Tag Archives: conman

How I got ripped-off and my iMac was messed-up by a computer repair man

This is a longer-than-normal blog. Only embark on it if you want to share my trauma… Though I do think the piece builds to a fairly strong climax – not written by me but by one remarkably plain-speaking Alan Evans… At the start, though, this is me…


It is embarrassing to admit, but, one day couple of weeks ago…

I found I could not access WiFi on my Apple iMac although, on the same desk in the same room, my iPad and iPhone COULD access the WiFi. So it was not a WiFi signal problem; it was an iMac problem. The iMac was working perfectly well otherwise; there was just a problem getting online via WiFi. I could not solve the problem – I tried all the normal things – so I succumbed to getting a repair man in via what seemed to be a safe website – bidvine.com

Via them, I was approached by a guy called Jon Draper of Ace Computer Services who, again, sounded plausible. He quoted £55 as an estimate.

A simple problem. He sounded plausible. My big mistake.

On arrival, he said he had meant to quote his normal £80 but would do it for the £55. 

Without telling me in advance and without asking my permission, while I was out of the room, he added four programs to my computer which he claimed would stabilise my computer and which cost £95 – so total price £150. 

They were CleanMyMac, IDFrag and Onyx. Plus MalwareBytes – which he only told me about after I queried it. He also told me the inbuilt Apple Disk Utility was “useless”.

As far as I am aware, none of the four non-Apple programs he installed are designed to specifically and solely target a WiFi problem. They are designed to mess around with the internal workings of the Operating System.

The WiFi, of course, now worked, he told me. I paid him by credit card. He was very plausible. And then he tried to show me the computer working.

It took forever to even start. He tried to solve the problem – “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said. It took perhaps 6-9 minutes to get it going. Getting online took similar minutes. “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said. I began to think this was his mantra. The picture was unstable. It rolled. “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said for a third time after Googling on his phone to see how to sort the problem. None of these problems had happened before.

He talked about wiping the hard drive and reinstalling everything from my back-up. I said, “No.” I was not letting him anywhere near my previously working hard drive.

After maybe half an hour, he left because he had to go to another appointment saying, as he went through the door, that to solve the problem, he could sell me a £150 hard drive for £100. I said No… Obviously.

He claims he has a “No Fix – No Fee” policy so I suppose, pedantically, that is true. The WiFi problem had been fixed. But he had buggered up the computer by – without my permission – installing four programs for which he charge £95.

After he left, I removed (as I told him I would) two of the four rogue programs – CleanMyMac and IDFrag – and got the computer working perfectly well again – except that I cannot now access my Network Preferences panel and the hard disc icon on my desktop has been replaced with a Network icon. The third program – MalwareBytes – I removed, but an icon for it remained in the MenuBar.

I sent a message asking Jon Draper how to remove this and asking where the fourth program he installed – Onyx – was. He said he would find out and get back to me. I had to find a MalwareBytes uninstaller on the internet which I downloaded and got rid of the rogue MalwareBytes icon.

I still have been unable to find the Onyx program he charged me for (it is Freeware). I also sent a message asking for a refund for the cost of him supplying and (without my foreknowledge or permission) installing software which collectively buggered-up my previously working computer. I got no reply.

He left the computer in an unusable state, installed software I did not ask for without my foreknowledge or permission and charged £95 extra to make a working computer slow and, in practical effect, unusable. Appalling. I got the computer working again myself.

I complained to Bidvine who, basically, said, “Not our problem, mate.” They put people who require service in touch with people who provide service and it is nothing to do with them if the service is shit.

“At Bidvine, our goal is to successfully connect you to professionals and we aim for everyone to have a positive experience in using the platform. We value your feedback as this serves to inform us.”

Interestingly, Bidvine’s website showed Jon Draper had been hired only 4 times via Bidvine, but had received 6 reviews for jobs done on different dates.

I looked more into Jon Draper (which, of course, I should have done earlier).

I noticed that, on his website, it claims he is part of an organisation with multiple technicians covering six counties. Yet, when I looked at the different counties’ details they all seemed to have his own telephone numbers. And the only name in alleged testimonials from satisfied ‘members of the public’ in different areas was his name.

The company “HQ” – that’s what it said – is an unremarkable suburban house in Woodstock Avenue, Golders Green, NW11 9SG, if you want to Google Streetview it.

The ‘company’ is said to be managed by a mysterious Tony Hawkins who “has been involved in the computer repair business for many years” and is “well trained to oversee the company, having previously worked for computer data services… We can GUARANTEE your business first page of Google!… So, for example, type in ‘pc repairs’ followed by any town in London, Surrey or Hertfordshire, and you’ll see our website on the first page.”

