Tag Archives: Malcolm hardee

Amazon anarchy runs riot in long-lasting Malcolm Hardee mystery

Malcolm Hardee while researching his autobiography in 1995

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned British comedian Malcolm Hardee in passing. He was, to understate the truth, very anarchic. A comedian, club owner, agent and force of Nature, he has been called the father of (British) alternative comedy.

He drowned in 2005. At least, that is the story.

He wrote his autobiography in 1996. It was titled I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which, indeed, he did. It has been out of print for quite a few years.

At the time of writing this blog, there are a couple of second hand copies available on amazon.co.uk – one at £49.98, the other at £109.95.

One second hand copy is also available on amazon.com at $49.98.

Full disclosure: I own 20% of the royalties from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. But, as the book is out-of-print and these are second hand copies, there are no royalties. So I would get nothing if anyone forked out £49.98 or $49.98 or £109.95.

On amazon.com, the book’s description correctly reads:

“The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

On amazon.co.uk, the description reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.”

Yup. It is the description of a totally different book. Amazon’s computers have somehow got their techno-knickers in a twist. Originally I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had the correct listing on amazon.co.uk but somehow, between 1996 and 2021, it got surreally mistaken for this other academic book.

It has been listed like that for years, certainly since 2015. But, as I get nothing out of any sales, it doesn’t particularly bother me and I have a sneaking feeling that Malcolm Hardee would have somehow enjoyed the mix-up.

I mentioned most of this in a blog way back in November 2015.

Over the six intervening years, I have more-or-less halfheartedly but officially notified Amazon.co.uk of the error I think four times – helpfully pointing out that the listing was correct on amazon.com, so they only had to copy their own listing from amazon.com.

The last time was a couple of months ago.

But nothing has been been changed.

Not about comedy and criminal activities

The bizarre incorrect description of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake actually comes from Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski’s niftily-titled book Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners.

Sadly, the blurb for Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners on amazon.co.uk does not describe it as “The humorous memoirs of a criminal-turned-comedy agent who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours”.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking to multi-talented performer Matt Roper aka Wilfredo in New York.

Full disclosure: he was in New York; I was in London…

…and I mentioned all the above jolly shenanigans to him. I explained to him that the amazon.com listing for I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was correct.

But, yesterday, he contacted me to tell me he had just looked up the amazon.com listing and although it was, indeed, mostly correct… it did say that I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake had been published on January 1, 1600… He attached a screen shot of the page. 

He told me: “Amazon.com seems to think the book was published in 1600, just as Giordano Bruno was being burned at the stake by the Inquisition and when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. Perhaps that’s why it costs so much here.”

The price advertised at the time was $164.66.

I have just looked it up myself and the amazon.com page now says I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published on 5 Aug 1996 and it now has a $49.98 price tag.

Full disclosure: My head is swirling a bit – I seem to be getting bouts of vertigo – and I am beginning to think that Malcolm Hardee faked his own death by drowning in 2005 and is playing anarchic games from beyond the non-grave. 

I would not put it past him.

Incidentally, I have some pristine copies of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake available at a mere £675.99 plus postage… They are collectors’ items for marketing surrealists and increasingly prestigious.

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Depression is a funny thing…

(Photograph by Kat Love via UnSplash)

I’ve been through – before the pandemic – in fact, last century – I’ve been through that odd phase of not leaving the house and leaving my curtains closed all day.

I also went through a phase of not opening mail for a week or so. This was strangely like the English comedian Malcolm Hardee – a man never visibly depressed. He once told me that he would randomly throw some mail away, unopened, not knowing who had sent it nor how important it was. 

At least I opened mine eventually.

Now I open my mail as soon as it arrives and I keep my curtains open during the day.

I don’t open my windows, of course.

I was partly brought up at a very impressionable age in a council flat on a hill in Aberdeen, Scotland.

If you opened the window fully there, you would have frozen to death.

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Confusion over why Burns Night is celebrated in Scotland and worldwide

History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.

History is what you are told it is in the People’s Paradise…

In North Korea, they are taught that the Korean War started when, unprovoked, the South Korean allies of the US invaded the North. The valiant forces of the North then pushed the US invaders back into the south where, with their backs to the sea, the defeated Americans pleaded for peace.

This does not explain why the current border is halfway up the peninsula nor why people alive at the time would have seen US and allied troops in the north of North Korea and Chinese troops pushing them back south. (In North Korean history, as taught in schools, the Chinese were never involved.)

So history is fluid. It is whatever you believe happened.

When I wrote an obituary of comedian Malcolm Hardee for the Independent newspaper in 2005, I started it by saying he “was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”. I did this partly because I thought it was arguably true but also because I figured that, in future, it would be picked up by other people writing about him and stated as fact rather than opinion.

And, occasionally, it has been. It was, after all, printed in a respected national newspaper.

History is whatever people in the future are led to believe happened in the past.

A couple of days ago, comedy icon Janey Godley hosted her Big Burns Supper on Facebook and YouTube, attracting a live digital audience of over 327,000 with viewers tuning in from Scotland and 50 countries across the world…

Janey Godley’s Big Burns Night line-up

Performers on the show included KT Tunstall, Donovan, Skerryvore, Camille O’Sullivan, Dougie MacLean, Tidelines, Manran, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Robert Softly Gale, Amy Conachan, Grant Dinwoodie, Ray Bradshaw and LOKA.

Yesterday, someone I know – an intelligent and well educated Englishman – told me he had seen Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper and it had been a revelation to him. 

He had never realised Robert Burns was a poet. 

He had thought Robert Burns was the Scottish king who had seen the spider in the cave when he was hiding from the English and who had burned the cakes

He thought Burns Night was a celebration of the burning of the cakes.

For my reader in Guatemala…

The legendary cakes were allegedly burned by Alfred, a Saxon king in southern England, around 900 years before Robert Burns’ time. The legendary spider was encountered by Robert the Bruce around 500 years before Robert Burns’ time.

Life is but a dream.

And it is probable that neither event actually happened.

However, Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper did happen and did get those verified viewing figures.

For educational reasons, a recording is, at the time of writing, still available on YouTube:

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My doctor, the COVID notification and the warning – My Weekly Diary No 40

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 39

SUNDAY 18th OCTOBER

“…in fact, I was totally calm and relaxed…”

My friend Lynn popped in to see me as she was on the nearby M25 motorway. She hadn’t seen me for a month and told me I looked better than the last time.

I mentioned that, twice when I was in hospital in May, staff had thought I was very anxious when, in fact, I was not remotely: I was totally calm and relaxed. Lynn told me my wittering comes across as nervousness.

