Tag Archives: london

The art and psychology of heckling comics and throwing objects at them

Malcolm Hardee – known for running notorious comedy clubs

Exactly 14 years ago tonight, comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock in the Rotherhithe peninsula, London.

He maintained his principles, even in death.

When his body was raised from the dock several days later, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

Malcolm was famed for spotting and helping talented comedians at the start of their careers. He was also known for running and hosting the Tunnel Palladium club night – a Sunday evening show with good professional acts but also an ‘open spot’ section so dangerous for new acts to perform in that aspiring comics would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to see if they could survive an audience known and feared for its razor-sharp heckling.

After the club was raided and closed by the police for drugs offences (NOT on one of Malcolm’s nights – he only did Sundays) he opened Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich where, initially, the hecklers continued their trade.

Here, I chat to one of the Tunnel’s most effective hecklers – Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin.


Gordon Breslin – a taste for heckling

JOHN: You got a taste for heckling at the Tunnel club…

BRES: Well, before that, me and a friend used to go to Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday afternoon and absorb some of the heckling of speakers that was going on. I remember heckling the Reverend Donald Soper on occasion, when he was preaching there. That’s where we cut out teeth.

JOHN: Did Lord Soper take it well?

BRES: He did indeed. He was a very nice gentleman. After that, though, we discovered the Tunnel club.

JOHN: You were regulars.

BRES: Yes. And the heckling was quite good fun. To start with, it was limited to the open mic spots.

JOHN: But all heckling is surely cruel and nasty.

BRES: Sometimes it is cruel and nasty but sometimes an act just needs to go if they’re not very good.

JOHN: But these poor, sensitive people have spent months refining their act…

BRES: Well, being heckled is how they know it needs more refining. If an act is really bad, something should be done apart from walking out. I think audiences have become too tolerant of bad acts these days. Back in the Tunnel days, it could be quite rude – “Get off! You’re shit!” This was 1984 to 1989.

But word got out about the heckling there and it got progressively more ermmm… ‘aggressive’ I guess is the word.

JOHN: Well, I guess throwing beer glasses at the acts is aggressive.

BRES: Yes, but people like Simon Munnery were cutting their teeth there and he didn’t mind a bit of heckling. There used to be a very good heckler at The Tunnel called The Pirate…

JOHN: I think Malcolm told me The Pirate was a stockbroker who retired early to Spain with lots of money.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

BRES: His great one was… A comic would make his best joke of the night and The Pirate’s voice would be heard saying “Oh larf… Oh larf… Oh larf,” which would just floor the comedian. Some of the heckling was very very funny.

JOHN: And the best heckles are…?

BRES: I think the art of the heckle is… A heckler wants to make a funny gag and make the audience laugh and perhaps even get the biggest laugh of the night and – not necessarily make the comic feel small, but – make the comic appreciate the heckler’s one one-liner as well.

JOHN: Surely it is just solely to make the comic feel small.

BRES: Well, in a way. But the comic has the right of reply, so he can make the heckler feel even smaller. A lot of people don’t want to sit in the front rows because they don’t want to be picked-on by the comic. Let’s get it into perspective. For me comedians, if they are any good, will always pick on the front row. So they have more than ample opportunity to get their retaliation in first.

JOHN: So heckling is the audience picking on the comedian, not the comedian picking on the audience.

BRES: Exactly. That’s the one. As long as it’s fair and just. At The Tunnel, some of the comedians would come on looking nervous and, before they’d even said a word, the first thing shouted out was: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then someone else would take up the cry: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then the whole audience would end up shouting “Maaallcolm!!!” and, before the comedian had even said a word, it was not unknown for the act to walk off without even doing a joke.

JOHN: And the audience would sometimes call out for a taxi…

BRES: Yes. “Cab for (the comedian’s name)!” Those were the regular heckles. But then it got a bit overtaken by… Well, a bit violent, I should say – Throwing things and it… it got… erm… too bad. There was an incident where Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton)… I think it was a beer crate or something like that was thrown at them – something quite chunky…

JOHN: Malcolm told me he wasn’t the compere that night. I think he was maybe at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Malcolm made a mistake in giving a copy of this letter to each member of the Tunnel club audience

BRES: I think she sustained a cut – Joy Pickles. So, the following week, there was a letter to the audience from Tunnel Arts – which was Malcolm – asking all members of the audience to “refrain from throwing anything at the stage… The Tunnel Club is noted for its witty heckling and appreciation of a good act. Let’s not spoil it by behaving as animals. It is coming to a point where a lot of good acts are thinking twice about performing here (quite rightly so) and this means that your enjoyment will be impaired.”

