Tag Archives: Manchester

I met a man with a family. He left home to see what it feels like to be homeless…

Manchester – Piccadilly station

When I was at college, one exercise we did was to record a normal conversation, then transcribe it exactly, word-for-word. When you do that, you realise the chaos of conversations. No sentences. Thoughts and sentences bounce around randomly, half-finished and intermingled. That interests me.

In my online blogs, I tend to ‘clean-up’ what is quoted, so it reads – I hope – more smoothly. And I cut for length. But below is a full and exact, un-cut transcription of a conversation I had at the weekend.

I was in Manchester on Sunday, at Amanda Fleming’s horror short film festival.

On Sunday night, I was sitting in Manchester’s Piccadilly station and was approached by a man asking for money. I almost never give money to beggars because I am always dubious what they will spend it on. 

But I had just bought a pack of two tiramisus from a nearby Sainsbury’s Local. So I gave him one and we ate them together on the bench.

He told me he had decided to live on the streets for a day to see what being homeless was like. He told me his very small daughter had died a few months ago. And (although this was Sunday) he had left home on Friday to see for a day what being homeless was like.

I obviously never necessarily believe what I am told by people asking for money. So I cannot guarantee anything he told me is true. 

But I switched on my iPhone during the conversation. Obviously, a vast invasion of his privacy. I will no doubt rot in hell. But I have obscured any details which could identify the man who may or may not be who he said he was. I have called him David. That is not the name he gave me. Everything else he said is quoted exactly.

BEWARE: This is quite long but, with luck, progresses interestingly!


JOHN: When did you leave home? Friday?

DAVID: We’ve really been depressed. All the family’s been depressed because of the loss. Me wife said: “You need a night out with your friends.” So every weekend she’s dressing me up well: “You’ll look nice tonight.”

Anyway, I got wrong train. I got there 15 minutes. They were only 15 minutes behind me. So… But they were on the next train. They were only 15 minutes.

JOHN: You decided you wanted to be a homeless man for a day?

DAVID: Yeah. I want to go home now. I want your advice on how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) from here. Can you tell me how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or…

JOHN: Best to phone your wife. I’m only up here for the day. Why did you want to be homeless for a day? Are you a sociology professor or something?

DAVID: I just wanted to see what they went through and I couldn’t do it. I could not do it. I am here, going home now.

JOHN: You started on Friday? Or this morning?

DAVID: Friday, I got the fuck beat out of me before my friends got there. I smoked.

JOHN: What? Weed?

DAVID: No. I train (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS) believe it or not. I train them how to be safe when (THEY DO THEIR JOB), hopefully. And they call me a chicken coward, because I’m the one that can’t do it, so I teach it. There’s a slightly higher grade that I am on, but we don’t live very well.

JOHN: So you’re a (PUBLIC SERVICE) person.

DAVID: I’m a (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKER) trainer, I would say. Trainer, supervisor, yeah, yeah. I do training courses: gotta pass it. I’ve got a company. A few people work for me as well.

JOHN: So you decided you wanted to be homeless…

DAVID: I’m coming out of the hospital. I’m in Manchester. I discharged meself cos I’m pissed-off and I didn’t want to be near anyone. I’m not staying in that bed no longer. I’m not doing this. But there was a man and I said: “Could I have half of your cigarette?” 

And he said: “No.”

I said: “I’m not without money. I would give you a pound.”

(AT THIS POINT, A HOMELESS MAN CAME UP TO US) 

HOMELESS MAN: “I’m sorry for asking…Can you spare a…”

JOHN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

DAVID: Ay. Ay-up, ay-up, ay-up. I’ve just been like this all day.

(THE HOMELESS MAN WALKED AWAY)

I’ve got five people in me family. Well, four people in my family now. Because of me wages… Because of me dad’s business, me dad says: “You’ll never ever, ever, ever raise £60,000.”

I said: “If you’d sell it me for 60,000… 60,000?” 

He says: “60,000? It’s worth ten times that,” he says. “If you ever raise £60,000 on yer own” he’ll sell a share of it to us. Anyway, I bought an ice cream van. I bought an ice cream van… Tell me when you’re bored.”

JOHN: No,no. You’re keeping me warm inside the station. This is good.

DAVID: It were very very hard with the ice cream van, as I found out and I had to go begging back to me dad, saying: “It’s winter time. I’m going out and I’m taking £15 and using £10 diesel, I’m using £3 stock; I’m making £2, £3, £4 a day, dad. Please bail me out. 

He said: “I told you this. I told you that.” Blah blah blah.

JOHN: I’ve always wondered what ice cream van men do in the winter.

