Tag Archives: humour

Writer/musician/comic John Dowie on his death, dentists and other Dowies…

So I had a blog chat with poet/comedian/writer John Dowie. 

I was going to the dentist. We arranged to meet when I was finished.

“You might as well come to the dentist in case he’s over-running,” I suggested.

“Charming as your dentist’s waiting room undoubtedly is,” John Dowie replied, “I will be in this pub down the road.”

And he was.

He drank sparkling water. He wore a hat,

This is part of our chat.


JOHN FLEMING: Are you going to see Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie?

JOHN DOWIE: No, because I won’t go to a cinema. People talk, use their phones and eat popcorn. I can’t believe they sell popcorn in cinemas: the noisiest and smelliest food known to mankind. I resent the attitude of the people who own the cinemas: they shouldn’t sell popcorn. I mean, people are bringing in hamburgers and chips now.

FLEMING: Are they? Where?

DOWIE: I dunno. But they are.

FLEMING: You’re getting to be a grumpy old man.

Consistently grumpy young John Dowie – a living legend

DOWIE: Getting? I was always a grumpy man. Age doesn’t come into it.

I can’t function unless I’m in complete privacy, in an enclosed space with no distractions.

FLEMING: You must have had to in your erstwhile youth.

DOWIE: I had a bedsit and wrote in that. Or I’d sit in my bedroom in my mother’s house and write there.

I am now thinking of trying to rent an office.

FLEMING: It is difficult to write at home.

DOWIE: Yes. If you have a partner of any kind, just as you reach the moment where you think: Yes! YES! there will be a knocking on the door – “Would you like a cuppa tea?” – and it’s all gone.

I had a friend, Gary, who was a painting artist and he said it was always happening with his missus.

FLEMING: The painter’s wife from Porlock.

DOWIE: …or the unwitting girlfriend from Porlock.

FLEMING: Unwitting?

DOWIE: To think it’s alright to knock on the writer’s door and ask if you want a cup of tea.

FLEMING: You should be publishing more. Your story in the excellently-edited Sit-Down Comedy anthology was wonderful.

Freewheeling John Dowie’s latest book

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got an idea for another book. But it’s under wraps. It’s bad luck to talk about it before you’ve done it.

FLEMING: Fiction?

DOWIE: No, no. I can’t be fucked with fiction… But I did have an idea for a story… It’s about this woman dentist who has a new patient and he walks into the room with the most perfect teeth. She falls madly in love with this guy, but how does she keep on seeing him? There’s only one way: tell him his teeth are shit. So, over the course of a year or so, she gets him back for more appointments, taking out his teeth one-at-a-time until he has no teeth left… and then she goes off him.

FLEMING: You should call it Take Me Out.

DOWIE: …or Pulling.

FLEMING: Can I quote that idea?

DOWIE: Yes. I won’t use it. But I do have an idea for a new book – though I can’t write it until I’ve found somewhere to live. At the moment, I’m staying with my two sons and their mother. One of my sons is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

FLEMING: Called?

Comedy/magic and conspiracy theories

DOWIE: Oddly Alike. My son is Harry Scott Moncrieff and it’s a two-hander with his mate Robbie Fox. Harry does comedy/magic wrapped around conspiracy theories. If he does it really well, they will kill him.

FLEMING: Or so he thinks… Why is he Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: He took his mother’s name which has turned out quite well, because he’s not cursed by association with my name as being drunk and abusive.

FLEMING: But Dowie is a famous name.

DOWIE: In Scotland it is… Dowie’s Tavern in Edinburgh… 

FLEMING: I’ve never heard of it. But Dowie is a creative name. There’s you. Your sister Claire Dowie. And Helga Dowie whom I worked with at ATV, who’s a producer now. Your son should have kept the Dowie name. Three prestigious Dowies. How many Scott Moncrieffs are there?

DOWIE: Hundreds, including the man who translated Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

FLEMING: Really? Was your ex-girlfriend related to the Proust Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: Yeah. And she can actually claim lineage from Henry VIII. All I can claim is a couple of ex-cons from Australia.

FLEMING: Really?