A copy of this letter was put on every seat in the Tunnel club and, of course, when Malcolm came on stage, he got bombarded by people throwing screwed-up letters and paper aeroplanes at him. So the letter became a surreal heckle.

JOHN: My memory is that, sometimes, they didn’t just throw beer glasses at the acts; they sometimes threw half-full glasses so there was beer all over the place too.

BRES: Well, it was probably quite watered-down beer. 

JOHN: The heckling-off of acts was quite effective.

BRES: Yes. Sometimes self-defeating. Sometimes you might have seven or eight acts and the show would be over in half an hour because everyone had been heckled off – sometimes even the good ones.

Jools Holland (left) with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel club in 1985 (Photo by Bill Alford)

JOHN: Malcolm told me that, after the trouble with Clarence & Joy Pickles, he had to make it a members-only club and he then discovered lots of the audience were not local. They were coming through the Blackwall Tunnel from north of the Thames and a lot were very highly-paid, highly-educated City workers, which was why the heckling was of such a high standard. I think someone was once heckled off in Latin and looked a bit surprised.

BRES: Yeah.

JOHN: What was your job at that point?

BRES: (LAUGHS) I was a Lloyds underwriter, working in the City.

JOHN: So basically it was up-market scum causing the problems.

BRES: Exactly. (LAUGHS) But I am from humble beginnings. I guess the Tunnel club had a timely demise and we were then a bit bereft of anywhere to go. We tried out Jongleurs club in Clapham, but the comedy was never great there and we weren’t allowed to heckle. We were physically told-off by bouncers. Luckily, Malcolm then set-up Up The Creek in Greenwich, which didn’t have the same notoriety as the Tunnel.

JOHN: I think the brothers who co-owned it with Malcolm told him after a few weeks that he couldn’t allow heckling and throwing things. Though I do remember some open spot act who got up on stage and started reading poetry. He was a bald man and you could see the blood trickling down his forehead after something was thrown and hit him.

BRES: I was there when Eddie Shit was performing. He came on dressed as Freddie Mercury and was singing songs by Queen with all the lyrics changed to refer to shit. I was sitting down the front and we were getting things passed to us from the back – including glass ashtrays – to throw at him. Which, obviously, we never did.

There was one occasion when an act which really was shit had been using a real frozen chicken and they ended up throwing this frozen chicken at the audience. The audience kept it then, slowly but surely, it made its way down the front. It came to me and I remember getting up on stage and offering it to Malcolm and I think I started up the chant “Shag the chicken! Shag the chicken!” which the whole audience took up.

So Malcolm got his knob out and duly obliged. 

That was quite amusing.

JOHN: Did you make friends with the other hecklers?

BRES: Yes. And some of the acts as well. It wasn’t all animosity. Simon Munnery, Martin Soan, Boothby Graffoe, Rich Hall. We would leave the good acts alone and they would leave us alone.

JOHN: Mostly, I thought the hecklers at Malcolm’s clubs were firm but fair.

BRES: I would like to think that.

JOHN: Part of the training process for new comedians. You don’t get much heckling nowadays.

BRES: The demise of heckling is down to the extra tolerance we have nowadays, even for bad acts. There are hidden boundaries these days. There’s too much respect for comics these days. Performers don’t know how to give a riposte and, as a heckler, you don’t want to show them up. It would just stump them.

JOHN: Isn’t that the point?

BRES: Not always. The next generation should learn what “Maaallcolm!!!” means.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Vincent Kamp – The representational Renaissance artist of UK underworlds

Painter Vincent Kamp is unusual in that he sometimes creates not just one painting but perhaps six or eight separate scenes from an single imagined narrative story.

