Tag Archives: Leicester Comedy Festival

Union JACK radio station wants to hear from unusual and innovative comedians

“If people say It’s safe, that’s not really what we want to hear. We want clever ideas which will appeal to a wider audience. We want to hear ‘unusual’ and ‘innovative’. Some people may say: It’s crazy. It will never work, but that’s fine. We like to hear that. ‘Safe’ is what everyone else is doing. We are not interested in that.”

That’s what Donnach O’Driscoll told me when I chatted to him. Strangely, I believed him. He is the CEO of Union JACK Radio. They are now one of the sponsors of the Leicester Comedy Festival and Leicester Comedy Festival boss Geoff Rowe is now part-time Director of Comedy at Union JACK.

But, like I said, I chatted to Donnach O’Driscoll…


Donnach and I supped tea at Soho Theatre

JOHN: You started as…?

DONNACH: My very first job was straight out of university – Trinity College, Dublin. Three years working for Bank of America in Washington DC. I went through their management training programme.

Then I worked three years for Gaston Thorn. He was leaving office as President of the European Commission, leaving Brussels and he wanted a Chef de Cabinet…

JOHN: A chef?

DONNACH: Not a chef. The French call it a Chef de Cabinet… It’s like a personal private secretary in Whitehall.

I wrote speeches, travelled with him, met everyone he met. Before he was President of the European Commission, he had been President of the United Nations General Assembly.

When I was with him, he was Executive President of the largest media company in Europe – RTL so after that, through him, I then worked for RTL for seven years as Head of Radio Development and then as Vice President for UK Activities.

JOHN: What did that involve?

DONNACH: Getting RTL into Channel 5 as 29% of the original investors. I said: “If we want to be a truly pan-European media group, we need to have a presence in the UK.” So I was on the board of Channel 5 when we were originally awarded the licence. RTL ended up buying out the other shareholders before recently selling it to Viacom.

I was also in the process of building a radio group for RTL in the British Isles – We had Atlantic 252 in Ireland. We bought Talk Radio. We were original investors – 15% – in XFM.

But then we were bought by German media group Bertelsmann who were only interested in television. Radio went out the window. So I left and went to Capital Radio for one year and then, with friends, we set up Absolute Radio International.

In 2003, we partnered with UTV in Northern Ireland and bought the Juice radio station in Liverpool. Then, in 2005, UTV decided to buy Talk Radio group and bought the three of us out of Juice. 

In 2006, we bought an FM station in Oxford and won a second Oxford FM licence in 2007. We leased a successful US radio station format JACK from its North American owners and Anglicised it. We aimed our first Oxfordshire station JACKfm at 25-45 year-old males. The second FM station we branded as JACK 2 Hits for a younger, mainly female audience.

There are 50+ JACKs in North America, targeting a 25-45 year old male audience. It has no presenters; it is very irreverent; it has attitude, lots of humour and is, in a way, unpolished. Everything that the rest of commercial radio is not.

Around this time, Virgin Radio was up for sale. We had national ambitions. Through RTL, I knew Times of India – the largest media company in India, who had never invested in anything outside of India. But they backed us and we got it in 2008. 

I became the CEO of Virgin Radio and we re-named the station Absolute Radio. People thought we were mad to change the name. We launched it into the teeth of a Recession. Our three core pillars were music, sport and comedy.

When we bought Virgin Radio, it had about 1.8 million listeners. As Absolute Radio, we built that to close to 4 million.

As featured in the ad industry’s Campaign magazine after the Virgin Radio takeover

We made a point of live music and doing live music in unique locations, like the first rock music concert in the House of Commons. Elbow did a concert in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. We closed Regent Street in London and Madness did a concert. On the comedy side, we wanted two comedy anchors – Frank Skinner on Saturday morning and Dave Gorman on Sunday morning. We brought in Ronnie Wood (of the Rolling Stones) as a presenter.

In 2016, we launched a third station in Oxfordshire on DAB only – JACK3 & Chill – a ‘chill’ station for over-50s. The same humour, the same irreverence, but calmer. Still a very wide playlist, unlike most commercial radio.

