Tag Archives: legend

How ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo became film producer Terry Stone

Once Upon a Time in London there was organised crime: Terry Stone as Jack Spot (3rd from left)

The British gangster movie Once Upon a Time in London is released today. The star, co-producer and co-writer is Terry Stone.

 Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he used to organise raves under the name Terry Turbo.

How did that career change happen?

Last week, I asked him.

With rave organising now behind him, actor, producer, writer Terry Stone in sunny Soho last week.


JOHN: Your first appearance as an actor was in ‘celebrity gangster’  Dave Courtney’s 2003 movie Hell To Pay (released in 2005). That must have been an interesting experience…

TERRY: I turned up on set. There was no script and I was told “You stand there” and I said “Well, what am I going to be doing?” and they said “Just stand there” and I said “Well, I’m not going to be in the fucking film, then. I’m not going to stand there and be an extra. You said: Do you wanna be in the film? I wanna be in the film.” 

So the director gave me some lines.

Basically, the whole film was improvised with no script which, at the time, I thought was cool. But then, afterwards, I realised it was insane.

I said to the other actors: “I’ve really enjoyed being on this film. It’s been a lark. How do you go about getting into the business?” 

They told me: “Do a showreel off this work, get some pictures done, send ‘em out and see if you can get an agent.”

I thought: Sounds really simple. 

So I did that, got an agent, did a bit of EastEnders, The Bill, some theatre, My Family, the usual stuff that jobbing actors do. But, after a year… Well, anybody who’s a professional actor will tell you it’s a fucking hard life. There’s no money; there’s no work; any work you get is peanuts. You have to sweep floors, wait on tables, drive taxis – anything to just keep the lights on.

I thought: Y’know what? I’ve made a mistake here.

Because, before I got into acting, I used to run clubs all round the world.

A few of my friends who I’d told “I’ve sold my business; I’m gonna to become an actor” all asked me “How’s the acting going?”

I said to ‘em: “Not bad, but not great. I’m not earning enough money.” 

At the time, I had a mortgage, a wife, a child. 

I thought: I’ve made a massive mistake here.

A friend said: “What do you really wanna do?”

I said: “I actually wanna be in films.”

Terry Turbo – “The Rave Scene Richard Branson” said Vice

He said: You used to put on big events for 20,000, 30,000 people. How hard can it be to make a film?”

So I said: ”You got me thinking now. If I get a script, would you put some money in it?”

And he went: “I’ll put some money in.”

So I went round to all my mates and told ‘em: “Let’s all put some money in and make a film. It’ll be a laugh.”

That’s how I raised the money for my first film One Man and His Dog – and it was a dog, that film. But it was my film school. It was released and it went out in Holland, Germany. We got it out, which was an achievement, and we got 25% of our money back on it, which I thought was a disaster but, considering we didn’t know what we were doing, it was an achievement.

JOHN: How much did it cost?

TERRY: £140,000.

Then a friend of mine in the club scene contacted me and said: “Have you ever thought about doing a movie on the black-on-black gun crime in London?” It was a kinda Boyz n the Hood kinda film: Rollin’ with the Nines.

It won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival in 2005 and the director Julian Gilbey was nominated for the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTAs. We made that for £250,000.

And that gave us a stepping stone to do Rise of the Footsoldier, which was a £1.3 million budget.

JOHN: Based on Carlton Leach’s book.

TERRY: Yes, which I hadn’t read when he suggested to me it would make a good movie. I knew Carlton from club days and I thought: Who’s gonna wanna watch a film about a doorman? At the time, I didn’t know about his involvement in the Inter City Firm or The Essex Boys.

I read his book and thought: Fucking hell! It’s really interesting! And I thought: If I was to pitch the idea, it’s The Football Factorymeets Goodfellas.

So I paid someone to write the script and I developed and created the Rise of The Footsoldier franchise. I got the money together, made it and, since then, there’s been four of them. They’re just making the fourth one now; almost finished. It comes out in October.

After that, I did a film called Doghouse but what Rise of The Footsoldier did was allow me to be an actor AND a producer and the reason I’m glad I made that decision was because, when you’re not developing something, you’re raising money. When you’re not raising money, you’re making something. When you’re not making something, you’re acting in something. There’s always something to do.

At the moment, I’m still a jobbing actor. If a role comes along and I like it and it’s well-paid, I’ll do it. You need to pay the bills.