His PR man told me that Vince is “fascinated by the dark, gritty, underground world of urban subculture. His paintings delve beneath the surface of social class, creating intense portraits of charismatic people in a fused background of atmospheric lighting, sexuality and impending violence.”

“Fuck me!” I thought.

So I went and had a chat with him.

Vincent Kamp: “For me, it’s all about stories… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character.”


JOHN: Someone must have said Hogarth when describing your paintings?

VINCE: I think Hogarth is much tighter than me. I think I’m much looser. If you see my paintings up close, there’s much more evidence of brushstrokes and paint.

JOHN: Hogarth did lowlifes and scum-of-the-earths. That’s what he did. That’s what you’re interested in.

VINCE:  A little bit. Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: But your background is ordinary middle class life?

VINCE: Pretty much. I worked at my parents’ company for a long time. My father is a designer of scientific instruments. And I’ve got my own family – two kids – So I painted in the evenings and at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was struggling away like that for many, many years.

JOHN: Any artistic influence from your parents?

VINCE: My parents are both from Holland. I have never lived in Holland, but there is a very strong connection to North Holland – that Flemish style. We were always taken to museums and art galleries. My parents have quite a few oil paintings. So I grew up with that. It has always been my sort of sensibilities: that sort of Renaissance style painting.

JOHN: So why the attraction to down-market East End of London type people?

VINCE: For me, it’s all about stories. Whether it is a glamorous story or whether it is just some scum-of-the-earth guy stealing and robbing… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character. That’s what I’m interested in more than anything.

“…a story with a whole cast of characters”

The first thing I do is write a back story with a whole cast of characters. Then I use a casting director to find the people I need. Actors. Then I find the location. So, essentially, it is like I am making a film and I paint a storyboard, essentially, for the narrative I have already written down.

JOHN: You use actors for faces? Not real Faces? Have you encountered genuine naughty men?

VINCE: Let’s just say I’ve brushed with that world a little bit.

JOHN: Very appropriate. Brushed. But why not use genuine dodgy men? 

VINCE: I am trying to create a narrative scene and, if you’re not an actor and I am trying to tell you the narrative, you may just look a bit wooden… If you could catch them in the middle of a deal or whatever else, then maybe that would be interesting, but actually a gangster being photographed when he’s not ‘gangstering’ is just going to be a guy sat there looking nervous because you are pointing a camera at him.

JOHN: You take photographs?

VINCE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I explain the background of the scene to the actors. I’m talking to them, directing them and snapping away with my camera.

JOHN: You paint from photographs?

VINCE: Yes. For me, if you ask a person to hold a pose for a painting, that is never reality. But, when you snatch that moment in time in a photograph and then paint from that – That is much more real than asking someone to pose for a certain amount of time while I paint for however many hours.

JOHN: And you may alter what is in the photograph to change the person’s emotional look.

VINCE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. I take hundreds of photographs. I might borrow the hands from one; the face from another. I do charcoal studies and then think: You know, what I’m gonna do is tweak this guy to look a little more gnarly or more apprehensive or whatever. So I change subtle details here and there… and create my own lighting.

JOHN: Between the photograph and the painting, there might be Photoshopping?

VINCE: Loads of Photoshopping… Tons… 

JOHN: Why don’t you, in your head, do what the Photoshop will do? Wouldn’t that be quicker?

VINCE: Oh my God, no! Your reference is the most important part: getting that absolutely right. The painting, then, becomes more mechanical. Painting is very, very time-consuming. To hold an idea in your head for that length of time to get it exactly right is REALLY difficult. I have done it. But it is much better to use the tools that are available.

JOHN: With all this photographing of narrative stories, can a feature film be far off?

VINCE: I am directing a 15 minute short which we hope to start filming in mid-February. But it is at the early stages yet. It’s a screenplay I have written based on a show I did at the Ritz last month.

JOHN: That was a series of paintings…

“Being a director must have been in the back of your mind…”

VINCE: Yes. Called Diamond Roulette – six paintings… A heist thriller. The story is about a couple who are stealing from the high-end gamblers at the Ritz Club. People can lose £2 million or £3 million in a night – they have £10,000 chips there… In fact, they have £50,000 and £500,000 chips there… And these girls are often in the casinos and subtly take chips from the guys and someone spots this and sees an opportunity and that’s where the story starts.