Obviously I tried this and it is a load of bollocks.

I enjoyed cowboys when I was a young boy watching movies. I do not appreciate them as much as an adult.

I also found that Jon Draper trades on Facebook as Any Distance Computer Services, on Twitter as PC & Mac Repairs and as 24 Hour PC and Apple Mac Repairs on BidVine’s competitor website freeindex.co.uk (although this 24-hour business confusingly claims that business hours are 0700-2300).

Never let it be said I fail to give credit where due.

He has done the same scam before, though not, it seems, with such disastrous consequences. The latest two 2018 reviews on freeindex.co.uk were both 1-star and the latest also mentioned in detail dodgy installation by him of unnecessary programs. (BELOW)

Suspiciously, all previous reviews (5-star) were posted before July 2017. 

Here are two reviews of “Jon Draper” on FreeIndex:


From: ALAN EVANS, Horley. Posted 26 Jul 2018

Jon rudely hung up on me during our call, but I will here summarise my complaint(s) with the nature of his service provision. The originating issue and reason for calling Jon was, and is, with regard to a slow iMac which often shows the spinning wheel for long periods. Since Jon came to address the problem, the spinning wheel persists so nothing has changed.

Very soon after Jon arrived he suggested that High Sierra was the problem. He suggested this before conducting any diagnostics but I assumed he knew what he was doing – being the ‘expert’ and all. Then the task was, apparently, to revert back to the previous software. While the computer reverted back to its previous software which takes time, Jon suggested looking at 2 other computers in my home; another iMac and a Dell laptop, to see if anything could be done there too. At the time I thought he was being helpful and service-oriented by making good use of the time I was already paying for @ £40 per 30 minutes. He had said over the phone “I charge £80 per hour but most problems can be fixed within this time”. As it turned he took 90 minutes and charged me £120. I wouldn’t have an issue with this charge. But, in fact, I do because: 

He spent the extra half hour loading ‘helpful’ apps onto all the computers. I assumed this was part of the service because he never asked if I wished to purchase any apps. He then casually announced before leaving and by pointing at each computer, that the software for that one is £45, that one £35 etc to the tune of £215 bringing the total cost to £335. I was shocked and told him that one of the computers was my wife’s work based computer and I did not want to be charged for fixing the computer of a corporation. He removed the apps from this computer and £125 from the fee but I was becoming increasingly irritated and my trust in him dropped dramatically as a consequence of his approach. 

Still reeling, I paid £210 online under duress and without having had a chance to review the outcome. Which of course I now have. Jon advertises a ‘No Fix – No Fee Policy’ but at the same time rushed me, the customer, to pay online before he had left and before I had a chance to check if anything had in fact been fixed. It hadn’t. 

The apps he mis-sold me, I have since discovered, were free and gratis anyway. He appears to have provided a month subscription and these ‘subscriptions’ then run out. They were MalwareBytes, IDFrag (I can buy memory defrag for 99p on the App Store if I wish to) Onyx, ClamXav (also free but only £19.99 to buy the full version) and CleanMyMac 1.5. CleanMyMac is now on version 3 and I am unable to upgrade to this from the software he loaded which is very old. 

I believe Jon is using customers who are experiencing computer issues as opportunities for selling old software that he happens to have on a memory stick. These unsuspecting customers do not know any better and so put their trust in him. Worse, he knowingly abuses this trust for personal gain. Jon is a highly immoral predator. 

When I eventually got hold of Jon on the phone (he failed to return my calls several times) I attempted to calmly put my thoughts to him, making the assumption that perhaps he has unknowingly made an error and just doesn’t realise how he is coming across either. Rather than listen he continuously interrupted and stated several times ‘that’s your opinion’. He rejected any attempt at providing feedback designed to help him see how his service appears to us customers. 

I used an analogy to suggest that a car garage doesn’t charge a customer for works on a car until they have explained the options to allow the customer to decide what they are and are not willing to pay for. They don’t just customise your car then tell the customer ‘You owe us £X’. Jon countered this with “Well then I want the number of your garage because mine does and all garages do…” In effect telling me I am wrong and he is right and demonstrating an inability to listen, learn and change. 

After our call I checked the reviews of his company on some review sites and such and noted that other complainers attempting to share their views are similarly attacked by Jon with attempts to discredit them and their criticisms. An open reply to one person says; ‘This customer was visiting dodgy websites’. Another customer implores us to contact them first so they can warn us of what to expect and to avoid Jon. Jon’s approach disgusts me. 

