Tag Archives: fame

Rest in Peace: British showbiz legend Nicholas Parsons and other gentle men

Nicholas Parsons – much loved by generations of Brits

I was at a crematorium in Hampshire today. For a celebration of the life of my cousin’s husband, Michael. He was that seemingly rare thing: a kind, decent and gentle man. My cousin chose well marrying him.

When I left, within less than a minute of me switching on my phone again, there was a BBC newsflash that Nicholas Parsons had died, aged. 96.

And it started to rain.

Truly.

I grew up watching Nicholas Parsons on TV. He played the upper-class and slightly up-himself ‘posh’ foil/neighbour to Arthur Haynes’ working class character/tramp in a ratings-topping ITV comedy show The Arthur Haynes Show, written by Johnny Speight (before he created Till Death Us Do Part).

So, as a child, I suppose I thought of Nicholas Parsons as the character he played – a bit of a posh bloke thinking a bit too much of himself. Sort of a cliché actor type, if you see what I mean.

Later, when I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, I guess in the early 1970s, there was a story in the local Hampstead & Highgate Express about some girl who had been sexually attacked on Hampstead Heath and afterwards she went to the nearest house she found which, as it happened, was Nicholas Parsons’ home.

My memory is that she was effusive about how wonderful and helpful, how kind and considerate, caring and efficient he was, helping her with the police and so on.

I always thought much more of him after that – he was not just some posh sitcom actor/foil on a television show but a good person – a human being.

A few years later, I was working in the on-screen promotion department at Anglia TV in Norwich, where he fronted their big ITV ratings-getter Sale of the Century. (It was getting over 21 million viewers weekly.)

One way to rate TV ‘stars’ I always found was that, if they ate in the canteen with the plebs and the canteen ladies liked them, then they were OK as human beings. The canteen ladies at Anglia TV always liked Nicholas Parsons. (A parallel was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, early in their careers, in the Granada TV  canteen in Manchester.)

His TV gameshow was getting over 21 million viewers weekly

One day, Nicholas Parsons came into the promotion office at Anglia TV and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why – I think maybe he was asking advice or plugging some travel project he had – but he – the big Anglia and ITV Network star – was, as ever, amiable, modest and charming – not in a schmaltzy showbiz promotional way but in a genuinely normal person-to-person way.

His image was, I suppose, of a constantly-smiling, slightly cheesy, always ‘on’ old style showbiz star.

But, on the two occasions I briefly met him in the flesh, he was anything but that. He was, if I have to choose a naff but exactly true term, a ‘real’ person. It was impossible not to like him.

An unlikely meeting of minds in 2007…

The second time I briefly met him was when he was a guest on Janey Godley’s Chat Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I met him on the steep stone steps behind what had been the old Gilded Balloon, was at that time The Green Room venue and has since gone through various names.

He was, again, a charming, keen-to-please and keen-to-be-helpful, slightly frail gentle man. (He was 83 at the time and I thought to myself: He is going to pop his clogs soon… That was 13 years ago and he was still going strong last year!)

As a result of being a guest on that show, he – the seemingly definitive comfortable ‘Home Counties’ man – and Janey – the definitive tough wee East End Glaswegian – seemed to bond because, as I understand it, his parents had sent him to do manual work in the Glasgow shipyards in his youth to ‘toughen him up’. As a result, despite his image as ‘Home Counties Man’, I think he felt an affinity with working class Glaswegians.

Janey turned up multiple times later both on his own Edinburgh Fringe chat shows and on his long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. The BBC tried the format on TV in 1999, but it didn’t catch on there. It has been running on radio since 1967.

On her Facebook page this afternoon, Janey posted this tribute to him:


Just a Minute – Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas

#NicholasParsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of “us” he loved stand up.

The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that “lifted” our spirits at the Fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.

He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the Fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him


That is Janey’s opinion.

TV chat show host Graham Norton Tweeted this afternoon: “Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with. His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all!”

I can’t say, personally, that I have ever warmed to men as a species. I’m more of a cat person. Cats have a nobility and (if you feed them) an amiability that is usually sorely lacking in men.

