Tag Archives: Guinness

English eccentric comedy adventurer Tim Fitzhigham talks futtocks and of rowing a bathtub across the Channel

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the third show, one of the guests was English eccentric adventurer Tim Fitzhigham, a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee for one of his annual Fringe comedy shows.

He talked to me and to comedy critic Kate Copstick. This is a short extract from that chat:

_______________________________________________________

COPSTICK: Your adventures… Is it insanity or is it you don’t think you could write a funny enough stand-up show, so you go and do mental things?

TIM: I think that’s right. But I like to see if things are possible. Can you do it? I have the world record for longest distance travelled in a boat made entirely out of paper. I just wondered how far you could travel in a paper boat.

COPSTICK: How far?

TIM: 160 miles.

COPSTICK: What?!

TIM: Where the comedy comes is I try these things and what is normally quite a mundane thing can suddenly take on a… With the paper boat, I had to get insurance for the paper boat before they would let me take it out on the water. I phoned hundreds of insurance companies. Nobody would give me insurance for that. Then one of them phoned me back and said: We will cover you and the paper boat against fire and theft. You couldn’t write a better joke than that. Just the truth is funny… Then I thought: Can you row a bath tub across the English Channel? I thought some Victorian must have done it, but no-one had.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How long did it take you to row across?

TIM: Nine hours and six minutes and I had my heel on the plug all the way because, obviously, you needed to be able to take the plug out, otherwise it was cheating.

JOHN: Was it difficult to set up?

TIM: When I first phoned the Royal Navy to try and get them on board with the idea, there was a mistake at the switchboard and I got put through to a rear admiral. And that was the best result for me, because both my uncle and my great uncle were in the Navy and they told me If ever you’re talking to a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you always start the conversation with a question – How are your futtocks, old man?

So I get put through to the rear admiral and I say How are your futtocks, old man? and he replies At their furthest reach, dear boy.

When I asked my uncle about this, he said Yes, that was the correct nautical response. I said That’s fantastic, uncle, but what does it actually mean? and he said Well, that’s the thing, Tim. Nobody actually knows. It’s just this mad thing the Navy have done for 300 years.

I then finally got hold of someone sensible about the whole thing and it turns out what a futtock actually is is the ribs on an old-fashioned boat and, when you say, How are your futtocks? if they reply At their furthest reach then the boat is running at its absolute top capacity. You are, in effect, saying How’s your day going? and they’re saying Very well.

I had to go up to the Admiralty Board – which is quite a serious thing. It doesn’t often happen and there are five flag admirals. I sat there and one of the admirals told me: Rowing a bath tub across the English Channel is not possible. We’ve done the calculations. You’re a single guy. It’s just not possible. Physics is against you.

I looked him directly in the eye and said: I’m not saying it IS possible, I’m saying give me the chance to try.

And – literally in a second – he turned to the admiral next to him and said: And THAT’s the spirit that built this nation!

One second. One answer. And suddenly I had the Navy behind me and they are serious.

In a maritime way.

Obviously, they’re less useful in a desert.

But, in a maritime way, they’re the best.

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Burns Night in the Ukraine in March

Stuart McKenzie - the Celt is their delight

The last time I flew to Eastern Europe it was to Moscow on Aeroflot in 1985 – they served you caviar to show what a People’s Paradise the Soviet Union was. Mikhail Gorbachev had just succeeded from Yuri Andropov, who died after an unusually and some might think suspiciously short stint in power.

Once you accepted that all Aeroflot staff scowled at all Westerners – partly because of the traditional Russian aversion to smiling at strangers and partly lest the KGB thought they sympathised with the evils of Capitalism – and that the interior decor of the planes appeared to be based on a Lambeth council flat circa 1952 – flying Aeroflot was a fairly relaxing experience.

Yesterday, I was flying to Kiev on the more smiley Ukraine International Airlines to meet up with Fred Finn (the Guinness Book of Records’ most travelled person). He arranged the sponsorship for Gorbachev’s first UK trip after the Soviet Union collapsed, has flown 15 million miles, had 718 flights in Concorde and is now an advisor to the Euro 2012 football championship and a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ to Ukraine International Airlines, for whom he writes a travel blog.

At his behest, at Gatwick Airport, I bought two bottles of vodka for people in the Ukraine. Yes indeed, as requested, I carried two bottles of vodka from London to Kiev. Over the years, I have come to accept such things as normal.

But I am actually in Kiev to attend a Burns Night Supper tomorrow. Yes, that’s tomorrow – the 31st March – and, yes, I realise Burns Night is/was on 25th January. And, no, I have no idea why the Kiev version is being held tomorrow either.

