Tag Archives: Coronation Street

The link between ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair & gangsters The Kray Twins

(L-R) Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair (née Booth), Tony Booth, 1983

In the 1960s: Labour MP and Soviet agent Tom Driberg (left) with Conservative Lord Bob Boothby, a chum of Ronnie Kray.

I always think Six Degrees of Separation is overstating the case.

It is usually less. And the overlap of politics, showbiz and crime is pretty much a given constant.

Three days ago, actor Tony Booth (of Till Death Us Do Part, Coronation Street, the Confessions comedy films et al) died.

He married Pat Phoenix (of Coronation Street). His daughter – Cherie Booth – married politician Tony Blair. (of Iraq War Two). His brother was the actor James Booth (of Zulu etc).

Coincidentally, two days before Tony Booth died, I was having a chat with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett and the Stratford East Theatre Workshop cropped up in conversation.

Joan Littlewood outside the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

This was a hotbed of new working class talent run by alas now half-forgotten Joan Littlewood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her base – the Theatre Royal, Stratford (in London’s East End) – was/is a hop, a spit and a left hook away from the Krays’ family home in Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. So, of course, everyone knew everyone else. East End working class culture and all that.

The Kray Twins owned the Kentucky club in nearby Mile End Road.

A lot of the Joan Littlewood acting talent appear in the movie Sparrows Can’t Sing which she directed. It starred her protegés James Booth and Barbara Windsor and, apparently in a small cameo towards the end, the Kray Twins even turn up in it.

James Booth at the Kray Twins’ club in Sparrows Can’t Sing

“Joan Littlewood was always in The Kentucky,” Micky Fawcett told me. “Her, Barbara Windsor, Victor Spinetti, James Booth, George Sewell – George Sewell’s dad was a famous character.

“She said to me once: I’d love to make a film about the two boys and I’d have him – James Booth – play them. But she never made it, of course.”

According to Micky, both Joan Littlewood and the Twins hated the biographical film The Krays, eventually made in 1990.

In his book Krayzy Days, Micky writes of the Twins:

‘They loved having the celebrities around and were thrilled to be invited to the premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing at the ABC, a cinema which stood opposite The Kentucky. I usually blanked all of those showbiz events. They were a real bore. Whenever the stars were around, the conversation would always have to be about the Twins. That was all any of them were interested in. Ronnie and Reggie were happy to play along. That night, they were done up in dinner suits, standing out from everyone else with their bow ties. A friend of mine whispered to me: I can’t wait to see if one of them stars thinks Ronnie’s a waiter and asks him to get a drink.

The premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing, with Barbara Windsor (an ex-girlfriend of Charlie Kray) accompanied by future husband, armed robber Ronnie Knight.

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I Skyped a stand-up witch at midnight

Jackie Juno via Skype last night

Jackie Juno talking to me from Caerwysg via Skype last night

Last night, appropriately just before midnight, I had a Skype chat with stand-up poet Jackie Juno. She is also a witch. She knows comedian Matt Roper, who was passing through my spare bedroom.

On Saturday, Jackie is organising the Grand Witches’ Ball in Exeter.

“Last year,” she told me, “we held a Grand Witches’ Tea Party, which was a daytime thing and was outside.”

“And this one,” I asked, “is a night-time thing and is inside?”

“Yes. In the 450-seater Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. We’re going to have bands and loads of different acts, including The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. I am the lead singer. It’s been going 23 years.”

There is a clip of The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet on YouTube.

“How invisible and operatic are you?” I asked.

“Not very, but I’m very showy-offy. Not very operatic at all. Well, I hate opera, really.”

“But you must love Tibet, obviously.”

“Yes… Well… I’ve never been. But we’ve got a sort-of connection… with Gong, which is another psychedelic rock band. The Invisible Opera company of Tibet was founded by Daevid Allen, the lead singer with Gong. He founded it with my husband Brian.”

“You’re psychedelic?”

“Yeah.”

“Psychedelic witches!” I said enthusiastically.

“I love dressing up,” said Jackie, “and being mad and cackling loudly at people and wearing striped tights”

Jackie Juno reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

Jackie Juno now reaches 21st century cyberspace on Twitter

“I don’t,” I said, “remember striped tights being part of the traditional witch costume.”

“They’re quite important,” said Jackie.

“But I feel,” I said, “maybe not from the Middle Ages.

“No,”agreed Jackie, “it’s probably from kids’ story books, but it’s great fun.”

“Are you treating your witchery seriously?” I asked.

“Yes. As well. I just think it’s important to have a sense of humour.”

“What’s the best thing about being a witch?”

“Connection.”

“With what or whom?”

“Everything and everyone. Connection to the universe, the Earth, yourself, others.”

“How long have you been a witch?”

“I think I was born that way. I used to get loads of stuff in my dreams when I was younger. Loads of psychic things happened. Dead people appearing. So I’ve had all that psychic stuff happen.”