We wanted to take the JACK brand national; there was no FM spectrum available so we went DAB to launch Union JACK, which celebrates/plays the best of British music and comedy. Music and comedy are both equally important. All of the music is chosen by the audience. Our app allows people to vote songs up and down a playlist and add songs onto the playlist. To date, we have had over 22 million votes.

JOHN: So you are a franchise of the American JACK Radio…

DONNACH: No. Before we launched our two national stations, we, as it were, bought the freehold for Europe in perpetuity. It was like what we did at Virgin. We felt we needed to hold the freehold for the brand. We can launch JACK stations anywhere in Europe.

Jack Radio – aimed by women for women (and some men)

We launched our second national UK radio station – JACK Radio – a year ago: music aimed at a female audience. And we’ve started to introduce editorial content into it. We have a women’s sports show. Not just ‘women’s sports’… Things like a female perspective on the Premier League. There’s now a relationship show. We’re working on a wellness show. And we will introduce comedy. It won’t be as important as on Union JACK Radio; it will just be one additional element. A bit like the glossy magazine which appeals primarily to a female audience but in no way deters a male audience and actually, at the moment, there are more male listeners than female to JACK Radio.

JOHN: So how do you make Union JACK stand out among all the other radio brands?

DONNACH: Commercial radio, generically, is tight playlists, researched heavily, very slick. They will do a short bit of talk, then play Rihanna for the third time in an hour. JACK is the antithesis of that. JACK is spontaneous. As soon as something happens, we have our station voice recording funny, irreverent lines about what Boris Johnson has just done or whatever.

We look to play two new unsigned music acts every hour. We have a character on the station called Lucy Leeds – she’s from Leeds – and she goes round interviewing new bands and effectively familiarising our audience with those new bands.

We’re not a big corporate. We don’t have the resources of Global or Bauer or News International. So, within our limited financial resources, we have to stand for something. It’s very difficult to find audience niches. You have to try to be creative. Our ethos is to try and support new talent in music and in comedy.

JOHN: The pace on Union JACK is very fast. 

DONNACH: What we do NOT want is traditional DJs and traditional presenters doing 4-hour blocks. Turn on Heart or Magic or Kiss and that’s traditional radio. It’s two songs, 5 or 6 minutes of ads. From our perspective, we are trying to do it differently.

JOHN: Between your music, short scattered ads and the scattered station voice stuff, you also drop in short extracts from classic BBC comedy shows.

DONNACH: In order to familiarise the audience with the output and the brand, I thought it would help to have some classic comedy clips in there. But new comedy is what we want to do. Original comedy. We want to meet comedians with ideas.

JOHN: What’s your pitch to comedians?

Part of the increasing original comedy output on Union Jack

DONNACH: We are small. We are self-funded. We don’t have big corporate backing, but we want to develop relationships with comedians… If you can’t get exposure because the limited space on BBC Radio 4 is effectively locked-up with shows you can’t get near and you don’t have the resources to do a national tour… then we have a national platform and we are looking for content. Please come and talk to us. Even if it’s the nuttiest idea.

JOHN: And they presumably have to record in your studio in Oxford.

DONNACH: No. There’s plenty of studios around.

JOHN: So you might rent them a sound studio in Soho or…

DONNACH: Wherever. Wherever. If they’re in Newcastle, Doncaster, wherever, we’ll find a studio which we would pay for. We have a platform. We will make it work including finding the studio, recording it, getting it onto a podcast, whatever. We will do the mechanics of it. 

I hope that, as we develop, the ‘talent’ may see us as even more of a friend than their agent. They may have an agent who is keen to develop their careers but who gets a commission. We don’t take a commission. We are not in it other than to find great content. 

We want content and we want people who feel they haven’t had an outlet for their content. We don’t have preconceived ideas. 

If you go to the BBC, it can take up to two years to get something on air. We can get something to air very, very quickly. If we like the idea and we can make the finances work, we can get it to air on Union JACK Radio within a couple of weeks.

