Tag Archives: East End

Comic Red Bastard and the KGB man who wants my Facebook Friends list

I would quite like to die on another planet.

As a way to go, it beats dying in the gloomy upstairs bedroom of a nursing home in Clacton-on-Sea, which is where I sat and watched my father die.

A step too far for the Evening Standard?

Is it rocket science to build pages with links?

So, two days ago, I lightheartedly tried to enter a London Evening Standard contest to win a trip into space. Well, OK, ‘trip’ might be a bit of an exaggeration. It seems the return flight takes 30 minutes overall but the time spent actually outside the earth’s atmosphere is only 4 minutes.

Still, if I want to die on another planet, it’s a start. One small step for a man…

The first problem I had was that the link to the Evening Standard’s competition’s page didn’t exist. Clicking the link just brought you back to the page you were already viewing. It took about a day to rectify this. Obviously creating a working weblink was a step too far in rocket science for the Evening Standard.

When the page was up and firing on all cylinders, I ploughed through the application form only to be told at the very very end of the process that I had to agree the Evening Standard could access my entire Facebook Friends list. Why? The only possible reason I could think of was that they wanted to spam the (at the time of writing) 4,854 people on my Friends list. And I would be responsible for that.

When I queried this, the Evening Standard Reader Offers department replied:

Will the Evening Standard’s explanation fly?

Maybe London Evening Standard’s explanation is groundless?

“Hi! The message you refer to is actually letting you know that the system we use to run the promotion will be able to access your friends list, which will allow you to share the promotion should you wish to. However we will not access or use that information for anything, so none of your friends will be effected (sic) because you have entered.”

Apart from my nagging worry that the Evening Standard people can’t spell ‘affected’, why would they need to have access to my Friends list in order to allow me to send a link for the Evening Standard’s offers page to any or all of my Facebook Friends? If I copied and pasted the web address into a message and posted it on my Facebook page, would that link somehow mysteriously not work unless the Evening Standard had on its computers each and every person on my list?

It is enough to make you paranoid.

I mean, it is surreal enough that the London Evening Standard (like the Independent newspaper) is now owned by an ex-KGB officer. Is this a case of old habits dying hard?

Not a woman in a burkha

Not a woman in a burka

Shortly afterwards, I went out to Holborn in central London and there I saw (I presume it was) a woman dressed in full burka standing next to a Post Office pillar box. It was like something out of a Magritte painting or an imagining of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels.

A medium-sized red-painted pillar with a horizontal slit towards the top through which I could post letters beside which stood a medium-sized pillar of black cotton with a horizontal slit towards the top through which I could see a pair of eyes staring out at me.

This oddness was not topped until a few hours later when I saw Red Bastard perform in the East End of London, strangely just round the corner from Vallance Road, where gangsters the Kray Twins used to live – and from the Repton Boxing Club where they… well… boxed as and with young men.

The showman Adam Taffler last night

Showman Adam Taffler celebrated last night

The Red Bastard event was staged by showman Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver who had managed to successfully promote this off-West-End show at short notice so effectively that the original single show and single workshop by Red Bastard had been upped to two shows and three workshops. (The second show is tonight.)

The show last night seemed to have attracted whatever the collective noun is for a wide collection of some of the most cutting edge, potentially not-far-from-breakthrough acts in London including Holly Burn, Adam Larter, Lizzy Mace, Real McGuffin Dan March, Darren Maskell and Lindsay Sharman not to mention half of Nelly Scott/Zuma Puma’s new clown workshop.

Bob Slayer’s underpants were sponsored last night

Bob Slayer’s underpants were sponsored last night

One unexpected yet somehow not unexpected sight of the evening was comedian/promoter Bob Slayer acting as barman – obviously, occasionally without his trousers so he could display the underpants supplied by his Edinburgh Fringe sponsors Bawbags, purveyors of fine Scottish undergarments.

Bob’s presence was partly explained by the fact that, on 20th October, he and Adam are jointly promoting Malcolm Hardee Award winning Adrienne Truscott’s one-off show at the nearby Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

Who is Red Bastard; what is he?

Red Bastard – the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee

I saw Red Bastard at the Edinburgh Fringe – he was a nominee for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality – and several people have asked me what he does.

I have never been able to find words with which to tell them.