JOHN: Being a director must have always been in the back of your mind.

VINCE: Of course I’m a massive film fan. I’ve always been fascinated about telling stories, always been writing stories.

JOHN: So, if you do shoot in mid-February, the short film will be ready for screening by…

VINCE: …by May at the latest, I hope.

JOHN: You are linked to a gallery near The Ritz.

VINCE: Yes. Clarendon Fine Art in Dover Street, Mayfair. They represent me. I’m exclusive. DeMontfort Fine Art, who own Clarendon, has 55 galleries around the country who sell my prints as well.

JOHN: You have made money out of art. You have supported a wife and two children – aged 12 and 9 – not cheap. Yet you have no art school training at all. How did you build a career?

VINCE: Well, you sell a load of work first of all. Then you start getting people talking about you. And, pretty soon, the art galleries come knocking.

JOHN: How did DeMontfort know you existed?

VINCE: On Instagram.

JOHN: Was there a turning point when you started being really successful?

VINCE: Well…

… CONCLUDED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Crime, Movies, Painting

The Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour with Becky Fury on the Day of The Dead…

It was Malcolm Hardee Award winning comedian Becky Fury’s birthday yesterday. I had a celebratory drink with her.

I had tea. She had coffee.

Next month, she is going to lead a Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour around London’s East End.

Rival Jack The Ripper tours roam the streets of London’s East End several times a week…


JOHN: So… It’s in bad taste, some might say.

BECKY: Of course it is in very bad taste.

JOHN: So why do it?

BECKY: It’s Hallowe’en.

JOHN: No it’s not. You’re doing it on the 2nd of November.

BECKY: Well, it’s the Day of the Dead.

JOHN: Is it?

BECKY: Yes. November 2nd – That’s the Day of The Dead.

JOHN: Anyway, why do it?

BECKY: Because serial killers are very popular. People like serial killers.

JOHN: Their victims don’t.

Becky Fury: “Serial killers are very popular”

BECKY: You never hear them complain. But, more generally, serial killers are very popular with the public and I did one on Hallowe’en the year before last. which was very popular. It sold out completely. I think I need more coffee.

JOHN: How many people do you have on a street tour like this?

BECKY: Thirty people; that’s the maximum. More than that and it’s too difficult to shout at them.

JOHN: You have done previous Jack The Ripper tours.

BECKY: Yes, I did a straight one. Then I did a feminist one. And now I’m doing a comedy one.

JOHN: So how are you going to get laughs out of it? There’s a lot of disembowelling involved in Jack The Ripper.

BECKY: Well, there is, but I will just wander round pointing out stupid fake stuff and throw in some real facts and do a quiz about serial killers. 

JOHN: So some real facts intermingled with some made-up facts.

BECKY: Yes. Just like in most good stand-up comedy. People tend not to know where reality ends and bullshit begins. As long as it’s entertaining: I think that’s the most important thing. If we walk down Brick Lane, we can find out where Jack The Ripper’s favourite curry house was.

JOHN: Gullible American tourists may take it all at face value.

Becky outside the Jack The Clipper barber shop

BECKY: That’s fine. I am going to take people to random places like the Jack The Clipper hair barbering salon. And there’s one alleyway that’s covered in street art. It’s an actual original Victorian alleyway – one of the only ones that’s left – though, unfortunately, no-one got murdered there.

JOHN: That’s a pity.

BECKY: Yes, but it’s atmospheric. We might add art to it. There’s some interesting serial-killer-esque graffiti there already.

JOHN: Is there a prize for the serial killer quiz?

BECKY: No.

JOHN: You could give the winner a liver wrapped up in paper. 

BECKY: No. Though the prize could be not having your liver and internal organs cut out and strewn all over the audience.

JOHN: How much does it cost to buy a real liver from a butcher’s?

BECKY: Alright, the prize could be one of Mary Jane Kelly’s severed ear lobes.

JOHN: Or maybe the family kept John Paul Getty III’s ear… They might donate it. No serial killer connection, though.

BECKY: No, John.

JOHN: Ears of corn, perhaps. Cereal killers.

BECKY: No, John.

JOHN: Have some more coffee. What sort of questions will be in the quiz?

