Tag Archives: Cumbria

A Fool and his comedy crown are soon parted in a world of murderous animals

Muncaster Castle - lovely, if isolated

Muncaster Castle – lovely, slightly eccentric and a bit isolated (Perhaps like the psychological make-up of many performers)

Yesterday I was in the Lake District in north west England. It is a lovely area but not for me. Cumbria is one vast hilly area widely bereft of WiFi or even mobile phone signals.

If the choice is between having WiFi, mobile phone signals and 24-hour supermarkets in a city… or living 20 miles from the nearest chocolate shop in idyllic countryside surrounded by the agonised howls and screams of cuddly woodland creatures ripping each others throats out every night, give me the city every time.

Cumbria is very pretty except for Barrow-in-Furness.

As an ITV researcher on Surprise! Surprise!, I once had to go there to talk to a blind man who wanted us to make his dream come true by helping him make a parachute jump. I saw Barrow-in-Furness in heavy drizzle. He was lucky to be blind.

We were going to arrange a (perfectly safe) parachute jump for him but, about a week after I met him, BBC TV managed to kill a contestant on Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show and we decided to abort anything which sounded even potentially dangerous.

Abi Collins aka Katinka - Muncaster’s first female Fool

Abi Collins aka Katinka – the first female Fool

Anyway, I was in Cumbria yesterday to see Martin Soan end his year-long reign as Fool of Muncaster Castle and hand the title on to the new Fool – chosen by a panel of experts.

Abi Collins aka Katinka won it – the first female Fool in the contest’s short history.

“What did you have to do all year?” I asked Martin.

“Absolutely nothing,” he told me.

“Wasn’t there something about beer?” I asked.

“The prize was free alcohol for the year,” said Martin, “but you had to be in Muncaster Castle to get your free beer and I live in London.”

Yesterday, he rushed back down to London after the day-long Muncaster Castlle event, to set up tonight’s Pull The Other One monthly comedy show in Nunhead.

“And then you’re off to do Pull The Other One in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, on Sunday,” he replied. “… No! I leave for Leipzig on Monday! On Sunday, I’m writing a new show with Boothby Graffoe.”

Martin Soan yesterday with ceramic cigarette end in hat

Martin Soan yesterday with ceramic cigarette-end in his hat

“For the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.


“For this year?”

“No. Next year.”

“What is it?”

“It’s taking all the tiny little elements I’ve been working on for years and years that I’ve made part successful and I now want to thread them all together into a beautiful tapestry of well-choreographed nonsense, madness and chaotic, sublime comedy.”

“Ye Gods,” I said, “You’ve already written the PR blurb, then?”

I relax in the grounds of Muncaster Castle yesterday (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

I try to feel at home in the rural grounds of Muncaster Castle (Idyllic photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“It wasn’t bad, was it?” laughed Martin, “but that’s exactly what I want to do.”

“Why with Boothby?” I asked.

“Because it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle, he knows me inside-out, it’s difficult to be objective and he’s very good at turning rubbish into sparkling gems.”

“I know the feeling,” I said.

I sometimes wonder if the blind man ever made his parachute jump.

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“Women are idiotic, shambolic, funny and stupid,” says foolish British comic

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Martin Soan (right) won 2013 International Jesters Tournament

In May, Martin (right) won the 2013 International Jesters Tournament at Muncaster Castle in Cumbria

In May this year, comedian Martin Soan became the official court fool of Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. His payment is as much beer as he can drink.

“They’ll go broke buying that amount of beer,” I told him yesterday.

“I thought they were going to deliver free beer to me for the year,” Martin told me, “but, no, it’s only when I’m at the castle.”

“When are you going up next?” I asked.

“I’m going up for a Halllowe’en special, but the major thing is me compering the International Jesters Tournament in May next year.”

“And that’s when you get usurped as a fool?” I asked.

“I do,” said Martin.

“Did you get a trophy when you won?” I asked.

“I got a commemorative bowl,” said Martin. “carved out of the tree Tom Fool used to sit in. And I get to wear the Tom Fool coat. There’s actually a portrait of Thomas Skelton in the castle.”

“He was the origin of the word tomfoolery?” I asked.

The original Tom Fool of Muncaster Castle

Muncaster Castle original Thomas Skelton

“Yes,” said Martin. “He was an eccentric who used to sit in a tree outside Muncaster Castle. Lords and ladies used to come by and, if he didn’t get on with them, he used to send them the wrong way and they used to get in trouble in the marshes and quicksands of the River Esk.

