Tag Archives: MAD

British gangsters were “really lovely” – ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser on the golden age

Mad Frank at the historic Clink jail in 2002

‘Mad’ Frank at the historic Clink jail in 2001

Another day, another bit of jury service today, about which I am not allowed to write.

Different people. Different lives.

This week in the year 2000, I went on the Gangland Tour of the East End which former gangster ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser was then running in London. It was the second time I had been on the tour.

The previous time I went on it – about three years before – it had been in a luxury coach. This time it was a 13-seat mini-bus.

‘Mad’ Frank was wearing a soft light blue and white woollen pullover as he told his tales of a golden bygone era of crime when everyone was “really lovely” except dead victims like Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie who had, at one time, been “lovely” but who, shortly before his death, became “a really horrible person” and “well out of order”.

In 2000, Frank was 77 years old and had spent 42 of them in prison. Of the Kray Brothers, he said (I taped bits):

“Out of the three, I liked Ronnie the best. He was….don’t get me wrong, both Reggie and Charlie were smashing fellers….but Ronnie was right down the line. If he didn’t like ya, there’d be no nonsense. He’d tell ya. And, if it was OK, then he’d tell ya. No in-betweens. Very honest guy. Very likable.”

‘Mad’ Frank has a little chat

‘Mad’ Frank has a bit of a chat with an acquaintance in 2002

Frank claimed, rather dubiously, that George Cornell had not called Ronnie Kray “a big poof” (the supposed reason for his shooting by Ronnie in the Blind Beggar pub).

“That wasn’t true,” said Frank. “That wasn’t true. Because no-one knew for sure then. Nowadays, you can’t get to be an MP unless you’re a gay. Then it was unheard of but today it’s trendy, innit? You go for a job now, you gotta take a little handbag. Honest to God, I never had a clue. I’d heard a whisper that he was. Didn’t believe it! I thought it was some spiteful sods trying to…belittle him.”

Of George Cornell, Frank said: “George was a lovely man and, personally, I don’t think Reg would’ve agreed with it and Ronnie was (pause) …well, a bit off his head…”

Then Frank suddenly changed the subject:

“But getting back to….Maltese Frank and Bernie Silver approached us (the Richardson gang) and said they had films and they’d shown blue films in flats at the back of the Tottenham Court Road. They had the police straight: the coppers were in for their share…..”

On both occasions I took Frank’s Gangland Bus Tour, he was the epitome of the well-scripted presenter, constantly tailoring his ‘pitch’ to his audience:

“People like yourself – women and children especially – nice people like yourself – untouchable. Any rows we had was only with people like ourselves and, if we hurt one another – well – so what? It’s part of life.”

As we were driving along Bethnal Green Road, past market stalls, he told us:

“The older market traders, they can’t speak highly enough of the Kray Twins. If anybody was to take a liberty with them, then Reggie and Ronnie was there for them.” (In fact, the Krays made local traders pay them protection money.)

At the time of the bus tour, Reggie Kray was starting his 33rd year of imprisonment.

“He’s done well to stay sane,” someone commented.

“Yes, he has,” agreed Frank.

Reggie Kray was also, yet again, trying to get parole, which seemed unlikely to succeed.

“What’s done him harm, I think,” said Frank. “is Freddie Foreman the other week on television where he said he (Freddie) had shot Frank Mitchell. It’s his business he done that: it’s up to him. But the bit that done Reggie a lot of harm: Freddie said he’d done it on the Krays’ orders. Remember they was charged, – the Krays – but they were found not guilty of it.

“But now that’s opened a can of worms. Parole-wise, that’s done Reggie a lot of harm – it’s done him a helluva lot of damage. From a man who was their friend an’ all. Freddie should’ve known better. And he’s now been nicked – Freddie Foreman – and he’s on police bail on allegations of perjury because at his trial he denied killing Frank Mitchell but now he admits he did. Once you’re found not guilty of murder – which he was – no matter if you run round the streets afterwards saying, I done it! I done it! – they can’t nick you for it. But they can nick you for perjury if you denied it in the witness box.”

