Tag Archives: fame

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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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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Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

Two Jack The Ripper tours on opposite sides of the same street last night

Two competing Jack The Ripper tours huddle together on opposite sides of the street in London’s East End last night

Last night, I was in the area where Jack The Ripper killed at least five women 127 years ago.

Now he is a legend. He is more famous worldwide than any 19th century British Prime Minister. Last night, I may have counted some twice – though I do not think I did – but there were at least sixteen Jack The Ripper guided tours going round the area.

The gap between despised villain and fascinating legend becomes ever shorter. With 1950s and 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins, we are still close enough to see the legend being built.

The teaser trailer for the latest film about the Krays – Legendwas released last week. It got 2,067,569 hits in its first two days online.

Yesterday afternoon, I met Micky Fawcett, an associate of The Krays, who wrote the book Krayzy Days about his time with them (and much else)

Odd shot - After leaving their family home, the Krays lived in a council flat - and buildings were not this high in the 1960s.

Odd teaser – After leaving their family home, the Krays lived in a council flat – and buildings were not this high in 1960s.

Micky did not think much of the Legend teaser trailer. I too thought the selling line about the Twins “ruling” London was a wild exaggeration. Mickey saw more detailed quirks: apparently, in reality, Ronnie Kray never wore spectacles outside his home.

Then the subject came up of Frank’ The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell.

Some of what follows is taken from Wikipedia, so the facts are (a) in the public domain and (b) as they are from Wikipedia, not necessarily true.

That is one of the things about legends.

They are not necessarily true.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

‘Mad axeman’ Frank Mitchell

‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell in happy days

From the age of 17 Mitchell was regularly incarcerated in borstals and prisons, mostly for shop-breaking and larceny. In prison, Mitchell was “a thorn in the flesh of authority”. His sentences were characterised by violence against guards and fellow inmates and he was punished with the birch and the cat o’ nine tails.

He slashed a guard across the face and was charged with attempted murder after attacking an inmate he believed had informed on him; he was later acquitted. 

In 1955, he was diagnosed as ‘mentally defective’ and sent to the Rampton psychiatric hospital. Two years later Mitchell escaped with another inmate and they attacked a man with an iron bar before stealing his clothes and money.

When he was recaptured, Mitchell attacked police with two meat cleavers and was sent to Broadmoor. He escaped again, broke into a private home and held a married couple hostage with an axe, for which he was nicknamed ‘The Mad Axeman’ in the press.


Micky’s Krayzy Days remembered

Micky’s Krayzy Days were lived to full

Micky told me: “He was in Broadmoor first off and he escaped – I don’t know how. What happened was he broke into a cottage and there were a couple of old people in there and he picked up an axe and said: Now, behave yourself.”

“He never used the axe?” I asked.

‘No. I’m not saying he was a saint. He was an idiot. But he didn’t want to go back to Broadmoor. He wanted to go in a prison.

“There was a feller called Tom Bryant who used to come in the Double-R Club (which the Kray Twins owned). He wrote for The People newspaper. He was always in the Double-R.”

“To pick up stories?” I asked.

“Probably. After that incident with the axe, Tom Bryant nicknamed Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’.

“And, after that, it was Keep away from Tom Bryant. The day before, he was a friend. But after he called Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ it was a case of: Frank Mitchell is a friend of ours. Keep away from Tom Bryant.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

In October 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with violence.


Micky Fawcett in the May Fair Hotel yesterday

Micky Fawcett photographed in the May Fair Hotel recently

Micky told me: “I went down to Dartmoor Prison to meet somebody else and they said: Frank Mitchell never gets any visitors.

“This is a long time – many years – before anything happened to him.

“So I met him. He was quite nice, an ordinary sort of feller… He was not very bright, but quite a pleasant sort of type. He said to the screw (prison warder): Look after Micky. It was like he was threatening the screw. He said: Micky’s a friend of ours now, right? Do you understand?

