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Origin of the word ‘Wally’ + red-faced Malcolm Hardee and ladies’ underwear

Martin Soan and my eternally-un-named friend last night

Comedian Martin Soan, my eternally un-named friend and I went to a Creative England event at Elstree Film Studios last night, where studio boss Roger Morris gave what I think is the most upbeat assessment of the future of the British film industry that I have heard in thirty years.

When the three of us got back to my home, Martin said:

“Jesus was at Weeley.”

He had read my blog a few days ago about the word ‘Wally’ and how it had supposedly come into the language either via the 1971 Weeley Music Festival or the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

“I was there at Weeley in 1971,” Martin told us, “and people did shout out Wally!. But, really, anyone from East London was shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal. There was this chant Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal.

“Why Dick-eyed Wal?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Martin, “Dick-eyed Wal is East End terminology for saying you’re a fucking idiot.”

Martin was born in Stratford in London’s East End. He explained:

“We used to call – and, to this day, they still do call – pickled gherkins Wallies.”

“So it did not start in the 1970s?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it was something I picked up as a kid. I remember buying pickled gherkins as a kid and calling them Wallies. I don’t know where it came from, but Dick-eyed Wal was the same as a Wally and was basically a prick. We used to call pickled gherkins Wallies and they’re sort-of penis-like and we used to call people Wallies back then because you associated them with penis-shaped gherkins and Dick-eyed Wals.”

“Why were they shouting out Dick-eyed Wal at Weeley?” I asked.

“They were saying Where’s Wally? on the PA system and we were shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal like What a wanker! What a wanker! I remember it distinctly because I was with a couple of East Londoners and they started it. And the other thing I remember is Jesus.”

“Jesus?” I asked.

“He used to be at very early music festivals,” said Martin, “with a pageboy blond haircut which, even in those days, was just a bit too much and he wore these long flowing kaftans and did this trippy-type trance dancing and he was always down the front. I saw him at various festivals.”

“And was he consciously trying to be Jesus?” I asked.

“I dunno, but everyone nicknamed him Jesus. I heard a story about him years and years later… This guy was celebrated, you know? He went to lots of festivals. And, later on, he had a go at becoming someone in showbiz.

“So he got some B-celebrity folk singer to appear on this show with him at Camden and he billed himself as Jesus.

“The B-celebrity folk singer did his thing and went down OK and then Jesus came on with the introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Jesus… and just down the road were these gasworks and they exploded. So he walks on the stage and there’s this huge explosion and everyone was evacuated from the building. And that was his only attempt at showbusiness and everyone went away thinking Wow! That’s Jesus, man!

Earlier, at Elstree Film Studios, almost inevitably, the subject of the late Malcolm Hardee had come up. Malcolm used to perform with Martin Soan in The Greatest Show on Legs.

“You wouldn’t have thought Malcolm could ever be embarrassed,” Martin told us. “But he was once.

“He wanted some sexy lingerie for one of his girlfriends so there was this sexy lingerie shop in Lewisham and I said to him, Well, go in and buy some, and he said, No, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.

Why not? I asked him.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, he said. So I had to go in there for him. He was too embarrassed to go in.

“The strange thing was I went in and told the assistant I want to buy some sexy women’s underwear and she asked Are you a lorry driver? and I dunno why she said that. She must have just had a lot of lorry drivers coming in asking for women’s underwear. Then she asked me Do you want it in red or black? so I stepped outside into the street and yelled out: Malcolm! Do you want your basque in red or black?

“What did he say?”  my eternally un-named friend asked.

“He just ran off round the corner,” said Martin. “It was so unlike Malcolm. I suppose it was because it was Lewisham and that was where he was brought up, just up the road. Perhaps he was a bit embarrassed because of that.”

“But,” I said, “he never worried about showing off his bollocks to hundreds of people at a time.”

“But it’s like,” Martin replied, “me staying at your house tonight. I’ll get up on stage in front of 300 people and stick my cock in front of a camera and fuck it, but walking naked through your living room with just you and your un-named friend – your eternally un-named friend – it would be embarrassing.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I can’t see at night without my glasses and you’ve always had the Scandinavian way, you and Vivienne.”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “In front of our children, but not in front of strangers. Not one-on-one.”

“When I used to visit you,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “people were having baths.”

“Of course,” said Martin. “It’s our house. We can have baths in our own house. But, if I walked through naked in front of John in his living room, I’d feel embarrassed. Walking naked in front of 400 people, no problem. If it was part of a stage show, I’d lay my knob over the top of John’s head like a Mohican.”

“Well…” I said.

“… if there were 400 other people there,” continued Martin. “But coming down into his living room at 9 o’clock in the morning with no-one else there and I lay my knob on his bald head, it would be quite…”

“Let’s not go there,” I interrupted.

“…funny, wouldn’t it?” Martin finished. “But tragic and embarrassing. And no-one wants to see that or have that done to them.”

“Oh,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I don’t know.”

“With the long winter nights coming on…” I said.

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