Mad Frank interviewed at Repton Boys Club

‘Mad’ Frank interviewed in boxing ring at Repton Boys’ Club

Since the previous bus tour I took, Frank had been given his own key to Repton Boys’ Club in Bethnal Green, the boxing club which the Kray Twins used to frequent. The photographs of the Kray Twins and of Frank had had to be removed from the walls, he told us, because “they kept getting stolen”.

Afterwards, when we were alone, I said to him: “It must be good to be a legend.”

“Sometimes,” he told me quietly and rather sadly, a wan look in his eye.

“Makes your life worthwhile,” I added.

He said nothing. His body language was slightly tired. He was a 77 year-old man standing slightly stooped, giving tours and talks when maybe a man of his age should have been having an afternoon tea and nap at home.

Frank’s monologue that day in 2000 mentioned drugs more than it had three years before. His angle was that everyone takes them, including judges, MPs, showbiz people and the police. So, he reasoned, it was like Prohibition in the US in the 1920s. Eventually, they had had to re-legalise drink in the US. And they will have to legalise drugs in the UK.

The driver of our minibus on the tour that morning in 2000 was the nephew of a famous East London gangster. I was not convinced that he had ever driven a minibus before, because he hit a car outside the house where Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie was killed and he went over three kerbs while going round corners.

If Frank told him to turn right, he almost inevitably turned the bus left.

The previous day, Frank had been up at Elstree Studios, recording an interview for a BBC TV programme on the 1970s, to be screened a couple of weeks later. He was soon to give a talk for Spennymoor Boxing Academy at Whitworth Country Park in Northumbria.

It must have been a strange life for a 77 year old man who had been in prison for a total of 42 years.

It must still be. Frank is still alive; he will be 90 this year.

When we met on another occasion, over a cup of tea in 2002, Frank told me that he wasn’t “really frightened of anything but I’m a bit worried what they’ll say about me after I die.”

So it goes.

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Mad inventor John Ward approached by African charity with a claw hammer

In yesterday’s blog, comedy critic Kate Copstick touched on corruption in Africa when she talked about potential problems her Mama Biashara charity faced in Kenya.

John Ward’s snow machine

Mad inventor John Ward tells me he had a strange meeting several years ago in Northamptonshire. He is, perhaps more accurately described as an eccentric creator of bizarre contraptions. The strange things he can do with his hands do not bear too much thinking about.

Because he occasionally appears in newspaper articles and TV items, he sometimes gets cold calls from people who have tracked him down.

“I had a phone call a while ago from a bod from some wonderful sounding mob,” he told me yesterday. “The bod said they did fund raising for Africa. After a  long phone call, I arranged to meet him for lunch in Northampton.

“I was curious, so I dialled 1471 to check his telephone number. But it was a ‘number withheld’ jobby… This could be a wind-up, I thought, but I needed to go shopping in Northampton anyway.

“So I met him as arranged outside the main shopping centre in town, close to the market, and we wandered off to a nearby eaterie. He was the usual charity-type bod wearing the standard issue slack, ill-fitting – or somebody else’s – suit with a shirt collar size about eight times what he really took and he had a very ‘wet fish’ handshake that reminded me how strong our pet rabbit was.

“The idea, it turned out, was to get me to go to a part of Africa where the locals were building things like sheds and wells… but they lacked the skills to build them in such a way that they would be still standing/workable weeks or hopefully, years on.

Why me? I enquired.

John Ward drives home in his self-constructed Wardmobile

“He then produced from his briefcase a claw hammer and put it on the table, much to the surprise of some punters sitting at other tables near us.

“I made a mental note not to order bread rolls in this eaterie if this was what you needed to cope with them.

“I told him I had got a similar one and I was in no hurry to buy another just yet, thank you very much.

“He said: You are looking at a £1,275 hammer.

Is it made of solid gold? I asked.

No, he said, It is just a normal standard Stanley hammer.

“He told me that money was raised by his group in the UK and was sent out to the Colonies and assorted equipment was bought with the money. But, on close inspection of the paperwork, it had turned out the cost of buying one hammer had been £1,275.

“Corrupt elements were syphoning off the loot and BMW and Mercedes were maybe on overtime to meet the demand from officials for their products over there.

