Tag Archives: Malcolm Hardee Award

The man who made equipment for Brenda the dearly-departed dominatrix

John knew the drill for the Malcolm Hardee Award

Eccentric inventor John Ward designed and made the trophies for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He can turn his creative mind to anything constructive.

My chat with a London dominatrix in yesterday’s blog reminded him of one of his more eccentric commissions…

Here, he shares his memories of Brenda the Dominatrix…


Some years ago I made some stocks – the three-hole jobby type for head and hands – for a dear lady – Brenda – who specialised in the modes of “indoor sports and correction”.

It was arranged I should pop round for a cup of tea and discuss the stocks and “any other devices that may be of interest” in her line of work. 

The tea was quite normal – “I don’t do chocolate digestive biscuits as they give me wind, you know,” Brenda told me – with an assortment of other biscuits on offer, all on a silver tray – “The real stuff. None of yer plated rubbish here!” she said – as we sat there discussing assorted manacles, stocks and “what else you feel would be nice”.

Brenda was in her late forties at the time. Her hubbie Cliff worked as a manager of a furniture store, in the fitted carpets and rugs department.

Once tea and biccies were consumed, she gave me a ‘tour’ of the house and all manner of ‘normal’ household gadgets seemed to have another purpose for her.

The canvas-type icing bag and assorted nozzles as used by bakers, once filled with a mix of gritty birdseed and lemon curd, could be slowly injected in a part of the body normally associated with exit work – “You have to get the mix just right and you have to get the speed right,” she told me. “It comes from experience.”

One item that had me wondering was the small, industrial-type floor-standing food mixer – I had seen one in our local baker’s years before as a schoolboy.

It was used by Brenda to mix custard powder with builder’s-type sand – “If Cliff’s not about when it’s delivered, it does my back in getting the bags in as it comes in half hundredweight bags, so I have to split the bag and carry it through in bucketfuls one at a time.”

Once her client was strapped down, naked with a gag in his mouth on a plastic-covered couch, she applied the said mix with a sort of paint roller – once again, speed was of the essence – until he was totally covered from neck to toes. The whole process took about two hours or so from start to finish, then scraping it off on old bits of newspaper before taking a shower.

I asked: “How on earth would people first find out they get their kicks from this process?”

Brenda leaned over and whispered: “I have three who did.”

In her dungeon – the cellar – she had manacles bolted on the walls – “My Cliff put them up for me with Rawlbolts. He had never drilled a wall before” – and a full-size rack, something I had only ever seen before in films – “The best part of five grand that cost me, luv,” she said, “but it’s got the best non-rot rope fitted to it.”

I made her a set of stocks as requested, then sets of leg-irons, chains and handcuffs to make it all up into what she called “something meaningful” .

I also did repairs and improvements as some of her whips were “not lasting as they should”. This was basically down to the attachment of the whip to its handle or grip and was, according to Brenda, all down to “cheap imported crap” as she could not get decent English-made stuff.

I put her in touch with a saddler I knew who supplied her with handmade whips although I then realised I had shot myself in the foot as my whip repair work dried up.

Sadly it all came to an end when Brenda had a heart attack during a ‘training session’. She was fifty-seven. Cliff told me: “It’s the way she would have wanted to go.”

At the time of her death, Cliff was away on a company training thing.

The poor client was chained up for about a couple of days before his (weak) cries for help were heard.

It was the postman who heard him.

A friendly matey policeman told me this and the same Plod mentioned that the chains and ‘restraints’ were so well-made “that Houdini could not have got out of ’em, mate.”

I kept silent on the matter.

The client requested no publicity.

I got on well with Cliff as he was always keen to learn what power tools did and I loved his description of Brenda: “She’s a little, fun-loving tinker is my Brenda – nothing phases her you know.”

A while after, he sold their home and moved to Portugal to retire early. He said the house brought back too many memories to stay.

I still miss Brenda and Cliff. 

She once told me: “Do you know it cost a bloody fortune to soundproof that room…”

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Filed under Eccentrics, England, Sex

The man who predicted in 2015 that Boris Johnson would become UK PM

(L-R) John Ward, radio & TV presenter James Whale and political leader Screaming Lord Sutch

Britain relishes eccentrics.

Today, Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister of the UK.

And today I got a message from mad inventor John Ward, famed throughout the land – some land – as designer of the late-lamented Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. Among his many other claims to fame is that he used to be Minister for Inventions for both the Monster Raving Loony Party and  The Eccentric Party.