DAVID: What they do in the winter is what I didn’t know. They save a lot of fucking money through the summer.

JOHN: Anyway… Back in the day and being homeless…

DAVID: Yeah. I tried it. What time is it now?

JOHN: When’s your train?

DAVID: I’ve no idea. I haven’t even booked to get. What time is it? Is it half past? It might not come.

JOHN: Almost half past ten. Where are you going to? (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)? There’s one at 10.47.

DAVID: Where? Where to? Where to?

JOHN: To (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). Platform 1. 10.47. That’s in 20 minutes time.

DAVID: How do I get to get from (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) then to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: I have no idea. God knows.

DAVID: Is there one for (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or is there owt?

JOHN: No. There’s just Crewe, Leeds, Buxton, Chester… and Blackpool, for some reason. If you can get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY), you can get your wife to collect you.

DAVID: Yeah. You’re right. You’re right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I haven’t got a penny to ring.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Was this a very long-winded Can I have some money for the telephone routine?

DAVID: No. I’m sorry, mate. No. I will not accept. Please do not do that. Do not do that. No. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s free phones. There’s free phones. I didn’t believe it. I dialled my dad on his mobile. I dialled him on his landline. I dialled me wife. Are there any of me kids there I can talk to? I broke down in tears. I said: “Daddy’s staying out here another night if he possibly can… just to see what it’s like to be homeless. I’ll be home tomorrow”.

I don’t think I need any money to get a ticket. Are people still working in that little hole?

JOHN: The information booth? Looks like it.

DAVID: What time’s that train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: 10.47 – 17 minutes time.

DAVID: Something happened and I went absolutely berserk and I absolutely lost the plot completely, tried a few drugs, really dangerous stuff.

JOHN: Today? Or after the ice cream van?

DAVID: No. (LAUGHS) After the death of me daughter.

JOHN: Oh, yes. Sorry.

DAVID: You’re not following this right, are you… We’ll get there. We’ve a long time, haven’t we?… No, it were me daughter. At least I could laugh then. It were the first time I could actually laugh and say: “No, me daughter; not the ice cream man.” That’s first time I’ve laughed and said her name. Me daughter.

(PAUSE)

JOHN: That might be the last train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). There isn’t another one on the board. You’ve got 17 minutes. That might be the last one.

DAVID: What, now?

JOHN: In 16 minutes.

DAVID: I’m gonna go there first (the information booth) and see if there’s one gonna take me to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). That there (the tiramisu) were absolutely beautiful and I’ve had absolutely nowt to eat all day. I got a slice of pizza. 

Some dear said: “I haven’t got any money for you, sweetheart, but, if you want something to eat, you can have something.” 

It’s fucking dangerous out there; it’s shit; I’ve never seen anything like it. That spice – just with phtum phtum-phtum. You can see in street with… we buy each other… and there’s police there and… It’s in front of them. They can’t do anything about it. There’s nothing about it.

JOHN: Is spice the big thing now?

DAVID: Not where I live. I’ve never noticed it. That’s why I… “Can I have a drag of your ciggie?” and he said: “No!” –  Because he paid for it, obviously. A lot of money. £5. I says: “I’ll give you a pound for a drag.” He says: “Yes. But only two drags or three drags. Do you want three drags?”

I thought: He’ll charge me £1 for two or three drags? A roll-up, not a cig. A fuckin’ roll-up. But I got nowt. So I took it. 

I had two drags and I started having third drag and I started feeling funny. So I were walking about, didn’t really know where I was, very disorientated. Couldn’t find train station, bus station, nothing, slept where I thought I oughta sleep, got absolutely annihilated – me wallet has got money in, me phone, me credit cards got took off me; it’s cost me nearly £700 so far. 

It’s not too bad. I’ll get most of it back on insurance. I’ve got quite a good job. I’m not rich. I am not rich. But I have a good job as you can imagine – who trains the (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS). 

JOHN: Is the drug problem in Manchester now spice not smack?

DAVID: No, it’s not smack. No, no. It’s… No, no. Spice. Spice. But I got…

JOHN: What effect does spice have? Is it like cocaine? Kapow!!

DAVID: Have you had cocaine?

JOHN: No.

DAVID: No. So you don’t know. Cocaine goes be-weugh! But, no, I’m fairly good be-weugh, but that first one we was talking about, the… the… eh… the heroin. That’s BANG! That goes straight in. But no, the one that you said…

JOHN: Spice or cocaine?

DAVID: That is the most subtle one. That is the one you will have a sniff of and not know what it’s done to you, whatsoever, cos it’s so subtle, yeah?

JOHN: I think coke is really dangerous.