DOWIE: Nah! Dunno. Irish. My dad’s Irish, so… Well, there’s a famous John Dowie in Australia who’s a sculptor.

FLEMING: Oh! Is he related to you?

DOWIE: No… There’s another John Dowie who plays football. He is related.

Maybe dour, mean-spirited but never ever dull

FLEMING: Does ‘Dowie’ mean anything?

DOWIE: It means dull, dour and mean-spirited. There’s The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow, a famous folk song.

FLEMING: So your father was Irish with a Scots name…

DOWIE: Yes. My mother was very scathing about the Irish.

FLEMING: She was Scottish?

DOWIE: No. From Stoke-on-Trent but she married my dad, who was from Belfast and she was always scathing about how terribly not-bright the Irish were. I once did a genealogy thing on her maiden name. It turned out she was from Ireland… I think I may get an Irish passport if Brexit happens.

FLEMING: A comedian has just been elected President of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Zelenskiy)

DOWIE: Yes. Swivel on THAT Mark Thomas! Never mind your NHS show. Look what a real politician comedian’s getting up to!

FLEMING: Can I quote that?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Yeah! Jeremy Hardy must be spinning in his grave. That could’ve been me up there on that podium! I’m going to the Jeremy Hardy memorial in May. He was very good, very precise and his death deserved all the press coverage it got.

“Now, when comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries…” (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

It used to be that comedians were only jealous of other comedians succeeding. But then you write a book and you’re jealous that other comedians’ books are doing better than yours. Now, when other comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries. Ian Cognito’s obituaries this month! I would kill for that amount of space!

FLEMING: I know. He was getting in mainstream papers…

DOWIE: … in the Guardian AND in The Times! I expected the Guardian to do one, but not The Times.

FLEMING: Malcolm Hardee got very extensive obituaries in the quality newspapers because people in the media knew who he was, even if the public didn’t. But Ian Cognito! – I don’t think people outside the comedy industry itself were really aware of him. He did prove, though, that the best way to die is on-stage like Tommy Cooper – and/or live your life so OTT that there are lots of outrageous anecdotes to quote. Fame may die but anecdotes live forever.

DOWIE: That Hollywood Reporter article you posted on Facebook about John Belushi’s death was quite horrific. No respect. There’s a corpse being wheeled out on a trolly – Oh! I’ll take a photograph of that, then! – No. mate, don’t – And Lenny Bruce, of course. He died on a toilet trying to inject himself. He was lying naked on the bathroom floor with a syringe still in his arm and they were leaping up the stairs two-at-a-time to take photographs of him.

FLEMING: Apparently dying on the toilet is quite a common thing. Doing Number Twos puts a big strain on the heart.

DOWIE: Elvis.

FLEMING: Yes.

DOWIE: I have ‘died’ IN some toilets.

FLEMING: Wey-hey! You still have it!… I should have taken heroin when I was younger. Look at Keith Richards: 75 years old and a picture of good health; his main risk is falling out of trees he has climbed. Wasn’t it Keith Richards who accidentally smoked his father’s cremated ashes?

DOWIE: He said he did; then he said he didn’t.

FLEMING: Always print the legend, I say, if it’s a good story.

DOWIE: The story I like is Graham Nash. After his mother died, he discovered that she had wanted to be a singer but was saddled with having to bring up children and having to work. So he took her ashes on tour with him and, every time he did a gig, he dropped a little bit of her on the stage.

“What’s going to happen? … Are you going to rot or be burnt?”

FLEMING: What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to rot or be burnt?

DOWIE: When I buried my friend David Gordon, I found a natural death company with grounds and you can do what you like there. You can put the body in a hole in the ground or in a coffin or in a sack – You can do what the fuck you like – And then they plant a tree there. That’s what I’m going to have done – What kind of tree would it be? – I think it will have to be a weeping willow.

FLEMING: You’ll be happy to rot? You don’t want to be burnt?

DOWIE: I don’t like that bit where the doors close.

FLEMING: Like curtains closing on a stage…

DOWIE: …and no encore.

FLEMING: I think it’s more romantic to rot.

