Tag Archives: dance

I might have nominated this new UK comic for the Malcolm Hardee Award

Last night, I was at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s always odd comedy club Pull The Other One. Vivienne did part of her introductions in fluent German… of which I suspect we will hear more in the coming months.

As always, last night was a variety fan’s delight with Steve Aruni’s surreal act accompanied by a saxophone-playing vacuum cleaner, Lindsay Sharman in her persona of red-turbanned psychic advisor Madame Magenta (she should add even more songs to this character), Jody Kamali as a very-hands-on karmic Eastern healer, The Greatest Show on Legs searching for Dr Who amid stage smoke and Miles Jupp as the token stand-up comedian showing once again that, however successful he becomes, he is still vastly under-rated.

The second coming of The Silver Peevil

Visitor from Venus – The Silver Peevil returns

But, for me, the highlight of the evening was the second coming of The Silver Peevil, a successfully odd character ripped straight out of 1930s Hollywood Saturday morning adventure serials who is, he says, from Venus. I mentioned his first ever appearance in a blog two weeks ago.

After last night’s show, I was chatting to him. His Earth name is Ewan Wardrop.

He told me he was new to comedy and this was, indeed, only the second time he had ever performed the Silver Peevil act.

I was astonished because he was going on to me last night about being totally new to comedy – yet he was so self-assured (and so funny) on stage. The whole thing about being a newcomer did not gel.

From Venus and Edinburgh to Lancashire

This year, Formby is Edinburgh’s great loss

He said he had been a dancer and actor for about ten years. He told me he had performed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe as George Formby in a one-man play he had written himself – Formby – I remember the show and had almost gone to see it, but it did not seem to fall within the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award area and it got elbowed-out by other shows.

He had performed as George Formby at Pull The Other One earlier this year but I had missed that. And he is touring the UK in his Formby play this summer and autumn. There is a trailer on YouTube.

But there was something about Ewan Wardrop that threw me last night. He seemed more confident on stage than someone with the experience he hinted at. This turned out to be because he was rather over-modest.

I checked him out afterwards.

He has acted in London at the Old Vic and for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the National Theatre… He has also appeared in theatrical runs on Broadway and Los Angeles and in Tokyo.

And he is a founding member of The Bo Diddlers – an ‘experimental’ Morris dance group formed in 2008 for the Brighton Fringe Festival. featuring performers from the contemporary dance world. There is a showreel on YouTube:

Which brings me on to what is now-stand-up-character-comedian Ewan Wardrop’s most interesting angle.

He attended the Royal Ballet School (where Morris dance was bizarrely taught as part of the curriculum) and all the dancers in the Bo Diddlers worked for Matthew Bourne’s contemporary dance company New Adventures. Ewan played leading roles in Bourne’s very highly acclaimed productions of Swan Lake and Nutcracker!

Indeed, it turns out my eternally-un-named friend saw him perform in Nutcracker! at Sadler’s Wells in 2003.

If he were performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year in a full-length show as The Silver Peevil, instead of touring the country as Formby, I might be very tempted to nominate him for a Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

Instead, I suspect his visible talent will probably be spotted elsewhere and he will make lots of money… something that does not necessarily happen if you win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award – unless it is the ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award.

But there is definitely something unusual about Ewan Wardrop. Something which the late Malcolm Hardee and the very-much-alive Martin Soan were/are very good at spotting – genuine, original, mesmerising talent.

If you can’t see him as The Silver Peevil, see him in his self-penned biographical play Formby or – totally different – as George Formby singing modern rapper lyrics. There’s a clip on YouTube:

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The one-legged dancing bull fighter who had a golden tassel affixed to his stump

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Double-legged former dancer Anna Smith in her hospital bed

The So It Goes blog’s occasional Canadian comedy correspondent Anna Smith has just been released from St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver after being admitted to their emergency department on Valentine’s Day to get a Dacron patch sewn onto her aorta… She tells me she wants “to warn healthy young people about the dangers of enduring  years in murky subterranean caves that pass as limelight”.

