Tag Archives: James Cagney

Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

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Shimmering images, Ann Widdecombe’s brilliance and Gordon Brown – The Opera

I have had a fair amount of feedback from yesterday’s blog about the appalling image of the current Labour Party leadership.

One thing I have not been able to figure out is how the Conservative Party has successfully re-imaged at least two of its failed former party leaders.

John Major had a very large and very under-underrated role in bringing a 30-year stretch of Irish Troubles to an (almost) end (or at least to a healthy pause). Tony Blair took the credit but it was John Major who set all the necessaries in place and started everything rolling along. Unfortunately for him, as Prime Minister, he had the image of a weak, grey man out of control of the economic events buffeting him and the accusations of tabloid sleaze swirling round his colleagues.

Yet, just a few years later, he had been turned into an amiable, cricket-loving uncle figure and now he has been transformed yet again, this time into an elder statesman – a wise advisor with a steady pair of political hands.

Almost more staggering was the transformation of William Hague from simultaneously too-young and too-bald laughing stock into the wise semi-Churchillian muse he always aspired to be – and now into a calm, respected Foreign Secretary. I would not be surprised to see him ‘do another Churchill’ in a few years time and return to lead the party or even the country.

A third failed Conservative Party leader (there have been an awful lot of them) Michael Howard seemed to be brilliantly and terminally characterised by a venomous Ann Widdecombe as having “something of the night about him”. But now, when he occasionally pops up on TV, he seems less like a political vampire than an amiable man with a humorous twinkle in his eye and a jolly chortle. Though I would still not trust him after dark in a gothic mansion.

Even Ian Duncan Smith, a man for whom the word ‘bland’ seems too glitzy a description, has re-appeared on our screens of late not seeming too definitively dull. I think, with him, though, even the Conservative Party’s best spin doctors are on to a semi-loser.

Compare these mostly successful Conservative image-changes to the Labour Party’s PR failure with their ex-leaders.

Neil Kinnock still comes across as a charming, well-meaning Welsh windbag, simultaneously over-erudite and approaching near air-headedness. I can imagine him banging his head in Wayne’s World.

Tony Blair is now seen as the bullshit artist he always was: a man endlessly prepared to duck, dodge, dive, weave, spin and shit on others – and allow others to die for his principles – always smugly secure in the knowledge that his opinion is right because he and God work as a double act.

That’s two former leaders whom the Labour Party has been unable to re-image.

And then there is the sad case of Gordon Brown who is still in that nether region where he is too embarrassed to pop his head above the parapet and everyone else is too embarrassed to talk about him.

If Anna Nicole Smith’s life can be turned into an opera (as it just has been for the Royal Opera House), then Gordon Brown’s story cannot be far behind. It cries out for loud Wagnerian music to accompany one of the great political and personal tragedies of the last 50 years.

The story of a man with deeply-held socialist principles and a lust for power who had to wait ten years watching superficial socialist pretender Tony Blair – all style and no substance – get plaudits… then, after waiting that long decade of labyrinthine, Machiavellian, soul-destroying plotting, he eventually gets the powerful job he always knew he deserved and was promised… only to find the whole edifice comes crumbling down around him. And, ironically, the one thing he was always lauded for – his sure touch on the Economy – is one of the main causes of his downfall. That and an accidentally-recorded aside about an ordinary woman he casually called a racist on an apparently insignificant visit to the provinces.

It is like James Cagney at the end of White Heat.

Gordon Brown – he finally got to the top of the world and it blew right up in his face

If that is not meat for an opera, I don’t know what is.

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