Tag Archives: Dave Lee Travis

Why I am interested in comedians

Today’s issue of Metro

Today’s issue of the daily Metro newspaper

Today’s Metro newspaper contains a feature on The Giants of Comedy to which I was asked to contribute a piece on “the weirder acts to look out for”. Metro describes me as an “alternative comedy champion”.

In this blog, I try to tell short stories with a rounded ending about interesting people doing interesting (mostly creative) things. Very often they are comedians. Very rarely do I write about myself although regular readers might be able to make up a patchwork impressionistic picture of my life.

You might wonder why am I interested in weird comedy acts.

Or you might not.

I have mentioned in past, dimly remembered blogs that I tried to commit suicide when I was newly 18 and that I was briefly in a mental hospital.

So why do I enjoy watching comedy?

Throughout my life, most of my income came from the promotion departments of TV companies. I was employed to write words and edit trailers which would persuade people to watch TV programmes – trying to manipulate their perception so that the ratings would be higher.

I am interested in the use of words and the manipulation of perception. So I am interested in how sentences and performances can be structured to make audiences laugh and the different reasons why people laugh – or, indeed, cry – timing, surprise, unexpected twists, incongruity, recognition, whatever.

Occasionally but rarely, in random spurts, I have kept diaries.

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

This morning, because of the Dave Lee Travis court verdict yesterday, I looked up my diary for around the suicide attempt/mental home time. The reason – possibly pompous – was connected to two quotes which came to my mind:

1) “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” (L.P.Hartley)

2) “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (Lots of French people)

These are some edited extracts from my diary. The first is when I was in hospital after my failed suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself with tablets on a Friday.

“My parents visited me every day in hospital. On the Sunday, they brought me fruit. And, to cut it, one highly-polished, silver-shining, sharply serrated-edged knife. And, after they had gone, I looked at that knife and looked and looked and picked it up and looked. I ran my finger along the serrated edge and looked and ran the edge along my wrist and looked. And felt the point against my finger and against my wrist. And I only just managed to give it to a nurse.

“Which is why, when I got out of hospital, I panicked and my insides were like kitchen crockery in a house above a tube-train tunnel. And it was very difficult to keep a straight face. I could not think straight and my mental reactions were so slow. That horrified me. It was like being in Death Valley with the noonday sun three times closer than it should be.”

At that time, if you tried to commit suicide – especially aged 18 – I think there was a tendency to suggest you might want to go into a mental home.

And I did want to rest, to be away from people, because I was so nervy and because I was afraid of what I might do if I did not go in.

When I went in, a doctor ‘interviewed’ me and suggested I could talk to his students when he gave a lecture later in the week. But I just wanted to be alone.

They gave me ‘happy pills’ and sleeping pills that first night and I went from deep depression to a sky-high high before I went to sleep. But I did not want to be high.

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

In the mental hospital, I wrote this:

“The Mad Hatter pops in: a James Joyce with a blue Embassy cigarette coupon stuck in his greased hair. The lights go on at a quarter to four and then go off again. No-one has entered the room. The mad room.

My Little Lady by The Tremeloes plays at quarter volume on the wartime radio. When I came in last night, it was violins and classical music on the radio, like a TV play about old people dying, dead in seaside boarding houses in the off-season.

“My right side throbs. It is Visiting Hour. Or something. People talk in whispers. It is late afternoon and the afternoon has gone to greyness.

“This morning, an enormous pigeon threw itself against the windowpane of the door, saw where it was and fled away. Before I arrived here, the clear-skinned 23-year-old boy threw the red vinyl table through the window and was caught by a nurse. The friendly, backward boy gets violent occasionally. He throws teacups and saucers, matchboxes and plastic orange juice bottles.

“When he talks to me, he keeps wanting me to be the active, adventurous type. He keeps saying how active he was and how he liked exploring, finding ruins and exploring remote bogs. He and his family – his three sisters and one brother – were nomads around Europe in the last, hard decade.

“He tells me his mother is such an incredible mixture. His girlfriend Evie is from Chelmsford. He tells me he met her in Occupational Therapy. But now she has gone to OT in Exeter. She used to visit him.

“He sings the song Me My Friend as Be My Friend. With gusto. He says he misses Evie. He tells other people I am his friend and keeps telling me to tell him if he talks too much. He sits there in his wheelchair with his eyes of water. Sparkling. Nothing else. Just water.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Family singing Me My Friend.

