Last week, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. In part it read:
“The whole time I was living in London – over four years – I never saw a window with the blinds or curtains open, except once.
“I was walking home from The Earth Exchange, which was a vegetarian restaurant in North London that used to be a good place for comics to work – Julian Clary played there when he was starting off and Andrew Bailey and David Rappaport did a macabre duo with candelabra and a huge birdcage which David wore on his head as he descended the stairs making bird sounds while Andrew carried the lit-up candelabra, throwing corn flakes at him…
“Anyhow, one night at about three in the morning, I was walking back towards central London with Tony Green, who was dressed as Sir Gideon Vein, when I spotted a window lit up, curtains pulled wide open, on the main floor of a house. I was amazed! Finally I would get to see what went on inside a dwelling in London at night.
“Tony tried to stop me. No, he begged. Don’t do it. What will the people who live in there think when they look out their window and see a big girl with red hair in plaits standing outside and staring into their sitting room?
“But I could not stop myself, so I raced up to the window. Tony gave up. Besides, he had to take a piss. I stood in front of the window staring in, but there were no people at all; it was just a very dull looking sitting room.
“So, a bit dejectedly, I returned to the pavement where I found Tony urinating into a flowerbed. What will the people think, I asked, if they open their front door and look out and see you pissing on their flowers?”
Tony Green is an interesting figure from – if he can forgive me for saying this or even if he cannot – the early years of British Alternative Comedy. His character Sir Gideon Vein was (and, indeed, occasionally is) a Victorian era throw-back character.
Tony has occasionally turned up fleetingly in this blog. About 20 years ago, he took me to the fetish club Torture Garden. He looked like he was dressed as the Peter Davidson incarnation of Doctor Who. But he was not. That was normal attire for him. A few weeks ago, I mentioned him performing as both The Obnoxious Man and The Pompous man at Pull The Other One comedy club.
I recently met him at the Soho Theatre bar in London for a cup of tea, but he soon moved us to the upstairs room of a nearby pub. No surprise there.
When I switched my iPhone’s recorder on for this blog, Tony was doing an imitation of the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe’s gruff Yorkshire accent.
“I’m not having people thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt-lifter. Are you taping any of this? You’ve got it at the middle, really. I mean anyone will be thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt lifter. Such bad terminology and who really cares these days?… Not that I give a damn, you know, but…”
“Sadly missed,” I said. “Sadly missed. The first time I saw Ian Hinchliffe was at a club down in Oval around 1990 – I think you were running it. Malcolm Hardee and I went to it.”
“That was T’others at The Ship,” said Tony. “You and Malcolm came with his mother. I remember I got into an altercation with Malcolm and she said: Hit him, Malcolm! Hit him!
“He told her He don’t mean it, mum. I know him. It’s only a joke! and he said to me You didn’t mean that, what you said? and after that, I got on very well with Malcolm’s mother and I told her Mrs Hardee, you’re very well-spoken.
“Yes, she told me, I don’t know how Malcolm came to get that accent. It was around the time his little eye started going off in the wrong direction.”
“I met someone,” I told Tony, “at the interment of Malcolm’s ashes. He had known Malcolm as a teenager and said he used to practise it in front of a mirror – the accent, the droop of the cigarette out of the mouth and everything, the whole character.”
“I once said to Malcolm,” Tony told me, “I don’t know how you get away with it. Your material’s crap. And he said It’s not a question of the material, is it? It’s not a question of talent. You don’t need talent, you don’t need material when you’re me. It’s charisma. When you’ve got as much charisma as what I’ve got, you don’t need nothing else.”
“That’s sort of true,” I said. “Are you a Londoner?” I asked, trying the get the chat onto some course.
“Of course I am,” said Tony in mock outrage.
“I don’t know,” I said. “You could be from anywhere.”
“That,” replied Tony, “is what someone said to me the other day. Are you from the Colonies? How dare… God, sir… I’m a Londoner born and… (He started singing) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…”
“… from the 19th century, perhaps,” I said.
“Of course,” said Tony. “Well, I’ve been going a long time now. Remember Kirk Douglas singing Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger? He can’t do it with the authentic Cockney accent any more that I taught him in 1963. I was only a young man then.”
“You taught him an accent?” I asked.
“Of course I did!” said Tony in mock outrage. “His Cockney accent.”
“How did you meet him?” I asked.
“Well,” replied Tony, “I was only – what? – in my (he started laughing) in my sixties at the time. I look very good for my age, you gotta admit it does work. I can tell you the secret, John. It’s Oscar. There’s a picture in the attic. Hey!” he said, putting on a Kirk Douglas whine, “what’s that song you’re singing? and I said It’s a song. Buy us a few drinks, Kirk. Buy US a few drinks – there were ten of us in the company…”
“You just bumped into him?” I asked.
“You don’t believe this, do you?” asked Tony. He started laughing. “You’ll believe anything!… It was in the Cutty Sark and I thought it was going to get me into movies. All I got was half a pint. I never saw him again. He’s been using it ever since. Even now – how old is he? He’s nearly 100 now. He’s had two strokes. When he gets on TV, he still sings (Tony put on a Kirk Douglas whine) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… He’s forgotten to do the Cockney accent, but you can’t expect everything at 97. But I forgive him. I’m like that in my old age.”
“Someone,” I said, “was lamenting to me that they had not seen Sir Gideon Vein perform for ages.”
“I used to run a private little club off Mallow Street,” said Tony. “It was one of those places, John, where you got carte blanche to do as you like. I could put all of my favourite performers on there. People like Mr Hinchliffe and one or two other oddities.”
“You were one of the few people to put Mr Hinchliffe on,” I said.
“We did a gig some time ago at an arts centre,” said Tony. “Someone called Chris Brooke put us on and I said to Chris: Do you think it’s a good idea, Chris, really? You’ve just taken over this new job as programme devisor which, from what I understand it, is quite a good job. Do you think it’s a good idea for the first one to put on the likes of Hugh Metcalfe – the man who started The Klinker club – and Hinchliffe and me as compere? For the first one, that’s not a good idea.”
“Because?” I asked. “It’s great idea, surely?”
“Well, did he want to keep the job? But he was quite clever, because we kicked off and, after us, he put on the Mike Westbrook Band and you can’t go wrong with the Mike Westbrook Band. I saw Ian in the dressing room. On this occasion, they had had some particularly good canned beer – one of his favourites – on the train and he had over-indulged. Maybe about 15 pints. Anyway, he fell asleep on stage. His partner – they were both over 60, so you could hardly call her his girlfriend – went Wake up! Wake up! And, after about seven minutes of snoring on stage, he did wake up and he looked at the audience and said: What are you bastards doing in my bedroom?
“Quite a good line, actually. So funny, in fact, that someone who was running a mega performance art festival in Belfast decided to book him as one of the headline acts.”
… TONY GREEN’S MEMORIES ARE CONTINUED HERE …