Tag Archives: Have I Got News For You

How Left Wing TV writers won an election for Margaret Thatcher, the godmother of UK alternative comedy

The new ITV series Newzoids starts tonight. A satirical programme about politicians, performed by puppets. (Not too far removed from real life, then.)

“It sounds just like Spitting Image,” I suggested yesterday to Dave Cohen, who is one of the writers on Newzoids. Dave is also the man who originally created the oft-used saying Comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll.

“W-e-e-e-e-l-l,” said Dave, “That’s the first thing people compare it to.”

“How far ahead is Newzoids recorded?” I asked.

Dave Cohen, the man behind television's political laughter

Dave Cohen, the man behind television’s political laughter

“Like Spitting Image,” Dave said, “over a long period of time. I’ve been doing mainly songs for it. And the odd sketch.

“The songs have to be done quite a long time in advance.

“We were doing music at the start of the year – January/February.

“Most of the show has been made and I think they have a 2 or 3 minute window to add things.”

“That’s very dodgy during a General Election campaign,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Dave, “I’m surprised four episodes are going out before the election because, all the years I’ve worked on topical shows and at the BBC, there was always this absolute decree that you must be equally rude about everybody. But maybe, because it’s ITV…”

Spitting Image,” I said, “transmitted an episode on Election night, but only immediately after the polls closed. Margaret Thatcher singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me

“That was actually from another episode,” said Dave.

“But very effective,” I said, ignoring my mistake.

“A lot of people,” said Dave, “thought Spitting Image won the election for the Tories in 1992. Which was a paradox. Everybody who was writing for Spitting Image hated the Tories. I’d say most people who write and perform comedy in general are Left-ish or Left or very Left. The BBC are always moaning that they’re desperate to get Right Wing people on quiz shows. I think I agree – and I am not Right Wing myself – but the trouble is finding them. There are not that many.”

“You have scripted for Have I Got News For You,” I prompted.

“God, yes,” said Dave. “Over the years, I’ve written for William Hague, Robin Cook, Neil Kinnock – that was the worst one ever. He guest-hosted.”

“Why was he a nightmare?” I asked.

“When you have some professional comedian like Jo Brand or Lee Mack hosting the show, they’ll say OK, give that line to me; I’ll do it my way, and you trust that. But, when Neil Kinnock says: It’s OK. Don’t worry. I’ll sort it out… Apparently he wouldn’t do any of the script in rehearsal either. I went to the recording and it was an absolute nightmare, really.”

Neil Kinnock: Have I got a loser for you?

Neil Kinnock: Have I got a loser for you?

“Did he look good on transmission?” I asked. “I sat through one recording of Have I Got News For You and it was two-and-a-half hours of recording for a half-hour show.”

“All I can say,” said Dave, “is that Neil Kinnock looked relatively better in the half hour edit.”

“Getting back,” I said, “to Spitting Image – with Left-leaning writers influencing the result of the 1992 Election, which the Conservative Party won…”

“Well,” said Dave, “there was all this slagging-off the Tories, as you’d expect but, when it came to Labour, there was maybe more anger because Labour were so crap – they were not criticising the poll tax or the Tory cuts and Neil Kinnock was being a bit useless. And that anger also seemed to hit a chord with voters who, even if they hated the Tories, thought: At least they’re better than Labour.”

“Well,” I suggested, “on Spitting Image, Neil Kinnock’s character was a floundering Welsh windbag. Margaret Thatcher was very strong in her male business suit. And Norman Tebbit in his leather jacket looked really aggressive – I guess he was supposed to be a devilish-type figure – but, as a result, he actually came across as a strong politician.”

“Well,” said Dave, “Johnny Speight created Alf Garnett (the central right wing character in Till Death Us Do Part) as a monster and the worse he made him the more loveable he became to the audience. People were saying: Oh, Alf Garnett? We love Alf Garnett! Alf Garnett for Prime Minister! That was another thing with Spitting Image – However hard they made Tebbit and Thatcher, people just went: Hahha! Look at the funny monsters!

“I always,” I said, “thought Alf Garnett was very complicated because, if you agreed with his views, you agreed with his views and the young git sitting on the sofa (his Left Wing son-in-law, played by Tony Booth, father of future Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie) was just some young idiot. There was nothing to change your existing views. And I always thought, in reality, Alf Garnett would have been a Labour voter: a real dyed-in-the-wool working class conservative-with-a-small-c Labour voter.”

There is a clip of Till Death Us Do Part on YouTube.

“Well, this is an interesting area,” said Dave. “There was this myth at the time that people who voted Labour could not be racists or sexists. And that’s sort-of mostly true now but certainly, in my experience in my stand-up comedy years, there was then a lot of sexism on the circuit.”

I said: “I think dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters over a certain age are very conservative with a small c.”

“I think where Labour is losing votes to UKIP in this election,” said Dave, “it’s where those type of attitudes still persist. In cosmopolitan places like London and Manchester, even people who aren’t satisfied with Labour are not going to UKIP whereas, in some of the places where things haven’t changed so much and people are more dyed-in-the-wool and there are older people in older communities, they’re the ones who are going to UKIP.”

