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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Paco Erhard is a German comic, not a comic German

(A version of this blog was published in the November 2011 edition of Mensa Magazine)

Paco Erhard is performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe called 5-Step Guide to Being German. We drank English breakfast tea at Fringe Central this week.

“There is an English obsession with Germany,” he told me, “but I think it’s getting less and less. It’s more or less the media who keep it going.”

When I met him, he had just got his first review for his show – a 4-star review – but, the previous day, he told me his show had not been successful –

“I didn’t do as well as I could.

“I am a German. Germany has got an inferiority/superiority complex. We basically have this feeling that nobody likes us and we have to stick together but we are better than everybody thinks we are. So, out of that inferiority complex comes a feeling of superiority and we have had that for too long. Germany has to change.

“As a kid, you don’t know what or who you are,” he told me. “Germany is a baby nation. Our country was just pieced together in 1871 and we don’t know who we are.

“The English are like the Germans. They no longer know who they are – the British Empire has gone; they can’t define who they are. The Scots are like the Bavarians. The Scots know very well who they are, what their traditions are and I would love Scottish-type patriotism for Germany. It’s a positive, very inviting patriotism.

“I like Scotland. I like America – I like how positive they are.

“I studied Literature and Philosophy at the German equivalent of the Open University, so I could travel. I lived in America when I was 17 and loved it – North Carolina – very friendly people and I watched lots of stand-up comedy on TV. That is where it started for me. I think it was more or less the year Bill Hicks died.

“I tried to be a writer for a long time but that meant I just stayed in trying to write and never went out meeting people I could write about. I was not quite normal. I got wrapped up in what I wanted the writing to mean rather than just telling a story.

“I did the whole writing thing until I was in Valencia when I saw an ad for a hotel entertainer in Magaluf and thought, Fuck it. That’s what I’m going to do.

“When I was in Majorca, I realised I liked being on stage and met my girlfriend of the time who was British. She had lived in Tenerife and persuaded me to do some compering and comedy there for British audiences there who were not, on average, all that clever. Wonderful people and I really enjoyed compering for them but, whenever I tried my stand-up, if I made any reference to anything that was outside Jordan and The X-Factor, they did not get very much out of it.

“If you add in a lot of racism and a bit of sexism, then you have a good comedy act for Tenerife. And insult people all the time.”

So did he add in racism and sexism?

“Well,” he told me, “I went to borderline things where I thought, I can still live with saying this and feel morally OK with it and not hate myself. But there was some stuff I could never have done with a clean conscience. It was not that terrible, but I would not like doing it for a long period.”

And did he get a lot of stick from predominantly English audiences for being German?

“Oh yeah, plenty! Sometimes I would say to someone in the front row: Don’t worry. Being German is not contagious: it’s not like you’re going to wake up at five in the morning with an incredible urge to invade Poland…

But, often, if I said that, the audience just sat there puzzled because, as my girlfriend explained to me, they had no idea what Poland had to do with anything. These were not 18 year-olds; they were all older people but, to them, the Second World War was just England v Germany and England won 5-1.

“I had lots of material I could never do and so, just over two years ago, I came to London to do ‘proper’ comedy. And, of course, my selling-point in Britain is that I am a German.

“There came a point when I came back from America when I saw my country from the outside for the first time and I started to not want to be German at all. I felt I was German but different. I was born in Munich but moved eight or nine times as a kid, so I saw how various parts of Germany are so different from each other.

“We do have a sense of humour but there’s a much bigger internal division between the different states and between people’s behaviour in public and in private than in any other country I know of. There is the personality you have in private and the face you show to the outside world. In the workplace, there’s no place for humour or screwing around. In private, you can be a completely different person.

“In Germany, there’s a lot you can hate and love at the same time, like the whole order thing. The precision is great, but sometimes you think Just relax. Let go.

“I was at a wedding in Hamburg a few months back – my girlfriend’s friends – and the father of the bride was told I was a comedian and he tensed up. He thought I would go round later making jokes about it and anarchistically destroy everything that he saw as beautiful.

“I think in Germany, there’s a fear of chaos. Humour is great, but it has its place; it is dangerous if there is too much because it might just corrode everything.

“That’s what I love about Britain. Things are more relaxed.

“Here in Britain, I want to be a comedian first and a German second. I do not want to be a comic German. I want German to be the adjective and the noun to be Comic.

A few days after our chat, Paco got a second review for his show – there had been a reviewer in the day before our chat – he had seen the show which Paco knew had not worked well – the show in which, Paco told me, “I didn’t do as well as I could.”