DOWIE: Also your body serves a purpose if you grow a tree out of it. Actually, I quite like the idea of a Viking funeral with the boat and the flames. But I try not to ponder on my own death too much, John. It’s just tempting Fate.

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Humor, Humour

Are the Facebook PC police about to ban me because of my sexually risqué name?

I have a Facebook account in my own name – John Thomas Fleming.

On it I post links to articles which I think are interesting and/or funny.

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

Today I tried to post a link on my Facebook page to one of the Daily Mash articles.

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

My comment accompanying the link was… “Surely it should open in Bristol?”

A reference to a jolly British euphemism for a lady’s breast.

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity”

and I was banned from posting on Facebook for 24 hours.

Robin Askwith in Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977) (Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5871814a)

I am not sure if Facebook objected to my use of the word ‘Bristol’ or the Daily Mash‘s somewhat risqué picture which was a still from one of the 1970s series of Confessions of… films… These were ‘naughty yet acceptable’ films in the genre of the Carry On… movies.

Britain has a long tradition of family filth Stretching back to Shakespeare and Chaucer and certainly including – perhaps most surprising to Americans – the traditional (ideally utterly filthy) British Christmas pantomimes for children.

The Confessions of… films were more permissive than the more innocent Carry On… films. But were still considered middle-of-the-road even then.

Obviously Facebook’s image-searching computers and more puritan-minded American tendencies need a re-tweak.

The worrying thing is that I was given the name John Thomas Fleming by my innocent parents. I was named after my two grandfathers. I believe the origin of the phrase ‘John Thomas’ is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel which I nor I am certain my parents never read.

I now fear for the good citizens of Bristol city, who face a potential blanket ban from Facebook for living where they do: a conurbation which shares its name with an example of Cockney rhyming slang.

This is all a bit reminiscent of the early days of censorship on the internet when farmers found that innocent references to their common farmyard creatures were getting them banned as pornographers… in particular, any reference to their cocks.

Oh, alright… the bloody Facebook image-searching computers actually took exception to the photo… But, really, do me a favour.

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Filed under Censorship, Language, Movies, Sex

85-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller tries out her 68-year-old Spanish in Barcelona

And so we continue the globetrotting adventures of 85-year-old London-based American comic and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller


The artful Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

I was in Barcelona again. It is a wonderful place to wander. It has narrow, winding streets filled with art galleries and expensive shops.  

I took Spanish 68 years ago, my freshman year at the University of Michigan, and I was quite good at it.  

All the football players took that class because it was so easy and we had the captain in our class: Señor Perez. I managed to teach him several words because he had trouble reading. (He was a football player; the university did not accept him for his literary abilities.) 

I still remember the vocabulary I drummed into his head but I never got a chance to use those words with real Spaniards until I visited Barcelona. 

When I checked in at my hotel, I said “Hola!” to the surprised young lady at the front desk and it made her smile. 

I explained (in English, of course): “I am a professional comedian and my job is to make people laugh.”  

She laughed.  

“Gracias!” I said.  

“De Nada,” she said (with a very thick accent) and I actually understood her.  

I can tell you I felt very Spanish as I tangoed up to my room in the attic of the hotel.  

It was a small room, just about the size of a telephone booth, but it had an unusual feature. The back wall was actually a skylight. You pushed a button to make the shade come down and block the light.  

When I pushed the button the whole room shook, which helped me get my circulation going. 

I thought that was a nice feature in addition to fresh towels and soap. It made up for the hotel not providing a kettle.

Lynn Ruth and Christine go Catalan

My companion this time was Christine, a superb artist who lived in Barcelona for over two years before she returned to Brighton to remind herself that she was really English. Her Spanish is REALLY good and she said wonderfully melodic things like “Por favor” and “No hablo español”.  She was really a great help to me when I tried to order food at the restaurants while I was in town. 

The first night we were there, we went to a Spanish bodega and I tried to order typical native cuisine. I asked Christine to get me a burger with fries. She smiled at the waiter and said something I couldn’t really decipher but the wine was wonderful.

The next afternoon, we happened into an artist’s studio and gallery. The paintings were huge and reminded me a lot of Picasso during his psychotic period.  