When in London, before her move to the Dominion of Canada, she helped Sir Gideon Vein run the now ironically-named Open Heart Cabaret. She used to dance at the Nell Gwynne club in Soho during the day, the Gargoyle Club at night and then spend her time at the old Comedy Store until the early hours.

If she had died under the surgeons’ knives in Canada, she had wanted her obituary to include the fact she had performed with Julian Clary and the much lamented late David Rappaport and that she had been forced to learn to play the accordion as a child and appeared on Canadian television with Andre the Giant.

“Now,” she tells me, “I’ve been given a heart-shaped pillow as a physiotherapy tool and it says Open Heart on it….Veins, hearts, sternums being sawn in half and wired together.”

She also tells me she was given “orientation at the hospital for the cardiac rehab program… The walls were adorned with vapid monotone posters dedicated to mind-boggling philosophical questions like WHAT IS AN AVOCADO (printed on green paper) and NUTS – WHATS IN ‘EM ? (printed on brown paper). Now that dietitians and physiotherapists can produce their own amateur pamphlets with the push of a print button, there is no longer any need for the Department of Health to waste public money on artists or copywriters. I sat though a dull PowerPoint presentation about Cardiac Health, which I made bearable by mentally substituting the word Catholic for Cardiac: WHY CATHOLIC PATIENTS NEED FIBRE… HOW CATHOLIC PATIENTS RELIEVE STRESS…”

Anna tells me that recent local Vancouver news includes the story that “Immigration Officials abetted by a local television station and the National Geographic TV channel raided a downtown building site where they chased, captured and filmed migrant construction workers from Mexico and Honduras. The workers were made to sign legal papers which they did not comprehend and which turned out to be releases so that their images can appear on a reality TV show called Border Services to be screened on the National Geographic channel.”

Anna also tells me that her sojourn in hospital has made her realise there is “hope for mutilated dancers” but it also seems to have allowed her to develop a possibly unhealthy obsession about Signor Donato, an obscure one-legged dancer who was an enormous success touring Australia in the 1870s.

She reports:

“It appears there was more than one Signor Donato. The original was a hit in Covent Garden in London in the 1850s and danced dressed as a bullfighter with a golden tassel affixed to his stump which, it was said, resembled a cushion on an old fashioned sofa, his mutilated state notwithstanding.

Lola Montez: possibly pursued by a one-legged man

Lola Montez – pursued by a one-legged man?

“The second Signor Donato was an imitator of the original, who toured Australia and New Zealand several times before heading to California… possibly following the trail of Lola Montez, the Sligo-born ‘Spanish Dancer’, toppler of governments, and creator of the infamous erotic Spider Dance who ended her days performing charitable work for the fallen women of Brooklyn.”

Anna continues:

“One of the Signor Donatos (the first, I think) was said to be an immense favourite in London, Paris and Milan. He was said to have lost his leg fighting under Garibaldi when a shell burst during the Battle of Magenta in 1859. He surprised his audience with the grace and agility he displayed and danced to an introductory adagio, followed by the Jeanette Polka (accompanying himself with castanets) and concluded with the Garibaldi March.

“I first heard of him in a book I read in the 1980s: Enter the Colonies, Dancing, an Australian history of their early touring dancers. Then I read an article titled Strange Players by Dutton Cook (Belgravia). Strange Players was written in 1881 and is a documentation of famous maimed and mutilated dancers and actors working in London at that time.

“This small advert appeared in the Wellington Independent, 16 August, 1872 :

SIGNOR DONATO
Who created the great furore
at Covent Garden in 1864
will appear at the
ODD FELLOWS HALL
for
ONE NIGHT ONLY
On his way to San Francisco

“I have no idea what the great furore was…..and can’t find out if he ever arrived in San Francisco.”

The preface to a 1895 German book (Fahrend Volk by Signer Saltarino, Leipzig) says:

“The one-legged dancer first came into style with Julio Donato, a Spanish bull fighter, who lost a leg in a bull fight. Through industry and practice, he was able to perform the most graceful, surprising and agreeable dances. His appearance, manner and personality were far from painful. He married the daughter of the Viennese actor Julius, herself a popular actress, who bore him a lovely daughter, Dora Donato, who became a very well known light opera singer. After Donato’s death, a number of artificial (kuenstlich) and genuine monopedic dancers and clowns sprang up, all of whom were only weak imitations of their prototype. Only the one-legged clowns who called themselves The Donatos after their famous original appeared not only to inherit the artistic ability of their predecessor but his luck.”