“He was well-loved by the Penningtons, who owned Muncaster Castle, and he was a very clever man. In the end, he managed their estates. He was a very eccentric man who wore a very eccentric cloak – very Harlequin-like – and had a slightly hunched-back and looked very, very like Mr Punch.

“Whether Charles Dickens based Mr Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop on Punchinello or on Thomas Skelton, no-one is quite sure.”

“Was it a surprise to win the competition this year?” I asked Martin.

“I had done it twice before, but I did it on condition that I didn’t win.”

“Why didn’t you want to win?”

“Because it means you have to go off immediately afterwards, leave the castle and the absolutely stunning countryside and go to a TV studio in Carlisle to be interviewed. The competition finishes at about six in the evening and I didn’t want to leave behind all that beautiful countryside and beer and miss the rest of the evening.

“This year, because I’d done it twice before, I didn’t think to say again I don’t want to win. And what happened was there was a tie for between me and this girl from Australia.”

“She,” I asked, “had come over specially to take part in the competition?”

Martin Soan got high with B.A.

Martin Soan sees no need to use costume

“Yeah,” said Martin. “This year, two guys came over from the US with costumes and everything, keen to win. They pay a small fortune to compete, what with costumes and travel and accommodation and everything. It’s glamorous to them. The Penningtons are a ‘real’ English family who have lived in a ‘real’ castle for centuries and it’s where Tom Fool lived. In America and Australia there are societies devoted to Tom Fool. They spend thousands of pounds on costumes and learning the skills.

“So they come over here to compete and I haven’t even bothered to put on a costume and I can’t juggle and I tie with this girl from Australia and that’s when it got out of control because it had been decided that, in the event of a tie, the casting vote would go to this little girl who is aged about eight. So I was looking at her trying to mime Pick the Australian girl! Pick the Australian girl! but she chose me to win.

“So I had to go off to Carlisle and do the interview and miss-out on the evening but, after that was done and dusted, I decided I was going to take the role seriously and try and change it a little and get less traditional Tom Fools involved. I’m putting a lot of effort into trying to get a woman to win next year. There’s never been a woman fool for Muncaster Castle.”

“Surely,” I said, “court jesters and court fools were men not women?”

“But now,” said Martin, “times are changing and women are just as idiotic, shambolic, funny and stupid as men can be.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve got the headline for my blog there, then…”

Martin ignored me.

“I’ve got two women lined up – Cheekykita and Lindsay Sharman – for next year’s Tom Fool competition,” he continued.

“And presumably,” I said, “Tom Fool was not a straight comic: he was not standing there telling jokes like a stand-up. He was a genuine eccentric. He wasn’t a jester: he was a local loony who sat in a tree.”

“Also,” said Martin, “he manipulated the aristocracy into trusting him, because he was a very intelligent man. He ended up managing the estate really well and made a success of the castle.”

“So he wasn’t even necessarily a loony,” I said. “He might just have been a man who liked surreal pranks.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “I think we’ve corrupted what fools were about and have this image of men going around waving bladders with bells on the end of their hats. Tom Fool and his cloak were nothing like that.”

“You were telling me the other week,” I said, “that you think the majority of the really interesting, bizarre new comedy acts at the moment are women…”

Lindsay Sharman

Potential Tom Fool Lindsay Sharman

“Absolutely,” said Martin. “Yeah. We’re coming across more women who are free and open-minded about their comedy… That’s why there are so many women performing at Pull The Other One (Martin & Vivienne Soan’s London comedy club).

“But it’s unbelievable. Talking to Cheekykita and Lindsay Sharman and all the rest, women still find it hard to get comedy club gigs. Unbelievable! There are still a lot of clubs that are only booking male stand-ups. Or booking just stand-ups.

“The big agencies just deal in stand-ups, not variety acts. They’ve got absolutely no concept of what’s actually happening out there. Although maybe they’re right for themselves. All they’re after is training people to go on television and you’re not going to get surreal, madcap people presenting programmes for the general public. But there’s definitely more interesting acts around at the moment who are women. Definitely.”


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People are strange – serial killers, comedians and criminal psychologists

Mary Ann Cotton - an efficient killer

I am interested in strange people’s psychology – stand-up comedians – people  like that. People who are different.

But, really, everyone is different. Drag the most ordinary, dull-looking person out of a bus queue, ask them the right questions about themselves and you will find they have had the most extraordinary life and are probably very strange in one way or another.

Yesterday, I went to a lecture by Professor Glenn Wilson at Gresham College in London about the psychological profiling of serial killers.

