Tag Archives: crime

A rare case of British justice

Fifteen years ago today – in 1999 – I had to write a statement for a court about someone I knew who was standing trial for the second time over the same incident. He had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a very short sentence – something the police clearly considered too lenient. Now, over a year later, they had prosecuted him again on a more serious charge related to the same incident. This is the statement I wrote. I have changed his name to Harry Hardwicke (nothing like his real name) and have blanked-out some identifying details:

__________

I have known Harry Hardwicke for about 20 years. We worked together briefly at ***** in ***** then later at ***** in *****, ***** in ***** and ***** in *****. I have also known him personally over those years, when he had three separate long-term loving relationships, including his marriage. He has stayed friends with these ex-girlfriends. He has always been an outgoing person – ‘life and soul of the party’ is a phrase that could have been coined for Harry. I have seen him regularly but not often over the years – perhaps every three or four months so I can, perhaps more than most, see the changes in him.

When I visited ***** Open Prison where he was incarcerated for two months over the same incident he has now been charged with again, I was rather taken aback by the change I saw in Harry: he was extremely quiet and noticeably withdrawn. In my ignorance, I thought life in an open prison would be rather ‘cushy’. That was certainly not the case for him. The imprisonment and separation from his three children, on whom he dotes, had taken such a visible toll that I was shocked by the effect on him. He was also upset and concerned by his inability to be available should his mentally ‘delicate’ sister suffer one of her not-too-uncommon relapses. (Although no danger to anyone else, she has been in-and-out of mental institutions over the 20 years I have known Harry and he is, in effect, her only family member.)

As both Harry and I are British males born in the 1950s, confiding innermost thoughts to each other is not a normal thing except in extremis. But, in the months after his release from prison, he did frequently tell me in person and on the telephone how he had despaired in prison and the shame he felt as a result of having been imprisoned. He despaired to the extent of not wanting to see or be seen by anybody. I believe at one time he was almost suicidal with despair.

He seemed to be coming out of this depression in the last few months of 1998 – before this case reared its head again. He had only just started to pick up the threads of his life and his career which would certainly be broken again should he be imprisoned once more.

Two very visible effects the ***** Open Prison sentence had on his personality was to damage his normally reliable work – his concentration on release was affected by depression – and to devastatingly damage his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. His severe depression and abnormal introversion caused a very painful breakup in the relationship though they have since slowly and successfully patched things up.

Harry is petrified of going to prison again, petrified by shame and embarrassment at the effect his actions have had on his children and on the relationship in which he puts so much hope. I believe he has already suffered disproportionately for his admitted crime – certainly way beyond the intention of his original sentence.

Should his character be broken again by imprisonment, I have no doubt that these additional strains could be nothing but devastatingly harmful to his long-term relationship, enormously destabilising for his children, abnormally destructive to his career and totally destabilising for his mental condition.

__________

Harry received a conditional discharge. A rare case of justice in the UK.

* * *

A couple of weeks after I wrote the above, I found out it was factually incorrect. For the real outcome, see HERE.

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So I was talking to ex-gangster Mad Frank Fraser behind the Blind Beggar pub when this little girl came up to us…

Mad Frank at the historic Clink jail in 2002

Mad Frank interviewed at The Clink in 2002

Thirteen years ago today, in 2001, former gangster Mad Frank Fraser was being filmed for a documentary about his life.

Filming took place at the Clink prison museum near the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the south bank of the River Thames.

I chatted to Frank over coffee between camera set-ups.

He told me there had been no recent talk of filming the story of his life: “I think they’re waiting till after I die,” he said flatly, “because then they can say anything. They could make up things or, if I did something when I was defending myself, they could just say I slashed someone for no reason at all.”

Frank was, as always, gentlemanly and very slightly deaf in one ear. He and his then wife Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of a Great Train Robber, lived in a rented flat off the Old Kent Road. The next day, they were both travelling up to Birmingham to sign copies of their new books: her first autobiography Gangster’s Moll and his Diary (his third autobiographical book).

We had lunch in a clean but characterless local cafe a short walk along Clink Street: Frank, me, the cameraman, the sound man and a stills photographer from Tunbridge Wells who had done a few fashion shoots but really wanted to break into travel photography.

At one point, Frank, the sound man and I were sitting alone at a table when the sound man suddenly said without warning: “Do you want to see some magic?”

He entertained us with some close-up magic, putting a paper napkin into his closed fist then making it disappear. When he and I were alone later, he faked bending and swallowing a fork and told me forlornly that Americans just accepted magic tricks for their simple entertainment value, but the British wanted to see tricks over and over again to work out how they were done. He was interested to work in movie special effects because his father used to run a firework display company.

After lunch, we relocated to an upstairs room at the Clink, which had the walls and ceiling in prison/dungeon/torture chamber style but which also had a bar and giant stand-up fridge for drinks and a small glitter-ball dangling from the ceiling. Presumably it was occasionally used for private parties and discos.

Mad Frank interviewed at Repton Boys Club

Mad Frank was interviewed in the ring at Repton Boys Club

We then all drove to Repton Boys (boxing) Club in Bethnal Green where the Kray Twins used to box.

Frank had brought along a colour photo of him shaking the hand of an ashen-faced, bed-ridden Reggie Kray just a few days before he died.

Reggie had white bandages on his right wrist.

Then we drove to the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel where Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell in 1966.

Standing outside the Grave Maurice pub opposite the London Hospital where he once deposited a man with a hatchet in his head, Frank was greeted by strangers coming out of the pub inviting him in to drink with them. Walking back to the Blind Beggar, along the pavement lined by Indian and Pakistani-owned stalls, everyone – even small Asian children – recognised him.

Finally, as we were saying our goodbyes in the large Sainsbury’s car park behind the Blind Beggar and I was talking to Frank, a lone little girl, aged about 13, came up and asked to shake his hand. He did with an: “Of course.” She said nothing, then turned and went away, a happy smile on her face.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

“You don’t have to worry about any feature film,” I told him: “You’ll be Uncle Frank to her forever.”

The police say Mad Frank killed 40 people, though it sounds like a figure just plucked out of thin air, either by the police or by Mad Frank himself for publicity purposes.

So it goes.

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Comedy performer Martin Soan, aged 15, led into crime by a latter-day Fagin

Nick Revell (left) takes photo of Martin & Vivienne Soan yesterday at Leipzig station

Nick Revell (left) takes a photo of Martin and Vivienne Soan yesterday after arriving at Leipzig railway station in Germany

I travelled with comedian Nick Revell from the UK to Leipzig in Germany yesterday. This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me I was lucky to have gone to Leipzig, Germany, not the one in Saskatchewan.

“You are better off in the German Leipzig than the Canadian Leipzig,” she told me, “as ours is a mere hamlet, where the only industries are drug and alcohol treatment centers although, on the other hand, these must be fertile grounds for comic material.”