Anna tells me:

“The imposter Signors Donato were particularly prevalent after the Great War and some even teamed up together. One particular duo called themselves The Merry Monopedes.

Anna is recovering well from her operation but worried that she may become “the world expert on monopedic dancers”.

YouTube currently has a 1949 clip of a one-armed and one-legged dancer called Crip Heard.

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When things go wrong for comedians

Bob Slayer has a few problems

Bob Slayer in one of his less strange moments as a performer

I was happily dozing off last night when I got woken up at 1.30am by a series of text messages from comedian Bob Slayer.

Cobbled together, this is what he told me:

“I did two gigs with The Greatest Show on Legs / Martin Soan at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival tonight: an early show and a late show in Dave’s Curry House.

“It is always weird when you meet people involved with a gig and get on with them, have a laugh, then the gig goes wrong and they don’t want to look you in the eye. And other comics avoid you in case your dose of the unfunnies is catching. If you are sharing a car it can be a painful journey.

“The first gig was really struggling. But then it got to a bit which always goes down well: Martin’s Thriller sketch where we put elastic bands round our heads to distort our faces into zombie masks while we dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee & Martin Soan (right) (photograph by Steve Taylor)

The original routine: Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Except that, when Martin cued the music (at which point we are already committed to the Michael Jackson zombie dance) instead of Thriller, the music that came on was Black or White. It was the wrong track on the CD.

“The audience just looked at us, confused, while we did our dance, putting rubber bands on our heads to distort our faces and dancing like zombies to Black or White. They didn’t know it is the wrong track. It just seems very strange to them.

“Afterwards, one of the acts told me he was watching and thinking: Are they making a statement about being black? With elastic bands????

“Fortunately, at the second gig, we got the right track and the gig went beautifully.

“The drive home was lovely.”

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Paul Raymond’s Revuebar: striptease, false teeth & Peter Stringfellow’s peas

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Johnny DeLuxe off Leicester  Square last week

Johnny DeLuxe reminiscing off Leicester Square last week

Different people’s lives, eh?

And the random, rambling, briefly intersecting nature of people’s lives.

Someone at Westminster Reference Library, just off Leicester Square in London, has a taste for the bizarre. They have occasional fascinating evening events on the strangest of subjects – Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are coming up and, last week, they had a very strange, rambling event called Confessions of a Stage Manager with Johnny DeLuxe, organiser of an exhibition called 100 Punks, sometime member of various punk bands including Fist Fuck Deluxe and, more relevant to the Westminster Library gig, sometime stage manager at the Raymond Revuebar in Soho… although he only started in 1993, a little after its peak.

Paul Raymond started the Raymond Revuebar in 1958 in what was formerly the Doric Ballroom. It offered burlesque-style entertainment, including striptease. Eventually, by turning itself into a members only club it was able to evade the Lord Chamberlain’s Office‘s rules which barred naked female performers from visibly moving while on stage.

In 1980 Peter Richardson rented the Boulevard Theatre – part of the Revuebar property – for his Comic Strip club, putting on alternative comedy shows featuring Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle. It ran until 1981 and later, in 1989, Eddie Izzard ran his stand-up venue, Raging Bull there. I never went to the Revuebar, but I have vague memories of being shown upstairs to the Raging Bull by a rather distracted and vague Eddie Izzard.

As for Johnny Deluxe, he arrived in 1993 and someone (I think maybe he himself) said that “Johnny DeLuxe has removed more sequined bras and knickers from hot lighting rigs than he has had dinners”. His memories of working at the Raymond Revuebar last week (when he got round to them after espousing the philosophy and art of punk) were interestingly non-linear:

“Can everybody remember Captain Scarlet?” he said at one point. “Do you remember how Captain Scarlet used to drive his SPV backwards? Well, the control board at the Raymond Revuebar was backwards to the stage. So you were looking at a very small black & white screen showing where the dancer was. You saw the cues visually, you listened to the cues and one day I was almost comatose watching a dance number for the thousandth time when I suddenly heard someone scream Fuck!

