Tag Archives: Ian Hinchliffe

A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

I asked Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, if she had any memories of Christmases past. She sent me this about a time when she was an exotic dancer and comedy performer.


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

The second time I went to England, on the QE2 liner, was in mid-November 1979. Traveling on the QE2 was cheaper than the plane fare. Ian McKellen was on the ship and he gave a little lecture about acting. He had a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t ask him anything.

When I arrived, I had £30 pounds in cash and the address of the Nell Gwyn club in Soho, where I stayed for seven years. I worked at the Nell Gwyn/Gargoyle Club and ended up living in a house on Royal College Street in Camden full of actors and strippers and comics and an ape expert (Peter Elliott) but they all went to their parents’ houses for Christmas so I was left alone for my first Christmas in London.

It was unusually snowy that year and I got very ill from running around Soho taking my clothes off in different clubs.

So I relaxed in bed. I don’t recall quite which bed, but likely it was the ape man’s, since he probably was the only one who could afford a television.

He used to lie in bed and get woken up by calls from his agent for auditions or odd jobs like teaching Romanian child acrobats to imitate chimpanzees. One time his agent called and asked if he wanted to go to Canada, to work on a film called Quest for Fire. He was an actor and ape expert… Still is. Any British movie about apes for the last forty years, he’s been in or consulted on it.

The first time I met him, he had just returned from Birmingham with a huge white bandage on one of his fingers. A female chimpanzee had tried to rape him.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

I think he was from an acrobat family…. Do they have many of those in Yorkshire?  Who knows?

But Yorkshire produced Ian Hinchliffe who was no acrobat, though he did perform tricks with broken glass.

Anyway, Peter Elliott, the ape expert, was a Desmond Morris fanatic; he advised me to read The Naked Ape and was not mean to me about being an ignorant Canadian.

One lady who lived in that house was very aloof about me and she was always pointing out how inferior people from the Colonies were. One time we were both heading into central London at the same time. I don’t know where she was off to but I was on my way to work and a bit late. It was very snowy and when I saw our bus rushing towards us I flagged it as if it was a taxi, even though we were not at a bus stop. She looked appalled and said sternly: “This is London – We don’t flag the bus here!”

But the bus stopped right in front of us and we both got onto it.

Really, I never have had any problems flagging a bus. One time I did it during a sandstorm in Sydney. Because of the storm I was the only passenger, so the driver took me all the way home. I think he had just finished his shift.

As for that lady who was so mean and had not appreciated that I had flagged the bus for her so, when she went out of town, I slept with her boyfriend who did not seem to think I was inferior at all.

Anyhow, I had an interesting Christmas alone in that tall four story townhouse. in Royal College Street.

I did not have much food, but I enjoyed watching television because there were so many talk shows, though I did not know who any of the guests were or have any idea what they were talking about. It was all very interesting because I was trying to figure out stuff like Why is Esther Rantzen so important to British people?

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, c 1983/1884

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, in a London graveyard c1984

I phoned my mother in Vancouver to tell her I was fine in London making friends with lots of fantastic strippers and nice men who were ape impersonators or who wrote poetry about their glasses (John Hegley) with friends who pretended they were dead (Tony Green) and who wrote songs about stomping on their cats (Tony De Meur). Also there was a very nice gay actor who had sex with a woman once because he was very professional and said he wanted to know what it felt like in case it ever came up at an audition.

We were all very responsible and only one of the men had ever got a woman pregnant (a comedian who is now a big Name).

I did not mention to my mother the man from British Telecom who somehow had ended up at our parties, because he was a bit older and I did not want her to worry.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984… She had to borrow the cat

“Thank God you’re alright,” my mother had told me. “I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you for a month.”

Then she told me she had phoned Scotland Yard to ask them to look for me. Scotland Yard told my mother that hundreds of girls disappear in London every day so not to call them for another six months.

I stayed for seven years in London.

I had to keep leaving to go dance in Belgium because of UK visa restrictions.