I am here in Leipzig, Germany, to see Vivienne & Martin Soan’s’s first German version of their Pull The Other One club on Saturday night. The new one is billed as Comedy Confusion From London.

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Much jollity was had last night with Martin, his wife Vivienne, Martin’s schoolfriend Steve and Steve’s friend Mick.

Mick had come over here to go to robot maker Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town. Alas, this closed last year and so Mick was thus more than a little vague as to why he was now here.

Last night, I recorded three extremely interesting stories for the blog today, got toothache overnight and woke up to find all three of the recordings (which I had watched recording) no longer existed. One of the mysteries of 21st century cyberspace.

But then, this morning, Martin, Vivienne and I had breakfast.

“Steve was a weekend hippy,” said Martin. “He admits he was. He used to come round to our commune in Colchester when I was a teenager. He saw what was happening – but from the outside.

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

“This bloke called Tom took over the hippy commune. Tom was probably around 27. He was incredibly handsome. Women went for him immediately. Old ladies used to be charmed by him. He ended up in Colchester from exactly the same East End (of London) streets as me. He was from Stratford; I was from Forest Gate.

“Tom got his girlfriend Maureen to seduce me when I was about 15 so he could recruit me into his ‘crime syndicate’, such as it was. He taught me how to shoplift, how to pick locks…”

“How to break into cigarette machines,” added Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “How to use diversionary tactics to lean over shop counters and get stuff. He also used me as bait. He used to point men out to me in bars. I used to flirt with them and then walk out the back with them and he used to fleece ‘em – beat them up. I only did that a couple of times, to be honest. It wasn’t a regular thing.

“The first job he got me to do was to break into a dairy. He told me how to knock off the locks. All these milk floats were parked up and, in those days (when milk was delivered to your door in electric-powered ‘milk float’ vehicles) they used to have cigarettes in the back of the floats as well.

“So Tom chucked me over the wall, I went and smacked the locks off the back of the milk floats and I was so scared I just filled up my swag bags as quickly as I could with packets of Corn Flakes, jumped back over the wall, jumped in the car, got back to the squat and emptied all the Corn Flakes onto a table. Tom just looked at me and whacked me.”

“He didn’t burst out laughing?” asked Vivienne.

“No,” said Martin. “I wasn’t proud of all this but, if I didn’t do it, he would beat me up. What he used to do that was frightening was – if I disappointed him or his temper flared up – he used to batter me and then, after be battered me, he used to cuddle me.

“It was very, very creepy indeed and it all built up to a confrontation where he held me and his girlfriend Maureen captive in my flat and he beat us up, just regularly beat us up over the period of a day and a half. He used one of her shoes – a stiletto, I always remember it – he kept on whacking us with this stiletto shoe.”

“He hit you all over the body?” I asked.

“On the head,” said Martin. “In the head. Just beating us and beating us and beating us. It was horrible.

“He was one of the characters in my life before (comedian) Malcolm Hardee turned up. Two of the other characters were Waff and Taff. They may be in Leipzig tomorrow.”

“So there was Waff, Taff and Tom?” asked Vivienne.

“Mmmm…” said Martin.

“But,” said Vivienne, “Waff and Taff were not…”

“They were not violent,” said Martin. “They were hippies, but we used to all get up to…”

“So,” asked Vivienne, “were they all scared of Tom as well?”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Everybody was scared of Tom.”

“So who rescued you from Tom in the end?” asked Vivienne.

“No-one. I ran away. I had to escape the squat because it was just getting mental. I’d already been in trouble with the law.”

“Is that when you were made a ward of court,” Vivienne asked, “for stealing the carpet from the doctor’s surgery?”

“Yup,” said Martin. “When I was 15.”

“The hippy commune just got out of control because of drugs?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “Because of Tom. It became violent. Poor old Tom.”

“Poor old Tom?” I asked.

“A homo erotic fuckwit,” said Martin.

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So what’s the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

William Lobban wants to sort things out

Scottish newspaper the Daily Record says William Lobban, “openly admits to a life of crime, including armed robbery, fraud, drug dealing and GBH.”

I blogged about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse when it was published two months ago.

“So is there another book coming?” I asked him yesterday.

“Yes,” he told me. “I’m currently writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse, which cut off after my 14 year prison sentence…”

“Which was for…?” I asked.

“For armed robbery and for taking the prison guards hostage at Perth Prison. I was sentenced to six years in jail in February 1988. I’d almost completed that sentence and only had about six months to serve and then I went on the run from a semi-open nick: I was on a day pass to get some tattoos removed from my fingers. That’s when I became the Most Wanted man in the country. When I was recaptured down in London, I was sentenced to a further six years for a robbery that occurred while I was on the run and then I got six months consecutive sentence for absconding and there was an 18 months consecutive sentence for the hostage situation in Perth.”

“So what is the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

Lobban says he “won’t back down”

“We’re all the same really,” he replied, “but people like myself – well, certainly when I led that life – you know where the line is and you know what will happen if you cross that line, but you don’t really care about what happens if you cross it. That’s the difference. We’re prepared to step over that line, if need be. Prison is the occupational hazard.

“Sometimes you step over that line and you end up in all sorts of trouble. But you’re aware that may happen. The younger you are – in the teenage years I suppose – you just don’t give a damn. But, certainly the older you get, when you start to get that bit more mature, I think everything starts to mellow. In your mind, you start to look at things differently. But you’re still prepared to step over that line if need be. I think that’s ultimately the difference.”

One ironic thing I have noticed is that the ‘naughty chaps’ I have met tend to feel injustice to themselves really strongly. They are prepared to commit crimes against other people and, if they do a crime, they accept they may do the time. They see that as justice. But, when they are unjustly accused of something they did not do – or if someone steps over the acceptable line and it affects them or their friends… then that injustice eats away at them.

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday, the Daily Record reported:

PAUL FERRIS ACCUSED OF MAKING ONLINE THREATS TO FORMER GANGSTER ALLY WILLIAM LOBBAN AFTER NEW BOOK REIGNITES OLD FEUD

Their problem dates back to 1991 and the killing of Fat Boy – the son of Glasgow’s then-undisputed gangland godfather Arthur Thompson. Fat Boy was shot three times – reportedly once in the face, once in the body and once up the anus – outside the Thompson family home The Ponderosa (named after the hero family’s home in TV Western series Bonanza).

The funeral car for Arthur Thompson Junior

Funeral car for Fat Boy in 1991 outside The Ponderosa (left)

On the day of Fat Boy’s funeral, two men were found shot dead in a car parked on the route of his funeral procession They were Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon and Bobby Glover. They had reportedly been shot in the head and up the anus. The presumption was that this was a revenge killing and that they had been involved in the murder of Fat Boy. They were friends of Paul Ferris, a former ‘enforcer’ for the Thompson family, who was also suspected of being involved in the killing of Fat Boy. He was in prison at the time of the Hanlon/Glover killings and therefore beyond the taking-out of revenge. And he was later, after a £4 million trial, found innocent of any involvement in the Fat Boy murder.

