Tag Archives: Mark Kelly

“One of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener”

After yesterday’s blog, in which Louise Reay told the true story of a man banging a nail into his penis – as is the way when I have no time to write a considered and/or transcribed blog – today we have a hodge podge of glimpses into human life in 2015.

  • World Naked Gardening Day

    If you cultivate roses, you should always beware of little pricks

    On Facebook, comedy fan Sandra Smith informed me that today is the 10th annual World Naked Gardening Day. According to NBC’s Today programme in the US, the event “celebrates weeding, planting flowers and trimming hedges” naked. The event’s own website suggests: “freehikers can pull invasive weeds along their favorite stretch of trail. More daring groups can make rapid clothes-free sorties into public parks to do community-friendly stealth cleanups.”

  • Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge Claire Smith told me that, at the Brighton Fringe, feisty 81-year-old Californian cabaret act and comic Lynn Ruth Miller has a new double act going with the owner of a fish and chip shop in Brighton. – “He supplies the fish and chips, she supplies the customers with wit and repartee. She is also holding an exhibition of her paintings in the chip shop.”
Anna Smith - Bobby The Duck

Bobby The Duck  + bandaged foot

  • From Vancouver, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith e-mailed me with her news: “Today I saw Bobby the Duck (previously mentioned in this blog back in October last year) and he has a sore webbed foot. Meanwhile, the fraud trial of Mike Duffy has started. He is a senator accused of crimes like spending too much public money on makeup. And Conni Smudge is hosting a weekly gay bingo night at Celebrities night club on Davie Street. Conni’s full name is Convenient Smudge and she seems to have a preference for blue balls. We have also been warned that planes are going to be spraying us with insecticide this morning.
  • Meanwhile, in London last night, I went to see a run-through of Charmian Hughes’ new show – When Comedy Was Alternative (The Laughs and Loves of a She-Comic) – which, in its present form, is a smörgåsbord of previously untold comic tales of Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club, Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky, Arthur Smith, Sean Hughes and the Glastonbury Festival.
  • At Charmian’s read-through, I chatted to comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly. He told me that, at a recent South Coast gig, he had seven copies of his most recent book of poetry stolen. Neither of us could figure out if this was a bad or (in publicity terms) a good thing.
  • “Sandra

    Sandra Smith (right) on QE2 ocean liner about 45 years ago

    Then, this morning, back home in Borehamwood, I got another e-mail from comedy fan and this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith about her days working on cruise ships. She told me: “I used to work in the dining room with a waiter called Billy. One morning, towards the end of service, he asked me to give him the very heavy silver coffee pot that I was holding. I watched him pour out the coffee, then saunter across the dining room to where the Assistant Head Waiter was having breakfast. Billy hit him around the head with the coffee pot several times, until he fell forward unconscious. Billy then came back to where I was standing transfixed and said: Sorry if I scared you, Sandy, but he’s been on my back. Within moments, several Masters at Arms appeared and Billy picked up a knife, but he was eventually overpowered and taken away. I never saw him again. On another occasion, two men were in competition for the attentions of a third. So one of the men tried to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener.

And this is the final version

1 Comment

Filed under Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

Mr Nasty: BBC comedy series Hi-de-Hi and 1980s hardline Left Wing comedy

Mark Kelly in Soho this week

Mark Kelly – former Mr Nasty & extra – in Soho this week

In this blog a couple of days ago, Ricky Gervais’ TV series Extras was mentioned. I had not realised that comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly – an occasional popper-upper in this blog – had, at one time, been a real TV extra.

He also used to perform stand-up under the name Mr Nasty.

“In the 1980s,” he told me this week, “on the alternative cabaret circuit, I did this song with a chorus of Hi-de-Hi! and people never realised it was written from bitter personal experience.

“I was living near Colchester, playing in a band and quite happy doing that and weird theatre and signing on (for Unemployment Benefit).

“I had an Equity card, because I had been with a fringe theatre group years earlier when Granada TV made a documentary about the group.

“In those days, Equity was a closed shop and you had to sweat blood to get an Equity card. It was very difficult to get, but I got one with no effort at all.

“I was with this group called RAT Theatre who were based in Stoke-on-Trent and Granada TV were making this documentary on them. It wasn’t an Equity theatre group, but it was just assumed I had an Equity card and, when Granada realised I didn’t, one of the production team just came up to me, gave me a form and said: Sign this; we’ll send it off. I didn’t even fill it in; I just signed the form and, by return post, got an Equity card.”

“If it was a documentary,” I asked, “why did you need an Equity card?”

“Because it included performance. Anyway, I had an Equity card and the consequence was I ended up appearing in Hi-de-Hi!

“At the time, there was a shortage of extras – who had to be Equity members – in East Anglia. So all of us who had Equity cards and were signing-on got forced to go along.

Hi-de-Hi was filmed at Warners Holiday Camp in Dovercourt near Harwich. They filmed two series a year out-of-season, so it was usually pretty cold and you’d dread the swimming pool scenes. The main cast would have people standing by with warm dressing gowns and towels; we would have nothing.

“The way (producer) David Croft cast his series was quite interesting. For the pilot of the first series, they would quite often have characters who would then be written out. They would throw in more people than they needed to see what worked. They would try characters out and, if they didn’t work or were too close to another character in comedy terms, they would get rid of someone.

The cast of Hi-de-Hi

The large cast of Hi-de-Hi who put the camp in holiday camp

“They also had quite big casts. One of the consequences of this was, because they had quite a large recognisable main cast and then a slightly recognisable lower-level cast, it meant there was very little money left for anyone else. So they would go to what felt like somewhat absurd lengths to make sure you didn’t speak – because, if you spoke, they had to pay you a lot more.