“And the screw, sounding slightly scared went: Yeah, alright Frank. OK Frank. Keep calm.”

We now enter ‘six degrees of separation’ territory here.

Johnny Edgecombe in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life

In a 2013 blog, Harry Rogers told me that his chum Johnny Edgecombe (who precipitated the Profumo sex scandal) had shared a cell with Frank Mitchell in Dartmoor and that “everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the screws. He was like an animal.”

Micky told me: “They used to have work parties at Dartmoor: like a chain gang thing. Quarrying. But Frank used to tell the screws I’ll be in the pub and he used to go off to the local pub and have a drink.”

I said to Micky: “I thought Dartmoor Prison was isolated, in the middle of nowhere.”

“It is.” said Micky.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Dartmoor Prison

Dartmoor Prison – it’s a long way to the nearest public house

Mitchell was sent to Dartmoor prison in 1962 and, whilst there, his behaviour improved. He kept budgerigars and was transferred to the honour party, a small group of trustee inmates who were allowed to work outside the prison walls with minimal supervision. Mitchell was permitted to roam the moors and feed the wild ponies and even visited nearby pubs. On one occasion he caught a taxi to Okehampton to buy a budgerigar. The governor of the prison promised Mitchell that if he stayed out of trouble he would recommend to the Home Office that he be given a release date. Four years later, Mitchell was aggrieved that he had still not received one.

Mitchell had befriended Ronnie Kray when they served a sentence together at Wandsworth Prison in the 1950s. During Mitchell’s trial for attempted murder, Ron hired a lawyer for him and paid for him to have a new suit fitted. Ron was keen on breaking Mitchell out of prison, thinking it would help him to publicise his grievance and earn a release date, as well as enhance the Krays’ standing in the underworld. Reg Kray recalled that he was reluctant, but finally reasoned that “if nothing else, it would stick two fingers up to the law”.


Micky told me: “The big story is that The Twins ‘sprung’ Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor. But all they did was say to someone: Can you just go down and pick Frank up – and he just walked out, got in the car and came to London.”


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Teddy Smith in the 1960s, shortly before he did not die

Teddy Smith in the 1960s: a man in the car at Dartmoor

On 12 December 1966, while with a small work party on the moors, Mitchell asked the sole guard for permission to feed some nearby Dartmoor ponies. His request was granted, he walked over to a quiet road where a getaway car containing associates of the Krays – Albert Donoghue, ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith and Billy Exley – was waiting for him, and they drove to London, where the Krays put him up in a flat in Barking, East Ham. It was over five hours before Mitchell was reported missing.

Mitchell’s escape made national news, led to a political storm over the lax security around a man described in the press as ‘Britain’s most violent convict’, and was debated in the house of Commons. A large manhunt ensued, with 200 policemen, 100 Royal Marines and a Royal Air Force helicopter searching the moors.


Micky told me: “It was mad the way the whole thing went and he got shot in the end in the way that he did. Poor old Frank Mitchell.”

“This,” I said, “is Brown Bread Fred in the back of a van?”

“Yes,” said Micky. “The most horrible part about it was that I think it was Albert Donoghue who said that, as they came over Bow bridge, Frank said: Oh, I’d like to go down there. Me dad and all me family are in Bow. And they told him: No, you can’t go there; we’re taking you to Barking. Or it might have been East Ham. That was his last journey. That’s horrible. 

“Because really he was just a big bicycle thief. (At the age of 9 he stole a bicycle from another child, for which he was taken before a juvenile court and put on probation.)


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Freddie Foreman’s autobiography

Freddie Foreman’s 2007 autobiography

Mitchell soon became a problem for the Krays. Owing to his physical strength and short temper, he was difficult to control. He was unwilling to give himself up and return to prison, and was not allowed to leave the flat in case he was recognised. Effectively, he had traded one prison cell for another. The Krays feared releasing him or turning him in as he could implicate them in his escape. Mitchell felt insulted that Reg had only visited him in person once and was particularly upset that he could not visit his parents, despite them living nearby. He grew increasingly agitated and began making threats against the Krays. The Krays decided the only solution was to kill him.