His operation represents bad customer service at best. But it is cruel, rude, bullying, damaging to both home and business and lacking in any kind of ethical business practice at worst. Jon is self-serving and money-oriented at whatever the cost. And the cost is the appropriate level of care toward the customers. Jon should serve time in prison as his activities are criminal.

I want a full refund. But I expect nothing from these sharks other than more name calling, denials and lies (see Jon’s response below!)

To state the obvious: avoid Jon and his company like the plague.


From: AARON, Amersham. Posted 22 Jan 2018 

Very disappointed with the service from Jon. The initial contact was ok, but it took me following up on 3 separate occasions for him to come out to pick up my hard drive for data recovery. Post pick up I had to follow up with him on a number of occasions before he did the work I had asked him to do. I would respond to his questions within minutes but then he wouldn’t communicate back for days.

When he completed the work he sent me my data but kept my hard drive, which we had never discussed and which I had never given him permission to do. After following up with him about it he told he had destroyed it to get the data, which he had also not communicated to me before doing it. 

I requested he send it back to me, destroyed or not, as the SSD hard drive of a MacBook is worth more than his service. He said he would, but has since avoided my calls and text messages. I can only imagine he is trying to reuse the part to sell to someone else. I would take the old adage that you get what you pay for, but he wasn’t that much cheaper than a corporate level data retrieval service in the end. Use at your own peril. 


From: DEREK EMBLEM, Royston. Posted 12 Jul 2017

Jon came to my house to repair two faults on my pc, one he did cure, the other one is a dropdown advert which is still doing the same, he sold me a anti-malware package which expired one day after he left and charged me a lot of money, yet his advert states “no fix no fee”. I am a very elderly person and don’t fully understand how these machines work that’s why I contacted this person.


Meanwhile, back at bidvine.com, they appear to be harbouring rogue traders rather than rooting them out. Obviously this is unacceptable.

Bidvine’s current directors appear to include Ghaith Yafi of Bdd 1082, Beirut Digital District, Bechara El Khoury, Beirut, Lebanon. But they are unwilling to confirm this,

For those with a steely determination, a masochistic love of rough rides and a love of people who openly claim to  be certified, never let it be said I don’t promote improvisational comedy performers. Jon Draper advertises thus…

… THERE IS A RESPONSE TO THIS BLOG HERE

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Filed under Computers, Crime

Linked: the Krays, the Blind Beggar shooting and the Queen of England

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(L-R) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston and Micky Fawcett

So I was talking to Micky Fawcett. He used to work for 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins.

“The Krays went up to Scotland, didn’t they?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Micky. “The Scots came down here to London.”

Arthur Thompson?” I asked.

“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”

“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”

“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”

“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”

“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.

“You know all the best people,” I said.

“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”

“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”

“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”

“Oh good grief!” I said.

“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”

“Which year was this?”

“The early 1960s.”

“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”

“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”

“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.

“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.

Princess Margaret, 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo

Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)

“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.

“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”

“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”

“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.

“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”

“The blind pop singer in Peters & Lee?”

“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.

“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”

“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.

“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.

“We?” I asked.

“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”

“Nash?” I asked.

“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”

“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.

“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”

Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.

“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night… 

“He said: Alright, you got it.

“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.

“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir

“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.

“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”

“So he bought it?” I asked.

“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!

“We used to do it all the time. That was my job.”

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Filed under 1960s, Crime, London, Scotland

Advice on how to spot a conman in the movie industry (and elsewhere)

I popped along to Elstree Film Studios for a chat with the indefatigable Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name, though I am sure he is also dynamic).

The Jason Cook I know is a former gangster’s runner turned author and film producer with more energy than the National Grid.

His production company The Way Forward Productions, based at Elstree Studios, has a slate of seven feature films in various stages of preparation. His sales agent says the first picked up quite a bit of interest at the recent Cannes Film Festival. It is The Devil’s Dandruff, based on Jason’s autobiographical novel There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus (the first in his autobiographical trilogy of books).

My favourite Jason Cook project, though, is the animated Rats in Space.

It’s a great title and it’s currently looking for finance.

We found we were both equally bemused and amused by the fact that, with potential movie investors, a person’s sartorial impressiveness is often in inverse proportion to their financial ability. People who turn up to meetings unshaven in scruffy shirts and torn jeans often have shedloads of money to burn. People who arrive looking well-heeled in neat Armani suits and spotless shirts are often bullshitting.