BECKY: Gilles de Rais fought alongside Joan of  Arc in the Hundred Years War, but who did he have his servants lure into his castle, where he would torture, sexually assault and kill them?… I think the team deliberation on that will be interesting. There’s a music round as well.

JOHN: Is this Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour going to be a regular thing?

BECKY: Hopefully. We’ll see how this one goes. Hallowe’en is a good time to get people to come along.

JOHN: The Day of the Dead.

BECKY: The Day of the Dead.

JOHN: Are you going to dress up?

BECKY: I think I might dress up as Fenella Fielding.

Becky Fury drank a lot of coffee yesterday

JOHN: Where can your comedy go after this triumph? You will have peaked with your Jack The Ripper Comedy Tour. What plans?

BECKY: Tons of stuff, but I don’t want to talk about them yet.

JOHN: No?

BECKY: No.

JOHN: Oh.

BECKY: Did you put something in my coffee?

JOHN: Too soon?

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Crime

Lynn Ruth Miller on the warmth of burlesque and off-putting US comics

Lynn Ruth Miller doing burlesque in San Francisco

After a brief pause for the last two days of my blogs on the late actress Jacqueline Pearce, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer 84-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller continues tales of her experience returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco…


This afternoon I met with Beth Lemke, an enterprising woman who started a wine bar in Pacifica where the majority of the establishments are blue-collar, junk food and cheap.  

The odds were against her in every way and yet, seven years into it, she has a profitable business that supports her in the Bay Area where the cost of living is over the moon and out.  

I always love being with her because she confirms my idea that you make the life you get. 

No-one needs to be a victim. 

No-one needs to shut up and take it. 

And Beth does not in any way. 

Her new thing is travel and she is planning several trips in 2019. Hopefully a return to London is one of them.    

Tonight I returned to Jim Sweeney’s Hubba, Hubba. Jim is the one who really established me in the burlesque scene here in San Francisco. Dottie Lux picked me up later and has been a wonderful loyal supporter but it was Jim who booked me over and over again. 

Tonight I did our old classic – Johnny Mercer’s Strip Polka – with the two songs I composed to go after it and then I tried Zip out on a San Francisco audience.

I was a bit uncertain about Zip because it gets standing ovations in London – but it has several British references.

I need not have worried. It was a triumph!!! 

Several of the girls remembered me and the audience went mad for me, which is a very feel-good situation.  

I stumbled around on the stage singing my classic Strip Polka number although I certainly did not polka. I did not want to risk ending up in an emergency ward. And I followed this with Zip.  

Most of the audience was standing by now. You would have thought that watching an old lady play with her zipper would have put them all to sleep. It did not. I will never understand why the burlesque community does not care that I cannot dance, cannot sing and I have a body that should have been trashed years ago. 

Nothing in this vast world of ours is predictable, is it?

Burlesque communities worldwide are not only more accepting of every age and body type but are actively welcoming. I have found this so in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bridgwater, Bristol and here in the San Francisco area. I think women who do burlesque are far less judgmental and far more anxious to give everyone the latitude to prosper being themselves.  

Even more interesting, the women in comedy over here are very off-putting and determined to assert their own excellence and demean anyone else’s. 

In London, women support and love one another and it is a pleasure to share a stage with them. Here in the US, it seems that we are in a competition which is a definite lose/lose situation.

Everyone’s comedy is unique to them and is as it should be.  

A performance is not a contest.  

… CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Burlesque, Comedy

Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Music

With other comedy clubs closing, a new one opens in maybe an ideal location…

Borehamwood view by Google with 96 pretty-much centred

I live in Borehamwood which is on the north west edge of London, just inside the M25, London’s outer orbital road. This is relevant.

I moved here because of the easy access. It is close to and betwixt three motorways – the M1, the A1(M) and the M25.

It is also on the Thameslink railway line (appallingly managed by the incompetent Govia franchise but extremely convenient). Trains run direct from Luton and Bedford (north of London) to Brighton (on England’s South Coast), connecting Luton Airport with Gatwick Airport and running through the middle of London, across Blackfriars Bridge, interchanging, I think, with every Underground line in London. And the trains run throughout the night.