I remember once walking across an open plan office at Granada TV in Manchester and someone asked: “What on earth has happened, John?”

Apparently I looked as if my entire family had been killed in a sudden air crash or a freak attack by a rogue herd of rabid wildebeest. In fact, I was particularly relaxed, happy and at ease with the world.

To quote Rabbie Burns:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us.

MONDAY 19th OCTOBER

After a two-month gap, I saw my Kidney Man at the hospital again. He/they still have no idea what was/is wrong with me.

I am much the same. Waking up maybe 8 or 10 or 12 times every night with my mouth bone dry and having to drink water.

He told me my blood test results… My calcium level should be 2.2-2.6. Last time it had settled at a good 2.4 but it has gone up to a little over 2.6. My low kidney function, which should be 60+ and which was 19 when I was taken into hospital – rising to 33 a week later and, after a couple of months, to 44 – is now around 50.

He is booking me in for another appointment in 4 months but may move that if required and he will recommend I get seen by two other different specialists before then – a calcium man and an Ear Nose & Throat man.

Afterwards, I had a new blood test, the results of which I will presumably hear about in 4 months time.

TUESDAY 20th OCTOBER

This morning, unlike previous occasions, when letters took several weeks/months to arrive, I got a copy of a letter from the Kidney Man to my GP about yesterday’s meeting.

It said I had last been weighed in 2002 rather than 2020 and that my next appointment would be in 2 months not 4 months. Attention to detail is always reassuring in someone who is diagnosing me and who may, at some point, perform surgery on me.

Later in the day, a notification flashed-up on my iPhone from the NHS coronavirus Track & Trace app saying I had maybe been exposed to COVID-19. It was followed immediately by another notification to the effect that they had checked and I could ignore the whole thing!

This seems a very ineffective notification system. No idea when/where/how it occurred. (Though I was inside a hospital yesterday). And seemingly designed to give old people with paranoia a jolt big enough to trigger a heart attack. 

Track & Trace sounds like the name of a more successful female pop duo of the 1980s.

WEDNESDAY 21st OCTOBER

I woke up even more than normal last night – maybe 15 times. Mouth bone dry. Needed to drink water.

My eternally-un-named-friend e-mailed me to say:


The friendly Gents (not the Ladies) toilets at Canary Wharf

Yesterday I saw an elderly woman stripped to the waist washing her armpits at the sinks in the toilets at Canary Wharf.

She apologised to me, saying it was because she was hot.

I said: “No need to apologise,” and offered her a few of my tissues to dry herself off with. She also helped me locate a tap with running water as the first two didn’t work when you waved your hands underneath. It was like being at school. It was heartwarming.

She looked quite fit for her age. Well, for any age. It did help that she was slightly slim

I wonder what her story was.

Maybe she just didn’t have hot water at home or maybe she was homeless, though she didn’t actually look that rough with bags and stuff. 

I saw a woman maybe last year in the toilets at Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street. And you could tell she was a street homeless person.


THURSDAY 22nd OCTOBER

Aha! That letter I got on Tuesday from the Kidney Man… the one which arrived so quickly… was NOT from the previous day’s consultation! A duplicate of the letter arrived today with an extra sheet on the back.

It was written on 7th October about my meeting with him on 3rd August, modified on 14th October, printed on 20th October and presumably posted on 20th October (although I actually received a copy through the post on 20th October). So bureaucracy at work and all the details to my GP are 2 months out of date.

I also got a separate letter this morning – from Bristol – about my next appointment with my Kidney Man – in London – on 15th February next year… so the 4-month gap between appointments was true.

FRIDAY 23rd OCTOBER

Last night I woke up less often than normal – maybe 5 times – with a bone dry mouth, having to drink water.

In the afternoon, Ariane Sherine‘s 9-year-old daughter was telling me about a woman who is addicted to eating bricks… and how cuttlefish hypnotise crabs. Both true.

It was an educational journey.

Later I received an email telling me that (after a complaint) YouTube have admirably put an age-restriction on one of the videos I posted 14 years ago – unsurprisingly one featuring the late Malcolm Hardee – though, mysteriously, there is no hint what the age restriction is… I think Malcolm would have been shocked not by the age restriction but by the fact it took 14 years to happen…

SATURDAY 24th OCTOBER

I am thinking of seeing my excellent Chinese doctor, as the NHS are not really getting anywhere on figuring out what caused my calcium/kidney problems nor why I am waking up dehydrated maybe 10-12 times every single night with a bone-dry mouth.

My Chinese doctor is not cheap. But he has always been value for money.

On my mobile, there was a notification which said: Your iPhone continues to look for possible exposures on your behalf.

When it was pointed out to me that this was a message about the COVID-19 Track & Trace app, I felt strangely disappointed.

British Summertime ends tonight and the clocks go back one hour.

I received a message from my eternally-un-named friend:

… CONTINUED HERE

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Books, films, songs, big toes and Trump – John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 37

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 36

SUNDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

Until my illness in May, I never really remembered my dreams. Maybe once every six or nine months, I might wake up and remember what I was dreaming.

But now, because I wake up maybe six to twelve times during the night, dehydrated, I remember – or, at least, I am aware of – some dreams and I am amazed by the detail, though reality can be more surreal.

Today, Kunt AKA Kunt and The Gang said he was about to release two new limited edition Bumface Poohands books: Bumface Poohands – A Day At The Park and Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown.

With reality like this, who needs dreams?

MONDAY 28th SEPTEMBER

I have a low heart rate. Adults normally have a resting heart rate of 60-100. Mine is usually around the low 50s, sometimes the high 40s.

As I write this, it is 53. But my cousin Muriel also has a low heart-rate, so it must be a hereditary thing.

My medical problems in May (still continuing) were caused by a still-unexplained high calcium level resulting in a sudden drop in kidney function from 62 to 19.

My cousin Muriel says that, years ago, she was told she would get kidney problems as she got older because of very poor circulation in the base of her spine, bottom and back thighs. This has not happened.

My sticking-up big toes are not at all sock-friendly

And, fortunately, the circulation of my nether regions is, as far as I know, fine.

But, if memory serves me correctly (which it seldom does), Muriel and I both have a funny quick in our middle fingers, where it goes higher in the middle making it less easy/more sensitive to cut the nails.

We can both be easily and literally cut to the quick.

And we both have big toes that stick up.

Yes, I think it’s a bit odd too.

She tells me: “Finding comfy walking boots has been a problem through all my walking years.”

TUESDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

Ariane Sherine‘s latest serious-but-with-a-lot-of-humour-added-in book How to Live to 100 is published on Thursday and she has found that she is already selling well in unexpected quarters. The book is already, two days before publication, at No 174 in the Cheese & Dairy section of Amazon UK.