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Becky Fury + the creepy clown sex cult

As if she had not suffered enough, Becky risked all by travelling on a rare Thameslink train

So I got an email from Malcolm Hardee Award winning comic Becky Fury. It read:

“Do you want to do a blog about this creepy clown sex cult that I narrowly avoided joining?”

Well, obviously, there is only one answer to a question like that.

I was, to an extent, however, literally laid low with a spinal problem, so the ever-plucky Becky – rather than talk to me over Skype – decided to risk the wild uncertainties of train travel by Thameslink and the physical risks posed by my coughing fits and nose sniffles to come up to my home in Borehamwood.

This is how the conversation went…


JOHN: A clown sex cult?

BECKY: There was a clowning course. All sex cults need a good USP.

JOHN: How did you find them?

BECKY: He found me.

JOHN: Who?

BECKY: The guru.

JOHN: There’s a guru?

BECKY: Of course. All sex cults need a guru.

JOHN: And his selling point as a Messiah is…?

BECKY: That he has a clown school in a European city.

(NOTE TO READERS – THIS IS NOT, REPEAT NOT, IN PARIS)

BECKY: It seemed to have lots of interesting teachers. But I started getting suspicious when he started offering me a very reduced fee. Also I did an interview online and he wanted to re-name me.

JOHN: To what name?

BECKY: (LAUGHS) Miss Behave.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Did you point out there is already a well-established Miss Behave?

BECKY: I didn’t want to give him any more information.

JOHN: But you wanted to be a clown?

Becky having a happier time in Borehamwood

BECKY: No. That’s the thing. I didn’t want to be a clown and certainly not using the name of someone who was already using that name. I had wanted to learn some techniques. There are always interesting things you can learn from people who are masters of their arts. But he sent me a list of classes that would take place and they included things like ‘Oil Massage’ which I thought maybe should not be on the syllabus for a Clown Course.

JOHN: Maybe all clown courses have it… Maybe Gaulier in Paris has a…

BECKY: No, I don’t think his is a sex cult; more a hate cult.

JOHN: Well, he allegedly breaks you down to build you up. A bit like Charles Manson.

BECKY: Well, this clown cult guy kept re-using the term ‘Family’… and also the word ‘polyamory’. The guy is from the 1960s, so he’s the sort of guy that took a load of acid, ’freaked out’, then became a ‘clown’.

JOHN: I still don’t understand how you got into this. You saw an ad somewhere?

BECKY: No. he found me. He was a Facebook Friend and he contacted me and said he was interested in stuff he had seen I was doing and he thought maybe I would want to attend his course. It all seemed very innocent to start with. But I said I didn’t think I could afford £3,000 for the month’s course. So he said: “What about £1,500? It’s not about the money; it’s about who we get on the course.”

And then he dropped the cost again and I thought: Well, what’s the exchange here? What am I going to have to do? How am I going to be paying?

Becky Fury minting it – but only with chocolate coins

This was just before the Edinburgh Fringe, so I was very distracted. He kept asking me to go on the course, then I got one last message from him and then suddenly I got contacted by another woman who was a clown and it turned out she was his wife. And she was saying: “Well, actually, it’s going to be £3,000.”

So I think I had done something to piss him off. And then there were some other women he was involved with. And then there was an email from another woman basically accusing him of being exactly what I thought he was: that he was this kind of very controlling guru who basically got lots of weak women to come to what was billed as a clown course but basically it was a sex cult.

JOHN: But you are only surmising.

BECKY: Yes.

JOHN: What was the ‘sell’?

BECKY: He said he wanted to direct me in a show and then have me go round Europe saying, “I am the protégée of (HIS NAME),” and all his clown mates would think: That sexy woman? What a fucking man he is! He’s moulded this woman; she’s doing his bidding. It’s a big male ego trip and I’ve had that before. There was another older comedian – a British one. His thing was he wanted me to be his protégée and have everybody saying about him: “Oh! Wow!” 

This recent guy was wanting to change what I was doing. I said: “No. I do comedy… I don’t want to go round Europe doing ‘clowning’. I want to go on the course and learn interesting techniques that I can put into what I do… not be something that you’ve created.”