Borehamwood (just to confuse visiting Americans) is home to Elstree Film Studios (which also hosts TV shows like Big Brother) and to the BBC’s Elstree Studios (home of the TV soap EastEnders).

What is strange is that it has had no permanent comedy club.

Until now.

Philip Simon outside Borehamwood’s 96 venue

This Saturday, comic Philip Simon is opening the Borehamwood Comedy Club in the local Council-owned 96 venue, right slap-bang in the middle of the high street.

The Jongleurs comedy chain has staged a few sporadic ‘On The Road’ gigs at the venue. But, last month, Jongleurs went bust.

“I have always thought that Borehamwood is the perfect place for comedy,” Philip told me. “It was just a case of finding the right venue. When Jongleurs ended, the Council was approached by every comedy booker you can imagine, including some that have no links whatever in London or even in the South. But I think the Council were more interested in working with a local one-man-band than a big company, so here I am.”

“It’s a great location for a comedy club,“ I said.

“Transport is really important,” agreed Philip. “Elstree & Borehamwood station is the last stop on the Oyster (cheap travel) card and it’s very easy to get to. I did a gig last night in Brixton (in South London) and I got back to Borehamwood in 45 minutes – and that was three trains. Acts can double-up very easily.

“I genuinely think you can get top-level acts who would have opened at maybe the Comedy Store in Central London and be looking for a second show to close and think: Oh! I can get to Borehamwood in half an hour! Because of the transport links, there’s no reason we couldn’t get Brighton acts. It’s a direct train. The venue is a 5-minute – if that! – walk from the station…”

“And the trains run all night,” I said.

Philip has written for TV’s Mock the Week and Taskmaster

Philip was involved in setting up the Comedians’ Network within the actors’ union Equity.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints,” he told me, “about the way acts have been treated by promoters on the comedy circuit in general – not specifically related to Jongleurs. About how replaceable we comedians are and how irrelevant we are to the bigger picture. So when I found Jongleurs had booked acts here already, the first thing I said was: Those are the acts I want to replace themselves, if they’re still available.

There was already a date booked in here by Jongleurs – this Saturday 25th November – so I took that and went back to the acts who were previously booked by Jongleurs and had been let down. I wanted to honour the bookings so the people who had potentially lost money were given first refusal on the new gig. There had been three acts booked. Two of them signed back up and one was busy elsewhere.”

“And the two are?” I asked.

“Lateef Lovejoy and Trevor Crook. I added in Geoff Boyz to close and I am going to compere it. In future, it will be that same format – One act / a break / another act / a break / headline act. And I will compere it.”

“How much per act?” I asked.

He told me.

“That sounds quite high,” I said. “How much are the tickets?”

“£12. The venue decided that. I have no control over it. The thing I am guaranteeing is that I will pay all of the acts on the day.”

“Unlike Jongleurs,” I laughed.

Are royal portraits all that comedy promoters care about?

“Well,” said Philip, “speaking as an act… the thing that really frustrates me is that I have done gigs where I have seen promoters walk off with a wad of cash and then refuse to pay you for 30 days after the event. I don’t have an agent and I don’t want to spend all my time chasing payment when the money is in the hands of the promoter. Whatever happens, the acts here will get their money on the day of the gig provided the gig goes ahead and they turn up. If, for some totally unforeseen reason, the venue cancels the gig, then the act will be paid a cancellation fee.”

“You don’t have a gig here in December,” I said, “because, obviously, 25th December is not an ideal date. But will you try to go weekly next year?”

“No. I don’t think there’s enough interest for a weekly comedy club of this level. When we re-launch in 2018, I am hoping we will take it monthly. What I might do is a monthly comedy show of this level and, in between, maybe another monthly new act/new material night. £12 a ticket is a lot of money to spend weekly and I’m not convinced that, by spreading myself so thin, I can give enough attention to the gig. Especially if I resident compere it.”

“You said of this level,” I pointed out.

“Yes. I would like it to be a high-end type of show. with faces that people will recognise and will represent the demographic of this area.”

“You could,” I suggested, “do a monthly Jewish gig here?”