Much like The Short Man With Long Socks, the act is uncategorisable.

That is, after all, a sign of true originality.

If you could include it in a single existing category – comedy, mime, therapy, actor training, psychology, performance art, voyeurism, drama, audience involvement – it would not be truly original. Perhaps the Red Bastard show is best described with that unfathomable 1960s word – an Event.

You cannot describe it; you have to experience it.

Please do.

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Necrophilia and its place in honouring comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

(If you are easily offended – or, really, if you have ever been offended by anything at any point in your life – please do not read this blog.)

Yesterday, I had an interesting evening at the Star & Garter pub in Greenwich, where comic Steve Bowditch and ‘Paul The Poet’ hold regular Friday night Open Mic nights to a very traditional London pub audience. It is like a cross between the 1890s, the 1930s and the 2010s. I could imagine geezers having knees-ups at the drop of an ‘H’.

Last night was an even more than normally unusual night because, as well as occasional open spots, there was a tribute to Malcolm Hardee, betwixt his birthday on 5th January and the day he died, 31st January.

There was a table-top shrine with a photo of Malcolm and joss-sticks with the smell, Steve Bowditch claimed, of sandalwood, cedarwood, Brut and Vosene.

The evening included interesting local guitarist Danny Alex, Ian Breslin the acapella punk poet, soiled tissue juggling, selections from Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! and Greatest Show on Legs originator Martin Soan’s always wonderful-to-watch but painful-to-perform version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller using six rubber bands.

There were also 12 minutes of video clips from Jody VandenBurg’s long-gestating documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There. One of the most interesting quotes in the film is from Malcolm’s long-term chum Jools Holland, who says: “He was like a Dickens character.”

Part of being a Dickensian-style character, I think, was (in public, at least) that he was larger-than-life, almost a cartoon caricature of someone who did not care about consequences.

Martin Potter, who started the infamous Tunnel Palladium comedy club with Malcolm, says in this future film: “He would always do what other people would like to do but didn’t dare do.”

Acapella punk Ian Breslin, who organised last night’s Malcolm tribute, told the crowded back bar at the Star & Garter:

“As some of you know, every time someone famous died, Malcolm would have a bet on the Queen Mother dying too. So, eventually it happens. The Queen Mother has just died but Malcolm has not had a bet on it happening. I’m beside myself to go down to Up the Creek and see what he’s going to say. I’m with a group of people. Some have never seen Malcolm perform before.

“I say to this woman: You do realise he’s going to say something about the Queen Mother in the first five seconds?

He wouldn’t dare, she says.

“I say: He’s going to fucking rip into her in the first five seconds.

No. No, she says, that won’t happen.

So, I say, you want a bottle of vodka on it?

“She shook my hand.

“Malcolm walks on stage and says: The cunt’s dead…

“A bottle of vodka in my hand, yeah?

“People walk out and get really upset and everything.

“Malcolm says: Still a good fuck, though…”

Ian dedicated his next poem/song to Malcolm.

“I’ve had a tee-shirt made,” Ian said.

I was pleased – indeed, humbled – to see it was a photo of the annual Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality which I organise – a microphone rising stiffly at an angle above two circles.

“This is called Dig ‘Em Up…” Ian said.

The poem/song was a sweet little ditty which started:

Had your picture on my wall
Shame you died when I was small
You looked at me through paper eyes

and later included the fine lines:

Thora Hird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Nice old bird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Mary Shelley – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too smelly – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Lena Zavaroni – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too bony – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em

It is good to see Malcolm’s memory being honoured. The only downside to the evening was at the very end, when Martin Soan told me of his disappointment:

“I thought we should polish it off in the right way for a Malcolm Hardee evening. I was going to get my kit off – fold my clothes very precisely, put my shoes on top of my folded clothes, my socks inside my shoes. But I was told, if I walked back through the bar, they wouldn’t like it. It’s a sad reflection on modern life when an Englishman can’t walk naked through a local pub.”

How true. How true.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, London, Sex

The Kray Twins have been replaced by a bunch of comedians in the East End

What is happening with Bethnal Green in the East End of London?

I think of Bethnal Green as being the home of the Kray Twins and the Museum of Childhood. Admittedly queer bedfellows to begin with. Now there appears to be a giggle gulag of recently-opened clubs featuring new and rising comedians.