I suppose because I’ve got a low boredom threshold, I need to be entertained… constantly.

So what I’ve done is create a load of work for myself. But I enjoy it and now it’s my 17th year in the business. I’m an old boy now. (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN: When you were doing the raves, you blew up a police car on stage at Wembley.

Terry as Tony Tucker, one of the Footsoldier’s ‘Essex Boys’

TERRY: It was all about doing something different and making it fun. Let’s do some mad shit. Blowing up a police car on stage at Wembley was funny. Having Prince William and Prince Charles and the Queen lookalikes coming to the raves was funny.

JOHN: Once Upon a Time in London is about the pre-Krays era in crime – about Jack Spot and Billy Hill who most people have not heard of…

TERRY: I think the thing about the Krays was they were ‘celebrity gangsters’. They wanted people to know who they were which, obviously, was their downfall. Whereas, if you spoke to any other criminals, they’d always be like: No publicity; no pictures. We don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing.

JOHN: What’s interesting is that, in the 1920s, they were making films about Billy The Kid and Jesse James who were active in the 1870s and 1880s – which was 40 to 50 years before. Today, the Krays’ era was around 50 years ago. There comes a point where villains become acceptable anti-heroes or even heroes.

TERRY: All the films I’ve made have been based on true crime, but they don’t glamorise it. I’m not interested in doing pretend-gangster films about a load of wallies that don’t exist. I have always had an interest in true crime. I thought about making a film about Jack Spot and Billy Hill in 2010. But, back then, nobody was doing period crime films.

JOHN: The Kray era is period crime…

TERRY: But that was the 1960s. The Jack Spot story is 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Back in 2010, there was no Peaky Blinders, there was no Boardwalk Empire and I thought it was a bit of a risk. But then I heard Ray Winstone was gonna play both of the Krays in Legend  (it was eventually made with Tom Hardy) and Peaky Blinders came on and I thought: Now’s the time to get this going

As Jack Spot in Once Upon a Time in London: “It took a couple of years to get the money together”

It took a couple of years to get the money together and stuff but what fascinates me is that Once Upon a Time in London is about the birth of organised crime here. There’s always been crime in this country since probably the Stone Age. But actual organised crime where people have protection rackets, prostitutes working for them, they had bookmakers, they had spielers, they had restaurants, they had clubs. And you had the backdrop of the Second World War – rationing stamps, people didn’t have any money, people had lost their homes – we were fucked – So these criminals thought: There’s an opportunity here, boys! Let’s make some money!

JOHN: I don’t remember any other British gangster film focusing on the Jewish angle. Once Upon a Time in London starts with Oswald Mosley’s plans to march his blackshirts through the East End in 1936, which resulted in the Battle of Cable Street

TERRY: I think Once Upon a Time in London is the first British Jewish gangster film. 

JOHN: Now there a marketing opportunity.

TERRY: I was on page 3 of the Jewish Chronicle (LAUGHS) fully-clothed!.. The woman who interviewed me asked: “Why are you making a film to glamorize Jewish gangsters? It’s something that, really, we want to forget about.”

I said: “Listen, there’s nothing glamorous about what happened to Jack Spot…”

…  CONTINUED HERE

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Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

Yesterday’s blog was about comedy twins. Today’s is about gangster twins. So that, of course, means the Kray brothers. well, two thirds of them.

Micky Fawcett in the ring at Repton Boys’ Clu ethal Gree

Micky Fawcett in the ring at Repton Boxing Club

There have been three movies about the Kray Twins.

The Krays in 1990.

The Rise of the Krays which went straight to DVD in 2015.

And Legend in 2015.

Micky Fawcett has seen all three films, worked with the Krays and has written arguably the most factually accurate version of their story: Krayzy Days.

A movie based on his book is in the early stages of development.

“It’s not a Krays film,” Micky told me at the May Fair Hotel on Friday. “(The writer/director) has done an outline and we’re on the same wavelength and that’s very important. He’s read Krayzy Days and different things have caught his eye such as, while the court case was going on, I was arrested in Brussels.

“So he’s going to do your whole story?” I asked. “Including Jack Spot and the Unione Corse and everything?”

“Yeah. That’s what got his attention. He’s more interested in all that than in the Krays. They’ve been done to death. Those Kray films, I think they’re dreadful.”