“Margaret Thatcher still divides people,” I said.

“She was a brilliant politician,” said Dave. “She did do all these amazing things like the Channel Tunnel, which brought us closer to Europe. She was the first person to say climate change is happening and we’ve got to do something about it. People forget the very pragmatic side to her. But…”

“You could almost be a fan,” I laughed.

“I got utterly stitched-up by a Daily Telegraph journalist,” said Dave. “When my book How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy came out, he interviewed me and there’s a chapter in my book in which I say that Margaret Thatcher probably did more to help alternative comedy than anyone else.

An inspiration: Margaret Thatcher

Godmother of British Comedy?

“Not just for the jokes but also by allowing people to be unemployed. She basically said: Unemployment is a price worth paying for getting rid of all our old manufacturing industries. So people of my era – I’m from Leeds but I was a journalist in South Wales – just moving to London, unemployed, only had to sign-on once a week, didn’t have to go to Job Centres, were allowed to earn a certain amount of money every week and were still allowed to sign-on as long as we declared it. You still got your housing benefit and your dole money.

“The alternative comedy clubs were starting up and The Young Ones had become famous on TV and suddenly there were loads of clubs in London and not enough comedians to play them. I was doing 3 or 4 gigs a week and being paid £20 here, £30 there. All legit and all thanks to Margaret Thatcher.

“So this journalist gave me a nice plug for my book in the Daily Telegraph but said Dave Cohen says Margaret Thatcher had a fantastic sense of humour – I didn’t say that at all!”

“People demonise her,” I said.

“Well,” said Dave. “I’ve been thinking more about how to deal with politicians, because the social media has become so polarised now – You HAVE to be one thing or another. But I think, really, you’ve got to engage seriously with people you disagree with. However much you disagree with people, you’ll always find a few things you can agree on and that’s where you have to start from, really.”

The Immigrant Diaries are coming to the South Bank soon

The Immigrant Diaries are coming to the South Bank soon

“You told me,” I said, “that you are in a storytelling show called Immigrant Diaries in two Fridays’ time at the Purcell Room on the South Bank.”

“Yes,” said Dave. “I’ll be telling the story of that fateful day in 1994 when a bunch of comedians got together when the (extreme right wing) BNP were doing very well in the Isle of Dogs – it’s in my book too.”

“I think everyone in Britain,” I said, “is a bloody immigrant except a few people in Wales who speak Welsh and ironically don’t want to be British. But then, go far enough back, everyone is an immigrant in every country.”

“I am working,” said Dave, “on a show for the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn in July – a Muslim/Jewish comedy show. The fact that Jews and Muslims can get together to create a comedy show is considered quite a shocking thing by some people. The very idea they can have a dialogue! The auditions are happening next week.”

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Magician Paul Daniels on how “Have I Got News For You” re-appeared his joke

Paul Daniels with the lovely Debbie McGee

Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie McGee live by the Thames

Magician Paul Daniels performs at the Balham Comedy Festival next Tuesday. It is billed as “a show full of magic, comedy and amazement” with Paul and his wife – the lovely Debbie McGee.

“So your Balham thing involves a toilet?” I asked when we met this week.

“Oh, I’ll just wander on and have a chat,” he told me. “If I’m going to do an after dinner speech, for example, Debbie won’t let me write it, because I ad-lib better. I float free. I’m kind of a jazz comedian, a jazz magician. I don’t have a set route. I have this belief that, whatever happens, I’ll get out the other end.

“I have a sort of routine with the magic – it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But, with the beginning and middle, I can kinda drift into stuff and I don’t mind if I’m distracted or the audience wants to know something. I’ll wander off what I’m saying, but I’ll find a way back.

“In the early days, when I played the working men’s clubs, I was winning comedy awards which is long-forgotten because, when you get to the BBC, it’s all: Oh no, you’re the magician. Jokes must be edited out. 

“Of course, you always over-record a show. Louis Theroux came to interview us and stayed three months. You over-record and then edit it down. We used to over-record my TV show by about 10 minutes. But, I mean, Have I Got News For You is like a…”

“Oh God!” I said. “Don’t! I sat through one recording. It was endless. I think it took over three hours.”

“Yes. Just to find 30 minutes of something funny,” said Paul. “Which is weird, because they’ve got it all written down anyway. I mean, Punch magazine published the script once.”

“Why did you go on it?” I asked.

“Because I couldn’t figure out,” explained Paul, “why my very funny friends weren’t funny when they were on it.

“I went on and I told a good gag about Bush and Blair and the War – about having ‘wargasms’ – I said they weren’t allowed to have sex any more because of Clinton, so they had wargasms instead.

“My longest, oldest friend was sitting in the front during the recording and, when he saw the show go out, he told me: You don’t do any gags! You did loads of gags when we were there. Where were they? He was going to write and complain. He’s like that.

“I said: Oh! It’s alright… But one week later, my wargasm joke was in the show told by the presenter (Angus Deayton).”

“I’m shocked,” I said.

“Good,” said Paul. “That’s my job.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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“Being a stockbroker is like being a comedian”: Russia Today’s Max Keiser

Max with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

Max (right) with Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You

If you want to see the heir of the late American comedian Bill Hicks performing, where do you look?