Maybe it’s because people with a lot of money don’t need to impress anyone, so don’t care what people think of them.

Whereas conmen and shysters are meticulous in their clothing and manners because they need to impress people for the hustle to work.

Of course, some shabbily-dressed men are just shabbily-dressed men.

I have been told I am living proof of this.

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Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, PR

The scams of Malcolm Hardee

Brian Mulligan, of late lamented comedy/music duo Skint Video, read my blog yesterday about the always financially creative Malcolm Hardee, who used to be their agent. He tells me it brought back fond memories of Malcolm “telling venues when they paid us cash that they needed to give us the VAT at 15% – he would say he had forgotten the invoice but would write one out there and then.”

As he was not actually registered for VAT and not entitled to collect it, he used to write down a friend’s telephone number as the VAT number, thus getting an extra 15% on top of the fee, which he then pocketed as well as his agent’s fee.

This was one of the many fine pieces of lateral thinking that Malcolm became known for.

When, on one occasion, he had to send his driving licence to the DVLA in Swansea (one of many, many occasions) they sent him back a new licence in the name of “Malcolm Hardy”. He pointed out the spelling mistake to them and they sent him another licence with the correct spelling “Malcolm Hardee”. But he never returned the first licence. This meant he had two driving licences so, if he was banned from driving and his licence suspended for some dubious motoring offence or offences, he still had what he reckoned was a ‘valid’ licence he could show to police if stopped again – the ‘other’ licence.

When Malcolm’s brother Alex was sorting out paperwork after his untimely death, Malcolm’s phone rang: it was the Inland Revenue rather optimistically asking when Malcolm was going to settle his tax bill. Alex told the taxman that, sadly, Malcolm had died. Their response was:

“You told us that last year, Mr Hardee…”

You can hear Malcolm’s son Frank telling similar stories at Malcolm’s legendary 2005 funeral HERE. If you listen to this, remember that it takes place in a church at a funeral not, as it may sound, at a stand-up comedy club…

(In August this year, the Edinburgh Fringe will include a week of events celebrating the spirit of Malcolm Hardee.)

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Filed under Comedy, Crime

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 god-like comedian Ken Dodd is more mugger than con man + he got a standing ovation in Bournemouth

Morecambe and Wise were not famous.

Yes, they were justifiably famous in the UK. But go to some village in western China and ask them who Morecambe and Wise were.

M&W are and always were total unknowns except in the British Isles.

Fame is relative and mostly regional.

To save my life, I could not tell you who the world water ski champion is. But presumably he or she is a Big Name if you follow water skiing.

The world is full of champions, each famous in their own little world.

I see quite a lot of club comedy and what is still called alternative comedy. Some of the acts are called comedy stars; some may even think they are stars. Audiences even flock to and fill large venues to see some of these people who have appeared in TV panel shows.

But they are not big stars even in the UK. They are minor and transient cults with a few disciples. Admittedly they have more disciples than Jesus did when he started but, just because you can get more than twelve people to listen to you in a room above a pub in Camden Town, don’t start thinking you are more famous than the Son of God.

Unless you are known and regarded in awe by a random 50-year-old housewife in a bus queue in Leamington Spa, you are not famous in UK terms. If you can fill a big venue at the Edinburgh Fringe with 23 year old fans for 27 nights, you are not famous. You are a very minor cult.

Last night, I saw Ken Dodd’s show Happiness at The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. Ken Dodd is unquestionably famous in the UK and the venue was filled with a well-heeled middle-of-the-road, middle class Middle England audience of the type TV commissioners mystifyingly ignore. This audience was the great TV-viewing audience en masse on a rare trip out to see a live show.

Upcoming shows at The Pavilion include The Gazza and Greavsie Show, Roy Chubby Brown, Joe Pasquale, Jethro and Jim Davidson. Never, never, never underestimate the Daily Mail. Their readers are the mass audience. Admittedly Dylan Moran and Russell Kane also have upcoming shows at The Pavilion, but the phrases “sore thumbs” and “stand out” spring to mind.

London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer has a routine in which he says his ex-manager told him he will never become famous unless, like a currently ‘famous’ alternative comedian, he can be a true professional and tell the same jokes in every show and repeat each show exactly.

Last night, the first half of Ken Dodd’s 5-hour show proved the danger of being too experienced and too professional a performer if you are on a long tour.

There was an audibility problem.

This was partly because the sound system at The Pavilion was occasionally indistinct – certainly where I was sitting, centre right in the audience – and partly because Ken Dodd, after 55 years in showbiz and on his seemingly endless UK tour, has been doing the same routines and telling the same stories for too long. He came on stage and spoke what, for the first part of the show seemed to be a script which he had got so used to he didn’t actually perform it: he just threw the words out. He galloped and gabbled through the words and syllables with the result perhaps a quarter of what he was saying was indecipherable.

And this was an audience with possible inbuilt hearing problems where I half expected the colostomy bags to break during the show to create a tsunami that could have washed the entire population of Bournemouth into the English Channel.

When an established act, instead of saying “Ladies and gentlemen” says “lay-ge-me” and all the other words and phrases are gabbled and elided indistinctly in much the same way, he is not performing an act, he is going through the motions on autopilot. He has heard the jokes 1,000 times; the audience has not (well, not most of them).

His saving grace was an astonishing gag rate of perhaps one potential laugh every ten seconds. And the material is gold. You couldn’t go wrong with that material. But Doddy was getting laughs because the jokes (when heard) were good, not because of any technical skill in the delivery.

There are very few successful gag tellers in modern alternative comedy – Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine are exceptions not the rule. Most successful alternative comedians nowadays tell stories: not necessarily funny stories, but stories told funny.

Ken Dodd mostly told gags in the first half and funny stories in the second half (in which he found his feet more). But it struck me that his slightly more old-fashioned (or let’s say traditional) approach was very similar to inexperienced circuit comics today.

He told stories as if they were gags, with token links between each story, but with no over-all arc. If he told ten stories, the first and second might have a token link and the seventh and eighth might have a token link, but there was no over-all progression, no shape, no thread to the stories. So the over-all effect was like getting beaten round the head with gags by a mugger for five hours, not drawn into a personal fantasy world by a con man, which is what a stand-up comedian is.

It struck me Doddy’s unlinked gag structure was very like comics new to the current comedy circuit who have some material but can’t stitch it into a unitary act. They can do 10 or 15 or 20 minutes but are not yet capable of putting on a 60 minute Edinburgh Fringe show.

I suppose the transition from beating people into submission with barrages of gags rather than bringing them into your own personal world with smoothly-linked stories is a relatively recent development which Doddy has no need to embrace because he has so many gags and stories which he can throw at the audience from his years of experience.

Because he is so experienced and so good, I could not tell how much of the second half was scripted and how much he was just plucking and throwing in gags and stories from a mental storehouse.

One ad-lib which surely must have been planned and, indeed, ‘planted’ was a piece of banter with the audience in which Dodd asked a woman “How many children do you have?”

“Eight!” came the unexpected reply.

Dodd professed bewilderment at this and meandered for a couple of sentences about her husband, then asked:

“Have you sewn up the gap in his pyjamas yet?…. (pause)… You know what they say… A stitch in time saves…” (Immediate audience laughter – though strangely not as much as it deserved)

This cannot possibly have been an ad-lib. It had to have been planted in the audience because he feigned bewilderment at the initial reply of “Eight,” which he would not have done in the way that he did if it were not a lead-up to the punchline.

There were also glimpses of an unexpected (to me) Ken Dodd – a ventriloquist act with a Diddy Man doll that almost verged on being post-modernist and a sequence in which he was doing a series of very passable regional accents and which went into a whole non-Ken-Dodd realm.

Small numbers of the audience left during the single interval – including the friend I went with, who had been exhausted by the first two and a half hours – she went paddling in the sea by the pier and then found a strange Greek Orthodox priest intoning his way through a Paschal Celebration in a small chapel watching by an old woman with a bell and an old man in a shabby grey suit. He had started at 10.00pm – about halfway through Doddy’s show – and was still intoning, watched by his two fans, at 15 minutes past midnight after Doddy’s show had ended and we went to see if he was still going strong.

Whether Christianity or Ken Dodd’s shows will last longer is a moot point, but they probably have the same fans.

At the end of Ken Dodd’s Happiness show, people rose from their seats to leave while still clapping and, partially blocked from leaving by other people possibly with mobility problems, this turned into a standing ovation and a sudden flutter of flashes as people with mobile phones snatched quick photos of the god-like Doddy on stage.

The standing ovation in both the stalls and the balcony was warm and heartfelt and passionate but perhaps was more for being a national institution than for the show itself.

It was an event as much as a show.

Much like Jesus preaching to the converted, in retrospect, it will be loved, treasured and much talked about and the Master’s fame will spread, though perhaps neither further nor wider nor to western China.

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Filed under Comedy, Religion, Theatre