DAVID: It’s not very dangerous. I’ve sniffed thousands of…

(A MAN COMES UP AND ASKS US FOR MONEY)

DAVID (TO BEGGAR): Mate, I’m the same as you.

BEGGAR: I know you, man.

DAVID: I know you as well. I’m the same as you do. I’m just trying to get ten bob out of him (POINTING AT ME) me’sen. I’ve got another 13/14 minutes yet.

(THE MAN WALKS AWAY)

I hope them things (information booths) are open. If, for any reason, I can’t, can you lend me some money for phone? You can come with me to see that I phone me wife to pick me up.

JOHN: I’m past caring. Here, you can have £2. It’s a story. It’s a story. It’s a good story.

DAVID: Can you put my details in your phone so I can give you the £2 back for being so kind to me.

JOHN: How about £60,000? If you ARE going to make a phone call – I don’t think you are – you’ve got 11 minutes to the train leaving.

DAVID: How far is it to the fucking thing?

JOHN: I don’t know. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1. Do you buy your ticket and then get on the train and they come and inspect it?

JOHN: I guess so. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1?

(A YOUNG WOMAN IN HER 20s APPROACHES US)

YOUNG WOMAN: Guys, I’m really sorry to ask, but is there any chance you can spare a little bit of change for…?

DAVID: Darling, I’m in the same position as you.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are ya?

DAVID: This is me dad. He’s just come out to give me some money.

YOUNG WOMAN: Alright. No worries.

DAVID: I’m sorry, sweetheart.

YOUNG WOMAN: I’m shitting it. I’m just trying to get home.

DAVID: I’m the same. Me dad’s good to me. He feeds me chocolate.

YOUNG WOMAN: At least you’ve got a dad. 

DAVID: I wish I’d got a mum and I wish I’d got a baby. They both died.

LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENT: The train approaching Platform 1 is the…

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Filed under Drugs, Poverty, UK

Short horror films and an international festival – probably not for chickens…

Tonight, Sunday 17th March, BBC4 is screening a selection of short films in the UK under the umbrella title Born Digital: First Cuts.

I saw a preview of all the films earlier this week and Janitor of Lunacy by London-based Japanese director Umi Ishihara is well worth watching. What on earth it is about is another matter. It runs 12 minutes.

Coincidentally producer, director and actress Amanda Fleming’s company De Profundis has started a new international festival for short films – specifically horror films. The first – free – one-day festival is being held in Manchester in two weekends’ time.

I asked her: “Why?”


Amanda Fleming with halo at Soho Theatre Bar in London

AMANDA: Well, since I make short films and my direct theatre pieces tend to have a lot of horror.

JOHN: Why are you plugging other people’s films?

AMANDA: There are a lot of films that don’t get seen and a lot of film festivals that are particularly picky about how much money is spent on the film. I want to showcase talented up-and-coming film makers, so I thought it would be good to have a forum and to actually make a creative day of it.

It’s also a platform to meet some of the international people who have been entered into the festival – there will be Q&As.

We’ve had 75 submissions, 30 of them from abroad. Some of them were not the right genre of horror. Some were more psychological thriller rather than horror. Not quite the genre we were looking for. Maybe on the next one we will add in extra categories.

JOHN: There is a very nice dividing line between psychological thriller and horror.

AMANDA: We labelled it a ‘horror’ film festival. I was interested to see what came in.

JOHN: How do you decide something is a psychological thriller but not a real horror film?

AMANDA: Psychological tends be twists and turns – like somebody who thinks she’s hearing something and thinks it’s ghosts, but it’s just her own insanity or a stalker or whatever. The type of horror we were looking for was supernatural/Gothic, a little bit of zombie, a little bit of vampire.

JOHN: Val Lewton films in particular were all about the things you don’t see being more frightening than the things you do see. Were there films submitted that were on the borderline of your definition?

AMANDA: There was one. It won’t fit in this first festival but it was so good I am going to put in the next one. The festival is going to be twice a year. The first one is one day. Six hours. This first festival will be a small start-up one to see how it goes, then we will move to a slightly bigger venue in October or November this year.

JOHN: And this film which ‘doesn’t fit’ would be in the second festival in October or November?

AMANDA: Yes. I’m going to add an extra specific type of category so it will fit in. 

JOHN: What’s that?

AMANDA: Comedy horror. This film’s amazing. It’s called Fowl Fury.

JOHN: Fowl?

AMANDA: Yes, so you know where it’s going to go, right?

JOHN: Why is it not horror?

AMANDA:
Too funny. We are looking for more horror-horror. But I might even put it in this first festival as a token laugh moment. The trouble is we already have so many worth screening.