The Broadway Baby reviewer gave Paco Erhard’s 5-Step Guide to Being German a 5-star review.

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News of the World. Forget the hacks. It’s The Bill you always have to pay.

I have worked as a researcher and sub-editor for BBC TV News (via their old Ceefax teletext service) and, briefly, in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. I have known a lot of journalists. But even I was shocked by the News of the World and other tabloids’ amorality.

I don’t mean the telephone hacking scandal which has now seen Rupert Murdoch close down Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper.

I mean the cheap Killer Bitch movie and Katie Price’s ex-husband Alex Reid being caught on camera with his trousers down.

Police corruption comes later in this blog.

In what must have been a moment of madness I financed Killer Bitch without reading the script (look, it was cheap) and I was away at the Edinburgh Fringe for weeks when shooting started.

While I was away, a sex scene was shot between Alex Reid and the lead actress, the director’s girlfriend/partner.

Alex Reid’s chum/manager asked the director if it was OK to have a photographer on set that day – not to take photos of the sex scene itself but just of Alex arriving, being on-set, being glamorous. The director said Yes.

And, of course, when the sex scene happened, click-click-click and off in a corner Alex’s photographer goes to e-mail out his photos.

What the director didn’t know was that the manager guy had, all week, been playing-off the News of the World against The People to get a higher price for the sex scene pictures. The People ran their photos on the cover and in an “exclusive” double-page spread that Sunday.

But the News of the World, unknown to anyone else, had secretly set up a hidden camera in the grotto where filming took place. They took their own photos and ran a single-page ’spoiler’ about “sickening footage” in the “vile and degrading hardcore porn film” in which Alex had been involved in a “disgusting rape”.

In fact, it wasn’t a rape scene at all. Never was. Never scripted as rape (I read that bit later); wasn’t shot as rape; wasn’t edited as rape. I saw the uncut footage when I came back from Edinburgh and it simply wasn’t rape.

But, bizarrely, journalists often believe what they read in tabloid newspapers, so this story about the vile rape scene in a hardcore porn movie (which is wasn’t) quickly spread across the world, sometimes using the same words the original News of the World had used.

The movie, which had only just started shooting and which was months away from being edited, was reviled as “violent porn” by The Times of India, a “vile and degrading movie” on Australia’s Perth Now website and “violent, aggressive… icky stuff” by TheHollyoodGossip.com. Back home, totally unseen, the Daily Mirror slammed it as “a sick movie” with “vile scenes…stomach churning”

Fair enough. Good publicity for a small film, though sadly much too early to profit from.

Two weeks later, The People ran a new cover story and two-page spread about how Alex Reid had “returned” to the Killer Bitch set “to shoot more torrid outdoor sex shots”. This had never happened. It was a complete fiction. But The People had detailed descriptions, actual photos from this supposed second sex scene (they were re-cycled from the original scene) and they even had a direct quote from the director saying, “I can confirm that Alex filmed these scenes within the last seven days”.

The director told me not only that The People had never talked to him about this alleged re-shoot but, at that point in time, he had never actually talked to anyone at the newspaper about the film ever.

Obviously, you expect to be mis-quoted and have your words twisted by newspapers. Now, it seems, it’s common to simply make up entirely fictional stories.

The New York Daily News correctly reported that “the film’s producers don’t seem bothered by the publicity.”

Fair enough. Publicity is publicity.

But just as the Stephen Lawrence affair, to my mind, was not about racism but about police corruption – an investigating policeman was paid-off by the father of one of the accused – the current News of the World scandal is not about phone hacking but about endemic police corruption.

Two days ago, I saw a Sky News double interview with, on the one hand, Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and on the other ex News of the World journalist Paul McMullan.

McMullan could be seen almost literally biting his tongue off after he said that, if you were investigating police corruption, the only way to find out the facts was to talk to other policemen. As they might lose their jobs by dishing the dirt on fellow officers, they could not be expected to do this for free or for a few pounds and it was not unreasonable to pay them £20,000 or £30,000.

This figure was picked up by the interviewer.

Brian Paddick, who was basically defending the Met, said this was terrible but “clearly everyone has their price”.

This is an interesting thing to say because it is an acceptance by a former senior Met officer that, if the price is high enough, any Metropolitan policeman can be bought.

Yesterday’s London Evening Standard led on a story that “Corrupt Met police received more than £100,000 in unlawful payments from senior journalists and executives at the News of the World.

It also claimed that two senior Scotland Yard detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal held back: “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Today’s Guardian says: “Some police sources suggested there was no evidence yet that officers had actually received the payments and what would also be investigated was whether the journalists involved had kept the money themselves.”