“I was cast as a walk-on which meant I got no lines but I did get ‘directed movements’, which meant I got repeat fees. Until a few years ago, when Equity did a dreadful ‘buy-out’ deal, I still got repeat fees which, once or twice, actually came in really handy and bailed me out.

“I came with the opposite attitude to most of the extras. Most of the extras wanted to be in showbusiness and wanted to be seen on camera. I didn’t particularly want to be seen on camera. What I wanted to do was sit in the canteen and read. I became very adept very quickly at knowing how they set up scenes and all the reverse angles they were likely to do and positioning myself so I would not be needed for other shots.

“The irony of this – which I had not actually thought through – is that what they do NOT want from extras and walk-ons is for them to become recognisable visible characters. So, by hardly ever being in shot, I actually prolonged my shelf life and I was in six – possibly seven – series of Hi-de-Hi. So, although I am present in every episode, apart from on two or three occasions, you would need a freeze-frame and zoom-in to see me.

“There was one series where I was a teddy boy, which I quite liked, and there was one costume I actually tried to buy off them. Jeffrey Holland plays the character Spike and one of the running gags in the series is that, in most episodes, he will appear usually looking harassed in some stupid costume that he has been forced to wear.

“In this particular episode, it was a liquorice allsorts costume, including a head, all completely made of liquorice allsorts. It wasn’t that heavy, you could move in it OK and it wasn’t too hot to wear and he was approximately the same size as me. But the BBC would not sell it to me.

“In those days, I was doing a very ‘hard’ Communist politics set. Had I got hold of this costume, I would – doing alternative cabaret as Mr Nasty in London – have gone on stage wearing this liquorice allsorts costume. To me, that’s what I am about. I love the idea of saying what I actually believe but deliberately undercutting it and making it seem absurd at the same time. I think that is the essence of comedy.

Bertie Bassett

Could Lenny Bruce have become Bertie Bassett?

“Maybe I should still do something like that. I have always thought that Lenny Bruce would have been enormously improved if he had gone on stage as Bertie Bassett. I seriously do because, otherwise, it’s comodificaion. People like certain things to go together. So, if you are going to be Lenny Bruce, even if you’ve got money, they like you to look as if you haven’t got money.

“If you are going to do hard, Leftist politics, why not just go on and be completely absurd? What’s wrong with that? If you are actually saying – which I do believe, like Tony Benn – that it’s about the issues not the personality, then let’s test this theory. Listen to what I am saying while I am looking ridiculous. If what I am saying has any value, then the fact I am looking ridiculous should not matter.”

“I would have paid more attention to Tony Benn,” I told Mark, “if he had come on as a pack of Polo Mints.”

There is a clip from Hi-de-Hi on YouTube.

Hi-de-Hi frame

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Politics, Television

Tales of British Council performer Ian Hinchliffe: blood, bites and beer glasses

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green, in London in 1990

Performance artist Ian Hinchliffe drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December 2010.

So it goes.

In a blog earlier this month, I chatted to writer/performer Mark Kelly. We were both surprised that the British Council used to send the almost-always-utterly-drunk Hinchliffe abroad as an example of British culture.

That reminded Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, about Ian Hichcliffe’s visit to Toronto around 1985/1986.

“It was a show by The Matchbox Purveyors (in this case Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor),” Anna remembers. “It was at The Rivoli on Queen Street and was what the British Council was fuelling… a fascinating display of filth and abuse.

“For the set, Ian had strung a clothesline across the stage and hung LP records from it which he lit with a blue light – he was very particular about his lighting.

“The show opened with Kevin O’Connor (who was also a painter) tied to a chair, holding a full egg carton, with a sack over his head. Hinchliffe came out cheerful, dressed in light trousers, a red and blue vest, black spectacles, a white bowler hat, pushing an archaic pram… greeting and shaking hands with audience members. Of course, before long, he was undressing and staggering around smeared with egg and mud, a fur stole tied horribly around his waist.

Ian Hinchliffe (left) and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto c 1985 (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Ian Hinchliffe and Kevin O’Connor in Toronto (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The show had not been properly advertised, so the audience was a small collection of British jazz musicians and a group of artsy cinema-loving intellectuals.

“Earlier that night, I had been out on Queen Street, imploring passers-by not to miss the show. Nobody was interested. They said: We don’t care. We don’t need British comedy. We have our own Canadian comedians. And I thought: You idiots! You don’t have this. Nobody has this.

“Hinchliffe had his own language and it was often impossible to follow. The guy who bought London Bridge and put it in Arizona tried to hire Ian as a permanent fixture in the pub that they put beside it. They offered him a ton of money. I asked: Why didn’t you do it? He answered What would I have done… there… in a desert….? and, of course, he was right.

“He often mentioned ‘Tut Morris’ which I assumed was a car. He would say things like I left Tut Morris in a field… or I owe Tut Morris a payment… and I’ve got to get back to me Morris. Then I realized he was referring to a woman.

“He had been a laminator. Glue and alcohol. He was a jazz pianist. An amazing player.”

When I mentioned this to Ian’s old comedy friend Tony Green, he said:

“I wouldn’t have called him an amazing player. He could play a bit. But the problem with Ian was he had tiny hands and, when he spread his fingers for an octave span, the skin between the fingers would crack and there would usually be blood all over the keys.

“On one occasion, he was playing a white piano in a pub and there was blood all over the keys, pouring down the piano. You’ve never seen anything like it. Like something out of a horror film. When he did an octave span, the skin would just crack open and start bleeding.”

“And,” I said, “he had a habit of bleeding from his mouth when he ate glass.”


Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“Oh yes,” said Tony, “he was always eating glass, wasn’t he? Mind you, he came a cropper at one of Malcolm Hardee’s gigs when he tried it. He actually did two gigs for Malcolm. The first one was OK and Malcolm thought it was weird enough to book him again. The second one didn’t work too well. When he was good, he could be inspiring, but that was maybe only one in twenty gigs because he got so pissed.

“He had to end his act by eating a beer glass – obviously. So he’s on stage trying to bite the edge off the pint glass and Malcolm said to me: He can’t fuckin’ do it. Has he got new false teeth or something? I said: Give him a few more minutes.

“Eventually Malcolm goes on stage: Here we are, then. Ian Hinchliffe. And Ian’s still on stage trying to bite a chunk out of the beer glass.

“He came off stage and told me: I couldn’t fookin’ do it! They must’ve fookin’ reinforced the fookin glasses! It’s never happened before, Tony! It’s never fookin’ happened before!

“I told him: That’s it, Ian. Your career’s had it. What are you going to do now?

“I had seen him do it lots of times before. On one occasion, he was being heckled, munched the glass down to the handle and said to the bloke: You finish the fookin’ ‘andle!

“God knows what his insides must have been like.

“He put a glass in his own face. You know that, don’t you?”

“No,” I said. “So he smashed a glass on the edge of a table and then…”

“Stabbed it into his own face. Yes. He had a little scar. He told me: I didn’t twist it, like, so it was no big thing.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance

A drunk comedian with blood coming out of his mouth = Great British culture

Tony Green after our tragic chat

Tony Green in London after our tragic chat

A couple of days ago, I had a chat with Tony Green who, I suppose, I have to describe as a comedy veteran.

In a tragic 21st century accident, I accidentally erased 59 minutes of the recording on my iPhone. The only snippet of an anecdote left is this one:

“…had this habit of going down to pick up the post with no clothes on and got locked out once. He said: Dave, could you phone up my girlfriend at work. She’s got a spare key. But Dave didn’t have a phone…”

With my bad memory I, of course, cannot remember how the story ended.

Yesterday, I had a chat with writer and occasional performer Mark Kelly.

I had not realised, until it came up in conversation with Tony Green, that Tony and Mark had known each other years ago but had fallen out. Tony told me why but, of course, I accidentally erased what he said.

So what follows is Mark’s version only…

“Tony and I were really good friends in the mid-1980s,” Mark told me, “and we fell out eventually over an act he started putting on which I thought was racist. The act claimed to be doing a parody of racism. But I found – particularly given the nature of the audiences Tony was encouraging…

Interrupting him, I asked: “What were the audiences like?”

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state

Mark Kelly – never normally seen as Mr Light Entertainment

“Well,” explained Mark, “Tony was in love with East End lowlife culture so, at Tony’s gigs, there would be a mixture of arty Bohemians and East End criminals, some of whom were very right wing.

“It seemed very obvious to me that this particular act, whose name I genuinely can’t remember, was getting laughs for very mixed reasons and it was all very, very dodgy. And we fell out over that. Tony is a very interesting person.”

“He is indeed,” I said. “These shows were at his Open Heart Cabaret?”

“Yes. He ran it in various locations. He briefly ran it in Chiswick – not his usual territory. The pub had a function room at the back which was on stilts and once he was about to cancel the gig because there was hardly anyone there – three or four people – but then, for no apparent reason, a coach driver pulled in and everyone in the coach went into the gig. I think maybe the coach driver went off for a drink. The gig was saved in the sense of not being cancelled, but the coach party had no idea why they were there and they didn’t like any of the acts. It was terrible.”

“A lot of the acts he put on,” I said, “were… err… very experimental.”

“At Tony’s gigs,” agreed Mark, “even I felt like Mr Mainstream Light Entertainment. Tony was quite enamoured of an act called Ian Hinchliffe, an old performance artist who would usually take all his clothes off, eat glass – which he usually did quite badly – and get blind drunk.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green (as Sir Gideon Vein)

“The last time I ever saw Hinchliffe, he was naked, had Sellotaped his genitals together and was, of course, blind drunk. The glass-eating had gone wrong so he was bleeding from the mouth and he knocked over a couple of tables including all the drinks, horrifying the innocent people who were sitting there. That is my abiding memory of him.”

“Hinchliffe,” I said, “was quite nice except when he got drunk, which he usually quickly did. He didn’t really become a befuddled drunk; he became an aggressive drunk. But I can see why Tony found him interesting.”

“What I did find interesting,” Mark told me, “was that, even towards the end, the British Council was still sending Hinchliffe abroad, representing Britain culturally.”

“That must,” I suggested, “have caused a major deterioration in international relations.”

“I presume,” said Mark, “that he was only bookable wherever there was a bar and a drinking culture.”


Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Surreal

Getting a mouthful in London with comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm Hardee at Glastonbury

In yesterday’s blog, I quoted comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly’s story about almost being a member of the Nashville Teens rock group. But he also told me a story about Malcolm Hardee, oft called the godfather of British alternative comedy. This is what Mark told me:


It was the late 1990s and we had performed at the Glastonbury Festival. It was one of the years it was particularly rainy and muddy and we were all in a real state.

I was due to come back to London on the Monday morning with Malcolm and Martin Soan in Malcolm’s taxi – at that time, he owned a second-hand taxi instead of a car.

Martin had driven all the way down there and it was Malcolm’s turn to drive back. I can’t drive. When we got up, Malcolm was still drunk from the night before and he was not able to drive.

I had, for a variety of reasons too complicated to go into, had very little sleep the previous night.