Not in British comedy clubs where Bill Hicks is the comedians’ comedian. Certainly not in America,  where Bill Hicks only came to most people’s attention fairly recently.

Perhaps one place to look is a television programme transmitted three times a week on the RT channel (The channel used to be called Russia Today.) American presenter Max Keiser is RT’s economic guru; he fronts his own show: The Keiser Report.

Max Keiser (extreme left) on 10 O'Clock Live

Max (perhaps suitably on the extreme left) on 10 O’Clock Live

Last month, he was a guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You. Last year, he was a guest on Channel 4’s comedy series 10 O’Clock Livepresented by Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. 

Jimmy Carr came up to me after the show,” Max told me yesterday in Soho. “He was very nice and wanted to know more about my views on the economy. A few weeks later, I was having lunch over at his place – beautiful house, beautiful tennis court. He had me up there to talk about gold and silver. He said he was prepared to buy a ton – that’s 32,000 ounces – of silver. Since that lunch, the price has dropped about 50%. So that’s probably why I haven’t heard from Jimmy since then.”

“And you’re a fan of Bill Hicks,” I said.

“If anyone is a big fan of comedy and they watch my show on RT,” said Max. “they’ll recognise that I borrow heavily from him. I liked Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and that raw, unvarnished truthfulness is something we’ve always tried to strive for in The Keiser Report. It’s just very raw and sometimes it works not from having people’s funny bone tickled but because they are uncomfortable.”

Max Keiser presents his Report on Russia Today TV

Max presents Keiser Report next to Boris Johnson’s City Hall

“But The Keiser Report,” I said, “is a current affairs show – a news show covering business and finance – that is not normally a comic area.”

“At this point in time,” replied Max, “the financial world and the banks are so pathetically corrupt that it’s impossible to cover them without having, to some degree, a satirical view. Very few things which banks do, in this country at this point, are legal. Virtually 100% of everything all the Big Four banks do is illegal.”

“Could you be pushing this angle because you’re a presenter on the Russian government’s own TV channel?” I asked.

“Well, the show is produced by Associated Press,” said Max. “which is an American company. The show is recorded at a TV studio that’s part of London & Partners, which is London Mayor Boris Johnson’s public relations division. And we make other shows with Associated Press which are sold to other outlets. We sold a show to Press TV.”

“Thats worse!” I said. “That’s the Iranian government!. These are dodgy people we are talking about.”

“These are fine international news organisations,” said Max. “We’ve done a show for BBC World News. We did shows for Al Jazeera English.”

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English

Max, in Paris, gives his opinions to Al Jazeera English, Doha

“Ah, now,” I said. “Al Jazeera English is a very, very good news channel, though I don’t know about the Arabic version.”

“When we were in Doha where Al Jazeera English is based,” said Max, “there was this famous car park with the Al Jazeera English building on one side and the Al Jazeera Arabic building on the other and they really did not get along. So there is a perpetual stand-off in Doha and occasionally executives would be taken out to the car park and…”

“Beheaded?” I suggested.

“…left to their own devices,” continued Max. “And that’s not easy to do, because you need an exit visa. So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.”

“What show did you make for them?” I asked.

“We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.”

“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?

“Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still seems to want to be fighting the Cold War. If you look at the rhetoric coming out of the US, they still think it’s 1970. They don’t understand that Russia and the Russian economy has leapfrogged well beyond what was happening during the Cold War, well past the Soviet Union. They are very entrepreneurial in Russia and the TV network is very savvy. They have a bigger reach than the BBC – over 800 million. I think they’ve really taken the top position in the world right now as far as global international satellite and cable TV is concerned. And whatever we can do to support that, we’re happy to do. In this country, I would say the relationship with the Soviet Union is quite strained. Other countries have moved on from their Cold War perception.”

“You’ll get a Hero of the Soviet Union medal,” I told Max. “You’ve had other comedians on The Keiser Report, haven’t you?”

Max Keiser (right) interviews comedian Frankie Boyle on Russia Today

Frankie Boyle (left) interviewed on RT’s The Keiser Report

“Yes, we’ve had Frankie Boyle. I’m a big fan of his. A no-holds-barred comedian who’s willing to take big risks.”

“What were you talking about?”

“I think he and I talked about the state of the media.”

“But you’re a business show.”

“Yeah, but so much of business now is driven by perception and that perception is driven by the media. The Stock Market – whether it’s the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones – it’s a hologram driven by perception. There’s no actual equity in those markets; it’s completely a bubble puffed up on zero collateral.”

“What were you before being a TV presenter?” I asked.

“I started out as a stockbroker for Paine Webber on Wall Street in the early 1980s. Before that, I was at New York University and I was doing stand-up comedy. I made the transition from doing comedy to being a stockbroker at the height of the Thatcher/Reagan period.”

“Why?”

“Because, surprisingly, being a stockbroker is not that much different from being a comedian. You’re telling stories to people, going through a lot of stories quite rapidly and you are essentially getting people not to laugh but to say: Give me 1,000 shares. To get to that moment, you use the same techniques as a comedian: pacing, word-choice, empathy.