So it is a very great loss when genuinely decent gentle men die.

Nicholas Parsons had three wildly successful, long-running, overlapping showbiz peaks – The Arthur Haynes Show, Sale of the Century and Just a Minute – and, quite rightly, memories of him are splattered all over TV and radio news, in print and on the internet.

My cousin’s husband Michael – whose memorial celebration was packed to standing room only in a small Hampshire town today – tried to follow the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

Michael lived his life to the full and added to it the other key ingredient: kindness. I think he and Nicholas Parsons shared that.

At the end of the celebration of Michael’s life today, the poem One At Rest by that prolific writer Anon was read out. It ends:

And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry.
Matters it now if time began
if time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all
and I am now at peace.

RIP Michael and Nicholas.

Or, as the Tralfamadorians would say:

So it goes.

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Stand-up comedians, death and fame – Who will be remembered and why?

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about reviving the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – I would not be involved in them. 

Of course, few people have ever heard of Malcolm Hardee.

Fame, as they say, is a fickle mistress.

In the UK, who were the biggest and most-loved comedians of the late-20th Century?

Probably Morecambe & Wise.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Haynes.

Before him? Maybe Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Lucan.

But, younger readers might ask, Who WERE these people?

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley and Arthur Lucan?

Never heard of them.

Come to that, who the fuck was Arthur Askey?

Certainly, if you are my devoted reader in Guatemala, you will never have heard of them.

But massively famous in their lifetime is what they all were. In the UK. But now forgotten by subsequent generations in the UK. And still totally unknown elsewhere. 

If you were born and brought up in China, India, Indonesia, the USA… none of those names ever meant anything even when they were at the height of their fame. Perhaps Benny Hill was more famous worldwide. There is a possibly apocryphal story that Chinese State Television interrupted their programming to announce his death. But do new generations remember him still in Shanghai or Guangzhou? I doubt it.

Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home in London, 1995

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ran at the Edinburgh Fringe 2005-2017. 

Not a lot of people know that. Certainly not in Guatemala or Guangzhou.

I mentioned during the conversation I had yesterday that I thought there was a chance – perhaps an outside chance – that Malcolm Hardee might be remembered in the UK for much longer than other comedians who were ‘famous’ during his lifetime and who are nationally known today.

Come to that, given current events, memories of Malcolm might outlive the very existence of the UK.

Malcolm was not famous when he was alive – infamous in certain areas, yes, perhaps, but never famous.

He was totally unknown by the general public unless you mentioned to people of a certain age The Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT in 1981 or 1982. Then they might remember the three-man act doing the perfomance; but not him individually. He was the one on the left.

His death in 2005 got lengthy obituaries in all the quality press but none in the popular tabloids. Because, although he was widely-known by the media and very influential in the comedy industry – Heavens! GQ even ran a fashion spread featuring Malcolm – not a man known for his sartorial elegance! – the general public didn’t know he existed.

My point yesterday was that the material and style of comedy acts date but vivid anecdotes of real people’s lives do not. 

In my opinion, Malcolm was not a good stand-up comedian. In fact, you could hardly call him a stand-up comedian at all. Though he was a superb and much-underestimated MC/compere. 

People always correctly said that Malcolm’s act was his life. He had maybe eight or ten jokes which he repeated over 20 or so years. But ask people about him and what do they remember first? Not the jokes but:

    • the fact that, naked, he drove a tractor through someone else’s act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
    • the fact that (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a good review of his own Edinburgh Fringe show and conned The Scotsman newspaper into printing it thinking it was written by their own reviewer.

If you see a stand-up comedy show from 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago, the material has dated; the style of delivery has dated; the physical look of the whole thing has dated. Even Morecambe & Wise shows, the last time I saw one, are starting to date. And, sadly, surprisingly, younger comedy fans do not find even Tommy Cooper as funny as those who saw him years ago.

Comedians’ acts and material date badly and relatively quickly.

But wildly eccentric OTT life stories and anecdotes about rebellious characters do not date.

If anyone ever fully collates the OTT anecdotes about recently-deceased comic Ian Cognito, there is another performer whose legend and personality were arguably greater than his impact on the general public.