The artist was an elderly man with flowing gray hair and he had tubes of paint scattered everywhere. He offered to show us his technique but I explained that I was very old and my muscles weren’t as supple as they once were.  

Thank goodness he didn’t speak English.

Then Christine and I went to an improv jazz place called JazzSí where musicians rotate on stage and play marvellous, hummable jazz. I sat next to a lovely young man from Brazil who explained that this was the place where students could practice their music. I asked him if he played too. And he said of course he did – but not music.

That night was my show at Craft Barcelona and it was magnifique, as they say somewhere in Europe. Not in Barcelona evidently. I tried it and someone said they didn’t have that kind of tapa.  

On stage at Craft Barcelona after dog food memories

I have performed at Craft Barcelona twice before and each time has been an amazing success. This time, the host was Matthew from Perrysburg, Ohio, which was amazing to me because, during my salad years, I was from that very same place. I shopped at Kazmaier’s, the only supermarket in town. I asked Matthew if he remembered Bro, the son of the owner, and he said actually Bro WAS the owner now which all goes to show that even established grocery stores eventually change management.  

I asked Matthew if they still sold Alpo, the dog food good enough for people to eat. I explained that there had been a man in Perrysburg who used to buy a case of Alpo every week and when Bro said, “You must have a really hungry dog,” the man said, ”It isn’t FOR my dog.”

Matthew said: “That was my father.”

Ohioans have very strange taste. That is why we both left.

In Barcelona, the other comedians and the audience were mostly expats and I was the headliner. I did just short of an hour and everyone stood up and cheered. I was thrilled that they enjoyed my performance so much but Vinnie (the man who booked me) explained that wasn’t why they were cheering.  

They were just amazed that I had stood that long.

I always say you take your accolades any way you can get them.

The next day we ‘did’ Barcelona which is the most do-able city ever. I saw a woman sitting at a sewing machine sewing people’s names into cardboard for souvenirs and a shoe shop where the shoes had slogans like I LOVE TO DANCE and I AM CUTE and TRUTH CAUSES INDIGESTION.  

Christine and I indulged ourselves in very expensive Piña Colada’s and then we hurried over to Spank the Baby which is not what you think it is.  

It is a dance studio and my hero Pablo teaches the Lindy Hop there. It has become a tradition that I go there and Pablo dances with me.  

The long and the short of it for Lynn Ruth Miller in Barcelona

The problem is that, each time we dance, I get a bit shorter and Pablo gets a bit taller. 

This time the poor fellow had to go into traction after we whirled around the floor to Tea for Two 

I was not in very good shape after the dance myself. One of my lungs collapsed at the second chorus and my foot slammed into my ankle at the finale.

I wanted to thank Pablo properly in Spanish so I said, “¿Dónde está el baño?” and he said, “Adios, muchacha.”  

Which I thought was very sexy.

We wandered down some dark alleys on our way to a real Catalan restaurant and stumbled on another artist’s studio.  

This artist was Isabella and she was from Ecuador.  Her husband was an actor and she worked with glass and metal to make interesting goblets and rings. She created whimsical necklaces and earrings as well.  

We chatted about the importance of creativity and the joys of being an artist and I praised her work with one of my Spanish phrases, “Amo a mi perro,” and she smiled and said, “Tengo un gato.”  

“You are so welcome,” I said and we hurried to the restaurant where we met Vinnie and his new wife Dana.  

Vinnie is from Manchester and has a thriving internet business as well as a production company that books musicians and comedians.  

He took us to Los Caracoles, which is an old-established Catalan restaurant. The place was filled with antique paintings and happy people. We loved the food, especially after the fourth glass of wine.  

The next morning we said a sad goodbye to this lovely city.  

A drunk at the hotel front desk asked me if I knew what a homosexual was and I said: “Darling, I lived in Brighton for two years.”  

I thanked the girl at the desk with another of my Spanish phrases: “Hable despacio!” 

She replied: “All you owe is the room tax.” 

Christine and I stopped for a quick coffee and we both got a hug and kiss from an Argentinean who said he lived in London for six months. That was when I realized that you get a lot more than coffee at a Barcelonan coffee shop.  