“I was at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. Rich Hall was doing improvisation down in the theatre district. Robin Williams was at Catch a Rising Star. On the West Coast, you had Steve Martin. It was the beginning of that huge new wave when comedy became the new rock ’n’ roll and then TV shows came out of that.

“Watching Robin Williams work was pretty remarkable. During that time, before he went on stage, his ritual was to line up seven or eight Kamikaze cocktails. They’re extremely potent alcoholic concoctions. As the MC was about to introduce him, he’d just go Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang – Bang and down those suckers and then hit the stage with all that energy.

Max Keiser stands up for his beliefs - possible in Edinburgh

Max Keiser is into a post “Comedy is Rock ’n’ Roll” period

“Now we’re into a post Comedy is rock ’n’ roll period. I’m hoping we’re getting back to the more politicised comedy – the Lenny Bruce type of comedy – that’s what I’m hoping, anyway. A lot of people who do comedy here in London go to the United States and come back and tell me: It’s great; it’s all very funny; but it’s homogenised. They’re all doing the same kind of jokes, which is because of this huge thing called TV: the sitcoms. They’re looking for a certain type to fill a certain spot and there’s 10,000 comics trying to get that one spot and they’re all doing the same act.

“I love the comedy here in London, because it’s completely different. There’s a lot of political edginess to it. A lot of comedians here identify themselves as ‘left wing’. In America, there is no left wing. There’s only slightly right-of-centre and extreme right-of-centre and the fanatical right.”

“Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I went for the first time last year.”

“You should do a show up there,” I suggested.

“I would like to take a show up there though, if I do, I’d have to workshop it here in London beforehand. But I’ve already been doing my Stand-Up Rage show in cities around the world: Dublin, Los Angeles, London.

“People are fans of my rages on The Keiser Report and this is a 60-minute rage without any control whatsoever. I go into a fugue state in a white rage. Afterwards, I literally have no memory of what I’ve said. It’s a cathartic experience and the audience, in many cases, achieve a level of ecstasy.”

There was a slight pause.

“So you don’t have a script,” I asked. “You just go off on a rant?”

“I start off on one basic idea,” explained Max, “and I will refer to headlines and each usually triggers a good ten minutes of rage. Then, to catch my breath, I will maybe cut to a 20 second music or video blurb.”

“And you rage about politics?” I asked.

“It’s about the bankers and the banksters because, when you have this merging of the private banking interests and the political interests otherwise known as Fascism… I mean, London is the capital of financial terrorism. This is where the financial Jihadis congregate.”

“You do good headline,” I said.

“If you go down to the City of London,” continued Max, “they have the madrassas – otherwise known as HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. These are the madrassas of banking fanaticism. They pursue market fundamentalism which says they can blow themselves up and others around them – not to seek THE Prophet but some profit.”

(The Keiser Report is transmitted on RT, with editions also available on YouTube)

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Revealed: who actually originally said that “comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll”…

Dave Cohen with his new book at last night’s launch

Dave Cohen and his book at last night’s launch

Last night, I went to the launch of comedy writer/performer Dave Cohen’s latest publication How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy – it aims to be “a practical and funny book explaining how to make a living at comedy”.

If anyone knows how to be more – far more – than averagely successful, it is Dave.

We both worked at Noel Gay Television in 1989/1990. (For American readers… that production company was neither gay not Christmas-related. Noel Gay was a man who wrote a very British song called Run Rabbit Run Rabbit Run Run Run.)

Dave has written for – among many other TV shows – Have I Got News For You, Horrible Histories, Not Going Out and Spitting Image. He was nominated for the 1984 Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1995, he was a founder member of the Comedy Store Players – the original line-up was Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Mike Myers and Neil Mullarkey. Dave has also programmed tomorrow’s Big Comedy Conference in London, filling it with big comedy industry names; his only stumble was booking me to be on a panel about the future (or not) of television comedy. Of what was he thinking?

Back in the day, Dave was even a columnist for the NME, The Face and the Guardian newspaper.

In my view, though, his main claim to fame is what he said at (what he says was) a lacklustre gig in the Camden Head venue in Islington one night in 1988. He had a gag which referred to his upcoming appearance at a Kensington venue formerly called The Nashville. He was enthusiastic about appearing on the very stage where many punk rock legends had bounced and spat.

His set-up for the gag at the Camden Head included the words: “I’m being asked to perform at venues where I used to see bands… comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll…”

A reviewer from City Limits (a lefty-wing rival to London listings magazine Time Out) was in the audience. His review of the gig started: “Now that comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll…”

Dave was the rather grandly titled Chief Publicity Officer for the venue and, to publicise their ’new material nights’ he sent out copies of the City Limits article to other journalists. A few weeks later, he stumbled on a TV programme in which Janet Street Porter said that comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll.

In his new book, Dave writes it was:

“A clunking phrase, invented as the set-up of a joke, abandoned, repeated in a left-wing magazine with a tiny circulation, then appropriated by a journalist on a fourth-rate chat show… I laid no claim, she was welcome to it. Sadly I learned that even barely-watched regional TV chat-shows reach more people in 30 minutes than I had managed in four years of stand-up.”