You know the sort of stuff – some bloke comes along and tells the police: “The man you are looking for is 6ft 3in tall, likes Royal Doulton pottery and anal sex, has few friends, a lisp and probably makes pasta in an Italian restaurant owned by a one-legged woman within a three mile radius of Hastings.”

Except that seems to be bollocks.

As far as I can make out, psychological profiling is smoke and mirrors.

Professor Wilson’s conclusion yesterday was that “while psychological profiling may reduce the size of the haystack in which the needle is sought” (the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry had to process 268,000 named suspects) it is much better at explaining serial killers after they are caught but much less impressive at finding and catching them.

Well, yes, in other words… it does not work.

Anyone can psychologically profile a serial killer after they are caught.

Serial killers are not the same as ‘spree killers’ who just rampage round Cumbria or attack a Jewish school in Toulouse or go onto a Norwegian island and simply kill everyone in sight. A serial killer is defined as someone who kills three or more people with intervals between – like Jack the Ripper or Harold Shipman.

I was fascinated to hear about Mary Ann Cotton, a Durham woman who poisoned at least 21 people in the mid-19th century – including her mother, three husbands, a lover, ten of her own children, five step-children and her best friend. Now there is an interesting woman though, even with high 19th century mortality rates, you have to question the general gullibility of the police and locals before she was suspected of murder.

The FBI put serial killers into two categories: Organised and Disorganised.

Organised serial killers leave few clues, follow their case in the media and are “socially adequate” with friends, lovers, wife and children.

Disorganised serial killers leave a chaotic crime scene, have little interest in the publicity and have few friends.

In other words, there is no ‘typical’ serial killer. They are not the cliché loner: the Yorkshire Ripper, like many others, was married.

As Professor Wilson understated yesterday, “Profiling has its limitations. Certain background details are said to be common in psychopaths (eg bed-wetting, fire-setting and animal cruelty) but these are widespread in the community, whereas serial killers are rare. Childhood abuse and neglect may lead to serious crimes but equally motivate others to rise above their difficulties and develop a brilliant career (Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin).”

In other words, everyone is different. As in general life, so in the serial killing community.

There is also the fact that the police and the press can prosecute and persecute innocent people based on the fact they sound like ’the sort of person’ who might have done it.

Colin Stagg was charged with the Wimbledon Common killing of Rachel Nickell after a ‘profile’ of the killer was given on BBC TV’s Crimewatch. The police charged him with obscenity after he admitted having sunbathed in the nude and, based solely on this, the tabloids then described him as a ‘sex offender’. He then spent a year in prison awaiting trial for the Wimbledon Common killing, but was released then persecuted for years in the press (encouraged by the police). It turned out he was not the killer.

In the case of Barry George, admittedly a bit of an odd man, he was wrongly convicted of killing TV presenter Jill Dando (I once worked with the person who found her body). It was said he kept news clippings about her at his home. In fact, he had a stack of old newspapers, a few of which mentioned her but none were clipped or highlighted in any way.

Now, the chief suspect in that killing appears to be an unknown Serbian hit man who is presumed to have killed her in revenge for the NATO bombing (a few days before) of the TV station in Belgrade which killed several journalists.

Who knows?

Real life is stranger – and much more varied – than fiction or psychological profiling would allow.

How about a vegetarian who hated anyone who was cruel to animals? That person could never be responsible for any deaths, could he? Yet that person was Adolph Hitler.

To quote William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade, “Nobody knows anything”.

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Exclusive extract – “Killer Bitch – The Novel”



When the movie Killer Bitch was released last year, it was also going to be published simultaneously as a novel but, when the main supermarket chains and main bookshop chains refused to stock it, the publisher pulled publication of the unfinished book a week before the manuscript was due for delivery. The supermarkets and bookshop chains had not read any extracts from the book and apparently rejected it on the basis of the movie’s pre-release notoriety. This is how the book started… My thanks to James Joyce…

Text is copyright 2010 John Fleming



The naked girl was bouncing on top of the naked man, riding his cock to orgasm. The man was a porn star. Hustler magazine had written that he was one of the 50 Most Influential People in Porn. The man was groaning; the girl was screaming; the film camera was quietly whirring; they were on a bed in a room in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Woking, near the M25 motorway that runs round London. The warehouse was used as a hardcore porn studio. There were about 20 sets standing in the empty warehouse: a supermarket, a dungeon, a garage with a yellow Reliant car from BBC TV’s Only Fools and Horses, a Colonial office with a Union flag and a portrait of the Queen on the wall. But this was just a bedroom. There were two bedrooms with two beds in them. This was the red room with the pink bed.