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon a few weeks before his murder

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon shortly before his killing

In an STV interview last weekJoe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon’s mother and brother said he earned his nickname not from violence but by dressing up as a banana for charity: “Joe was never a gangster in his life,” his brother said.

William Lobban was reportedly the last person to see Hanlon and Glover alive (other than their killer or killers) and Paul Ferris has accused him of ‘setting them up’.

A couple of weeks ago, STV reported that Paul Ferris was “considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in The Glasgow Curse.

At the time, William Lobban told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… But it’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further.”

In 1991, STV reported the Hanlon/Glover killing

1991: STV reported the search for Hanlon & Glover’s killer(s)

The previous day, Ferris had Tweeted to Lobban: “I will see you in person IV4”.

That refers to the postcode where Lobban now lives.

Yesterday, Ferris told the Daily Record:

“My reference to IV4 was to suggest that if I have anything to say to him I would choose to do it face to face.”

He also admitted to the Daily Record yesterday that he had sent Lobban a message saying “Judas your time is coming soon” but that it was a line from a poem and not a threat… “The poem,” he told the Daily Record, “was something that had been given to me and I adapted it. If anybody read it they would have a wry smile. It seemed relevant. This is a war of words.”

STV said in a report on 3rd January“William Lobban’s autobiography is an attempt by a convicted criminal to defend his reputation” and that is the way he sees it too: “There’s two stories out there just now. There’s one story from me and there’s another story from Paul Ferris.

William Lobban’s bestselling autobiography

William Lobban’s autobiography is a reaction to accusations

“Ferris has been dragging my name through the dirt for many years,” he told me yesterday. “Since 1992, to be exact. There’s too much activity online about me. Old newspaper articles. Being mentioned negatively in books. Paul Ferris has blamed me under oath in the High Court in Glasgow for the shooting and killing of Arthur Thompson Junior – accused me of of being the gunman, the actual person who pulled the trigger.”

(At the time, Ferris was in court accused of the killing.)

“In The Glasgow Curse,” William Lobban continued, “I say he tried, when he was behind bars in Barlinnie Prison, to get me to shoot and kill Arthur Thompson Senior. (Paul Ferris denies this.) The truth about what really happened has got to come out so that I can be vindicated properly, right across the board. My name was also put in the frame for setting-up Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon. That’s another very serious accusation. And all that needs addressing.

“And that’s what I’m in the process of doing now. It’s really important I get a proper clearing of my name. It’s so important to me. The image has been created in some people’s eyes that William Lobban is a murderer because Paul Ferris said in court that I may have or must have shot Arthur Thompson Junior. I’m trying to set the record straight with my book. For 20 years, all these things have been said about me and I’ve not really done anything about it except for a News of the World interview in 2005.

William Lobban in the News of The World, 2005

William Lobban in the News of The World, 1998

“My book’s a great start, but the hard work really starts now because the media are starting to get involved and the cops must now look at everything that’s going on. I would like to know how they view all this. It’s always been like a bit of a circus anyway. Ferris has accused me of this, that and the next thing and I want to clear my name. People have got an engrained image of me that is wrong, so I’m now defending myself to the hilt and I won’t back down in any way now. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

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Comedy, Christ, Ronnie Biggs’ lively funeral and Glasgow gangland aggro

Yesterday, I went to church to see (again) Juliette Burton’s wonderfully enjoyable and emotional show When I Grow Up. Yet again life-enhancing. Yet again funny, fast-moving, uplifting and joyous and – yet again – the body punch of the coup de théâtre sting-in-its tail had me with tears in my eyes. I was watching the audience reaction and their emotions turned on a sixpence from laughter to stunned shock when the narrative carpet was pulled from under them and (far more difficult for a performer to pull off) back to laughter again.

Juliette Burton & Frankie Lowe rehearse yesterday for her February-May tour of Australia

Juliette Burton and Frankie Lowe yesterday rehearse for February-May tour of Australia

When I Grow Up is also a technically very complicated show with constant audio and video cues to hit, fast-moving PowerPoint presentation changes and, at one point, Juliette interacting with a Skype screen. Yesterday, the techie on the show was Frankie Lowe, who composed Juliette’s pop song Dreamers (When I Grow Up)The show was flawless and was, in effect, a rehearsal for next month’s two-night run at the Leicester Square Theatre which is, itself, a dry run for Juliette’s Australian shows in February-May, which Frankie will also be teching.

Almost as interesting as the show, though, was the location – a church.

The vicar – Dave – arrived close to showtime because he had been conducting the funeral service for Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs at Golders Green Crematorium, where the eco-friendly wicker coffin had, the Guardian reports today, been draped in the flags of the UK & Brazil and an Arsenal football scarf. The coffin was escorted by Hell’s Angels with the London Dixieland Jazz Band playing Just a Closer Walk and it left to the strains of The Stripper. The Daily Mirror today reported that “as the hearse carrying his coffin passed through the streets of north London, a white floral wreath in the shape of a two-fingered salute was visible.”

Dave the vicar had also conducted the funeral service last year for Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds.

Dave’s book

Dave the vicar’s 2012 book of advice…

He is clearly an interesting vicar. He has published several books including How To Be a Bad Christian.

That book’s blurb explains Dave lays down “some key practices for how to be a ‘bad’ Christian, including how to talk to God without worrying about prayer, how to read the Bible without turning off your brain, and how to think with your soul rather than trying to follow rules.”

This August, he will be publishing How To Reinvent God (and Other Modest Proposals).

Everyone seems to be publishing books at the moment, except me.

William Lobban, now a published author

William Lobban, now a  bestselling author

Last November, I had a chat with Glasgow gangland ‘enforcer’ William Lobban about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse. This morning, he told me it had gone straight to No 4 in Amazon Kindle’s True Crime bestsellers and No 3 in Waterstone’s crime bestsellers.

Yesterday, STV reported that “former Glasgow gangster” Paul Ferris , who has written his own true crime autobiography, “is considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in the book. STV did not say what the problem was, but it somehow involves the highly-publicised shooting of Glasgow Godfather Arthur Thompson’s son ‘Fat Boy’ outside their family home ‘The Ponderosa’ in 1991.

The Wee Man – a fascinating film based on Paul Ferris’ version of his exploits – was released last year.

This morning, I asked William Lobban for his reaction to the report that Paul Ferris is “considering taking legal action”. He told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… It’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further. There isn’t a judge in the land who would agree that anyone could blacken or defame his character – Impossible!”

The move from villain to media anti-hero or even sometimes hero is interesting.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, like Buster Edwards before him, had mostly achieved the move from criminal to perceived cheeky chappie.