On Mondays, David Mills and Maureen Younger run their Unusual Suspects comedy club at the Sebright Arms.

On Tuesdays, comedian Oli (son of comedian Janet) Bettesworth runs The Painted Grin at Benny’s Bar.

And another comedian I know is also thinking of starting a new monthly club in Bethnal Green.

In the sometimes bitchy world of comedy, it all seems surprisingly chummy down the East End.

Last week, I went to the Unusual Suspects to see 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Robert White (whose comedy is so fast it must leave scorch marks on his brain) and David Mills & Scott Capurro (who hosted this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe). In the audience, was Janet Bettesworth. Not only that, but she raved to me afterwards about the end chat between David and Scott.

Comedy can be about more than just getting laughs, which Scott and David proved in their Scott Capurro’s Position chat show in Edinburgh and at the Soho Theatre this year – and very much so in what appeared to be their totally improvised, highly libelous and astonishingly personal routine last Monday. In fact, it was more an extended riff than comedy routine – very insightful and very funny.

Janet Bettesworth reckons: “The hundreds of comedy nights around town are perhaps just a stress-release valve for overworked Londoners. However, take two seasoned gay American comedians, David Mills and Scott Capurro and you get some kind of magic.

“Some kind of magic is certainly what took place last Monday,” she says. “Suddenly mere stand up comedy (more specifically one-liner gags) seemed flat and one-dimensional in comparison. The tete-a-tete between the two of them was one of the rarest and best things I have ever seen. I wished it had gone on longer. No-one recorded it, so an ephemeral happening, perhaps born out of adversity (a scheduled act had been called elsewhere) and delivered to a small and privileged audience is lost forever. It is impossible to describe, except to suggest that together they are (even) more than the sum of their parts – they presented something extraordinarily real and multi-dimensional, full of rawness, pain, tenderness, love, wit and finely-distilled camp humour.”

It certainly was an astonishing public tete-a-tete.

And there is certainly some exceptional live comedy going on out there in small clubs – a lot of it, apparently, now oddly happening in Bethnal Green – all of it ephemeral, unrecorded and, like most of the best comedy, once performed lost forever.

In the Kray Twins’ era, it was criminal lawyers who reaped the benefit.

In modern-day Bethnal Green it might be comedy club audiences and libel lawyers.

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The Kray Twins killed him… ?

Yesterday, I had a chat with my chum ‘Lou’, armourer and death consultant on the infamous and much-reviled Killer Bitch movie.

He had recently read an old copy of the ‘Revised and Updated’ 3rd Edition of John Pearson’s highly-respected book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins.

The book had given him a few laughs, principal among which were several references to the Kray Twins’ driver Billy Frost (referred to in the index by his 1960s nickname ‘Jack Frost’).

The Profession of Violence says:

“The comradeship within the Firm was not improved when two of its members disappeared after trouble with Ronnie. One was his driver, a talkative young man called Frost…To this day, Frost (remains) on Scotland Yard’s missing persons list” and later the book says: “the great (Scotland Yard) investigation, for all its thoroughness, seemed to have missed the biggest crimes… there was no hint of what happened to Jack Frost”.

Well, I can tell you the only great mystery surrounding the ‘death’ of Billy Frost is why it is implied that the Kray Twins killed him. He did take a journey North after a couple of killings committed by the Krays (the second being the murder by the Krays of his friend Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie) but he certainly did not look dead when he talked to me in 2009 during the filming of Killer Bitch and, if he was killed in the 1960s, his ghost successfully managed the neat trick of posting me a Christmas card that same year. I think he was happily living at home in the East End of London when The Profession of Violence was first published in 1972.

Lou laughed: “I’ve seen John Pearson in the same room as Billy Frost, standing about ten feet from him!”

There is a 2008 interview with Billy on YouTube and he was interviewed in a February 2010 issue of Spitalfields Life.

It’s amazing how people allegedly killed by the Krays over forty years ago can be so lively.

It perhaps goes to show you should never believe anything you read about the Krays.

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Stand-up comedians: are they funny people?