Martin Soan was not best pleased to discover he had to drive all the way back to London, but we set off with Martin driving and me and Malcolm in the back of the taxi. Martin was enclosed in the driver’s section of the cab and could not hear what we said, so Malcolm told me: “I’m not pissed at all. I just didn’t fancy driving.”

He was, indeed, completely sober. He and I did the cryptic crossword in The Times and I am fairly good at those sorts of things, but Malcolm was better. We had a very long chat all the way back and it went absolutely fine.

When we got back to London, Martin – having twigged there was actually nothing wrong with Malcolm – not unreasonably decided that the first point of call was his own place.

“I’m getting out first and going to bed,” Martin said.

So he gets out and Malcolm gets in the driver’s cab. I am still in the back. Malcolm drives me to no more than two minutes away from my flat, then leans back through the sliding window and asks: “Do you fancy going for a curry?”

I say: “No. I got no sleep last night, I’m really knackered. I’m not hungry. I just want to go to bed.”

Naturally, Malcolm’s response to this was: “Oy Oy. Off we go for the curry, then.”

He swerves off and we head towards London Bridge. He has a favourite curry house in the East End.

So, having got to almost within sight of my flat in South East London, where I desperately want to go to bed, I now find myself crossing the River to go for a curry with Malcolm.

We get there and the street is fairly full with cars, but there are a few small spaces.

Malcolm asks me: “Do you think I can get into this space?”

“No,” I say. “It looks a bit small.”

So, obviously, he decides to have a go.

He reverses straight into this very new, very flash-looking car, doing a fair bit of damage – not a huge amount, but it’s very noticeable.

Then these Asian guys come running out of the restaurant which we were about to go to. It turns out the car belongs to the manager of the restaurant. It is his pride and joy. He is not there at the moment, but his workers are and they are very loud and animated about it.

I say to Malcolm: “Just give them your details and we’ll abandon the idea of a curry and go home.”

I am really tired. I have somehow forgotten what Malcolm is like. Malcolm is indicating to the increasingly loud Asian men that producing his papers is not possible.

He says to me: “The best thing to do is to go in for a curry and I’ll think of something.”

I suggest to him that going in for a curry is probably not a good idea because these restaurant guys look very angry.

“It’ll be alright,” Malcolm mumbles. “It’ll be alright, be alright…”

“No,” I tell Malcolm. “No. They’ll probably piss in the food or something. This is not good.”

“I’ll think of something while we’re in there,” he insists.

So we go in and I think these restaurant guys are a bit taken aback that we’ve actually come in and expect to be served.

Malcolm is still resolutely refusing to produce any papers.

He tells them he’ll sort it out when the manager arrives.

“The food here’s great,” Malcolm mumbles to me. “Great. The food here’s great.”

We order. The curries arrive. I take only a small mouthful, because I have a premonition.

And it is, indeed, like trying to swallow the sun.

This curry is internally powered by nuclear energy. It’s extraordinary. They have quite clearly deliberately made it as hot as possible. I have only taken a small mouthful. Not even a mouthful. A small bit. And I can’t stop hiccupping for five minutes.

Malcolm pretends there is nothing wrong with it. I am sitting opposite Malcolm and his face is melting with the sweat. He is mumbling: “Mmm. I told you it was good, Mark, Good, innit? Good. Nice.”

I am picking out odd bits of potato, scraping the sauce off, trying to make some sort of effort, hiccupping and drinking huge amounts of water. Basically, I have given up.

Malcolm gets halfway through, then looks at me and mumbles: “Mmm! Can’t eat this!”

“So what are we gonna do?” I ask.

“I’ll sort it out,” he mumbles. “I’ll sort it out.”

“Well,” I say, “I’m going to go to the toilet now. I’ve drunk loads of water.”

So I go to the toilet, come out and Malcolm has gone. His coat has gone. He has left.

I think: “Oh Fuck! He’s done a runner!”

These unsmiling restaurant guys are standing by the door.

I think: “Fucking hell!”

I don’t even know where I am particularly. Somewhere in the East End. And I haven’t got any money particularly, because Malcolm has not yet paid me for Glastonbury.

I probably foolishly think: “I’ll just try to walk out and see what happens.”

I walk to the door – no sign of Malcolm at all.

As I get to the door, the men still don’t smile, but they open the door.

I walk out. They close the door behind me.

And then, from down the street, I hear a honking sound.

Malcolm is in the middle of the road in his taxi with the door open.

“Oy! Oy! Get in, Mark! Get in!”

I think: “He can’t have done a runner, because they wouldn’t have let me out.”

I get into the cab and – of course – it turns out Malcolm has not got any papers – he has no insurance, he is banned from driving and he has paid them in cash with all the money he got – including mine – from Glastonbury. Hundreds of pounds. He has paid them everything he has – well over the odds – to avoid them reporting him to the police.

We drive off and Malcolm asks: “Do you fancy going for a game of pool?”

“No I don’t fancy going for a game of pool!” I tell him. “I just want to go to bed.”

So I finally get home and go to bed with this incredible burning sensation in my stomach.

In a way, it encapsulates a lot of my dealings with Malcolm: curry, dodgy dealings, not getting paid and a slight edge of danger.

Afterwards, I did try to point out to Malcolm that driving without insurance or a valid licence was incredibly irresponsible though, obviously, it was utterly pointless.

But the taxi did work.

Surprisingly, Malcolm did eventually pay me the Glastonbury money and, when he died, even more surprisingly, he owed me nothing.

Though his brother did.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

How a future comedy writer almost joined a famous rock group who forgot

Mark Kelly - at the time he almost joined the Nashville Teens

Yesterday, I was chatting again with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly about his upcoming play Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act.