I was constantly in trouble over my work permit in Belgium and eventually I had up go to a Belgian doctor in London’s Harley Street to get my vaccines updated and a certificate saying I was mentally fit to strip in Belgium.

Once in Brussels, we had to sign elaborate contracts in quadruplicate in French and Flemish which had hundreds of items including that if we were performing trapeze or with wild animals we were responsible for obtaining our own insurance.

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An average day in Vancouver – nudity, trailer trash, sturgeon, disappearances

What, you might ask – well, yesterday, someone DID ask me – has been happening to this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith?

Below is the latest from her in Vancouver. She lives on a boat.

Anna Smith (extreme right) on a skip in an alley behind the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver (Photo by Tadhg)

Anna Smith (extreme right) reclines on a skip in an alley behind the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver (Photograph by Tadhg)


Twisty can’t stop dancing. He is a performance artist/social activist.

Twisty: performer & social activist

Just now, I thought Mr Methane had arrived but it was a container of toxic disinfectant.

Although the river is hypnotic, I still go into Vancouver several times a week.

Ĺast week, I met up with my friend Bernie (Mr Nude Universe 1985). We have a lot in common, each having worked as strippers for fifteen years. My main striptease character was a nurse. His was a police officer.

I also met Twisty today. He is a performance artist and social activist. He can’t stop dancing. He says that being with me is like being at a party.

Anna with Mr Lahey (left) and Mr Randy at the Roxy nightclub

Anna with Randy (right) & Mr Lahey at The Roxy, Vancouver

And I met Randy and Mr Lahey, cult Canadian television stars from the series Trailer Park Boys. They did a really funny live show at the local Roxy night club. The posters advertised a party as well and dressing like Trailer Trash was strongly recommend. The club was decorated like a run-down trailer park.

If you want to imagine The Marina of Hell (where I live), Trailer Park Boys is good for reference.

There is a 7-minute Trailer Park Boys film on YouTube.

I often describe the docks where I live as a floating trailer park. This place does not even have a name or a supervisor.

Fraser River, Vancouver

The Fraser River in Vancouver

I told John Dunsworth (Mr Lahey) that I live in a west coast maritime version of their Sunnyvale and he was interested. John Dunsworth started the first alternative theater in Halifax and he is an unusual person. When I asked for his autograph he made drawings of boats and signed them. I could see right away that he was an artist and also familiar with boats. He has a boat which he rebuilt and he is working on a ghost movie with boats. He told me his next movie is going to be called Fifty Shades of Shit.

In one autograph, he drew a sailboat and wrote: Haul in your shit sails. Shit Storms coming! That is one of his catchphrases. He has also written a book called The Dicshitnary and sells it online. He sells a lot to Britain, Canada, Australia , the USA and Denmark.

Demonstrating how to piss through a funnel

How to piss through a funnel on stage with Randy (Patrick Roach)

Randy and Mr Lahey’s performance at times appeared to be abstract, with laundry and garbage strewn around  the stage – It reminded me of an Ian Hinchliffe show. Mr Lahey demonstrated his latest business idea: a portable hot box made from rubbish sacks – so you can get high at work without anyone realising. The hot bag has a window so you can still do fine even when there’s a performance evaluation.

The Trailer Park Boys’ stage show is apparently coming to London in September.

Canada’s top comedy hit. Banned from television. Criminals – Your blog readers will love them.

I understand, in Britain, they are also playing in Manchester and Cambridge.

Back on the river, the sturgeon fishers were out again today but I was busy doing a massive cleaning of my boat. It is like living inside an animal.

Half the time here it is deadly boring but then it swivels into a circus, with police boats chasing people down the channel, boats hitting logs, men and dogs falling overboard…

Today it was relatively peaceful. There is less ruckus in the winter and most of the boats are cocooned under tarpaulins. I was up on my roof and my neighbour told me he was going to fish for sturgeon at slack tide. He is obsessed with sturgeon and knows everything about their habits. We are not allowed to keep sturgeon as the stock is replenishing, but we are allowed to fish for them.