“I couldn’t,” I told him, “get my brain round Legend at all because it’s basically about the supposed romance between Reggie Kray and Frances (his girlfriend and then his wife).”

“In the first Krays film,” said Micky, “they had to go that bit further and make Frances into a complete imbecile. In reality, she was quite enjoying it up to a point, but you wouldn’t want Reggie round you all the time. You wouldn’t want anybody really neurotic around you, would you? She stuck with it for a long time, but there were a couple of incidents which sort of disqualify her from being a complete little mouse. There’s the one that’s in my book and which you blogged about when Reggie approached me and said: Mick, I was sitting outside Frances’ tonight and she came along in another car.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Young Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

“And the other time was when she and Reggie had been on holiday and had more-or-less come straight to The Hideaway, the club, and she told me: Do you know, he hasn’t laid a finger on me all the time we’ve been away. She said it straight out. And Reggie said to me…”

“Reggie,” I asked,” was actually there when she said that to you?”

“Yeah. Me and another guy; a pal of mine. She said it to us right in front of him. And Reggie said: Oh, thank god it’s only you two she’s said it to! What he was worried about was that Ronnie would get to hear about it and start making really… Cos that’s exactly what Ronnie would have liked…”

“Because?”

“Because Ronnie didn’t like women. He hated women. He really hated women, apart from his mum. He used to say: Mick, Mick, Mick, what do you see in them? They’re horrible, smelly, rotten, stinking things. He was always trying to make other people gay. Wouldn’t you like to try it with… I can get you a nice boy…

“A feller called Ron Stafford – I think he’ll be dead by now – he said to him: Ronnie, I just don’t have the glands to appreciate it. He was an educated feller.”

“It was the sex thing,” I said, “that threw me in Legend. The Reggie and Frances relationship.”

“And the Twins never raised their voices,” said Micky. “They shout in the film. I never heard Reggie shout at all. Not ever. Ronnie might shout in a low voice at Reggie. He wouldn’t shout at someone else he was angry with. He wouldn’t alarm you so you could run or defend yourself. He would just attack.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Ronnie Kray

Micky Fawcett (left) with Ronnie Kray way back in the 1960s

“In the film, Ronnie shouts at people and then he comes back with a claw hammer and then spends a quarter of an hour bashing ‘em on the head. That’s mad. One whack with a lead pipe and you’re gone.”

“In both films,” I said, “The Krays and Legend – the Twins fight each other – in the boxing ring in The Krays and in the club in Legend. That’s not true, is it?”

“They often came to blows,” said Micky. “Not for long, but they would really belt each other – really punch into each other. I dunno who used to start it, really. It just happened.”

“There’s a scene in the first film, The Krays,” I said, “where they get in the back of a van and they have sub-machine guns. They didn’t have those sort of things, did they?”

“Nah. They didn’t have a big mob around them either. They never had a big gang round them.”

“It was like something out of Chicago,” I said.

“It wasn’t like that at all,” laughed Micky. “That was for America or… I dunno. Or for anyone daft enough to…”

“And swords,” I said, “crop up in both The Krays and in Legend. The Twins didn’t use swords, did that?”

“No,” said Micky. “But, once someone mentions anything once, it becomes a fact.

David Litvinoff was a gay guy who worked for the William Hickey column on the old Daily Express – in 1961. He spoke very well; he was an educated man. (He was ‘dialogue coach and technical adviser’ on the gangster sections of the 1968 movie Performance.) But he was originally a Jewish EastEnder.

“When Johnny Davies and I had the trouble at the Hammer Club – somebody got shot in the bollocks – it’s in the book – I went up to Esmeralda’s Barn and took Johnny Davies with me and asked Ronnie Kray: Can you give us some help?

Ronnie Kray (right) with Bobby Buckley

Ronnie Kray (right) with tug-of-love boyfriend Bobby Buckley

“He said: We’ve just taken a flat off a feller in lieu of a debt. He said: Here’s the keys. It was 7 Ashburn Place in Kensington and the feller was David Litvinoff. He had previously been having an affair with a young feller called Bobby Buckley, who Ronnie was madly in love with.

“So we moved in the flat and Litvinoff and Ronnie were rivals for this boy. Litvinoff was very naive about it all. I was sitting around with him and Ronnie one day and Litvinoff said: Mick, we’ve gotta get a good nickname for Ronnie, here. I think we should call him Hook Nose cos he’s got a big hook nose. 