Obviously some Met officer here, limbering up for a career as a stand-up comic.

Police in the UK taking bribes? Shock! horror! – And the Pope is a Catholic?

The system-wide corruption within the Metropolitan Police in the 1960s was supposedly partially cleaned-up.

Bollocks.

On 4th December 1997, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and said there were around 100-250 corrupt officers in the Met. By “corrupt” he meant seriously corrupt – they dealt drugs, helped arrange armed robberies etc.

Condon is also the man who coined the phrase “noble cause corruption” – the idea that some police justifiably ‘bend the rules’ to get a conviction when officers ‘know’ the accused is guilty but do not have enough proof to convict. So it could be seen by some as “noble” to plant evidence, lie under oath and generally ‘fit up’ any ‘known villains’ when there is no actual evidence which would prove their guilt.

In Stoke Newington the police did, indeed, ‘fit up’ guilty drug dealers who would not otherwise have been imprisoned. But their motive was not to ‘clean up’ the area but to clear away the opposition as police officers were themselves dealing hard drugs. Whether this comes within Sir Paul Condon’s definition of “noble cause corruption” I am not sure.

In 1998, the Telegraph got hold of (and one wonders how) a confidential document containing the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). It quoted this police document as saying: “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service… Corruption may have reached ‘Level 2’, the situation which occurs in some third world countries.”

I once asked someone who had managed a ‘massage parlour’ – in other words, a brothel – how he had avoided getting raided by the police. He looked at me as if I was mad:

“Cos we fucking paid the Old Bill and gave them free services,” he said.

In Britain today, it remains a fact of life – as it always has been throughout my life – that you always have to pay The Bill.

Last night’s TV news shows reported that today the police would arrest former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Now where would they have got that story from? Only the police would know. And today he was arrested.

Was the tip-off paid-for or was it just a nudge-nudge case of You do me a favour; I’ll do you a favour?

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Filed under Crime, Legal system, Movies, Newspapers

Exclusive extract – “Killer Bitch – The Novel”

NB THIS BLOG POSTING CONTAINS POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL.

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When the movie Killer Bitch was released last year, it was also going to be published simultaneously as a novel but, when the main supermarket chains and main bookshop chains refused to stock it, the publisher pulled publication of the unfinished book a week before the manuscript was due for delivery. The supermarkets and bookshop chains had not read any extracts from the book and apparently rejected it on the basis of the movie’s pre-release notoriety. This is how the book started… My thanks to James Joyce…

Text is copyright 2010 John Fleming

________________

CHAPTER ONE: THE NAKED GIRL WAS BOUNCING ON TOP OF THE NAKED MAN 

The naked girl was bouncing on top of the naked man, riding his cock to orgasm. The man was a porn star. Hustler magazine had written that he was one of the 50 Most Influential People in Porn. The man was groaning; the girl was screaming; the film camera was quietly whirring; they were on a bed in a room in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Woking, near the M25 motorway that runs round London. The warehouse was used as a hardcore porn studio. There were about 20 sets standing in the empty warehouse: a supermarket, a dungeon, a garage with a yellow Reliant car from BBC TV’s Only Fools and Horses, a Colonial office with a Union flag and a portrait of the Queen on the wall. But this was just a bedroom. There were two bedrooms with two beds in them. This was the red room with the pink bed.

As the man felt the sperm pulse and vibrate up his cock and the video camera watched by the left side of the bed, the naked girl riding him slipped her hand under the pink silk sheet and pulled out a curved jambiya dagger with a polished rhinoceros horn handle and a double-sided blade. The pitch of her screams changed. Higher, sharper, like the curved blade of the knife. High. Sharp. Then down in a curved stabbing movement. The man was confused as he saw a single silver flash of the curved blade before it plunged into his chest and tore into his flesh. His orgasmic groans turned into a single long high-pitched scream.

He felt the white semen pumping out of his cock. He saw the red blood spurt out of his chest, splashing up onto the bouncing perfectly-lit breasts of the naked, now banshee screaming, girl. He felt the sharp pain in his cock and the sharper pain in his chest and then the curved knife was rising again, its blade covered in his own dripping red blood.

“You fuc… aaaarrrgggghhhh!” he screamed as the blade went into him again, closer to his throat.

She stabbed him eleven times; he died on the fourth stab.

She could smell the stench of his insides when she slashed his chest open.

He was Number 3 on her list.

When she had finished, she collapsed on his bloodied, gashed body, gasping for breath.

“You done well,” the cameraman told her.