The image which promoted the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in Edinburgh.

Successful comedians tend to be more mentally ‘together’ than the real wild card comics. People love the successful performers’ professional material, love their delivery. But they are less interesting off-stage.

When was the last time you heard a wildly eccentric anecdote about that brilliant on-stage performer Michael McIntyre doing something totally apeshit off-stage?

Malcolm Hardee could not walk from his home to the Post Office without five bizarre things happening to him – or causing bizarre things to happen.

Even the title of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (yes, he did) is OTT and the story of him stealing it will possibly still be funny decades hence, long after people have forgotten who, Freddie Mercury was.

Well, maybe that’s not true, because the off-stage Mercurial life story is a cracker too.

But my point is that anyone watching a 100% brilliant, top-notch Michael McIntyre routine… anyone watching an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, Monty Python or Fawlty Towers… anyone watching a Robin Williams routine… in 75 or 100 years time… may not find any of them funny because tastes will have changed and cultural tastes are different. Humour in the form of jokes and scripted funny routines does not necessarily transcend borders.

A joke that is funny in Indonesia may not make ‘em rock with laughter in Canada or Novosibirsk today. A joke or routine that is funny in London today may not be funny in London in 2099. But a bizarre anecdote about a man who “throughout his life maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences” (as Malcolm Hardee’s obituary in The Times said) is likely to outlive all the people who were more ‘famous’ than he was during his lifetime.

Malcolm Hardee – generally unknown during his lifetime and remembered by few since then – may yet outlive those who apparently achieved more during their lives. 

Lao Tzu is right that “the flame which burns twice as bright burns half as long”. But the flame which burns half as bright as those around it is still just as 100% hot when you stick your finger in it and yet may burn twice as long.

Of course, if you’re dead, it doesn’t do you any good so, as Malcolm himself would have said: “Fuck it!”

Or: “It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over… Round the edge… fish.”

RIP the unknown comic, Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005.

I know someone is going to mention that Charlie Chaplin is remembered fairly worldwide. But I don’t care and I never found him funny anyway. And I am already regretting the line about sticking your finger in…

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Massages, Molly Ringwald & musicians

Flame-haired, mysteriously-banned Anna Smith in Vancouver

Just over a week agothis blog’s Canadian correspondent Anna Smith was explaining she had been banned for life from massaging musicians at the Vancouver Folk Festival – and no-one would tell her why. Today, I got an update from her:

“The Folk Festival still hasn’t said why they won’t let me massage musicians, except to say that their committees and administration have been having meetings about me and they all agree that I broke their code of ethics…

“They sent me their code of ethics (which is a lot shorter than Hammurabi’s code) and the main rules seem to be about drunkenness with the interesting detail that, if a volunteer is drinking in the beer tents, they have to remove their volunteer identification badges while so doing…

“When I was there before, I was too busy massaging musicians to find out where the beer tents were even located… I will try to write them a third query letter tomorrow and then maybe their committees will hold another meeting about me.

“I am thinking that if I start a petition for Canadian musicians to sign – to say that I should be allowed to give them massages – then I probably could get quite a number of them to agree… like probably all of them!

The Breakfast Club (1985) with Molly Ringwald (bottom)

“Have people in Britain heard of the American actress Molly Ringwald?”

“Yes,” I told Anna. “The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and all that. But why?”

This is the reply I got from Anna:


I had never heard of her until one day in the early 1990s when I was sent to a hotel in Vancouver to do a massage and it was her, but I didn’t know who she was. I thought she was probably the daughter of some rich dentist in L.A. because she was wearing very expensive sunglasses and had perfect teeth.

That is not unusual. Most massueses meet celebrities.

Anyhow, she seemed to like that I had never heard of her and it was funny. She said: “Oh well… I’m in Vanity Fair this month.”

She was really nice. After the massage, we talked a bit and then she showed me her computer. She was the first person to show me the internet .

Then she invited me to her film set which was on location in Stanley Park. She had me stand with the director and watch her act. She was playing a villain and the script called for her to angrily light a cigarette. The wind was playing up and making it impossible for her to light it, so the crew started murmuring: “She needs a Zippo”.