JOHN: They are all short films?

AMANDA: The films run between 2 minutes and 20 minutes.

JOHN: Two minutes is a scene, not a film.

AMANDA: But the 2-minute one is so good… to the point I have actually emailed them and said: I can see this becoming a major production. We are interested in talent and potential.

JOHN: You should have a Phlegming Award for Horror.

AMANDA: If we could afford it, we would, but we are just starting up. We are just awarding certificates for Best UK Film and Best International Film for this first one.

JOHN: And we will have to wait until October or November to see Fowl Fury…?

AMANDA: Probably… But, if we can fit the chicken one in this time, we will.

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Filed under Horror, Movies

A desperate blog with Matt Roper about Lewis Schaffer and Marianne Faithfull

Matt Roper - a man barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

Matt Roper – a comedian barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

“I am a desperate man,” I told comedian Matt Roper, who has been living in my spare room for the last few weeks (with my knowledge).

“I need a blog. You said you have a sore back. What has happened to it?”

“I dunno,” Matt said. “It’s just the way I’ve been sleeping.”

“Or is it the fact you’ve got the weight of the world’s troubles on your shoulders?” I suggested.

“I’m glad you said that,” replied Matt, “because Lewis Schaffer needs to realise he’s not carrying them all on his own.”

“We’ve barely seen each other since you’ve been here,” I said. “Where have you been these last few weeks?”

“John,” said Matt. “This is not an interesting blog. Let’s get Wilfredo out.”

On stage, Matt plays the part of Hispanic singer Wilfredo.

“Nah,” I said.

Matt had been trying to persuade me I should interview him for this blog in character as Wilfredo in my back garden.

“My blog’s about real people,” I had told him. “It would be like Chortle (the comedy industry website) interviewing Alan Partridge instead of Steve Coogan.”

Lewis Schaffer (lefty) exercising in the park yesterday with Martin Soan

Lewis Schaffer, here talking to Martin Soan about ping pong

“Does Lewis Schaffer work at Greggs The Baker?” Matt asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Does he?” asked Matt. “What does he do there?”

“Of course he doesn’t work in Greggs The Baker,” I said. “Why on earth would he?”

His Wikipedia entry said he did last time I looked.”

We looked at Lewis Schaffer’s Wikipedia entry.

It had been changed.

“Don’t mention Greggs The Baker in your blog,” said Matt. “Lewis Schaffer will be upset by that.”

“No he won’t,” I said. “He probably wrote it.”

“I’m going to go out for a ciggie,” said Matt.

“Is there’s a picture in it?” I asked.

“John, this isn’t interesting,” said Matt. “We could invent a fake person specifically for your blog,”

“Lewis Schaffer is enough,” I said. “I’ll take a picture of you.”

“Get your garlic grotto in the background,” said Matt.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden & two weeping angels

“Garlic grotto?”

“Dalek grotto,” said Matt, correcting either me or himself.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden.

“How about publicising Wilfredo’s Christmas single?” asked Matt.

“Nah,” I said.

It started to drizzle rain.

“John, I can’t live in this country,” said Matt.

“Why?”

The British attitude to life - A glass half empty

The normal British attitude to life exemplified

“It’s just so painful. Everything’s expensive. The people are miserable. Everyone’s got this glass-half-empty approach to life.”

“But you’re from the North of England!” I laughed.

“Not as far north as you,” said Matt.

“Scotland isn’t the North of England,” I said.

“Maybe I should move back up North,” mused Matt.

“But,” I pointed out, “if you go too far north, you hit Glasgow, which is never a good idea. Talk about misery.”

“I’ve never been to Glasgow,” said Matt.

Glasgow - a fine and refined city of culture

Glasgow – a fine and refined city of culture

“Misery and violence,” I said. “It’s a heady mix. Have you really never been to Glasgow?”

“I was once in a cafe called Leopold’s in Bombay,” replied Matt.

“It’s not the same,” I said.

“I used to spend a lot of winters out there,” said Matt.

“The cafe?”

“India. I used to sing in clubs in the summer down in Devon. There was good money in it.”

“What sort of stuff?”

“Swing and jazz, all sorts of stuff.”

“Why have you never been to Glasgow?” I asked.

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday night

“I did go,” said Matt, “to see Marianne Faithfull in London last Friday night.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “you told me you thought she should be a comedian.”

“She was very very funny,” said Matt. “She had a stick because she had shattered her hip bone. So she sits in a chair on stage with this stick, yelling at all the techies because the lights are too bright. Then she counts – One – Two – Three – and unseats herself grandly from this chair and all the audience applaud and she shouts Imagine! Getting a round of applause just for standing up! I feel  like Tommy Cooper! and all the audience applauded.

