Tag Archives: Gareth Morinan

Beth Vyse – How breast cancer turned her from an actress into a comedian

Beth Vyse, eating daffodils

Beth Vyse – showing her animal side earlier this week in Soho

When I met Beth Vyse in London’s Soho Theatre this week, she had come straight from lecturing drama students in acting at the University of Rochester in Kent.

“I didn’t know you lectured,” I said.

I think research can be over-rated.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I teach at LAMDA. I’ve worked at Rose Bruford, the Manchester Met – all the big Uni colleges.”

“Worked at?” I asked.

“Taught at. Directed at,” said Beth.

“You know a bit about drama, then?” I asked.

“I know a lot about Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare and that kind of stuff. I performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company a few times when I first left drama school – small parts in three Shakespeares and then I understudied the leads. I was in Taming of The Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, Measure For Measure and…”

The Tamer Tamed?” I asked.

“It’s the sequel to Taming of the Shrew,” Beth told me. “By John Fletcher.”

“Were you teaching Jacobean stuff in Rochester today?” I asked.

“I was doing animal studies with them. They study animals and the physiology of animals and how they’re weighted and how they walk and communicate and eat. They find the characters within the movement of animals.”

“Surely,” I said, “there are a limited number of roles to play in Planet of the Apes and Star Wars?”

“You can use it in anything,” Beth told me. “My comedy career, perchance.”

“When were you last a camel?” I asked.

A golden-headed tamarin (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

A golden-headed tamarin – it screeches (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

“I haven’t done a camel,” admitted Beth, “but I’ve done a golden-headed tamarin many a time. Facial expressions. Eating.”

She started making screeching noises like a small monkey.

“I also teach at Soho Theatre,” Beth said. “I teach at the Comedy Lab Plus. I work with people who are already on the circuit, sketch performers, some performance artists, some cabaret performers, some normal stand-ups. I help them to try different things, shape their sets, make them more theatrical, use the audience, eye contact, that sort of thing.”

“You always wanted to study drama at university?” I asked.

“I applied to five universities. I wanted to be a town planner. But I thought: Why not apply to one drama school? So I did. And I got an audition at Rose Bruford, got in and the rest is history.”

“Why town planning?” I asked. “That says to me: a mind that wants to organise.

“I’m quite organised when it comes to certain things,” Beth agreed. “Not with some others.”

“You want,” I asked, “to make sense of the anarchy of life?”

“Yeah… Well, that’s why I teach as well. It helps me make sense of things.”

“You want,” I suggested, “to have control – not in a bad way – over the anarchy?”

“Yeah,” said Beth. “I’m always in control. It might look like I’m completely not, but I think I am. I never let it go too much.”

“So your show scripts are very tight?” I asked.

Poster image for Beth Vyse Going Dark!

Poster image for one of Beth’s earlier shows – Going Dark!

Going Dark! was really scripted. Get Up With Hands! was scripted. As Funny As Cancer is the least scripted. I wrote lots of it, but I’ve also left room for audience members to come and play the different parts in the story – to play the Chinese doctor, to play Michael Jackson, my mum, my dad. They have to read my cancer diagnosis and that’s pretty hard for anyone. It’s funny but dark and dangerous and weird.”

“And you are a Weirdo,” I said. “I missed the Weirdos Christmas Panto AND your Edinburgh show As Funny As Cancer last year. I’m embarrassed.”

“We had a chat in the street in Edinburgh,” Beth reminded me.

“Oh God, did we?” I asked.

“It was when the Guardian article about me came out.”

The Guardian piece was headlined:

FAKE BREASTS, PING-PONG BALLS AND TEARS IN A COMIC EXPLORATION OF CANCER

Beth Vyse - As funny As Cancer

Beth Vyse – the poster for As Funny As Cancer

Beth told me: “You said I had a bigger picture than the Queen of Spain got when she died.”

“I think there was about two-thirds of a page on you,” I said.

“We have gone off course,” Beth mused.

“It happens,” I said. “When is your show next week?”

“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“This is your Edinburgh Fringe show As Funny As Cancer…”

“Yes.”

“You started as an actress and then became a comedian.”

“I was always an actor and then I got breast cancer when I was 28 and everything got kind-of thrown up in the air, really, and the acting kind-of dried up because I didn’t really care and then… Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be the David Bowie of comedy or the Kate Bush of comedy – Someone who is kind of weird and experimental and changes themselves each time. I mean, I’m nowhere near doing that. I’m teaching animal studies in Rochester!”

