Tag Archives: MP

Yesterday’s quirky day from The Great Terror to a woman not playing a horse

Nick Awde singing opera in the streets of Edinburgh yesterday

Nick Awde seemingly sings opera in Edinburgh’s streets

In my opinion, this blog may meander around a bit in its subjects, but one uniting factor is a little bit of quirky detail. And yesterday had some quirkiness woven into it.

I had bumped into Nick Awde the day before.

He is a writer and critic for entertainment industry weekly The Stage, has published books under his Desert Hearts imprint by comedy people Phil Kay and Bob Slayer and he himself co-wrote Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and, solo, wrote Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show which (as a title) Ellis & Rose infamously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe – though, it has to be said, mostly without much reference to the original script.

Anyway, Nick Awde invited me to go and see the world premiere aka a rehearsed reading of Midnight at the St James’s Theatre yesterday. He told me it was a very serious Azerbaijani play about the Stalinist Terror.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the West End musicals Showstoppers! and Bend It Like Beckham – both bright, jolly, uplifting, toe-tapping feasts of singing and dancing and primary colours – so I cannot honesty say that an Azerbaijani play about the Great Terror seemed wildly appetising. Well, it would not be an attractive proposition at any time but – Hey! – I thought – It might be interesting or eccentric or both.

Midnight - the Great Terror musical

Midnight – Stalin’s Great Terror as a musical

So I went yesterday afternoon and realised I must not have been paying full attention to Nick when he described it to me, because it was a MUSICAL about the Great Terror written by Elchin Ilyas oglu Afandiyev, who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan since 1993.

And it was not eccentric. It was wonderful. It was a serious and very dark musical about The Great Terror which I thought owed a little bit to J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Although, I should point out, I have never actually seen An Inspector Calls.

Well, I possibly may have seen it years ago on the London stage but, as is well documented, I have a shit memory – I can’t remember the plot but have a vague memory of a two-storey stage set.

Midnight did not have a two-storey stage set.

Anyway, Nick Awde’s involvement in Midnight is as artistic director of the Aloff Theatre company which staged the play/musical and which is “dedicated to the promotion of new and classic works from East Europe and Central Asia” and which is “currently focusing on the interchange of dramatic resources between Azerbaijan and the UK”.

So Nick Awde, in my eyes, should be described as – and, indeed, is – an Englishman raised in Africa living in France with a Georgian passport involved in an Azerbaijani theatre company who wrote about Jimmy Savile as a Punch & Judy show.

I think that qualifies as quirky.

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

After the show, Nick told me that one of his relatives had been in the British Army and had been carried onto one of the boats evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. He had not been wounded. He had been carried on because, like many of the British troops at Dunkirk, he was paralytically drunk.

Retreating through a not-totally-devasted France, they had been taking shelter in abandoned farmhouses, most of which retained their wine cellars. His relative could remember little about the evacuation from Dunkirk except being carried onto a boat.

Inevitably, Nick had invited interesting people along to see the Midnight musical yesterday afternoon.

Notably:

  • former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, now author and rock singer, Norman Baker who bizarrely, like me, was born in Scotland, partly brought up in Aberdeen and partly brought up in Essex.
  • and Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance venues in Edinburgh and London who, it turned out, had previously designed theatres and theatre seats – it was suggested my buttocks may have rested on one or more of his creations – and who, in a previous incarnation as a teacher, had taught Stephen Fry.
Jody Kamali - Spectacular!

Jody Kamali – eternally Spectacular! and eccentric

I then had to rush to see Jody Kamali’s excellent Spectacular! show at the Museum of Comedy (I had already seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe in August). Afterwards, he told me about someone he knew who had a dispute with Rowan Atkinson at a press conference at the Fringe in 1971. As a result, his friend’s show was sold out despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Rowan (very popular on the Fringe at the time) allegedly stood outside the venue every day screaming to the public NOT to go in and see the show.

Anyway, eventually, in the early hours of this morning, I got home to an e-mail from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who seems to be spending less and less time on the South Coast).

The email said:


I went to the Camden’s People’s Theatre in London this evening to see Lou aka LoUis CYfer, from the Admiral Duncan pub, Soho.