“If you hear someone shout Fuck! it usually means you have to do something very quickly and what had happened was… the front of the stage was about two feet from the front row of the audience and this man in the front row had coughed his guts up and both sets of his false teeth had ended up on stage between a girl’s feet. The poor girl was in mid-dance, heard a cough, looked down and saw a set of false teeth on the stage. What do you do?

“On another occasion, a stage hand blew his false teeth out and hit a girl on the side of her head. She was in the middle of an incredibly complex dance number.”

The Raymond Revuebar at its height

Soho’s Raymond Revuebar at its height

That type of exotic dance show – one of the Raymond Revuebar shows was alleged to have cost £300,000 – has ceased, to be mostly replaced by cheap table dancers and pole dancers pioneered in London, perhaps, by Stringfellow’s club.

Stringfellow’s opened in 1986 as a disco/nightclub but, in 1996, Peter Stringfellow introduced table dancing.

Peter Stringfellow used to come into the Raymond Revuebar a lot and watch the shows,” said Johnny DeLuxe last week, “and we used to pea-shoot him. I used to love pea-shooting people. There was a raised stage at the Revuebar. On one side of it (to create effects) there was a CO2 pit and, on the other, a dry ice pit which had a curtain which you could peek through to monitor the audience. It also meant you could pea-shoot people in the audience if they were getting out of hand. Which used to be fun. I was a very good shot.

“Peter Stringfellow used to come in a lot and there was an awful lot of paranoia at that time. At first, Peter Stringfellow owned the Hippodrome and we didn’t see him as anything other than another Wow! There’s another part of beautiful Soho! like the Batcave, Vortex, the Roxy Club and all these bizarre clubs that we used to go to… All these punky, rocky, glamorous places that were available to us after hours, because we got off at 11.30 or 12.00 at night. A lot of us had a lot of fun at the Hippodrome where a lot of us had found a bizarre home at all those nights when they would give you free passes if you were a freaky kid.

“When Peter Stringfellow started coming in to the Raymond Revuebar, he had already been to America. We knew this idea of table dancing was coming in and so, when he came in, we used to pea-shoot him. It wasn’t Peter Stringfellow’s fault that the Revuebar closed, though.”

Paul Raymond was psychologically badly affected when his daughter Debbie died in 1992 from a heroin overdose.

The Revuebar name, leasehold and control of the theatre (but crucially, not the actual property itself) was bought by Gérard Simi in 1997. Paul Raymond, according to Johnny DeLuxe, immediately doubled the rent.  Gérard Simi turned the show into a more conventional striptease revue.

The Revuebar closed in 2004 and became a gay cabaret venue Too2Much. In 2006, it changed its name to the Soho Revue Bar for club nights and special events. That closed in 2009, but it re-opened in 2011 as The Box Soho, billed as ‘a theatre of varieties’,

In its obituary, the Guardian described Paul Raymond as “a self-confessed spiv who once sold nylons and hairnets from a stall and was part of a mind-reading act… He boasted that throughout his life he had never read an entire book… He remained shy and stammered in company… He had no interests apart from his cabin cruiser, his gold-plated Rolls Royce and drink… He was invited to Downing Street by Margaret Thatcher as an exemplary entrepreneur, but his social life tended to be confined to escorting strippers from other girlie clubs.”

In 1992, he became Britain’s richest man, with an estimated fortune of more than £1.5 billion. He owned around 400 properties in Soho including, it was said, the whole of Brewer Street. This was the same year his daughter Debbie died.

In 2004, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated his fortune at £600 million.

Paul Raymond spent his last years as a recluse, living in a penthouse next to the Ritz Hotel. He died in 2008 of respiratory failure at the age of 82.

