Tag Archives: hoax

The Edinburgh Freestival comedian whose relative pulled cunning stunts involving Virginia Woolf and bottoms

Al Cowie, not aristocrat, but part of hydra-headed Freestival

Al Cowie, not aristocrat, but part of hydra-headed Freestival

Yesterday, my blog was about the new Freestival events at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Comedian Dan Adams was one of the four-headed hydra who explained to me what was planned but seemed to take a lot of interest in the highly coveted annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

It is for the best cunning stunt publicising a show or act at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Before we chatted, fellow Freestival hydra-head Sean Brightman had talked with me about the Cunning Stunt award too – and how funny it would be if the whole long genesis of the Freestival with its well-publicised bust-ups with the Free Fringe were simply the most complicated ever publicity stunt for a clutch of shows in an attempt to win the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Of course, the Freestival is not a cunning stunt.

It is real…

I think.

On the other hand, if I were trying to get a cheap blog out of this, I might bring up the interesting background of another of the Freestival’s hydra-heads, comedian Al Cowie.

“So you’re an aristocrat,” I said to him after my blog chat with the Freestival Four.

“No,” said Al. “I’m the smell left behind after the aristocrats have left the room. I have the accent but none of the cash.

Horace Cole was my grandmother’s cousin. He was the ultimate Cunning Stunter. He was peripheral to the Bloomsbury Set and he did the Dreadnought hoax. He hired a train to go down to HMS Dreadnought in Weymouth. He said he was a member of the Foreign Office and went there with other members of the Bloomsbury Set, all dressed up as Abyssinian royalty. Virginia Woolf was the Crown Prince of Abyssinia.”

The Abyssinians  - Virginia Woolf is on extreme left in beard

The Abyssinians – Virginia Woolf is on extreme left in a beard and Horace de Vere Cole is on the extreme right in a top hat

Cole went to Paddington station in London, claimed that he was ‘Herbert Cholmondeley’ of the Foreign Office and demanded a special train to Weymouth.

The stationmaster arranged a VIP coach.

In Weymouth, the Navy welcomed the Abyssinian princes with an honour guard but could not find an Abyssinian flag. So they flew the flag of Zanzibar and played Zanzibar’s national anthem.

The group inspected the fleet, had their own translator and talked in gibberish drawn from Latin and Greek.

“When the Navy found out…” said Al.

“How did they find out?” I asked.

“Because Horace Cole went and reported it to The Times, who would not print a photo, and the Daily Mirror, who did… When the Navy found out, they sent two young subalterns up to Cambridge to give him a good caning…”

“Literally?” I asked.

“Yeah. But they didn’t catch him. There’s been a book written about it: The Sultan of Zanzibar.”

The book about Horace Cole’s hoaxes

The book about Horace Cole’s hoaxes

“Did he do the party stunt with the bottoms?” I asked.

“Yes,” said. Al. “He organised a white-tie party and invited lots of people whose only connection with each other was that they had the word ‘bottom’ in their name and he had a man at the top of the stairs at the party announcing the arrivals as they walked down the stairs:

Mr and Mrs Bottomley… Mrs & Mrs Ramsbottom… and, because he didn’t have ‘bottom’ in his surname, he didn’t turn up.”

“Oh,” I said, “I hadn’t heard the bit about the announcing of the names. I read that all these people, none of whom knew each other, were invited to this party without any explanation of why and it was only after everyone started talking to each other that they eventually worked out it was a vast practical joke and why they had all been invited.”

“All of these stories.” said Al, “have been told to me and I don’t know which the accurate ones are. One of the best is that he bought out the entire first night – every seat – of a stage show in the West End of London and then gave the tickets out to various people with carefully allocated seating so that, when the lights went up, if you were looking down on the stalls from the circle, all the bald heads in the audience read out a rude word. But I’m not sure what the word was.”

“It must have cost a fortune,” I said.

“Yes,” said Al. “He wasted his entire fortune on practical jokes… He dug up Piccadilly. He got his mates dressed up in workmens’ clothing and they went and dug a trench all the way across Piccadilly. There was a policeman there, so they hauled him in to divert the traffic while they did it.

“When they had dug a trench all the way across Piccadilly, they went into The Ritz and just watched the chaos which ensued. It took London about four days to work out what on earth had gone wrong.

“Then, a few weeks later, he went up to a bunch of real workmen who were digging up the road and said: Look, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but a group of my friends have dressed up as policemen and they’re going to try to stop you digging up the road.

“He then went up to a group of policemen and said: Look, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but a group of my friends have dressed up as workmen and they’re digging up the road.

“And then he left them to it.