JOHN: What’s the difference between Comedy and Clowning?

BECKY: Well, you can use aspects of clowning in comedy. It’s just that heightened quality of performance… Well, it’s basically just fucking around, isn’t it?

JOHN: Can I quote that?

Becky knows a thing or two about… erm… messing about…

BECKY: Yeah. That’s all it is. That’s another reason I didn’t go. I’ve done bits of clowning before and really all it is is just fucking about. You need to get yourself in the zone of just fucking about. There are courses on how to be ‘stupid’ and how to ‘uncover your inner fool’. But all of these things are about remembering how to play. And that’s what comedians do. They play – mainly with language a lot of the time.

I’m kinda fed up with these older men wanting to use me to be some kind of extension of themselves.

JOHN: To create through you.

BECKY: Yeah.

JOHN: Those who can do and those who can’t manipulate.

BECKY: They end up using you as a vessel for their thwarted youth – and they get off on it as well, because it’s a male thing. I’ve had this before. I’ve already had that one guru. He did a lot of stuff that was very manipulative and controlling. A lot of the time with these old men that go out with younger women, the reason they do it is some inadequacy of theirs that they don’t want women of their own age to pick up on. So they’ll go for women that are young and naive who think: Oh, wow! This guy is really sorted! when, actually, he’s just a dickhead.

I’m not making any moral judgment. I think it’s just an interesting aspect of humanity.

JOHN: Randy men?

BECKY: Randy clowns.

JOHN: You could have formed a double act: Randy & Miss Behave 2.

BECKY: In a way I would like to have had time to find out what was actually going  in the clown sex cult.

JOHN: But?

BECKY: Unfortunately we only have a finite amount of time on this planet and I have a new comedy show to write for the Leicester Comedy Festival. Anyway, after all that, I never heard from him again.

JOHN: Perhaps you will. Perhaps, one day, there will be a knock on your door and standing there will be a man in a red nose wearing long floppy shoes and beeping a horn at you.

BECKY: Mmmm… Different type of clown.

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Stand-up comic Lynn Ruth Miller looks forward to Viagra and back to Leicester

In recent blogs, 85-year-old London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller has been sharing her experience of performing in exotic places like Hanoi. Recently, she was closer to home…


I really love the Leicester Comedy Festival because it does not cost an arm and a leg for me to participate. I have already lost a hip and a knee and I am in no mood to barter with any more body parts. 

Before Leicester, I had to convince a promoter or a venue that, if I pay lots of money, they will give me space to perform for an hour.  

Not any more. No sir.  

Now, I have a venue that wants ME.

OK, so it’s not a fancy one. It doesn’t even have a stage. There are no bright lights and no-one ever reviews shows that appear there. But it is my little venue and I love it just as much as the big showy ones that make the headlines and get the reviews.  

Bike shop: “a wonderful place for me to shine.”

It is a bike shop.

Things could be worse. I could be crammed into a refuse shelter among all the flotsam and jetsam which people recycle. I could even stand on top of an automobile in a showroom or fight my way to the top of a chest of drawers in an antique shop.

But my bike shop is a wonderful place for me to shine. 

Bicycle people are not judgmental. They all love to laugh. It was bike enthusiast and promoter Andy Salkeld who figured that out. He got the idea of transforming a commercial establishment into a comedy performance space several years ago because he wanted to amuse a healthy, outdoorsy type of audience. 

Though, sadly, that is not me.  

I am so uncoordinated that, the last time I tried to pedal my way to the grocery store, I mistook the hand brake for a horn and somersaulted into an intersection.

Andy is the Cycling Co-ordinator for Leicester City Council. (Yes. They really have someone like that, right up there with Public Safety, Public Health and Emergency Planning.)

Andy has created a bicycle comedy show – The Red Light Comedy Club – that has been part of the festival for several years. The challenge for Andy was to find someone who had nothing better to do than host his unusual shows. Any performer already creating his own production at that festival would never risk dampening his reputation by standing among a lot of axles, chains and rubber tyres.

Andy Salkeld “has a unique taste in comedy”

I was that someone.