As we boarded the plane to Gatwick, I shouted ”Muchas Gracias!” and off we disappeared into the bright blue skies.  

As soon as the sky turned dull and gray, we knew we were back home again. 

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Spain, Travel

Stand-up comic Lynn Ruth Miller looks forward to Viagra and back to Leicester

In recent blogs, 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller has been sharing her experience of performing in exotic places like Hanoi. Recently, she was closer to home…


I really love the Leicester Comedy Festival because it does not cost an arm and a leg for me to participate. I have already lost a hip and a knee and I am in no mood to barter with any more body parts. 

Before Leicester, I had to convince a promoter or a venue that, if I pay lots of money, they will give me space to perform for an hour.  

Not any more. No sir.  

Now, I have a venue that wants ME.

OK, so it’s not a fancy one. It doesn’t even have a stage. There are no bright lights and no-one ever reviews shows that appear there. But it is my little venue and I love it just as much as the big showy ones that make the headlines and get the reviews.  

Bike shop: “a wonderful place for me to shine.”

It is a bike shop.

Things could be worse. I could be crammed into a refuse shelter among all the flotsam and jetsam which people recycle. I could even stand on top of an automobile in a showroom or fight my way to the top of a chest of drawers in an antique shop.

But my bike shop is a wonderful place for me to shine. 

Bicycle people are not judgmental. They all love to laugh. It was bike enthusiast and promoter Andy Salkeld who figured that out. He got the idea of transforming a commercial establishment into a comedy performance space several years ago because he wanted to amuse a healthy, outdoorsy type of audience. 

Though, sadly, that is not me.  

I am so uncoordinated that, the last time I tried to pedal my way to the grocery store, I mistook the hand brake for a horn and somersaulted into an intersection.

Andy is the Cycling Co-ordinator for Leicester City Council. (Yes. They really have someone like that, right up there with Public Safety, Public Health and Emergency Planning.)

Andy has created a bicycle comedy show – The Red Light Comedy Club – that has been part of the festival for several years. The challenge for Andy was to find someone who had nothing better to do than host his unusual shows. Any performer already creating his own production at that festival would never risk dampening his reputation by standing among a lot of axles, chains and rubber tyres.

Andy Salkeld “has a unique taste in comedy”

I was that someone.

What else do I have to do but take my medication, attend my dialysis and locate my dentures?

Andy has booked me to host his Red Light events for the past three years. And I love every ego-boosting moment.  

He has a unique taste in comedy. In the years I have hosted these shows, there have been comedians who sing wild, improbable songs, those who throw things at the audience and those who insist the audience throw things back at them. The events are unique and don’t involve deep thought, but there are all those different bicycles to look at if the person at the microphone does not appeal.

This year, I met some very unusual people who revealed things about themselves on stage that I would not even tell my proctologist, much less my mother.  

For example, Kevin Hudson, an accountant by day and observer of the idiosyncrasies of life by night, went into great detail about his prostate examination. His account was so graphic I thought we might get a hands-on demonstration but, sadly for me, he kept his trousers on. It has been a long time since I have viewed that area of the male anatomy and I kept hoping…

The most interesting part of that evening was meeting an accomplished comedian who is 75 years younger than I am. Ian Hall who introduced us to the real star of the show: his daughter, Niamh Hall. She is ten years old. She manned the audio for her father and stole the show.  

Niamh Hall (left) was “the real star of the show”

But that is what happens when you let a real woman take over, isn’t it?

I realized then how limited my own upbringing was.  

When I was ten, my main activity was bouncing a ball (rubber… not what you are thinking;  that didn’t happen until I was sixteen) and stroking furry creatures (FOUR legged ones).  

I certainly did not have the courage to stand on a stage with a bunch of strangers staring at me, while I took charge of my father.

It is a new world and Niamh is a shining example.  

I see her, when she is my age, appearing  at the O2, her tattoos crumbled into a kaleidoscope of unidentifiable colors, her confidence mesmerizing an audience amazed at her ability to balance on one leg while she operates ten turntables filling the room with musical cacophony.  