We were in a cafe in London’s Soho. I was a little distracted from what Mark was saying by a transvestite eating spaghetti sitting at the table next to us dressed in a white mini-skirt with long thin pale legs, a long blonde wig and a tanned, thin, very gnarled brown face. It was like sitting opposite a young nymphette with a squashed version of comedian Sid James‘ face bursting out from under the shiny long blonde wig.

Then Mark un-distracted my attention back from the transvestite.

He was talking about what happened almost forty years ago:


When I was a kid, I really liked the Nashville Teens’ song Tobacco Road and bought the follow-up Google Eye and liked all their singles. They were one of my favourite bands. Then, in the 1970s, when I’d learned to play guitar and I was playing with my own band, I saw this ad in the music press saying the Nashville Teens were looking for a rhythm guitarist. 

I knew things would be a bit different because, obviously, times had changed, but I quite fancied being in the Nashville Teens for a bit. I thought it would be great. They were playing at a club in Liverpool when I was back staying at my parents’ house and I got in touch with their management and said I was interested. 

I turned up at a nightclub I didn’t know in Liverpool and when I went in it was a real, literal chicken-in-the-basket place. I was shown to the dressing room and the only surviving original member was Ray Phillips. All the others were much younger. He asked me, “What songs do you like?” and I started naming all these B-sides. “It’d be great to do that,” I said, “and I really like that,” and he could not remember most of them.

“We don’t really do that any more,” he told me. 

“But this is a great song,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, “It’s not what people want.”

I was enthusing about these really obscure Nashville Teen songs which he could not remember despite having sung them. In the end, he looked a bit worried and said: “Well, I think you should just stay and watch what we do and, if you’re still interested, then give us a ring.”

So I just hung around the bar and, before the Nashville Teens went on stage, there was a comedian who was appalling. My memory is that he was racist, sexist, just dreadful. Then the Nashville Teens themselves came on and basically, Ray Phillips had changed into a big, blousey, ruffled white shirt and actually had a medallion hanging round his neck. 

They opened with an insipid cover version of the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women and it went downhill from there. They played Tobacco Road at the end and they played one other hit of theirs which the audience did not seem to recognise and which they did not play very well because its driving force had originally been their exceptionally good pianist; the new guy was playing the notes, but there was no passion there. At the end, I just left and never rang them again.

Of course, I should have anticipated this in advance. But what’s interesting is that, had they wanted me and had I joined, we would have been in the curious position that the person who was by far the youngest in the band was trying to do all these old songs and the person who actually sang them originally could not remember how they went.


I have a feeling this is a somehow a parable for life but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Here are the original Nashville Teens singing Tobacco Road on American television…

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Music

The continuing catastrophes of young comedian Mark Kelly in the early 1990s

Mark Kelly, slightly older and much wiser, in Soho this week

In my blog yesterday, I repeated comedy writer Mark Kelly’s tale of how he had problems in the early 1990s in a northern English city with a comedy club promoter called Dave (not his real name) who, over the years, had taken a lot of LSD.

The blog ended:

You might reasonably expect that would be the end of the story… You might expect that Dave and I would require no further contact.

But, about eighteen months later, my phone rings…

Now read on…


So, eighteen months later, my phone rings…

It’s Dave, who doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong at all between us. He wants me to come and do another gig in the same northern city. Quite reasonably, I think, I say something along the lines of:

“Are you out of your fucking mind? You put me in a fucking dosshouse, you fucking wanker!”

He seems rather surprised and says something along the lines of:

“Wasn’t it satisfactory?”

I talk at some length about how unsatisfactory it was. He seems genuinely very apologetic and says it will be different this time. It’s a different club and it will be absolutely fine, he says.

In the meantime, I have made a friend in the same northern city, who I want to go and see. I think, Well, when I did the previous gig for Dave, I did get paid properly and the gig itself was actually fine.

Obviously, the fact I was put up in a dosshouse afterwards should have been a massive warning but, in the end – possibly because I had had a lot of acid down my own neck over the years – I agreed.

Shortly before the date of the gig, it turned out my new friend was not able to be in the northern city that night. So I thought: Shall I pull out of the gig? But it was comparatively short notice and I don’t like to let people down.

So I decide – and, looking back, it was obviously an act of gross stupidity – not to let him down and to go and perform the gig. However, I tell Dave I absolutely require a proper hotel. I absolutely require somewhere decent. I give him examples of decent accommodation. It seems OK.

The gig, again, is on a Saturday night.

I arrive in the northern city. The road seems to be outside the city, so the cab fare from the station is costing me a fortune. We turn up outside this large, strange-looking building and it seems semi-derelict.

The cab driver says: “This is it.”

I say: “Are you sure this is definitely it?”

“Yes,” he says. “I thought it was derelict.”

“Can you wait here?” I ask him. “I may need you to take me back to the station.”

It looks like a building site, but I walk round the corner and there are some lights on. It appears to be some kind of a pub, a bar, but it’s very rough and it doesn’t look like it’s had a visit from Health & Safety or the police for several years. It looks like The Pub Time Forgot.

I say, “I’m Mr Nasty. I’m the comedy act.” They look at me blankly.

They get the manager, who says, “Oh yeah, yeah, you’re on later, upstairs. The gig’s round the other side.”

I say: “There definitely is a gig?”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says.

So I tell the taxi to go, paying him a fortune for all the arsing around and waiting.

I have two instruments with me – a ukelele and a banjo ukelele – and my bag and my costume.