The Great Train Robbery happened in 1963.

Buster - from villain to hero

Buster – He moved from villain to hero in less than 25 years

The movie Buster was released in 1988 – just 25 years later – with loveable Phil Collins as Great Train Robber Buster Edwards. Fellow robber Ronnie Biggs’ death coincidentally occurred just hours before the first broadcast of a two-part BBC TV drama series The Great Train Robbery.

In their time (if they ever existed) Robin Hood and Dick Turpin were criminal robbers. Now Robin is a hero and Dick a hero, anti-hero or whatever you want to make of him.

They, like others after them, have moved from being reviled criminals to legends.

Billy The Kid was shot dead in 1881. Jesse James was shot dead in 1882. The move from criminal to legend had started by the time the first Billy The Kid movie was made in 1911 and the first Jesse James movie was made in 1921 – just 30 to 40 years after the events they portrayed.

The Kray Twins’ exploits were in the 1960s. By the time The Krays movie was released in 1990, they were already well-established as legendary cultural anti-heroes (or, to some, heroes).

In movies, dark heroes are always more interesting to act and to watch than whiter-than-white heroes.

The interlinking of showbiz, the media and crime. The making of legends.

’Twas ever thus.

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Agent & manager Addison Cresswell & the colourful world of British comedy

Here is an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. It refers to an incident when comedians Ian Cognito and Ricky Grover had a falling-out at the Edinburgh Fringe:

An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. Part of his Italian upbringing, I think. 

Ricky had worked with him before, so said hello to him and Cognito grabbed him by his collar and said: 

“You’re a fat cunt!” 

Ricky doesn’t mind that sort of thing at all. He’s used to it.

So, not getting a reaction, Cognito continued: 

“You’re a fat cunt and you’re not funny!” 

Ricky still didn’t react, so Cognito added: 

“And your wife’s a fat cunt as well!”

This upset Ricky, because he’s one of those traditional people.

“Did you mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ian Cognito said.

“Can you repeat it?” Ricky asked.

Cognito said: “Your wife’s a fat cunt”. 

And, with one blow, Ricky just knocked him out. Unconscious. Displaced his jaw a bit. The lot. Ricky’s a professional, so he knows exactly where to hit someone.

Standing three or four yards away was Jon Thoday, who runs the Avalon agency. I looked over at Jon and said: 

“Oh, have you go that £500 you owe me?”

Funnily enough, the cheque arrived in the post about two days later.

While Ian Cognito was still unconscious another well-known agent rushed over and told Ricky Grover he shouldn’t hit comedians and that he, the agent, could have people killed. 

This bloke’s gone a bit funny. 

He behaves as if he’s a ‘villain’ for some reason. His father is actually a distinguished academic. He comes from a very posh family but he likes to be ‘laddish’ and he’s gone one step further now. He’s got the black Crombie, the waistcoat: everything the well-dressed villain should have.

I met a real villain who had seen him walking about in the West End of London and the agent told this bloke he was one of the Brindle Brothers. At the time, there was a bit of a feud, including occasional shootings, going on in South East London between the Brindle Brothers and the Arifs.

The un-named “well-known agent” at the end of that anecdote was Addison Cresswell of the Off The Kerb comedy agency.

Yesterday it was reported that he died in his sleep, aged 53, on Sunday night and is genuinely much-lamented. Whereas other agents might occasionally rip-off their own clients, I never heard anything bad about Addison in that respect. He was always said to be “hard-nosed” in his negotiations on behalf of his artists (which was his job) – but always in his artists’ interests.

In a 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo, then Director of Television & Content at Channel 4, described Addison as a “big, flamboyant character in the showbiz comedy world… In the end, you can judge how effective and how good agents are by the long-term relationships they have with their clients. In other words, is their client base always changing or not? Addison has managed to keep his clients for a very long time, which is an indication how good he is for them.”

Addison was oft-quoted as saying: “I don’t see us (agents) as in any way different from the people who run the (TV) channels. They’re complete bastards as well, but we all have to work with each other.”

The Daily Mirror yesterday wrote that he was “seen as a no-nonsense, forceful and larger than life character by many in the industry”.

In the 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo said of Addison: “With broadcasters, he can be volatile – but my experience with him is that he is straight, and you always have the feeling that he has his client’s best interests at heart. He has an understanding of television, and is a hard negotiator but also fair.”

I only encountered him in person a few times in 1995 when I worked on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night show for ITV1. Addison’s TV company Open Mike produced the show. He talked fast and usually seemed coked-out-of-his-head in a long dark coat. He cultivated a hard-nosed image but seemed to be honest in the sense that, as far as I ever heard, he did the best for his acts and, unlike some other agents, financially screwed companies for the benefit of his acts – he did not financially screw his own acts.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, from which the Edinburgh Fringe story above is taken, was published in 1996. This is an entry from my diary two years after that:

Sunday 30th August 1998

In the evening, we went to (Malcolm Hardee’s comedy club) Up The Creek, re-starting its Sunday night shows after a summer break.

Malcolm was extremely drunk in a dysfunctional way when we arrived. At the end of the show, he was so drunk that he fell over and had to be replaced by Simon Fox – one of the comics on the bill – who wore Malcolm’s jacket & spectacles and told three of Malcolm’s jokes.

I drove Malcolm and a girl back to his former home in Fingal Street (which he still rents out to people). The girl was some sort of groupie, mid-20s, glittering hard eyes caused by drugs, drink or cynicism. 

During a break in the show, Malcolm had told me how he and (a friend) had had tea with comics’ agent Addison Cresswell in Covent Garden. Malcolm and (the friend) were “stone cold sober” but Addison was heavily coked-up. He kept telling them how he was now a millionaire and how much he loved them. 

Around the same time – I guess the late 1990s – I heard two other stories.

I had a chat with someone who was thinking of buying Addison’s home. He had gone round to see the property and had been surprised to find, he told me, that the kitchen had bullet-proof glass in the windows.

A stand-up comedian with a colourful past also told me Addison had taken to carrying a gun which he would occasionally take out and wave about to appear macho.

“You shouldn’t do that, Addison,” the stand-up comedian had told him. “If you get into an argument with naughty people (the phrase he used) they may hit you. But, if they know you’ve got a gun under your coat, they’ll just shoot you straight off.”

The Guardian wrote yesterday: “Cresswell preferred his stars to be in the spotlight rather than himself although the BBC hoped he could rival Simon Cowell on a projected talent show.”

A spokesman for Off The Kerb said: ”He leaves behind a proud legacy in his tireless charity work, initiating and organising the annual Channel 4 Comedy Gala in aid of Great Ormond Street hospital. It was his dearest wish to raise enough to fund the opening of a brand new wing of the hospital, a goal that is now in sight. He is survived by his beloved wife, Shelley, his dogs Bonnie and Nessie and many, many pet fish.”