What else do I have to do but take my medication, attend my dialysis and locate my dentures?

Andy has booked me to host his Red Light events for the past three years. And I love every ego-boosting moment.  

He has a unique taste in comedy. In the years I have hosted these shows, there have been comedians who sing wild, improbable songs, those who throw things at the audience and those who insist the audience throw things back at them. The events are unique and don’t involve deep thought, but there are all those different bicycles to look at if the person at the microphone does not appeal.

This year, I met some very unusual people who revealed things about themselves on stage that I would not even tell my proctologist, much less my mother.  

For example, Kevin Hudson, an accountant by day and observer of the idiosyncrasies of life by night, went into great detail about his prostate examination. His account was so graphic I thought we might get a hands-on demonstration but, sadly for me, he kept his trousers on. It has been a long time since I have viewed that area of the male anatomy and I kept hoping…

The most interesting part of that evening was meeting an accomplished comedian who is 75 years younger than I am. Ian Hall who introduced us to the real star of the show: his daughter, Niamh Hall. She is ten years old. She manned the audio for her father and stole the show.  

Niamh Hall (left) was “the real star of the show”

But that is what happens when you let a real woman take over, isn’t it?

I realized then how limited my own upbringing was.  

When I was ten, my main activity was bouncing a ball (rubber… not what you are thinking;  that didn’t happen until I was sixteen) and stroking furry creatures (FOUR legged ones).  

I certainly did not have the courage to stand on a stage with a bunch of strangers staring at me, while I took charge of my father.

It is a new world and Niamh is a shining example.  

I see her, when she is my age, appearing  at the O2, her tattoos crumbled into a kaleidoscope of unidentifiable colors, her confidence mesmerizing an audience amazed at her ability to balance on one leg while she operates ten turntables filling the room with musical cacophony.  

She will be able to do a thing like that until she is 100.  Unfortunately, all I can do is talk dirty to young people.

I was sorry to see the festival end. It was an education for me this year and I cannot wait to return to the bike shop again next year to find out why Viagra is such a success. I have always avoided it because it squanders four hours of your day. I don’t have that much time left to waste. Not anymore.

Next stop, Sweden.

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Comedy performer Becky Fury in Berlin with the man who had had too much fun

Becky Fury… And this is the way the conversation went…

My last blog, a week ago,  was about What happened when award-winning performer Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week to create art but she only stayed for a day. 

It was not exactly clear why her stay was so short. And several readers of this blog have asked me (yes indeed they really have) why.

The only explanation in the previous blog was: “the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid… didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.”

So, obviously, a couple of days ago, I sat down and had a cup of tea with Becky (we are, after all, British) and asked her to be more specific. 

And this is the way the conversation went…


BECKY: The guy read your blog, contacted me and said he had been wondering what happened to me.

JOHN: He didn’t realise you had left Berlin?

BECKY: No. I hadn’t told him.

JOHN: You left over a week ago.

BECKY: Well, there were a few things he didn’t notice and the fact that I had left Berlin was one of those things. 

JOHN: He had done too much…

BECKY: He had done too much… of something. He had had… erm… He had had way too much ‘fun’. That’s a nice way of explaining it.

JOHN: But he never noticed you had gone? Did you leave a stuffed dummy of a human body under your bedclothes?

BECKY: This was the thing. I didn’t have a bed to sleep in. That was mainly the reason I left. Because I was given a couch in a freezing cold warehouse in East Berlin in January. 

JOHN: We couldn’t afford couches in my day…

BECKY: Maybe I should have considered myself lucky… And I had a dirty sleeping bag to sleep under.

JOHN: Sounds ideal. This is the stuff of award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows.

BECKY: I know… I… err… I don’t want to get distracted by what you’re saying.

JOHN: Few people do.

BECKY: Basically, I went to Berlin to do some art. We had had this really, really interesting conversation, this guy and me. I had met him when I first started to do squatting and alternative politics in 2002. It was a really interesting thing to catch up with him and have a conversation about all the things that had happened since 2002. And he told me we could do a film in his ‘green screen room’ in Berlin. I knew that, over the previous 17 years, he had been taking a lot of… having a lot of ‘fun’.