Tommy Cooper

The late great Tommy Cooper

I love Tommy Cooper! she says. I AM Tommy Cooper! My kinda guy!”

“So there’s a scoop for your blog,” said Matt. “Marianne Faithfull is a huge Tommy Cooper fan.”

I left Matt outside, smoking in the drizzle.

Inside, there was a message on my computer from someone I know who had better remain nameless.

“I am listening to Lewis Schaffer attempting to interview Stewart Lee on Nunhead American Radio,” it said. “Worth a listen. Total chaos.”

Sometimes I think: Should I continue to write this blog? Does anyone really believe Lewis Schaffer exists?

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Scotland, UK

Jimmy O: a ‘blackballed’ comic inspired by Jerry Sadowitz & Bernard Manning

Jimmy O yesterday in Wigan via Skype

Jimmy O chats in a Wigan internet cafe yesterday via Skype

A couple of months ago, I saw Waves of Laughter, an episode of BBC2 TV documentary series Funny Business. It was about comedians performing on cruise ships.

According to the BBC publicity blurb: “This film follows the fortunes of Jimmy O – a virgin water-borne comic, as he makes his very first cruise, and tries to learn the ropes in a hurry when he is thrown in at the deep end.”

He sank, so I was interested when he contacted me about a charity single his band Clown Prince are releasing for online download on 3rd May.

“What sort of music is it?” I asked.

“I always say it’s sugar-coated pop with a twist of melancholy,” He told me yesterday. He was in Wigan. I was on Skype.

“Comedy happened by accident,” he said. “Me main passion in life were music. It’s a cliché, but I were the class clown at school. People were always telling me I were funny. So, when the band originally broke up and I had no creative outlet left, I never thought I’ll be a comedian, I just thought I’ll stand on stage to test just how funny I actually am.

“Me band’s doing stuff again now, but I thought we’d do it online rather than live. To test it. And we’ll give the proceeds to a local stroke charity in Wigan and Leigh – Think Ahead

“I lost me mum to a stroke two years ago, which is a harrowing experience. It puts a lot of this entertainment bullshit into perspective.”

“How are things after the BBC documentary?” I asked.

“I’m on the dole,” replied Jimmy. “I live in a council house in Wigan with no carpets, paper hanging off the wall, a broken fridge and a broken telly. I’m basically a tribesman. I wonder what Michael McIntyre’s doing this morning. He’ll be sat in his £8 million house.

“I have problems getting booked.

The glitz and glamour of showbiz

Jimmy O amid the glorious glitz and glamour of showbiz

“When I first started out, Jerry Sadowitz was me idol. When I ran a club, I’d love to have booked him, but he’s always telling me to Fuck off on Twitter. He was the first comedian I felt passionate about. But I grew up with the pre-conceived idea of a real professional comedian being Bernard Manning. I used to watch the show The Comedians on telly.

“I actually supported Bernard Manning once. I was quite lucky. When I started out and was only ten gigs old and I were shit, I got the chance to support Bernard Manning. After that, I thought I don’t understand this Political Correctness. It’s such a middle class bar.

“You can make jokes about the poor. You can make rape jokes. You can make cancer jokes. You can make all the disabled remarks like Ricky Gervais does. But, as soon as you mention something like an asylum-seeker…

“When I went onto the alternative Manchester circuit, I told a gag which got me blackballed effectively. I said:

“I’ve got a friend. He’s a Kosovan asylum-seeker. I invited him round our house and said Make yourself at home. So he raped me wife and ate the dog. 

“I had another one:

“My girl said she wanted some smellies for Christmas, so I got her a tramp and a gypsy.

“Just a silly one-liner.

“But, as soon as I done that, I was known as ‘the racist’ and I was blackballed on the Manchester comedy scene and it’s kinda carried on. The vilification has carried on in the six years I’ve been doing stand-up. I’ve had promoters tell me We’ve had discussions. I’ve heard other promoters talk about you and because of ‘The Gypsy Joke’ you won’t get bookings. I have this reputation that precedes me.”

“Political correctness is an interestingly variable thing,” I said.

‘It’s a class thing,‘ said Jimmy. ‘If a middle class student had gone on stage and delivered that gag, it would be post-modern irony. If I go on stage – I look like a hod-carrier – I’m seen as a piece of racist BNP poster-boy filth.

“They’re just gags and it shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t have to police yourself. It’s comedy. Is it a George Carlin quote? It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line and offend. The nature of comedy is a dark art. It comes from a dark place. Most comedians are mental. The best ones are.