Guns ’n’ Moses were the new schlock ’n’ roll

Guns ’n’ Moses – the new schlock ’n’ roll (Dave is the central semi-naked one)

And so the words of Dave Cohen entered the language and affected the way comedy was seen when, a little later, Billy Connolly and Harry Enfield introduced bands at Wembley Stadium and Baddiel & Newman played Wembley Arena.

How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy is definitely an under-statement.

Oh… Dave was also 1994-2000 a key member of the occasional piss-take Jewish heavy metal band Guns ’n’ Moses which, at various times, included comedians Al Murray on drums and Jim Tavare on bass.

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“Have I Got News For You” in London & from Kenya with comedy critic Copstick

(Parts of this piece were published on the Indian news site WSN)

Vivienne Soan tries to fend off Bob Slayer last night

Vivienne Soan turned the other cheek to Bob Slayer

Last night, I went to the recording of tonight’s edition of TV show Have I Got News For You.

Such are the strange times that Margaret Thatcher created and which we live in, that this BBC TV show is recorded in the ITV studios on London’s South Bank. I used to work there when it was London Weekend Television.

Given that the recording for the half hour show lasted over two hours, I do not envy the editor.

One of the guests on Have I Got News For You was former London Mayor ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone – a late replacement, it seemed, for a Conservative politician who did not fancy being on a show that was likely to make many a mention of Margaret Thatcher’s death this week.

I would guess one of the bits likely to be cut out of the show (for length reasons) is a reference to the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Ken Livingstone said he had been told when he was London Mayor that he could not put anything permanent on it because it was reserved for a statue of the Queen, to be erected after her death. But, said Ken, he had been told not to tell this to anyone.

After the recording, my eternally-un-named friend and I had a drink in a pub opposite the ITV studios with comedian Bob Slayer and Pull The Other One club owner Vivienne Soan.

It was a pleasant – if lengthy – evening in London in a warm television studio and a rather over-priced pub glittering with lights.

When I got home, there was an e-mail from comedy critic Kate Copstick. She went to Kenya at the beginning of this week, continuing work for her Mama Biashara charity.

Mama Biashara  helps poor people in Kenya set up their own small businesses which may give them a lift to a better life; it also gives health aid.

She gets no money of any kind from the charity, takes no expenses and, when she is there, she lives in the slums of Nairobi.

These are extracts from Copstick’s diary this week:

MONDAY

British Airways check-in at Heathrow are delightful – even when I spill condoms and bleach tablets, bottles of kiddy vitamins, cod liver oil and multivitamins (thank you once again HTC) all over the concourse in an effort to reduce my ridiculously overweight bag to being merely overweight.

When I reach Nairobi, it is flooded. It is pouring with rain; there are great lakes of water everywhere.

My tiny slum palace awaits but, as it is late, we cannot take the shortcut through the carwash and I have to heave my bags through flooded and muddy pitch dark compounds. There is a massive blackout across Corner – fairly usual when it rains like this.

I only have one candle, so I save unpacking till morning.

The cats have come to greet me and stay the night. Which is sweet except when the kitten is sick under my bed.

TUESDAY

Giraffe outside Nairobi - the rich bit

Giraffe & skyline of Nairobi: very obviously a city of contrasts

The cats have shared my bedspace and, in return, have allowed their fleas to bite me into a flurry of little red itches.

Today, Uhuru Kenyatta is being sworn in as President of Kenya, along with William Ruto his Vice President (some say with the emphasis on Vice; I couldn’t possible comment).

It is a national holiday.

We tour around the deserted city centre looking for a Forex foreign exchange shop to change some money. We eventually find one. The exchange rate is dire. But I have no choice.

Everywhere – on radios, in cars, on phones – is the relay of the swearing-in ceremony. Everyone is listening.

Various African Presidents speak. The outgoing President speaks,.William Ruto speaks… The Kikuyu are delighted.

“So you have a war criminal for a president,” I observe.

They laugh.

“What if he is found guilty at The Hague?” I ask.

“There is no Hague,” they reply. “We do not recognise the Hague,” they say. “When The Hague indicts George Bush we will recognise it,” they say.

You cannot fault the logic.

“And Tony Blair…” I offer. “And Tony Blair.”

I suppose that, even if Kenyatta and Ruto are guilty, they kept out of other people’s countries.

Mama Biashara has a new fundraiser in my cousin Gus, an excellent bloke who runs up and down mountains for fun. He is approaching some trusts and, if they are to make with the dosh, it will have to be for something more grown-up-sounding than ageing Scots loony woman runs around the nasty bits of Kenya setting up odd businesses in unlikely places and mopping up pus.

Doris’s mum has just died of cancer of the absolutely everything. As Doris talks, I learn that, just to be admitted into an oncology ward in Kenyatta Hospital (a government hospital), you have to pay a deposit (on admission) of 45,000ksh – around £400. As a basic payment. To which the cost of medication etc is added. Per week. To die. After which you have to pay Mortuary Fees while they store your body as your desperate relatives try to find a way of paying the hospital bill. This in a country where labouring pays £2 per day of hard graft and even a decent office job pays about £90 a month.