Mind you, for several years, Amazon UK listed comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an academic textbook and could not be persuaded otherwise. Amazon UK is currently listing it as being published on 1st January 1638 and as being available at the bargain price of £45.60 (used) or ‘new’ at £995.36.

In other shocking news, my eternally-un-named friend lost her silver ring in the street in Borehamwood tonight. A search by iPhone torch and proper torch failed to find it.

WEDNESDAY 30th SEPTEMBER

Always be wary of what you say to plumbers. A good one is hard to find.

This afternoon, a plumber told me he had been doing the job for over 20 years. I told him:

“Wow! You know your shit, then.”

He heard it as: “You know you’re shit, then.”

Who knew the power of a single apostrophe?

I also got a handwritten postcard shoved through my letterbox today from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a bit worrying when they do not put their trust in the Lord enough to knock on doors and try their sales pitch face-to-face.

This follows the incident earlier in the year when the healing waters of Lourdes were closed because of the risk of visitors catching coronavirus.

It is all somewhat counterproductive for the sales pitch.

THURSDAY 1st OCTOBER

I’m honoured to be mentioned disparagingly…

I got a copy of Ariane Sherine’s much-anticipated book How to Live to 100.

It turns out I am mentioned in it halfway through, somewhat disparagingly – I had been asked before publication if the reference was OK and had, of course, forgotten.

Fortunately, I am not in the index, so you will have to buy it and read it to find where my image is wantonly crushed. Which you should do anyway.

I mean you should read it, not wantonly crush me.

Charlie Brooker says: “This book will probably save your life… Unfortunately“ and it includes interviews with Clive Anderson, Derren Brown, Bec Hill, Konnie Huq, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Richard Osman, Lou Sanders, Arthur Smith, Jeremy Vine sans Uncle Tom Cobley et al.

FRIDAY 2nd OCTOBER

I slept from 7.15pm last night to 7.30am this morning and woke to the unsurprising news that Donald Trump has developed coronavirus: but he should be OK as he has long said it either doesn’t exist – it’s a hoax – or it is simply like a mild flu.

More interestingly, I got an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives in Vancouver. She had seen a Facebook post of mine: showing the Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of the National Guard of the Russian Federation singing “Sex Bomb”.

Anna wrote:


I REALLY enjoyed the Russian military police choir video (If only all the military could concentrate on music).

I have been having a somewhat difficult time here with the combo of COVID measures and inhaling wildfire smoke from the California forest fires (it was really bad here in Vancouver – worst air quality in the world for a bit – for ten days mid-September), then an enormous local pier caught fire… They couldn’t put that out for ten days. I was inhaling burning creosote… lovely…

Burnt California tastes way worse, though possibly we are also inhaling dead bodies too… it tastes metallic… maybe its all their cars and appliances.

The smoke has returned but it’s not as bad as it was…


SATURDAY 3rd OCTOBER

This afternoon, in a near miracle, my eternally-un-named friend was walking along the pavement in Borehamwood and saw, lying on the ground, the silver ring she had lost on Tuesday. It was about 15 or 20 feet away from the spot where she thinks she must have dropped it.

Spot the ring…

Let’s hope the luck of the British continues…

Tonight, a fascinating documentary about musical comic Robert White is being screened (and is up for an Audience Award) at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles – It’s an online virtual event this year because of COVID-19.

I think I am pretty safe in saying that Robert is the only Aspergic, dyslexic, web-toed, cross-lateral, gay, quarter-Welsh, gluten-intolerant professional musical comedian in the world who made it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent and came runner-up AND won the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Autistic Comedian gives an extraordinary insight – warts and all – into what it’s like for a hyper-sensitive performer to grow up, undiagnosed, in the 1980s and 1990s, then feel his life spiralling out of control but then learn to deal with the challenges totally on his own.

It gains from the fact that director Joe Bor is also a comedy performer and Robert’s friend – so there is a unique access and insight. It reminded me of the 1997 Elton John documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, directed by David Furnish.

Both films manage to be an emotional rollercoaster with unique psychological insights.

 

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 32 – My dreams, con-men and COVID footie

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 31

SUNDAY 23rd AUGUST

I was recently talking (well, emailing) with a well-known comedian. The interchange went:


The Glum family, with Jimmy Edwards second from the left

HIM: In an extraordinary – sorry ‘unprecedented’ – turn of events I have become busy! How you coping? I’ve been quite glum….

ME: Sorry to hear you have been Glum, presumably in the Jimmy Edwards pater familias role. I am a nihilist, so the world this year seems just ticketyboo and SNAFU, surely those last three words deserving of a lovable Noel Gay type London knees-up song.

HIM: Your nihilism has cheered me up and my excessive laziness reduced such that I have sent 3 emails today.


We are, truly, living in the time of coronavirus.

MONDAY 24th AUGUST

I am back to waking up 10 or 12 times every night with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water. Sometimes, this means I wake up in mid-dream.

Political problems in Belarus… I woke up too soon to help

Last night, I woke up and, for some reason, I had been talking in my dream to an Egyptian general who was working for a female Russian President who was having a television programme made about her. Lurking in the background watching all this was a rather aged Melina Mercouri – the Greek actress of the 1950s and 1960s – with staring eyes. I was talking to the Egyptian general about the escalating political problems in Belarus…

…and then I woke up.

Belarus will, unfortunately, have to do without my input.

Jo Burke – now a wiser woman after interviewing me

TUESDAY 25th AUGUST

Last Thursday, I was interviewed in the back garden of a Blackheath pub by performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. She kindly said there had been ‘a technical problem’ last Thursday, rather than a case of interviewee incoherence.

So we had a second attempt this evening, via Zoom. It should be more physically editable but was no less incoherent. I should perhaps have warned her I am a terrible interviewee and should definitely have researched my own life before we started… I could not really remember the order in which things happened in my life nor how they came to happen.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee had the same problem when he wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Perhaps his problem was even worse. He could not remember in which DECADE things had happened let alone in which year.

Immediately before his book went to press, he remembered he had once been arrested by the Special Branch when he was found on a high window ledge outside prominent Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine’s hotel room. He (Malcolm) was naked apart from a raincoat with nothing in its pockets but a pack of pornographic playing cards. He had mistaken Heseltine’s room for a chum’s.

Until then, Malcolm had forgotten all about this incident. It was just another normal day in his life. We managed to squeeze it into his autobiography at the last moment.

Someone else who was in the hotel at the same time (Yes, it really DID happen) told me the eyes of the Special Branch men who interviewed Malcolm looked stunned and mystified.