Eventually the director was forced to ask through his megaphone: “Is there a Zippo on the set?”

Someone produced one and it was passed to her and filming continued. It was funny because it was like a Zippo commercial.

Molly Ringwald in Greece in 2010 (Photograph by Pgianopoulos)

She invited me to her own trailer and to her makeup trailer and a few days later she took me out for dinner at Le Crocodile, the best French restaurant in Vancouver. I told her she would have to pay, since I had a baby at home.

She said: “Order whatever you want.”

So I ordered a seafood dish and she ordered her dinner and a bottle of wine which we shared. We stayed there quite late talking and, when the cheque arrived, I was horrified because it was around $500.

She said: ”Don’t worry. It must have been the wine.”

She gave me her address in Paris and told me to come and visit her… but I never did.

Now Molly Ringwald has become a jazz singer (her dad is also a musician).

Mainly I remember how she was so nice to me. She didn’t have to be.

I am just remembering this because of being banned from massaging musicians.

I can’t decide if I should get photographed with my hands tied with gigantic red tape or start the musicians’ petition to allow me to massage them – or both.

I can’t completely rely on the musicians because some won’t want to jeopardize their jobs at the festival so I will have to ask the ones who don’t care…

A Zippo lighter cannot solve all problems

Really, they should WANT me to be there. I have been warning everybody about the new incurable gonorrhoea that The World Health Organization has described recently. The sex workers are calling it Super Clap and reminding everyone that condoms have no substitute.

I had some problems sending out the Super Clap warnings by email though. They were being diverted and marked as spam because they contained the word ‘warning’.

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The new Krays movie – at what point do facts in real events become Legend?

A piece of street graffiti in London’s Easy End last week, promoting the release of the Krays movie Legend

A piece of street graffiti in London’s East End last week, promoting the release of the Krays’ Legend

At what point can you make up facts in a movie about real events, the actual facts of which are well-known and within living memory?

I saw Legend last night: the new movie about the Kray Twins.

Legend - the movie poster for The Krays

The British movie poster promoting the Krays’ movie Legend

The film plays fast and loose with the widely-known facts, which totally threw my suspension of disbelief – especially for me as one of the central threads holding the plot together is the ‘love affair’ between Reggie Kray and his eventual wife Frances.

For a description of the actual relationship between Reggie and Frances, you could read my September 2014 blog chat with the Krays’ close associate Micky Fawcett.

For the actual background to the shooting of George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub by Ronnie Kray, you might want to read my blog of July 2013.

For a description of the actual killing of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie (I presume based on the court case evidence but which strangely omits the mis-firing gun) you could read the Daily Telegraph’s August 2000 piece.

And for details of police corruption and Ronnie Kray’s psychopathy, you might read my blog of October 2013.

The Krays were arrested in 1968 and imprisoned in 1969 – so they were active roughly 50 years ago.

Billy The Kid (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1881 and the first major film made about him was in 1930 – 50 years after his death. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Jesse James (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1882. In 1921, two movies were made with Jesse James Jnr playing his father; but the first major film about his life was in 1939 – almost 60 years after the events. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

The events depicted in Legend are within living memory – I am old enough to remember the shooting in the Blind Beggar being reported on BBC TV News. So it is very dodgy to change facts – even though filmgoers in the US are unlikely to have heard of The Krays. So I do not know the answer.

At what point does embroidering the facts of real events within living memory totally screw belief in a movie? And at what point in time does it not matter?

At what point does the legend take over and the facts become irrelevant?

There is that well-known 19th century newspaper saying:  “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Except, of course, it is not a real saying. It was something scripted in the 1962 movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and now people think it is some real saying from way way back.

There is a famous TV interview with the Kray Twins which is on YouTube.

.

 

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Why I am named in the Daily Star today

Flyerer Blanche Cameron behind the fame of Lewis Schaffer

Blanche Cameron chooses to hide her light under a Lewis-Schaffer-flyer-shaped bushel

Fame is strange and not necessarily welcome.