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at a Mama Biashara project

Doris has lined up a group of 190 refugee women, forced out of Kisumu in the aftermath of the election, to get the Mama Biashara treatment. They are Kikuyu in a Luo area. And the Luo are pretty pissed off at the result of the election.

The plan is to dig and stock three fish ponds for the refugee women to farm fish (it is the only business they know) on a piece of land they have been offered rent-free for ten years. 190 women is a serious project.

Jayne calls from Awendo to remind me the children have malaria, everyone needs shoes and the growth in Pamela’s anus is still there.

Now Felista arrives. She has become something of a national celebrity since appearing on TV when a man was killed by dogs outside DECIP, a children’s home which caters for children who are orphans, homeless and destitute.

The circumstances are typically murky and the Kenyan propensity for (a) turning a crisis into a massive drama and (b) gossiping the most massive amount of rubbish with endless enthusiasm means that no-one will ever know.

Felista says one dog nipped the man’s leg and then he died. The papers said that a “pack of rabid dogs” had attacked him and eaten his leg off. A mob of locals had descended on DECIP threatening to set fire to the place. And they would too. I have seen the Kenyan mob in action and it is fairly scary.

Felista got (and Mama Biashara paid for) an armed police guard until the hoo-ha died down a little.

Meanwhile, a second mob came to stone the dogs (any dogs, really) to death. The local authorities got in first and put the dogs down but the mob got in and stoned them anyway.

WEDNESDAY

I awake to find I have an arse like Doris’s. OK not quite. But it seems that, despite my dangling little insect-abattoir strips about the room, the mosquitoes have been in and had themselves a party on my ass. It ain’t pretty. Scratching uncontrollably, I head to the bank and withdraw a wedge and a half.

I meet Doris and we head out to Kenool for a little workshop. I have a gift for Doris but it has suffered an unfortunate tragedy. As British Airways are not as generous as Virgin when it comes to excess baggage, I use my two allowed free bags on the way back when I bring a mountain of stuff. This leaves me with two bags on the way out and you would not believe how much really good cod liver oil and multivitamins weigh (thank you HTC).

I spent an afternoon decanting syrups and cough mixtures from glass bottles into big lightweight plastic bottles. Ignoring my sister Amanda’s advice to wrap them in clingfilm, I arrive to discover that Doris’s beautiful purple boots (thank you Age UK) are soaked in Kilkof cough linctus. Not good. I scrub and clean them as best I can and Doris seems delighted with everything except the lingering smell.

Excitingly, my brother calls to confirm he will be in Nairobi on Saturday at 5.00pm.

The walk back home is wet and muddy. The slum mud has stuff in it you really don’t want to think about and has the effect of clamping great gobs of it to your feet so, by the end of a 100 yard walk, you have doubled your body weight.

I curl up with the cats.

THURSDAY

Kate Copstick in Kenya

Kate Copstick in Kenya: takes one step at a time

I meet with Doris after she has been coffin-shopping and we get together with some more groups in Dagoretti Corner. We fund a fresh ginger and garlic selling group; some women who will be buying, slaughtering and selling chicken; a rice business; a group of three men who have the opportunity to buy a chainsaw and start a firewood business; and another men’s group who have got themselves knee-deep in orders for duck meat.

The Chinese are really taking over here.

I notice, when I go into the supermarket, alongside The Nation, The Standard and The Kenyan, there is now The Chinese Times.

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Sex scandals spread at the BBC… ten years ago…

Today’s Daily Mirror front page

I have been getting (for me) abnormally high hits on one particular old blog of mine. Normally my blogs get hits on the day of posting and a couple of days after, then tail off to nothing except for a few occasional random hits.

This particular blog – now 27-days-old – has been getting steady hits since it was posted. Yesterday, it had 2,897 hits. That’s a lot for an almost one-month old blog of mine. It describes the background to the infamous hoax Have I Got News For You transcript about Jimmy Savile.

The front of today’s i newspaper

Yesterday, Gary Glitter was arrested in connection with the police enquiries into Jimmy Savile’s paedophile attacks. Today, the newspapers are full of the story.

As the thing I was going to blog about this morning fell through, I looked in my electronic diary for this day ten years ago – Tuesday 29th October 2002.

Guess what.

It was the day the BBC sacked presenter Angus Deayton from Have I Got News For You because newspaper stories about his sex life had become a subject of the programme and therefore, it was said, he could not be a detached presenter. Panelists Paul Merton and Ian Hislop had gone for his throat again on the show the previous Friday. The next show (recorded on Thursday night for a Friday transmission) was going to be presented by Paul Merton while the producers looked for another full-time presenter.

The tabloids on that morning ten years ago were also claiming that there were now 29 separate allegations of rape against former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. I had not really been following the unfolding story, but reportedly presenter Ulrika Jonsson had been in hospital for three days after her alleged rape.

Meanwhile, real life went on. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail about her small son:

He looks very peaky and white with big black rings under his eyes. The only thing that helps is apparently a double dose of Toy Story every day. It is driving me nuts, I sit there mouthing the words to all the characters. 