“A lot later, I saw Litvinoff in Oxford Street, right outside Oxford Circus station, and this is where the sword business comes from – this is where it all comes from. The feller with me saw Litvinoff and said to me: Oh, he looks like a cat.

“Because Ronnie told me he’d got a feller – he told me the feller’s name – to walk up to Litvinoff in the street and slash his mouth horizontally – right into both cheeks.”

“A Glasgow smile,” I said.

“The Twins had just got their 30 years,” said Micky, “and Litvinoff told me: You know, I’m not sure if I’m pleased they’ve gone away or not.

Reg Kray (right) & Charlie Kray (left) at their brother Ronnie’s funeral; Steve Wraith is behind.

Ronnie’s funeral: Charlie Kray (left) with Reggie (bottom right)

“Charlie doesn’t appear in Legend at all,” I said. “Maybe they thought it would be too complicated for American audiences to have twins and a third brother.”

“The Twins didn’t like the first film,” Micky told me. “They hated Charlie for it all the rest of his life.”

“He was involved in The Krays?” I asked.

“He was the technical advisor,” said Micky. “He got £250,000 for it. But Charlie would have been: Do it, then. I’ll be in the bar. Who’s that girl over there?

“Have you seen The Wee Man?” I asked. (It was directed by Ray Burdis, who produced The Krays.)

“Yeah,” said Micky. “I thought it was a good film. Did you?”

“I thought it was a very good film, but it has very little to do with the facts of what actually happened. Arthur Thompson, for some extraordinary reason, is played with an Irish accent. And it’s very biased and you can see why. It’s Paul Ferris creating his own legend.”

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

“The thing is,” said Micky, “they could have made a similar film about the Krays. If they had said: It is loosely based on… I wouldn’t argue about any of it; I’d probably have enjoyed it. But it is supposed to be factual. The critics seem to think Tom Hardy did a good job with Reggie. They see him swaggering about. But Reggie was a little feller. He wasn’t a big feller.”

“And he didn’t swagger?” I asked.

“Not like Tom Hardy does, no. I’m not in love with Tom Hardy in it at all. Not at all.”

“I’ve not seen The Rise of the Krays.” I told Micky.

“Don’t bother,” he told me.

There is a trailer for The Wee Man on YouTube.

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The new Krays movie – at what point do facts in real events become Legend?

A piece of street graffiti in London’s Easy End last week, promoting the release of the Krays movie Legend

A piece of street graffiti in London’s East End last week, promoting the release of the Krays’ Legend

At what point can you make up facts in a movie about real events, the actual facts of which are well-known and within living memory?

I saw Legend last night: the new movie about the Kray Twins.

Legend - the movie poster for The Krays

The British movie poster promoting the Krays’ movie Legend

The film plays fast and loose with the widely-known facts, which totally threw my suspension of disbelief – especially for me as one of the central threads holding the plot together is the ‘love affair’ between Reggie Kray and his eventual wife Frances.

For a description of the actual relationship between Reggie and Frances, you could read my September 2014 blog chat with the Krays’ close associate Micky Fawcett.

For the actual background to the shooting of George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub by Ronnie Kray, you might want to read my blog of July 2013.

For a description of the actual killing of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie (I presume based on the court case evidence but which strangely omits the mis-firing gun) you could read the Daily Telegraph’s August 2000 piece.

And for details of police corruption and Ronnie Kray’s psychopathy, you might read my blog of October 2013.

The Krays were arrested in 1968 and imprisoned in 1969 – so they were active roughly 50 years ago.

Billy The Kid (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1881 and the first major film made about him was in 1930 – 50 years after his death. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Jesse James (a criminal murderer, now an outlaw hero) was killed in 1882. In 1921, two movies were made with Jesse James Jnr playing his father; but the first major film about his life was in 1939 – almost 60 years after the events. Presumably the facts were embroidered.

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances

Micky Fawcett (left) with Reggie Kray and Frances (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

The events depicted in Legend are within living memory – I am old enough to remember the shooting in the Blind Beggar being reported on BBC TV News. So it is very dodgy to change facts – even though filmgoers in the US are unlikely to have heard of The Krays. So I do not know the answer.

At what point does embroidering the facts of real events within living memory totally screw belief in a movie? And at what point in time does it not matter?