WEDNESDAY 26th AUGUST

I must have woken up six or eight times last night. Bone dry

I must have woken up six or eight times last night, my mouth bone dry and needing to drink water.

Also, about halfway through the night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep with hiccups and heartburn, which sounds like the title of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

It was “painful and distracting” – a phrase which sounds like an extract from a review of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

I ended up sucking on a Gaviscon, which sounds like a mumbled lyric from some Bob Dylan song in the 1960s.

The above paragraphs are what I thought when I was having the hiccups, heartburn and Gaviscon. I wrote them down.

For some reason, the heartburn made me overdose on musical similes.

THURSDAY 27th AUGUST

We are living through the end of a historic period. Facebook Friend Matthew Wilkes spotted a newspaper item which said linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn had Tweeted that teenagers and those in their 20s, who grew up using short messages to communicate, can see the full stop (that’s a ‘period’ to any American reading this) “as a symbol of curt passive-aggression”.

I re-posted this on Facebook and comments included one from Georgina Dick:


It’s not that we’re offended and need to grow up, it’s more of an understanding of the tone you’re trying to put across. There’s a big difference between saying “OK” “OK.” and “OK .”


Promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy suggested:


We need to put a full stop to this!


Period punctuation unsourced.

…and the quoted Dr Lauren Fonteyn aka Lauren Bliksem Tweeted:


Apparently this is based on a Tweet I never sent or something I said to the Telegraph which I haven’t spoken to.


We are now well and truly fully into the 21st Century.

FRIDAY 28th AUGUST

Argh! Got to sleep around 8.00pm last night. Woke multiple times during the night including once with hiccups and heartburn (again). Gaviscon was chewed. Just woke up again – 10.30am – and still want to go to sleep but have to get train at 12.31 for lunch with performer Lynn Ruth Miller so about to get up, sleepy. Argh! Why did Einstein not work a bit harder and invent time travel?

That was written after 14½ hours of sleep.

I went to catch the aforementioned train. There was no barrier to go through as the main area at Elstree station was closed after rain brought down part of the roof. So it was not until I arrived at St Pancras station that I realised I had left my travel pass behind at home. I had to pay £13.50 for a one-day travel card.

Lynn Ruth  – an innocent in English plumbing

Lynn Ruth Miller – an American and therefore a novice in the English language – told me she had only just discovered that a ‘tap’ in Britain is a ‘faucet’ in the US.

Coming back from our lunch, it was not until I arrived at Seven Sisters station that I realised had left my thin case and iPad in the ticket hall at Stoke Newington station.

Fortunately, alert Overground staff at Stoke Newington had spotted the case and kept it for me. Including the iPad.

SATURDAY 29th AUGUST

I was standing in the front room of my house with a female friend. We were half-watching a feature film from the 1950s on my television, which was sitting on the floor atop a low wooden frame base.

A man dressed as a spiv (Photograph via Wikipedia, Chafford Hundred, England)

Through my front window, I saw a man who was dressed like a 1940s/1950s ‘spiv’ coming to my front door. I said to my friend: “There’s a spiv coming to the door”.

She looked surprised by my use of the word. She looked out the window but couldn’t see him because he was already at the door.

I went into my front porch and he had just shoved some leaflet through the letter box.

My friend and I went back to watching the movie. She was holding a doll about eight inches high with pink hair. Not an unusual hair colour in dolls. My friend decided she wanted me to hold the top of the doll’s hair down while she coiffured it.

She moved a blue pouffe over to near the wall. This entailed turning the television round so she could still see it, But she was sitting so close to the wall by the front window that I could not get in and hold the doll’s hair.

So I got a red pouffe and put it in the middle of the room, away from the window and wall where it was more accessible – and I had to turn the TV set round again, so we could both see it. I had to lift it up and put it down because it was on its low wooden frame base.

I was about to start holding the doll’s hair down when some more people arrived at the front door. There were three of them and they tried to tell me the turf in my front garden was in a mess and I needed to buy some turf care liquid. They were obviously some sort of con artists.

Turf love – Could be better but I’ve seen worse

I said: “Oh, no no no, I like the more natural, rough look, not a highly-manicured lawn.”

One of the guys started lifting up the turf with his right foot.

Another of them was standing in the middle of my front lawn with six large – maybe six feet high – green pole-shaped things – maybe rolled turf – the girth of a small tree.

I thought I will confuse them by being surreal (something I occasionally try with cold-callers on the telephone).

“I might use some of those,” I said, “but I’m thinking of painting them. Three could be red, white and blue for Britain. Three could be red, white and blue for France. And there might be some way of working the German flag in there somehow… If I paint one black, it would be very effective. It would look very good.”

This succeeded in confusing the man who was holding the earthen post-like things.

Just before this, my friend has come out from the front room and was looking at the three men with a hint of bemusement on her face. By now it was dusk, getting quite dark, so the garden con-men went away, quite confused.

My friend and I went back into the living room.

I looked out the window and there was a man at the bottom of the garden – a supervisor who was obviously allowing salesman to come in and profer their services to people living in our square.

“…I looked at my bedside alarm clock… It was 6.49am…”

I thought this was very strange.

Then I sort-of vaguely woke up and looked at my bedside alarm clock. It was 6.49am.

I turned over and went back to sleep.

I woke up a few more times after that. On the second occasion, half awake, I drawled the details of the dream into my iPhone before I forgot it altogether which, obviously, I would have.

Possibly even more surreal was the video my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth Miller) and husband Frank sent me this evening.

This afternoon, they went to watch the Brighton & Hove Albion vs Chelsea football match. It was the first UK match since the COVID-19 outbreak started that had been played with supporters present rather than being played ‘behind closed doors’. Only home supporters in Brighton.

It is certainly a weird video, ending with what sounds to me like traditional gypsy or Turkish music and then the teams ‘take the knee’ to honour the increasing number of unarmed black men being shot by the police in Donald Trump’s USA. The last one was shot in the back seven times at close range, while bending over to get in a car door.

Strange times indeed.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comic Malcolm Hardee – the infamous tractor incident at the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee, prankster (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

With the revival of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this week, it is maybe timely to remember the late, great prankster’s infamous incident with the tractor…

Here is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake… 


We went back to Edinburgh the next year – back to The Hole in The Ground – and this time Circuit had three tents. They loved a tent. They had a big one in the middle, with a small one on one side and a medium one on the other. Like Daddy Tent, Mummy Tent and Little Baby Tent. You could pay to see one show and hear all three as the shows were running simultaneously.