So it goes.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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The Edinburgh Fringe: increasingly influential, surreal and assault-prone

The Greatest Show on Legs without masks (or clothes)

This morning, I got a phone call from the Daily Star newspaper, who had got wind of the fact the Greatest Show on Legs are going to perform their Naked Balloon Dance in Prince Harry masks at tonight’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sadly, it came to nothing, even with a quote from Legs leader Martin Soan saying:

“Prince Harry is a mere beginner in flashing and cavorting with women in hotel rooms. We have been doing it since before he was a glint in his father (or mother)’s eye… It is a great British tradition and we stand proud and erect as true patriots in support of Harry. We cry Thank God for Harry, England and Saint George! What the Scots will make of it, we don’t know…”

Journalists can be quirky people but they can sometimes work under difficult circumstances.

Apparently, journalists who write about the rival Edinburgh Comedy Awards and call it the… erm… Edinburgh Comedy Awards are getting phoned to be told they have to now call them the Fosters Comedy Awards, although the official website still calls them the FOSTERS Edinburgh COMEDY AWARDS… Mind you, the Fosters website also talks of “32 years of discovering comedy genius” – a bit of a dodgy claim, given that they were sponsored by Perrier 1981-2005 and Intelligent Finance 2006-2008. Then, famously, impecunious American comic Lewis Schaffer offered to sponsor them for (if memory serves me) £99 and he was – some feel unjustly – spurned.

Fosters have sponsored the awards since only 2010.

Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?

So, strictly speaking, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, established in 2007, have been running longer than the Fosters Comedy Awards, established 2010.

Far be it from me to try to get some cheap publicity.

However, following in the promotional wake of the aforementioned Fosters Comedy Awards, we have decided to precede the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards title with the phrase “the increasingly influential” and are thinking of starting an “Increasingly Influential” company to sponsor our awards for £1 per year and justify the title The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards beyond doubt.

Ian Fox before he was attacked in Edinburgh

On far more serious matters, yesterday I asked comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox if he was coming to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show tonight to take his increasingly influential photos. I got this reply:

Probably not to be honest. I didn’t have the greatest of nights last night. I was randomly punched by some guy walking past me on Candlemaker Row. Never made eye contact with him, never even took any notice of him. He was walking down the hill I was going up. He got level with me and hit me. I ended up at Edinburgh Royal and now have three stitches in the side of my nose and a very swollen face. Evidently he was wearing a ring. If I can take photos I will but I’m going have to take it easy for the next day or two. 

I just had the inconvenience of four hours with the dibble in Edinburgh Royal. And the doctor told me he practised his stitching on cat toys. He replaces the cat nip every few weeks apparently. 

Shortly after this, I bumped into flame-haired American temptress Laura Levites.

“What are you doing after Edinburgh?” I asked.

“I may be going to red headed convention in Holland,” she replied.

I asked for no more details, as this seemed enough information.

Paul B Edwards (left) and Lewis Schaffer, Cowgate yesterday

Then I bumped into comedians Paul B Edwards, David Whitney and Lewis Schaffer in the Cowgate. Paul B Edwards told me BBC Radio 2 had interviewed him about the Fringe because, he thought, he had been mentioned in my increasingly influential blog.

After David Whitney had left, I told Paul B Edwards and Lewis Schaffer about the attack on Ian Fox.

“Well,” Paul said, “I heard that, two nights ago, Kunt and The Gang mentioned Margaret Thatcher in his gig. He gets a lot of punks at his gigs and a drunk punk at the back started screaming on a Thatcher rant that no-one could understand. He approached the stage and kept approaching the stage and Kunt said I have three words for you – ‘Fuck off now’ but the guy didn’t and threw a punch at Kunt and even though Kunt and The Gang looks like quite a little guy on the stage, he’s quite useful and apparently he punched this guy out of the venue. That’s what I heard. He punched him out and out of the venue to cheers and applause, because his crowd don’t have a problem with violence when it’s justified.”

David Whitney in the Cowgate yesterday

The back story to this is that David Whitney got criticised a couple of years ago when he allegedly head-butted an audience member after being provoked. A writer from a newspaper was present and wrote an article about the incident which, other comedians have told me, hurt his career.

“Sometimes,” said Lewis Schaffer, “people forget audience members deserve a good head-bashing, whether they’re walking or in a wheelchair.”

Paul and I laughed for reasons I have not yet, but might yet, blog about.