So it goes.

There is a rather strange report of his death on YouTube:

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The night comedian Malcolm Hardee met gangster Charlie Richardson

Charlie Richardson book to be published next month

A new book to be published next month

In London in the 1960s, the Richardsons - Charlie & Eddie – were rivals of the Kray Twins – Ronnie & Reggie.

The Richardsons always kept a lower profile than the Krays but were imprisoned after a high profile ‘torture trial’ in which (among other things) their enforcer ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s habit of pulling out people’s teeth with allegedly gold-plated pliers was a widely-reported part. I can do no better than quote this section of the Richardsons’ current Wikipedia entry:

The police unearthed the sadistic methods of torture that the gang specialised in. Victims were hauled in front of Charlie, Fraser and others in a mock trial. Then the punishments were meted out, anything from beatings to more severe forms of torture: whippings, cigarette burning, teeth being pulled out with pliers, nailing to the floor, having toes removed with bolt cutters and given electric shocks until unconsciousness.

Mad Frank interviewed at Repton Boys Club

Mad Frank (left) interviewed at Repton Boys’ Club in 2002

The electric shocks were inflicted by an old Army field telephone which included a hand-crank-powered generator. The victims had the terminals attached to their nipples and genitalia and were then placed in a bath of cold water to enhance the electrical charge. Afterwards, if victims were too badly injured, they would be sent to a doctor who had been struck off the Medical Register.

This process of trial and torture was known as ‘taking a shirt from Charlie’, because of Charlie Richardson’s habit of giving each victim a clean shirt in which to return home (since the victim’s original shirt was usually covered in blood).

On one occasion, a collector of ‘pensions’ (protection money from publicans and others), who was twice warned by the Richardsons after he pocketed the money and spent it at Catford dog track, was nailed to the floor of a warehouse near Tower Bridge for nearly two days, during which time gang members frequently urinated on him.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee was always, it seemed to me, enthralled by ‘real’ criminals.

Shortly after he bought the Wibbley Wobbley boat in Rotherhithe to establish a new comedy club, there was a social event which had been pre-arranged by the boat’s previous owner. This is an entry from my diary at the time:

Thursday 7th February 2002

Malcolm & girlfriend Andree at the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

Malcolm & girlfriend Andree at the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

In the afternoon, I went to see Malcolm at the Wibbley Wobbley. He had left his belt somewhere and he asked if I remembered when trousers used to come with cardboard belts. I did not.

I asked what happened if it rained and he told me they only came with cardboard belts at the point of sale; then you bought a proper belt before it rained.

At the Wibbley Wobbley in the evening there was allegedly a book signing (Who’s The Thief? by Dave Ford)

Dave Ford in a video uploaded onto YouTube in 2010

Author Dave Ford in a video uploaded onto YouTube in 2010

but really is was just a party. Dave Ford was a tall, broad villain in a white shirt, his throat hidden by a scarf – a former paratrooper. One of the people who turned up was Charlie Richardson who had that fresh, pink, newly-scrubbed look that many Faces have – with a look of relaxed yet steely self-confidence in their eyes. He was slightly too short for the width of his body and had a hooked pink Roman nose; he was bald with close-cropped white hair and close-cropped white beard.

Another man came in with the same look of relaxed yet steely self-confidence in his eyes and they met as equals. Everyone else deferred to Charlie.

Malcolm was very tense, very nervous, very twitchy – obviously quite excited to be in Charlie Richardson’s presence – but eventually plucked up courage to approach and introduce himself to the great man who seemed to relax when he realised who Malcolm was. There was a twinkle in Charlie’s eyes.

Later, Malcolm played Tom Jones’ Please Release Me on the jukebox, but no-one reacted.

Later still, with the interior of the boat jam-packed, the back of the Wibbley Wobbley was lowering in the water and Malcolm was looking slightly nervous about it possibly sinking.

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee was always enthralled by ‘real’ criminals (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

I left at about 8.45pm and, outside, there was a large collection of 4×4 vehicles with chromium bars at the front to ward off any sudden appearance of cattle, buffalo or wildebeest stampeding through the streets of South London.

Apparently at 11 o’clock – closing time – after I left, Malcolm said:

“Come on, come on – Closing Time – Haven’t you lot got cells to go to?”

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Big Comedy Conference in London plus Edinburgh anarchy & Dundee murders

Machete Hettie (left) and Sarah Higgins in a street in Clerkenwell, London last night

Machete Hettie (left) and Sarah Higgins after Big Comedy Conference in London last night

A week ago, I mentioned in a blog that I had got a message from “a starting-out stand-up comedian” whom I did not identify asking if it was worth her while going to the British Comedy Guide’s Big Comedy Conference in London.

I went to the Big Comedy Conference yesterday and, indeed, she had come too. She performed three minutes of material at the end of the day – perhaps rather foolishly using her own name. It is quite some time since I cried with laughter watching a comedian perform. I did watching her.

I say she perhaps rather foolishly used her real name because regular readers of this blog with a taste for the bizarre may remember I blogged about her as Machete Hettie in August this year - She was an unforgettable audience member at comedian Matt Price’s Edinburgh Fringe show. She claimed she came from Leithiopia – her name for the docks area of Leith in Edinburgh.

In my opinion, she should appear on stage under the name ‘Machete Hettie’ because it is more commercial and gives more of a hint of what audiences would be letting themselves in for.

After yesterday’s Big Comedy Conference finished and we had left, she was chatting to me and Matt Price’s agent Sarah Higgins of Mirth Control Comedy. We had both seen her in Edinburgh.

Below is what Machete Hettie said. I have no explanation for parts of what follows and I suspect I do not want to know for my own safety. At the point at which this starts, Machete Hettie was standing in a street in Clerkenwell wearing a black balaclava and holding a whip, both of which she had produced after leaving the Big Comedy Conference building. Don’t ask. Just do not ask.

“You want me to tell people aboot my life of crime,” Machete Hettie was saying. “That’s what you want me to do. But that’ll come later once maybe I get noticed. Then youse’ll hear aboot my life of crime for 17 years. But really I cannae tell you that noo.”

“You’re a shrewd woman” I said. “People will have to pay to go see a show.”

“I dinnae jump aboot wi’ balaclavas for fuck all, John,” she said. “D’ye think I could afford to just come doon here for this just like that? No. Not if it wasn’t for my life of crime, ye know?”

“Why the whip?” I asked.”Or the cat o’ nine tails or whatever it is.”

“The cat o’ nine tails answers a lot o’ questions,” explained Machete Hettie. “That’s for me to know.”

“And why no machete?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I cannae really go aboot wi’ knives and blades an’ that, cos I’ll get myself arrested. So the whip’s fine, but I really did evict my neighbour and I really did choke her to fuck. The whip was better than a blade.”