We were in the Daddy Tent. Emma Thompson was in the little one with ‘The Emma Thompson Band’. And, in the medium one, was this American creature called Eric Bogosian. He later starred in Oliver Stone’s movie Talk Radio. I never got on with him. He was a prima donna. He upset everyone. He upset Emma Thompson. She was in tears and I boldly told him to leave her alone. 

All the arguments and artistic friction came about because of the clash of noise.

What we tried to arrange was to perform all our noisy bits at the same time and all our quiet bits at the same time, so the audiences wouldn’t get too distracted. But Eric was having none of it. One part of his show had Heavy Metal music – very loud – in our quiet bit. His show was called Funhouse – An Anarchistic Romp Through The American Way of Life. So, I thought, well at least he’s a bit of an anarchist. He’ll like a laugh, won’t he? 

Our show that year started with me entering on a tractor. I tried to leap over ten toy cars but, of course, the tractor went off the ramp and squashed the cars. Good opening. We had persuaded the manager of a local garden centre to lend us the tractor for free and we advertised his business. He was a typical dour Scot and was in the audience with his family the night I decided to visit Eric Bogosian.

We had had about six days of Eric’s Heavy Metal music coming through into our show, so I decided to go and see Eric in his tent. During a performance.

It came to the part of our show where Eric was making a hell of a row with his heavy metal tape. I screamed at our audience to make myself heard above the noise: 

“Look, we’ll go and see Eric. All of us. He’ll like it. He’s a bit of a laugh. He’s an anarchist.” 

I jumped on the tractor, naked. The stages were flat. So I drove out of our tent on the tractor and straight in to his tent and onto his stage. Our audience followed behind the tractor. 

“Hello, Eric!” I said.

He was swaying backwards and forwards, ‘air-guitaring’ with a broom handle in his hands and he was going “Brrrrrmmmmmm!” to this AC/DC track that was coming out of the loudspeakers. Very witty, I presume. 

When he saw me in the nude on the tractor followed by all our audience, he stopped performing and flopped in a chair that was at the back of the stage. We all filed past, then came out of his tent and back into our own and thought no more about it. 

After about two minutes, I heard the sound of a tractor being smashed up with a sledge-hammer. Then I heard, round the back, all the dressing-rooms being smashed up. Then he came running in. By this time, Martin Soan was naked and I had clothes on. Eric saw Martin and thought it was me. So he hit Martin and knocked him over and then ran out screaming. Martin got up and carried on, because we’ve had worse than that.


Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is out-of-print but still available on Amazon.co.uk, where the description of it has been wildly incorrect for several years. It currently reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.”

Despite at least three attempts to get Amazon.co.uk to correct the description, they seem to be incapable of doing so.

On the other hand, I suspect Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) would approve the surreal description with a hearty “Oy Oy! Fuck it!”

The details are listed correctly on Amazon.com.

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BBC Studios and Channel 4 risk court case by ripping-off President Obonjo…

#JusticeForObonjo !

BBC TV has a track record for simply stealing ideas.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics agrees: “They do have a bit of a rep for being sticky-fingered.”

I mentioned one case in passing in a 2013 blog in which the Beeb tried to rip-off an idea the late Malcolm Hardee and I had. 

Which brings us to the current great rip-off scandal involving BBC Studios.

Monday 12th August sees a one-off event at the Edinburgh FringeAn Audience with President Obonjo: in effect, a fake press conference by the original African comedy dictator. This should be quite an event. Fur will fly.

Everyone on the UK comedy scene seems fairly gobsmacked at the utterly blatant rip-off of Benjamin Bankole Bello’s widely-known, much admired and increasingly prestigious character President Obonjo – an African military dictator adrift in the UK – which he has been building on the UK comedy circuit for the last ten years…  

The BBC have sold a non-broadcast pilot idea to E4 (part of Channel 4) featuring an African military dictator adrift in the UK but in what – on the basis of a trailer promoting it – appears to be a wildly racist lowest-common-denominator pile of steaming crap.

I am, perhaps, being too generous.

The general perception of the BBC (and, guilty by association) Channel 4 is that they are either 

  1. blatant thieves or 
  2. an amateurish shambles who don’t know anything about the live comedy industry…

When news of this rip-off first surfaced a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that it was, indeed, a rip-off. But, as I blogged at the time, there was and is another – perhaps worse – possibility:

The (as it turned out) ironically-titled 2015 Fringe show

“If the BBC Studios Comedy team are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.”

When this scandal – for scandal it is – blew up, the BBC producer associated with the apparent rip-off, Ben Caudell, contacted Benjamin Bello for a meeting on 22nd July… presumably to try to smother criticism. 

He was apparently a tad surprised when Benjamin turned up with the aforementioned Kate Copstick, the most revered and arguably most fearsome comedy critic in the UK. It is not irrelevant that Copstick trained as a lawyer.

So let us be generous and presume that the BBC did not wantonly steal the idea from Benjamin. Let us assume that they are simply incompetent.

At the meeting with Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name) and Copstick – speaking in his capacity as a member of the BBC Studios Comedy team – Ben Caudell claimed never to have known about the widely-known President Obonjo character before the scandal blew up – although ‘President Obonjo’ had been performing on the live circuit over the last ten years, had staged two well-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows and had had multiple contacts with the BBC over a period of years. 

Ben Caudell also detailed how the BBC’s character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK had been developed separately from any knowledge of the existence of ‘President Obonjo’, an African military dictator adrift in the UK.

Interestingly, Copstick was later told by another BBC production person an entirely different story of how the BBC ‘innocently’ developed the entirely original character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK. 

A load of bull (Photo by Christian Wiediger via UnSplash)

The cynical might observe that, if you are going to tell potential porkies, at least agree beforehand on the same story. At least one (or more) of these conflicting stories has to be bollocks.

Anyway… Ben Caudell said, in his own defence, at the meeting with Copstick and Benjamin Bello (ie in front of witnesses), that “I don’t have much to do with live comedy… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

This might go some way to explain how a BBC producer or a bunch of BBC producers (I believe the collective noun is ‘a bullshit’ of BBC producers) could be totally and utterly ignorant of an act which had been playing the London and UK circuit for ten years – widely known – AND had staged two well-reviewed (4-star) Edinburgh Fringe shows AND had multiple contacts with BBC TV over several years specifically about the President Obonjo character (the BBC response at that time had been: “We like what you do”).

Let us be clear that the BBC rip-off character was (allegedly) thought-up by BBC producers, progressed after discussion and development with others to the top of BBC Studios Comedy tree without anyone realising there was a President Obonjo act. Allegedly.