“Well,” I said, “David Bowie and Kate Bush’s early performances were both influenced by mime. I saw David Bowie when he was a mime and…”

“I always wanted to do comedy,” said Beth, trying to get me back on track, “but I was never brave enough. So, when I got breast cancer at 28, I decided I was going to write some comedy and get up and perform it. I thought: You don’t know how long life is and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Why don’t I just try it? What have I got to lose?

“So I started writing with a friend of mine and we took a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it and I’ve just been doing more comedy ever since. My comedy is big and grotesque and raw and it’s all to do with me having breast cancer. Everything I do is, really. Once it happens to you, you can’t really change that.”

“But you didn’t talk,” I said, “about breast cancer in your shows before this one.”

Beth Vyse as Olive Hands

Olive Hands: “No-one would have known what it was about.”

“I didn’t talk about it until the five-years all-clear. Before this show, no-one would have known it had anything to do with me having cancer. I played this woman Olive Hands who was a big, grotesque, daytime TV presenter. All she wanted was fame and she had a really nice family at home but never went. A constant want for something. But why? Why would anyone want this type of thing? It was all to do with that theme of wanting something you couldn’t have. In one show, Olive Hands is ill and this is where it all came from. It seemed mental and silly; no-one would have known what it was about.”

“You got the all-clear after five years?”

“Yes. I hadn’t really let anyone know except my close family and got the five-years all-clear and decided last year was the right year to do As Funny As Cancer. I’m taking the show to Leicester, Manchester, Exeter and, in April, New Zealand and I might be going to Los Angeles later in the year.”

“And the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I might take As Funny As Cancer up again, but also a new show. I want to have Gareth Morinan in it, playing Noel Edmonds. I’m quite obsessed with Deal or No Deal. It makes me cry!”

“Why?” I asked.

“People just suddenly win £40,000. I find it very emotional and it’s all done on complete chance. The idea is so stupid and ridiculous, but I find it very emotional and I’m interested in why it gets me like that. It is just boxes with numbers on them. It’s all complete chance.”

“Like life,” I said.

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Comedy awards: how they start, how they get credible & where they may lead

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Desperate posing with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Comedy awards seem to be a growing industry.

In this blog a couple of days ago, Brian Damage and Vicky de Lacy mentioned that, at the Edinburgh Fringe one year, they had given a Derriere Award in competition with the then Perrier Award.

I have been giving my own increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards since 2007 and they will continue until 2017 when I run out of the increasingly prestigious trophies made by increasingly prestigious mad inventor John Ward.

This week, the British Comedy Awards announced their nominees for 2014. And, on Thursday, there is the announcement of the 3rd annual Gareth Morinan Alternative New Act of The Year Award, seldom known by its acronym The GMANAOTYA.

“I hear your annual award is becoming increasingly prestigious,” I told him.

Gareth Morinan talked to me at Soho Theatre

Gareth Morinan talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Surprisingly Credible is the line I go for,” he told me. “because no-one expects anyone to care about any…erm… definitely not my awards.”

“I was surprised two years ago,“ I said, “when a couple of people were clearly very pissed-off at not being nominated for my awards. I thought But it’s only the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards!

“I take them very seriously,” said Gareth. “I’m still working towards winning one day.”

Fringe Report,” I said, “once gave me an award for being the best awarder of awards. Frankly, I’m saddened I have never been nominated for your award.”

“There is a strict application process,” explained Gareth. “The main thing is you have to apply. I put up an advert; I get maybe 50 responses; and then I pick the 10 or 12 acts that sound most interesting.”

“Pity I’m not an act,” I said. “So what type of acts do they have to be?”

“Interesting.” said Gareth. “It’s for people who are doing something a bit different. Interesting. That’s the criteria I tell people to judge on and that’s what I book the acts based on.”

“I set up the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards so I could get free tickets to shows,” I said. “That was before free shows got started at the Fringe. Now I mainly go to free shows because they tend to be the more interesting and original ones. So I needn’t have bothered to set up the Awards in the first place.”