Louis Cyfer welcomes Sandra with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

Lou welcomes Sandra into dressing room with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

She got a Guardian review and is booked for Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I really enjoyed her one woman show Joan

She wove her late grandmother, Catherine, into the piece, complete with reserved empty chair. It was beautifully done.

I got to play a cannon instead of a horse and gave it my all.

My efforts were clearly not appreciated because the audience all laughed.


As is often the case in this blog, I have no explanation and it seems wiser not to ask.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Music, Theatre

Disgraced Chris Huhne, in poems and diaries by the teenage girl he snogged

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage Charmian

Chris Huhne, the man who snogged teenage comic Charmian

Last May, I posted a blog which was headed:

Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne and the Convent-Raised Comedian

in which comedienne Charmian Hughes remembered now-disgraced British politician Chris Huhne giving her her first snog when she was a pupil at Westminster Boys’ School (it’s a complicated story).

So, when Chris Huhne yesterday (after ten years of denying it) admitted in court to perverting the course of justice… and when his son’s venomous e-mails to him were made public this morning… I sent an e-mail to Charmian:

Any bloggable memories or comments? I asked. He seems to have been liked by his son!

Did Westminster School rate telling the truth highly? At my grammar school, they had a debating society (I wasn’t a member) where the most admired people were the ones who could successfully argue for a motion which they didn’t agree with at all… A microcosm of Parliament, I think… Lying was admired and celebrated.

Charmian Hughes at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian Hughes at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Charmian replied:

All adolescents hate their parents and I hope they get through this. It is very sad. My daughter says things like that to me on a daily basis and I haven’t even done anything!

I think maybe he has confessed to save his son from going to court. It’s like A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done…”

He gave us the most fun in our teens, but not out of generosity but because we hung on to his tails by the skin of our teeth. I have a five year diary that is full of him and how amazing I thought he was.

Did you know I am a writer of serious poetry since the age of 7? So here is one written in October 1971 and guess who it is about and what it predicts. Forgive the metaphysical, meteorological and geographical confusion. These are my teenage poems about Chris.

________________

THE OSTRICH – (October 1971)

The wolves pursued me through the snow,
I was an ostrich fleeing across the strand,
aware of death if I were to let go,
I buried my head, an ostrich in the sand,
and when I reached my mother’s arms
I tried to hold her, but she let me go,
let the wolves devour me,
an ostrich in the snow.

SNOWMAN – (September 1971)

When that warmth
almost thawed the frost,
I was ready to worship the sun.
But you clothed yourself in cloud
and my heart has become numb.
Sensitivity has formed its own barricade.

Love – I have forgotten how to love;
and I am like some empty Antarctica
that nothing can penetrate.

Don’t try to melt me
or you too shall become frozen;
and two unfeeling snowmen
shall stare indifferently
at a bleak and frozen world.

LOUISE – (9th December 1972)
(for CPH)

a cold day –
our tears are all frozen
into hard smiles.
The same axe
splintered all our dreams.
But on the thousandth day
we rise again:

More bitter and more silent,
but still with instinct to survive, endure,
forget, and love again.

________________

Charmian continued:

I came from a convent where truth was absolutely paramount. If a teacher told a girl off for talking in class, another girl’s hand would shoot up straight away: “Please, Sister, it was my fault actually,” and that herd mentality protected the group, so honesty paid off.

Westminster certainly protected its own. It was educating the political and legal class – the sins of youth were probably expected, even covered up.

People were always laughing at other people there, mocking the sensitive. I think if you laugh at someone (not in entertainment but in ridicule)  it is the least intelligent, least curious response to that person and is just expressing a fait accompli superiority devoid of moral growth. Lots of people laughed at my poems and thought I was oversensitive but, mind you and touch wood, I’m not in prison am I?  Abuse of a metaphor is not yet a criminal offence!

These are extracts from Charmian’s teenage diaries:

________________

1970

August

in evening i went to see Chris Paul-Huhne. He has grown his hair – much nicer!!! Chris edits a v. serious magazine called Free Press, one shilling and he and others spend hundreds on it.

12th September

Chris looked super. we sold Free Press in market and tube station. moved to pop concert but lost Chris – saw him disappear in car with girl on his lap.

13th September

Chris apologised and said while we were in market he and pals were at tube looking for us. he’d gone on to party and we’d have gone too if we’d found him.