President Obonjo had been twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition with videos submitted in 2012 and 2014. The character was considered for the BBC’s own Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme in 2018 and President Obonjo sketches were submitted to BBC3 earlier this year.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s ‘Colonel Banjoko’ character was (allegedly) created by people who had never heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s original character President Obonjo. There is a striking similarity in names going on there.

I had thought Ben Caudell might have gone for the My Sweet Lord defence in which George Harrison copied I think note-for-note Ronnie Mack’s country & western song He’s So Fine but said he had not consciously copied the song: it must have got into his subconscious after hearing it.

The increasingly prestigious President at the 2017 Fringe

But, no, Ben Caudell, speaking on behalf of BBC Studios, was not saying he or anyone else had seen or heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s President Obonjo character when creating their Colonel Banjoko character.

They could have said they didn’t like ‘President Obonjo’ and had been inspired to create a ‘better’ and different character.

But no. The claim was that no-one at all at any point in the development and commissioning process had ever heard of or seen the President Obonjo character… (Reminder: the previous BBC response to viewing the President Obonjo character: “We like what you do”)

So Ben Caudell suggested:

“As a gesture of goodwill, we will use best endeavours to feature President Obonjo in some way in an episode of a potential future series. This would of course be subject to broadcaster and commissioner approval.”

So no real offer of anything.

As Copstick wisely says: “As soon as they say best endeavours, they’re really not interested.”

When pushed further, Ben Caudell suggested: “How about this: to demonstrate that we really do want to acknowledge President Obonjo, why don’t we – with your permission – do a video version of your poster idea in our pilot? We’re thinking of doing a VT explaining Colonel Banjoko’s rise and fall. A photo of President Obonjo could feature in that, as the Colonel’s predecessor. How does that sound?”

Worth remembering here that it is a non-broadcast pilot which would not be screened on-air.

Last week, Kate Copstick got in touch with Karl Warner, Controller of E4, pointing out that the proposed BBC/E4 series “with its curiously, closely similar spoof African dictator will destroy (Benjamin Bello’s) act, his career and his livelihood. We met with Ben Caudell, who is producing the pilot. He gave one version of how the character came to be, since when we have been assured by someone else of another version (completely different) of how the character came to be. He (Benjamin Bello) is looking at a ten year career disappearing. Should this show be allowed to go ahead he will have nowhere to go with his character… his career… his creation.”

Karl Warner replied: “We’re satisfied that there’s been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Studios in this case.”

Note that Channel 4’s statutory public service remit includes that it should “be innovative and distinctive.” 

I think a hollow laugh might be in order at this point.

Obviously, Copstick, I and Benjamin Bello have discussed the problem. This part of our discussion might be interesting, remembering that Copstick and I have a TV production background and Copstick trained as a lawyer:


President Obonjo and Copstick in Edinburgh

COPSTICK: Ben Caudell talked vaguely about the people upstairs. But, basically, anyone who has any power at the BBC doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and they’re just going to carry on. He can do nothing. 

The men in suits will not react, because they are so sure they are more powerful than anybody and can just wait until it all goes away. Or they will mumble something about “best endeavours”. 

There was a chance when we met him that he was actually vaguely decent and was thinking Well, maybe there’s something we can do that will keep everybody happy. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he was just sent in there like a canary in the mine. They think it’s all going to go away.

I contacted a very prominent QC who specialises in Intellectual Property who says we have a reasonable case on several fronts. I asked to what extent could sections of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, as taken on by the EU’s Human Rights legislation, be used in an Intellectual Property case where the victim has kind-of shot himself in the foot because he has previously sent off ideas to a company. And, as we know, ideas are not copyrightable. 

JOHN: That’s the massive get-out clause for all broadcasters ripping-off people’s ideas.

COPSTICK: Yes. The fucker is that Benjamin sent the BBC ideas and one of them was not a chat show but, from what I’ve read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your rights in your own Intellectual Property are your human rights, because your Intellectual Property is seen as an extension of yourself – especially where it’s something like a character. So, even though you are fucked under UK statute law, because you sent them ideas, there is the Human Rights angle.

JOHN: What did the QC say?

COPSTICK: He said: “That’s interesting”… Given than Benjamin has been doing this character and only this character for ten years, you could argue that it is his business… It is a business he has created and a business in which there is a lot of goodwill. It is a ‘brand’ and there is a lot of goodwill. So, by doing what BBC Studios and Channel 4 are doing, they are infringing the goodwill of the brand. Which is (a) true and (b) very monetisable.

JOHN: Well, I’m not worried about a court case. I would welcome the publicity!

COPSTICK: We will fight if necessary and the embarrassment factor for them would be at absolute maximum.

JOHN: And the QC would work pro bono…

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: My angle is that, even if they didn’t rip it off intentionally – which stretches credulity a bit – the only alternative explanation is that they are incompetent idiots.

COPSTICK: They are worse than incompetent idiots. They are dangerous and damaging. 

JOHN: …because they are knowingly going to destroy a career built-up over ten years…

COPSTICK: Yes. They are going to destroy a career AND… they don’t care!

JOHN: And, given that Ben Caudell is married to an actress, Diane Morgan, it’s shocking that he doesn’t care more about performers’ careers.

COPSTICK: They really don’t care and also, even if everything they say is true, then what does that say about the attitude of BBC Television Comedy to live comedy? Live comedy is only important to them as a place where they go to steal ideas.

Although Benjamin did not send them a format with the President in a talk show format, by putting AN Other President in the talk show, they have more or less stolen the character as long as there’s enough similarity between the two presidents. What they will do is change his back story.

BENJAMIN: I talked to an Intellectual Property lawyer too and one of the things that President Obonjo does is he is very prominent on social media including YouTube videos and he is talking in character. 

JOHN: You are so prominent all over the place that it is inconceivable – unless the producers at the BBC are utterly incompetent and simply not even remotely doing their job properly – that they didn’t know you existed. The only way in which they could not know you existed was if they were totally inept.

If they claim that nobody developing or commissioning comedy at BBC TV or at Channel 4 had ever heard of you, it implies nobody at BBC TV Comedy or at Channel 4 Comedy knows or cares anything about live comedy over the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years.


#JusticeForObonjo !

President Obonjo’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show

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Stand-up comedians, death and fame – Who will be remembered and why?

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about reviving the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – I would not be involved in them. 

Of course, few people have ever heard of Malcolm Hardee.

Fame, as they say, is a fickle mistress.

In the UK, who were the biggest and most-loved comedians of the late-20th Century?

Probably Morecambe & Wise.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Haynes.

Before him? Maybe Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Lucan.

But, younger readers might ask, Who WERE these people?

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley and Arthur Lucan?