Her husband was ill too:

He is still coughing his guts up and I am in the best shape of all but even I am still taking cortisone pills to clear the catarrh.

Also on that day, someone I worked with gave me some advice: “Never do deals with people whose names begin or end with the letter O”

That basically covered the Irish and Nigerians.

So there we have it ten years ago.

Sex scandals at the BBC, disease and racism.

Life.

So it goes.

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Jimmy Savile: The birth of a paedophile hoax on “Have I Got News For You”

Jimmy Savile – the truth?

Late tonight, ITV1 are broadcasting their much-publicised Exposure programme on The Other Side of Jimmy Savile. They are mad. They should schedule it in peak time.

A couple of days ago in this blog, I posted an alleged transcript of the un-broadcast sections of a BBC TV Have I Got News For You episode in which Jimmy Savile appeared. At the bottom of the transcript, I revealed that it was a 1999 hoax.

The reason the hoax has been believed by many over the twelve years since it first appeared is partly because it was built on (as it has turned out) well-founded rumours.

But also because it was so well-written.

So who wrote it and why?

Comedian Richard Herring, who knows most things, told me it was some people calling themselves SOTCAA and, indeed, it was. Two of them.

Around 2005, when they were writing on the Cookd and Bombd forum, they were calling themselves ‘Alan Strang’ and ‘Emergency Lalla Ward Ten’.

Now I’m told I should call them Joseph Champniss and Mike Scott.

“At the time this all took place,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “SOTCAA was hosted by NotBBC.

“Sometime in 1999, we started pondering on how affected stories get attached to ‘classic’ shows and films over the years which go down well in pub conversations but also blur any kind of factual coverage – stuff like the rushes of The Wicker Man being buried under the M4 motorway and so on.

“On the other hand, some of the bits we’d gathered for Edit News etc, seemed a tad on the unbelievable side – such as Paul McCartney getting his nob out in Magical Mystery Tour. So we decided it would be fun to stick some obviously fake stuff on the site, just to see whether or not people would actually question it. Part of the site’s remit was to get comedy fans questioning the media, refusing to accept everything at face value.

“Faking some Have I Got News For You out-takes was originally going to be part of that initial plan. We probably decided on it after watching the Unbroadcastable Have I Got News video, which itself features rushes material… but mainly because we enjoy the idea of rushes per se.

“The original idea was to stick the page on the site in Hidden Archive and see if anyone noticed/cared. Emergency Lalla Ward went off and wrote the actual page – based on a tape of the broadcast itself. If you watch the show in tandem with the fakery you’ll note that he’s specifically ‘filled in’ stuff where there was an obvious edit-point. However, this was really only ever a first draft. Something to build on and re-write later in a less obvious/explosive fashion.

“What with everything else we were hurriedly completing for the site at the time, the story gets a bit blurred from this point on. We definitely sent it down to Rob the webmaster along with all the other finished pages so that he could turn it into a website. At this point, SOTCAA was just a bunch of Word documents with pictures attached. Rob then sent the results back to us on a disc so we could see how the thing looked, design-wise. The Have I Got News For You page stood out like a sore thumb. Far too obvious a fake, we thought.

“I remember us getting together with Rob at the Hen & Chickens, Islington, to ponder on what – if anything – to do with it. Maybe the rewrite as planned, or something similar. Until we decided on what to do, Rob commented out the link on the Hidden Archive index page so that it was only visible to people viewing the source code. This brings us up to March 2000, when the site first went live.

“At some point during all of this, one of us came up with the alternate idea of leaking the unedited piece to Matthew Wright (then writing a column for the Daily Mirror) to see if he’d fall for it. April 1st was coming up, so it seemed like as good a time as any for a hoax.

“The idea was to contact Wright anonymously, point him towards the page, mention that it had been ‘hidden’ and then run away laughing, hoping that he’d fall for it and include some sort of reference to it on his gossip page. If successful, we would have then replaced the page with a great big ‘April Fool’ sign, and published the transcript in full with suitable amendments referencing this.

“But that idea came and went, as did April Fools Day, and we just forgot all about it – until June when an anonymous forum dweller discovered the link.”

Co-hoaxer Mike Scott says: “I was annoyed when the script leaked because it was a rough draft in dire need of roughening up. I thought it’d never fool anyone unless it was toned down a bit. I heard that Paul Merton was infuriated by it, which disappointed me at the time.”

“Amusingly,” says Joseph Champniss, “the publication resulted in something similar to what we’d planned, albeit via a more scenic route. It certainly wasn’t a planned forum-leak. Had we realised beforehand what was going to happen, we would have removed the credit from the base of the page! We probably should have put a stop to it sooner, but all three of us were fascinated – and not a little excited – about how far it could conceivably go.

“We found out for sure a bit later when solicitors, apparently acting on behalf of Sir James Savile OBE, managed to close down the site pending an enquiry re libel, defamation of character etc etc. As webmaster, Rob was required to write a legally-binding letter in hardcopy pointing out that the script in question had never actually been ‘officially’ published on the site (and that we had no plans to publish it in the future) before the ban could be lifted.”