“I said ‘wheelchair’, said Lewis Schaffer. I didn’t say ‘paralysed’. Some audience members are just twats and, if they’re going to destroy a show and if they’re going to step towards the comedian, then they’re gonna deserve it. I’ve never hit a punter in my entire life but I…”

“Yes you have,” I interrupted. “You hit that bloke who smashed your iPhone at the Gilded Balloon the other year.”

“He wasn’t a punter,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He was just a guy in the street. He smashed my iPhone! That wasn’t comedy-related!”

“You gonna cry now?” Paul laughed.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because now I’ve punched one guy…”

“You’ve got a taste for it?” I suggested.

“I’ve got a taste for it,” Lewis Schaffer agreed, laughing, “and all I want to do now is punch people in the face.”

These are the sort of conversations which happen during the Fringe and seldom elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards, I was due to meet Miss Behave, host of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. I was striding towards the appointed meeting place in Parliament Square when she passed me, speeding in the opposite direction.

“Hi, John!” she said, “Just got to pick up a sword. Back in a mo!”

The surreal soon becomes reality at the Fringe.

I went to the Gilded Balloon party last night after their So You Think You’re Funny talent show final. A banner proclaimed:

25 YEARS OF FOSTERS SO YOU THINK YOU’RE FUNNY

The Gilded Balloon venue – evacuated by fire fear last night

This was news to me. Those wacky brewers are at it again! I thought. How surreal a twisting of reality is that?. Then the fire alarm rang and the entire Gilded Balloon building was evacuated.

Exactly ten years ago, in 2002, the old Gilded Balloon building burnt down.

I texted my comedy chum Janey Godley:

STANDING IN THE RAIN. GILDED BALLOON EVACUATED. FIRE ALARM.

Immediately, a text came back:

I AM NOT THERE. I AM IN GLASGOW. I HAVE AN ALIBI.

The fire alarm turned out to be a false alarm.

What a waste of a good alibi.

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I can only barely remember Malcolm Hardee’s old comedy club The Tunnel

Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Club in the 1980s
(photo courtesy of Steve Taylor)

In the early hours of this morning, I was talking to a friend who knew the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. She met him as a neighbour before she knew he was a comic or a club owner and she did not go to his Sunday night Tunnel Club primarily for the comedy.

“I used to play pool there,” she told me.

“Not to watch the shows?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” she said. It’s late. I can’t really remember. I must’ve not watched the shows sometimes because I was playing pool. I didn’t go there that often, because it was a long walk in the night from Greenwich, where I lived.”

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much at all,” I said.

“But you can’t remember what happened yesterday,” she said.

I have a notoriously bad memory. I have to write everything down.

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much either,” my friend said. “So you’re never going to get a blog out of this.”

“Was the stage in a corner?” I asked. “You came in the door and turned right, didn’t you? But I think there was something odd about the positioning of the stage.”

“The bar was in the middle,” my friend explained. “On one side were the pool tables; on the other side was the bar; and, at the end was the room with the show in.”

“Was it a separate room?” I asked, surprised. I remembered it being one large pub room.

“It was quite a large room,” she said. “It wasn’t pokey. That was pleasant for a start. And the fact there were two pool tables and one of them was usually free. That was great. Then there was sometimes someone I fancied there. I loved that.”

“The audience always threw beer glasses at acts they didn’t like,” I said.

“It wasn’t dangerous for me,” my friend said, “because I always stood at the back. I didn’t sit in a seat.”

“I remember standing,” I said. “I don’t remember seats. Were you there the night Babs what’s-er-name got hit by a glass?”

“No,” my friend said, opening up her laptop computer to check her e-mails.

“Look, John,” she said, “I’m too tired to remember. Phone up Lewis Schaffer if you want a blog. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be feeling pissed-off. Is it Tuesday and Wednesday he does his Soho gigs? Phone him up and ask him how his gig was last night and say how you went to someone else’s show. That’ll cheer him up.”

The Tunnel film documentary

“People who never went to the Tunnel think it was a rowdy bear pit,” I said. “Well, I suppose it was. People were always throwing glasses at the acts. That’s rowdy. Even if they only threw them at bad acts.”