Never heard of them.

Come to that, who the fuck was Arthur Askey?

Certainly, if you are my devoted reader in Guatemala, you will never have heard of them.

But massively famous in their lifetime is what they all were. In the UK. But now forgotten by subsequent generations in the UK. And still totally unknown elsewhere. 

If you were born and brought up in China, India, Indonesia, the USA… none of those names ever meant anything even when they were at the height of their fame. Perhaps Benny Hill was more famous worldwide. There is a possibly apocryphal story that Chinese State Television interrupted their programming to announce his death. But do new generations remember him still in Shanghai or Guangzhou? I doubt it.

Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home in London, 1995

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ran at the Edinburgh Fringe 2005-2017. 

Not a lot of people know that. Certainly not in Guatemala or Guangzhou.

I mentioned during the conversation I had yesterday that I thought there was a chance – perhaps an outside chance – that Malcolm Hardee might be remembered in the UK for much longer than other comedians who were ‘famous’ during his lifetime and who are nationally known today.

Come to that, given current events, memories of Malcolm might outlive the very existence of the UK.

Malcolm was not famous when he was alive – infamous in certain areas, yes, perhaps, but never famous.

He was totally unknown by the general public unless you mentioned to people of a certain age The Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT in 1981 or 1982. Then they might remember the three-man act doing the perfomance; but not him individually. He was the one on the left.

His death in 2005 got lengthy obituaries in all the quality press but none in the popular tabloids. Because, although he was widely-known by the media and very influential in the comedy industry – Heavens! GQ even ran a fashion spread featuring Malcolm – not a man known for his sartorial elegance! – the general public didn’t know he existed.

My point yesterday was that the material and style of comedy acts date but vivid anecdotes of real people’s lives do not. 

In my opinion, Malcolm was not a good stand-up comedian. In fact, you could hardly call him a stand-up comedian at all. Though he was a superb and much-underestimated MC/compere. 

People always correctly said that Malcolm’s act was his life. He had maybe eight or ten jokes which he repeated over 20 or so years. But ask people about him and what do they remember first? Not the jokes but:

    • the fact that, naked, he drove a tractor through someone else’s act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
    • the fact that (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a good review of his own Edinburgh Fringe show and conned The Scotsman newspaper into printing it thinking it was written by their own reviewer.

If you see a stand-up comedy show from 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago, the material has dated; the style of delivery has dated; the physical look of the whole thing has dated. Even Morecambe & Wise shows, the last time I saw one, are starting to date. And, sadly, surprisingly, younger comedy fans do not find even Tommy Cooper as funny as those who saw him years ago.

Comedians’ acts and material date badly and relatively quickly.

But wildly eccentric OTT life stories and anecdotes about rebellious characters do not date.

If anyone ever fully collates the OTT anecdotes about recently-deceased comic Ian Cognito, there is another performer whose legend and personality were arguably greater than his impact on the general public.

The image which promoted the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in Edinburgh.

Successful comedians tend to be more mentally ‘together’ than the real wild card comics. People love the successful performers’ professional material, love their delivery. But they are less interesting off-stage.

When was the last time you heard a wildly eccentric anecdote about that brilliant on-stage performer Michael McIntyre doing something totally apeshit off-stage?

Malcolm Hardee could not walk from his home to the Post Office without five bizarre things happening to him – or causing bizarre things to happen.

Even the title of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (yes, he did) is OTT and the story of him stealing it will possibly still be funny decades hence, long after people have forgotten who, Freddie Mercury was.

Well, maybe that’s not true, because the off-stage Mercurial life story is a cracker too.

But my point is that anyone watching a 100% brilliant, top-notch Michael McIntyre routine… anyone watching an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, Monty Python or Fawlty Towers… anyone watching a Robin Williams routine… in 75 or 100 years time… may not find any of them funny because tastes will have changed and cultural tastes are different. Humour in the form of jokes and scripted funny routines does not necessarily transcend borders.

A joke that is funny in Indonesia may not make ‘em rock with laughter in Canada or Novosibirsk today. A joke or routine that is funny in London today may not be funny in London in 2099. But a bizarre anecdote about a man who “throughout his life maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences” (as Malcolm Hardee’s obituary in The Times said) is likely to outlive all the people who were more ‘famous’ than he was during his lifetime.

Malcolm Hardee – generally unknown during his lifetime and remembered by few since then – may yet outlive those who apparently achieved more during their lives. 

Lao Tzu is right that “the flame which burns twice as bright burns half as long”. But the flame which burns half as bright as those around it is still just as 100% hot when you stick your finger in it and yet may burn twice as long.

Of course, if you’re dead, it doesn’t do you any good so, as Malcolm himself would have said: “Fuck it!”

Or: “It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over… Round the edge… fish.”

RIP the unknown comic, Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005.

I know someone is going to mention that Charlie Chaplin is remembered fairly worldwide. But I don’t care and I never found him funny anyway. And I am already regretting the line about sticking your finger in…

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Writer/musician/comic John Dowie on his death, dentists and other Dowies…

So I had a blog chat with poet/comedian/writer John Dowie. 

I was going to the dentist. We arranged to meet when I was finished.

“You might as well come to the dentist in case he’s over-running,” I suggested.

“Charming as your dentist’s waiting room undoubtedly is,” John Dowie replied, “I will be in this pub down the road.”

And he was.

He drank sparkling water. He wore a hat,

This is part of our chat.


JOHN FLEMING: Are you going to see Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie?

JOHN DOWIE: No, because I won’t go to a cinema. People talk, use their phones and eat popcorn. I can’t believe they sell popcorn in cinemas: the noisiest and smelliest food known to mankind. I resent the attitude of the people who own the cinemas: they shouldn’t sell popcorn. I mean, people are bringing in hamburgers and chips now.

FLEMING: Are they? Where?

DOWIE: I dunno. But they are.

FLEMING: You’re getting to be a grumpy old man.

Consistently grumpy young John Dowie – a living legend

DOWIE: Getting? I was always a grumpy man. Age doesn’t come into it.

I can’t function unless I’m in complete privacy, in an enclosed space with no distractions.

FLEMING: You must have had to in your erstwhile youth.

DOWIE: I had a bedsit and wrote in that. Or I’d sit in my bedroom in my mother’s house and write there.

I am now thinking of trying to rent an office.

FLEMING: It is difficult to write at home.

DOWIE: Yes. If you have a partner of any kind, just as you reach the moment where you think: Yes! YES! there will be a knocking on the door – “Would you like a cuppa tea?” – and it’s all gone.

I had a friend, Gary, who was a painting artist and he said it was always happening with his missus.