He wrote to me:


The phone rang yesterday.

A Press Association bod calling

Could they have a quote from or on behalf of The Eccentric Party regarding Boris Johnson being voted in as Tory Prime Minister?

I replied: “Never! – Really? – Who would have thought it…?”

“Can I quote you on that?” said the man from the Press Association. 

“You can if you like…,” I told him. 

He then asked who I was…

They can be so hurtful at times.

I pointed out that the leader of the Eccentric Party was now ‘brown bread’ as of a few months ago and possibly the party itself also.

The man from the Press Association said he was sorry to hear about it.

I said it was in those newspaper things at the time or just after his demise, I believe, as it wasn’t pre-booked as far as I am aware.

But, undeterred, the man from the Press Association asked: “So who would it be best to speak to then?”

I said he could go for gold and get in touch with Screaming Lord Sutch

“Have you a contact for him?” the man from the Press Association asked.

Was it the late Ken Goodwin who used the catchphrase “I’m too good for this place…”? 

I am beginning to get the same feeling.


For the uninitiated, Screaming Lord Such, creator and leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, died in June 1999. So it goes.

I would have thought the Press Association, the major news agency who distribute news to UK national, regional and local newspapers, might have noticed. Or might have read my recent blog HERE.

On the other hand, I was myself shocked to hear that Lord Toby Jug, leader of The Eccentric Party had died on 2nd May this year, at the age of 53. So it goes.

I first blogged about the Eccentric Party in January 2015 and profiled Lord Toby Jug in May 2015.

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

Lord Toby Jug – he changed his name legally from Brian Borthwick by deed poll – had been a guitarist in a band with Screaming Lord Sutch. Sutch had given him the nickname ‘Toby Jug’ because he was a little rotund in appearance. As leader of the Eccentric Party, he wore a top hat which had previously belonged to Sutch.

He was expelled from the Monster Raving Loony Party in 2014 by then party leader Howling Laud Hope (this is British politics for you) over comments Lord Toby had made about UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and for his criticism of pub chain J D Wetherspoon, a company which the Loony party had been attempting to attract as a sponsor.

In 2015, Lord Toby told me: “I left the Monster Raving Loony Party because they didn’t like my stance – as told to national newspapers – on Nigel Farage and UKIP. I said UKIP claimed to be fruitcakes, loonies and crackpots but that’s our area. They tried to nick our Holy Grail of loonies. Another reason I left was because I met Nigel Farage and some of his sick-you-fonts and I thought they were closet racists and decided that should be put in the public domain. UKIP are far too eccentric, far too potty. Extremists.”

On the rebound from the Monster Raving Loonies, Lord Toby formed The Eccentric Party, whose policies included:

  • putting super glue in lip balm to fight obesity
  • taller buildings for higher education.
  • a 15% phone bill discount for people who stutter

He stood in various General, county and local elections but surprisingly never won.

Boris Johnson (left) in Uxbridge with Lord Toby Jug in 2015

In 2015, he stood in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency against Boris Johnson and Howling Laud Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party. He polled 50 votes.

According to his obituary in The Times in May 2019: “He thought Johnson would make an ideal member of the Eccentric Party, even offering to stand aside as leader if his rival would defect. Later he had second thoughts. I went round with a jug of water and a comb to tidy his hair, Jug recalled. But he’s too much of an extremist for us — a tad too bonkers.

The original Eccentric Party candidate in that Uxbridge election had been Chris Dowling who fell ill and Lord Toby replaced him. Chris had been an optimist and told me, in 2015:

“Even though this is still the greatest democracy in the world, the political system in this country is outdated and it needs to be revamped. I’m gonna win by a landslide majority here.”

“Against Boris?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a bigger loony than I am… Sooner or later, Boris Johnson will be the Prime Minister of this country.”

“I think so too,” I agreed.

“Everything I’ve seen about Boris Johnson,” said Chris, “he’s just seemed a buffoon and I quite like that about him.”

Far from that being a drawback in British politics, it might seem to be a prerequisite.

Political seer Chris Dowling (bottom) and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls in 2015…

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Filed under Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Politics, UK

Candy Gigi – Ethel Merman meets Lionel Bart in a 5-Stars-of-David show

Candy Gigi in London last night with composer and musical accompanist Jordan Clarke

I almost never do reviews in this blog but – hey! – if it involves a bit of self-publicity too…

The late Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards had a halfway-decent hit rate, including spotting future US successes Trevor Noah, Bo Burnham and Reggie Watts.