She will be able to do a thing like that until she is 100.  Unfortunately, all I can do is talk dirty to young people.

I was sorry to see the festival end. It was an education for me this year and I cannot wait to return to the bike shop again next year to find out why Viagra is such a success. I have always avoided it because it squanders four hours of your day. I don’t have that much time left to waste. Not anymore.

Next stop, Sweden.

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Filed under Age, Comedy, Humor, Humour

A cautionary tale of UK hairdressing… and what a difference a day makes…

On the left, a photograph taken yesterday… On the right, a photograph taken today.,,

Alarm bells should have rung when the hairdresser lady had trouble understanding what I said.

“How you want it?” she asked.

English is not her first language.

Not her fault.

Indeed, not a fault at all.

But not ideal when you are having your hair cut.

“Just clear of the ears,” I told her. “Just a little off.”

Then I joked: “Can you do anything about my face?… Maybe some plastic surgery?”

“No problem,” she replied, smiling reassuringly.

That is the point at which I should have realised there could be a linguistically triggered potential problem.

Now I have no hair and my ears have dropped.

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Filed under Humor, Humour

“I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake” by Malcolm Hardee – an extract

Following on from the last five days of blogs, which quoted what people’s reactions were when legendary comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, here is an extract from his out-of-print 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

All you need to know as background is that, before he entered the show business, Malcolm was not the comedy Messiah.

He was a very naughty boy…


I came out of Exeter three days after Jubilee Day 1977. Unless you’re young enough to be a footballer, there are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness. I did both. 

Alan Curry, who later joined The Greatest Show on Legs, had been looking for a flat and had just gone knocking on doors. He’d found a massive Victorian house in Micheldever Road in Lee Green, half a mile from Lewisham. A woman called Sally Niblett lived there. Her husband was disabled and was quite a famous doctor and he’d taken himself, his wheelchair and their five boys off to Papua New Guinea. She was left in this massive house on her own. So Alan Curry moved in. 

Alan told Wizo about the house, Wizo told me and I moved in. At this point, Wizo was a lifeguard at a local swimming pool despite the fact he couldn’t swim. Not what you would call swimming in the traditional sense. 

After that, my mate Martin Potter moved in and, over the years, Sally had maybe 70-odd different tenants in that house. My sister lived there for a time. Nearly everyone I know has lived there.

The house next door was owned by a man called Michael, who was clinically mad. He used to come along in the morning, cut the hedge and then stick the leaves back on with glue and Sellotape.

There were the maddest goings-on in the world at Sally Niblett’s house. There was a bloke called Vic, who thought he was practical but he wasn’t. He constantly had a car engine in his bedroom that he was repairing but it never worked. Once I was in bed with a girlfriend and he tried to come into the room, but there was a wooden beam across the door and he hit his head on it. He went running downstairs, got a chainsaw out, ran back up and started sawing through the wood.

Another bloke who lived there was Dave. He bought an old taxi, took the body off it and decided to make a car completely out of wood, because he was a bit of a chippie. Eventually, after about two years making this car, he decided to take it for a test run. He came out of the drive where he’d been making it, turned left and, after about 100 yards, got stopped by the police. They said: 

“You can’t have this. It’s illegal. You’ve got no M.O.T. certificate”. 

So he put it back in the drive and it stayed there for fifteen years until it rotted away.

Sally Niblett used to be a nurse and she had a series of affairs and eventually ended up moving into the basement because there were so many people in this house. Everyone paid her £5 per week. Didn’t matter which room: £5 per week. It was just the maddest house you could ever imagine. It made the house in BBC TV’s The Young Ones look like a palace. 

Once, I wanted to have a chicken-run in the garden, so I came back with two chickens and didn’t have anywhere to put them, so I put them in the oven while I built the chicken-run. Sally Niblett came home and switched the oven on. She never noticed.

Another time, we moved a sofa from a house round the corner. We didn’t have any van to put it in, but I had an old Austin Cambridge car. So I towed it behind the car, with Vic sitting on the sofa as we towed it round the streets. I came round a corner, the rope snapped and he just carried on sitting on the sofa as it hurtled straight into the Manor Lane Cafe. 