“He told me the British fund raisers did not want to ‘make a fuss’ about it.

So why do you want to talk to me? I asked.

“He explained that one way around the local mafia getting their hands on the folding stuff was to send people out with an eye for building and with money that they had themselves.

“He said he had seen some of my ‘stuff’ and felt that, even though I was not a trades person as such – as in bricklayer, carpenter etc – he realised I could think on my feet and felt that was what was really wanted… I would get results.

“I had a reasonable meal with him which did not involve bread rolls and use of the claw hammer but I pointed out I was not all that interested as they wanted me to be away for about six months. The financial side was not that bad, I have to say, but six months of my life? – As I was not that passionate about the ’cause’, it was a No-No in my book.

“After about an hour or so, we shook hands and parted.

“On the way home, I realised that the business card he was going to give me had not materialised, so I did not know exactly who or what he represented other than the stuff he told me vaguely about the ‘fund raisers’ in general.

“I suspect that it was somehow connected with HMG.

“It is all,” said John Ward, “part of life’s rich pastry.”

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The dangers when a TV programme researcher approaches a mad inventor

John Ward – a man out standing in his field

I first met mad inventor John Ward when I was a television researcher on Chris Tarrant’s sadly forgotten series Prove It!

Time-Life called him “possibly the best English eccentric inventor living today.” He designed and makes the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and is currently creating a trebuchet – a giant catapult based on medieval siege engines – for next year’s World Egg Throwing Championships

John Ward thinks the standard of TV researcher may have fallen over the years. Yesterday he told me this story…

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The trebuchet – John Ward is building one for egg throwing

It was a nice day to start off with, being Tuesday, and so I loaded up and headed down the road to see Roger in Cleethorpes to try out the Egg Throwing Trebuchet Mark II as Roger’s field is quite large and should anything get out of hand, it won’t effect anybody (hopefully..)

So there I was setting it up and loading said device… and the mobile throbs away… and the day takes on a new meaning…

“Are you John Ward? – the John Ward?”

“Yes,” I said, “or, at least, one of them.”

“I am Tamara Hyphen Whatever and I am a television researcher…”

And then a deathly hush was heard and, not knowing if I should bow and kiss the earth beneath me, I replied: “Oh yes…?”

Miss Hyphen continued: “Yes, I am working on a new television programme and came across your web site and I have to say its very impressive. I could not believe the sheer amount of things on there that you have done. What a trove of fun it is!”

“Thank you for that,” I said, “and…?”

Then Miss Hyphen explained the format and I replied that it sounded – once again – like Scrapheap Challenge with the contrived supposed items made in a scrap yard but all the ‘bits’ are spread over a yard area in order for them to be picked up and slung together at the end of the show and it’s not the people on camera that are the builders but the list of Production Assistants at the end of the show credits that give the game away although I had sussed it about twenty minutes in when I saw the first ever episode because can you think of where you would find a scrap yard that has a turn the key and its works Land Rover on hand…

To which Miss Hyphen replied: “Yeessss, I see…”

She then wondered if it would be worth her while to come down to see me at some stage and I pointed out that the local cinema still – I believe – had a stage but any cafe would perhaps be better, moreso if they were showing a film projected onto the said portion of the stage quoted..

By now, I was thinking there was an intellectual barrier between us but I could be wrong of course – Time will tell, I thought..

After various useless questions and answers that I got the impression she at the other end was scribbling notes down to, the Gifted One then asked the usual clunker thus:

“By any chance, have you appeared on television at all?…” and I parried this by asking:

“You’ve not been working at the BBC for long?”

She then asked how I could possibly know? and I said I was shit hot at reading tea leaves as well.

I then put it to her, as best I could, having brought up children of my own you understand, that if she had indeed ‘seen’ my web site, she would know the answer to that question without being so brain dead as to enquire.

After all this and going to Roger’s field and getting back home, another bit arrived via e-mail.

“I have just seen you online with a bird table. Could we come and see you and film you for an interview?”

…to which I replied I was not that bothered but whom shall I say is coming along? And the nice man said he was a ‘field researcher’ for CBS Factual in the US of A.