In 2014, we gave the main award for Comic Originality to Candy Gigi.

Last night I saw a beyond-barnstorming London preview of her Edinburgh Fringe show this year: Friday Night Sinner.

It is an astounding abso-fucking-lutely gross-out musical about a frustrated young, wildly psychopathic Jewish girl’s life and marriage in Borehamwood.  

The poster bills it (and this rather understates the case) as:

and the blurb listing says: “This deluded, narcissistic, unsatisfied occasionally violent woman has delusions of grandeur and wants to become the biggest star in the universe – or at least in Borehamwood.”

Far too OTT to be staged by any mainstream West End Theatre, but with superbly tuneful songs by Jordan Clarke performed by Candy Gigi with belting all-stops-out passion, including Borehamwood!, Finishing What Hitler Started and the hopefully/possibly prophetic She Will Be a Star. 

This (certainly in the preview last night) is a 5-Stars-of David show.

There is a clever line in one of the songs about wanting to be “a Jewish Barbra Streisand“.

But it felt more to me like Ethel Merman Meets Lionel Bart in some unholy, foul-mouthed, foul-imaged, sweet-tuned union.

It will be a bloody miracle if Candy Gigi’s voice lasts out for the whole 3½ weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I always thought she had immense potential though what on earth she could do with it I was never quite sure. Now I know. Candy Gigi should be on the West End and Broadway stage in a musical (with words and images that don’t make your aged aunt or Miss Marmelstein blush).

One warning:

As with all Candy Gigi shows, do not sit in the front rows unless you enjoy imminent physical peril.

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Filed under Comedy, Jewish, Music

What happened when award-winning Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week

Becky possibly possessed by a dead actress.

When Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Becky Fury told me she was going to Berlin for a week and offered to share her insights with me, I leapt at the chance and said Yes.

Though it is always a risky strategy saying Yes to anyone who has won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

I have just received this missive from Becky which is more a thesis on support of the arts but is worth reading for the unexpected (at least by me) twist in it…


I woke up in Berlin yesterday. 

I meant to. It was not some happy, drunken accident.

I woke up in an arts space which calls itself the new Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) and I put my coat on – the wrong way round, I was informed. But the coat served its function that way for a few more hours, so maybe it was not the coat that was the wrong way round but the perspective of how the coat should be on that was inside out.

Facade of Kunsthaus Tacheles at Oranienburger Straße, Berlin

‘Tacheles’ is a word – רעדן ניט בולשיט – meaning ‘speak no bullshit’ in Yiddish. So I had broken the only rule of the space before breakfast.

The old Tacheles grew out of the rubble of the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a space in East Berlin.

It was named in Yiddish as a memorial to its pre-War Jewish inhabitants who had never returned.

The new space is beginning to be like the old one but the artists there are having to deal with just making the space habitable rather than being able to create art. Putting into place the basic blocks of the artistic ecosystem which develops in a space which, like a rainforest or peak bog, has taken years to evolve. In the same way that you can’t just make a rainforest from scratch, you can’t do that with a creative space.

These spaces should be protected as important habitats to protect cultural biodiversity.

PROTECT THE PUNK is unlikely to be taken up as a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund. But something needs to happen. The eviction of the Freespace ADM in Amsterdam (Becky blogged about it here last year) was halted by the UN, who said that the space was a protected reservation.

If the World Wildlife Fund can’t do it, maybe one of the charities that allows you to indirectly adopt a child could run an adoption campaign for alternative artists. You could get updates on how well your alternative artist is doing, if it has been successfully released into the wild and how global re-population is doing. 

The British government used to run a similar scheme. It was called the dole.

If you have an issue with people claiming the dole, then throw away most of your favourite music because those artists were funded and had the space to do what they were doing because they were at some point in their career scamming the dole.

A staircase inside the Kunsthaus Tacheles building in Berlin (Photograph by Shaun7777777 on Wikipedia)

However, really, the most important fundraising needs to go into  protecting spaces where this art is created. Pop stars would do well to think less about the Rainforest or Africa and more about cultural reservations in the developed world, because it is in these places that the sounds and styles that go into the creation of commercially manufactured music are poached.

The commercial stylists and producers and ‘creative team’ are essentially poachers that go into these wild raw spaces and poach ideas. They return with skins and trophies that go into creating the latest look for whoever is being pushed to the top of what is left of the singles chart. Without these spaces, they wouldn’t have a career. They would do well to encourage people to save them.