Here what my neighbor prepared to bait Sturgeon... oily oolichans soaked in rotton fish oil

Bait for sturgeon – oily oolichans soaked in rotten fish oil

I went out at slack tide and my neighbour was on the outside dock, with his pole set up. Apparently we are living atop a sturgeon hole. He said he had caught 201 sturgeon and another neighbour – a young father – was out there with his daughter who was wearing her life jacket and reading nature magazines, looking pretty, sitting in a mini lawn chair with a fancy miniature beach umbrella.

The men were slowly drinking Hell’s Gate beer and discussing sturgeon, salmon,  licences and how people are caught when they keep a sturgeon. Many of the fish are tagged by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and, if they get a signal from a sturgeon travelling overland, they follow it.

When my neighbour said he had caught 201 sturgeon,  that is in his whole life. He keeps count.

Here on the river, Search and Rescue Services are also concerned about the numbers of people becoming lost in the woods and they are advising hikers to take a selfie showing which direction they are heading in, saying: This might be the last picture ever taken of you.

A pod of transient orcas (killer whales) was spotted in the water near Stanley Park.

A salmon decoration by children on fence above Fraser River

Decoration created by children on a fence above Fraser river

A man disappeared from the deck of his boat upriver in New Westminster. He told some other people on the boat he was going out to sit on a chair. Half an hour later they found the chair on deck but the man has never been seen since.

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New documentaries released about mad eccentrics: inventor John Ward and dangerous art performer Ian Hinchliffe

John Ward with small but effective fire engine

Mad inventor John Ward with small but effective fire engine

Last week, I mentioned that mad inventor John Ward had built probably the smallest fire engine in the world (it is for small fires) based on the chassis of a 3-wheeled Robin Reliant car.

As there is only one Robin Reliant Fire Engine and he owns it, John decided to start an Owner’s Club for himself (why wouldn’t he?) and drew up a membership form. He tells me that, at the last event he attended (yes, he attends events), he signed-up two other members to the club.

He told me this morning: “It is not hard to see how governments get in.”

Further joy, he tells me, was unleashed on his already happy body by picking up a copy of Classic Car Weekly newspaper yesterday to find they have added his Reliant Fire Engine Owners’ Club to their listings.

Not surprisingly, John Ward features in a new feature-length documentary: A Different Drum: Celebrating Eccentrics. It also features the late and much-lamented Screaming Lord Sutch, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and one Sarah Winchester, who built a 158-room mansion to house the ghosts of those who died as a result of her husband’s inventions.

The movie premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival this week (it gets a second screening later today) and this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith went along to see it.

“It is a good movie,” she told me this morning. “Long, but interesting and funny.”

She attached a photo of a man, a woman and a duck on stage.

Director John Zaritsky with duck lady and duck this week

Director John Zaritsky with Duck Lady & Bobby at premiere (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“In the pic,” she said, “is the director, Academy Award winner John Zaritsky, and Duck Lady, who is another eccentric in the film. I have seen her often, over the last thirty years, doing her gig on Robson Street in Vancouver with her fortune-telling ducks, The duck in the pic is called Bobby. Since I am not that interested in ducks or fortune-telling, I had never interacted with her. But I stood and took this pic for your blog after the screening and held Duck Lady’s hand getting down the stairs from the stage. Bobby the Duck spoke a bit during the screening, but was declining interviews afterwards.”

Director John Zaritsky won an Oscar in 1982 for his documentary Just Another Missing Kid. He also won a Cable Ace Award in 1987 for Rapists: Can They be Stopped, a Golden Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for My Husband is Going to Kill Me, a Robert F. Kennedy Foundation Award for Born in Africa, and a DuPont-Columbia Award in 1994 for Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo.

An interesting range of documentaries.

Which brings us to Hinch, a documentary he did not direct.

Last night, I went to Hackney Wick in London to see the DVD launch screening of this further leap into eccentricity.

I was a little surprised to see myself credited on the back of the DVD’s cover for supplying some film clips used in the production.

