, but it bemused me.

The missing questions and answers were:

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4. DOES MY VENUE’S STAFF KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING?

No. Trust me. No.

Most only arrived a week ago, some are Australian and the ones who are not have little experience of anything outside their friends’ kitchens. They probably had no sleep last night and are certainly only at the Fringe to drink, take drugs and, with luck, get laid by well-proportioned members of the opposite sex. Or, in some cases, the same sex.

Trust me. With help and advice, they could organise a piss-up at the Fringe but not in a brewery.

7. IT’S MY FIRST EDINBURGH. WILL I GET FINANCIALLY SCREWED BY UNSCRUPULOUS PEOPLE?

Yes.

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I have not asked the Huffington Post why they chopped these two questions and answers out. It would seem churlish. And I suspect it may prove counter-productive to even mention it here. But I reckon it’s worth a blog.

I suspect it might have been an attempt to avoid a potential libel problem misunderstood by a Huffington Post sub-editor who thought that there is a single venue-organising company which, I claimed, is incompetent.

I did not because there is not.

There is a common misunderstanding by people who have never performed there that the Edinburgh Fringe is actually organised. It is not.

It is an open festival. You, I or Fred Bloggs and his performing caterpillars can perform there under the banner of the “Edinburgh Fringe” if we feel like it. There is no quality or quantity control.

“The Edinburgh Fringe” is what people call it and there an Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society which plays a central role. But, basically, they print the Programme for the event and publicise the event in general. They do not organise the shows or the venues in any way.

If you pay to have your show listed with 40 words in the Fringe’s printed Programme and 100 words online, then (provided there is nothing illegal in the wording) details of the show and its performances will appear and you are performing “in the Fringe”. And there is a central box office system, although many venues also run their own box offices.

The Fringe Office will advise and help to an extent, but you are on your own as a performer. You have to find a venue, probably pay for the venue, arrange posters, flyers, publicity and all the rest yourself.

That is one of the joys of the Edinburgh Fringe.

No central body actually ‘organises’ it in any way.

Last year, the Fringe had 21,192 performers appearing in 2,542 shows (41,689 performances) at 258 venues with 855 registered journalists reviewing/reporting on them, 974 ‘arts industry professionals’ (TV scouts, agents, producers, bookers etc) and an estimated 1,877,119 people attended Fringe shows during the three-and-a-bit weeks of the festival. The non-profit-taking Fringe Society itself had an income of £3,161,601 last year to organise the generalities. Someone somehow calculated that, in 2010, the Fringe event pumped £142 million into Edinburgh’s economy.

But it is anarchy.

In the best sense of the word.

The Edinburgh Fringe is full of opportunities, dreams, nightmares, testosterone, adrenaline, drink, drugs, out-of-control egos, showbiz shysters and con men (and women). It is full of people out to make their reputations, to make a buck out of performers and to shaft each other in all meanings of the phrase. To repeat one of my answers which the Huffington Post cut out… and it ain’t libel, it’s life… it’s a fact, indeed a racing certainty…

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7. IT’S MY FIRST EDINBURGH. WILL I GET FINANCIALLY SCREWED BY UNSCRUPULOUS PEOPLE?

Yes.

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And to repeat one of my answers which they did run:

7. SHOULD I GO BACK FOR A SECOND AND THIRD YEAR?

Yes.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Newspapers, PR, Theatre

The great showmen and conmen of London: why I am proud to be British

I saw a special screening of Showmen of the Streets tonight – a 45-minute documentary about street performers of the 1930s-1960s and their precursors. People like The Earl of Mustard, The Road Stars, The Amazing BlondiniPrince Monolulu, The Man with X-Ray Eyes, The Happy Wanderers (who I just about remember playing Oxford Street in my erstwhile youth) and Don Partridge aka ‘King of the Buskers’, who actually managed to get into the UK hit parade and who hired the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 to stage a show called The Last of The Buskers with some of the great street performers of that and previous eras.

A couple of characters not in the film whom I remember are Don Crown and ‘Little Legs’.

Don Crown used to perform an act with budgerigars in Leicester Square and various other places. I used him on TV programmes a couple of times but, the last time I met him, he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers.

True and sad. Though I see from his website that he seems to have recovered and performs on the South Bank in London.

The other character I remember was a dwarf called Roy ‘Little Legs’ Smith who was a busker himself, but he also used to collect money for street performers. A busker would play the queues in Leicester Square and Little Legs would go along collecting money in, as I remember it, a hat. The theory – which proved true – was that it is almost impossible not to give money to a dwarf collecting for a busker.