Jimmy like Total Abuse from Jerry Sadowitz

Total Abuse inspired

“I first saw Jerry Sadowitz on an ITV morning show called The Time, The Place when I was 15 years old. This episode was about swearing and they had Jerry Sadowitz and his manager sat in the audience. This is a clip from your show… and it was like Beep… beep… beep… beep… Being 15, I thought This is great! so I got me mum to buy me his Total Abuse DVD and I loved it. It was amazing! When I started doing comedy, he was the man I wanted to be like. That’s why I did asylum-seeker jokes. I thought: Well, he’s doing it…

“I grew up on a council estate in Wigan. I had a loving mother and a cold, distant, cruel father. He never beat me, but he was always putting me down so I’ve been instilled with this fucking Grimaldi complex – you know – the tortured clown. Most entertainers are dysfunctional to varying degrees and they stand on a stage to say Please like me.

“Other ‘normal’ people go out on a weekend and go for a dance and that’s their showtime. But the more twisted of us go stand on a stage and get shouted at.”

“And a TV documentary about cruise ship entertainers is a bigger stage,” I said.

“I’d been on television before,” Jimmy replied. “A show called Living With Kimberly Stewart: a reality TV show with Rod Stewart’s daughter on Living TV. Twelve contestants. The premise was Kimberly Stewart had no friends in the UK, so she had to find two flatmates to live with her. This was 2007 and Kimberley was in her late twenties.

The world of Kimberly Stewart on the cover of Hello!

Kimberly Stewart’s world: the cover of Hello!

“I fill out the application form and I’m brutally honest. I’m an unemployed comedian. I have a battered old Astra car. I live with me mother. I guess because I was raw and different, they invited me down to auditions at Endemol in London and it was full of girls who looked like they’d just come off an FHM shoot and guys in scarves and pointy-toed boots who looked like they’d been in Duran Duran and I’m a bloke from Wigan with a flat cap on and a pair of £7 jeans from Asda.

“There were tasks every week and, because I had been involved in music, there was a music task. Donny & Dirk Tourette were on the show doing the music task as well – Donny Tourette was on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

“The producer took us to the London School of Music. Donny & Dirk Tourette were sat down with loads of Stella beer cans round them. Having a comedic slant, if you’re in a strange situation, you tend to fall back on comedy. Dirk Tourette’s hair were bright blond, with a straight fringe and straight down the sides.

“I said: I know you off the telly… It’s Jim’ll Fix It!

“And he said: You cunt! You Northern cunt! It were like something out of Grange Hill. He actually said: I’m gonna put your ‘ead dahn the toilet! There’s footage of the fight on YouTube, but they’ve edited all this bit out.

“So it started a push-and-pull. His brother Donny ran over with a full can of Stella and smashed it in me face – the footage is on YouTube.

“Donny Tourette scratched me eye. I had to go to Moorfields Eye Hospital. One of me regrets is I didn’t punch him; I just grappled him to the floor because, at the time I was green and thought Well, I don’t want to get thrown off this show. I thought it could be me ticket to the chocolate factory. But it turned out to be me ticket to the fucking meat counter in Tesco.”

“When I saw you on the BBC2 cruise ship show,” I said, “I thought He’s playing a professional Northerner on-and-off stage and I can’t see what the guy’s really like.”

“Well,” explained Jimmy, “I had a dichotomy that had been bothering me for a while. I had developed this dopey, Northern, Ken Goodwin type character. I’d shuffle onto the stage looking bewildered and get laughs.

“I had developed this act which was very old school: dead-pan one-liners. But I’d got bored with it and me delivery had become so slow and dragged-out… My goal now is to become more like myself on stage, but there’s something very scary about that. It’s like going on stage naked.

“People told me: You’re funnier as yourself. But it’s like when someone tells you something and, deep down inside, you know it too and you’re in a state of comedic denial.

“I’m not a cruise ship entertainer. I’m not from a world of cheesy smiles and Come on, Beryl, let’s have a dance; it’s Beryl’s birthday, everybody! Comedically, that’s not what I want to do. My goal is to be myself now. That BBC cruise ship documentary put the final nail into the coffin of my old act.”

There is an extract from the upcoming Jimmy O/Clown Prince charity single Cradle Me on SoundCloud:

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A chat about a Christmas video turns to talk of comedians in court in the 1960s

Matt Roper - Christmas in Soho

Matt Roper spends a Happy Goddam Christmas in Soho

Comedian Matt Roper is flying to India on New Year’s Eve for two months. At least, that was what he intended to do.

“I think my new principle should be Don’t book flights when you’ve had two bottles of wine and a load of Guinness and a few tequilas,” he told me over pizza in London’s Soho.