I have to climb up an outside, wobbly, very dangerous fire escape to get into the building and inside it looks not too bad, but there’s no-one in apart from Dave and an odd-looking guy who is a member of the other act who are on. He is wearing lederhosen and it turns out I am appearing with a 16-piece Bavarian oompah band.

I check with Dave: “This is a comedy gig, isn’t it?”

“It’ll be fine,” he replies. “It is what it is.”

By now it is about ten minutes before the gig is doe to start, but there’s no audience.

“They’ll be coming,” Dave says.

“When?” I ask.

“They’ll be coming in from next door when the pub closes,” he says. “I’ve put the start of the show back. It will begin around midnight.”

“But,” I said, “they’re all going to be rat-arsed.”

“Well, yeah,” he said.

He tells me I am not going to be on until around 1.30 on the Sunday morning.

At this point, I think, Well, the gig’s going to be stupid, weird and pointless but whatever.

I check with Dave: “The hotel’s sorted OK?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” he reassures me.

I am thinking: OK. It’s a waste of time, but it’s not a disaster.

Eventually, the audience come in, absolutely pissed, and I notice they are mostly refusing to pay and Dave seems too scared to insist.

The Bavarian oompah band play for an hour so I stand at the back and watch. There are people vomiting and passing out. It is like Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club at its worst. I think, I have to do 40 minutes after this!

At that time, I was performing a generally quite hard political set. There is no possibility of me doing that and coming out alive. I could have played some silly songs. But I decide my best tactic is to outflank the audience by getting as drunk as they are. So, during the interval after the oompah band, I get really pissed myself.

I stagger on and the gig goes surprisingly well. My set consisted mainly of swapping abuse with the audience and there’s no semblance of an act, but everyone’s really happy. I seem to remember getting an encore.

I’m pissed but I’m not out of it. I can walk. I come off stage, drink loads of water and try to sober up.

It then turns out Dave hasn’t taken enough money from the door, so we are all being promised cheques. I think Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. He hasn’t got the money; there’s no way of getting paid right now.

I say to Dave: “Can you get me a cab or take me to the hotel?”

“Ah,” he says, “There’s a problem.”

“Look, Dave,” I say, “I’m not staying in another fucking dosshouse.”

“I haven’t arranged anything.” he says.

“In that case,” I tell him, “I’m going to come back and stay with you.”

“I’m homeless,” he says.

“You’re actually homeless?”


“Where are you going to sleep tonight?”

“At my girlfriend’s.”

“OK,” I say. “Can I stay at your girlfriend’s?”

He goes and asks this woman who I hadn’t even noticed before. She looks quite pissed-off but agrees.

By now it’s about 2.30 on Sunday morning.

She has a car. It turns out she’s a social worker, possibly Dave’s. We drive to the housing estate where she lives, get into the lift and go up to her flat, which looks quite nice. I look at her CDs and she seems quite normal.

She very quickly says she’s going to bed and clearly isn’t happy about me being there, which I can sympathise with.

Behind a sliding partition, there is a sofabed, which Dave makes up for me.

There is a telephone, so I ask Dave: “In the morning, is it OK if I call and get a cab to the station?”

“Oh, you don’t want to be leaving straight away,” he says. “We always make a big deal out of Sunday morning breakfasts.”

“OK,” I say, “I’ll stay for breakfast, then I’ll go.”

So I go to bed, settle down to sleep, then the partition door opens and Dave comes in with a huge soft toy – a dog – “He’s called Captain,” Dave tells me. “He’ll look after you during the night. He’s a guard dog. He’ll look after you.”

Why did he do that? I think. This is really weird. Am I going to expect more weirdness during the night? Should I stay awake? Then I hear what sounds like them having sex. I think, That’s probably OK: he’s made up with her.

I fall asleep.

I wake at 8.00am and think: I’ll just go. There are some bills lying by the phone, so I know the address. I will phone for a taxi.

Dave comes out: “Don’t go! Don’t go! Special breakfast! You must stay!”

Just to be on the safe side, I order a cab for an hour later.

Then, from the kitchen, come these sounds. It’s like Laurel & Hardy are in there. There’s a banging around of pots and pans. It goes on for ages and ages. I think Is he preparing some sort of banquet? Ages and ages. I think The cab is going to be here before long!

He eventually comes out and my breakfast is a plate with one slice of bread, toasted, cut into half with some butter on it.

That is it.

At this point, the cab arrives. I leave without eating the toast.

“Send me the cheque!” I tell Dave.

No cheque ever arrives.

His excuses got more and more absurd.

I did hear that things have not gone too well for Dave since then. People tell me he has got a bit aggressive.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Encounters with Royal princes and a comic’s rough night Up North after a gig

Mark Kelly: not always warm in the West End

Many years ago, I used to write film reviews. The previews to which critics were invited by film distributors started in the morning and ran until about teatime. You saw perhaps three films per day.

One day I was invited to review the soft core ‘erotic’ movie Emily, starring unknown Koo Stark. At the time, she was an aspiring actress. I did not go because I had had a run of soft core films to sit through and the thought of what I presumed would be yet another averagely-directed parade of pointless breasts at 10.00am in the morning was too much for me to face.

A few years later, I was walking past the front of the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street, Soho, when I saw three people kneeling around a body lying face-down in the gutter. It was a girl in what looked like a very expensive coat. They seemed to be attending to her, so I walked past.

In the next day’s newspapers, I read it had been Koo Stark, by then the former girlfriend of Prince Andrew. She had been taking photos of someone outside the Prince Edward Theatre (she was a professional photographer at the time), stepped backwards off the kerb to get a better angle and was hit by a taxi. She recovered.

Last night, I was standing outside the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho with comedy writer Mark Kelly. Koo Stark was not there. The theatre is currently running the musical Jersey Boys.