But I think this is a fair glimpse into the state of my memory.

Ian Hinchliffe in mud & rubble outside Riverside Studios

Ian Hinchliffe in mud & rubble outside Riverside Studios (in a still from Hinch: A Film About Ian Hinchliffe)

Hinch: A Film About Ian Hinchliffe does exactly what it says on the front cover. It is a film about the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe, who has occasionally turned up in this blog before.

In July 2011, one of my blogs mentioned the occasion when he set fire to his own foot at the ICA.

In July this year, another mentioned the occasion when he went to roadworks in a street outside the Riverside Studios in London, removed his clothes, jumped into a muddy trench and began to build a giant penis with the mud. Police were called. Film of the incident is included in the new DVD.

The blurb for last night’s screening gives a fair idea of Hinch…

Ian Hinchliffe (1942-2011) was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and absurd humour into any creative arena. Hinchliffe hated the bland: life to him was an adventure and he pursued it with an insatiable, dangerous and playful delight with little distinction between on and off stage. His impromptu performances took place in the street, on public transport systems, in social clubs, art centres/laboratories, theatres, summer festivals, pubs, once in a consecrated church and, God help us, even the odd art gallery.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Ian Hinchliffe in 1980s – genius, bully, fisherman or drunk?

Last night’s screening was followed by a live discussion on (I quote) “whether Hinchliffe was a performance genius, social terrorist, formidable artist, musician, bully, fisherman, entertainer or an irritating drunk.”

In truth, he was a bit of all those.

The DVD was produced by Ian Hinchliffe’s friends Roger Ely and Dave Stephens.

Last night, Roger Ely said of Ian:

“We had a big bust-up because he tried to throw me out of a car going at about 70 miles an hour. Ian and I had come back from a very successful two month tour of North America and Canada and we were doing three performances at the Oval House in London. The first two were awful, dreadful. He tried to throw me out of the car at 70mph because he was annoyed that the third performance had actually worked.

“I first met him in 1973. He was about to be beaten up by a whole crew of people at Leeds University. His performance was causing a riot – a load of what Ian called ‘rugger buggers’ were out. Insults and fists were flying.

“You couldn’t get two more opposites than me and Hinch. He taught me so much. I was a ponced-up public schoolboy working with this kid from Huddersfield. That kind of battle – and it was a battle – continued throughout our relationship and kind of came to a crunch with him trying to throw me out of the car. I suppose it was a scenario about control. We didn’t talk to each other for five or six years, but we made up. I made the film because I didn’t want to see his legacy disappear.”

Released yesterday: an art absurdist captured - Ian Hinchliffe

Released yesterday: an art absurdist captured

Roger’s co-producer Dave Stephens added:

“There is a kind of gap in the art history of Britain. When you go into places like the Tate Gallery, you often find the conceptual kind of art is very heavily recognised, quite rightly so. But there is a gap – the whole period of the 1970s, where there was a tie-in with overlaps between theatre and performance art – which is not really being acknowledged.

“It is almost like the thing you hide under the carpet – It doesn’t fit into any brackets. One of the problems is that, with people like Ian, they didn’t give a shit whether they were called artists or theatre people or whatever. What they were interested in was actually being creative – creating whole new visions for people to look at and often taking those out into places which were never recognised as art venues.

“In a way, what our film is about… is trying to package something which is unpackagable so it becomes palatable for people to then start finding a place for it. One of the problems is that (almost) nothing was ever recorded in the 1970s – almost intentionally never recorded.

“Nowadays it is like (artist) Richard Long goes for a walk in order to record the walk. We went for a walk to have a walk and we wanted people to come with us. We didn’t care if nobody had a record of that, because it was remembered inside them.

“And that does not quite fit into art history. What is inside people can get kind of lost. So, for me, what the whole purpose of this film has been about is building a package that can re-introduce some of what is being lost.”

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Tales of British Council performer Ian Hinchliffe: blood, bites and beer glasses

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green, in London in 1990

Performance artist Ian Hinchliffe drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December 2010.