On 24 December 1966, Mitchell was led into the back of a van by Albert Donoghue, thinking he was to be taken to a safe house in the countryside where he would meet up with Ron Kray. Waiting in the van were several men, among them Freddie Foreman and Alfie Gerrard, who were armed with revolvers. Once the van doors were closed and the engine started, they opened fire on Mitchell, killing him. Donoghue thought that 12 shots were fired before Mitchell died. His body was never recovered.


Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray as photographed by David Bailey in the 1960s

Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray, photographed by David Bailey

I said to Micky: “There was a story the Krays knew someone with a boat in a seaside town and bodies would be dumped over the side, weighed down and wrapped in chicken wire so, when they rotted and/or fish ate them, large bits of body would not float to the surface.”

“That’s not true,” said Micky.

“No?” I asked.

“You don’ t want to know,” he told me.

“I do.’

“You don’t.”

“I do want to know, provided it doesn’t involve names.”

“Exactly,” said Micky.


WIKIPEDIA SAYS:

Albert Donoghue’s 1996 autobiography

Albert Donoghue’s 1996 autobiography

In 1968, the Krays and various accomplices were arrested and put on trial for an array of offences, including the murder of Frank Mitchell. Their attempt to cajole gang member Albert Donoghue into confessing to killing Mitchell led to him becoming a crown witness and testifying against them. Ron, Reg and Charlie Kray and Freddie Foreman were all acquitted of Mitchell’s murder, due to lack of evidence and the perceived unreliability of Donoghue’s testimony.

Reg Kray was found guilty of conspiring to effect Mitchell’s escape from Dartmoor, for which he received a five-year sentence to run concurrently with his other sentences. Donoghue and another Firm member, John Dickson, pleaded guilty to harbouring Mitchell and respectively received 18-month and 9-month sentences.

Freddie Foreman’s 1996 autobiography

Freddie Foreman’s 1996 autobiography

In his 1996 autobiography Respect, Foreman admitted to shooting Mitchell as a favour to the Krays.

Donoghue said Foreman was paid £1,000 for it.

Foreman was arrested and questioned by police after repeating his confession in a 2000 television documentary, but the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not be re-opening the case due to the then extant Double Jeopardy law.

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Advice to people who think they are – or want to be – famous. Who was Skirrow?

Me and Eric Morecambe on the seafront in happier days (Photo by M-E-U-F)

Me and Eric Who on Morecambe seafront.(Photograph by M-E-U-F)

This is a blog about someone who is long dead and about whom I know almost nothing.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, performer/promoter Bob Slayer was speaking to a young comedy reviewer. The reviewer had never seen a Morecambe & Wise TV show… and had never even heard of Morecambe & Wise. This is true.

In the early 1960s, Arthur Haynes was the most famous and most successful comedy performer in Britain.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Morecambe & Wise TV shows were the biggest ongoing successes on British TV.

If you are British, NOT in the comedy industry and under a certain age,  you have probably never heard of Arthur Haynes. Or Arthur Askey. Or Tommy Handley. Or Dan Leno.

If you are not from Britain and living outside Britain, you have almost certainly heard of none of them.

Unless you are famous in China and in India, you are statistically an unknown. And people famous in China and India are usually unknown in the rest of the world.

So…

I stumbled on two separate synopses of the same 1967 novel titled I Was Following This Girl by someone called Desmond Skirrow.

Desmond Skirrow’s book

One cover selling Skirrow’s book

SYNOPSIS ONE
John Brock spends one sunny September day following the richest and most beautiful girl in the world. This simple job becomes less simple as the days go by and he meets such unsavoury characters as a hairy-headed mystic, a sinister yokel with a ferret up his jumper, and a whispering super from the Special Branch.