(This article previously appeared in Mensa Magazine)

FUNNY PEOPLE

by John Fleming

You are a stand-up comedian. You get up alone on stage. A spotlight shines on you. If you now perform the greatest show of your life, your future is downhill. If you get badly rejected by the audience, their objective reaction reinforces your own insecurities. You’re in a Lose-Lose situation. Who can be attracted to that? A masochist. That’s what I thought. So I asked Jewish comedian Ivor Dembina who has run many successful comedy clubs over 20 years, has seen comedy talent of all types fail and succeed and who, in his show Sadojudaism, jokes at length about his penchant for sadomasochism.

“Well, stand-up can be painful,” he initially agrees, “but the point about masochism is that it’s a state where pain is pleasurable and I’ve never heard a comic describe the frustrations and humiliations of public failure as something to be enjoyed.”

So why does he do it?

“I’m aware of a a core desire within me to please others which I can trace back to early childhood, being rewarded by my parents with smiles and approval whenever I made them laugh.  In adulthood I’ve acquired a desire to control situations and an irrepressible need to prove I’m right. Stand-up comedy is the best outlet I’ve found for both characteristics.”

Comedian Ricky Grover comes from London’s East End:

“Whether they admit it or not,” Ricky suggests, “most comedians live their life in depression, even feeling suicidal. They feel like they’re shit, feel like they’re not going to be able to do it again. If you don’t laugh you’d cry. That’s your options.

“There was a lot of violence going on in my childhood and sadness and depression and one of the ways to escape from all that was humour. I would make ‘em laugh and sometimes I’d make my stepfather laugh to deflect a confrontational situation. A lot of humour where I came from was quite dark. I wanted to be like my stepfather – an armed robber – because that was the only person I had to look up to. I had him or my little skinny grandad who was really quite verbally spiteful to me. I thought, well, if it’s between the little skinny grandad or the ex-boxer/armed robber, I’ll be the ex-boxer/armed robber and I suppose that’s why I went into… boxing.”

Scottish comedienne Janey Godley was raped by her uncle between the ages of 5 and 13; at 19 she married into a gangster family; at 21 her mother was murdered; for 14 years she ran a pub in Glasgow’s tough East End; and, in a 22-month period, 17 of her friends died from heroin.

“I do sometimes think everything I say’s shite,” she admits, “and I do sometimes think nobody’s ever gonna laugh at it and I get worried.”

So why get up on stage and face total personal rejection?

“Because it’s challenging,” she explains. “Because, with me, every show’s different. I don’t really tell jokes; I tell anecdotes that are unusual in that I talk about child abuse and murder and gangsters and social issues. I get up and do something different every time and it’s a really exciting challenge because I think: I wonder how that’ll work? And, when it really works it makes me really happy. When it completely dies, I think, I’m going to do that another twenty times, cos that was strange. Most of the stuff I do is reality with bits of surrealism. I tell a big true story with funny bits and talking animals in it and sometimes glittery tortoises. It might not affect their lives, but the audience WILL remember it because it’s different.”

So what is the X Factor?

“In my case, delusions about my own self-importance,” says Ivor firmly. “That’s why I decided to become a comic.”

“You’re split between two extremes,” says Ricky. “Really low self-esteem and a massive ego. They’re the two things you need to do stand-up and they come hand-in-hand. Deep down inside, there’s a little voice inside that tells you you’re shit but you want to prove you’re not. Stand-up comedy is the nearest you’ll ever get to being a boxer, because you’re on your own and you’re worried about the one same thing and that is making yourself look a cunt in front of everyone.”

Ivor believes: “Successful comedians tend to be characterised by a slightly ‘don’t care’ attitude. They can be philosophical about failure and speedily get over things like bad gigs and hostile reviews and move on to the next performance without dwelling on setbacks.”

“I have the confidence to get up on stage,” Janey tells me, “because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

“Boxers ain’t worried about getting hurt,” explains Ricky, “because, when your adrenaline’s flowing there is no real pain. In fact the pain’s quite enjoyable. I used to like soaking up the pain in the ring and smashing it back into them. My favourite comedy gigs are when I’m watching comedian after comedian go under and get heckled and I think, Right, I’m going to conquer this. And I sort of go into battle and then I can turn a gig round and make something happen.”

“I’ve had gigs which were going too well,” says Janey, “and I’ve intentionally ‘lost’ the audience just so I can work hard to get them back again.”