“Well,” said Philip, “I did a show at Camden Fringe last year with Aaron Levene called Jew-O-Rama and maybe in this venue here we could do a once-a-quarter Jew-O-Rama. We were intrigued that it did not appeal as much to the Jewish audience as it did to the non-Jewish audience. The nights we sold out, there was a predominantly non-Jewish audience.

Philip aims to heighten the glamorous world of Borehamwood

“As well as the main monthly show, there are two things I want to do – one is the Jewish gig; one is a local gig. To find a way of supporting local acts. If the venue is investing in me as a local act, then there is a benefit in extending that.

“I could do the main show monthly, here. And then, in between those main shows, on alternate months, I could do the Jewish gig and the local gig. There are loads of comedians in the Borehamwood/St Albans/Radlett/Barnet/Shenley/Watford area – comedians of all levels. Newcomers and pro-level comedians.

“What I probably cannot do in the main show is to give stage time as many local acts as I’d like. Because they are all at different levels. The level of the main show at this venue has to be at a high level. But, if I can find a way of supporting local comedians with maybe a lower-level gig that is going to involve less cost and less administration… And there are other projects I would like to do such as maybe a quarterly charity gig and a Christmas show.”

“To be totally PC,” I suggested, “you would need a white male… a female… gay… black… and Jewish… You would need to have five acts per show.”

“I want funny,” said Philip. “The diversity will come with finding the right funny people.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Robber & unlicensed boxer Roy Shaw’s trouble spending some stolen money

Micky remembers Krayzy Days (Photograph by Michael Fawcett)

This is often described as a blog about comedy, but it is really about sub-cultures.

So I was having afternoon tea in London with Micky Fawcett, a former associate of the Kray Twins. He wrote what is arguably the definitive book on that era: Krayzy Days.

“Did you ever meet Roy Shaw?” he asked me.

Wikipedia currently says Roy Shaw “was an English millionaire, real estate investor, author and businessman from the East End of London who was formerly a criminal and Category A prisoner.”

By 1974, he had already spent around 18 years in more than 22 different prisons.

But he is most remembered now for his career as an unlicensed boxer.

The selling blurb on Roy’s 1999 autobiography Pretty Boy (written with Kate Kray) says:

“I don’t huff or puff or growl at anyone. But I live by a merciless code. For me violence is simply a profession… I wouldn’t hurt women, children or the ordinary man in the street. But if you are a man and you take a liberty with me or cross me, then believe what I say, when it comes to retribution, I have no pity or conscience.”

Roy Shaw (right) with gangland figure Dave Courtney

“I think I only met him a couple of times,” I told Micky. “I think I drove him home once after a film shoot. I think he was a bit punch drunk by the time I met him.”

“He got sectioned,” Micky said. “You know what for?”

“What?” I asked.

“Punching people,” said Micky.

“Habit,” I suggested.

“He kept punching everybody,” said Micky. “I knew him when I weighed 5 stone 2 pounds.”

Five stone?” I asked.

“We were boxing as children,” said Micky. “I seen him when he was a kid, running about. He was a real character. When he was in Borstal, he escaped by tying a psychiatrist up. I was Essex Schoolboy Champion or something. I think Shawy might have gone further. He was lighter than me. He must have got bigger all of a sudden. Maybe with the help of a few steroids.”

“He wasn’t very tall,” I said.

“No,” agreed Micky.

“And he had some rather dodgy eyes,” I suggested.

“That’s right, yeah,” said Micky. “Have I told you about the night I had out with Shawy?”

“Did it involve elephants?” I asked.

“Elephants?” Micky asked. “What’s that? Slang? Elephant’s trunk; drunk?”

“I just like stories with elephants in.”

“I can’t help you there,” said Micky.

“Ah well,” I said.

Roy Shaw’s autobiography, published in 1999

“Anyway,” said Micky, “I had a memorable night out with him. He told me: Listen, I done a robbery recently. I’ve got the money but they’ve got the numbers.”

“Numbers?” I asked.

“He had robbed the Daily Mirror, I think it was – and he had the money, but they had the numbers on the notes.”

“The serial numbers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So he said: I just wanna spend it. Get rid of it. Fancy a night out in the West End?