I was working at Granada TV in Manchester when the station decided to move its announcers from voice-over to on-screen. One day, I was wandering along the street with an announcer who was unenthusiastic about the upcoming change.

“I don’t want people to recognise me when I buy my underpants in Marks & Spencer,” he told me.

I am quite happy living in a Facebook world. In this blog yesterday I mentioned a Facebook Friend of mine who met me and, quite reasonably, did not recognise me because we had never met.

That’s fine with me. I think it is good no-one I don’t know recognises me except occasionally when, by a process of elimination – There’s an abnormally old man in the room – they may twig I’m that blogger bloke with whom they are Facebook Friends.

Yesterday, before Mel Moon’s Sick Girl show started, I was chatting to a stranger in the audience and someone in the row behind us asked if I was that bloke who did the Grouchy Club Podcasts with Kate Copstick – he had recognised my voice.

I found this simultaneously surprising and unnerving.

Which gets us to the newspapers today.

Edinburgh Fringe stunt When does an Fringe stunt overstep the mark?

When does a Fringe stunt overstep the mark?

In this blog three days ago, I mentioned a stunt in the Cowgate in which two people dangled on a trapeze under George IV Bridge, high above the Cowgate, as pedestrians and cars passed underneath. They did it – risking their own lives and possibly the lives of those underneath – to publicise a show. To create fame.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News today, they “could now face a police investigation over their ‘excessively dangerous’ performance amid claims that their actions crossed a line and ‘could have been lethal’.”

In 2006, the Evening News reports, “student Kate Flannery was left temporarily paralysed and suffered a fractured skull” after she was hit by a traffic cone thrown from George IV Bridge 60 feet down onto the Cowgate.

Two human bodies falling 60 feet onto other people or onto the windscreen of a passing vehicle would obviously have an even more dramatic impact.

Daily Star - Cilla & Barrymore

Today’s Daily Star – a result of my blog

Also in the papers today, I am quoted in the Daily Star in a brief piece about alleged rivalry between Cilla Black and Michael Barrymore at London Weekend Television. This piece came about because the reporter had read my blog of exactly a week ago.

I suspect any rivalry they had was as nothing compared to some acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, where yesterday one comic told me about their posters mysteriously being taken down. A rival comic is suspected.

Ah, Infamy! Infamy!… etc etc

Fame is transient and often localised.

Yesterday, waiting to go into Louise Reay’s show It’s Only Words, I bumped into Sara Mason, who is sharing a flat with Louise. Sara’s own jaw-dropping show is titled (entirely truthfully) Burt Lancaster Pierced My Hymen (When I Was 11).

Sara Mason - Burt Lancaster poster

That is Burt NOT Tinky Winky on the right

It is directed by Dave Thompson, who played Tinky Winky in the children’s TV series Teletubbies. This is mentioned on the posters and flyers.

Sara told me: “More people know Tinky Winky now than know Burt Lancaster. More than one person has seen the picture of Burt Lancaster on my flyer and asked: Ooh! Did he play Tinky Winky? They don’t even recognise Burt Lancaster’s face.”


I was scheduled to see seven shows yesterday. These are five of them.

Mel Moon: Sick Girl
Faultless, perfect Fringe story. Warmth, laughter and potential death (potentially even during the actual performance) from a horrendous disease which continues to afflict Mel.

Louise Reay: It’s Only Words
So good I’ve now seen it twice. More than a stand-up show – performed totally in Chinese – an experiment in how visual perception overwhelms verbal communication. Very very funny. Especially for lovers of EastEnders. A triumph of charisma and eye movements.

Christian Talbot: Cheaper Than Therapy
Basically, a load of comics sitting upstairs in Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus venue talking in fascinating detail about the reality of being comedians. Last night’s subject was ‘nerves’. Sadly, tonight’s show is the last one.

Gary Meikle: Dysfunctionally In Order
Highly efficient Scottish stand-up. Anyone whose flyer has a recommendation from Janey Godley is always worth seeing. I have a feeling there is a humdinger of a confessional show lurking in there somewhere which was only glimpsed last night. He is clearly a very good club comic. I suspect he could also be an exceptional weaver of 60-minute Fringe shows.