“Yeah, sometimes,” says Ricky, “There can be a really happy great big roar on every word you say and the gig’s almost too easy and you think, I’m going to throw something in here and make this a little bit hard, and I’ll come out and say something that may be offensive to some people and the whole room will go quiet and then you can play with that quietness and see where you go with it and that can be an interesting gig. So it’s a battle going in your head all the time.”

The late great club owner Malcolm Hardee once told me he was unimpressed by jugglers because, if anyone practised for several hours every day over several years, anyone could become good. “Juggling is a skill you can learn,” he insisted. “Stand-up comedy is a talent. However hard you work, you can’t become a great stand-up without underlying talent.”

So is comedy a skill or a talent? Can you learn it?

“All that’s required,” believes Ivor, “is a bit of talent, a modicum of common sense, a thick skin and an ability to learn from your mistakes. Stand-up isn’t nearly as difficult as people imagine. I started by running small comedy clubs and witnessed the efforts of many others whom I thought I could be better than. It was as simple as that.”

“It’s not just one thing,” Janey believes. “Thirty things are important on stage. There’s talent, confidence, timing, connecting with the audience, empathy, humour, the human touch. People have said the most bizarre things to me on stage. A woman once stood up and told me she’d been raped a couple of weeks ago and this was the first night she’d laughed since then. That’s not talent or technique; that’s being able to connect with another human being in a room full of people. But I do it for me, not really for them, because there’s nothing better than standing on stage. I don’t do it because of ego or because of lack of confidence. I do it for the experience of doing it because I love the applause.”

“I suppose,” admits Ricky, “that you’re looking for someone to say This bloke is a comedy genius. But, if someone does say that, there’s this little voice inside your head which disagrees: No you’re not, you’re shit. Then, if someone writes a review and says you’re shit, you think: No I’m not, I’m a comedy genius.”

Rejection is the thing that binds comedians together,” says Ivor, “because they’ve all experienced it at some time or other. What separates those of us who eventually become stand-ups from those who give up is that we are prepared to risk rejection time and time again.”

“You know what I think it is?” says Ricky “What all us comedians have in common? What we want? It’s not about being famous. It’s not about having fortunes. I think it’s just about having a bit of recognition. The thing that drives us all mad is not getting recognition for what we do.”

But, once you have proved you can do it once or ten times or fifty times, why keep doing it? Why constantly risk rejection?

“If you have the best sex of your life,” suggests Janey, “It doesn’t stop you doing it again. You’ll keep on doing it and keep on doing it.”

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“The Long Good Friday” – inside one of the two greatest British gangster films ever made

Last night I went to the Museum of London’s Docklands cinema for a special screening of the 1981 movie The Long Good Friday, introduced by its scriptwriter Barrie Keeffe. Very appropriate, as the film’s plot is partly about 1980s plans for Docklands’ re-development. In the film, there is a model of what Docklands might look like in the future. As Barrie Keeffe said last night: “We never imagined it would look like it does tonight – Manhattan…”

I am a great admirer of The Long Good Friday – it is on an equal footing with Get Carter as the greatest British gangster film ever made.

I have blogged before about The Long Good Friday – I was working at Lew Grade‘s ATV in Birmingham when the film encountered its post-production problems.

Both Barrie Keeffe and I assume that Lew Grade did not actually read the script before agreeing to finance the £1 million film but then – hey! – I never read the Killer Bitch script which I financed – I still haven’t. Not that the two movies are exactly comparable… Anyway…

When Lew Grade saw the completed movie of The Long Good Friday, he was so shocked by some of the plot details – especially the film’s climax – that he refused to release it as a feature film, refused to screen it on TV without massive cuts to the violence and the plot and even refused to allow anyone to buy it off him – until George Harrison (yes, the Beatle)’s Handmade Films made him an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse – a financial offer not involving any horse’s head.

It is difficult to discuss The Long Good Friday without mentioning the twist that most offended Lew Grade, but here goes…

It is a wonderful film partly because the crucial opening sequence is shot without audible dialogue – the only line clearly heard by the audience is someone saying something in an East London accent during an abduction… also partly because the audience is suckered into looking the wrong way in plot terms… and also partly because it has a triple ending.

There are two scenes at the end which feel like the rounding-off of a normal thriller but then there’s a sudden shock ending which should, in theory, have an equally sudden cut-to-black (as in French Connection II). Instead, director John Mackenzie uses a final static and very effective shot held on one character’s face for an extraordinarily long time.