31st October

In morn shopped at Kensington Market. Bought purple vest/shirt. In afternoon went to Chris’s. Marcus W was there. Chris wilfully flared the lighter in my face and tried to singe my eyebrow! My god, he could have singed my eye and blinded me!! He tried to make me jealous by saying about a house party next Saturday. We left with Free Press. In evening Mish asked us round. We tried ringing Chris to see if anything on. Was not on.

1971

14th April

Went to see Chris. He was having breakfast. This time he played the piano and sung his own combination. God! Actually he’s got quite a good voice. When the romantic moment came, he told me I owed him 14/6pence for the Free Press I’d sold.

23rd April

Chris wanted his cash so i gave it to him out of sponsor cash.

31st May

Went to Chris’s. He seemed pleased to see me and asked me in. He kept staring at me. I said I was either Marxist or Labour and he said he’d send me Manifesto of Communism for birthday. I told him date.

4th June

My birthday. No manifesto from Chris.

18th July

In evening went to see Chris. He said I embarrassed him as I represented his childhood. Then he said I’d changed a lot since he last saw me and was mature.  he said I had… an air of serenity. We listened to records. He is a very deep person.

________________

After she read these diary entries from Charmian, my eternally-un-named friend said to me:

“Well, if he can sing, he should write a song in prison. He might get a pardon if he writes a good one. Or he could sing Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree…”

Tantalisingly, Charmian told me:

“I had to edit and cut those extracts as they presented him in rather an unfair light!”

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Filed under Comedy, Legal system, Poetry, Politics

How Silvio Berlusconi was brought down by laughter, smiles and sniggers

I have a bit of a soft spot for lovable rogues and morally ambiguous characters. I think Malcolm Hardee, the late ‘godfather of British comedy’, might fall into that category.

If someone else had done some of the things he did, it would have been appalling. With him, people who knew him just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh… It’s only Malcolm being Malcolm…”

As in ‘real life’, so in politics.

I worked in Ireland fairly regularly for a few years in the 1990s and it seemed that, every time I landed in Dublin, there was some new scandal or exposé involving gun-running, womanising, hard-drinking, horse-race-fancying, dodgy-dealing former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

You could not but laugh at some of his scams and I think Irish voters had a tendency to shrug and say, “Oh… It’s only Charlie Haughey being Charlie Haughey…”

In the same way, the diaries, comments and escapades of womanising wayward British Conservative MP Alan Clark were always a joy to read because he was so rich (he lived in a castle and had inherited his father Lord Clark of Civilisation’s millions) and had such a superiority complex and was so inwardly secure that he did not give a shit what he said about people and events – he tended to tell the normally unspeakable truth about them – except on one occasion when he admitted he had been “economical with the actualité”. All this to the detriment of his career.

Today, we have Boris Johnson and Silvio Berlusconi.

Boris is currently Mayor of London, but you feel he may suddenly re-invent himself as a Richard Branson balloonist or an Evel Knievel daredevil costumed figure or start a travelling circus with himself as ringmaster. He is a fascinating character because the word “buffoon” has been occasionally applied to him but he used to simultaneously be an effective editor of the Spectator and a reputedly very hard-working and efficient constituency MP as well as being a regular on TV shows like Have I Got News For You. The first two alone each require a high level of efficiency – just being editor of the Spectator would be enough for most serious people. But then there are also the stories of him having “an eye for the ladies” and saying jokey things about Liverpudlians.

The common thread through all those people seems to be womanising, which brings us to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio’s brightly-coloured and joyously eccentric OTT reign is coming to an end amid national financial collapse, dodgy business dealings and scandals involving sex parties. I have always had a sneaking admiration for Silvio – who won some early respect by building up a major media empire before he lost that respect by becoming a politician. Yesterday, I asked an English friend living in Italy for almost 25 years what the view of Silvio was over there now.

“He was a rogue,” she told me, “but he admitted he was and everybody knew he was. I think Berlusconi’s view on his own peccadilloes was always, Ooh! All you Italian males out there – You know you would all do what I’m doing if you could!…  and the Italian public, by and large, seemed to shake their collective head and say: Oh! The rich and powerful! Look how they live! and accept it.