Madame Señorita; ¿Eres Tú?

Madame Señorita; ¿Eres Tú?

Madame Señorita: ¿Eres Tú?
I saw this show. I cannot tell you what it was about. Showman Adam Taffler persuaded me to see it on the basis he knew “a fucking crazy Spanish lady” – Paula Valluerca – Madame Señorita.

Mad, surreal and OTT does not even begin to describe the show. And possibly her.

She won Best Female Act at the London Solo Festival in 2013 and Best Theatre Play at the 2015 Carabanchel en Escena Festival in Madrid.

Do not say I didn’t warn you.

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How Cilla Black re-invented herself, courtesy of Terry Wogan, in 1983

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Daily Mirror announces Cilla’s death

Cilla Black died two days ago. So it goes.

I worked as a researcher on her Surprise! Surprise! series at London Weekend Television. I cannot honestly say I was enamoured of her. I think she was the only star I have ever worked with who behaved like a star. But she was worth every penny she earned. On screen she was brilliantly the girl and later auntie next door.

In the 1960s, Cilla was a pop star, then her career faded. In the 1970s, BBC TV producer Michael Hurll re-invented her as a mainstream, peaktime entertainment presenter on BBC TV’s Cilla. Then her career faded. Then, in the 1980s, Alan Boyd of LWT re-invented her as an ITV entertainment presenter on Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

In a TV tribute yesterday, comic Jimmy Tarbuck mentioned a TV interview in 1983 which revitalised her career. I asked writer and broadcaster Nigel Crowle about that interview with Terry Wogan on the TV chat show Wogan.

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith

Nigel Crowle (left) with the Amazing Mr Smith at TVS, 1988 (Photograph by John Ward)

Nigel later wrote for People Do The Funniest Things and Beadle’s About. He wrote the lyrics for Oscar-nominated animated film Famous Fred; and Baas – an animated kids’ show about sheep for Al Jazeera TV. With David Walliams and Simon Heath, he co-devised Ant & Dec’s first show for BBC TV. In 1996, it won BAFTAs for Best Children’s Show & Best Sketch Comedy.

Over the years, he has written scripts, links and sketches for performers including Mel Brooks, Basil Brush, the Chuckle Brothers, Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Jack Lemmon, Joan Rivers, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant and Terry Wogan.

“In 1983,” he told me yesterday, “I was a researcher on the Wogan show. I had never done anything like that before – researching. I had suddenly gone from promotion scriptwriting to this world of celebrities where you had to go and interview people and ask them all the questions that a chat show host would.”

“Yes,” I said. “When I was working at the BBC, I once saw the research notes for some major film star who was to be interviewed on the Michael Parkinson chat show and the researcher (in the US) had basically done a full interview in advance – all the questions; all the answers.”

Nigel with some of his children’s books

Nigel later wrote several children’s books

“What happened with Cilla,” Nigel explained, “was that Marcus Plantin, my producer on Wogan, said to me: This week, you’re going to do Cilla Black. I remember saying: Really? She’s a bit yesterday’s news! I didn’t think she was any great shakes as a singer. But he said: No, no no. She’s up for revitalising her career. She had just brought out her Greatest Hits album – she was promoting it on the show.

“Marcus said to me: Go down and see Michael Hurll – he was the one who used to produce all her shows. Michael told me a few anecdotes about going and knocking on the doors – with live cameras! – they used to do a lot in the Shepherd’s Bush flats behind BBC Television Centre. It was real seat-of-your-pants stuff, going out live on television. And I asked him what she was like and he said: Well, y’know, she’s OK. She’s fine. She can be a bit of a perfectionist.

“Some people,” I said, “have used the word diva.”

On-screen, as I said, I thought she was worth every penny she was paid. Every inch a star.

There is a clip on YouTube of Cilla singing Life’s a Gas with Marc Bolan on her Michael Hurll-produced TV series.