This Burns Night Supper is organised annually for a local charity by Stuart McKenzie, a highly-successful entrepreneur from Edinburgh.

Last year, apparently, his Burns Night Supper was combined with a St Patrick’s Night party.

It sounds like a great idea and one which I think should be picked up elsewhere. Lateral thinking is always to be encouraged, especially when unexplained.

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I think my body may be starting to fall apart. Perhaps leeches are the answer.

Yesterday was a hotchpotch of a day, starting with the unsettling news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had died. There may be more about this in my blog in four or five months time.

I have been hobbling a bit every since a humorous incident last month in which my left foot got stuck in a Wellington boot in a shoe shop and the Wellington had to be cut off me with a large pair of scissors. Before that, there had been much pulling by various people of my toes and heel with the result that the outside edge of my left heel has, ever since, been painful when I stand on it in my bare feet, though not when I wear shoes. But it has now started to occasionally be painful in shoes, too, so I guess I will have to go to my GP and maybe try to get it X-rayed. Two visits to my osteopath have not cured the problem, which he thinks is caused by problems in my toes, not my heel.

The humorous Wellington boot incident happened on 10th November; it is now 20th December. I have had problems ever since.

When you are younger, you think old people move slower because it is in their nature. As you get older, you realise it is often because of pain or the anticipation of pain.

Now there is something for me to look forward to.

Well, it seems I don’t even have to look forward. It is here.

My left shoulder is also giving me occasional pain after a visit to an osteopath (not my own) who was going cheap in a Daily Telegraph offer. She poked and prodded the flat stretch between my left shoulder and neck, which was damaged when I was hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in 1991 – or was it 1990?- I can’t be bothered to check – and it has been more painful since then.

I think I was born too early.

The 19th century was all about mechanical inventions. The 20th century was electrical and electronic advances. The 21st century looks set to be an era of biological discoveries and advancement.

I was born too early.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

I was thinking this yesterday lunchtime and then mad John Ward, designer of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and eccentric inventor of bizarre contraptions, e-mailed to tell me he had designed the ultimate bird table and I could see it on YouTube.

I think it has some echo of the villain’s lair in The Spy Who Loved Me crossed with the Martian tripods in War of The Worlds – someone else who saw it just thought it might attract foxes.

Perhaps the 21st century will not be all biology.

Perhaps eccentricity will proliferate.

I then had to go to hospital to have a minor operation: the surgical removal of two growths – well, OK, two little bobbly things were cut off my skin by a highly-trained and I presume highly-paid consultant with a scalpel. He is, in all seriousness, professionally called a ‘Lumps & Bumps’ consultant and, like 50% of doctors, has a good sense of humour.

One of the lumps – well, as I said, it was more like a little bobbly thing of soft flesh – has been growing on the side of my neck for a couple of years or so; the other has been growing, mini-mushroom-like, on the inside of my upper left leg like my body was trying to grow a second, more impressive penis (not difficult) beside the original one.

I don’t know which was more embarrassing: having the two bobbly things sliced off or having the consultant comment unfavourably on my bright yellow socks.

As this happened in a private hospital, we (my accompanying friend and I) were given tea and two Quality Street chocolates afterwards by the very amiable Irish nurse who told me that, if you give blood in Edgware, they give you cup of tea, a sandwich of your choice and crisps. As I have shamefully not given blood for about three years, this is tempting.

Blood transfusion centres used to just give you a cup of tea and a selection of biscuits. Things are looking up, though my friend opined she has never fully understood why doctors stopped using leeches and ‘bleeding’ patients on a regular basis.

For hundreds of years, people seemed to think that it was an effective and positively healthy thing to do. Can they really all have been wrong?

She may have a point, but where can one get leeches nowadays?

On a more 21st century subject, she discovered her O2 dongle does not work with Apple’s new Lion operating system because O2 have not pulled their finger out and updated their system. The Lion OS has been in use for months and O2 has sold customers dongles that no longer work. There may be biological advances in the 21st century but one thing seems likely to remain the same – all British telecom companies are equal.

‘Incompetent wankers’ seems to be the suitable phrase which covers this.

When I got home after the (admittedly not what anyone could call major) operation and the major trauma of realising O2 is selling products which do not work, I was almost immediately phoned by Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley: always a cheerily uplifting experience. I do not think we have talked this century, though I did mention him at the end of a blog a couple of months ago.

I booked him on a few TV programmes in the 1980s and/or the 1990s to showcase his impressive talent for playing Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with his nose.

His nose has not lost its musical ability and I am surprised he has not popped up on Britain’s Got Talent.