It was at this house in Micheldever Road that I became a minicab-driver when I met this bloke called ‘Alec The Greek’, who wasn’t a Greek. He lent me £65 to buy a car and I bought the cheapest possible four-door car I could: a Renault 4 saloon.

At the same time, I saw a notice in the local paper saying: 

WANTED FOR THEATRE GROUP

ACTORS

I thought I’ll have a go at that! 

This was the 1970s so, basically, being in a Theatre Group meant somebody gave you a Grant and you went round and scared kids for about an hour. 

I went to this audition and they were all standing in a circle going: 

“Taaaaall as a tree!……Smaaaall as a mouse!” 

Then they went: 

“Ooooooooh!……Eeeeeeeh!” 

And I thought What the fuck’s going on here? 

But I thought I’d have a go at it. 

I had a boxer dog I was looking after at the time and as I tried doing Taaaall as a tree! the boxer dog was trying to shag my leg. They were all taking it seriously but, over the other side of the room, was a bloke called Martin Soan and he looked at me and he looked at the boxer dog and I looked at him and we knew, from that moment, we were going to get on. And we did.

I was also minicabbing with the boxer dog in the car. There was a girl in this Theatre Group who was very big. Well, let’s be honest, she was fat. 

She fancied me. I don’t know why, but she did.

I went to the minicab office one night at 1.00am and this girl was there, waiting for me. She said: 

“Can you take me home to Peckham, Malcolm?” 

“Alright,” I said. 

Just as she was getting in the car, the minicab boss shouted out: 

“Oy! I’ve got another fare for Peckham, round the corner! Can you take him?” 

“Yes,” I said. “No problem.”

So I drove round the corner to the address and the fare was on the 14th floor of a tower block. 

I went in. The lift didn’t work. I ran up the stairs. Knocked on the door. Shouted out: 

“Anyone cab for Peckham?” 

This bloke came to the door a bit drunk and said: 

“Can you take five?” 

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I can take five. I’ve got a dog in the car”. I didn’t mention the fat girl. 

So this bloke called out: 

“Mavis! Oi, Mavis! We like dogs, don’t we?” 

“Yeah,” she called back: “We love dogs!”  

So I capitulated because he said he’d pay double.

 “Alright,” I said, “I’ll take five”. 

I ran all the way down the stairs and shouted to the fat girl: 

“Get in the boot!” 

Full credit to her, she did. 

The boot in my Renault was at the front. So she got into the boot and the family came down. They were luckily quite small people. I put three of them in the back with the dog over their laps and the bloke and his wife in the front. I started the engine up and the fat girl must have panicked because the boot lid came slowly up and her face rose in front of the windscreen. The bloke asked the not unreasonable question: 

“Who’s that?” 

“Dunno,” I said.

The lid of the boot went down and we drove off to Peckham. The bloke never mentioned it again. Nor did I. 

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Simon Jay’s play is not about John Lewis or John Lewis but John Lewis

The things you miss when you do not go to the Edinburgh Fringe…

This year, I missed the extraordinary Simon Jay reprising his highly-praised Trumpageddon show and a new show @JohnLewis: Never Knowingly Undertweeted. The latter is about the American academic and “computer science educator” who owns the @johnlewis Twitter handle and gets mistakenly deluged by enquiries intended for the famed chain of British department stores.

The British store chain’s slogan is Never Knowingly Undersold.

Simon Jay answering my questions

Last night, I went to see@JohnLewis: Never Knowingly Undertweeted – only on at the Drayton Arms Theatre in London until Saturday.

And, this morning, I Skyped Simon Jay for a pre-arranged chat. He overslept  and was barely conscious. 

I always find this is the best way to chat with people for blogs…


JOHN: So what did John Lewis, the American, say when you contacted him?

SIMON: He is very modest and self-deprecating. So he said: “Why would anyone write a play about me?”

JOHN: Modest and self-deprecating? Are you sure he’s an American?

SIMON: Yes. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

JOHN: He was shocked you wanted to write a play about him?