The show that started the Gareth Morinan Awards

The show that started Gareth’s Awards

“The only reason I set up my awards,” said Gareth was to get an audience for a preview of my debut Edinburgh Fringe show two years ago. I had a double preview booked, the other performer dropped out and I thought: Shall I book another act who will probably bring two of their friends? Or shall I just announce a ‘new act’ competition which means ten acts will turn up bringing their friends? It was the best-attended preview I had ever done.

“I thought that was pretty clever. But what is not clever is then carrying it on as a serious competition for two years after.”

“Especially,” I said, “as it might risk becoming prestigious.”

“I think it has become credible,” said Gareth. “Maybe in several years time it will become prestigious.”

“Why has it got credible?” I asked. “Because you chose the right people?”

“Well,” said Gareth, “people reviewed it last year and the winners of my award always go on to get nominated for a better award. Adam Larter, who won the first year, got nominated for a Chortle Award. Michael Brunström won last year and went on to be nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.”

“What is happening this year?” I asked.

“On Thursday,” said Gareth, “it might actually be a proper gig. Barry Ferns has given me his Angel Comedy Club for one night, so there will be an actual audience there who will not know what to expect, which will be great. Everyone gets a vote, including the acts.”

“But,” I checked, “they are not allowed to vote for themselves?”

Acts can vote for themselves this Thursday

Acts can vote for themselves this Thursday – if they want to

“They can,” said Gareth. “Everyone in the room gets three votes.”

“Do acts often not vote for themselves?” I asked.

“All the votes are equally weighted,” said Gareth. “So the really bad acts who have voted for themselves only get their own votes.”

“How many acts?”

“Twelve this year.”

“Just one award?”

“Yes, though we might also have a Judges’ Choice which will be just my choice, We might also have the Previous Winner’s Choice, because Michael Brunström will be headlining.”

“So you might have three awards. Any trophies?”

“Oh no. There’s absolutely nothing. This is why it’s surprisingly credible. There are no trophies but people still bother to apply. Last year the first prize was £1, the second prize was 50p and the third prize was the last half of my pint of cider.”

“Have you won awards yourself?” I asked.

“No. That’s why I set it up.”

“Did we nominate you?” I asked.

“You nominated me for the Cunning Stunt Award last year.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “so we did. You’re Gareth Morinan. I wondered who you were. Well, hopefully this blog will publicise your awards.”

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth faces the prospect of people turning up for his Awards

“They’re at Angel Comedy on Thursday,” said Gareth, “but it’s always really crowded, so I would not recommend that people come to see it, because they won’t get a seat unless they turn up really early. But I have another show in two weeks, on 25th November – a new type of improvised comedy show that involves stand-ups. It’s got Pat Cahill and John Kearns and Harriet Kemsley. The Chronicles of Pat Cahill.”

“And why is it original?” I asked.

“Well,” said Gareth. “It may or may not be. The Advertising Standards Authority may sue me. It’s in The Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“That’s suddenly got very trendy,” I said. “But it’s the back of bleedin’ beyond.”

“Well, it’s in the trendy East London area,” said Gareth.

“It’s the back of bleedin’ beyond if you live in Borehamwood,” I said.

“Basically,” said Gareth, keeping on-message, “we will tell the life story of Pat Cahill.”

Pat Cahill, winner of an Amused Mose Award

Cahill, time-travelling winner of  Amused Moose Award

“What?” I asked. “every week?”

“No,” explained Gareth, “it’s a different person every week. And, when I say week, I mean month. So that’s why it’s unique: there’s no consistency and it’s like having people who can improvise do a story but the main character is a relatively well-known stand-up comedian.”

“Award winning,” I said.

“Multi-award-winning in Pat’s case,“said Gareth.

“How are you telling his story?” I asked.

“Well,” said Gareth, “to be honest, it’s not exactly his life story… It’s going to be more about him being a time traveller who saves the world or whatever.

The show that does not exactly tell Cahill’s story

The show that does not exactly tell Cahill’s story

“But it will be loosely based on his life story. It’s gonna just be a bit of fun, anything can happen and the audience can get involved. The audience will be like a Council of Time who get to decide what happens.

“It will be sort-of like the improv show you saw in Edinburgh. It’s sort of like that but better because there will be more people in it and I won’t be on stage. It will be almost worth £4”

“What are you doing next year at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“That is a good question,” replied Gareth. “I will probably be screaming more and the line between comedy and tragedy will become blurred.”