Really, the important issue is the space. The individuals there can support themselves in lieu of the government doing it. The government never does anything that shows foresight beyond preserving their next term. It needs a charity which deals with protecting habitats like the RSPB.

 We need a  Royal Society for the Protection of Artistic Birds. 

Birds and Blokes.

I am using birds as the collective noun.

These artistic birds are endangered and they need to have their habitat protected otherwise the diversity will decrease and all the beautiful, wild, exotic, interesting species will die off and we will just be left with the equivalent of pigeons and seagulls – less sensitive, aggressive species that can survive in the barren cultural climate and environment that we have manufactured. 

I am not suggesting that Rentokil should be called in to deal with infestations of pop stars. 

I would just like to see pop stars on the list alongside rats and wasps on the side of the Rentokil van. 

If Rentokil could turn up at a Justin Beiber concert and trap him in a big net, I would pay for an overpriced stadium ticket to see that gig.


When I received that missive from Becky, I asked her if she had any photos she had taken of herself at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. She replied:


A Becky selfie on a train in Berlin

I didn’t take any there. I do have one of me on a tube train.

And one (above) that makes me look like maybe I was possessed by one of the former inhabitants of the Tacheles – a minor Hammer horror actress that died there… on stage in a dance interpretation of the Communist Manifesto.

I left some photos with the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid and 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.

I told you when I left for Berlin that I would see where it might lead me… Back to Berlin Airport, apparently, and then back to London.

Anyway. Now I can learn lines for my next show or just fanny about on Facebook in London. So that’s what I’m doing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Art, Performance

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?

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Filed under Comedy, Crime

Nathan Lang: what it’s like to be an Edinburgh Fringe comedy performer

Nathan Lang performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this month in two shows – his solo comedy show The Stuntman and Jon & Nath Like to Party with Jon Levene.

He also worked as a technician on the show Dirty White Boys, saw other performers’ shows and appeared in yet more people’s shows.

The Fringe runs for 3½ weeks. This is part of the diary he kept which, I think, gives a flavour of what it is like for a performer at the Fringe.


DAY 20

Woke up early and went to see Derek Llewellin and Julian Roberts’ show Chores. So good seeing Derek and Julian again and got inspired to be skilful. Assembly courtyard glowed and sparkled in the sun with all the nice people in it and I dreamed of escaping the sewer. Went grocery shopping which, as the day went on, turned out to be a mistake. 

The Stuntman was OK but not amazing. Jon & Nath was worse – a small unresponsive crowd.

Got drunk and played pool with Claire & Nicky (The Kagools) and my groceries. Ended up with a huge Glaswegian ex-con who insisted on playing with us. Tried really hard to make conversation with him. Eventually he looked sideways at me (literally) and said “Why so many questions, pal?” I shut up and let him beat me (at pool).

Needed to sober up, went to my favourite health food cafe on Grassmarket and had a wrap. Mesmerised by a veteran flamenco guitarist playing inside, he never broke eye contact, taught me to be passionate in every moment. His name is Jesus and he lives in a remote Spanish village. He only brought one CD cos he thought no-one would be interested. 

Inspired, I strode through the sewer with my groceries. Teched Dirty White Boys. Schlepped my groceries home. The spinach wilted.

DAY 21

Did some marketing work on my posters, attributing 5 stars from one review to a quote from another and announcing my final 3 shows as extra dates. 

The Stuntman had a comedy industry person in and two catatonic guys in the front row. I tried several times to engage them before realising they were with their carer. Show failed to launch. Went to The Free Sisters. Laini saw something in my eyes and gave me one of her therapeutic hugs, which really worked. 

Jon & Nath’s dream show – everyone had seen The Shining.

Jon & Nath had a dream show, possibly the best one ever. Audience was totally on board and everyone had seen The Shining. The show was a 5-star but the collection bucket at the end read like a 2-star.

Watched Marny Godden’s show of unbridled joy with a tasteful touch of struggle. 

Came home, napped hard, then whipped up a stir fry of greens and had time to eat 2 gulps before rushing off to tech Dirty White Boys. Met Laini, drank beer and talked about films. Came home via the chip chop.

DAY 22

Woke up feeling very rough. 

The Stuntman had his dream show. Audience created a game with me that made it impossible to move on. Riding waves of laughter. They even laughed through the Dad speech, which has never happened before. 