“But, since the continual revelations of call girls and the sheer number of women who have come forward to say they have been paid for favours by him, the general public response seems to have changed to seeing Berlusconi as a dirty old man. Although people do still think, How on earth does he get the energy to do all that when he’s 75 and supposedly running not only the country but also the biggest commercial enterprises in it? 

“I think he has not seen this change in public opinion and does not understand it. Whereas before he could get away with saying, Look how successful and wealthy I am – That’s why I’m worthy to run the country, now he can’t get away with that because all his business associates are seen to be dodgy at best and illegal at worst.

“The last straw was the interplay of exchanged looks between Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France at the International Monetary Fund’s recent emergency meeting. They were asked if they had been given sufficient assurances from Berlusconi about austerity measures in Italy. Instead of answering (both were listening to simultaneous translations on headphones), they looked at each other and broke out in grins, then half shook their heads as if in mirth and said, unconvincingly, Yes, yes.

“It was a moment of national shame here in Italy.

“It was confirmation that Berlusconi had become a laughing stock among other international politicians. That’s definitely not macho. That’s deeply offensive to the Italians’ frail sense of worth. The footage was repeatedly screened here on TV every night for one reason or another and that’s why it has stuck in the national psyche as something to be embarrassed about… and Italians do not like being embarrassed!

“Berlusconi was the only European leader as far as I know not to condemn Gaddafi over the months of conflict in Libya. Never did he say a word against him, and why is quite obvious: he had privately-owned joint-venture companies with Gaddafi who was his trusted ‘friend’. Only last year, Gaddafi came to Italy and was treated like royalty. There were hundreds of beautiful young girls hired by Berlusconi to be present at Gaddaffi’s public appearances and about fifty of Gaddaffi’s horses were shipped over with him to parade in Rome and demonstrate the friendly relationship the two had. Berlusconi still hasn’t made a statement on the situation in Libya.

“This morning’s national newspaper the Corriere della Sera prominently displayed a zoomed-in shot of a piece of paper in front of Berlusconi on his desk during the no-confidence vote he faced in the Italian Parliament and he had written 8 TRAITORS which is how he sees the people who voted against him.

“He ‘gave’ them high positions in local and national government, but it still wasn’t enough to buy their co-operation.

“Berlusconi sees himself as an independent who doesn’t need to play by the rules because he’s above the law. He doesn’t live in Rome; he lives in Arcore (near Milan in northern Italy) and takes private helicopters back and forth. He doesn’t need to keep up appearances, he was and still is too powerful to bow to that kind of thing.

“Two weeks ago he flew to Russia to attend Vladimir Putin’s birthday bash at a dacha in remote countryside and gleefully told the Italian Parliament he would be unavailable that weekend as he was with his good friend Putin. He was particularly eager to let them know he wasn’t using state-funded transport to get there… He doesn’t need to. He is a multi-millionare.

“The saddest part about Berlusconi however is that – despite all this – there’s no-one better to take over from him. There is no viable alternative at all. Berlusconi has given Italy more stability than it had ever had since World War Two ended.

”It is just a pity he is who he is.”

Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps the perfect example of someone who has always had within him the seeds of his own destruction. And an example of how major financial, corruption and sex scandals may weaken you but being laughed at may ultimately bring you down.

Comedy can be mightier than the sword.

Though, in the case of Boris Johnson, it may actually get him re-elected.

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Italy, Politics, PR

Why is taxpayers’ money being spent helping policemen become comics?

(This blog was also published in The Huffington Post)

We are in an economic recession. Even without that, life is tough enough for the aspiring stand-up comedian without policemen trying to muscle their way into the act.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner John Yates and former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman were questioned by the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee about the fact they had claimed there was nothing to investigate when News International papers were accused of phone hacking.

In 2009, John Yates carried out an ‘investigation’ into a previous 2006 phone hacking investigation. His ‘in-depth’ investigation lasted a whole eight hours (presumably including a lunch break) after which he decided there was nothing to investigate.

He had not bothered to examine several bin bags of incriminating paperwork seized from the home of private detective Glenn Mulcaire nor read the 11,000 pages of evidence held inside Scotland Yard which included the fact that both future Prime Minister Gordon Brown and future Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had been hacked.