So it goes.

In a blog earlier this month, I chatted to writer/performer Mark Kelly. We were both surprised that the British Council used to send the almost-always-utterly-drunk Hinchliffe abroad as an example of British culture.

That reminded Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, about Ian Hichcliffe’s visit to Toronto around 1985/1986.

“It was a show by The Matchbox Purveyors (in this case Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor),” Anna remembers. “It was at The Rivoli on Queen Street and was what the British Council was fuelling… a fascinating display of filth and abuse.

“For the set, Ian had strung a clothesline across the stage and hung LP records from it which he lit with a blue light – he was very particular about his lighting.

“The show opened with Kevin O’Connor (who was also a painter) tied to a chair, holding a full egg carton, with a sack over his head. Hinchliffe came out cheerful, dressed in light trousers, a red and blue vest, black spectacles, a white bowler hat, pushing an archaic pram… greeting and shaking hands with audience members. Of course, before long, he was undressing and staggering around smeared with egg and mud, a fur stole tied horribly around his waist.

Ian Hinchliffe (left) and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto c 1985 (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The show had not been properly advertised, so the audience was a small collection of British jazz musicians and a group of artsy cinema-loving intellectuals.

“Earlier that night, I had been out on Queen Street, imploring passers-by not to miss the show. Nobody was interested. They said: We don’t care. We don’t need British comedy. We have our own Canadian comedians. And I thought: You idiots! You don’t have this. Nobody has this.

“Hinchliffe had his own language and it was often impossible to follow. The guy who bought London Bridge and put it in Arizona tried to hire Ian as a permanent fixture in the pub that they put beside it. They offered him a ton of money. I asked: Why didn’t you do it? He answered What would I have done… there… in a desert….? and, of course, he was right.

“He often mentioned ‘Tut Morris’ which I assumed was a car. He would say things like I left Tut Morris in a field… or I owe Tut Morris a payment… and I’ve got to get back to me Morris. Then I realized he was referring to a woman.

“He had been a laminator. Glue and alcohol. He was a jazz pianist. An amazing player.”

When I mentioned this to Ian’s old comedy friend Tony Green, he said:

“I wouldn’t have called him an amazing player. He could play a bit. But the problem with Ian was he had tiny hands and, when he spread his fingers for an octave span, the skin between the fingers would crack and there would usually be blood all over the keys.

“On one occasion, he was playing a white piano in a pub and there was blood all over the keys, pouring down the piano. You’ve never seen anything like it. Like something out of a horror film. When he did an octave span, the skin would just crack open and start bleeding.”

“And,” I said, “he had a habit of bleeding from his mouth when he ate glass.”

IanHinchliffe_1980s

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Oh yes,” said Tony, “he was always eating glass, wasn’t he? Mind you, he came a cropper at one of Malcolm Hardee’s gigs when he tried it. He actually did two gigs for Malcolm. The first one was OK and Malcolm thought it was weird enough to book him again. The second one didn’t work too well. When he was good, he could be inspiring, but that was maybe only one in twenty gigs because he got so pissed.

“He had to end his act by eating a beer glass – obviously. So he’s on stage trying to bite the edge off the pint glass and Malcolm said to me: He can’t fuckin’ do it. Has he got new false teeth or something? I said: Give him a few more minutes.

“Eventually Malcolm goes on stage: Here we are, then. Ian Hinchliffe. And Ian’s still on stage trying to bite a chunk out of the beer glass.

“He came off stage and told me: I couldn’t fookin’ do it! They must’ve fookin’ reinforced the fookin glasses! It’s never happened before, Tony! It’s never fookin’ happened before!

“I told him: That’s it, Ian. Your career’s had it. What are you going to do now?

“I had seen him do it lots of times before. On one occasion, he was being heckled, munched the glass down to the handle and said to the bloke: You finish the fookin’ ‘andle!

“God knows what his insides must have been like.

“He put a glass in his own face. You know that, don’t you?”