One reason why I thought the fake transcript was so convincing was because, I assumed, the people who wrote it were TV insiders. But I was wrong. Appearances can be deceptive.

“We were just very keen comedy fans,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “with a particular fondness for out-takes and the underside of what gets broadcast and what doesn’t. I’m an illustrator/designer – I did a few bits for Lee and Herring‘s TV shows, such as designing the puppet crows on This Morning With Richard Not Judy. That’s the extent of my TV production background! We also did the sleeve notes on the recent Fist of Fun DVD releases.”

“The fake transcript is very impressive,” I told him.

“Well,” he replied, “a quick quote (from memory) is that Victor Lewis-Smith told us: If it was you (and I never believe anything hoaxers say) then you should be doing more of it! It was all over Fleet Street. They were onto Merton. They were onto me. A friend cornered Chris Morris at a Fall music gig later that year and asked him what he thought of it. Funniest thing I’ve read all year, is the quote we still use occasionally!”

In July 2000 Lucy Rouse, editor of the TV trade magazine Broadcast, wrote a piece in the Guardian, saying:

You may have recently come across an email, which has been doing the rounds for the last week or so. It purports to be a transcript of out-takes from one of last year’s episodes of BBC2’s Have I Got News for You, featuring Sir Jimmy Saville.

With it goes just about every lesson you ever needed to learn about the perils of the electronic revolution: anything goes if it’s in electronic form but you really shouldn’t treat every email you read as gospel.

TV producers could never be accused of telling the truth, relying, as they do, on a whole series of out-takes before they hit on a version of events they’re happy to broadcast. And this seems to have been the case with this particular episode of Have I Got News.

The supposed out-takes are said to have come from sources close to the producers and were being widely circulated over the internet at the end of last week.

Paul Merton is always a man to push the televisual boundaries of libel laws as far as they will stretch but the transcript went a lot further than anything you would have seen on the show. The trouble is – according to sources – a huge chunk of the middle section of the email is fabricated.

In one particularly terse exchange appearing in the “transcript”, for example, Merton supposedly attacks Saville about his personal hygiene. In another, the comedian seemingly loses the plot completely and launches into an incoherent rant before being asked by a rattled Angus Deayton if he wants to stop the recording.

It may have been a piece of fiction, but it made an afternoon wading through 112 messages in Outlook a lot more amusing than it might otherwise have been.

“What’s it like?” I asked Joseph Champniss yesterday: “Your comic insinuations being proved to have been right thirteen years later?”

“Well, they weren’t ‘our’ insinuations in the first place,” he replied. “Those stories did the rounds for years – the Louis Theroux show covered it far more publically! So there’s no sense of ‘we told you so’ here. We heard other stories off the back of the transcript a bit later. One quote – from someone whose name I can’t even begin to recall – went Good effort, my dears, but Jimmy liked boys not girls! Some of the recent press stories suggest that this may be true also. Maybe I’m just bitter because Jimmy Savile never replied to my letter to Jim’ll Fix It for me to meet Kenny Everett back in 1981…!

“As for the ability to con readers after all these years… It’s odd… It’s doubtful this particular spoof could have been created – and spread so far – at any subsequent point in the internet’s history. It was in 1999 – pre-YouTube. These days, the first question would be So where’s the footage then? To be fair, even back then, a few people were saying So where’s the Real Audio of the soundtrack? But it was perfectly plausible back in the days of dial-up that a text transcript would be the most convenient medium for disclosing such information. I suspect the main reason it’s lingered so long on the net is that the links usually take people back to that little archived text-file page on Zetnet… A more innocent age.”

“Years ago,” says Mike Scott. “in one of our sillier moods, we had the idea of sending out a press release saying that Linehan and Mathews were working on a fourth series of Father Ted, sans Dermot Morgan (who died in 1998), to be called Father Dead. We wrote a fake script page and everything. Nowadays this would have been identified as a hoax almost immediately but, back in 1999, we felt there was a small air-pocket of reality in which this was ‘just about’ plausible. It would depend on where you heard the news.”

“By the way,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “I’ve been reading a few more recent discussion threads which insist that we erroneously claimed that Jimmy Savile was a guest on Paul Merton’s team rather than Ian Hislop’s and that this proved that it was a hoax. The intro to the Zetnet page certainly claims that. But that intro was added by whoever uploaded it there. I think our original page just said Some out-takes from a recent episode. The fact that we spelt Savile’s surname incorrectly (as Saville) was never commented on, mind you!”

Fakery is an interesting topic and widespread, though faking something does not necessarily mean it is untrue. For example, you may have assumed from the above that yesterday I talked to Joseph Champniss and Mike Scott.

I did not.

I did exchange e-mails with Joseph Champniss two days ago – I claimed it was ‘yesterday’ to make it seem more vivid. The quotes are true.

But most of what you read above is not from my e-mails with Joseph Champniss. It was cobbled-together (with his knowledge), including the quotes from Mike Scott, from four separate pre-existing posts on other sites on the internet.

What you see and read is not necessarily reality, as the life of Jimmy Savile perhaps proves.

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Filed under Hoaxes, Humor, Humour, Internet, Television