He lives in Brownhills in the West Midlands which, when last I heard, was home to several Guinness world record holders.

I think it’s the tedium that gets to them.

I hope, in the 21st century, it is eccentricity which proliferates.

Life can be so uneventful.

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Kim Jong-Il dies and the world’s most travelled man does not believe in jet lag

(A version of this blog was published by the Huffington Post)

Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader of North Korea died two days ago; it was only announced today.

I went to North Korea in 1986, when his father Kim Il-sung, the Great Leader was still in power.

Now his youngest son Kim Jong-un has been announced as the Great Successor.

There is no way I am writing about North Korea today except to say it is the most interesting country I have ever been to.

However, I will admit I was pleased-as-punch last week to meet Fred Finn, who is officially the world’s most travelled person. He has been in the Guinness Book of Records since 1983 and has now flown 15 million miles – the equivalent of 31 trips to the moon. He made 718 trips on Concorde and always sat in the same seat – 9a – because, he told me last week, “It was the first row to be served from the back galley, so I got served first and, before I got on, the crew used to put a little kettle under my seat with Dom Pérignon in it. They used to change it three times during the flight, so I got a bottle-and-a-half of DP for my lunch on the way to New York.”

Fred has visited 139 different countries but not – and it made me feel good to hear this – North Korea.

“I don’t really want to go there,” he says.

And why should he?

“I’ve been held hostage in Iran during the Revolution,” he told me, “I’ve had bombs on board and I’ve landed without the wheels down.”

I met Fred in Esher one morning last week, although his current home is actually in the Ukranian city of Komsomolsk.

It was very cold in Esher last week, so Fred persuaded a local pub which was closed to open just for us so we could have a seat. He is very persuasive. (We did not drink until the pub officially opened and, then, we only had a cup of tea.)

In his youth, Fred was a professional cricketer. Later, he advised Richard Branson on the start-up of Virgin Atlantic. He also helped arrange Mikhail Gorbachev’s lecture tour of the UK, Sarah Feruson’s charity trips to Kenya and was a friend of country singer Johnny Cash. Any man who can tell first-hand anecdotes about Adnan Khashoggi is someone I will always happily have tea with in a pub in Esher.

Fred is currently a roving ambassador for the Euro 2012 football tournament and for Ukranian International Airlines.

Indeed, Ukraine Airlines are soon to start an online magazine called Fred Finn Destinations.

But the strange thing is, with 15 million flying miles under his belt, Fred does not believe in jet lag.

“I don’t believe in it at all,” he told me. “You never got jet lag on Concorde and you went through five time zones.

“I believe that, if you sit in a flying aluminium tube for over five hours, you get dehydrated, your eyes get dry and your skin gets dry and you get tired because of this. I’ve found that, if you keep water – a little spring water spray – on your eyes and face, you don’t get jet lag.”

“But it’s not jet lag,” I said. “Really, it should be called time-zone lag.”

“Well, it’s a ‘tired’ lag,” said Fred. “But I don’t get it. When I get on a plane, I set my watch to the time zone I’m going to and I eat accordingly.

“When I get off the plane, I stay up until the local going-to-bed time and then I sleep well and I get up in the morning like nothing happened. I know that works for me, because I was doing it every week for Christ knows how many years.”

“But,” I said, “if you fly from London to Beijing, your body clock is all out of kilter.”

“But is it?” he asked. “I didn’t get that.

“You should also take into account, if you’re flying to China, how long your day has been. You are putting in a day and a half on a long-haul flight but, if you keep yourself moisturised and live in the time zone you are going to…

“Some people get on a flight from London to New York in the morning and they eat breakfast. I won’t take breakfast leaving London because it is lunchtime in New York – so I eat as if it were lunchtime. By the time I get to New York, I’ve already lived in that time zone for six or eight hours – the flight is around six hours in one direction and eight in the other because of the jet stream – it changes in March and November.”

“There’s so much hype about so-called jet lag and about deep-vein thrombosis on long haul flights

“I wrote an article 25 years ago called Aerial Isometrics.

“It’s about how to sit in your seat and do exercises without anybody seeing you. Just by clenching the muscles in your leg. And that stops the problem. People said there was no such thing. Then they started selling socks to stop it and there was a big deal about it.”

I am not sure about jet lag, but who am I to argue with the world’s most travelled person? I do know I was once on a long-haul flight where I got three breakfasts because it was breakfast time in each time zone when we were due to have a meal. That really confused my body.

I suspect it was cheaper for the airline than serving lunches or dinners.

We live in an uncertain world.

