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Fish act by Mouse made John Sessions and Chris Langham bolt at comedy icon Ken Campbell’s memorial show

Prospective bidders view items yesterday

Would-be bidders view horror items yesterday

“Certain things are always funny,” performer Martin Soan suggested to me yesterday as we drove to an ‘Auction of Horrors’ at The Old Elephant House in Leamington Spa.

“Bananas,” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Martin, “and fish.”

After Leamington Spa we went to Banbury where they were having a canal festival. By the canal – which looked more like a river to me – there was an old Elephant Wash. What is it with elephants in refined English towns?

The reason we went to Banbury was nostalgia for Martin. On the way to Leamington in the car, he had told me:

“I had an interesting experience in Banbury which lasted some time and developed into a relationship.”

“How many legs did it have?” I asked – lightheartedly, I thought.

“One had legs and the other one had fins,” said Martin inexplicably.

Perhaps he was joking; perhaps he wasn’t. I did not pursue it.

“I have a friend,” I told him truthfully, “who knows a doctor who works in Accident & Emergency at a hospital in Oxfordshire. At weekends, a surprising number of people come in on Saturday nights with objects which have to be extracted. Fish are a particular problem. If you insert them into your body head first, the scales are OK on the way in but, on the way out, more of a problem…”

“Have you ever seen Fish?” Martin asked.

“Loads,” I said.

“It’s an act,” said Martin. “I met her at the Ken Campbell Memorial Show which me and Viv (Martin’s wife) we were booked for.

Ken Campbell - theatrical lover of things aquatic

Comedy icon Ken Campbell – theatrical lover of things aquatic

“I met this girl backstage. She was very petite, very pretty and had a lovely, lovely multi-coloured, body-hugging costume on – loads of sequins and sparkly bits – And she had a very, very large black minder.

“Her costume was a work of art – gorgeous. But she was very, very small.

“I talked to her and her minder. It was all lovely and great and I was really looking forward to seeing her act, though it didn’t occur to me to ask what she actually did.

“Anyway, she closed the first half of the show. The audience was middle aged, from all shapes and forms of theatre. John Sessions and Chris Langham were in the audience.

“So Fish came on and there was a bit of lovely music – water-related in some sort of way – She came on, did a little shimmy, did a couple of over-arms impersonating swimming and shed all her costume. So she was standing there completely starkers and then she sucked up – not through her mouth – all the contents of a big bowl of liquid. There was a pause and then she squirted it all at the audience – to a distance of six, seven, maybe even ten metres – and drenched everybody. Then she went on to delicately suck up – not with her mouth – various goldfish of different sizes from a bowl and then she spat them back out – not using her mouth.”

“At the audience?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “Into the bowl. She wasn’t cruel to the goldfish.”

“Did the goldfish seem to enjoy it?” I asked.

“I’m not quite sure about the fish,” Martin told me, “but the audience were absolutely mortified. They had had Chris Langham on earlier doing Ken Campbell sketches and John Sessions reading bits of Ken Campbell’s poetry and Nina Conti talking to them and then suddenly there was this bombshell of an act. I roared and roared and roared with laughter. John Sessions and Chris Langham had bolted backstage as soon as the clothes came off.”

Goldfish lead unmemorable lives

Goldfish lead unmemorable lives even when things happen

“Perhaps they knew what was coming,” I said.

“In the audience,” said Martin, “the ones who weren’t mortified were very vociferous in their dislike and disgust. The compère came on – I can’t remember who it was – and said Fish was Ken Campbell’s favourite act.”

“Memorable,” I said, “except presumably for the goldfish.”

“I guess so,” said Martin.

“It must be dull being a goldfish,” I said, “even when interesting things happen.”

“It’s difficult to know,” said Martin.

* * * * *

After the above blog was posted, I received the following message from Kev Wright:

Excellent to see the night remembered! It was organised by A Cracking Night Out.

Her name is actually Mouse not Fish.

I booked her and the compere was Psychic Dave – who ran the night with me.

We were very nearly banned from Glastonbury a few years ago for also putting Mouse on there, in a very small cabaret tent (Starred & Feathered) that we set up next to The Miniscule Of Sound without permission in the first place, let alone with Mouse pretending to be a dog sliding around in dog food and spraying the stunned audience with liquid as above – ‘playing’ with dog bones etc.

There were a teenage couple of hippieish indie kids sat on the floor right at the front whose faces I will never forget and who I imagine will never forget that night either!