How odd.

On the one hand, somebody was ‘wondering’ about coming to see me from about a hundred miles away and, on the other hand, a crew of four were going to get onto a plane and come from the Colonies to film an interview some three thousand miles away.

Thus we are to arrange a date in the next week or so.

So today – so far – I have found out our Trebuchet can hurl half a house brick a distance of 230 yards and I have found out people with strange three barreled names seem to be lacking in the thinking department.

Ah! The simple joys of the (allegedly) eccentric inventor.

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Here is John Ward demonstrating a new type of television to presenter Chris Tarrant on the sadly forgotten ITV series Prove It!

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Inventions, Television

Mad comics, facts and fantasy exposed at yesterday’s Edinburgh Fringe shows

Somewhere under the rainbow, mad comedians in Edinburgh

Yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was told the true story of a comedian who, a few years ago, staged his Fringe show at a free venue, thus saving himself a lot of money. He reasoned that he could spend the money he saved on hiring a PR person and on posters, flyers, advertisements: the full works. He worked his proverbial ass off and got no reviews, no media coverage, no audience. Well, on a good day, he got a handful or less of people in his audience; some days literally no-one. He lost £10,000. This is the reality of the Fringe for a lot of performers.

It could be argued you have to be barking mad to be a comedian, which is what I suggested to someone at yesterday’s Gilded Balloon launch party, but more of that later.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw award-winning Eric’s Tales of the Sea again: a beautifully-crafted show by the utterly sane (he may take that as an insult) Eric about his life on Royal Navy submarines, with a completely unexpected and devastatingly emotional ending. It has successfully played around the world. Eric was persuaded to become a stand-up comedian after being a regular audience member at  the late Malcolm Hardee‘s Up The Creek club.

Johnny Sorrow (right) and Sir Richard Swan yesterday

The occasionally Gollum-like (his own description) Johnny Sorrow, won last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe. Last year he was performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society – as he is this year. He was the funniest act I saw at the 2011 Fringe and you can take ‘funny’ in both its meanings.

He may be the same this year. What a full-throttle performance yesterday!

Originality is certainly the word – plus sometimes strangely experimental touches.

A Japanese couple walked in halfway through the hour-long show and watched in dazed incomprehension the unexplained parade of animal heads, weird noises, abstract speeches and dated cultural references which probably go way over the heads of even most Brits under the age of about thirty. What the Japanese made of it all I cannot even begin to imagine. Perhaps they thought it was experimental theatre, high performance art or just an example of impenetrable British humour.

And maybe they would have been partially right on all three counts.

Peyvand the Iranian & Daphna the Israeli – Fringe Frenemies

For more understandable comedy, they might have had more luck with Daphna Baram’s show Frenemies where she teams up with comedienne Shappi Khorsandi’s brother Peyvand for an Israeli-Iranian comedy hour. Daphna told me (and the audience) that she regards this as her ‘coming out’ show.

Until now, she has been known on the London comedy circuit as ‘Miss D’ to separate her night-time comedic persona from her day job as a serious political commentator and journalist. Now she is going to be ‘Daphna Baram’ in both worlds.

I have always thought she should not separate the two, as this strange diversity is her Unique Selling Proposition. And she can give an outsider’s inside view with both hats on.

Denis Krasnov: the very epitome of intellectual filth

Which I guess, to an extent, is what Denis Krasnov gives in his late-night Hour of Intellectual Filth. An outsider’s view. I saw him perform a few years ago at London’s eccentric Pear Shaped comedy club. Two people in the audience walked out back then and they were so highly-offended that they wrote to the club complaining about the specific offensive sequence in Denis’ act.

Pear Shaped’s Mr Fixit Anthony Miller checked an audio recording of the show and found that the highly offensive sequence they complained about did not actually exist. It simply had not happened. And I had been in the audience. They thought he had said something – a whole load of specific somethings – but he had not. Which was a bizarre tribute to his performance skills.