“He was a fascinating character,” said Al. “Winston Churchill described him as a man who was dangerous to have as a friend. His sister married Neville Chamberlain. But, when he died, no-one turned up to his funeral because they thought it was a practical joke.”

Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936) died in poverty in France.

So it goes.

The winner of the highly coveted 2014 Cunning Stunt Award will be announced during the Highly Coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 22nd August in Edinburgh.

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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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Jimmy Savile: the infamous “Have I Got News For You” transcript from 1999

This is allegedly a transcript of an un-broadcast section of an old Have I Got News For You TV programme recorded when Angus Deayton was presenter and DJ Jimmy Savile was a guest on the show. Regular team captains were comedian Paul Merton and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

______________________________

Out-take 3:09’36

During the headline round:

DEAYTON: You used to be a wrestler didn’t you?

SAVILLE: I still am.

DEAYTON: Are you?

SAVILLE: I’m feared in every girls’ school in the country.

(Audience laugh)

DEAYTON: Yeah, I’ve heard about that.

SAVILLE: What have you heard?

DEAYTON: I’ve…

MERTON: Something about a cunt with a rancid, pus-filled cock.

(Huge audience laugh; Awkward pause)

SAVILLE: I advise you to wash your mouth out, my friend…

MERTON: That’s what she had to do! (Audience laughs)

HISLOP: Weren’t you leaving money in phone boxes or something?

(Saville glares at him) Or have I got completely the wrong end of the…

SAVILLE: (To Deayton, heavily) The question you asked was about wrestling.

DEAYTON: Yes. And then you mentioned girls’ schools. I don’t know whe…

SAVILLE: Well I understood this was a comedy programme. I realise now how wrong I was. (Audience laugh)

DEAYTON: So were you a professional wrestler?

SAVILLE: Yes I was.

DEAYTON: (To audience) Glad we got that cleared up.(Pulls face; audience giggles)

HISLOP: Feared by every girls’ school in the country…

SAVILLE: That’s right.

MERTON: Due to having a rancid, pus-filled cock.(Huge audience laugh)

DEAYTON: Erm…

HISLOP: You’re on top form tonight, Paul…

SAVILLE: (Strangely) I’m…this is not what I…

FLOOR MANAGER: (OOV) OK, do you…(inaudible section)…shall we, for pick-ups…

MERTON: I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know what came over me.

SAVILLE: A pus-filled cock, I imagine. (Shocked audience laugh)

MERTON: Oh, it’s nice to see you joining in. We’d been waiting for you, you sad senile old shitter. (Audience appears to do double-take)

DEAYTON: I think we…d-d-you you want to apologise to our guest, Paul?

MERTON: Sorry, I do apologise. Sir senile old shitter, is what I meant to say.

(Audience laugh; pause) Sir senile old shitter…who fucks minors.

(Audience unrest)

HISLOP: Sorry, I’m just looking at our lawyer again. (Waves) Hello!

(Audience laughs)

DEAYTON: Shall we get back on course with this, or sha…

SAVILLE: I do fuck miners, that’s quite correct. I have always done so. They can do the most wonderful things with cigars. The coal…

MERTON: What, they stick them up your senile, pus-filled arse?

(Audience laughs)

FLOOR MANAGER: (OOV): Come on…I’m getting an ear-bashing here. It’s…

MERTON: Oh they want to continue. Sorry, I’ll contain myself. Carry on…

DEAYTON: Right (Pause) You used to be a professional wrestler didn’t you?

(Huge audience laugh)

SAVILLE: (Calmly) I did.

DEAYTON: You didn’t have a nickname or anything?

SAVILLE: Yes – ‘Loser’. (Audience laughs)

______________________________

Out-take 4: 21’20

Following a discussion about caravans:

DEAYTON: Last month, Roger Moore sold his luxury caravan in Malta. Asked by the…

MERTON: I visited your caravan the other week, Jimmy.

SAVILLE: Did you really?

MERTON: Oh yes. Interesting what you can find, if you have a bit of a poke.

(Audience laugh)

HISLOP: He just told you, it was twelve years ago…

SAVILLE: No, I lived in it for twelve years.

MERTON: And fucked twelve year olds. (Audience laugh)

DEAYTON: Here we go again…I’ll be backstage if anyone wants me.

MERTON: (Indicating Saville) That’s what you said to the kids on your show, wasn’t it?

(Audience laugh)

SAVILLE: No, they never did want me.

HISLOP: Not even Sarah Cornley?

SAVILLE: She was an exception.

DEAYTON: Who’s Sarah Cornley?

SAVILLE: Sarah Cornley is…

HISLOP: About fifteen grand in damages, wasn’t she?

(Uncertain audience laugh)

SAVILLE: That’s right.

HISLOP: So if I was going to mention that you threatened to break her arm if she said anything…

SAVILLE: You’d be very wrong. (Pause) I said I’d break both her arms.

(Audience unease)

MERTON: Fucking hell. I mean, you’re just sitting there, all shell suit and cigar wearing those fucking…I don’t know what they are.

SAVILLE: Chrome-plated SC-700 sun-visors, these are. Sent to me by…

MERTON: We don’t give a shit. Ladies and gentlemen, Sir James Saville OBE. Jim has fixed it for me to have my arms broken. Meet this depressing old fucked up cunt of a fucker on television who’s riddled with cancer and fucking pubic lice.

HISLOP: (To lawyer again) Hello! (Audience laughs)

MERTON: Christ, I mean ha ha, big fucking joke – the fucking lawyers are involved, tee hee. It doesn’t change anything.

DEAYTON:  (Visibly out of character) Do you wanna stop, or…?

MERTON: No I don’t fucking want to stop. It’s all shit! You’ll expect a comedy walkout in a minute, won’t you? I mean, big bloody joke – I’m going to quote Shakespeare in a minute, how fucking out of character. And Ian knows about football – oh my fucking sides.

SAVILLE: You’ve never fucked anyone in your life, boy.

MERTON: Oh fuck off…

FLOOR MANAGER: (OOV) …About five minutes, just to…(Phil Davey enters)

PHIL DAVEY: OK, well top that as they say. You’re looking troubled by that, aren’t you mate? I tell you, I came back from Amsterdam recently…

RECORDING PLACED ON STAND-BY; CUTS BACK TO CLOSE-UP OF DEAYTON

AWAITING HIS CUE

DEAYTON: OK. Second time lucky. (Pause) Last month, Roger Moore sold  his luxury caravan in Malta. Asked by the New York Times about his relaxed acting style…

______________________________

After I posted this blog, always well-informed comedian Richard Herring told me he believed the above was written several years ago by SOTCAA, who describe themselves as “a sort of loose rebel collective of BBC sketch writers”. And, indeed, the letter below (supplied by SOTCAA) confirms this was an excellent 1999 hoax. The full background on how and why the spoof transcript was written is explained in my blog HERE.

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The great showmen and conmen of London: why I am proud to be British

I saw a special screening of Showmen of the Streets tonight – a 45-minute documentary about street performers of the 1930s-1960s and their precursors. People like The Earl of Mustard, The Road Stars, The Amazing BlondiniPrince Monolulu, The Man with X-Ray Eyes, The Happy Wanderers (who I just about remember playing Oxford Street in my erstwhile youth) and Don Partridge aka ‘King of the Buskers’, who actually managed to get into the UK hit parade and who hired the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 to stage a show called The Last of The Buskers with some of the great street performers of that and previous eras.

A couple of characters not in the film whom I remember are Don Crown and ‘Little Legs’.

Don Crown used to perform an act with budgerigars in Leicester Square and various other places. I used him on TV programmes a couple of times but, the last time I met him, he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers.

True and sad. Though I see from his website that he seems to have recovered and performs on the South Bank in London.

The other character I remember was a dwarf called Roy ‘Little Legs’ Smith who was a busker himself, but he also used to collect money for street performers. A busker would play the queues in Leicester Square and Little Legs would go along collecting money in, as I remember it, a hat. The theory – which proved true – was that it is almost impossible not to give money to a dwarf collecting for a busker.

Little Legs appeared in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. He died in 1989 and, according to his obituaries, he had worked for the Kray Twins as an ‘enforcer’ in the 1960s. Indeed, a book Little Legs: Muscleman of Soho was published in 1989 which traced, among other things, “his long career as a street entertainer and card-player”. In 1999, his nephew stood as a candidate for Mayor of London.

I merely pass this on.

The DVD of the documentary Showmen of the Streets is being released in a couple of weeks time.

Director John Lawrenson – who used to perform the ‘ball and cup’ magic routine in London’s streets – is currently preparing a new film about great hoaxers, including William Donaldson (aka Henry Root) who wrote to prominent public figures with unusual or outlandish questions and requests and published their replies.

Also in the film will be the late but glorious Fleet Street hoaxer Rocky Ryan who, among other career highlights, persuaded major British newspapers to print stories that sex and drug orgies were taking place on Mount Everest and that the Yorkshire Ripper was being let out of Broadmoor to go to the local disco as part of his rehabilitation into society. He also managed to persuade several Israeli newspapers that Adolf Hitler was alive and well and living in Golders Green… a famously Jewish London suburb.

It makes you proud to be British.

Although Rocky Ryan was Irish.

But let’s not get into that.

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