“Well,” my friend reminded me, “at that time, people threw glasses at punk bands. If you went to see a rock band, no-one was able to dance any more. Disco had vanished because people were spitting and pogo-ing.”

“The Tunnel was 1984-1988, though,” I said.

“All I know,” my friend said, “is that, in the late-1970s, there was a sudden moment when lots of pogo-ing was happening and people were spitting.”

“That was before AIDs,” I mused.

“The bands on stage were spitting at the audience,” my friend continued. “You didn’t want to sit in the front rows. If anyone danced, the floor was taken over by young men pogo-ing and bashing into each other so, if you were a woman, you couldn’t dance. That was what social nights out were turning into half the time.

“People throwing glasses at acts in The Tunnel wasn’t surprising. That’s what was happening at the music gigs as well. Musicians on stage would swing the microphone stand and whack it around with people going Whoooaaa! and ducking their heads. You would think Doh! I’m not going near the front. Punk started in 1977, but it was pretty well established by, say, 1979 and, after that, things were getting more and more seedy.

“Before then, people used to wear T-shirts saying LOVE and stuff with rainbows and hearts printed on them. After Punk started it wasn’t just ripped shirts and razor blades and studs and chains round the trousers… people had emblazoned on their T-shirts Oh, fucking hell! and Wot you looking at? and Fuck off, cunt. No-one was having Love and Peace on their T-shirts any more. So, a few years later, if people in a comedy club are throwing glasses…”

“The Tunnel must have been filled with smoke,” I said. “because people were still smoking inside pubs and clubs. It must’ve smelled of beer and fags. I don’t remember.”

“I don’t remember the smell,” my friend said, looking at her computer. “I’ve got a lot of spam.”

“Malcolm and I could never remember when we met,” I said. “It must have been around 1985 or 1986 because he was managing acts and I was looking for acts which might be useful on TV for Surprise! Surprise! or Game For a Laugh. I think I went to The Tunnel and saw Gary Howard and maybe The Greatest Show On Legs.”

“There was that guy with the dog,” my friend said.

“The Joan Collins Fan Club,” I prompted. “Julian Clary.”

“He was on at The Tunnel a lot,” my friend said. “It seemed to me, when I went, he was often on. I didn’t go that often. One time someone I knew stopped and chatted to him because they knew him from Goldsmiths College in New Cross.”

“I’ve never associated him with Malcolm,” I said. “Maybe he was around Malcolm before my time or maybe I’ve just forgotten.”

“He was there a lot,” my friend said. I remember Jerry Sadowitz too.”

“I must have seen him perform there,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I first went there. I can’t remember. I knew Malcolm around the time he released that album for Jerry – Was it called Gobshite? – It had to be withdrawn in case Jimmy Saville sued for libel.”

“I remember Harry Enfield,” my friend said. “I don’t remember seeing him perform… He was there as… someone who…”

“…who was in the audience,” I prompted.

“Well, he wasn’t in the audience,” she said. “He was a friend of Malcolm’s. I don’t remember seeing him perform. Just like Jools Holland went along as a friend of Malcolm’s, but I don’t remember seeing him perform there.”

“I remember the man who tortured teddy bears,” I said. “He was wonderful. Steve something-or-other. He had a wheel of death for the teddy bear.”

“I didn’t particularly think of it as a place to watch acts,” my friend said. “It was a chance to go out and I went along to play pool. I liked playing pool in those days. There was the odd person to fancy and the music was nice.”

“It was always easy listening music before the show, wasn’t it?” I said.

“People like Etta James,” my friend agreed. “At Last. I don’t know if Martin Potter (the sound man) used that track at The Tunnel, but he always put it on at Up The Creek.”

“Once,” I said, “I asked Malcolm why he didn’t play rock music before gigs, because that was more the audience, and he told me he played more sophisticated jazz-type stuff because he thought it put the audience in the right mood to see people perform comedy. Relaxed them. I thought Malcolm chose the music, but you told me it was Martin Potter.”

“Etta James singing Sunday Kind of Love,” my friend said,” He always played that because it was Sunday.”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“You never do,” my friend said. “That’s why you write things down.”

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Music, Punk, UK