“I can’t work in this space and I can’t work with you.”

When I got to Berlin, he took me up to see the green screen room and it was the size of… well, basically, you couldn’t stand up in it. Which is a bit of a problem for a green screen room. And he had a tent in the green screen room and he was sleeping in there.

I looked at him and he looked at me and he said: “Oh, no, no, well, we could do it like a rocket. We could film it like we were in a rocket ship in here.” 

And I was thinking: No, we couldn’t. We could only film it in here like we were two tramps living in a tent in a green screen room. There’s nothing else you can do in this space. You ARE actually like a tramp living in this tent in a room that you have green screened and this is fucking insane. I can’t work in this space and I clearly can’t work with you.

And he kinda knew there was something wrong, but this is the thing about people having too much… who have had too much ‘fun’. It is like you’re tripping all the time.

I wasn’t angry with him at all. He was in his dream and he wasn’t really seeing why there was a problem. In his dream, it was fine. We would absolutely make an amazing film with us in a tent flying through space.

He told me this guy from (a well-known cabaret music group) was coming down. And he did. But the date he had given the guy was totally wrong: it was like four days afterwards. I mean, you really can’t get people to fucking come from other countries to meet up and the two people who are meant to be doing the project together arrive four days apart!

He had not done the logistics and I was meant to stay on this freezing cold couch under a dirty sleeping bag for four days. He told me that is what everyone in Berlin does.

So I wandered off. 

There was also inter-personal politics with people in the house.

Basically, they had set up an art space in an enormous warehouse space.

There was the original Tacheles squat after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the squatters got evicted and it was turned into luxury flats. And these were the same (squatter) people who had moved and set up a new Tacheles.

That’s what he told me and it is, but there were two sets of agendas going on.

He has sort-of ‘arted’ all over the warehouse – like he has pissed all over the place, but with art. Art everywhere. So the people upstairs have to deal with him: this guy who is ‘arting’ all over their place.

JOHN: Is this not good? Whatever happened to the joy of anarchy?

“Like I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave. and run away very fast.”

BECKY: Well, the thing about anarchy is it needs some level of organisation for it to function, otherwise it’s just chaos and a big mess. Which is fun. And it was interesting to go and visit it. But I think that might be why, in the picture you put in the last blog, I look like I’d seen a ghost: that I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave and run away very fast.

JOHN: So, basically, you just left because you were a bit cold…

BECKY: (LAUGHING) Basically, that’s it! I could have waited to find out if the guy turned up from the (well-known cabaret music group) – which he did.

JOHN: So, at what point did this bloke who enticed you over to do art discover you had left Berlin? Only when he read my blog?

BECKY: No. When the other guy turned up four days later and I wasn’t there.

JOHN: How had you left?

BECKY: I said: “I’m going to go for a walk.”

JOHN: To the guy who had had too much fun?

BECKY: No. To the other guys upstairs. They said to me: “We don’t really know what you’re doing here.”

And I was thinking: I don’t really know what I’m doing here either.

I could have won them over with my natural wit and charm and – obviously – the opportunity to be mentioned in your blog. But I thought: I don’t really want to be here and I’ve got other shit to be getting on with. So I said I was going for a walk and was thinking I’d get an AirBnB or something but, by the time I had left and got a bit of food and was near the station – I hadn’t eaten since I got there because the guy didn’t have any food…

JOHN: You had only been there for like half a day! That’s hardly hardship…

BECKY: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: So you said you were going off for a walk like Captain Oates?

BECKY: Yeah. “I might be some time” and they never saw me again. I did my Captain Oates bit and bowed out disgracefully.

JOHN: Though, unlike Captain Oates, you went to a warmer place.

BECKY: Though we don’t know what happened to Captain Oates, do we?

JOHN: No we don’t. But you left because…

BECKY: I had thought it was going to be a really functional space with loads of people. Not just three cold and very irritable hippies and a man who had taken too much fun.