Barrie Keeffe says his inspiration for The Long Good Friday was his love of film noir movies from the 1940s and 1950s. He wanted to make a black and white Humphrey Bogart film noir of the 1940s in colour in 1979 (when the film was written) – and he always had the then relatively inexperienced Bob Hoskins in mind for the central role of gangster Harold Shand; producer Barry Hanson had previously worked with Bob.

Barrie and Barry had a crucial script discussion with Bob shortly after he returned from filming Zulu Dawn in South Africa. They went to see him at the School of Tropical Medicine in London because he had managed to get ill with a 26-foot-long tapeworm inside him during the shooting. The film-making duo were told by medical staff not to get Bob excited about the Long Good Friday script because they were operating on him the next day and, if he got too excited, the tapeworm might split in two with dangerous consequences. Bob got excited but the tapeworm kept calm.

One format for film noirs is that the chief protagonist is a gangster who faces rivalry from another gangster. Barrie decided to make the opponent Harold Shand faces not a rival gangster with his own values but an opponent of an entirely different kind who does not share Shand’s values.

Perhaps mistakenly, Barrie revealed who that opponent was to the audience before last night’s screening and some members of the audience had not previously seen The Long Good Friday. A friend who was with me had not seen the movie before and told me afterwards that knowing whodunnit had not spoiled her enjoyment of the film (she said it was “brilliant”) but I still think audience ignorance is a good thing in The Long Good Friday.

The film was criticised by one newspaper for over-use of religious symbolism – in particular. the sequence in which one man is found crucified on a wooden warehouse floor. But, as Barrie explained, this was not uncommon as a punishment in London gangster circles at the time. As a young reporter on East End newspaper the Stratford Express, he was once sent to interview the victim of a crucifixion. The guy lay there in his hospital bed covered in bandages and, when Barrie asked him what had happened, his reply was: “It was a self-inflicted D.I.Y. accident.”

Barrie’s background was partly as a journalist on the Stratford Express during the heyday of the Kray Twins in 1960s London. As an innocent-eyed 18 year old, he once stood in the men’s toilet of an East End pub with notoriously violent and rampantly gay Ronnie Kray.

“Take a look at this,” Ronnie said to him standing at the urinal, looking down at his own groin. “Go on, son, look at this – the handle on it.”

Barrie reluctantly looked down.

It was a gun.

Barrie was relieved it was only a gun.

In The Long Good Friday, there is a scene in which a gangster is approached by a woman in black widow’s clothing who raises her veil and spits in his face. This was taken from a real incident in which a bereaved widow raised her veil and spat in Barrie’s face after he had pretended to be working for a newspaper rival of the Stratford Express.

After the screening, I was able to talk to Barrie briefly and ask if it was true that he had once been going to re-write John Osborne’s classic 1950s play The Entertainer with comedian Malcolm Hardee in the Laurence Olivier role.

“I wasn’t going to re-write it,” Barrie told me, “but we were going to adapt it to suit him.” He paused, then added: “But I don’t know what his discipline would have been like…”

Indeed.

Yes.

Indeed.

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Is Labour Party leader Ed Miliband the junkie twin of Shrek with some unprintable birth defect?

We live in a world where computer animation can do almost anything and I saw a BBC News Channel report last night in which a disabled human being could control the movements of his own wheelchair by his thoughts alone. But I think Pixar and/or Disney and the scientists have gone a step too far in creating a deformed cartoon character and making him leader of the Labour Party in the UK.

What has happened to the Labour Party’s image-control and PR sense and why are the media not talking about how just plain ugly and/or weird Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are? With the Conservative Party’s new-found PR confidence, Labour is now on a hiding to nothing.

Ed Miliband looks like a slightly slimmer, emotionally-distraught version of Shrek, stumbling about what to him is the alien world of Planet Earth.

Young Ed seems barely out of short trousers and looks like the type of slightly-swottish and humourless schoolboy who gets remorselessly picked-on by bullies. His equally alien-looking brother, the politically-deceased ex-Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was odd enough. He looked like an unholy cross between an unblinking starey-eyed zombie and an automaton from some 1920s German silent movie. I always half expected the front of his face to fall off revealing a mechanical interior, like Yul Brynner in Westworld.