His defence yesterday for what, on the face of it, was a breathtaking lack of investigation was that he could not investigate the allegations against News International properly because News International would not co-operate with him.

This is a bit like saying that the police could not investigate the Yorkshire Ripper killings because the Yorkshire Ripper would not send them information incriminating himself. If I ever commit a major bank robbery, I would want John Yates to be the investigating officer.

John Yates is Scotland Yard’s new head of counter-terrorism and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says that Yates “currently undertakes one of the most difficult jobs in UK policing and is doing an outstanding job leading our fight against terrorism.”

I don’t know if I am alone in finding that this – far from reassuring me – makes me feel even more uneasy and unsafe. Presumably he would have difficulty investigating a planned terrorist attack if al-Qaida did not co-operate with his investigations.

We value tradition in Britain. The Metropolitan Police appear to be continuing a long tradition of being staffed by would-be dodgy double-glazing salesmen. Though I have to be careful because I would not want to be sued for defamation by dodgy double-glazing salesmen who might object to being compared to the Met.

Andy Hayman – whom Commons committee member Lorraine Fullbrook called “a dodgy geezer” – was in charge of the original phone hacking enquiry at the Met.

While ‘investigating’ the accusations against News International papers of phone hacking, Hayman (who had wanted to be a journalist when he was younger) had dinners with News International executives (one wonders if he would have dinners with bank robbers while investigating alleged bank robberies) and, on retiring from the Met after reported ‘controversy about his expenses’, he was given work by News International – writing for The Times.

An article in today’s Independent describes the Hogarthian scene in the House of Commons’ committee room yesterday:

When Ms Fullbrook asked him (Andy Hayman) whether he’d ever taken money from a paper in return for information, he threw his arms into the air, as in a Feydeau farce: “I can’t believe you asked that!” And: “I can’t let you get away with that! Taking money?” He was gasping; speechless; eyes bulging. Julian Huppert had observed mildly: “Other policemen have.” Hayman cried something about his integrity and seemed on the point of scrabbling at his chest. The whole room was laughing – at, not with; scornful, down-the-rabbit-hole laughter at a figure who not long ago was defending 90 days of detention without charge. He was, in Keith Vaz’s words: “More Clouseau than Columbo.”

Last week, the London Evening Standard claimed that “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Previously, Labour MP Tom Watson had used parliamentary privilege to say: “John Yates’s review of the (private detective Glenn) Mulcaire evidence was not an oversight. Like Andy Hayman, he chose not to act, he misled parliament.”

In a blog back in February, I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher’s solicitor – a partner in a major law firm – once told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

I am not particularly outraged that the News of the World was hacking into people’s phones – they allegedly bugged both John Yates and Andy Hayman’s phones while the dynamic duo were allegedly investigating the News of the World for phone hacking – I am not even surprised that a policeman was flogging the Royal Family’s personal phone and contact details if he was paid enough – but I am outraged that the taxpayer appears to be footing the bill for policeman apparently attempting to build their performance skills for a future career in stand-up comedy should this ‘police job thing’ not work out.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Newspapers, Politics

The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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In praise of the Daily Telegraph and Pear Shaped Comedy Club’s quirkiness

To start at the end of this blog and to reply to your reaction…

Look.

It’s my blog. I am allowed to witter.

So, for fans of Tristram Shandy

Brian Damage and Krysstal’s weekly Pear Shaped comedy club has been running in London’s West End for eleven years. Brian and Krysstal promote it as “the second worst comedy club in London”. I prefer to call Pear Shaped the Daily Telegraph of British open spot comedy clubs.

Let me explain.

When I blogged about last weekend’s six-hour event celebrating the anarchic life of Ian Hinchliffe, I did not mention that I told ex-ICA Director of Live Arts Lois Keidan about my admiration for Bernard Manning as a comic, Margaret Thatcher as a Parliamentary debater and the Daily Telegraph as a newspaper. I do not think she was impressed with this triple whammy.

But – in addition to my love of quirky Daily Telegraph obituaries in their golden era under Hugh Massingberd and their sadly now-dropped legendary Page Three oddities – I think the Daily Telegraph is the only actual national NEWSpaper left. All the others are, in effect, magazines with ‘think’ pieces and additional background to yesterday’s TV news.