“What did you see at the festival?” their mum may well have asked upon return…!!

I haven’t seen Mouse for a while but she is still performing I believe . .
Oh and i believe she did an act demonstrating the art of ventriloquism with ken campbell once in a rather unconventional way . . . .

That memorial night also ended up in the daily mail – hated of course!

Cheers,

Kev

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The truth about piping in the haggis on Burns Night and about the dancing fish

Martin Soan about to eat a fish last night

Comedian Martin Soan prepares to eat a fish last night

“I just don’t like putting holes in walls any more,” said Martin Soan last night. “If there’s a hole, there has to be a screw in it.”

I have no idea why he said this… Then we had a general knowledge quiz.

“How many barbels are on a barbel?” he asked.

“42,” I said confidently. “That’s the answer to everything.”

“Two,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “Lots of things come in twos.”

“Amazing!” said Martin. “That’s right. Well actually it’s four, because it’s two pairs. The barbel is a fish.”

He then told a true story about how, years ago, when his two daughters were younger, the whole family had gone on a boating holiday on a river and pulled up at a jetty where a man pulled a net out of the water and photographed the fish he had caught.

He then threw the fish one-by-one on the sloping ground by the river.

“They were barbel fish,” said Martin. “Barbels are very very strong, because they have to swim through really strong river currents and they search for things on the river bed with their noses.

“They up-ended themselves on the grass so they were standing upright on their noses and they danced back down into the river on their noses.

“That’s true,” he said.

I was at Martin’s home last night because there had been going to be a small comedy show in Greenwich pub The Lord Hood in memory of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. But it was cancelled because of the heavy snow.

“I was going to do an act at the show,” Martin told me. “A one-off. It can’t be repeated. Well, it CAN be repeated, but only every six months or so. Maybe I’ll do it at our next show.” (Martin and his wife Vivienne run a twice-a-month comedy club called Pull The Other One.)

“When is the next Pull The Other One?” I asked.

“This Friday,” Vivienne said.

“That’s Burns Night,” I said. “You should pipe in the haggis.”

“It’s not supposed to be a haggis,” Martin said. “Everyone thinks that you are supposed to pipe in the haggis on Burns Night, but that’s not true. It’s just a Sassenach English interpretation of a Scottish tradition. What the Scots traditionally piped in was a herring.”

“A red herring?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Piped in from the North Sea like the gas?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it’s true. Traditionally, it was the herring that was piped in on Burns Night.”

“Not kippers?” Martin’s wife Vivienne asked. “Am I not allowed to tell the story about the piper and the kippers?… The piper and the kippers and the Action Man.”

“What happened,” said Martin, “it was Oram & Meeton, Dr Brown and me finishing off the whole evening.”

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” said Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin.

“With the piper and the kippers and the Action Man,” Vivienne sang.

“Vivienne’s told you that one story,” Martin said to me, “But you are never going to hear the story of the perfect National Health comedy sketch that I was involved in and it was real and it happened and it obeyed every single rule of comedy and echoed one of the greatest sketches in TV comedy.”

“Never?” I asked.

“Never,” said Martin.

“What about the dancing barbel fish?” I asked.

“That’s true,” said Martin. “Totally true. I am thinking of writing a short story about the dancing barbel fish and Izaak Walton, who wrote The Compleat Anger and Issac Newton. Or it could be a story for the radio. But I’ll never get round to it.”

Last night was, in theory, slightly sad, because today Martin & Vivienne’s daughter Sydney is moving to Australia with her boyfriend Charlie, an Apple Genius who has packed light to move to Oz and, in fact, seemed to have packed little except his surf board.

“But Charlie don’t surf,” I said.

“He does,” I was told.

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Christmas with Malcolm Hardee: a pint of strange-tasting beer and falling fish

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

I will be spending a quiet time at home on Christmas Day.

I asked ‘Digger Dave’, a friend of the late ‘godfather of British comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, if he had any memories of spending Christmas with Malcolm.

Perhaps this was a mistake.

“Most of the stories are still far too embarrassing to the living for me to tell,” Digger Dave replied. “And we won’t mention shows where the box office take got lost!!!

“Malcolm once lured me to some country house for a Boxing Day sexual extravaganza with some game show hostess and then asked me to reglaze the broken glass in the patio doors. He also ensured that another member of The Greatest Show on Legs crashed in the same room – well flaked-out across my legs, making movement or undressing impossible. It’s quite an impediment to romance – having a Greatest Leg unconscious on your own legs. No leg-over is possible.