SYNOPSIS TWO
Tough British adman Brook, who does occasional jobs for our Intelligence, is assigned to protect exquisite young American billionairess from rich variety of enemies including phoney psychedelic prophet, mad lesbian karate expert and giant one-legged Cotswold rustic who prefers a ferret to a pistol.

Apparently Desmond Skirrow was a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies including McCann Erickson and Masius Wynne-Williams. He was born in either 1923 or 1924 and died in 1976.

He wrote five novels in three years.

Desmond Skirrow - maybe

A photo of Desmond Skirrow – maybe. Or not

I Was Following This Girl is the second of three tongue-in-cheek spy novels he wrote in the late 1960s about a fictional British agent named John Brock.

The other Brock novels were It Won’t Get You Anywhere (1966) and I’m Trying to Give It Up (1968)

Before the Brook novels, he wrote a children’s book The Case of the Silver Egg (which was televised in 1966 as The Queen Street Gang). He wrote another novel, Poor Quail (1969), about an advertising executive’s move to the countryside,

In I Was Following This Girl, the girl John Brock is following is called Kiki Kondor. The blurbs failed to point out that the giant one-legged Cotswold rustic walks with a crutch and is called Satan Smith.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

Another cover for the Desmond Skirrow book

Differing book cover view of Skirrow’s I Was Following This Girl

“Desmond Skirrow has such a lively way with words that nobody is apt to complain that I Was Following This Girl is in essence a fairly ordinary conventional thriller about exposing a sinister politico-financial cult. There’s plenty of action and the plotting is ingenious and inventive; but the real delight of the book is the quirky narrative.”

Desmond Skirrow wrote of advertising agencies: “They are great carpeted palaces of little problems and big solutions, filled with loose minds in tight dresses.”

He was, as I said, “a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies”. He sounds like an interesting man.

Some people are remembered. Some are forgotten. He is forgotten.

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley, Morecambe & Wise, the biggest entertainment names of their time are not just forgotten but were never known in China.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

So it goes.

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How ex-garbage handler Bruce Dessau owes his career as a comedy critic to the ‘uninteresting’ comedian Stewart Lee

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

In yesterday’s blog, highly-regarded London Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau defended his profession. But how did he become a comedy critic?

“Did you ever perform?” I asked him.

“No. Absolutely never performed. Not really had any interest in it,” he said.

“You came up through local newspapers?” I asked. ”Reports on garden shows?”

“Never really had any interest in journalism either,” he told me. “Never wrote anything for the college magazine. After I left London University, I wanted to stay in London because I was a music fan. I was staying at a house in Camberwell with a typewriter and thought I’ll write a review of that gig I saw last night. I sent it to the NME. They said: We really liked it. Why don’t you tell us what gigs you’d like to review and we might commission you and we’ll pay you. So I became a music journalist, but never trained.”

“So you went straight from university to journalism?”

“Via being a dustman in Belsize Park,” explained Bruce. “I was Peter Cook’s dustman. The funny thing is when I left my house in Camberwell at 6.30am I often saw a near-neighbour Peter Richardson (of The Comic Strip) coming home from a late night out, so it was a bit of a comedy route as well as my comedy roots. But that’s the only other job I’ve ever had. Being a dustman.

“I was at Time Out for about 8 or 9 years – started on music, then more on the TV section and then edited things from there. But, when I was doing TV, they used to call me ‘Mr Comedy’ – I would always do Vic & Bob or The Fast Show or Harry Enfield.

“The 1990s were my Time Out years. I handed in my notice the day the New Year Millennium edition went to press. I planned to go freelance – there were actually jobs in journalism in those days – only 14 years ago! – but, out of the blue, I got offered a job editing the TV section of the Saturday Express magazine. That was when the paper was edited by Rosie Boycott, so it was a different paper then, with different aspirations. About a year later, it was taken over by Richard Desmond and he wanted to strip everything back – no pun intended – so I left to go freelance again and… basically I owe everything to Stewart Lee.