Jon & Nath went OK. A woman screamed at Jon to stop after the first slap but everyone shouted her down chanting for more. 

“I had to drop my pants in the window…”

Got to Audrey the Mobile Vintage Cinema totally saturated. All the acts crammed into the cab to wait and I had to drop my pants in the window to get changed. Did one of my best gigs ever to twenty people. They carried Stuntman through his hoop. Had permission to push a lot further into the obscene with Faith Healer. Magic gig. 

Watched first half of wonderful Disney burlesque. 

Teched Dirty White Boys. Sneaky hug with Pete Nash in the underpass. Rotating Rostrum cabaret, did more Faith Healer and reckon I’ve now got 10 minutes of my next show. Bumped into Harry Carr and talked about letting go of these shows. Saw flatmates through the window of a bar; they bought me pints. Listened to the case for Trump voters from a Trump voter. Sausage, chips, cheese and curry sauce. Yummy shame.

DAY 23

A Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award cock-up

Woke up inspired and a bit delirious. Had a brilliant idea that I would award myself the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for awarding myself the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. I have no right to do this, especially as these awards no longer exist. Messaged John Fleming to advise him of my plan. He said it could not be officially recognised. Still obviously delirious, talked Shelley through the genius of an award ceremony stunt where the awarding of the prize itself guarantees my eligibility, nomination and victory. 

Watched Lisa Klevemark’s Lemons and won a bottle of lemon essence. 

Another amazing Stuntman show. He’s found his groove in the last few days. 

Football & comedy do not mix

Jon & Nath started with a full house but we were nervous, as a football game started on the screen at The Free Sisters halfway through our show. At 5.25pm half the audience left. Then the football started and – through noise bleed – no-one could hear us, so people kept leaving. Walkouts became the joke of the show. Managed to get a laugh saying with more walkouts we become more niche and our price goes up. (Thanks Mark Dean Quinn for that one.) Hardest work we’ve ever done. Even during the bucket speech about 10 people ran out. From a full house of 120 we ended with 30 and hardly any of them paid us. Turns out our price went down. 

Had truly shite cocktails with Laini. Went home for a nap, pizza and whisky. Went out despite every fibre of my being wanting to stay in bed. 

Teched Dirty White Boys.

Rotating Rostrum gig was diabolical, I was too shaken and delirious to make any sense. The Faith Healer got properly heckled by Freya the Beagle, she really didn’t like him or probably that joke I made about her on Day 0 either.

Beer at Bob’s bus with Dan Lees and Paul Vickers. Mused on the benefits of flop shows.

Power-walked home and crashed.

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There is much more to Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers than just surreal comedy

Having a hearty breakfast with Mr Twonkey

I met up with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey over breakfast to talk about his show Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein but, initially, we got sidetracked by the three gigs he recently played at the Prague Fringe – in the Museum of Alchemists.


JOHN: What is the museum like?

PAUL: It’s a lovely place. It’s got a lot of… not waxworks… fibreglass dummies of alchemists.

JOHN: I like Prague.

Mr Twonkey was a cover star at the Prague Fringe

PAUL: Oh, it’s a beautiful place. we always give money to the Infant Jesus of Prague. They change its clothes every day; it has different jackets and stuff. The more money we gave, the busier the show got. 

JOHN: Did he bleed more if you gave him more money?

PAUL: He doesn’t bleed, but he smiles. He is in a little glass box in a little church just over the Charles Bridge. He is small, but he has big fluffy coats and very flamboyant clothing. 

JOHN: It’s not a small statue of Liberace, is it?

PAUL: It does look like Liberace, but it’s Jesus. It’s one of those things like his eyes are following you round the room.

JOHN: His stigmata are following you round the room?

PAUL: Yeah. But the more money you give him, the more people come, you know?

JOHN: Anyway, you are performing your Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein at the Bill Murray venue in London next Thursday. Is that the same show you did in Brighton?

PAUL: Slightly but not totally different. It’s finding its feet. I have different terms for my shows now. The current show is an Arrival show. But I also do Gateway shows.

JOHN: What are they?

PAUL: A Gateway show is where you find a way in or a way out. With creative ideas, I find sometimes you get trapped. You get a formula for doing something and then, over time, that formula becomes stale, so you feel trapped by it. A Gateway show shows you don’t actually have to do it like that.