This was a reference back to part of her three minute routine on stage at the Big Comedy Conference.

“You did what?” I asked. “You choked her?”

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie celebrates with whip last night

“I choked her to fuck like a horse, yes,” said Machete Hettie, slowing down and speaking slowly to me as if she were explaining something to a rather dumb school kid:

“I put the whip in her mouth, gagged her with the whip, held her and told the funky monkey junkie fuck that she was evicted cos Machete Hettie’s taking the law into her own hands and I’m no going through any Council situation.

“I told her: That’s it! You’ve got two minutes to get yer goods and chattels together! And she says to us: I don’t know why you’re wearing a balaclava because I recognise you with your tattoos and I said I couldn’t give a fuck if you recognise me. You’re fucking evicted. Ten cats?

“Ten cats?” I asked.

“Ten cats,” repeated Machete Hettie. “My eyes were stinging with the stench o’ cat piss an’ everything. And she says: Well nine cats now. One committed suicide. Threw itself oot of the window. Which it really did – because I thought it was a jacket comin’ oot the window.

“Between me holding anti-social parties doon the stairs and her holding her fucking prostitute parties up the stairs…I mean, she was lucky she got paid £5 for prostituting herself! She had eyes that popped oot like ET. She used to tell people she had cancer to get money. She would shave off half her hair and leave the other half a Mohawk.”

“Is she still in the area?” asked Sarah Higgins.

“No,” said Machete Hettie. “Neither am I, cos I got evicted too. Basically I told the Council, if I didn’t get the fuck oot o’ there, I’d be throwing myself oot the window too, like the cat. By the end of it there were 12 cats which got her arrested for the PDSA. The woman was a fat disaster. She was worse than camel toes and me… And she’s getting £5 for that?”

“Camel toes and you?” I asked.

“Aye,” said Machete Hettie. “Well I’m fat. And fat develops camel toes, John. Maybe if I got more confident, I could tell you more about camel toes than you’ll ever know.”

“She’s a lady,” said Sarah Higgins.

“It’s just a no-go area, you know?” said Machete Hettie. “It’s no a lady garden.”

“Neither of us,” I told her, “are going to argue with you, because you’re too dangerous.”

“I have to be dangerous living in the city I do,” said Machete Hettie. “If I didn’t be dangerous, man, people’d walk all over me.”

“You live in Edinburgh,” I said.

“They’ll take advantage of your nice personality and accuse it of being a weakness,” explained Machete Hettie. “That’s why you have to be tough, right? You have to be fucking tough and nae cunt will mess with you. So I rule the roost. That’s the way it is.

“Now I’m in a new build: a penthouse and all that. Still in Leith, but right beside the boats.”

“By the Royal Yacht Britannia?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s exactly where I am. So she’s done me a favour, Rita The Meter – I got the fuck oot of nightmare on Duke Street.”

“You should do an Edinburgh Fringe show,” I told her, “next year or the year after.”

Edinburgh and Machete Hetty - very Trainspotting

Edinburgh and Machete Hettie – both are very Trainspotting

“I done a monologue of my life,” she told me, “in a theatre in Fife, which was very interesting and very Trainspotting. That’s been my life. It’s been very Trainspotting. I’ve got a hard neck to slag Rita. Well, I may have led a Trainspotting life, but at least I’ve got OCD: I didn’t have a minging house like her. Fucking dirtiest toilet in Leith. Ten cats and mice running aboot that wore overcoats.

“There’s hardly any Edinburgh people performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Do you hear anybody talking about Edinburgh or Leith? I’d want to open up the dark side. I’d tell ‘em what Edinburgh’s all aboot – Shifty characters, watch yer wallet – the whole shebang. “

“And now the police are closing the saunas,” I said. “What is the place coming to?”

“Scotland’s all run by the Glasgow force now,” said Machete Hettie, “which is all corrupt. It used to be Lothian & Borders and Strathclyde Police and all but now they’ve merged them all into the one Scottish Police Force. Now Glasgow rules the whole of Scotland and they’re just fucking corrupt,”

“Why DO you have a balaclava?” I asked.

“They came from my son,” explained Machete Hettie. “He’s Army and he got me a range of colours – pink, orange, glow-in-the-dark, everything. But I like the black one because black goes with anything and it makes you look slim. He gave me the balaclava. The whip I’ve always had, just for daft parties. Never used for any kinky things; just used at parties that lasted from Fridays through to Mondays where you ended up with no eyebrows and a lot of things that stayed within the four walls that you just wouldn’t repeat.

“I play the part of being normal quite well, so they say,” she added

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Glasgow gangland enforcer William Lobban experienced The Glasgow Curse

Recent Daily Record revelations from the book

Recent revelations reported from William Lobban’s new book

Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper recently reported that William Lobban used to be “a notorious underworld enforcer”.

“I’ve got a pork pie leather hat on,” William Lobban told me yesterday, “and I’ve got a round pair of John Lennon glasses on and a fake moustache and I’m wearing a poncho. But you blend in with that in London, don’t you? That was part of my disguise: the sort of Mexican look.

“There was a man in the telephone box next to me and there wasn’t even a telephone card in the phone, so I knew immediately there was something not quite right. I got as far as the end of the street, not far from New Scotland Yard, and then all I heard was Stop! Armed police! and there must have been about 15 cops and at least half a dozen were carrying handguns. So there was this big scene in London.”

“And why,” I asked, “were you Britain’s Most Wanted man at that point?”

“It was because of the double shooting in Glasgow,” William replied.

In England, I guess the two most vividly-remembered crimes of the late 20th century were the Great Train Robbery in 1963 and the shooting of George Cornell by Ronnie Kray in the Blind Beggar pub in 1966.

In Scotland, arguably, the key crime was the killing of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon in 1991 in revenge for the killing of Arthur Thompson’s son.

Arthur Thompson, ‘kind hearted' Glaswegian

Arthur Thompson, Glasgow’s godfather

Arthur Thompson was the longtime ‘godfather’ of crime in Glasgow and the central belt of Scotland. On 18th August 1991, his son ‘Fat Boy’ was shot three times – reportedly once in the face, once in the body and once up the anus. He was killed right outside the family home which was called ‘The Ponderosa’ (named after the home in TV Western series Bonanza).

Gangster Paul Ferris was arrested for the shooting and later found not guilty after a £4 million trial.

On the day of Fat Boy’s funeral, the bodies of Paul Ferris’ associates – Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon – were found dead. They had been dumped in a car on the route of Fat Boy’s funeral procession, so that his hearse passed by their dead bodies. They had reportedly been shot in the head and up the anus. Welcome to Glasgow.

“They were both suspected of being involved in the murder of Arthur Thompson’s son.” explained William. “Their bodies were found in Hanlon’s car, parked just yards from their ‘gang hut’ – the Cottage Bar. It was a real insult.