“You can ask someone else about their memories of the Great Christmas Can Can Tour of London’s East End pubs. It was his sister Clare’s idea to do the dancing and I did the promo and posterwork (which I had to pay for myself, as the ‘free’ service at Goldsmiths College couldn’t).

“Some of the pubs had secret handles that couldn’t be opened by unwelcome persons. Most of the audiences would have looked good in a movie like your Killer Bitch, but the cast usually outnumbered them. Sometimes it wasn’t possible to get across the room. It’s quite difficult doing dance-centred performance when the play area is only two feet wide.

“It was the normal Greatest Show on Legs routine – the Scotsman striptease, the dustbin lid clog dance,  the beer mat dance and spinning the dirty old men plus Malcolm doing his impression of French President General de Gaulle using nothing but his genitals and a pair of spectacles… with a Can Can dance added at the end.

“I once had to relieve myself in a pint glass and hide it behind the music player. I never saw Malcolm wash his harmonica in anyone’s beer for quite a while after that night.

“There is one Christmas story that I never actually checked out with Malcolm. But two anarchists who knew him maintained that he had a hand in planning it.

“It happened in Exeter Prison, on the Friday before Christmas, when Malcolm was doing time there. As it was a Friday, there was supposed to be fish for dinner – in this case, mackerel, which had been caught off Cornwall, shipped to a very dodgy fishmonger in Truro in an un-refrigerated van and then delivered to the prison gates in another un-refrigerated van during the Thursday night. But that’s where the fish stayed – outside the prison gates – as the staff were on a Christmas rota and there was no-one to take them in. So the fish were well and truly past any relevant sell-by date by the time they arrived.

“Devon and Cornwall are not being famous for snowy Christmases, so the Friday before Christmas was nice and hot and sunny and the fish sat there until someone eventually took them in.

“The inmates always used to eat in their cells. So they were unlocked and marched one wing at a time to collect their meals on a tray from a central servery. It took an age because of the Christmas staff cuts.

“No-one wanted inedible rotting fish in their cell for the next 23 hours and there were no warders to notice what was being done, so the stinking fish contents of the trays were tipped over the landings. The falling fish hit the anti-suicide netting between the floors and stayed there.

“Rotting mackerel has a strange clingy consistency… but only for a time. After that, the warming oils make it quite fluid.

“So, after a while, the fish fluid dripped down – slowly at first – and then a really big flush hit the ground floor where the just-arrived Salvation Army band were playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!”

I do not know if Malcolm was involved in this merry incident, but it does sound in character and the sort of festive fun he would have enjoyed. He liked to entertain.

It is also a typical Malcolm Hardee story – it sounds improbable or impossible but then turns out not only to be true but to actually be understated.

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The subtle art of throwing a dart at a comedian or blowing a dart with a fart

What is it with darts and comedy at the moment?

At the Edinburgh Fringe last month, anarchic comedian and future ’new Barrymore of primetime TV’ Bob Slayer took it into his head to occasionally hang a dart board round his head so it was hanging either at chest level or in front of his genitals. He then invited members of the audience to throw real darts at it, which occasionally missed the board.

My memory is that, on at least one occasion, he dispensed with the dart board altogether and just invited people to throw darts at him.

Could I have imagined this?

Considering how likely it is that Bob would do anything that dangerous, I think it is highly probable I did not imagine it.

And now, today, my windy chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professional performing flatulist, has sent me an e-mail pointing out that he has refined the anal dart-blowing section of his stage act by creating a new type of dart which is more visible to the audience.

This fart-a-dart routine is the section of his show which he never performs on TV on the basis that, if you want to see it, you should buy his DVDs or come to his shows. It is a pity he did not do it on Britain’s Got Talent but, I suspect, primetime television is possibly not yet ready for demonstrations of anal dart propulsion.

So, to recap…

Bob Slayer asks people to throw darts at him… Mr Methane blows a dart with a fart…

I think I have an idea for a new double act, though I dread to think of the look on the faces of the staff at any local hospital’s A&E Department. They have enough trouble coping with an occasional person coming in on a Saturday night with a fish stuck up his or her bottom. (Fish scales only slide in one direction – do not think about it too much, but it is apparently not an uncommon occurrence in A&E departments at hospitals.)

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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

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

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

* * * * *

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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