 

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Margaret Thatcher, Queen of gay Soho, and Princess Margaret late of the aisles

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Edinburgh?

I posted a blog in December last year about the stage show Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which next week starts a run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Matt Tedford plays the former British Prime Minister and co-wrote the ‘drag comedy musical extravaganza’ with Jon Brittain.

“The show I saw at Theatre 503 last year was so complicated and so slick with such high production values – it was a fully-realised West End production – the lighting, the sound, the props – I remember thinking: They are never gonna want to take this show to the Edinburgh Fringe because it is so complicated they could never do it up there. Then I realised: Hold on! I’m sitting watching it in an Edinburgh Fringe-type venue here and they’ve done it brilliantly.

“That’s the thing about Jon as a director: props and sound and lighting cues,” Matt Tedford told me this week. “I’ve never known anybody to use so many props. He’s very dedicated. He has a writer’s mind. I faff about a bit. We complement each other very well. I’ve learned so much from him about how writing works. He says: I like the characters to all have an ending.”

Matt Tedford in Soho Theatre this week

Matt at the Soho Theatre this week

Matt studied drama with Jon and (last year’s used-to-be-called-Perrier Best Newcomer Award winner) John Kearns at UEA (the University of East Anglia). Comedian Pat Cahill was in the year above them. But, until Margaret Thatcher, Matt had not performed for five years – not since he graduated from UEA.

“I went into jobs,” he told me.

“Jobs?” I asked.

“Well, I worked for the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Now that Labour has gone, it’s just called the Department of Education.”

Bizarrely, comedian Gareth Morinan also worked there at around the same time although they seem not to have met.

“And then I worked for an alcohol training company,” Matt said.

“Eh?”

“Training bar staff,” he explained.

“Had you ever been a barman?” I asked.

“No. I used to sit in bars at 11 o’clock in the morning and make them do tests on laptops.”

“So why did they employ you?” I asked.

Matt has arms strong enough for computers

Matt’s strong arms – much in demand in the catering world

“No idea. I think because I have very strong arms and could carry eight laptops at once. Also I have a bit of a schoolmasterish thing about me: No talking! Now I work for an accounting body.”

“Do you know a lot about accountancy?” I asked.

“No.”

“So,” I asked, “after UEA, you were a frustrated thespian?”

“Yes,” said Matt. “Then, two years ago, I went to Jon Brittain’s Hallowe’en party dressed as Margaret Thatcher. Then she died and Theatre 503 asked Jon if he wanted to write a rapid-response piece for their Thatcherwrite night. That was this time last year. And it just spiralled from there.”

“For the last few months,” I said, “I’ve seen posters in the tube for another Maggie show in the West End – Handbagged. Does that mean you’re screwed for a West End run?”

“I think we’re very different types of show,” said Matt. “I’ve not seen Handbagged, but theirs is about Maggie’s relationship with the Queen.”

“Whereas your one is…?”

“About Section 28.”

Putting the hate into Section 28...

Matt & Co put the hate into Section 28…

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

“When I went to see the play,” I said, “I thought it would be a hatchet job on Maggie Thatcher and, in fact, it was a hatchet job on the MP Jill Knight (who ‘introduced’ Section 28 to Parliament). Maggie came out of it OK.”

“We didn’t set out to make Margaret Thatcher likeable,” said Matt, “but, at the end of the play, people come up and (amiably) tell us: You made her a likeable person. I hate you for doing that!

When Jon and I sat down to write a play, I said: The weird thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she has all the makings of a gay icon – the power dressing, the androgynous voice; she’s a strong woman. But, because of Section 28, she’s a very hated figure. If she’d put out an album singing a few Cher songs, she could have made it.”

“She had gays in her Cabinet,” I said, “though, admittedly, they were not out.”

“She actually voted in favour of legalising homosexuality,” said Matt. “The only thing she ever said about homosexuality was that children as young as five were being taught they had an inalienable right to be gay. That was the only thing she said. And then they all clapped at the Party Conference and said: Oh, this is terrible. We need to sort this out.”

An inspiration: Margaret Thatcher

Loveable icon: Margaret Thatcher

“So how come,” I asked, “you sat down, decided to skewer Margaret Thatcher for Section 28 and ended up making her a loveable icon?”