William Lobban, now a published author

Lobban – once ‘Most Wanted’ man in the UK

“And that was why I became the Most Wanted man in Great Britain – because I was on record, I believe, as the last person to have seen those two alive (except for their killer or killers). People have suggested I set them up. I did meet them and I was in the car with them for five minutes at the very most but then I left them. Where they went after that, I don’t know.

“I had phoned Bobby Glover’s house the night he was killed, John, but there was nothing unusual in that. Me and Bobby would talk on the phone regularly. There was nothing untoward in me phoning that night. Certainly not.”

Even before publication, a No 1 Amazon bestseller

No 1 Amazon bestseller pre-publication

William Lobban’s autobiography The Glasgow Curse is published today and he goes into more detail there. Three chapters are free-to-read on the publisher’s website.

“You wrote the book yourself…” I prompted him yesterday.

“Yes, I got a book deal for 110,000 words,” he told me, “but I gave them 180,000 words, so I had to cut out about 30-40%. There was no ghost writing at all. I wrote the book myself.”

“I once discussed writing a criminal’s autobiography,” I said, “and we gave up because there were crimes which had not been solved, crimes which were not even known-about and you would have to disguise so many facts you would be throwing away the whole points of the stories.”

“Well,” said William, “with me, I think honesty is the best policy. To be totally up-front. To me, a book is a sort of sacred thing. You have to be true and genuine and that means not exaggerating things to make something sound better. Telling it how it is. The truth. I think that will shine through.

“I think that’s a big issue with a lot of these true crime books where you have ghost writers creating books for these ex-criminals or so-called ex-criminals.”

“Why write the book now?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

It’s time to set matters straight…

“Because I’ve been mentioned in so many other true crime publications…

“In Scotland, Jimmy Boyle started this sort of true crime autobiography back in 1977 with A Sense of Freedom. Then there was mostly a silence in the 1980s. And then, in 1997, there was a book by Hugh Collins: Autobiography of a Murderer. So Jimmy Boyle and Hugh Collins were the only source of true crime books in Scotland – in Glasgow – until about 2001.

“Then Paul Ferris brought out The Ferris Conspiracy and, since then, there’s been 12 or 13 books about the Glasgow underworld. It was Ferris who opened the floodgates – well, it was actually Reg McKay (a now dead Glasgow crime reporter) who wrote his book for him.

“And there have also been books by retired police officers like Gerard Gallacher who wrote Gangsters, Killers and Me and Joe Jackson who wrote Chasing Killers. They were both involved in investigating the triple murders.”

The Paul Ferris version of the Fat Boy and Glover/Hanlon killings appears in recent feature film The Wee Man which, though not exactly 100% factually accurate, I think gives a fair impression of the level of violence in Glasgow.

As William Lobban points out in the introduction to his Glasgow Curse book, Glasgow is Britain’s most violent city with 2.7 murders per 100,000 of population as opposed to 1.0 per 100,000 in the rest of the country.

“You were self-educated,” I said to him yesterday.

William Lobban, aged 19

Young eyes: Billy Lobban, aged 19

“Yes, I never went to school as such – well, I went now and again, but I was always a naughty wee boy. I was never really there apart from when I was placed into care by the authorities when you’re obligated to go to school.”

“And you were born in Exeter Prison,” I said, “to what the Daily Record calls a violent, schizophrenic mother.

“Yes,” said William. “My mother Sylvia was registered as a schizophrenic. She got sentenced to two years borstal in 1967 and I was born in February 1968. Exeter Prison back then was a women’s borstal.

“She came from a big family – the Manson family,” William told me. “She had four brothers and two sisters and she was with a couple of her brothers trying to steal some antiques down in England – the contents of a safe in some country mansion. My mother was very violent, especially with her teeth – I can vouch for that, as I was on the receiving end a couple of times. When she was arrested, a police sergeant got her in a neck hold, trying to restrain her, but she managed to nearly bite his thumb off and that’s what she received her two years borstal for.

“I suppose it was inevitable I was going to lead a criminal life, being born into one of the most notorious criminal families in Glasgow.

“I was born in prison and stayed in prison with my mother for six months and then my grandparents – William and Esther Manson – took me away back to Carntyne in Glasgow.

“When I grew up, there was a sort of solidarity in the neighbourhood; everyone detested the cops.”

“But you’re 45 now,” I said. “What are you going to do for a living? Your only experience is… Well, it’s not office work.”

“I’m writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse,” he replied. “I’m partly using the chunks I had to cut out of the first manuscript. But I think that question about What am I going to do now? is a good one.

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

Older eyes: William Lobban looks forward

“In life, you’ve really got to know who you are and how others perceive you as a person. When a long-term prisoner comes out of prison… OK, I’ve been out of prison for a long, long time, but… Look, it’s all down to identity… It took me a long, long time to figure out what I was going to do and, in the last couple of years – since I started writing the book – it has created a whole new identity for me. Now I’ve got to use the identity to the best of my advantage, so people do perceive me as being an author.

Author is a title I actually like. I prefer that to Gangster. Believe me, it’s much better being called an author than a gangster. Folks like myself who’ve led a life of crime and have only ever known crime and have done a lot of bad things are all on a trial run.

“Now I’ve got a new lease of life, a new road to travel. I see loads of light at the end of the tunnel and I’m really going for it. But I am still on a trial run where people are going to be watching and maybe hoping that I will stumble, that I will fall over and they’ll be able to say He was never any good.

“It’s tough. You’ve really got to be on the ball. It takes a lot of hard graft and dedication and, for this to work, you’ve got to get support from other people – influential people, people that matter, people with respect.  Because, if they don’t get on your side, no-one else is going to believe you.

“Society have their part to play as well. They’ve got to give you a chance. They can’t keep on punishing you for things you’ve done in the past.

“I’m just hoping that, now I’ve got a book out, there will be a new life too.”

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GORDON’S ALIVE! – Brian Blessed from “Doctor Who” to “Flash Gordon” to taking a real life rocket into space

Tomorrow, BBC TV celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first transmission of Doctor Who.

The real Brian Blessed - OTT character

The real Brian Blessed – an OTT character

Last night, at a special University of Hertfordshire event, the actor Brian Blessed revealed: “I was once asked to be Doctor Who – after (the first Doctor) William Hartnell – but I wasn’t available.”

Yesterday’s event was not a celebration of Doctor Who, but a celebration of the 1980 film Flash Gordon, one of a series of events leading up to next year’s celebrations of one hundred years of film-making at Elstree and Borehamwood where, coincidentally, I live.

Comedian Bob Slayer once told me a story about Brian Blessed.

“I was outside a pub in Soho,” Bob told me. “The Toucan, next to Soho Square. It’s a small pub and a lot of people drink outside of it in the evening. I was on the phone to a friend when who should walk by but Brian Blessed.