“I’d had a heavy night out and woke up in the morning. My life most mornings, if I’m being honest is… Well, if you’ve ever seen a window with condensation on it and it slowly clears away… That’s my brain in the morning… I remembered doing something about a flight, so I went and checked my emails and the Confirmation was there… Flying out on 31st December, which is perfect for me because I don’t like New Year… and coming back on June 3rd…. What?… June 3rd?!!… but the most surprising thing was I’d managed to choose my seat and decide what sort of meal I was having.

“I’ve been many, many times to India. I love it out there, but I haven’t been for about six years. I’ll go to Goa and then hopefully write my Edinburgh Fringe show in some hill station. But my point is Never book a flight when you’re hammered.

“Maybe that should be your Fringe show title,” I suggested: “Never Book a Flight When You’re Pissed. But you shouldn’t go to India. You’re in the iTunes Comedy charts at the moment with Happy Goddam Christmas, this Christmas song of yours.”

“Well, it’s an anti-Christmas Christmassy song, really,” Matt corrected me, “like Fairytale of New York.”

“When that was released,” I said, “it was inconceivable it could become a standard festive song like White Christmas.”

“It’s a British thing,” suggested Matt. “We’re maybe not drawn to the natural sugary, positive ditties.”

“Is it the first song you’ve written?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “All the Wifredo stuff you hear at Edinburgh is all orginal songs, though I did one of those in collaberation with Pippa Evans.

“With Happy Goddam Christmas, I had the music for a long time – the basic structure of the song – it was about an ex I was feeling particularly, you know, bitter and jaded about. But the song isn’t iactually about me feeling bitter about an ex. I took it to Pippa Evans and she added a middle eight onto it and we worked together on the lyrics.”

Pippa Evans performs as her on-stage character Loretta Maine. Someone once described her as ‘Dolly Parton as seen through the lens of Mike Leigh’.

“Arthur Smith has a little cameo in the video,” Matt told me, “and we have Sanderson Jones and Imran Yusef – in the video, they’re in the band – Arthur’s in the toilet brandishing his Hammond organ.”

“So you wanted to make lots of money with a Christmas song?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Matt. “It was just about having a bit of fun. It’s easy to release whatever you want on iTunes. It’s quite incredible how the music industry’s changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Edinburgh Fringe were along similar lines? If you could cut out all the middle people.”

“Well,” I said, “the Free Fringe and the Free Festival sort-of do that. Are you thinking of doing one of the two free festivals next year?”

“Possibly. I had a lot of fun with Just The Tonic this year. I would like to see the Fringe level out into an event where your established comics and TV names are on the ticketed Fringe and the less-established acts can realistically afford to do it and make at least a little bit of money by the end of it.”

Matt’s father, George Roper, was one of The Comedians on the seminal Granada TV comedy stand-up show of the 1970s.

It was a different era.

“There was a club called The New Luxor Club in Hulme, Manchester,” Matt told me.

I raised my eyebrow at the mention of a club in Hulme. I went to Hulme a few times when I worked at Granada TV in the 1980s. If you went to the Aaben Cinema there, when you came out, you might find three youths sitting on your car bonnet saying: “So how much are you gonna pay to get your car back?”

“In the 1960s,” Matt told me, “they would have ‘gentlemen’s evenings’ at some of the Manchester social clubs, working men’s clubs, cabaret clubs. It would not be uncommon to have six stand-up comics and six female strippers/exotic dancers on one bill. At this point in the 1960s, it was legal to be naked on-stage, but it was illegal to move.

“The police decided to bust The New Luxor Club and my father was one of the six comics performing there that night. The police raided the club and charged the comedians with aiding and abetting the club owner – a guy called Vincent Chilton – for running a disorderly house.

“The six strippers and the six comics were in the dock at Manchester Crown Court and the police had to stand up in the court and tell the jokes. I swear – no word of a lie.

“I don’t know the exact date, but the police had to get up and say something like On the 28th of June 1965, George Roper stood up on stage and said the following joke: ‘A policewoman and a policeman were walking ‘ome from t’station one night. Ooh, she said, I’ve left me knickers back at t’station. Ooh, don’t worry, said t’policeman. Hitch up yer skirt, let the dog ‘ave a sniff. Half an hour later, t’dog comes back with t’sergeant’s balls in its mouth’…

“Can you imagine? In the Crown Court? The public gallery had to be cleared because everyone was laughing so much.