“I don’t know. I don’t like any of her politics at all. But she’s a really interesting character. Every now and then in the show, we’ve had a heckler and it’s just so good to shout them down as Margaret Thatcher.”

“I never want to meet people I admire,” I said. “People who seem admirable turn out to be shits and people who seem awful turn out to be nice.”

“My aunt did meet Margaret Thatcher quite a few times,” said Matt, “and had dinner with her and said she was just crazy.”

“In what way?”

“There was something just a bit unbalanced about her. So focussed on stuff without any human side. I don’t think there was any sort of empathy there. Eleven years at the top, with no-one really around you saying No. A very interesting person. But thank god she died, otherwise I would still be sat working in the office.”

“Why did your aunt meet Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“She worked high up in the Civil Service. It wasn’t anything personal. My aunt met people as part of her job. She met Princess Margaret, who would open supermarkets and they’d have to be careful which aisle they walked her down because you couldn’t have her walk past the tobacco or the drink. They would have someone pushing the trolley for her.”

“The thought of Princess Margaret opening supermarkets,” I said, “had never crossed my mind.”

“If they were trying to encourage job creation in an area, they would sometimes wheel out Princess Margaret.”

“Is your aunt still in government?”

“Oh yes. She likes Prince Charles.”

“Anyone who talks to plants is OK with me,” I said. “Did your aunt hate Margaret Thatcher?”

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matt makes Maggie the gay icon she always deserved to be

“Oh yes,” said Matt. “We’ve always been a very political family. A family of civil servants.

“My parents are very much left wing Socialists, but my granddad is a really staunch Conservative. I used to do the voice just to wind him up.”

“Did he enjoy being wound up?”

“Yeah. He’s very open-minded.”

“Are you going to walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh in character to publicise the show?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.”

“That sounds dangerous,” I said. “You could get stoned.”

“If I’m lucky,” said Matt. “Actually, I’m going up to Edinburgh in the train dressed as Margaret Thatcher.”

I must have looked surprised.

Matt had a kebab in Soho

Matt/Maggie roamed Soho for a kebab

“Why not?” asked Matt. “I’ve been out in Soho dressed as Margaret Thatcher. I’m not a cross-dresser but, at every opportunity at the Fringe…”

“Three-and-a-half weeks dressed as Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“If I have to walk around supermarkets dressed as Margaret Thatcher to publicise the show, I will do it.”

“What’s it like to have people think of you as Margaret Thatcher?”

“People come up and talk to me after the show and it’s almost like therapy for them. People come up and say: I didn’t like you, I didn’t vote for you, but I really enjoyed the show. It’s just weird. In Ireland, they went mad for the fact they could meet me after the show, dressed as Margaret Thatcher, and shake my hand.

“Have you ever been curtsied at?”

“Yes. In Ireland. And people do kiss your hand every now and then, which is weird.”

“After a while,” I said, “the Thatcher voice must do your throat in.”

“Yes it does,” said Matt, “and I have had a lot of conversations with my mother about tights.”

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How British Government finance works – by the stand-up comic who worked for Education Secretary Michael Gove

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Stand-up comics tend to have odd and interesting backgrounds.

Gareth Morinan’s university degree was in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics.

Yesterday at Bar Italia in Soho, he told me: “I started in the Civil Service in late 2008 because I wanted to see how government works and I was there until around mid-2011.

“Most of the time I was there, I was in the Education Department although, for the first six months, I worked in this dodgy department called The Export Credits Guarantee Department, which is the only department other than the HM Revenue & Customs that makes money. It’s basically like a government-run insurance firm.

If some big British company wants to export, they’ll always have an insurance deal. But, if they’re exporting to some dodgy country – if they want to export fighter jets to some dodgy country – no private insurance company is going to insure that: it’s too risky. So the government has this entire department purely set up for supporting dodgy deals. I was really curious, so went to work there for six months and then left. I was an analyst there. As an analyst, people take your word as Gospel.”

“That’s because your art is a science.” I suggested.

“Yes,” Gareth laughed, “even though, when you look at the spreadsheets, it’s very dodgy. I had situations where I would e-mail someone a figure saying This is a very rough figure. This is the best figure I can get. And it got sent round the department and would eventually come back to me as fact and I’d say: I know that’s not fact. I came up with that figure. Don’t put that out on a press release. But they did. This happened a lot in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.”