But the Daily Telegraph prints a high quantity of short news reports and (outside of election times) maintains an old-fashioned Fleet Street demarcation between News and Comment. The news reporting is, mostly, unbiased straight reportage; the comment is what non-Telegraph readers might expect.

They have also consistently displayed an admiration for rebels.

The Daily Telegraph – perhaps moreso the Sunday Telegraph – always showed an interest in and admiration for comedian Malcolm Hardee. They loved quirky MP Alan Clark, though they disapproved of his sexual amorality. The Daily Telegraph even surprisingly championed early Eminem. When the red-top tabloids were claiming his music and his act were the end of Western Civilization, the Daily Telegraph reviewed his first UK tour as being in the great tradition of British pantomime.

I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

So the Daily Telegraph ended up with an amazing quantity of news stories, often not fully explained because they had been cut short.

I remember reading on a classic Page Three of the old Daily Telegraph, a brief court report about a man accused of scaring lady horse-riders by leaping out of hedges in country lanes dressed in a full frogman’s outfit, including flippers, goggles and breathing tube. That was, pretty much, the whole news item. If ever a story needed more background printed, this was it.

The Pear Shaped Comedy club is a bit like the Daily Telegraph in that it is an extraordinary hodge-podge of fascinating items apparently thrown together randomly but somehow holding together as a recognisable whole with its own personality. Quirky, eccentric and barely under control. Last night, in addition to the consistently good and massively under-praised Brian Damage & Krysstal themselves, the show included increasingly-highly-thought-of Stephen Carlin, rising new comics Laurence Tuck and Phillip Wragg and very new but intriguing Samantha Hannah.

And then there was long-time comic, club owner, compere, comedy craftsman and humour guru Ivor Dembina. He had come down to try out some new material as he is performing in four shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, including the fascinatingly unformatted Ivor’s Other Show. He told me:

“I might just invite on people I’ve met in the street. Anything that takes my fancy.” Then he added, “Do you want to come on it one afternoon, John? Can you do anything?”

“No,” Pear Shaped co-owner Vicky de Lacey correctly interrupted, “he can write but he can’t actually do anything.”

But that never stopped Little and Large, so I may yet appear on Ivor’s Other Show, perhaps as a human statue. There is, inevitably, a ‘living statue’ resource page on the internet.

We live in wonderful times.

I refer you to the start of this blog.

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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Democracy is an unworkable system and Proportional Representation is the Tony Blair of political theories

Democracy is a terrible idea and it is totally unworkable in practice.

Pure democracy, that is.

True democracy in which everyone decides on everything would mean everyone would have to vote on every national, regional and local decision. Even if people only voted on life-or-death decisions, everyone would have to vote nationally on the siting of a zebra crossing on a main road in Orpington because anyone in the UK could drive along that road; anyone could be killed as a result of the decision. So everyone would have to decide. The country would seize up.

In the UK, we have Representative Democracy not pure democracy and we elect representatives for areas – local councils, national governments.

Or, rather, we do not.

We do not elect national governments in the UK.

We never have.

I’ve heard the most ridiculous knee-jerk pseudo-democratic bollocks talked about Proportional Representation and a lot of it is how it will “reflect voters’ views better”.

Bollocks.

People say, “Ah, well, most of Britain’s Post War governments were elected by a minority of the voters – less than 51% of the population and/or the people who voted actually voted for those governing parties.”

Utter bollocks.

NO government in the 19th or 20th or 21st centuries was EVER voted-in by ANY voter in the UK – because the UK system is to vote for local MPs, not for national governments.

If the ‘winning’ party were to win a majority of Westminster seats by narrow majorities in local elections and the losing parties were to win all their local seats by massive majorities, then obviously the national government would be elected by a very low percentage of the over-all UK population.

But that is not relevant. It would not alter the fact they had won the majority of seats in the country.

We do not vote for national governments. In General Elections, we vote locally and the party with most seats nationally forms a government. We vote for local MPs in local seats to (allegedly) represent their constituents’ views. Throw that tapwater out and you throw a whole family of babies out too.