As the man felt the sperm pulse and vibrate up his cock and the video camera watched by the left side of the bed, the naked girl riding him slipped her hand under the pink silk sheet and pulled out a curved jambiya dagger with a polished rhinoceros horn handle and a double-sided blade. The pitch of her screams changed. Higher, sharper, like the curved blade of the knife. High. Sharp. Then down in a curved stabbing movement. The man was confused as he saw a single silver flash of the curved blade before it plunged into his chest and tore into his flesh. His orgasmic groans turned into a single long high-pitched scream.

He felt the white semen pumping out of his cock. He saw the red blood spurt out of his chest, splashing up onto the bouncing perfectly-lit breasts of the naked, now banshee screaming, girl. He felt the sharp pain in his cock and the sharper pain in his chest and then the curved knife was rising again, its blade covered in his own dripping red blood.

“You fuc… aaaarrrgggghhhh!” he screamed as the blade went into him again, closer to his throat.

She stabbed him eleven times; he died on the fourth stab.

She could smell the stench of his insides when she slashed his chest open.

He was Number 3 on her list.

When she had finished, she collapsed on his bloodied, gashed body, gasping for breath.

“You done well,” the cameraman told her.

* * *

Outside the bedroom window, rain was falling. It was falling on all of the British Isles. It was falling on all of England, on Scotland, on Wales, on the island of Ireland, on all the thousand or more islands huddled together in the water off the North West coast of Europe. Water fell out of the sky like a drunk God pissing on his own botched Creation. In Cumbria, in North West England, the rivers overflowed and a policeman was killed when the bridge he was standing on collapsed into the swollen river below. He had four children. So it goes.

Outside the Highland city of Aberdeen, in North East Scotland, on a windy, rainswept Friday night, a junkie called Bill Burrows was sitting in a closed slaughterhouse, waiting to meet his dealer, when two men he had never seen before burst in and one of them shot him without a word. The slaughterhouse already smelled of battery acid and iron because of all the spilled blood from the slaughtered animals and the smell did not change when he died. About two pints of blood came out of him, as it does when you shoot someone. A spit in the ocean in a slaughterhouse.

The two men dragged his half-dead body into a large freezer at the back of the slaughterhouse and left it there until his corpse became a solid block of dead meat. If you want to cut a body up, the thing to do is to freeze it solid; that way, there isn’t so much of a mess when you cut it up – no blood spraying and squirting. It’s much cleaner.

On Sunday night  the two men came back and took his body out of the freezer when The X Factor talent show was on TV; they lay it on the floor and hit the solid, frozen joints with a sledgehammer to break it up at the shoulders, the elbows, the knees, the ankles; then they chopped the body up with an axe. They took the body parts to a huge pressure cooker in the slaughterhouse which could take 50 or 60 lbs of meat at a time and they cooked the dismembered body at very high temperature at very high pressure – 25 pounds per square inch. After an hour, the flesh, the bones and everything except the teeth had turned to gel. On Monday morning, they took the gel to a farm 30 minutes away and fed it to the pigs; there were 200 pigs; they ate everything by the end of the day; Bill Burrows’ teeth were thrown into a nearby river.

Five days later, the police realised he was missing and the last place he’d been seen was near the slaughterhouse. They found a book lying on his bedside table at home: Slaughterhouse Five. The press went wild with the story for two weeks afterwards – they wrote about the Slaughterhouse Five killings. The story staggered on for two weeks but interest in a tabloid tale with no leads and no puns waned and was blown off the front pages by police inaction, political corruption and glamour model Katie Price’s decision to go on the reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Bill Burrows had been Number 4 on the unknown killer’s list. Cut up randomly.; soon forgotten.

* * *

On  the outskirts of Penzance in Cornwall, an elderly man stumbled erratically along a muddy path in the rain, trying to run for his life. His killer strode relentlessly behind him. The elderly man stumbled into the out-building of a farm. A bemused horse in a field watched human life pass by in the rain. The elderly man tripped and fell, sodden and defeated, in a corner then slowly got up again. His killer strode in and stood opposite him. They looked in each other’s eyes. The elderly man looked at his killer in disbelief. The killer looked at the elderly man with resignation. Neither spoke. The killer pulled the trigger six times. The elderly man was jerked backwards against the wall by the force of the bullets, then slumped down dead. His eyes flickered once; he heard his own last sigh. He was Number 2 on his killer’s list.

* * *

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