At what point does the legend take over and the facts become irrelevant?

There is that well-known 19th century newspaper saying:  “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Except, of course, it is not a real saying. It was something scripted in the 1962 movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and now people think it is some real saying from way way back.

There is a famous TV interview with the Kray Twins which is on YouTube.

.

 

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Comedy, Christ, Ronnie Biggs’ lively funeral and Glasgow gangland aggro

Yesterday, I went to church to see (again) Juliette Burton’s wonderfully enjoyable and emotional show When I Grow Up. Yet again life-enhancing. Yet again funny, fast-moving, uplifting and joyous and – yet again – the body punch of the coup de théâtre sting-in-its tail had me with tears in my eyes. I was watching the audience reaction and their emotions turned on a sixpence from laughter to stunned shock when the narrative carpet was pulled from under them and (far more difficult for a performer to pull off) back to laughter again.

Juliette Burton & Frankie Lowe rehearse yesterday for her February-May tour of Australia

Juliette Burton and Frankie Lowe yesterday rehearse for February-May tour of Australia

When I Grow Up is also a technically very complicated show with constant audio and video cues to hit, fast-moving PowerPoint presentation changes and, at one point, Juliette interacting with a Skype screen. Yesterday, the techie on the show was Frankie Lowe, who composed Juliette’s pop song Dreamers (When I Grow Up)The show was flawless and was, in effect, a rehearsal for next month’s two-night run at the Leicester Square Theatre which is, itself, a dry run for Juliette’s Australian shows in February-May, which Frankie will also be teching.

Almost as interesting as the show, though, was the location – a church.

The vicar – Dave – arrived close to showtime because he had been conducting the funeral service for Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs at Golders Green Crematorium, where the eco-friendly wicker coffin had, the Guardian reports today, been draped in the flags of the UK & Brazil and an Arsenal football scarf. The coffin was escorted by Hell’s Angels with the London Dixieland Jazz Band playing Just a Closer Walk and it left to the strains of The Stripper. The Daily Mirror today reported that “as the hearse carrying his coffin passed through the streets of north London, a white floral wreath in the shape of a two-fingered salute was visible.”

Dave the vicar had also conducted the funeral service last year for Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds.

Dave’s book

Dave the vicar’s 2012 book of advice…

He is clearly an interesting vicar. He has published several books including How To Be a Bad Christian.

That book’s blurb explains Dave lays down “some key practices for how to be a ‘bad’ Christian, including how to talk to God without worrying about prayer, how to read the Bible without turning off your brain, and how to think with your soul rather than trying to follow rules.”

This August, he will be publishing How To Reinvent God (and Other Modest Proposals).

Everyone seems to be publishing books at the moment, except me.

William Lobban, now a published author

William Lobban, now a  bestselling author

Last November, I had a chat with Glasgow gangland ‘enforcer’ William Lobban about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse. This morning, he told me it had gone straight to No 4 in Amazon Kindle’s True Crime bestsellers and No 3 in Waterstone’s crime bestsellers.

Yesterday, STV reported that “former Glasgow gangster” Paul Ferris , who has written his own true crime autobiography, “is considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in the book. STV did not say what the problem was, but it somehow involves the highly-publicised shooting of Glasgow Godfather Arthur Thompson’s son ‘Fat Boy’ outside their family home ‘The Ponderosa’ in 1991.

The Wee Man – a fascinating film based on Paul Ferris’ version of his exploits – was released last year.

This morning, I asked William Lobban for his reaction to the report that Paul Ferris is “considering taking legal action”. He told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… It’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further. There isn’t a judge in the land who would agree that anyone could blacken or defame his character – Impossible!”

The move from villain to media anti-hero or even sometimes hero is interesting.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, like Buster Edwards before him, had mostly achieved the move from criminal to perceived cheeky chappie.

The Great Train Robbery happened in 1963.

Buster - from villain to hero

Buster – He moved from villain to hero in less than 25 years

The movie Buster was released in 1988 – just 25 years later – with loveable Phil Collins as Great Train Robber Buster Edwards. Fellow robber Ronnie Biggs’ death coincidentally occurred just hours before the first broadcast of a two-part BBC TV drama series The Great Train Robbery.

In their time (if they ever existed) Robin Hood and Dick Turpin were criminal robbers. Now Robin is a hero and Dick a hero, anti-hero or whatever you want to make of him.