In each of the local constituencies, the winner wins by a first-past-the-post system where the person with more votes than any other individual candidate wins. If a candidate gains 40% of the votes and the other four candidates have 30%, 20% and 10%, then he or she wins. This seems reasonable to me. Other people knee-jerk on the fact that the winning candidate has only 40% of the votes whereas the others combined have 60% of the vote.

Tough shit.

So we should perhaps give the election to the guy who came third and who was the first choice of even fewer people???

Silly idea?

That is what Proportional Representation does.

Proportional Representation spreads votes according to second and third and maybe – god help us – fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh choices to allegedly get a ‘fairer’ view of voters’ intentions.

Bollocks. Utter bollocks.

The outcome of Proportional Representation is to elect not the candidate whose policies and personality are most admired by most people, but to elect the candidate whose policies and personality are less disliked by more people. You may end up with everyone’s third or fourth bottom-of-the-barrel choice and not the individual candidate most favoured by the highest number of people.

Under Proportional Representation, elections are intended to include more smaller parties. In other words, to lessen the strength of the big parties and to result in more coalition governments. That is what has happened in countries which have tried it.

So what if no party nationally wins enough seats to form a government?

Whichever parties can join together to create a majority of seats will form the government. Inevitably, the parties which come first and second in the election are unlikely to form coalitions. At the last UK General Election, there was no chance of the Conservative and Labour parties joining together in a coalition. Both unsurprisingly tried to form a coalition with the third party, the Lib-Dems.

Proportional Representation never results in simple situations but, in a simple situation in which one party gets 45% of the seats nationally and other parties get 30%, 15% and 10%, it would make sense for the strongest party to form a coalition with the party which got 10%, thus combining together with 55% of the seats. The fourth party probably poses no long-term threat to the strongest party; the other parties are likely to be a greater long-term threat. Always form a coalition with the weakest possible partner. It’s how devious people play the final round in The Weakest Link on TV – they vote off their strongest opponent and play with their weakest opponent. It’s probably in The Art of War somewhere.

What this means in political practice (as in the present UK coalition between the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems) is that the weaker party will insist that some of its policies are adopted by the coalition government as part of the coalition deal.

So, in the four-party example above, the party with only 10% of the seats will see some of its policies adopted – but the party with 30% of the seats will not get any of its policies adopted.

The result is that a party which (in terms of seats won) the majority of people did not want to primarily see in power gains power.

The other alternative, if you have a party seat split of 40%, 35%, 16% and 9% of the seats, is that the second and third parties form a coalition – thus having 51% of the seats – and form the government. That is an entirely possible scenario and, in this case, the party which has more seats than any other party – 40% – does NOT form the government. The party which only got 16% of seats gains power.

That is not democracy, it is a bollocksed-up system which reflects voters intentions not more but less. It’s a system designed to give a better reflection of voters’ intentions which simultaneously creates weak government and is anti-democratic by giving power to less-well-supported parties.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I cite Tony Blair, a man who, I believe, initially had good intentions but who fucked-up the country, fucked-up the constitution, was profoundly anti-democratic and ended up doing evil with what he believed to be good intentions.

Proportional Representation is the Tony Blair of political theories.

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Is Labour Party leader Ed Miliband the junkie twin of Shrek with some unprintable birth defect?

We live in a world where computer animation can do almost anything and I saw a BBC News Channel report last night in which a disabled human being could control the movements of his own wheelchair by his thoughts alone. But I think Pixar and/or Disney and the scientists have gone a step too far in creating a deformed cartoon character and making him leader of the Labour Party in the UK.

What has happened to the Labour Party’s image-control and PR sense and why are the media not talking about how just plain ugly and/or weird Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls are? With the Conservative Party’s new-found PR confidence, Labour is now on a hiding to nothing.

Ed Miliband looks like a slightly slimmer, emotionally-distraught version of Shrek, stumbling about what to him is the alien world of Planet Earth.

Young Ed seems barely out of short trousers and looks like the type of slightly-swottish and humourless schoolboy who gets remorselessly picked-on by bullies. His equally alien-looking brother, the politically-deceased ex-Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was odd enough. He looked like an unholy cross between an unblinking starey-eyed zombie and an automaton from some 1920s German silent movie. I always half expected the front of his face to fall off revealing a mechanical interior, like Yul Brynner in Westworld.

Neither Miliband brother has any visible warmth. But Ed Miliband looks worse.