“That was under the Labour Party?” I asked.

“Yeah. You had these figures – especially around the time of the financial crisis, where some analyst somewhere in some bank had come out with some figure he’d plucked out of the air on the back of an envelope and, as soon as it became public, that figure became ‘fact’ and it could not be changed and everyone had to work from those figures.

“All politicians really want is a number: Give me a number. Don’t tell me anything else. The less I know about how dodgy this number is, the better it is – It’s that plausible deniability thing.

“I started in the Education Department about a year before the General Election so, when I started, Ed Balls was the Minister and then, about a year later, it was all-change because the Coalition came in and what we were doing changed somewhat.”

“Changed?” I asked.

“Well,” Gareth told me, “the key thing Michael Gove did when he came in was – on the first day – a big picture of the Queen was put up in Reception. And there were some formality differences.

Policies changed with Michael Gove

Policies changed with the arrival of journalist Michael Gove

“The most interesting thing was that the Permanent Secretary told us – these are not his exact words, but he basically told us – This new government – specifically Michael Gove – doesn’t care so much about the details or the facts. He cares more about ‘the narrative’. 

“When we were doing White Papers, whereas before it was very much We’ve got to have these details; this is the headline figure, Michael Gove, because he’s a journalist, just wanted the story to read well.

“He was a local journalist, then a journalist for The Times, then a TV commentator… then suddenly he’s in charge of national education policy, which makes a change from cracking jokes on A Stab in The Dark with David Baddiel.”

There is a clip on YouTube of him presenting 1993 TV satire show A Stab in The Dark:

“Most of the financial projections in Education,” Gareth told me, “are based on how many kids there are going to be and those calculations are based round the Office for National Statistics’ population projections. But Michael Gove was quite keen for a while on trying to replace them with projections done by somebody he knows at Tesco.

“At Tesco, they have all this Clubcard data and they have projections which help them decide where to open up a new store. And, for quite a while, he was arguing we should start incorporating those – or replace the official national projections with ones done by Tesco. It didn’t go down well in the department.

“I actually had to lie for Michael Gove once.

“During the big Comprehensive Spending Review where (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne works out how much money he’s going to give to all the departments, I was basically the guy working out the headline figures of how many billions we needed. I would hand those numbers to someone who then had a meeting with Michael Gove – There was always a buffer zone between me and Michael Gove. Maybe I was too scruffy.

“Our department did quite well in the budget review – basically they decided to give us extra money at the cost of other departments. So we had a nice little champagne reception to thank everyone and the look Michael Gove gave me when I stood there listening to his speech was like How did this one get in? I was just wearing a shirt and cardigan and looking very scruffy with uncombed hair. He was like Oh God! What is going on there?

“But, basically, in the spending review, we were negotiating and there was a strategy department. I provided numbers and we would go into meetings with all these senior Treasury people and I was the person having to justify all the numbers.

“Over the course of several months, while this was happening, the Office for National Statistics came out with a new projection of pupil numbers, which underpinned all our financial projections… and their projections were basically lower. So, overnight, our projection of how much money we needed went down by about half a billion pounds.

Michael Gove at Westminster in 2008

Michael Gove looking contemplative in Westminster in 2008

“Michael Gove’s opinion was that this had not happened and that the projections we believed were the ones that were higher. That was the official line.

“We were about to go into this meeting and I’m the one who has to explain the actual numbers to all these senior Treasury people who were probably better negotiators than the people in our department and better analysts than me. And I was told before I went into the meeting: Well, just come up with something.

“So I was pinned down in this meeting by the Treasury people: What’s the difference in these numbers? Which ones are the correct ones? The higher ones? Why? I basically just stuttered for a while and gave a very unconvincing performance.”

“Did you get away with it?” I asked.

“No,” said Gareth. “After that meeting, I went to my boss, who was an analyst, and he was like Well, this is outrageous. We shouldn’t be lying. And my boss spoke to the other person’s boss and eventually they decided that we were going to go with the lower numbers… But here’s an interesting example of how analysis works in the government.

“The thing you learn when you work in any government department is how little information we actually have. There are entire swathes of the education budget that no-one really knows the cost of.

“The biggest mystery black hole is kids who have special needs. There are more of these kids every year – especially ones with serious medical problems who require like £100,000 a year – because, as health technology improves, more kids get saved and live longer.