Back then, he was surprised that people found him offensive. This year, now New York based, he is intentionally trying to be offensive at the Fringe. At one point in last night’s show, he said, “I’m a comedian. My job is to expose lies,” but really his show is, as always, about playing with concepts of the mind. The show is neither off-puttingly intellectual nor is it actually definitively filthy. But it is mesmerisingly fascinating as he turns real comments about real situations into a bizarre form of fantasy without really ever lapsing into surreality. Indescribably interesting and highly original.

I find comedians a fascinating breed.

Taylor Glenn, former psychotherapist, at the Gilded party

Which brings me back to that Gilded Balloon’s launch party earlier in the evening, where I met for the first time my Facebook Friend  Taylor Glenn, a former psychotherapist.

“So you were a psychotherapist with a steady income for eight years and then you decided to become a comedian with no sensible income,” I said. “For heaven’s sake why?”

“I was treating patients who were facing lots of life challenges,” she replied, smiling “so I thought why not create the biggest one in the world for myself.”

“But comedians are all mad,” I suggested.

“I actually don’t think we’re any worse off in the mental health department than the rest of the world,” she replied, “but we’re allowed to act a little crazy. We have our own therapy behind a microphone… We have the ultimate outlet to express our angst.”

“So everyone’s mad, but comedians can show they’re mad?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “I think if you’re too ‘normal’ you fall by the wayside as a comedian.”

“So how are you mad?” I asked.

“I’m just,” she said, “a classic North Eastern American neurotic, constantly self-evaluating, constantly worrying and actually thinking I’m a lot more important than I am.”

“The thing which gets me,” I said, “is that comedians – who you would think must be extroverts – are actually very often introverted and are terrified of exposing themselves. They perform but they’re frightened of revealing themselves.”

“There’s more of a mix of people,” Taylor said. “You come across a lot more introverted people when you’re working with actors and there are a lot of exhibitionist comics who, in their daily life, are constantly seeking attention and then cracking jokes. So I think we fall into two or three categories.”

Taylor’s Fringe show is called Reverse Psycomedy and, as a stunt (or maybe it wasn’t) she offered to give free psychotherapy to any comic who wanted/needed it at the Fringe.

“I think doing the Edinburgh Fringe,” Taylor told me yesterday, “has been a real experience for me: to allow myself to be vulnerable and really tell the truth on stage. And there’s no character to hide that. I’m an exaggerated version of myself up there, but I’m very much me.”

“Is that through doing a 60-minute show as opposed to shorter sets?” I asked.

“I think doing an hour,” she said, “you have to find some kind of narrative: it doesn’t mean you have to have a theme, but you’ve got to find a way to fill in the gaps. People can’t just laugh constantly for an hour. So you’re telling a story along with the laughter.”

“And that has to be somehow more truthful?” I asked.

“Well,” said Taylor, “I’ve found that for sure. Because I’m telling a story that has to do with my own life and, if I’m not being truthful, it’s not gonna work.”

Me? I think there’s still a lot of howling at the moon goes on when comedians come off stage and are alone with their thoughts.

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Performance, Psychology, Theatre

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

John McVicar with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norman Parker was sentenced to 23 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The unforgettable eccentric mad inventor John Ward… almost

I like to know interesting people.

Mad inventor John Ward, who designed the three annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for me (see him with the awards here and here)  read my blog yesterday – about how getting publicity does not necessarily lead on to getting extra work – and he has written to me explaining how he has recently got work from not getting publicity.

John has been occasionally described as an ‘eccentric’ and, indeed, has appeared in many magazines, TV shows and even academic medical books on the subject. Here is his story in his own inimitable words:

In the last few weeks, I have had a sudden surge of enquiries as to my availability for giving talks – one for a University! – and after the first couple, I decided to enquire as to why this sudden ‘surge’ – oooh, I do so like a good surge… and it boils down to this…

It would seem that a book has come out – from what I can gather, the third one or, rather, an updated re-cobbled effort of the first two – called Eccentric Britain – by one Benedict le Vay – yes, that’s his name by all accounts. It features ‘Britain’s eccentrics’ although I would stress I am not included though I have never lost any sleep over this mere trifle..

By a quirk of whatever, I came across Edition 2 at a car boot sale a few weeks ago for a modest 10 pence (yes, I know – robbed again..) and read it through and it’s basically a travel brochure in all but name as might be gathered when you see it is published by Brandt Travel Guides.