“Anyway,” said Nigel, “come the day, I have to meet her and, obviously, Bobby (her husband/manager) was there. We went to one of the star dressing rooms on the ground floor at Telly Centre. In her day – the 1970s – she would have been there, so coming back must have felt to her a bit like Oh, I used to be big. She must have felt a bit Sunset Boulevardy, maybe.

“But we sat down, talked about her early life, how she started and she was very open. And also she was very, very, very funny. Absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches. The moment I finished doing the interview with her, I knew this was her moment – again. I went home and told my wife Mel: I was totally wrong. Cilla is SO going to storm it on Saturday.”

“You had originally thought,” I asked, “that she might not be interesting?”

Cilla Black became cuddly girl/auntie next door

“I really had thought she was past it – and this was in 1983! I thought she’d had her moment… She had had two bites of the cherry – the 1960s as a pop star and the 1970s as an engaging TV personality. Now, come 1983, she was just trying to flog her Greatest Hits album.

“Going on Wogan had maybe seemed like an act of desperation, but it wasn’t. It was a clinical assault on stardom – again – and – My God! – it absolutely worked! She made her career that night – revitalised it. She was terrific.

“She did the show (there is a clip on YouTube) and she was hilarious and the audience were absolutely loving her. She did all the stories about John Lennon and she was big mates with Ringo – I think there was a family connection. Paul McCartney wrote Step Inside Love for her. She did all the nostalgia about the 1960s and then what it was like being a Liverpudlian and that is really what engaged people. She came across as the girl next door.

“We recorded the show on the Friday and it went out on the Saturday night. As I understand it, on the Sunday morning, Alan Boyd (Head of Entertainment at LWT) phoned her up. I think Jim Moir (Head of Light Entertainment at BBC TV) was waiting until Monday morning to phone her up but, by that time, it was too late. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that, on the Monday morning, Marcus Plantin was saying: Well, the Beeb missed a trick there. And she went to LWT for Surprise! Surprise! and Blind Date.

The panto Nigel Crowle wrote for Cilla

Jack and Cilla and Beanstalk, but no giant

“By that time, I was ‘in’ with Michael Hurll and I wrote a panto for her – Jack and The Beanstalk at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Michael told me: We’ve spent most of the budget on Cilla. So much so that we have not got enough money for a giant. We’ll do it all as an off-stage voice. So we did Jack and the Beanstalk without a giant.”

“Did you have a beanstalk?” I asked.

“We had one which kind of fell on stage when the giant… We had a pair of giant boots. The character Fleshcreep was played by Gareth Hunt. She had a sword fight with him. After it ended, she went to the front of the stage with Fleshcreep lying on the floor with her sword at his throat and she asked the audience: What shall I do with him, kiddies? Each day, they would all shout: Kill him! Kill him! So then she would ask them: How shall I kill him? And, one day, a kid in the front row just yelled out: Sing to him!”

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I said. “When I worked at LWT, I remember someone told me you should always avoid mentioning what size car Michael Barrymore had to pick him up or share the information about the cars with anyone because, if Cilla ever found out – and vice versa. There was rumoured to be a bit of rivalry.”

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

LWT (now ITV) building on the River Thames in London (Photograph by John-Paul Stephenson)

“I was told,” said Nigel, “there was a little bit of jiggery-pokery about where the pictures were. When Cilla came out of the lift on the Entertainment floor at LWT, she had to see the Cilla picture on the wall there, rather than the Barrymore picture.”

“Did they move them around?” I asked.

“I think there was probably a bit of that,” said Nigel. “Certainly I heard the cars mentioned. And the worry that, if you had Barrymore and Cilla doing a show at the LWT studios on the same night, who would get the star dressing room? Because there was just one star dressing room.”

“But,” I said, “on-screen she was wonderful. Worth every penny. And she reinvented her career so successfully.”

“Yes,” said Nigel. “Well, what was incredible was not that she had these peaks and troughs in her career but that the peaks were SO high. Everyone in Britain knew who Cilla was. Everybody could do a Cilla impression. That is real fame.”