They, like others after them, have moved from being reviled criminals to legends.

Billy The Kid was shot dead in 1881. Jesse James was shot dead in 1882. The move from criminal to legend had started by the time the first Billy The Kid movie was made in 1911 and the first Jesse James movie was made in 1921 – just 30 to 40 years after the events they portrayed.

The Kray Twins’ exploits were in the 1960s. By the time The Krays movie was released in 1990, they were already well-established as legendary cultural anti-heroes (or, to some, heroes).

In movies, dark heroes are always more interesting to act and to watch than whiter-than-white heroes.

The interlinking of showbiz, the media and crime. The making of legends.

’Twas ever thus.

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Comedy legends…The cheek of Malcolm Hardee… The death of Tommy Cooper…

Jeff Stevenson and Lewis Schaffer in London’s Soho last night

Occasionally, I go to see Lewis Schaffer’s twice-weekly Soho show Free Until Famous – the longest-running solo comedy show in London it’s different every night and last night was a particularly good night.

Afterwards, I had a meal with Lewis and his chum Jeff Stevenson, a man who has, as they say, been around – he has been in showbiz for 37 years, starting as a child actor in the original Bugsy Malone movie. He was a mainstream comic, became an alternate comic, had his own ITV shows in the 1980s, was an LWT warm-up man in the 1980s and 1990s – he and I must have bumped into each other at LWT because we seem to have known the same people – but we don’t remember. Well, I barely remember anything about anything. Now Jeff performs 35 weeks a year on cruise ships around the world and gets his own UK work 15 weeks a year.

Recently, he was warm-up man for the Piers Morgan’s Life Stories TV series and the support act on UK tours by Barry Manilow and Johnny Mathis.

“I like to keep a few plates spinning at the same time,” he told me last night.

I would say it’s more like the entire crockery department at Harrods.

Last night, he was going off to sleep in a cruise liner docked at Greenwich, which was setting sail today with him performing the cabaret.

Inevitably, when Greenwich was mentioned, the subject of comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee came up.

When Jeff switched from mainstream to alternative comedy, he used the name Harvey Oliver on the alternative circuit and started by doing free ‘open spots’ at alternative comedy clubs like Malcolm’s Up The Creek in Greenwich.

“So I turn up as Harvey Oliver to do my first 5-minute open spot at Up The Creek,” Jeff told me last night, “Malcolm sees me and he must have also seen me perform as Jeff Stevenson, because he immediately says Can you be the closing act tonight? I presume the main act had not turned up. So I was the headliner at Up The Creek that night for my open spot.”

“And obviously he didn’t pay you…” I said.

“He did,” said Jeff. “He gave me some money but, after the show, we went next door to the Lord Hood pub and he asked if I would loan it to him…

“The other one when I was performing as Harvey Oliver was when Malcolm booked me into Murphy’s Laughter Lounge in Dublin. I’ve just realised, he said, it’s St Patrick’s Night so they’re gonna expect Irish performers. So you’ve got two choices, Either we elbow the Dublin gig and you do Up The Creek for me here in London. Or you can go to Dublin, but we’ll re-bill you as Harvey O’Liver so you sound Irish.

“So I gigged at Up The Creek.”

Jeff also told me a story which he claims is absolutely true – about the night comedian Tommy Cooper died on stage during the Live From Her Majesty’s TV show – which was screened live on ITV.

“I watched Tommy die live on TV,” Jeff told me. “The curtains closed and Jimmy Tarbuck, who was the compere, had to stand on stage in front of the curtains filling-in to the audience. He told me later that, as he was talking, he could hear them hitting Tommy’s chest behind the curtain, trying to revive him – and Tommy was one of Jimmy’s heroes. Terrible, terrible.

“I was playing a club later that night. So I walk in and Graham, the manager, says to me: You’re late, and I said I know. Did you see what happened on TV? Did you see Tommy Cooper tonight? He said No.

He died on Live From Her Majesty’s, I said.

Well, Graham said, he didn’t do too fucking well here last week either.

“That’s what he said. That’s absolutely true.”

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The quiet men: ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser, Malcolm Hardee and John McVicar

John McVicar with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s autobiography

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered. Though often only if they create their own legends.

I think I have met two, possibly three, SAS men (it is difficult to know for sure). They will probably not be remembered, except by their friends and family, because they did not write books.