Stewart Lee’s North American friend Baconface at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (Photography by Keir O’Donnell)

Comic Stewart Lee’s Canadian friend Baconface performs at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

“I got sent a copy of one of Stewart Lee’s books when he was in the doldrums and he wasn’t doing very well and no-one was interested – I think it was the one called The Perfect Fool. I was getting quite pressured from his agency (Avalon) to do an interview with him but I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in Stewart Lee. As a courtesy, I thought Oh, I might as well pitch this to someone, so I emailed the Arts editor of the Evening Standard – I had never written for them before – and they said No, we’re not remotely interested in Stewart Lee, but we ARE looking for a new comedy critic. So I started at the Evening Standard in the summer of 2001, just before 9/11 and I never did do the Stewart Lee interview, but I owe it all to him.”

“The fickle finger of fate,” I said. “Now everyone wants a Stewart Lee interview. You can never tell who is going to succeed.”

“Sometimes you know when people are going to be stars,” said Bruce. “Maybe I should have stayed a music journalist. I would be much better spotting future music stars than future comedy stars. I saw U2 at the Half Moon and it was obvious Bono should be climbing on amplifiers at the O2 Arena and not at a pub in Herne Hill.

“But, with comedy, the acts I have really loved I’ve usually thought They’re never going to be big and often I was wrong.

“Like Micky Flanagan who I used to see doing stuff at The Hob when he was about 40. I thought Yeah, he’s very good. I like him very much. But this is kind of his level. Then somehow, when the Comedy Gods decided to make comedy for arenas, he got swept up and I think he now does more dates at the O2 than Beyoncé.

“The main case of me being wrong was Vic & Bob. When they had their residency in Deptford and they did pubs, I used to go and see them every Thursday night long before they did TV. I thought: This is brilliant. They can attract 100 people every Thursday night in South London but, if they try North London, they’ll get 3 people. I could never have predicted Vic & Bob would get as big as they did. But, once they make it, it kind of makes sense.

“The interesting thing I’ve seen in comedy in the last few years is a whole new generation becoming the establishment. And the whole conveyor belt nature of comedians where they fall off the other end and fall out of favour – or not even fall out of favour, but people like Vic & Bob and Harry Enfield or Ben Elton.

“I used to watch the TV series Skins and suddenly all the comics I thought were young, hip comedians were suddenly all playing the parents. Harry Enfield, Morwenna Banks, Bill Bailey and even at one point Chris Addison cropped up as a dad.

“It all moves on. Jack Dee is a bit Tony Hancock and a bit Les Dawson. And you now can’t imagine Alexei Sayle as an angry 21-year-old.”

Bruce’s book on the dark side of comedy

Bruce’s book on comedy’s dark side

“Your latest book is Beyond a Joke,” I said, “about the dark side of comedians.”

“It was about the history of comedy,” said Bruce, “and the history of all these troubled comedians from Grimaldi to Tony Hancock and so on and I kind of thought it was a thing of the past – comedians being slightly dysfunctional.

“I wrote the book around the time Russell Brand was breaking through and he’s in the book, but it’s quite obvious there are plenty of other stories – Malcolm Hardee’s in the book, obviously.

“My dilemma to resolve was Are strange people attracted to stand-up comedy or does stand-up comedy make people strange? I think I concluded it’s a bit of both. Strange people are attracted to it but, if you’re normal and you’re attracted to it, you’ll end up strange. It doesn’t make strange people normal, but it does make normal people strange.

“It’s like Jimmy Carr says – You’re the only person in a room with 2,000 people facing the wrong way. You’re on your own. That’s why it’s weirder than being in a band. It’s a solo thing. And it’s weirder than being an actor because you’re supposedly saying your own words, particularly this autobiographical, authentic comedy. Various comedians say It’s like therapy but, rather than us pay a therapist, we do our gigs and we get paid for the therapy. But I don’t know if it’s effective as therapy, because they still seem a pretty screwed-up bunch.”

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