FLEMING: The painter’s wife from Porlock.

DOWIE: …or the unwitting girlfriend from Porlock.

FLEMING: Unwitting?

DOWIE: To think it’s alright to knock on the writer’s door and ask if you want a cup of tea.

FLEMING: You should be publishing more. Your story in the excellently-edited Sit-Down Comedy anthology was wonderful.

Freewheeling John Dowie’s latest book

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got an idea for another book. But it’s under wraps. It’s bad luck to talk about it before you’ve done it.

FLEMING: Fiction?

DOWIE: No, no. I can’t be fucked with fiction… But I did have an idea for a story… It’s about this woman dentist who has a new patient and he walks into the room with the most perfect teeth. She falls madly in love with this guy, but how does she keep on seeing him? There’s only one way: tell him his teeth are shit. So, over the course of a year or so, she gets him back for more appointments, taking out his teeth one-at-a-time until he has no teeth left… and then she goes off him.

FLEMING: You should call it Take Me Out.

DOWIE: …or Pulling.

FLEMING: Can I quote that idea?

DOWIE: Yes. I won’t use it. But I do have an idea for a new book – though I can’t write it until I’ve found somewhere to live. At the moment, I’m staying with my two sons and their mother. One of my sons is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

FLEMING: Called?

Comedy/magic and conspiracy theories

DOWIE: Oddly Alike. My son is Harry Scott Moncrieff and it’s a two-hander with his mate Robbie Fox. Harry does comedy/magic wrapped around conspiracy theories. If he does it really well, they will kill him.

FLEMING: Or so he thinks… Why is he Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: He took his mother’s name which has turned out quite well, because he’s not cursed by association with my name as being drunk and abusive.

FLEMING: But Dowie is a famous name.

DOWIE: In Scotland it is… Dowie’s Tavern in Edinburgh… 

FLEMING: I’ve never heard of it. But Dowie is a creative name. There’s you. Your sister Claire Dowie. And Helga Dowie whom I worked with at ATV, who’s a producer now. Your son should have kept the Dowie name. Three prestigious Dowies. How many Scott Moncrieffs are there?

DOWIE: Hundreds, including the man who translated Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

FLEMING: Really? Was your ex-girlfriend related to the Proust Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: Yeah. And she can actually claim lineage from Henry VIII. All I can claim is a couple of ex-cons from Australia.

FLEMING: Really?

DOWIE: Nah! Dunno. Irish. My dad’s Irish, so… Well, there’s a famous John Dowie in Australia who’s a sculptor.

FLEMING: Oh! Is he related to you?

DOWIE: No… There’s another John Dowie who plays football. He is related.

Maybe dour, mean-spirited but never ever dull

FLEMING: Does ‘Dowie’ mean anything?

DOWIE: It means dull, dour and mean-spirited. There’s The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow, a famous folk song.

FLEMING: So your father was Irish with a Scots name…

DOWIE: Yes. My mother was very scathing about the Irish.

FLEMING: She was Scottish?

DOWIE: No. From Stoke-on-Trent but she married my dad, who was from Belfast and she was always scathing about how terribly not-bright the Irish were. I once did a genealogy thing on her maiden name. It turned out she was from Ireland… I think I may get an Irish passport if Brexit happens.

FLEMING: A comedian has just been elected President of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Zelenskiy)

DOWIE: Yes. Swivel on THAT Mark Thomas! Never mind your NHS show. Look what a real politician comedian’s getting up to!

FLEMING: Can I quote that?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Yeah! Jeremy Hardy must be spinning in his grave. That could’ve been me up there on that podium! I’m going to the Jeremy Hardy memorial in May. He was very good, very precise and his death deserved all the press coverage it got.

“Now, when comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries…” (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

It used to be that comedians were only jealous of other comedians succeeding. But then you write a book and you’re jealous that other comedians’ books are doing better than yours. Now, when other comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries. Ian Cognito’s obituaries this month! I would kill for that amount of space!

FLEMING: I know. He was getting in mainstream papers…

DOWIE: … in the Guardian AND in The Times! I expected the Guardian to do one, but not The Times.

FLEMING: Malcolm Hardee got very extensive obituaries in the quality newspapers because people in the media knew who he was, even if the public didn’t. But Ian Cognito! – I don’t think people outside the comedy industry itself were really aware of him. He did prove, though, that the best way to die is on-stage like Tommy Cooper – and/or live your life so OTT that there are lots of outrageous anecdotes to quote. Fame may die but anecdotes live forever.

DOWIE: That Hollywood Reporter article you posted on Facebook about John Belushi’s death was quite horrific. No respect. There’s a corpse being wheeled out on a trolly – Oh! I’ll take a photograph of that, then! – No. mate, don’t – And Lenny Bruce, of course. He died on a toilet trying to inject himself. He was lying naked on the bathroom floor with a syringe still in his arm and they were leaping up the stairs two-at-a-time to take photographs of him.

FLEMING: Apparently dying on the toilet is quite a common thing. Doing Number Twos puts a big strain on the heart.

DOWIE: Elvis.

FLEMING: Yes.

DOWIE: I have ‘died’ IN some toilets.

FLEMING: Wey-hey! You still have it!… I should have taken heroin when I was younger. Look at Keith Richards: 75 years old and a picture of good health; his main risk is falling out of trees he has climbed. Wasn’t it Keith Richards who accidentally smoked his father’s cremated ashes?

DOWIE: He said he did; then he said he didn’t.

FLEMING: Always print the legend, I say, if it’s a good story.

DOWIE: The story I like is Graham Nash. After his mother died, he discovered that she had wanted to be a singer but was saddled with having to bring up children and having to work. So he took her ashes on tour with him and, every time he did a gig, he dropped a little bit of her on the stage.

“What’s going to happen? … Are you going to rot or be burnt?”

FLEMING: What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to rot or be burnt?

DOWIE: When I buried my friend David Gordon, I found a natural death company with grounds and you can do what you like there. You can put the body in a hole in the ground or in a coffin or in a sack – You can do what the fuck you like – And then they plant a tree there. That’s what I’m going to have done – What kind of tree would it be? – I think it will have to be a weeping willow.

FLEMING: You’ll be happy to rot? You don’t want to be burnt?

DOWIE: I don’t like that bit where the doors close.

FLEMING: Like curtains closing on a stage…

DOWIE: …and no encore.

FLEMING: I think it’s more romantic to rot.

DOWIE: Also your body serves a purpose if you grow a tree out of it. Actually, I quite like the idea of a Viking funeral with the boat and the flames. But I try not to ponder on my own death too much, John. It’s just tempting Fate.

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Humor, Humour