Little Legs appeared in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. He died in 1989 and, according to his obituaries, he had worked for the Kray Twins as an ‘enforcer’ in the 1960s. Indeed, a book Little Legs: Muscleman of Soho was published in 1989 which traced, among other things, “his long career as a street entertainer and card-player”. In 1999, his nephew stood as a candidate for Mayor of London.

I merely pass this on.

The DVD of the documentary Showmen of the Streets is being released in a couple of weeks time.

Director John Lawrenson – who used to perform the ‘ball and cup’ magic routine in London’s streets – is currently preparing a new film about great hoaxers, including William Donaldson (aka Henry Root) who wrote to prominent public figures with unusual or outlandish questions and requests and published their replies.

Also in the film will be the late but glorious Fleet Street hoaxer Rocky Ryan who, among other career highlights, persuaded major British newspapers to print stories that sex and drug orgies were taking place on Mount Everest and that the Yorkshire Ripper was being let out of Broadmoor to go to the local disco as part of his rehabilitation into society. He also managed to persuade several Israeli newspapers that Adolf Hitler was alive and well and living in Golders Green… a famously Jewish London suburb.

It makes you proud to be British.

Although Rocky Ryan was Irish.

But let’s not get into that.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Theatre

He’s a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character – long may he continue to rip us all off

A while ago, I wrote a blog which answered nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Answer 6 delved briefly into the murky waters of dodgy agents/managers/promoters who rip off their own acts.

But there are some people who try to rip you off so endearingly that you can’t help but like them.

A few weeks ago, writer Mark Kelly, who used to perform stand-up as Mr Nasty, told me about playing three consecutive nights at one of the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. Each night, Malcolm tried to pay Mark less than he agreed by pretending he had forgotten how much he had agreed or pretending they had agreed a different sum and, each night, Mark ‘reprimanded’ him and had to go through hoops to get his money. It was like a game. Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm was trying to rip him off. But Malcolm almost felt obliged to play this Jack The Lad figure because it was part of the persona he had intentionally built up over the years. When he died, people joked – actually laughed – about the amount of money he owed to each of them. They enjoyed having been part of his games.

I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Mr Methane late last night: he is still away from home farting around the world. The name of the agent in this message has been changed. Any similarity to any agent with access to libel lawyers is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Mr Methane told me:

“I just bumped into our old friend Lobby Lud, he still talks me up despite not putting a booking my way since about 1994 when I started asking for a decent cut of the fees he was charging. I remember arriving in Baden Baden by limo from Frankfurt airport with Lobby one time to meet a producer and Lobby said, Let me do the talking…

“Before I knew it, I apparently had a house in London and one in Los Angeles; then the producer said we must be tired after our long flight, to which Lobby quickly got the first word in and said yes we were. It turned out he’d charged the producer for two Business Class fares from Los Angeles to Frankfurt although he had flown me bargain bucket from Manchester. He had even tried to get me to pay for a peak hour train from Manchester down to London Heathrow so he could fly me over even cheaper !!!!”

I had much the same shenanigans with Lobby when we were making Jack Dee’s Saturday Night for ITV. I can’t remember the exact details, but it somehow involved clearly non-existent flights from Los Angeles to London. The over-all cost was acceptable so was not queried, but Lobby was shafting his own act rather than us as it was him who was pocketing the conned money, not the act.

We all liked Lobby because he had – and I guess still has – a genuine love of the show business and a love of and fascination for good acts.

As Mr Methane wrote to me:

“A loveable rogue: that’s Lobby. You can’t help but like him even when he’s shafting you big time. He’s such a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character full of genuine 100% bullshit.”

Long may he thrive. And he has some great showbiz stories. It’s almost worth getting ripped off just to meet him.

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology, Theatre

The World Trade Center terrorist attack and the 9/11 compensation scam

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about urban myths surrounding the Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, particularly the story that, under the rubble of the second tower to fall, a crushed fire engine was found containing hundreds of neatly-stacked Gap or Structure brand jeans apparently looted from a shop in the first tower to fall. There is an interesting site debunking 9/11 myths, which does not include that story.

But there is another story not on that site which I understand is true…

I am told there was extensive building work going on at the Twin Towers before the attack and this involved some Irish-origined workers.

As soon as possible after the attack happened, some of the workers flew to Ireland. Their wives claimed they were missing and waited around until they eventually got compensation for their husbands’ deaths. According to Wikipedia (never necessarily accurate) the average individual payout to 9/11 relatives was $1.8 million. After receiving the money, the wives rejoined their husbands in Ireland. Some, I’m told, even stayed in the US where their ‘dead’ husbands rejoined them after a respectable time had elapsed.

If true (and I understand it is), as scams go, this was a very clever one and required quick thinking at the time.

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Filed under Crime, History