John Lewis, confusing but not confused

SIMON: (LAUGHS) Humbled. Originally, the play was going to be much more like a Jon Ronson investigation, where I tried to get into his life and how it all came about. He gave his blessing but then said he was incredibly busy. So it turned into a sort of Joyce Grenfell character piece.

JOHN: Did he have to approve everything?

SIMON: No. I mean, I wasn’t going to take the piss. I wasn’t going to betray him. He didn’t even see the script. He said he didn’t have time to read anything, so he just took it all on trust, really. I put updates from our rehearsal on Twitter. I don’t know anything about his mother, but I portrayed her as some kind of religious zealot. I Tweeted a picture of me full-crazy and he said: “Oh! It’s uncanny!”

JOHN: When you quote him saying things in the play, are those quotes he gave you?

SIMON: Well, based on things that he said, yeah. When I interviewed him, I was only able to get a couple of lines on each question I asked him. And he did give a few interviews early on to people like the Daily Telegraph.

JOHN: Has the quirky story been picked up in the US or only in the UK?

US Congressman John Lewis

SIMON: Well, John Lewis, the store, isn’t known in America. In the US, he is confused with Congressman John Lewis.

JOHN: Who you also mention in the play.

SIMON: Yes, he gets a lot of racist abuse on Twitter intended for the Congressman, which I was going to explore. But then I thought it might be a dramatic turning point too far – from a light-hearted show about mistaken identity to the racist underbelly of the US.

JOHN: Why racist abuse?

SIMON: Because the Senator he shares a name with is a black Senator from Georgia, a civil rights campaigner who talks a lot about how racist America is. So lots of people take to Twitter to abuse him (LAUGHS) to prove how right he is!

JOHN: You talked to the John Lewis Partnership – the stores – about the play…

SIMON: Yes. They were a bit bewildered at first. But it’s very much a warm, fluffy thing; John Lewis are hardly going to be offended and sue me. And the story is not about them; it’s about mistaken identity. The fact it is about John Lewis is incidental, really.

JOHN: It’s all good, light-hearted publicity for them.

SIMON: Well, some people genuinely think it’s a conspiracy – that John Lewis have employed someone to pretend to be this man with their name!

JOHN: And the store’s reaction?

John Lewis: amused and bemused

SIMON: They just think: Oh! It’s just an amusing thing that has happened and we don’t really get involved, but we are very grateful for the fact he forwards everything on.

JOHN: He does?

SIMON: He always puts the @JLPartners tag when he answers on Twitter. (They are also @jlandpcustserv)

JOHN: In the play, you have some characters who are John Lewis staff reacting to things, sending him presents and so on.

SIMON: Well, they really did send him a hamper at Christmas and even embroidered his @JohnLewis Twitter handle into a cushion. It’s all fact. That’s all true.

JOHN: The staff in the play are slightly bitchy to each other. Did John Lewis, the store, object?

SIMON: Well, their Regional Marketing Manager came to see a preview. I think they were checking to see it wasn’t libellous. She liked it. I think she just accepted we all know characters like that.

JOHN: Any chance you might be in one of the famous traditional John Lewis Christmas ads on TV?

Never knowingly under-represented online

SIMON: Well, apparently the management did talk to the director of this year’s ad and there was some talk about that and they were looking to get the ‘real’ John Lewis involved and the way to do that was to have lots of different John Lewises in the ad and I would be one of the John Lewises. Maybe they would have had archive footage of the Congressman. But, like all these things, it was probably just an idea on a piece of paper and they will have gone with something much more outlandish.

JOHN: So whither the show now? The West End and Vegas?

SIMON: There’s a thought of taking it on tour, but I think I will have a break.

JOHN: Doing what?

SIMON: Sleeping.


(AND I ADDED THIS BIT ON 19th NOVEMBER 2018…)

Alas, Simon did not appear in the John Lewis Christmas ad on UK television but, today, The Guardian carried a story headlined MAN NAMED JOHN LEWIS STARS IN TWITTER UK’s CHRISTMAS AD. Here is the Twitter ad…

…and here is John Lewis (the department store)’s actual 2018 Christmas ad – starring Elton John…

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