“So off we went to the Bagatelle nightclub (in Cork Street, Mayfair) and there was all the girls and the booze and the champagne and whatever you wanted and Shawy was paying for everything. It was a decent nightclub. Hostesses and all that. Jack Fox owned the Bagatelle,

“I went to have a slash in the toilet, came out and Jack Fox said: Excuse me. See your mate in there? He came down here the other night and he was chewing glasses.

Roy challenged World Champion Muhammad Ali to a fight (Photo in Roy’s Pretty Boy book)

“He could chew glasses. Have you ever heard of that?”

“There used to be a man,” I said, “called Monsieur Mangetout.”

“Anyway, I told Jack Fox,” Micky continued, “Don’t worry. He’ll be alright. He’s a mate. Don’t worry about him. He’ll be as good as gold.

“We were having everything we wanted but Shawy couldn’t get rid of the money because, at the end, Jack Fox gave him a very small bill: £5 or something.

“So we went on to another drinking club, Shawy’s went behind the bar, got the geezer out and said: I’m gonna have a lay down. And he lay down behind the bar and that’s as much as I can remember.

Willy Malone’s funeral, May 2017, reported in the East London Advertiser

“On another occasion, he was on his way home one night and there was a little drinking club in Aldgate owned by the Malones: Charlie & Willy. They were the people you ‘spoke to’ in Aldgate. Gambling, SP Office: take bets over the phone. They had this little drinking club. Aldgate was a rough area back in them days: in the 1950s. Around 1958; maybe even before.

“Anyway, Shawy wandered in there on his way home. And Willy Malone said: I don’t want you in here, ‘performing’. And Shawy said: What you talking about? Look, I’ve come to have a drink. I’m not looking for trouble. You seem to think I am, but I’m not. And Shawy pulled out a huge knife and said: Look!  and threw it on the floor. There you are, he said, now I’m harmless. I’m not looking for trouble.

“And, at that point, Willy Malone has gone and hit him on the chin – Shawy’s pissed – and knocked him out.

“When Shawy was out, they told Willy Malone: You know who that geezer is? Oh! He’s a fucking monster! He’ll kill you! He didn’t know the strength of him.

“When Shawy came round, they had gone.

“Willy Malone came and saw The Twins. They didn’t really like Shawy, because they were jealous of anyone with a bit of a reputation. So they didn’t do much to help or anything like that.

“But then Willy Malone was walking along in Whitechapel late one night and Shawy saw him and went up to him and said: I think me and you had better take a walk and have a talk, hadn’t we? And then he chinned Willy Malone.”

“It all ended happily then,” I said.

“Unless,” said Micky, “you was Willy Malone.”

“Mmmm,” I said.

“Shawy was in a massive armoured car robbery,” said Micky. “£87,000. This was back in 1963 in Kent. Most of the people who were on it got nicked, maybe all of them. I didn’t know ‘em all. Shawy got nicked because he was driving about in a white Mercedes-Benz sports car which he’d bought straight away – the next day or a couple of days later. He was on the dole at the time.”

Roy was sentenced to 18 years.

“He ended up in Broadmoor, he was given ECT treatment…”

He ended up in Broadmoor, where he was given experimental ECT treatment to make him less violent. The result, according to the doctor at Broadmoor, was to make him “even more aggressive and unpredictable”.

“He was married,” Micky told me. “He was in Malta with his wife at some point or other but that was way, way, way back. I dunno what happened.”

“When I met him,” I said, “I think he was on dating sites.”

“You know what happened to him, don’t you?” Micky asked me.

“What?”

“He did quite well. He was in the unlicensed boxing business and then they had him as a doorman and he was popular around that time. He was a big name.

“But he went on dating sites and he met a bird who robbed him of every penny. He had a house and a Rottweiler dog and everything he wanted but she sorted him. Took all his money.”

According to the Daily Telegraph’s 2012 obituary of him, “in 2009 he won a court battle with Linda Finnimore, a 43-year-old blonde who had acted as a manager when he was a boxer. Ms Finnimore claimed that she was Shaw’s ‘common law wife’ and that he had given her more than £600,000 in a share of profits from a £2.6 million land sale. But the judge accepted Shaw’s claim that he was a ‘Mr Trusty’ who had been taken for ‘a right mug’ by a ‘natural fraudster’ 30 years his junior.”

So it goes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crime