Yes, that’s irrelevant. All of it.

“Is he still alive?” I asked Mark.

“Yes,” Mark replied.

“Well, I had better change his name in my blog,” I told Mark. “And I will just say it is a city in northern England.”

“OK,” said Mark.

So this is not exactly what Mark told me…


So it’s the early 1990s and I am performing as a comedian by the name of Mr Nasty and I get a phone call from this guy called Dave who puts on comedy shows in a northern city.

It’s a Saturday night gig I have vaguely heard about. It pays well into three figures – a reasonable amount at the time – plus hotel accommodation.

I get a train up to this northern city and the gig’s fine: local acts with me headlining at the end. There are well over 100 people there. I have been told that Dave has taken quite a lot of acid in his life, but he seems nice – a little scatty, but OK.

At the end of the gig, Dave gives me the money which is what we agreed and says, “I’ll take you round to where you’re staying,” which is where the nightmare begins.

Dave is not totally out of it, but is a bit stoned. It’s about one o’clock on what is now a Sunday morning. It’s the dead of winter. It’s snowing.

We are in the back of a cab and we drive across this northern city which I do not know. We pull up outside a very large, grim-looking building which has no lights on. I have a guitar case and  bag. He takes out two keys and says: “This one’s for the front door; this one’s for your room.”

“It’s this building?” I ask. “You are sure?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Just go in there. This is where you’re staying.”

I think it’s a bit odd, but I get out of the taxi. I have the keys. I have all my stuff. The taxi drives off and  I’m left standing in front of this very strange, grim-looking building with no lights.

I open the front door with the first key. It’s completely dark inside. I step into what looks like a dark, large space. There’s no sound. There’s no-one around – certainly nothing like a hotel porter. It’s absolutely freezing cold; it’s snowing heavily outside, so just being indoors at this stage seems like a bonus.

I know which room I’m supposed to be in because it’s on the second key, but I have no idea which floor it’s on and, in the distance, I can hear kind of groaning sounds. It’s beginning to feel like an Abbott & Costello in The Haunted House type scenario.

These groaning noises don’t seem as muffled as you’d expect in a hotel nor the sort of noises your average hotel guest would make.

By now my eyes are getting accustomed to the darkness.

I dimly see this number on what appears to be a door and it’s not that far off my number. So I inch down the corridor and find a very flimsy door with my number on it. I open the door, go in and then realise I am in a dosshouse and this is a key to one of the cubicles.

The building is full of alcoholics, mad people, the desperate homeless.

It’s obviously massively illegal because there’s no internal lighting. There’s no Health & Safety.

So I think, “Okaay…. I’m inside, it’s snowing outside and I can lock the door and there is a light switch in the room.”

I turn the light on. There’s a heater on the wall, which doesn’t work. The water in the sink doesn’t work. The place is filthy. There’s a hole in the windowpane and snow has come through and is piling up on the bed.

This is in the days well before mobile phones.

I am somewhere in this northern city which I don’t know. I haven’t got a clue which part. It’s now about two on Sunday morning. It’s snowing outside and inside. I am absolutely freezing. I have a guitar case and a bag. And I have no home phone number for Dave anyway.

So I walk up and down the corridor all night with my coat on trying to keep warm and, when daylight comes, I take the milk train out of the city.


You might reasonably expect that would be the end of the story… You might expect that Dave and I would require no further contact.

But, about eighteen months later, my phone rings…


Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

A stand-up comedian is like a boxer

Bob Boyton: from punch-lines to punches

A couple of days ago, I blogged about seeing Mark Kelly’s second try-out of his show-in-the-process-of-being-written Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act, which took place at Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club. Comedian Martin Soan was also in the audience.

Afterwards, I got talking to comedian-turned-writer Bob Boyton about a novel which he has spent ten years writing and which is going to be published in May. But we got sidetracked into the link between boxing and comedy.

What’s the book about?” I asked Bob.

“It’s called Bomber Jackson Does Some,” he said. “The eponymous hero is a homeless ex-boxer called Anthony ‘Bomber’ Jackson. It’s not autobiographical, but I did do some boxing training while I was writing it. I trained with Mark Reefer, an ex-Commonwealth champion who didn’t become famous despite being a champion. He was good but perhaps not big enough at his weight. A great trainer. Someone who lavished love on his training. And I’ve worked with homeless people for many years, so there’s also a link there.”

“Is it a funny novel?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he replied. “A couple of jokes in it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t like novels with jokes in ‘em,” Bob told me. “I hate when you buy a novel by a comic and he hasn’t really developed enough plot or done enough work on the characters, so he just pads it out with bits of his routine. I think it’s disrespectful of the novel and of fiction. And it’s a bit disrespectful of your act.

“It’s a problem for comedians,” he continued, “that there’s no legacy with comedy. A little bit, maybe, if you’re one of a golden few. I heard Max Miller on record and he was obviously strong and then Jimmy Jones done a lot of his material. But generally, in 150 years time, no-one’s gonna go That’s a great gag, that!… In 150 years time, Jeremy Hardy’s act won’t make any sense.”

“So your novel isn’t autobiographical?” I asked.

“Well,” laughed Bob, “I did research some of the drinking myself.”

“Why did it take you ten years?”

“There were times I just got fed up with writing the bloody thing. I kind of knew there was a story to be told. It is a bit like being a stand-up, thinking Right, I wanna deal with that subject so I’m gonna write a gag about it. It’s just a much longer process with a novel. When I was doing stand-up, I could write a gag and probably try it out in two nights time and then I might keep it in or not. Whereas I found you can spend ten years writing a novel. That’s probably why you need an editor.