* * *

Outside the bedroom window, rain was falling. It was falling on all of the British Isles. It was falling on all of England, on Scotland, on Wales, on the island of Ireland, on all the thousand or more islands huddled together in the water off the North West coast of Europe. Water fell out of the sky like a drunk God pissing on his own botched Creation. In Cumbria, in North West England, the rivers overflowed and a policeman was killed when the bridge he was standing on collapsed into the swollen river below. He had four children. So it goes.

Outside the Highland city of Aberdeen, in North East Scotland, on a windy, rainswept Friday night, a junkie called Bill Burrows was sitting in a closed slaughterhouse, waiting to meet his dealer, when two men he had never seen before burst in and one of them shot him without a word. The slaughterhouse already smelled of battery acid and iron because of all the spilled blood from the slaughtered animals and the smell did not change when he died. About two pints of blood came out of him, as it does when you shoot someone. A spit in the ocean in a slaughterhouse.

The two men dragged his half-dead body into a large freezer at the back of the slaughterhouse and left it there until his corpse became a solid block of dead meat. If you want to cut a body up, the thing to do is to freeze it solid; that way, there isn’t so much of a mess when you cut it up – no blood spraying and squirting. It’s much cleaner.

On Sunday night  the two men came back and took his body out of the freezer when The X Factor talent show was on TV; they lay it on the floor and hit the solid, frozen joints with a sledgehammer to break it up at the shoulders, the elbows, the knees, the ankles; then they chopped the body up with an axe. They took the body parts to a huge pressure cooker in the slaughterhouse which could take 50 or 60 lbs of meat at a time and they cooked the dismembered body at very high temperature at very high pressure – 25 pounds per square inch. After an hour, the flesh, the bones and everything except the teeth had turned to gel. On Monday morning, they took the gel to a farm 30 minutes away and fed it to the pigs; there were 200 pigs; they ate everything by the end of the day; Bill Burrows’ teeth were thrown into a nearby river.

Five days later, the police realised he was missing and the last place he’d been seen was near the slaughterhouse. They found a book lying on his bedside table at home: Slaughterhouse Five. The press went wild with the story for two weeks afterwards – they wrote about the Slaughterhouse Five killings. The story staggered on for two weeks but interest in a tabloid tale with no leads and no puns waned and was blown off the front pages by police inaction, political corruption and glamour model Katie Price’s decision to go on the reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Bill Burrows had been Number 4 on the unknown killer’s list. Cut up randomly.; soon forgotten.

* * *

On  the outskirts of Penzance in Cornwall, an elderly man stumbled erratically along a muddy path in the rain, trying to run for his life. His killer strode relentlessly behind him. The elderly man stumbled into the out-building of a farm. A bemused horse in a field watched human life pass by in the rain. The elderly man tripped and fell, sodden and defeated, in a corner then slowly got up again. His killer strode in and stood opposite him. They looked in each other’s eyes. The elderly man looked at his killer in disbelief. The killer looked at the elderly man with resignation. Neither spoke. The killer pulled the trigger six times. The elderly man was jerked backwards against the wall by the force of the bullets, then slumped down dead. His eyes flickered once; he heard his own last sigh. He was Number 2 on his killer’s list.

* * *

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Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, Sex

Greenwich: from World Heritage Site to Third World slum within a two minute walk

Greenwich is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

But the road behind late comic Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich has not become my favourite place recently. It is called Bardsley Lane.

In the late-night darkness there, I have twice trodden in dog shit (it’s apparently common in the area) and my car was broken into in the early hours of the morning (apparently also common in the area). The police response was: “Is there a street camera in Bardsley Lane?”

Call me out-of-touch, but I somehow thought the police might know.

There isn’t, of course, because Greenwich Council appears to have abandoned Bardsley Lane like Jordan has abandoned Alex Reid as a lost cause – they don’t even pretend to take any interest in the area. It is just a two-minute stroll from Greenwich Town centre and you can see what a jolly stroll it is in a video I have posted on YouTube.

While tarting-up some areas where councillors live “for the 2012 Olympics”, Greenwich Council have let Bardsley Lane deteriorate literally into a rubbish tip – although it is just two minutes from the historic town centre of the UNESCO World Heritage site and visible from the main Creek Road through the town centre.

The car wash featured towards the end of the video was given permission to trade on the basis it was “not out of keeping with the general character of… Greenwich Town centre and (would) not harm the setting and the appearance of the area and the adjacent West Greenwich Conservation area.”

Are they having a laugh?

Does this look like a World Heritage Site or a rubbish tip of a slum in some Third World country?

Ah! But then… call me a cynical fat slaphead…

Where there’s muck, there’s usually brass changing hands.

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