Although, to be honest, that is a better audience than I’ve sometimes had at the Edinburgh Fringe…

So I came back to London and learnt the script for Political, my show at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February.

JOHN: Well promoted.

BECKY: I try.

JOHN: And you’ve succeeded.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Drugs

Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Filed under Eccentrics, Trains, Travel

The anarchic post modernist comedy group named after the Post Office. Not.

The interior of Cafe Diana in Notting Hill

The interior of Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill

Consignia won last year’s Alternative New Comedian of the Year title. The comedy group are Phil Jarvis, Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and now “newcomer Jason Bridge”.

Phil and Nathan had tea with me in Cafe Diana – a culinary shrine to the late Princess of Wales, opposite the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in London’s Notting Hill and near the brutalist Czech Embassy. It was their choice of venue. Also present was Dec Munro, one of the begetters of Angel Comedy’s Bill Murray club.

Dec has let them have an entire afternoon of six previews at the Bill Murray on Sunday 5th February – from 1.45pm to 6.00pm, unless they repeat everything twice, in which case who knows?

The logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Publicity logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Consignia were performing in Swansea last night. If I had been more efficient, I could have posted this blog before then to give the gig a plug.

But I wasn’t and didn’t.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I saw their show The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show twice. Well, I had little alternative. When it got to the end of their one-hour slot, they simply did the whole show again from beginning to end. When we met at Cafe Diana, Nathan was feeling ill and was very tired. Our conversation, under walls covered in photos of Princess Diana, went like this:


Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

JOHN: I was surprised when you repeated the show in Edinburgh that there seemed to have been a script.

NATHAN: The Leicester Comedy Festival is the last time we will do that show.

PHIL: Yeah. Saturday 25th February.

NATHAN: And, after Leicester, we will do something new for Edinburgh this year.

PHIL: At the Edinburgh Fringe, I want to do an unofficial Dinner For One tribute show. I am trying to get the smallest room I can and put a table in it with six people round it.

JOHN: Isn’t the whole point of Dinner For One that he is serving things to non-existent people?

PHIL: But you could have someone playing the tiger rug and people playing the people who aren’t there.

JOHN: This show would run the whole duration of the Fringe?

PHIL: It would be a one-off. There would be a knees-up, because that’s what the show is.

JOHN: Is it?

PHIL: I think it is, yeah. A melancholic knees-up.

JOHN: A sort of Chas & Dave with tears?

PHIL: (TO ME) We are waiting for Bridge.

JOHN: Bridge?

PHIL: Jason Bridge.

JOHN: Like Godot?

PHIL: Mmmm…

JOHN: But, apart from your Dinner For One with six people, what is the new Consignia show for Edinburgh?

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis pay homage to Princess Diana

Nathan Willcock (left) & Phil Jarvis pay homage to Lady Diana

PHIL: Panopticon.

JOHN: Why is it called that?

PHIL: It has to be more pretentious than last year’s.

NATHAN: We have a gig booked in Norwich for it already.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: We did it last year. That’s where last year’s gig found its feet. Before that, The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show was a disaster.

NATHAN: I went to university in Norwich.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: I’m going to run a gig in Basingstoke.

JOHN: What? Into the ground?

PHIL: Probably. It’s a regular monthly gig.

JOHN: Called…?

PHIL: Goat.

JOHN: Because it will make people feel horny?

PHIL: No. It’s just a name.

DEC: Someone named their rap album Goat.

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

PHIL: I think there’s a band called Goat as well.

JOHN: And an animal.

PHIL: If you put the words ‘a Comedy Club’ next to it, it says ‘Go at a Comedy Club’.

NATHAN: Nobody says: “Go at a comedy club.”

PHIL: I do.

NATHAN: You should call it GOAT 2 – “Goat 2 a comedy club.”

JOHN: So why call yourselves Consignia?

NATHAN: We didn’t have a name in Edinburgh last year, but now we have retrospectively given ourselves a name.

JOHN (TO NATHAN): Are you going to fall forward unconscious into that soup or what?

Nathan Willcock was feeling a bit ill

Nathan Willcock alas did not fall into his soup

NATHAN: It’s very hot.