“That sounds a bit scary,” I said.

“I didn’t find it scary,” said Jackie. “Never have done.”

“Not even when you were a child?” I asked. “Dead people appearing?”

“Yeah, well it was my grandad and my uncle. And other people. If I went somewhere, somebody would be there and I would describe them and it would be later confirmed. It doesn’t happen that often, but it has happened intermittently.”

“Does it run in the family?” I asked.

“Doesn’t seem to.”

“I seem to have met a lot of witches,” I said. “So you’re a white witch…”

“I don’t know,” said Jackie, “what this white business is. I am many colours.”

“I thought,” I told her, “that a white witch was a good witch and a black witch was a bad witch.”

“That,” she replied, “is like saying you get good Christians and bad Christians.”

“How does one become a witch?” I asked. “You can’t be born one, can you? You have to choose to become one.”

Jackie runs experiential workshops in Goddesses

Jackie runs experiential workshops based on Goddess archetypes relevant to life now

“You can do both,” Jackie told me. “But I think it’s more of an uncovering, a going towards something. I think being a witch is like a natural state. We’re just in touch with the earth, in touch perhaps with other realms that we don’t often see. Before these organised, patriarchal religions came along and made all their rules and dogmas. I think we are our own people in touch with our own spirituality through the earth, through Nature.”

“I suppose you have seen The Wicker Man?” I asked.

“Yes. Great. I love it. A classic. I must re-watch it.”

“There’s an interesting line in it,” I said, “about Christianity being a Johnny-come-lately religion.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“Were you ever a Christian?”

“God, no. I wasn’t brought up that way. My dad used to describe himself as an agnostic.”

“Not an atheist?”

“No. He believed there was something going on, but he wasn’t sure what.”

“So why did you decide to have a Witches’ Tea Party last year?”

The Grand Witches Tea Party 2014 (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore

The Grand Witches’ Tea Party in 2014 (Photograph by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“I was given the title Grand Bard of Caerwysg (the Welsh name for Exeter), which is a 7-year role. Each ancient bardic seat has a sacred hill associated with it and, in Exeter, it’s Rougemont Gardens. There is a plaque in Rougemont Gardens which honours the last three women witches that were killed in England. They kept the witches – the women – in a tower of the castle in terrible conditions and then they took them to be hanged.”

“Hanged?” I asked. “I thought witches were burned alive or chucked in the river?”

“No. I think in this country most of them were hung.”

“You said England. What about Scotland?”

“I think they carried on killing witches in Scotland after 1682 – the last ones in England.”

“So, in Exeter,” I said, “the sacred hill is Rougemont Gardens…”

“Yes. I’ve always felt a strong affinity with that place and, when I became Grand Bard, I wanted to do something to honour the women that were killed.

“I wanted to hold a ceremony but then it kind of grew and we decided to have a tea party afterwards and then we decided to try and go for the world record of number of witches gathered in one place. But, to qualify for that, you had to have a cloak, a broom and a pointy hat.”

“That,” I asked, “is a Guinness Book of Records rule?”

“Yes. The record had already been set so, if you want to break it, you have to follow the rules. So we thought it would be a bit of fun. That was what got media attention. It just went mental. But the local witchy community were all: Oh! this is a farce! This is Disney! we don’t wear pointy hats! We’re proper witches! They got a bug up their arse, basically. They couldn’t believe you could have a bit of fun as well.”

“How are witches organised?” I asked. “Is there a national Witch Council?”

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

A queue of witches in 2014, signing a petition to get the executed women pardoned (Photo by Jim Bachelier-Moore)

“There are various groups all across Britain – pagan moots.”

“Any old pagans?” I asked. “Not specifically witches?”

“Yes, any old pagans. Or young pagans. There’s various pagan groups and lots of kind-of I guess witchy, goddess groups.”

“I have met a few witches,” I said, “but I have never met a wizard.”

“Well,” said Jackie, “there are a lot of men who consider themselves witches.”

“So a ‘witch’ can be a man or woman?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So there’s no such thing as a wizard?”

“I’m sure people might also describe themselves as a wizard, but I don’t know exactly what a wizard is…”

“So your husband Brian is not a wizard?”

“No.”

“Is he a witch?”

“He describes himself as a pagan Buddhist.”

“Was he a Buddhist first and then you converted him?”

“I think he was a pagan anyway, really. I think we all are underneath. Pagans do have a lot of fun.”

“It is the old religion,” I said. “Last year was…?”

“A wonderful event,” said Jackie. “It was incredibly moving.”

“Because?”

“Because the ceremony itself was very moving. People came from all over England and Wales.

This Saturday - the grand witches Ball

This Saturday – The Grand Witches’ Ball

“This year, we’re going to hold a ceremony at the beginning and at the end of the night, remembering those killed.”

“And two psychedelic rock bands,” I said.

“And a mind-reading act,” Jackie added.

“A stage act or a psychic act?” I asked.

“A stage act. He lives down Penzance way.”

“You don’t have to be part of witch culture to attend this event?”

“No. It’s open to all. Once we’ve covered our costs, we are raising funds for Womankind Worldwide, which champions women around the world.”

“When did you meet Matt Roper?” I asked.

“Before he got into his Wilfredo character – without the teeth and trousers – and I thought What a delightful young man! How handsome! and then I saw him as Wilfredo and – Christ! – I couldn’t believe it! Has he told you about Reincarnation Street, my mystical soap opera set in Totnes?”

“No.”

“We did it using finger puppets. Johnny Depp is in it.”

“As a finger?”

“No, as a puppet. He has a walk-on part – Well it’s more of a shuffle-on part, because I’ve got my finger up his skirt. The first episode is on YouTube. Reincarnation Street: A Mystical Soap Opera Set in Totnes.”

“Has it got a theme tune like Coronation Street?”

“Yes, but with an Indian sitar.”

“Matt took me to Totnes,” I said.

“Oh!” replied Jackie, “so you have experienced the aura-polishing and the chakra dancing and the womb whispering?”

“Womb whispering?” I asked.

“I saw an advert for it.”

“In the local paper?”

“In a poster up on a notice board. Chakra dancing, womb yoga, womb whispering, equine therapy, free hugs.”

“I have to say some people may think witchery is a bit odd,” I said, “but it has nothing on Totnes.”

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Coronation Street was built smaller

It is a strange route I know, but this morning I read via the Scottish Television website that English Heritage may list the outdoor set of ITV’s Coronation Street as a historic monument.

Later this year, Granada TV are moving to the new Media City complex at Salford Quays in Manchester and building a new set there. Whether the potential listing of the old set is true or just ITV spin I do not know.

Granada used to do tours of Coronation Street. Maybe they just want a bit of publicity before building a new set and re-opening the old one to tourists.

It is not the original set, though. When I first worked at Granada, there was an older outdoor set which had not been built to normal proportions. It had been built slightly smaller than real life to save money on construction costs but, with careful camera angles, it looked perfect.

You only noticed it was slightly smaller than reality if, for example, you stood in the entrance door of the Rover’s Return pub… and you discovered you were slightly taller than you normally were.

The new set (the one English Heritage are allegedly thinking of listing) is full-scale.

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Are they still celebrities even if you don’t know who on earth they are?

Someone said I was namedropping in yesterday’s blog when I mentioned that comedian Peter Cook once almost collided with me while he was running in the rain in Hampstead…

I don’t think it was. It is merely bizarre how people intersect with others. It is usually less than six degrees of separation.

I remember Jewish American comedian Andrew J.Lederer telling me (and, indeed, mentioning in one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows) that once in New York he encountered the Nazi’s favourite film director Leni Riefenstahl and she, of course, had shaken the hand of Hitler so he – a New York Jew in the 2000s – was only one handshake away from Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

Someone told me last night that she thinks she may have briefly met Sammy Davis Jnr “at Alice Cooper’s birthday party” in the US perhaps 30 years ago…. “But it might not have been Sammy Davis. I did not talk to him and Alice Cooper was not even at the birthday party.”

I once showed Captain Sensible, formerly of punk rock band The Damned, round the Coronation Street set. He was up at the Granada TV studios in Manchester for some long-forgotten pop show, but all he really wanted to do was have his photograph taken in Coronation Street. I seem to vaguely remember him sitting happily on top of a red pillar box.

Comic Bob Slayer tells me: “At the Killer Bitch movie premiere, I met that lovely lady The Black Widow Murderer who was Myra Hindley’s hairdresser. I once had an ex-girlfriend who said she was having an affair with Neil Morrisey, but she was making it up. And several years ago (at least ten) I had a go at internet dating but didn’t have a digital photo of me myself or a camera so, I used an image of Buster Bloodvessel (lead singer of the band Bad Manners) which I found online… no-one ever said the photo was not of me.”

I myself once drove Buster Bloodvessel from Monmouth to Norwich for a film shoot.  He was very nice.

Bob Slayer says: “I drove Snoop Dogg from St Martin’s Lane to the Playboy Club in London recently, where he was doing a private gig. At the Club, there was some little fella having his photo taken with some bunny girls who were nearly a foot taller than him. I leant in and told him that there were probably some others his own size inside. Inside, some guy I did not recognise was talking about football to a bouncer. The next day, I saw the showbiz photos taken at the Playboy Club and it turned out the short-arse was Joe McElderry. Apparently he won the sixth series of The X Factor? It also turned out that the guy talking about football was Ashley Cole and the big fella who I thought was a bouncer was boxer David Haye.”

Andy Warhol was wrong when he said that, in future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

He should have added “…but you may not know who they are”.

Who is the Black Widow Murderer and is there only one? It sounds like a tabloid term that may have been used more than once in different countries.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

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