“There’s no way of predicting how many of these kids there’s going to be and medical costs keep going up, so there was this line in the budget which was The 1% Assumption. It was a long-standing assumption: We don’t know how much it’s going to be, so we just assume it’s going to rise by 1% every year.

“My brainwave was to ask: Well… Could we make this The 2% Assumption? That was thought to be a genius idea. We put it into the calculations and suddenly the gap was closed and we were back to the higher figure we had originally wanted.

“That was probably the one thing I did which made the biggest actual difference when I worked for the government.”

* * * * *

Gareth Morinan has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/gmorinan, to which he will be adding over the next couple of months.

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One self-styled “mediocre comedian” trying to plug his show & get a Malcolm Hardee Award at the Edinburgh Fringe

I pose desperately with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

I maybe spy a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award attempt

Honestly! The things people do to try to get nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award are many and varied.

Yesterday, I got a message from comedian Gareth Morinan:

“I’m emailing to inform you of a minor scandal that I have caused on a largely redundant committee of the Edinburgh Fringe Society,” he said.

This is the umbrella organisation which publishes the annual programme listing shows appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe. It does not decide – no-one decides – who can perform at the Fringe.

“I am a member of the Fringe Participants’ Council,” Gareth told me yesterday, “along with a random hodgepodge of promoters and venue managers.”

“This year, I listed my show 11 times in the Fringe Programme (see p88-90), and explicitly state how what I did was a more cost-effective way of advertising in the programme than buying advertising space.”

Just some of Gareth’s Edinburgh listings

Just some of Gareth’s Edinburgh listings

As he explained in his listings, Gareth said: “These 11 listings are for the same show. Why have I chosen to list it as 11 two day shows, rather than one 22 day show?… These 11 two day listings cost a total of £880. One page of this programme can fit 12 listings. Yet an advertisement taking up just a quarter page costs £1,200. You do the maths.”

But this stunt had a consequence.

Yesterday Gareth told me: “An agent/manager/promoter resigned from the Participants Council in protest over what I did (I technically broke a rule about listings, but the Fringe only noticed this after she told them I had).”

According to Gareth, the agent/manager/promoter said in her resignation letter:

“I feel I need to protest at Gareth’s 11 entries in the Fringe programme… It shows a mean spiritedness towards the Fringe in terms of the comments regarding the costs of advertising and registering. I don’t think a person behaving in this way has the interests of the Fringe at heart and I don’t feel I can serve alongside him… I also can’t see myself being able to accord the respect I would wish to fellow Society members who seem to be on boards and committees for their own personal advantage, not to do the work we undertook to improve matters for all participants when we agreed to join. So it will be better if I resign. I hope you will understand and accept my decision.”

I have to say I am a little surprised, because Gareth’s piece of self publicity – listing your show 11 times in the Fringe Programme to save money on taking out a quarter page ad – and getting more advertising space in the process – seems to be exactly in the true spirit of the Fringe.

Gareth told me: “I resent the implication that I’m only on the Council for personal advantage.”

My immediate thought was: Why on earth are you NOT there for personal advantage? Surely that is why most industry people are involved with Fringe committees. And absolutely right.

Gareth in a previous Fringe incarnation

Gareth in a previous Edinburgh Fringe show incarnation

But Gareth argued: “What do I personally gain from being on the Council? I am a mediocre comedian, I probably have less financial stake in the Fringe than any other member of the Council.”

More relevantly, he then added: “The people I represent tend to think the Fringe is about pushing boundaries.”

Aye. That, I thought/think is the point of the Fringe – and certainly it was one of the reasons for establishing the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards.

I felt the Fringe was being treated – and sometimes treating itself – too seriously.

There was also the fact that establishing the Awards would enable me to get free tickets to Fringe comedy shows for ten years.

But back to yesterday.

Gareth continued: “I thought I’d try and needlessly blow this up into silly proportions if possible. Partly to make a point about the Fringe, but mainly because I’d like to use her resignation as a cheap publicity stunt for myself, thus adding some irony to the situation. I don’t know if you have any interest in writing about this story, but if you do let me know. It’s all just a bit of fun.”

I told Gareth last night that I was not interested.

He replied: “My hugely meaningful political journey is just starting… I will keep you in the loop!”

When I woke up this morning, I had changed my mind. Thus this blog.

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