“I mentioned this to my friend on the other end of the phone and he immediately suggested that I should shout out Gordon’s alive! like it would be the funniest thing in the world and no-one else had ever shouted that at Brian Blessed.

“I declined, but my friend double-dared me and so, just as Brian disappeared around the corner, I bellowed: Gordon’s alive!

“Brian then reappeared from around the corner and boomed one word back at me at a volume and resonance that made my effort sound like a choirboy whose voice has not broken. The single word he boomed out was a beautifully simple upward-inflecting CUNT!! – and then he was gone again.”

Brian Blessed’s notoriously booming line Gordon’s alive! comes from the 1980 Flash Gordon film.

Flash Gordon (1980) - kitsch, cult or masterpiece?

Flash Gordon (1980) Is it kitsch, cult or cinematic perfection?

He has an overwhelming OTT charm which could persuade anyone that the inside of an active volcano is a suitable place to use as a refrigerator. Last night, he was talking-up Flash Gordon as great art:

“I’ve got a feeling,” he said, “that Flash Gordon is almost perfection. There is such a great style about it and it’s becoming more and more of a… and then, of course, there is the cry Gordon’s alive!

“There were 70,000 people at the O2 Arena the other week for the Metal Hammer Awards for rock bands and I shouted Gordon’s alive! and I had to shout it about fifty times. It is much requested.

“I was at Buckingham Palace last year at the Christmas Concert - because I’m famous – and the Queen came up and said: You know, we watch Flash Gordon all the time, me and the grandchildren, It’s a wonderful film. Would you mind saying ‘Gordon’s alive’?

“So I shouted Gordon’s alive!!!! for her…

Thankyou so much, she said, very politely.

Brian Blessed grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire and, in the next village was future Star Trek/X-Men star Patrick Stewart.

Brian’s father was a coalminer; Patrick’s was a milkman. Brian says they have been friends since they were nine years old.

Brian Blessed flying high as Vultan

Brian Blessed stood on a perch & flew with embarrassing wire

In Flash Gordon, Brian played Vultan, prince of the Hawkmen, sporting a large pair of wings.

“Those wings took half an hour to put on,” he explained last night. “I had dark-skinned make-up with very black hair, black beard and they wanted my teeth very white, like in the 1930s serial. I couldn’t sit in a chair because of my wings, so they built me a perch and all the cameramen and carpenters said Pretty Polly… Pretty Polly as they passed.

“Before you ‘flew’, you couldn’t have breakfast, you couldn’t have lunch – you’d be vomiting. Speaking is really difficult with all these wires on you. I had an extra one on my bollocks. We all had to be lowered down when one person fainted.

“When I was cast as Vultan, I thought of the original comic strip and then I thought of Charlie Chaplin. In some of his films, he had a great big guy who bent lamp posts and beat people up if they didn’t pay their bills and he had big black lines under his eyes and a black beard and a great smile. I based Vultan on that character.

“Then, of course, when I saw the old black & white Flash Gordon serial again, I realised he actually plays Vultan in that and he has a grizzly bear with him all the time. So I said to Dino De Laurentiis  (Italian producer of the 1980 Flash Gordon):

Can I have a grizzly bear?  

But he said Fuck off.

“De Laurentiis was a tough guy, quite a terrifying guy – a bit Mafia. When he came on set, we never got much done because the director Mike Hodges got nervous and the cast and wardrobe and make-up got nervous. When I was doing these flying sequences and Dino came in with his henchmen – you could see their guns – you could see the guns they had under their coats – and the money in sachels… Dino was a very imposing figure. Nobody dared say a word but, when I was hung up on the wires for these flying sequence, I told him:

“Dino! We can’t get anything fucking done! Every time you come in, everybody gets fucking nervous, it’s costing fucking millions. Dino – fuck off!

“Dino laughed and said: He tells me to fuck off!

“I was the only one who could tell him to fuck off.”

The cast was equally colourful.

Ted Carroll as Biro - from rugby to pub owner

Ted Carroll as Biro – from England rugby player to pub owner

“The guy with the broken nose – Ted Carroll, who plays Biro – I befriended him,” Brian said last night. “He wasn’t an actor: he used to play wing half for England’s rugby side. He wanted to be seen, so I told him: Keep with me, because they’ve got to put the camera on me. Just keep alongside me.

Now he has a pub in Ilkley in Yorkshire and his pub’s full of photographs of Flash Gordon; you press a button and the film appears.

“We would have done a second Flash Gordon film, but Sam Jones, who played him, was injured in a car crash. The second film was going to be set on Mars and had the Clay Men in it, like the original Flash Gordon serial. And giant lizards. I would be flying around and he would be wounded and I’d be carrying him across the Martian volcanoes, but it never got made.”

Brian is, I guess, a luvvie at heart: lavishing praise on everyone he works with.

Sam Jones starred in a very hard part

Sam Jones: a perfect on-screen bubble of innocence & purity

“Flash Gordon is a very hard part to cast,” he claimed last night. “Like d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers is a very hard part to cast. You could get lots of handsome actors and put them in as Flash, but he has to have a kind of bubble of innocence, a purity. With Sam, you could put him anywhere and shoot him with the camera from any angle and he was pure, he was heroic. He was the perfect Flash. Just as good as Buster Crabbe in the original 1930s serial.

“And Max von Sydow was wonderful as the villain Ming The Merciless. He told me: I don’t know what to do, Brian, and I told him Use your hands. Use your hands, because you’re a magician and you’re sexual: use your hands. So he used his hands quite beautifully.”

Brian is known for being a larger-than-life, totally OTT character but says: “In my sixty years as an actor, I think I’ve only ever played three or four characters that are over-the-top – in Blackadder, Flash Gordon and Blackbeard. Now, 50% of my life now is exploration and 50% is acting.

“Hamlet says acting is holding a mirror up to Nature, holding a mirror up to life. But, of course, climbing Mount Everest or going to Mongolia or the North Pole IS life – and there is a huge difference. Acting is a great art, but you are pretending.

“I had Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi and Ken Branagh in front of me and I said this and they said Yes, Brian. You have to pretend. You’re not real. But going up Mount Everest and going into space and going on adventures IS real.

Brian Blessed, modern Galahad, climbing Everest without oxygen

Brian Blessed, adventurer, climbed Everest without oxygen

People say: “Isn’t it dangerous, Brian, going to the North Pole? Isn’t it dangerous going up Mount Everest without oxygen?

“Yes yes yes. But I think the greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure. You’ve gotta go for it.

“I am fucking bored shitless with all this crap about age. Forty is very young. It’s not how old you are – it’s how you are old.

“I’m 77 and next year I’m going back to Everest. In Moscow, I’ve just completed 800 hours in the centrifuge, in the hydra, in MiG-29s… and I am now a completely, fully-trained cosmonaut and I’m going to the International Space Station…”

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