JOHN: Why did you choose the name Consignia?

NATHAN: It was going to be the new name of the Post Office but they got rid of it, so we thought: We’ll have it.

JOHN: You didn’t think of calling yourselves The Post Office?

PHIL: It’s not as funny.

NATHAN: With Consignia, only a few people remember it happening. It was so stupid. I had to check with people: Did that actually happen?

JOHN: Ah. So it IS suitable for your shows, then.

NATHAN: We are hoping to get into a high-profile legal battle with the bloke who thought up the name.

PHIL: We like faded things.

JOHN: Is that why you invited me here?

NATHAN: We like pointless, meaningless things.

PHIL: That is why we like brutalism in architecture.

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy

Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy in London

JOHN: Are you sure you are not misunderstanding the word? It is not just beating-up people in the street.

PHIL: We want to perform at The Comedy Store.

JOHN: In the Gong Show bit?

NATHAN: Yes. They film you and you can pay £5 to get a copy. We could probably use it in our new show: about us being booed off. We will just stay on stage.

PHIL: They will be gonging and we will just stay on until the bouncers come on to get us. They will think about it a bit.

NATHAN: Basically, we want them to get violent… and then we will see if we can still get the video.

JOHN: You really do misunderstand what Brutalism is.

NATHAN: He still hasn’t turned up.

JOHN: Who?

PHIL: Jason Bridge. He will be with us in Leicester. With my son.

JOHN: You have a son?

PHIL: No.

NATHAN: Do you remember anything from our show in Edinburgh?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: The one you sat through twice.

JOHN: No. I do remember the second time was a revelation because I thought: I’ve never seen anything like this before.

PHIL: Do you not remember me covered in blood wearing a gas mask, holding my son?

JOHN: No. I thought I must have dreamt that.

PHIL: You saw my penis.

JOHN: Did I see it twice?

PHIL: Yes you did.

JOHN: I don’t remember it.

NATHAN: My girlfriend hates that.

Nathan Willcock Facebook header image

Can you spot Nathan Willcock in his Facebook header image?

JOHN: His penis?

NATHAN: No… Nicholas. Because Nicholas is covered in egg and mud…

JOHN: His son?

PHIL: …and guacamole…

NATHAN:…but I refuse to throw it out. It’s in our cupboard.

JOHN: Why is guacamole funny? All those Al Queda prisoners in there for years on end…

PHIL: Do you not remember our show at all, John?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: You remember we put a carrot and some humus on stage…

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: …and then played a really slowed-down version of Daphne & Celeste and then walked off stage and the audience just looked at this carrot and humus.

PHIL: One night, we couldn’t find any humus. We could only find discounted guacamole.

NATHAN: That was the night the second show happened – the X-rated one – the night you were there, John. We did everything naked.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And, instead of putting a carrot in the guacamole, we put Phil’s penis in it and put a microphone to it.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And guacamole is a bit spicy so Phil said it hurt quite a bit.

PHIL: I had a mild burn for the rest of the Fringe.

Phil Jarvis

Phil Jarvis felt off-colour during the Fringe

NATHAN: That’s how committed we are.

JOHN: And your girlfriend is not keen on this?

PHIL: His fiancée now.

JOHN: (TO NATHAN) Oh! Congratulations.

NATHAN: She asked me.

JOHN: How did she ask you?

NATHAN: She took me to Belgium.

JOHN: Is that a euphemism I don’t know? I have heard “took me round the world” but never “took me to Belgium”.

NATHAN: Ghent. She didn’t go down on one knee. She just gave me a ring underneath the belfry.

JOHN: Is that another euphemism I haven’t heard?

NATHAN: December 9th. The wedding. It’s going to have a Christmas theme. We had a load of crackers delivered the other day.

JOHN: In January? For your December wedding? That’s forward planning.

NATHAN: She’s very organised. We have put the soundtrack for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show up on Bandcamp and you can buy the full album for £1,000. You can also download individual tracks for free.

JOHN: It is all commercialism with you, isn’t it?

Consignia logo

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy