Inventor and Malcolm Hardee Award designer John Ward has a weekly column in the Spalding Guardian newspaper. Earlier this week, he sent me a copy of this week’s piece, subsequently published.
Years ago I received a letter requesting my presence for jury service at the local Crown Court on a given date, so I informed my boss why I would not be at work then and possibly for a few days after depending on how the case/trial proceeded, so plans were sorted to cover for me.
I popped in a few days later and told my mum, of the people for the people, about it as she sat slooping tea in the kitchen with her friend Viv, who suggested I “might see Margaret Lockwood there”: about that time the actress Margaret Lockwood was starring as a lady barrister in a weekly TV drama called Justice.
Mum said it was unlikely as I was to be there for ten in the morning and Margaret was covering the ‘late shift’ as she came on at nine o’clock in the evening but only did an hour’s worth before the News at Ten came on.
I arrived on Tuesday as requested and went through the formal procedure as a juror – this induction has possibly changed over the years – and all went well as we selected twelve were given a rundown of how things went.
On going into court, fellow juror ‘Miss Marple’ (or ‘Miss Know-it-all’ who was to sit next to me in the jury box, sadly) complained the seats were too hard and felt she “might not last the day” due to her “problem”. Ron, another juror, muttered that her problem might be she was a ‘moaning Minnie’ so no cure there then.
Seeing one person enter, Miss Marple remarked that he was “a wrong ‘un, quite shifty looking – You can tell by their ears you know.”
He turned out to be the prosecuting counsel.
After the preliminaries were sorted as to who was who and what might be what, battle commenced in the form of the first witness for the prosecution being called and a slight hint of the pantomime to unfold in more ways than one.
He was sworn in and was asked his profession to which his head swivelled all around as it was quite obvious the term had got him stumped. The clerk to the court then said the court wanted to know what he did for a living, to which he smiled and said he was “a pint spire” much to everyone’s amazement, Judge included.
He was asked three times with the same response, until the judge requested he write it down and this duly happened. It was then handed up to the judge and he then read out the man was “a paint sprayer” to which the witness then said: “I fed fo the flurst tome didn’t I!?”
Thus was the start of the high comedy to follow over the next few days as we heard assorted accounts of the case. As possibly the late Eric Morecambe might have paraphrased it: “All the right evidence but not necessarily in the right case”.
The case we were sitting on seemed to have references to other ‘events’ that related to another criminal case as the defendant seemed to have had quite a colourful past if some details quoted, or inferred, were anything to judge by. It did leave a lot of questions – or cases – unanswered but, hey oh, we battled on regardless.
Day two arrived as well as Miss Marple but she was now armed with her purple velvet cushion to sit on.
The basics of the case revolved around the defendant and his then friend a.k.a The Pint Spire who together removed various building materials from assorted areas to build a large extension to a house, doubling its value. But, during all this happening, they fell out (another story worthy of a Carry On type film) and so The Pint Spire reported him or – as the defendant said in the box later – “He bladdy grassed me up!”
The falling-out seemed to hinge on the defendant’s wife and her alleged involvement with The Pint Spire but the details – or, rather, what we were told in court – seemed to relate to another case entirely, so we were partly confused with even the Judge’s eyebrows seemingly doing a rumba at various times.
So we were instructed to disregard certain things said.
The prosecuting counsel had tried to sweep it away by saying there “might well have been a liaison between the couple” as Miss Marple whispered to us: “It means a ‘leg-over’ in French”. The judge overheard and raised an eyebrow.
Finally it came to Friday morning with the Judge summing up. I was amazed that, while I thought he was nodding off at times, he had actually handwritten down everything said in court from day one and even mentioned the confusion over The Pint Spire’s profession.
This took about an hour or so to hear as we were then instructed to go away and come back with a verdict but he would only accept a ten to two majority if there were any doubts among us.
So off we went to the jury room to debate the case.
Miss Marple got her knitting out of her bag, then click-clacked away with the needles as she said her vote was “He’s guilty, that one” (maybe it was his ears?) as she wanted to finish a sleeve off.
British justice at its best. – The defendant was guilty as somebody wanted to finish knitting her jumper sleeve.
Due to assorted elements of the case, we arrived with a three to nine majority, so word was passed through, then we were given ‘extra time’ but by now the clock was ticking by.
It was now ten past four – as, out of the woodwork almost, came ‘Miss Takkan’, the quiet juror, whose voice we had not even heard since her being there.
She was ‘one of the three’ but now wanted to change to Guilty.
When asked what had brought this change about, she said that she was some miles from home and might not make it in time if we were in a stalemate as she wanted to see “my fave soap Crossroads at 6.30”.
So we had the ten to two result.
The accused got a fairly light sentence (we all thought so) by way of a fine.
Miss Marple didn’t finish her sleeve, but hopefully Miss Takkan got home in time to see Benny and Amy Turtle on Crossroads.
I never saw Margaret Lockwood but then she did the nine to ten shift anyway.
Dapper designer John Ward, earlier this week, wearing one of his many professional hats…
A couple of days ago, I posted a blog about this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe. The trophy itself – as with all Malcolm Hardee Awards – was designed and made by mad inventor John Ward.
Dr David Weeks’ academic analysis…
Among John Ward’s many other accomplishments are writing a weekly column – Ward’s World – for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and ‘starring’ in psychiatrist Dr David Weeks’ 1995 academic book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness.
Yesterday, I got an email from John Ward:
“A BBC Three Counties Radio bod rung me up just now – asked me about the Malcolm Hardee Award and asked was I willing to do an over-the-phone interview later today.
“Then he asked me if I had any connections with Edinburgh other than the Awards side.
“I said: My psychiatrist lives there (as in David Weeks) and then things seemed to get sort of quiet and he said he would ‘get back to me later’.
“I have heard no more.”
Obviously the BBC has to ‘up’ its reporters’ inquisitiveness.
They should have been even more interested by the mention of a psychiatrist and should also have asked the obvious question: “If you live in the middle of England, why do you have a psychiatrist in Scotland?”
John Ward is also featured (among many other appearances) in the 2015 documentary film A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics by Academy Award winning director, John Zaritsky.
Those who have read my appropriate blogs will know I was hospitalised for seven days last May and seven days this July because my body suddenly developed very high calcium levels and a dangerously low kidney function.
As a result, I have not had a full night’s sleep since June 2020. I wake up every hour throughout the night, dehydrated – my tongue and the inside of my mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.
The doctors still do not know the cause of my calcium and kidney problems.
Inevitably, my eternally-un-named friend has recently been looking on the internet for explanations about dry mouths and has decided, with little evidence, that the problem is that I sleep with an open mouth.
The passages inside my nose were severely buggered in my teens by an overindulgence in Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray.
“In your bathroom cupboard,” my eternally-un-named friend told me yesterday, “there is one of my black hairbands. Put it round your head when you go to bed at night. It will keep your mouth shut.”
I tried to persuade her that a hairband is impractical for me because I have no hair on my head, but she would not be swayed.
She got an old photo she took of me and sent me a visual representation of how I should wear the hairband as a medical aid…
She helpfully added: “My hairband does not have a bow.”
I found the hairband in my bathroom cupboard. I tried her suggestion. It is not a good look. Life is a trial.
ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.
JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…
ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.
JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…
ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.
JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?
ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.
JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.
ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.
JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?
ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.
Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)
ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.
JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?
ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.
You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.
JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?
Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts
ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.
JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?
ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.
JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?
ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.
So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.
JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?
ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.
Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers
Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.
I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?
I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.
JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?
ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.
I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.
My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book.
Ariane also wants to write 100 books…
JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.
ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.
JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?
ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.
ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.
JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?
ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?
So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com.
It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.
Mad inventor John Ward is a man of many parts, many of them going spare. He designed and built the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and I have occasionally booked him on TV shows.
One was in 1988 on the weekly ITV series Prove It! Participants had to ‘prove’ they could do something bizarre.
John now writes a weekly column for the Spalding Guardian newspaper and today he remembered fellow eccentric Chris Luby. Here are some of his memories:
The late Chris Luby was absolutely brilliant at ‘noise impressions’ such as a WW2 spitfire starting up, going down a runway and into battle, trains on the underground that to the untrained ear sounded very real plus many more.
I first met him some years ago when we both appeared on an ITV telly show called Prove It! presented by Chris Tarrant.
We both recorded the pilot show plus both appeared in the first episode while I appeared in the whole series on a thirteen week basis presenting assorted inventions and gadgets.
Chrises Tarrant and Luby
Day one was rehearsal day with everybody involved getting to know each other, then going through our paces plus a studio run-through, then – all those still breathing – off to our designated hotels for a clean-up before dinner.
I was on the same table as Chris (Luby) for dinner/supper and it was an experience sitting there, looking at the menu while hearing about The train now leaving platform whatever… and going through to Kings Cross station, with all the assorted sounds and voices.
He sat there, menu covering his face, making these noises and, apart from the fact they were ‘spot on’ and very realistic, my thoughts were: “Does he ever stop!?”
He was doing his impression of whatever plane it was as the waiter came over to us to ask if we were ready to order. I said we would, just as soon as my companion came in to land.
The look on the poor waiter’s face was a classic as he didn’t know what was going on but then nor did I… but I was learning – I hoped.
The first night we spent in the lounge bar area of the hotel and, yes, he carried on going like a good ‘un with his assorted impressions of objects and people.
Eventually it was off to bedtime and I did sleep very well all things considered as it had been a really long day.