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A Tale of Three Women in Showbiz

No 1: ANNA SMITH IN VANCOUVER

This morning, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional correspondent Anna Smith. She lives on a boat in Vancouver. The e-mail went like this:

Anna Smith last night, "after three days of sleeping on a psychiatrist’s couch"

Anna Smith – surprised by her good luck with The Penthouse

One day this week, I heard on the radio that an 80-foot fishing boat had capsized downriver from me, so I biked down to Shelter Island. The captain told me that, at four in the morning he had heard a gurgling sound. An hour later, he and his girlfriend scrambled to safety.

That is why relaxation tapes don’t work for me… They always have the sound of running water and, when I hear that, I get totally stressed and think: Oh fuck! The boat is sinking.”

The most relaxing place to me is a shitty hotel room. Because I worked for so many years as a stripper in places like that. So, when I’m in a place like that I feel relaxed as if I am going to be paid a bunch of money at the end of the week for lying around reading and eating well and getting dressed up sexy and taking my clothes off a few times a day to my favourite music.

I danced at The Penthouse here in the 1980s and will be doing a striptease dance there again tomorrow night. The show is a fundraiser for The Vancouver Dyke March.  There are fifteen strippers and drag kings on the bill.

My friends are all amazed that I am doing a show at The Penthouse and are asking me: “How did you swing that?” and congratulating me, even though I haven’t done it yet!

It was just a lucky circumstance that I was asked to do it.

A friend was going to the 15th anniversary of Crema and her partner. Crema is a Vancouver drag king. She came out of retirement last year to do a show at Celebrities Night Club, at the celebration of life for Jim Deva.

She did a fantastic  show, lip-syncing to Tom Jones’ Delilah and I was amazed that scores of women were rushing up and tipping her with bills.

Penthouse_Vancouver_CUT

The Penthouse: site of a triumphant return

So, when my friend invited me to the anniversary party I tagged along. because I had never met Crema. The other guests were all dykes wearing hockey jerseys – half were in Vancouver Canucks jerseys and the other half in Calgary Flames ones.

I got into conversation with one of the Flames and I mentioned having been a stripper and, straight away, she asked if I could perform at The Penthouse. So, of course I said Yes

She quickly said “Its for dykes…” and I said “That’s alright!”

So that is what I am doing tomorrow night.

No 2 & No 3: JULIETTE BURTON IN LONDON

Yesterday afternoon, I had tea with actress and former BBC Broadcast Journalist Juliette Burton. She moved down from Edinburgh to London in January and, yesterday, had just come from a meeting at a TV station to discuss a new project. This is what she told me:

Juliette burton - coming soon as supreme

Juliette Burton – coming to the screen soon as Supermum

The whole point of being closer to London was to get more screen opportunities. I’m missing Edinburgh a lot, but it would be great to get more screen roles. I’m actively seeking more film roles – short film roles, screen roles of any kind.

So pimp me out, John, please! Pimp me for film roles only… nothing else… yet. We need to see how bad things get before we resort to that.

Anyway… I had this very important TV meeting today and I fell over going into the building. My toe has now doubled in size and is turning blue. A part of my anatomy doubling in size and turning blue. Is that attractive?

I was late for the meeting today – I never am normally – so I grabbed a taxi… I pushed the boat out and grabbed a cab. I know the metaphor doesn’t make sense in a landlocked city like London. I was nowhere near the Thames but anyway… The taxi driver was a chatty one and he told me he had had another woman in his cab recently.

He took her and her friends around London and chatted to her and she asked whether he could take her to the airport the next morning. So he did.

On that journey, he asked what she was doing here.

“I’m in London and Paris shooting for a commercial,” she told him.

Apparently she was very pretty – he told me that a few times.

He thought maybe she was a model as well as an actress.

Charlize Theron Wikipedia Photo By Gage Skidmore

The woman in the back of the London cab (Photograph by Gage Skidmore)

She was getting her plane home to LA.

“What do you do in LA?” he asked.

“I’m an actress.”

So then he spent the entire journey slagging off actors he didn’t like and telling her who was shit and overpaid. Apparently she was giggling away in the back.

At the airport he told her: “Good luck with the acting career. What’s your name? I’ll look out for you.”

Charlize Theron,” she told him.

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