“No,” I said. “So he smashed a glass on the edge of a table and then…”

“Stabbed it into his own face. Yes. He had a little scar. He told me: I didn’t twist it, like, so it was no big thing.

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A drunk comedian with blood coming out of his mouth = Great British culture

Tony Green after our tragic chat

Tony Green in London after our tragic chat

A couple of days ago, I had a chat with Tony Green who, I suppose, I have to describe as a comedy veteran.

In a tragic 21st century accident, I accidentally erased 59 minutes of the recording on my iPhone. The only snippet of an anecdote left is this one:

“…had this habit of going down to pick up the post with no clothes on and got locked out once. He said: Dave, could you phone up my girlfriend at work. She’s got a spare key. But Dave didn’t have a phone…”

With my bad memory I, of course, cannot remember how the story ended.

Yesterday, I had a chat with writer and occasional performer Mark Kelly.

I had not realised, until it came up in conversation with Tony Green, that Tony and Mark had known each other years ago but had fallen out. Tony told me why but, of course, I accidentally erased what he said.

So what follows is Mark’s version only…

“Tony and I were really good friends in the mid-1980s,” Mark told me, “and we fell out eventually over an act he started putting on which I thought was racist. The act claimed to be doing a parody of racism. But I found – particularly given the nature of the audiences Tony was encouraging…

Interrupting him, I asked: “What were the audiences like?”

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state

Mark Kelly – never normally seen as Mr Light Entertainment

“Well,” explained Mark, “Tony was in love with East End lowlife culture so, at Tony’s gigs, there would be a mixture of arty Bohemians and East End criminals, some of whom were very right wing.

“It seemed very obvious to me that this particular act, whose name I genuinely can’t remember, was getting laughs for very mixed reasons and it was all very, very dodgy. And we fell out over that. Tony is a very interesting person.”

“He is indeed,” I said. “These shows were at his Open Heart Cabaret?”

“Yes. He ran it in various locations. He briefly ran it in Chiswick – not his usual territory. The pub had a function room at the back which was on stilts and once he was about to cancel the gig because there was hardly anyone there – three or four people – but then, for no apparent reason, a coach driver pulled in and everyone in the coach went into the gig. I think maybe the coach driver went off for a drink. The gig was saved in the sense of not being cancelled, but the coach party had no idea why they were there and they didn’t like any of the acts. It was terrible.”

“A lot of the acts he put on,” I said, “were… err… very experimental.”

“At Tony’s gigs,” agreed Mark, “even I felt like Mr Mainstream Light Entertainment. Tony was quite enamoured of an act called Ian Hinchliffe, an old performance artist who would usually take all his clothes off, eat glass – which he usually did quite badly – and get blind drunk.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green (as Sir Gideon Vein)

“The last time I ever saw Hinchliffe, he was naked, had Sellotaped his genitals together and was, of course, blind drunk. The glass-eating had gone wrong so he was bleeding from the mouth and he knocked over a couple of tables including all the drinks, horrifying the innocent people who were sitting there. That is my abiding memory of him.”

“Hinchliffe,” I said, “was quite nice except when he got drunk, which he usually quickly did. He didn’t really become a befuddled drunk; he became an aggressive drunk. But I can see why Tony found him interesting.”

“What I did find interesting,” Mark told me, “was that, even towards the end, the British Council was still sending Hinchliffe abroad, representing Britain culturally.”

“That must,” I suggested, “have caused a major deterioration in international relations.”

“I presume,” said Mark, “that he was only bookable wherever there was a bar and a drinking culture.”

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More about forgotten act ‘The Glove’ and early UK alternative comedy clubs

Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

After reading my piece yesterday in which Pull The Other One comedy club’s Vivienne & Martin Soan remembered ‘The Glove’ – a London taxi driver turned stand-up comic in the early days of UK alternative comedy – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me more memories of this long-forgotten character. Remember you read it first here. You don’t get this stuff in newspapers.


Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green ran the suspect comedy club. (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

I remember The Glove. He showed up at a comedy club Tony Green and I ran briefly somewhere in the wilds of Near East London.