“The male nurse in the ward tells me he has a strong right hand. He says he ‘does it’ twice a day or twice a week. Depending on how he feels. He asks have I ever let anyone else do it. He goes on and on. He tells all the patients this and talks about going to out-buildings with them.”

I discharged myself from the mental home after a day but nothing that happened there seemed strange.

Several years later, I went back to Claybury Asylum to interview a doctor for a piece I was writing. As I sat waiting in the corridor, the only way you could tell patients from staff as they passed by was the speed at which they walked: the patients walked slower, because they were sedated and had no purpose.

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Yesterday, DJ Dave Lee Travis was found guilty of groping the breasts of a woman – then a TV researcher, now a ‘TV personality’ – for around 15 seconds in 1995. On TV last night, a Sunday Times reporter (who never brought charges and was not involved in the court case) said he groped her too. It seemed a very 1960s or 1970s thing to do. But it happened in 1995.

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So why do I like comedy?

Because I am laughing at life, not with life.

I like dark humour. I am fascinated that ‘unacceptable’ and non-funny subjects like rape, murder, death, drug addiction and madness and all the rest can be made to be funny. And I like surrealism : the twisting/manipulation of reality into meaninglessness. For example, in this morning’s Metro, I mentioned that The Human Loire says he is the only French river playing the UK comedy circuit and that his act includes enunciating passages in Middle English from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while pouring milk onto Corn Flakes inside his trousers. It also includes using a hammer to nail grapes onto a large cut-out of Justin Bieber’s face while gargling Sophocles’ Ode To Man using Listerene antiseptic mouthwash.

When he does this, the surrealism makes me laugh.

When other people TRY to be surreal by doing equally meaningless things, I do not laugh.

Why?

I do not know but I would like to know.

So I watch comedy.

At the recent Edinburgh Fringe, there was one show where I laughed out loud (a rare thing) throughout. It was Johnny Sorrow performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. A couple sitting to my left sat mostly stone-faced throughout.

When Johnny imitated the sadly mostly-forgotten comedy act Bernie Clifton prancing around in an ostrich costume I laughed out loud. When he said Don’t talk to me!… Don’t talk to me! I laughed out loud.

Why?

I do not know. I just found it overwhelmingly funny.

The other factor in being interested in comedy, of course, is that people who perform it well – who have true originality and who are not just copying what they have seen on TV as part of a business plan – are mostly, in some way, damaged.

Damaged people are interesting people.

But then, when you get to know them, most people are damaged.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Suicide

Critic Copstick on cocaine in kids’ TV + meeting Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris

Kate Copstick publicity shot for The Grouchy Club

Copstick publicity shot for The Grouchy Club

In yesterday’s blog, comedy critic Kate Copstick explained why she gave up her planned career as a lawyer because she lost faith in the legal system.

“So,” I asked, “then what did you decide you wanted to do?”

“I had always wanted to be an actress,” she told me at The Grouchy Club in Edinburgh. “So, when I got asked to do a play for no money, I said Yes. It was a piece by Pedro Calderón de la Barca with the snazzy title The House With Two Doors Is Hard To Guard. I played the comedy maid, which was when I discovered the joy of corsets.”

“Did you,” I asked, “want to be a comedy performer or an actress?”

“Oh, I wanted to be an actress,” she said. “I wanted to be Joan Crawford. I had posters on my wall of Debbie Harry, Joan Crawford and Bryan Ferry.

“But people preferred me trying to be funny. Then they kept asking me to write.”

“Why,” I asked, “would they ask you to write if you were an actress?”

“Because nobody believed I was really an actress. Also, I was so bossy that I tended to write and direct. It started off with me saying: Wouldn’t it be better if I said this…

Copstick, children’s favourite

Copstick, children’s favourite

“Then someone from Scottish Television saw me and I fronted a kids’ programme about the environment. Then I was asked down to London to present Play School for BBC TV.”

“Why?”

“They obviously just looked at me performing in my wig and my Ginger Rogers frock and thought: I would love to see this woman dressed as a penguin jumping up and down on children’s television.”

I told her: “I used to know someone who did Playbus. He went into porn.”

“Many of us did,” said Copstick.

“How long did you do Play School?” I asked.

Prim and proper Copstick

The prim, proper and always professional Copstick

“About four years, then I did a load of other kids’ programmes – Up Our Street, No 73…”

“Did you do that rude Christmas tape for No 73?” I asked.