In another show, Mr Twonkey spent Christmas in the Jungle

You experiment with a new format and, if that works then, after that, you can have an Arrival show which I think is the most exciting type but it’s also potentially The End. In which case you need another Gateway show. Unless I have two Arrival shows, which is what I’m thinking.

I wonder if that’s possible.

JOHN: Maybe Liechtenstein will have a fire escape.

PAUL: Yeah. That would be great: if I could have two Arrival shows. 

JOHN: …and a fire escape show, like West Side Story.

PAUL: It makes sense in my head, but…

JOHN: So what you did before feels a bit stale to you now?

PAUL: Well, my first three shows – Twonkey’s Cottage, Twonkey’s Castle and Twonkey’s Kingdom – were like a trilogy and the idea was I was only going to do that. I was telling the story of the mythical character Twonkey. But the trouble was no-one understood what I was going on about; no-one was following the story. In some respects, you had to have seen the show before to fully understand the threads in the other show.

JOHN: What was the over-all narrative of the three shows?

PAUL: It was following the journey of Twonkey, who was an accountant… well, a dragon, really… Basically, a dragon who moved from a castle and got more and more powerful. He started off in a cottage, then had his own castle, then had his own kingdom. 

Mr Twonkey had a colourful and successful Blue Cadabra

Then I broke away. I killed Twonkey off after the third show. So the dragon died and I became Mr Twonkey. I became the essence of Twonkey. What I realised was that Twonkey was not a dragon but a state of mind. That freed it up. I had a Gateway show – Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra – which I had quite a bit of success with.

After that, I did a series of shows in that kind of formula…

JOHN: How many?

PAUL: Eh… How many were there?…Two?

JOHN: You’re not quite sure?

PAUL: No. I did Twonkey’s Private Restaurant, which was an extension of Cadabra. In Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, there was a log flume park. Then Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel was the one I got the Malcolm Hardee Award for. That was a Gateway show, because that was the first time I introduced the idea of an interwoven narrative throughout the over-all piece. 

I have carried on with that since and the new show – Twonkey’s Night Train To Liechtenstein – probably has the most clear narrative I’ve had.

JOHN: And you are doing that at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: Are you playing Fringe By The Sea in North Berwick while you’re up in Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, but not as Twonkey. I’m doing my band stuff. Paul Vickers and The Leg.

JOHN: Your band is active again?

PAUL: Yes. We are recording an album at the end of June.

Paul Vickers (right) and The Leg: part of a body parts boom

JOHN: Why are they called The Leg?

PAUL: There was a boom in Scotland of bands named after body parts. There was Wounded Knee; there was Withered Hand; and so there was The Leg. There was also Frightened Rabbit.

JOHN: That’s a body part?

PAUL: No. Not a body part. But it fits in somehow.

JOHN: Fringe By The Sea sounds good.

PAUL: Yes, an odd mix of acts. The Sugarhill Gang. Mica Paris. Lewis Schaffer, David Steel and Roy Hattersley.

JOHN: David Steel and Roy Hattersley? The politicians?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: They’re singing…?

PAUL: No. Sitting in chairs and speaking to people.

JOHN: Roy Hattersley should join your band.

PAUL: Well, he had the reputation of spitting a lot… on Spitting Image… My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: My girlfriend is making a seagull at the moment.

JOHN: As a prop for your Twonkey show?

PAUL: She says it is. Though I haven’t got anything with a seagull in my act at the moment. 

Paul/Twonkey has been known to use occasional props

JOHN: She makes your props.

PAUL: Some, yes. And Grant Pringle makes the bigger ones.

JOHN: Is he related to the Pringles crisp dynasty?

PAUL: No. I think he is related to Pringle The Slayer.

JOHN: Who?

PAUL: Pringle The Slayer was a Borders Reiver. He had people locked up in a tower near Galashiels. I wrote a piece about Pringle The Slayer for Border Life magazine. I used to write for that. We interviewed David Steel for that too. Local interest. I also did Border X-Files, which was about  aliens and ghosts.

JOHN: That was a separate magazine from the one David Steel was in?

PAUL: No. It was all local interest. There was a lot of going to manor houses and talking to rich old ladies and there were photos of horses and green fields. It was the most successful thing we did after the music magazine failed. When BritPop deflated, the music magazine went down and we went into local publishing. But then the band took off and we were alright.

JOHN: What was the music magazine called?

PAUL: Sun Zoom Spark, named after a Captain Beefheart song.

JOHN: Ah. How are you enjoying your baked beans?

PAUL: They’re very nice.

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