Neither Miliband brother has any visible warmth. But Ed Miliband looks worse.

Yesterday, the coalition government did a u-turn when it announced it was not going to privatise 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in England. I have no more idea than anyone else what a hectare is – it sounds like a small woodland creature with long sticky-up ears – but it also sounds quite large; I mean the land area, not the woodland creature.

The point is that the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, stood up in the House of Commons in a light beige jacket with a light pastel scarf round her neck and said in a gently serious voice: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people’s concerns”.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, always a surprisingly unsympathetic speaker on TV when you consider he used to write for the TV satire show That Was The Week That Was, tried to criticise this as a “humiliating climbdown”.

Caroline Spelman said: “It is only humiliating if you are afraid to say sorry. We teach our children to say sorry.”

This is PR gold dust. It’s a brilliant piece of pre-prepared PR writing.

I have never understood why admitting you are doing a u-turn on a policy has been a no-go for all political parties for so many years. If you phrase the u-turn as a caring, listening, party-of-the-people apology and get the tone right, the public will lap it up.

On the other hand, if you get not just the policy but the party leader wrong, you are dead in the water.

On TV last night, I watched Ed Miliband try to mouth off about the coalition government’s change of policy and, as usual, I could not pay any attention to what he was actually saying because I was utterly mesmerised by his mouth.

When Gordon Brown first became Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had trouble listening to him because he appeared to have been trained to talk in easily-assimilated short phrases and mini-sentences by sticking his tongue into the inside of his cheek when the pauses had to be made. He gave new meaning to the phrase ‘sound bite’. He got slightly less obvious about this by the time he became our unelected Prime Minister, but it was still there and still slightly distracting at the time of his political demise.

Ed Miliband has desperately emotionless fish eyes which stare like someone who has just seen his entire family die in an intense house fire and his lips have a strange rubbery-out-of-control mind of their own. Last night I had no idea what he was saying. His lips had taken on a mad, OTT cartoon life of their own, separate from the rest of his face, as if drawn by a cartoonist on a very strong and very demented acid trip. His upper and lower lips moved around independent of each other and independent of his face, sometimes leaping sideways, upwards or downwards, unrelated to the sounds coming out.

Has he had some terrible accident or did he have some awful birth defect the media are too polite to tell us about? It is like we are watching a man with a mouth being attacked by Pixar and eyes added on by CGI from the shark in Jaws.

And don’t mention Ed Balls.

Firstly, how can any political party seriously expect to get votes from the notably humour-loving British public when their Shadow Chancellor is called Balls. But then, to add another impossible layer to their chances, Ed Balls – who looks not unlike Fred Flintstone forced to wear a second-hand business suit –  appears on TV to be a charisma-free zone who, like the Miliband brothers, tries not blink on camera – it’s a trick I think some politicians may have learned from Hitler’s filmed speeches. Hitler was an exceptionally good public speaker who had trained himself not to blink on camera to create an even greater aura of self-confidence. I read that Tony Benn copied this media trick of Hitler’s, though not his policies.

Ed Balls (unlike Hitler) has an emotionless feel and, although there’s not much he can do about being bulky, he fails to overcome this when he tries to smile with his eyes: it merely makes him look like a ‘heavy’ enforcer for some dodgy East End protection racket – and it’s slightly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s unfortunate and terrifying attempts to smile on camera.

Compare the dead-eyed Miliband brothers and Balls to the on-screen personas of Prime Minister David Cameron (slightly eager and well-meaning public school boy) and Chancellor George Osborne (a bit of a smug prefect from a family with no money worries, but probably efficient).

And add to all that the fact that the Conservatives landed on their feet when they had to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party.

The Conservatives faced a terrible future of having to make vastly unpopular financial cuts to basic services because of the state of the economy. But it turned out the coalition allowed them to deflect a large percentage of public anger onto the Lib-Dems

All three parties have problems, but the Conservatives have re-discovered their power over PR and image control. The Lib-Dems have a problem by seeming to go back on Election promises. But the Labour Party is in a worse position. It has lost its grip and has insurmountable problems until it dumps Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and finds some new acceptable face of socialism.

And, my dear, that gaunt look with the staring eyes! Heroin chic is just SO last century.

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