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee never became famous during his lifetime. The irony is that he may be remembered much longer than many comedians who achieved fame because he wrote an autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which was not just a bland quick hack book. One of the stories in the book took place when Malcolm was in prison:

___________

I used to play bridge with this bloke called Johnny Hart, who was one of the most pleasant blokes you could meet. But he started to get depressed. So he went and saw the doctor. Then he went to a psychiatrist who gave him some tablets. And, after that, he started getting extremely paranoid at certain times. When you play bridge with someone, you sometimes say:

“Well, you shouldn’t have led with that card.”

After starting the tablets, if you said that to Johnny Hart, he’d really explode and look quite dangerous.

One day, I was eating my dinner in the dining room and, all of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Johnny Hart get up and stab this black guy. He’d stolen a 10’-12″ knife from the kitchen and he pushed it in this guy’s back. He pushed it into him right up to the hilt. The black guy literally looked like he’d turned white. He collapsed over my table. 

Johnny Hart went to court for attempted murder and it turned out it was all over the fact he thought this black guy was wearing his plimsolls.

I read some years later that Johnny Hart had committed an awful crime where he’d burgled a house, tied a couple up and murdered the wife. So maybe it wasn’t the tablets.

___________

Malcolm Hardee was quietly-spoken off-stage, rather shy, polite and sometimes had a strange inner stillness about him which I could not understand at first, until I realised he had spent rather a lot of time in prison in the 1970s. If you have lived and mixed with dangerous, sometimes psychopathic men whose personalities may suddenly turn on a sixpence, you have a certain inner wariness.

I was with Malcolm at the Edinburgh Fringe one year – it was the year he performed his show in the living room of his rented flat. After the show, a member of the audience came up to him to chat. Before the man spoke, Malcolm said: “You’ve been inside,” and he had. Malcolm had recognised something in the man’s look and demeanour and knew that he had spent time in prison.

Eric Mason died last Wednesday, aged 81. I only met him twice, very briefly. He had been in prison. He was very quietly-spoken, very polite in a slightly old-fashioned way. He had that same stillness, He was like a kindly old uncle.

One night, outside the Astor Club in London, Eric got into an argument with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser.

Frank says he “slung him in the motor”, took him to the Atlantic Machines office and had a chat with him. Frank then drove Eric to the London Hospital and dumped him in the car park with, so the story goes, the axe still sticking out of Eric’s head.

The way Frank used to tell this story on his coach tours of Gangland London: “I wouldn’t ‘ave minded so much, except I never got me axe back and that axe was from ‘arrods.”

Frank Fraser is quietly-spoken and very polite; like a kindly old uncle. He may be remembered because he has a good turn of phrase, because he played panto and because he has been so well marketed.

He once said to me: “I worry a little bit about what they’ll say about me after I’ve gone,” but he has helped his own legend by writing copiously, notably in his autobiography Mad Frank and in Mad Frank and Friends, Mad Frank’s Britain, Mad Frank’s Underworld History of Britain et al.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

Eric Mason may be remembered, slightly, because he wrote two books: The Inside Story and The Brutal Truth

Norman Parker was also – and presumably still is – a quiet-voiced, very polite man in a neat suit. I met him briefly, once, in 2001.

In 1963, when he was 18, he killed his girlfriend Susan Fitzgerald. Her best friend testified in court that Susan slept with a gun underneath her pillow and had a record of violence. Norman is Jewish. Susan admired Adolf Hitler and both her brothers had been guards for British Nazi Sir Oswald Mosley. Susan read books on concentration camps and her family was deeply involved in armed robberies. It was said “she was a violent and unbalanced girl.” Norman pleaded self-defence and was sentenced to 6 years for manslaughter.

He later explained: “One day we had a hideous argument. She pulled out a gun. I thought she was going to shoot me, so I pulled out my gun and fired one shot. It hit her in the head.”

In 1970, when he was 26, Norman was sentenced to life imprisonment for another murder. He had killed Eddie Coleman.

‘We had an argument,” he explained, “about the way we wanted to hijack a lorry. Edward pulled a gun on me. I struggled for it, David (Woods, Norman’s co-defendant) hit him with a hammer. He fell to the ground and I killed him with his own gun. I killed a man who seconds before was trying to kill me. At worst it was manslaughter. I don’t think the public lose much sleep when violent criminals kill one another. I covered up the murder. But we bumped into a policeman when we were trying to dispose of the body, and I assaulted him.”