The Glove was very enthusiastic. We used to call him The Gauntlet.

He was very intense and had imploring eyes… such imploring eyes… He was always very grateful that we let him do his act.

At that time, he was just driving a mini cab.

He was young, handsome, maybe a mix of Mediterranean and Indian or Persian, perhaps Iraqi. He had a London-raised accent, but as if he might have arrived there as a child. He had very dark eyes, dense longish black hair gelled or oiled back and was very pretty in a way. He looked like maybe he worked out in a gym – neat and very clean, ready to assume the mantle of stardom at any moment, yet somehow ordinary, wearing blue jeans, track shoes and a nice leather jacket that fit.

When he put on THE GLOVE, it was as if he had transformed into a superstar in his own mind.

His spectacular black leather glove sparkled with bling and it was the focus of his act… In fact, it really WAS his act.

Felexible Anna Smith

Anna Smith in Wild East days

He just held his gloved arm straight in front of him, danced in the background and was completely serious about it… which was bizarre enough for us to let him perform his act whenever he liked. I think he may also have driven us to the tube station afterwards, which was good of him and much appreciated as our club was in such a dodgy area.

I do not at all remember where our club was. It was in London somewhere towards Plaistow, off the Central Line of the Underground. It was in a function room above a scruffy pub at the corner of some wasteland.

I remember the locals were skinheads and other ruffians who were elated by our presence because they figured that we were a lot of poofs and it would be fun to attack us later on. They acted like we were running a poofs’ convention, but they were afraid to see what we were up to by actually coming in.

Ian Hinchliffe did a great show there involving pasta. I did one also involving pasta on the same night, so I felt I had reached a great zenith… The skinheads were downstairs, daring each other to take a lunge up the staircase and finally the boldest, largest, craziest one bolted up the stairs, while his mates stood at the bottom waiting to see what would happen.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

The great lout arrived at the door, pushed past and it happened that John Hegley was on stage reading one of his poems about his spectacles. This was too much for the would-be attacker to bear and he collapsed, bent over, convulsing with laughter, tears streaming down his face. Then slowly, quivering, he backed away and, stunned, returned to the foot of the stairs.

His mates were demanding:

“What is it?”

“What happened?”

“What are they doing?”

The guy gasped: “There’s a bloke… Up there… Telling POMES about his GLASSES!!!”

After that, they left us alone.

Did you ever hear of Lizzie and Her Handbag who lived in Camberwell? Or Rosie The Clown, who was a supply teacher who used to come up from the coast and perform in South London in a tigerskin Tarzan outfit which revealed one breast? She used to lie on glass and let men stomp up and down on her chest – only on stage, of course.


… I feel we may hear more from Anna Smith about this…

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The early days of the Comedy Store and the alleged toilet habits of Irishmen

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm Hardee’s early agenting company

In a couple of blogs this week, I quoted from a chat I had with performer Tony Green about the early days of alternative comedy in London. He remembers those days; I don’t really.

Around 1985/1986 I was a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh and was looking for bizarre acts. It was around that time I must have met the late Malcolm Hardee, who was agenting acts through his Tunnel Arts organisation (though the word organisation may be a slight exaggeration).

And I have a vague memory of Eddie Izzard standing in a doorway in the narrow alleyway housing the Raymond Revuebar in Soho trying to entice people into an upstairs room where he was running a comedy club. I do not remember the acts, I just remember it was rather small, brightly lit and desperate and I seem to remember the smell of seemingly irrelevant talcum powder.

“When the Comedy Store first started…” Tony Green told me, “…when anyone could go – it was Peter Rosengard’s idea – it would be a Saturday night and somebody would say:

What are you doing tonight?

I dunno really.

Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green back in the early days…(Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

You want a few free drinks? Well, there’s a place round the corner called The Comedy Store. They’ll give you a few free drinks if you get on stage and, if you do well, they may even book you and you’ll get more than a few free drinks and you’ll meet quite a lot of other comics.