“There was a guy called Jackie Carlton, who was the apotheosis of Manchester club comics at the time and all the younger comics like Frank Carson and Bernard Manning looked up to him. He was very camp, very flamboyant. When it was his turn in the dock, the judge asked: Was that one of your jokes? and he said, Yes, but I tell it much better than that. He was found guilty.

“My dad was the last comic up and, when it was his turn to stand in the dock, the judge asked Is that one of your stories? and he said Oh! Not heard that one before and, for some reason, he got off with it by playing the underdog, as he always did. The other five comics got fined, but my dad got off with it.

“I asked my uncle about it not long ago and he said people were queueing round the block to buy the Manchester Evening News to read the jokes that were told in court.”

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Below, Jackie Carlton talks in the 1970s about camp comedy and obscenity…

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John Lennon’s night on the tiles and Bernard Manning’s tarbrush legacy

Comedian and actor Matt Roper recently told me a story about defiantly adult Bernard Manning being considered for  the 1972 movie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I blogged about it last week. Matt is up to his ears moving flat today, then straight off for three weeks of summer festival performances – firstly at Glastonbury, then Lushfest in Poole and then the Maker Sunshine Festival in Cornwall.

Very new school trendy.

But as the son of George Roper, star of 1970s ITV series The Comedians, he grew up with the old school comics and their chums.

“There are tons of stories about the old school,” he tells me. “I never really think about it all too much as my contemporaries are quite young still and don’t really know who most of these guys are. The slightly older generation of alternative comics of course do. I got sick of defending the new school to all the old school and vice versa. They’d hate to hear it, and I’ve thought about it for a long time, but they have more in common than in difference.

“People sometimes tar all of those old school comics with Bernard Manning’s brush. It’s hard, having been so close to my father and loving him for his gentle mind and manner, to hear him being lumped in with all the stereotypes about Northern racist comics… Somebody said to me recently that “Bernard was all about the darkness and your father was all about the light” which was very sweet but makes me think – Never mind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, they should’ve been cast in Star Wars!

One source of stories when Matt was a kid was legendary Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp.

“He was full of interesting stories which I soaked up happily like a sponge.,” says Matt.

“My favourite story is of when he and his wife were in bed, at home, asleep. It is 2.00am when the phone rings. It’s John Lennon, out on the tiles in Manchester after a TV recording. He asks if Johnnie is coming out to play.

No, says Johnnie, I’m in bed, asleep. But, if you have any trouble getting anywhere, just mention my name.

“As if John Lennon of the Beatles would have had any problem getting into a club and have to resort to name-dropping!”

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How Bernard Manning was almost cast in a classic British children’s story…

Comedian and actor Matt Roper is going to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and should have a baptism of fire, as he is performing in two separate productions – as his comedy character Wlfredo in Wilfredo – Erecto! at the Underbelly and as a Satanic and sometimes singing spin doctor in the satire Lucifer: My Part in the New Labour Project (And How I Invented Coalition Government)at The Phoenix.

Matt is the son of George Roper, one of The Comedians in what was at the time the startlingly original and cutting-edge 1970s ITV series which introduced the British Isles to the ‘old school’ likes of Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen.

I went with Matt to Soho last night to see London-based New York comic Lewis Schaffer‘s extraordinary on-going thrice-a-week Free Until Famous show. It was Matt’s third visit. I go to see the show maybe once every month – as Lewis Schaffer says, it is “never the same show twice”.

Matt, though every inch a ‘new-school’ comedian, grew up hanging round the old school comics as a kid.

Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp was a seminal figure in British comedy of the time – he is also credited with putting The Beatles on TV for the first time. But I did not know until Matt told me last night that Johnnie had also put a young Woody Allen on British TV screens for the first time.

The most surprising story Matt had, though, was that his dad George Roper and Bernard Manning were originally considered for the parts of Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the mega-all-star 1972 movie version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

At the time of the casting read-through in London, George Roper was starring nightly on stage at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. On the day of the read-through, train hold-ups in the North West of England delayed him to such an extent that getting down to London and back up again in time for his appearance on stage in Manchester was going to prove impossible, so he had to cancel his trip.

The ever-exuberant and straight-talking Bernard Manning did make it down to the session, though, striding brashly into the room where Dame Flora Robson, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Robert Helpmann, Dennis Price, Peter Bull and other creme de la creme of up-market British theatrical nobility was holding court.

With an outspoken fucking this and a What the fucking hell is that? and a right old fucking load of old fucking bollocks, Bernard soon made his presence felt and…

as a result, neither Bernard Manning nor George Roper were cast in the film.

The parts of Tweedledum and Tweedledee went to the Cox Twins

I can’t help feeling that Bernard Manning and George Roper would have been a casting made in  movie comedy heaven.

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More Matt stories Here.

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