So imagine being woken up the next morning by what sounded like a detachment of the Grenadier Guards at the bedroom door, ‘marching on the spot’ outside.
I know I had asked for an alarm call but this was pushing it a bit.
I then heard what could be called a sergeant major’s ‘rallying call’ or “Git ‘art of bed, you ‘orribel little man!!!” as it dawned on me (well, it was by then daylight) it could be only Chris Luby.
Does he ever stop? I asked myself.
Chris Luby – N0-one ever slept in HIS shows
His initial appearance had him in a Coldstream Guard’s uniform, coming through the middle of the stage curtains, making the sounds of a marching regiment… hobbling on crutches as he had broken his leg a week or so beforehand.
Culture didn’t come any better than this.
He used to perform about a twenty minute act consisting of assorted ‘sounds’ or noises, many military based and he made a decent living from it on the comedy circuit.
Sadly there is not much on the internet about him apart from the fact he passed away in January 2014 following an accident at his home when he tumbled downstairs.
That ended the life and sounds of ‘The Man of Many Noises’.
He wasn’t what you might call a ‘mainstream’ entertainer but anybody you mentioned his name to in ‘the show business’ always broke into a smile as they all seem to have a Chris anecdote.
He was one of those unique but talented people that, once met or seen, never forgotten.
SoundCloud has an audio clip of Chris Luby impersonating an RAF fly-past at the legendarily raucous church funeral of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…
…and YouTube has a clip of John Ward (though sadly not Chris Luby) on Prove It!
Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…
So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.
“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…
HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”
KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.
It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…
It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.
JOHN: Why were you there?
KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.
JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.
KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.
JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?
KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.
JOHN: Of what?
JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?
KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.
JOHN: Recreational drugs?
KEITH: Indeed so.
JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?
KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.
JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?
KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.
JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?
KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”
“What?” I asked.
“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.
JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.
KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.
JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?
KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.
JOHN: Where do you keep it?
KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.
KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.
JOHN: What?? In prison??
KEITH: Didn’t you know that?
JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?
KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.
KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.
JOHN: Up the Ruhr?
KEITH: Enough, John.
As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings.
All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”
“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”
Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward has a varied life. For the last six years, as well as all his other surreal duties, he has written a weekly Ward’s World column of around 1,200 words for the Spalding Guardian newspaper.
John Ward toiling over his weekly Ward’s World column for the Spalding Guardian…
Today, I got an email from John about reaction to that column:
Following on from my Ward’s World column last week about scammers ringing to tell people that their internet will be closed in 24 hours unless… blah… blah… “but give me your card details and I can sort it” tosh… I have heard of two ‘near misses’ and one who sadly fell for it – all being elderly, which comes as no surprise I suppose.
But the best reaction so far is…
My phone rings on Monday morning…
I am speaking to Andrew, who informs me he represents something called the Lincolnshire Rural Crime Prevention and Awareness Forum. He said he had read my piece online and was quite impressed with it.
He pointed out that the ‘Forum’ bit in the long convoluted title might be changed to ‘Panel’ (as in wooden maybe?) as this was to be brought up in their next meeting of minds.
However, while he thought my column was written ‘tongue in cheek’ (I begged to differ on that), he also thought it would be ideal – subject to my agreement – to reproduce in a new free quarterly county magazine that is in the throes of being put together before being sent to print.
So far so good.
However, the more we chatted, the more it seemed that he would not be ‘terribly’ happy to include the segment mentioning Argos, as this was ‘advertising’ plus, due to the length, it would have to be cut down “of course”.
I pointed out that the Spalding Guardian didn’t have any problems with printing it.
Plus, Andrew said, they could not pay me “of course” as I would be “donating it” for their use “of course”.
I asked him in return if he knew the date when slave labour was abolished or are they still pursuing this line of employment?
The term “of course” was beginning to grate a bit by now I must confess. But, if nothing else, I feel sure, if he gives up what he is doing now, a career at the BBC awaits him… based on some of the ordeals I have suffered with assorted individuals employed there over many years.
By now I was wondering if he was going to ask me for my bank card details but the next bit was quite something.
Would I object to it appearing without my name?
I responded with “Why not go the whole hog and reproduce Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens but leave out the author’s name… You would be on safe ground there as he is now dead.”
Andrew’s pause was acceptable…
… before he asked: “Who is dead?”
After another of his acceptable pauses, he said he thought I was being flippant.
John often gets unusual telephone calls…
So I pointed out that, if I read it right, he/they wanted me to ‘donate’ my writing efforts, for him or A.N.Other to edit as they saw fit, leave out assorted ‘segments’ that didn’t pass their standards plus I was not even going to get a mention, credit-wise, as the original author!
I asked him how much he would like me to donate to their cause and I bade him farewell with an old Russian sounding greeting – with the second word being “off”…