“Everything was rude when you got behind the scenes,” said Copstick. “The very first place I ever encountered cocaine was on Play School.

“Because it was only pre-school television with small budgets, they didn’t give you any time for re-takes. Once you started recording, you had time to do two episodes back-to-back. That was it. No mucking about. No re-takes. So we rehearsed endlessly. One time, we did all the rehearsing including the songs and it was all lovely, all great, all timed to perfection. But when we recorded it, the show was a whole minute short and nobody could understand why.

Kate Copstick

Copstick first encountered cocaine in children’s television…

“It turned out that, between the rehearsals and the recording, the boys in the band had been in the dressing room enjoying some of Bolivia’s finest (cocaine) and all the songs had gone at almost twice the speed they had in the rehearsals.

“So the programmes were not just educational for the children, they were educational for me personally.

“I did this show called Whizz and got on Top of the Pops. We recorded the theme tune, released it as a single and, for some reason, it did really well in the charts. No-one could understand why until I went on Top of the Pops and somebody told me it had a massive student following because the hook line was Do the Biz, Do the Biz, With Whizz. None of the nice middle class ladies at the BBC realised Whizz/Wiz had any kind of double meaning whatsoever, but students thought it was fantastic.”

There is, sadly, no copy of this song on YouTube, but there is a video of Pulp singing Sorted For E’s and Wizz at Glastonbury.

“Was Jimmy Savile presenting Top of the Pops when you were on it?” I asked Copstick.

“No. It was Mike Read and Gary Davis. When I got to come down the chute onto the stage, there were all these girls. There were self-evidently 16-year-old girls who just went there in the hope that somebody famous would fondle their boobs.”

“You met Savile somewhere else?” I asked.

“I was doing a show called On The Waterfront up in Liverpool with Bernie Nolan (of The Nolan Sisters). She could drink more vodka on a night than anyone and get up at 7 o’clock the next morning looking like she was straight out of convent school. That girl had hollow legs. I’ve never met anyone who could drink like her.”

“You are too modest,” I said.

“She taught me everything I know!” said Copstick.

“And Savile?” I asked.

“On the show, I did a thing like Through The Keyhole, but it was called Through The Sunroof – I went into people’s cars. So I did Through The Sunroof with Jimmy Savile’s car and we had to go up to his house in Leeds and when I met him, instead of shaking my hand, he turned it over and licked the palm. Eurghh! Just loathsome. Some people you meet and you just know… And there was Rolf Harris, as well.”

Rolf Harris, much-loved children’s entertainer

Rolf Harris, former children’s entertainer

“You met Rolf?” I asked. “You must have been groped by Rolf. Everyone was groped by Rolf.”

“When he came on the show as a guest,” said Copstick, “we had a lovely young female director who used to wear trousers that had a rose trellis pattern. When Rolf came in, she was bending over to pick something up and he said: That’s a furrow I’d like to plough! He self-evidently was just a bit of a dirty old man which is not great, but I think there’s a difference between being a dirty old man and a paedophile.”

“He had a reputation for groping,” I said, “but I was surprised by the children.”

“I’ve kind of always thought,” said Copstick, “if you like grown-ups, you like grown ups; if you like kids, you like kids. It’s not really the same people. So, as an ex-lawyer, I was very surprised by the Rolf Harris verdict.

“I think, yet again, it’s the Establishment being so horrified and embarrassed that nobody did anything about Jimmy Savile or Cyril Smith or any of the other people they knew about but protected… that anybody they can now grab onto is going down because somebody has to and they can’t do anything about Savile because he’s dead.

Copstick at last month;s Edinburgh Fringe

Copstick at last month’s Edinburgh Fringe

“I’m sure all of us who are grown-up and female have had some hideous, ghastly, creepy uncle type stick his tongue in your ear before he should and you just go Ughh! but there’s a long, long way between that and being attacked. I think all the women who are lining up claiming Dave Lee Travis held their boobs are doing a terrible amount of damage to the people who really did suffer.

“It must be horrendous. I can’t imagine what it must have been like being one of these boys in the home that Cyril Smith went to. Or being in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and seeing Jimmy Savile wander across the ward towards you with his cock in his hand. Horrendous. Horrendous! But it’s not the same thing at all as a bit of a misjudgment.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Children, Drugs, Sex, Television