“Bomber Jackson is a bloke in his mid-40s. His last big fight was at least 20 years ago… which he fucked-up because he’d been drinking when he should’ve been training. He’s fallen into criminality and those various things that happen to boxers because, if you’re good at hurting people, then you’re worth a lot of money to unsavoury characters.

“He’s just come out of prison and he knows he’s gotta find a different life. He’s done a lot of prison, a lot of small sentences and he goes in search of redemption and I hope the book keeps the reader wondering whether or not he finds it.. right to the end.”

“Why write about a boxer?” I asked.

“Well, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’m a boxing fan and I’m drawn to it because they are very much like comedians. So I started off… I don’t think it lasted very long but… It was a kind of a metaphor for when I gave up stand-up…. You do it on your own. It’s not like football, where you can blame other team members.”

“Fighting the audience?” I asked.

“Well, not so much fighting but, it’s you – if you win, it’s great. And, if you lose…”

At this point, Ivor Dembina was passing by and heard what we were talking about.

“The thing about comedians,” Ivor said, “is that we’ve all seen each other die the death on stage – everyone. However good you are, however famous, we all know you’ve been there. So there’s that kind of gut respect. And, with boxers, even though they’re competing, they all know they have put themselves in that same position of being humiliated. So there’s that kind of bottom line respect.”

“I remember,” I said, “Ricky Grover (boxer-turned comedian and actor) “told me that, when you box, all that matters is that you don’t humiliate yourself. Humiliation is the worst thing.”

At this point, Martin Soan passed by.

“I’ve based my whole fucking career on being humiliated,” he said as he passed.

“Every comedian…” Ivor continued, “All of us – We’ve all died the death. We all know what it’s like. You never forget that. And you respect other people because they go back. Even though they got booed off, they went back and had another go. You respect them. It’s the same with boxers. A boxer can take a really bad beating, but he’ll go back and fight again.”

“That’s right,” agreed Bob. “Not many boxers gave it up because they lost. The business might have given them up in the end. But either they’ve made enough money and they’ve realised they want to go out somewhere near the top. Or they just can’t get any fights.”

At this point, Bob and I gave up talking about Bomber Jackson Does Some. The conversation moved on and people talked about Malcolm Hardee, Ian Hinchliffe and pissing in wardrobes. I must have another chat with Bob Boyton about his novel at some point before it is published in May.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Sport, Writing

Comedy tours, hanging actors’ hangers-on and a London underground shooting

Lou and his little friend last night

Ah! The power of the blogosphere!

Yesterday, I wrote about comedy writer Mark Kelly’s latest work-in-progress Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act andjust four hours after I posted the blog – Mark got an e-mail from someone who says they are interested in booking it into various venues, when it is ready to tour.

As Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act is not yet fully written and Mark currently only has thoughts of getting it ready for the 2013 (not the 2012) Edinburgh Fringe, this may be a slow-burning triumph.

Still, to look on the bright side, if the guy does arrange some bookings for the show, Mark says he will buy me an apple crumble at the Stockpot in Soho’s Old Compton Street.

Touring shows nowadays is slightly more respectable than it used to be.

I was round at Uncle Lou’s last night. He is not my uncle, but he has the affable air of a kindly uncle; in fact, he is a movie armourer who, as Londoners foolish enough to live South of the Thames might say, ‘tooled-up’ the unique movie experience that was/is Killer Bitch.

Lou, an armourer, goldsmith, silversmith, consigliere and history buff, told me:

“In the 1700s, if a ‘touring company’ – a bunch of entertainers – turned up and started performing in the streets and you started hanging round with ‘em, you might get executed. If the local people went to the beadle and grassed you up by saying Look at ‘im – He’s hanging round with a right bunch of thespian arseholes! you might get reported to the law and considered to be a real lowlife. If you hung around with these entertainers for a week or more, you could get arrested and the maximum sentence was hanging. People were hung for it. So the rule of thumb was Don’t hang around with actors and vagabonds or you could get killed because you are considered scum… Oh, and musicians too – The law thought they were a bunch of arseholes as well.”

Plus ça change.

I had gone round to Lou’s with the creative tornado that is Jason Cook, whom I blogged about recently. He is getting closer to funding The Devil’s Dandruff, a movie based on the first of his three novels ‘based on’ his life which ‘might have’ involved London gangsters and the international drug trade.

He told me last night that one of the real-life Mr Bigs who ‘might have been’ involved had him ‘brought in’ for a chat after he had published the first two books. The chap said he had heard Jason had been ‘telling stories’ and he was unhappy about it… This did not sound good for Jason… But it turned out the chap was only unhappy about one thing… that Jason had not used the chap’s real name in the books.

Ah! The lure of immortality in print!

Jason – who is very determined and very persuasive – has had the offer of a free 747 jet to film in. A while ago, he produced a short film titled Tunnel Visions which was set in a tube train. Last night, he told me:

“We went to London Transport and said We want to shoot on the Underground in a real train and they said Yup, that’s fine. If you bring all your things down, it’ll cost you £3,000. 

So we thought Ah!

“Then they said to us: If you bring a skeleton crew, we’ll reduce it down to £2,000.

So we thought Ah!

“But then they asked us Have you got a student on the crew? If you’ve got a student, you can do it for £50.

“So we went to a university and got ourselves a student.

“London Underground said: OK. Pay for your permit – £50. 

“We went on the train, commandeered half a carriage, got everyone on there and shot the film all day. There were five people in the crew – including the student – and all the extras in the scenes helped us too.”

Jason Cook is a man who gets things done.

So is Uncle Lou, but examples of that are mostly unprintable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Crime, Legal system, Movies, Theatre