Alexei Sayle was the compere. He became a writer after that. Probably gave up the ghost realising he couldn’t change the world because it’s not possible. It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Tony Allen took over from Alexei and I was very happy when Tony was there because, if people gonged me off, Tony would say I’m not gonging him off because I like what he’s got to say, whereas Alexei wasn’t always quite so kind.

“You never knew what you might get on those Saturday nights. It could be quite riotous. We’d get some really nutty acts there – as far as I was concerned, the nuttier the better. Some of the people were terribly boring, but some weren’t.

Keith Allen was probably the best at that time. And there was Chris Lynam sticking a banger up his bum with The Greatest Show On Legs.

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel Club, Malcolm Hardee watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photograph by Geraint Lewis)

“My old friend Ian Hinchliffe had taken in a lodger – Captain Keano’s cousin.”

I should mention at this point that I never knowingly saw Captain Keano – a Covent Garden street performer friend of Eddie Izzard – but this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith last year told me in a blog:

“Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.”

“What did Captain Keano’s cousin do?” I asked Tony Green.

“I think his profession was that of horse-breaker,” Tony told me.

“What?” I asked.

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green today remembers tales of Irish toilets

“Breaking-in horses in Ireland,” replied Tony. “He had a very heavy Irish accent. He wasn’t always that easy to understand. A nice man, a very very heavy drinker, and as strong as an ox.

“Anyway, he needed somewhere to live and my friend Ian Hinchliffe, being the big-hearted man he was, said I’ve got a three-bedroomed place. You can come and stay with me – meaning for a few weeks.

“But, seven months later, Captain Keano’s cousin was still there.

“He was paying rent, but the problem was… I dunno… This will probably sound racist. It isn’t meant to be… There’s an Irish pub near where I live… Somebody once said to me: When you go to the toilet, why is there always shit and piss all over the floor?

“Well, a lot of Irish people I know won’t sit on the seat, because they’re afraid of getting diseases, thinking somebody sitting on that place before them may have had some kind of sexual disease. So they tend to stand on the toilet seat. Sometimes the shit – forgive me, faecal matter – would miss the toilet seat and go down the side of the toilet and very few men would actually pick it up.

“Keano’s cousin had this habit – When he went to the toilet, he would piss all over the floor and I think Ian put a sign above the toilet saying IF YOU MUST PISS – AND, OF COURSE, YOU MUST – WOULD YOU PLEASE DO IT HORIZONTALLY AS OPPOSED TO VERTICALLY.

“I’m not sure that made any sense, but he was actually saying: If you’re going to piss all over the floor, would you please wipe it up, because it’s driving me round the bend every time I myself go to the toilet. 

“After seven months Ian, possibly emulating the man’s Irish accent, told me: He’s the divil of a divil and I want him out.

“I said: What do you want me to do? Get some big, heavy team in to throw him out? He knows he’s got to go. It was supposed to be three weeks; it’s been seven months. You should never have offered it to him in the first place. That kind of hospitality is not always a good idea.

“So Ian was phoning me all the time and phoning Chris Lynam all the time.

“Eventually, Chris drove over there one night at three o’clock in the morning:

Where is he?

He’s asleep in that bedroom.

“So Chris went into the bedroom and packed Captain Keano’s cousin’s clothes into a suitcase. Chris is not the biggest of men, but he managed to throw this big horse-breaker out of the front door – he was half unconscious, from what I heard and still somewhat drunk.

“When he woke up in the morning, he was outside Ian’s front door. Ian told him he wasn’t letting him back in: he had to find somewhere else to live and he’d see him in the pub later that day. And Ian phoned up Chris to thank him for what he did.

“Next time I saw Chris – about two weeks later – I told him: That was a really good thing you did, Chris, because the man was driving Ian round the bend. But, the thing is, Chris, you’re not that big and he’s an ex-horse breaker…

“Chris looked at me in amazement and said: Did I do that?

“Chris had no recollection of doing it. I don’t know where Chris was that night in his headspace, but Ian was eternally grateful.”

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, Racism