On asking one of those who was enquiring about my availability why they wanted me, I was told – I quote ‘ere – “If this bloke does not realise you are who you are, the book is incomplete as all I had to do was to put ‘eccentric inventor’ into Google and you are plainly there and if I can find you, why could not this tit? So I thought I would book you.”

Oddly I also heard from another bod who heard one of our local radio station’s presenters mention the book on air. He reviewed it as “lacklustre as it leaves out our own local/internationally known mad inventor John Ward”.

Based on all this excitement, I decided to write a letter to Benny boy at Brandt books, with a Thank You card enclosed, for all the efforts he had put into ignoring me – not that I wanted to be in it anyway – and to point out I was in numerous other, real books on the subject and all he had to do was look up my web site and the list is there complete with their respective ISBN numbers and to thank him for his recent effort where I was also not included and the effect of this was for people to look for me on the net as I was ‘left out’.

After five weeks, the lad has not been taken enough to reply.

So being left out of a supposed book on a subject does have its ‘rewards’.

John Ward is available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, universities and television shows if they pay enough.

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Ian Hinchliffe: “You’ll never work here again” – Never any point asking WHY!

It is not often that a celebration of someone’s life includes a tribute by a belly dancer, four people smashing wine glasses with small hammers and two people with blood capsules in their mouths eating beer glasses with the result that apparent glass and blood spews down onto the stage, but Ian Hinchliffe was the sort of performance artist/comic/artist/musician/absurdist in whose memory this seemed an almost understated tribute.

Ian drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December last year.

An obituary written by his friends said he “was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and a surreal/absurd humour into any creative arena, unrivalled by any other artist of his time.”

He was indisputably – and perhaps again this understates the reality – mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Roger Ely was a friend and occasional co-performer. He organised yesterday’s six-hour event Ian Hinchliffe: The Memorial at Beaconsfield arts studio in London. As part of his tribute, Roger said Ian was “one of the most loveable people and one of the most difficult people” he had ever met. “He could be an evil sod,” he added, but one who created occasional “pieces of genius”.

Writer and performer Jim Sweeney was too Ill to be there yesterday, but sent a tribute saying: “He was the best of drunks and he was the worst of drunks.”

Dave Stephens is now a sculptor but was originally a performance artist often credited as an early forerunner of alternative comedy. He said that, in the early days performing with Ian, the routine was to “go down the pub, get pissed and see what happens”.

There were colourful reminiscences aplenty, including a tale of furniture being thrown out of a pub window and, when people went in to discover why, they found Ian with porridge coming out of his trousers because he was simulating an abortion.

I only met Ian a handful of times but, when I got chatting to Lois Keidan who was Director of Live Arts at the ICA in the 1990s, she told me he had once set fire to his own foot there. Why he did that she had no idea. But Why was perhaps always an unnecessary and unanswerable question in Ian Hinchliffe’s life.

Lois also told me a story about police going into the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and saying to the staff: “There’s a man outside doing strange things in the roadworks.”

“Oh,” the police were told, “that’s just Ian Hinchliffe. It’s art.”

The police, to do them justice, apparently accepted this answer though exactly what “strange things” he was doing remain lost in the mists of anecdote.

At Beaconsfield yesterday, Simon Miles and Pete Mielniczek did a tribute performance in which a small plastic skull, perhaps not irrelevantly, quoted those famous lines from the Scottish play…

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The indomitable Tony Green told a true story about Ian Hinchliffe performing at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and, not for the first time, Ian was naked. He got hold of a chair and cut about three inches off one of its legs so it was unstable. He then got a broom handle and broke it in half. He managed to stuff about six inches of it up his arsehole, leaving half a broom handle protruding. He then balanced a full pint of beer on the chair, put both hands on the sides of the chair, leant forward so that his genitalia were in the pint of beer and lifted his feet off the ground so he was balancing.

“You’ll never work here again,” he was told afterwards.

I presume the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith was not the first venue to have told him that.

There is a YouTube video of Ian Hinchliffe performing in 1990 here.

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