Norman Parker was sentenced to 23 years.

After 24 years, he was released, having spent over half his life in jail. A week after his release, he was interviewed: “I can’t believe the homeless people on the streets,” he said. “ People actually sleep in cardboard boxes. I’m also shocked by sex and promiscuity. Take these phone lines where people talk dirty to you. If someone had come out with that 23 years ago, he’d have been dragged into a psychiatric hospital.”

His book, Parkhurst Tales, sold over 20,000 copies in hardback. He followed this with five  other books: The Goldfish Bowl, Parkhurst Tales 2, Life After Life, Dangerous People Dangerous Places and Living With Killers.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

I only met John McVicar once, many years ago, in his flat near Battersea. He, too, was very quietly-spoken, polite and reflective. And he too wrote his own legend.

He was an armed robber in the 1960s. He, too, received a 23-year jail sentence. He escaped from prison several times and, after his final re-arrest in 1970, he was given a sentence of 26 years.

His autobiography, McVicar by Himself was filmed in 1980 as McVicar, with Roger Daltrey of The Who in the title role.

If you write your own legend, memory of what you have done in your life may survive death.

If you have a rock star play you on screen, you will be remembered.

Or – if not the ‘real’ you – the ‘you’ which you yourself have created.

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Crime, Movies, Psychology, Writing

A classic comedy venue + extraordinary news of an unknown comedy legend

It is very sad that, the last couple of years, Brian Damage and Krysstal have not been running their Pear Shaped venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was always a heady mix of the talented and the eccentric with their own late-night Pear Shaped shows reserved for occasionally gobsmackingly odd acts.

Last night, Brian Damage told me they had stopped “because it had become a job. It wasn’t fun any more.”

They – or, rather, Pear Shaped’s glamorous éminence auburn Vicky de Lacey – had an extraordinary track record of talent spotting good acts for the Pear Shaped venue in Edinburgh, climaxing with Wil Hodgson winning the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 2004 and Laura Solon winning the main Perrier comedy award in 2005.

I was at the weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London’s Fitzrovia last night – the grand daddy of Open Mic nights – and it was, as ever, eclectic.

Co-host Anthony Miller managed to define a typical Pear Shaped evening by explaining: “It’s like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme – sometimes people die, but that’s not the intention.”

Anthony Miller can do no wrong in my eyes because of his enthusiasm for the brilliant US OCD detective series Monk which I make no apologies for having blogged in January was “the most consistently funny situation comedy currently screening on British television”. Last night, Anthony was beaming with happiness when he asked me if I had seen the final episode of Monk which, indeed, I had: a triumph of quirky humour. Which is something that can also be said of Pear Shaped though without the hand wipes and obsessive cleanliness.

The attraction of Brian Damage & Krysstal’s weekly club is that there is no visible quality control. It is a true open spot evening. Two or three may die; others may be brilliant.

Intermingled in last night’s line-up of thirteen (unlucky for some, lucky for others) were a couple of extremely dodgy acts plus a couple of surprisingly strong acts which had only been performing for two months and for one year. But also on the bill were the strongly up-and-coming Sanderson Jones and – amazing – the overwhelmingly original and always brightly-attired Robert White, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality. He was trying out new material and there is almost nowhere better to do that than Pear Shaped with its heady mix of ‘real’ audience and comedians watching other comedians.

The most extraordinary thing last night, though, was kept until the end, when Anthony Miller and plucky Al Mandolino told me that eternal open spot legend and anti-comic Jimbo has a new character called Tony Bournemouth and is going to unleash it/himself on an unsuspecting and entirely innocent Edinburgh Fringe audience in a 30-minute show this August.

Al and Anthony told me they thought Jimbo’s Tony Bournemouth incarnation might turn out to be the dark horse at this year’s Fringe.

Mmmmmm…….

Jimbo has been on the London comedy circuit for around twenty years and remains triumphantly unknown except by aficionados of seriously bizarre comedy.

But he is appearing as Tony Bournemouth at Pear Shaped in Fitzrovia either in a fortnight or possibly next week. Pear Shaped is ever unpredictable.

And THIS I have to see.

It could be another triumph for Brian Damage and Krysstal, eternal purveyors of unexpected and occasionally under-appreciated acts to the comedy world.

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