But I do know for certain that the ice cream in North Korea was very good.

Though I would – of course – expect nothing less in a People’s Paradise.

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Britain’s Got Talent? Well, let me tell you – you ain’t heard the half of it…

Yesterday, I went to see my chum, the professional farteur Mr Methane, being filmed in the basement bedroom of a hotel near Primrose Hill in London – for a TV show which, alas, I am not allowed to describe until late next month at the earliest.

Apparently the series gets around 20 million viewers worldwide – more than the almost 14 million hits his Britain’s Got Talent clip currently has on YouTube.

While sitting around during the filming, I did have a chance to meet for the first time Paul ‘Burper King’ Hunn, the man who holds the record for the loudest burp in the world.

These two great audio entertainment legends had not met in the flesh until yesterday, so it was a historic day in bodily function circles. I felt privileged to be there.

Paul Hunn has held his distinguished Guinness Book of Records title since 2000 and still does but, he tells me, he is not in this year’s printed book because Guinness do not print every record every year – something which I had not realised.

How strange, I thought.

But the logic, it seems, is that if they printed every record every year then, with some records standing unchallenged over long periods, the book might seem too ‘samey’ every year. So not every record is printed every year.

Paul’s friend Steve Taylor holds the record for having the world’s longest tongue but, this year, he tells me, the Guinness Book of Records only includes the girl with the longest tongue.

According to The People newspaper in 2007, Steve Taylor can “fit five ring doughnuts on his monster. And he is only millimetres away from licking his own elbow – a feat always thought impossible.”

The full abilities of the girl with the longest tongue in the world remain strangely unreported.

I felt a slight tremble of trauma when Paul, the Burper King, mentioned the Guinness Book of Records to me, as I am still recovering from the emotional turmoil of them rejecting spaghetti juggling as a legitimate activity for their records during Malcolm Hardee Week at his year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

At the time, I felt spurned and strangely soiled.

They said spaghetti-juggling was “a little too specialised”.

Now, having recovered a little from the worst of my grief, I feel they simply did not show fitting respect to the sense of adventure and exploration of the unknown which made Britain great.

After leaving the hotel yesterday, with the sounds of Mr Methane and the Burper King still ringing in my ears, wistful memories came into my mind of booking Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley, a man from the West Midlands who could play the tune Spanish Eyes on an electric organ with only his nose.

Well, rumour had it that his nose was not the only one of his bodily protuberances with which he could play the electric organ, but modesty and a presumed inability to actually screen anything else on national TV meant I questioned him no further on his other physical abilities.

Sometimes, in the lengthening twilight of my years, I think fondly of Adrian ‘Nosey’ Wigley and sigh a sigh of contentment that, after booking him on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, my life has perhaps not been totally in vain.

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Guinness Book of Records spurns spaghetti-juggling as “too specialised”

The ghost of late, great godfather of alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee must be turning in his urn.

The Edinburgh Fringe this August will host The Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One but, today, Guinness World Records cruelly dealt a bitter blow to spaghetti-juggling enthusiasts worldwide when they shockingly refused to recognise spaghetti-juggling as a legitimate event.

“While we certainly do not underestimate your proposal,” Guinness World Records write, “we do however think that this item is a little too specialised for a body of reference as general as ours. We receive many thousands of record claims every year and we think you will appreciate that we are bound to favour those which reflect the greatest interest.”

How can people not be fascinated or, indeed, be obsessed by spaghetti-juggling?

I am sure I read somewhere that Nero juggled spaghetti while Rome burned. He later spread the rumour he was playing the violin because he wanted to seem more cultured.

My lifelong hopes and dreams of spaghetti-juggling becoming a recognised, legitimate – perhaps even Olympic – sport may have been dented today, but they will not be so easily crushed.

Spaghetti-juggling may not be in the Olympics next year nor in 2016, but the stupidity and pointlessness of an idea should be no barrier to its acceptance as an event. This is Britain, where stupidity and pointlessness have been widely cherished for centuries. And still are.

Clay pigeon shooting.

Marmite.

I rest my case.

And spaghetti-juggling is an event in which Britain could take a decisive lead this August.

Throwing a javelin is a remarkably pointless thing to do in the 21st century, except possibly at Celtic v Rangers football matches. But people still get gold medals for it. Or arrested.

Spaghetti-juggling has the potential to rival javelin-throwing and curling – an Olympic sport which is basically just polishing ice as quickly as you can.

Spaghetti-juggling is the future for pointless sports. It has its days of glory ahead of it, starting this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Outside The Beehive Inn on 24th and 25th August.

Be there or risk missing the start of a cultural phenomenon.

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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