Yesterday, the coalition government did a u-turn when it announced it was not going to privatise 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in England. I have no more idea than anyone else what a hectare is – it sounds like a small woodland creature with long sticky-up ears – but it also sounds quite large; I mean the land area, not the woodland creature.

The point is that the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, stood up in the House of Commons in a light beige jacket with a light pastel scarf round her neck and said in a gently serious voice: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people’s concerns”.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, always a surprisingly unsympathetic speaker on TV when you consider he used to write for the TV satire show That Was The Week That Was, tried to criticise this as a “humiliating climbdown”.

Caroline Spelman said: “It is only humiliating if you are afraid to say sorry. We teach our children to say sorry.”

This is PR gold dust. It’s a brilliant piece of pre-prepared PR writing.

I have never understood why admitting you are doing a u-turn on a policy has been a no-go for all political parties for so many years. If you phrase the u-turn as a caring, listening, party-of-the-people apology and get the tone right, the public will lap it up.

On the other hand, if you get not just the policy but the party leader wrong, you are dead in the water.

On TV last night, I watched Ed Miliband try to mouth off about the coalition government’s change of policy and, as usual, I could not pay any attention to what he was actually saying because I was utterly mesmerised by his mouth.

When Gordon Brown first became Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had trouble listening to him because he appeared to have been trained to talk in easily-assimilated short phrases and mini-sentences by sticking his tongue into the inside of his cheek when the pauses had to be made. He gave new meaning to the phrase ‘sound bite’. He got slightly less obvious about this by the time he became our unelected Prime Minister, but it was still there and still slightly distracting at the time of his political demise.

Ed Miliband has desperately emotionless fish eyes which stare like someone who has just seen his entire family die in an intense house fire and his lips have a strange rubbery-out-of-control mind of their own. Last night I had no idea what he was saying. His lips had taken on a mad, OTT cartoon life of their own, separate from the rest of his face, as if drawn by a cartoonist on a very strong and very demented acid trip. His upper and lower lips moved around independent of each other and independent of his face, sometimes leaping sideways, upwards or downwards, unrelated to the sounds coming out.

Has he had some terrible accident or did he have some awful birth defect the media are too polite to tell us about? It is like we are watching a man with a mouth being attacked by Pixar and eyes added on by CGI from the shark in Jaws.

And don’t mention Ed Balls.

Firstly, how can any political party seriously expect to get votes from the notably humour-loving British public when their Shadow Chancellor is called Balls. But then, to add another impossible layer to their chances, Ed Balls – who looks not unlike Fred Flintstone forced to wear a second-hand business suit –  appears on TV to be a charisma-free zone who, like the Miliband brothers, tries not blink on camera – it’s a trick I think some politicians may have learned from Hitler’s filmed speeches. Hitler was an exceptionally good public speaker who had trained himself not to blink on camera to create an even greater aura of self-confidence. I read that Tony Benn copied this media trick of Hitler’s, though not his policies.

Ed Balls (unlike Hitler) has an emotionless feel and, although there’s not much he can do about being bulky, he fails to overcome this when he tries to smile with his eyes: it merely makes him look like a ‘heavy’ enforcer for some dodgy East End protection racket – and it’s slightly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s unfortunate and terrifying attempts to smile on camera.

Compare the dead-eyed Miliband brothers and Balls to the on-screen personas of Prime Minister David Cameron (slightly eager and well-meaning public school boy) and Chancellor George Osborne (a bit of a smug prefect from a family with no money worries, but probably efficient).

And add to all that the fact that the Conservatives landed on their feet when they had to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party.

The Conservatives faced a terrible future of having to make vastly unpopular financial cuts to basic services because of the state of the economy. But it turned out the coalition allowed them to deflect a large percentage of public anger onto the Lib-Dems

All three parties have problems, but the Conservatives have re-discovered their power over PR and image control. The Lib-Dems have a problem by seeming to go back on Election promises. But the Labour Party is in a worse position. It has lost its grip and has insurmountable problems until it dumps Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and finds some new acceptable face of socialism.

And, my dear, that gaunt look with the staring eyes! Heroin chic is just SO last century.

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The woman who has stayed in a bedroom cupboard for over two years

Last night I had a somewhat over-priced snack in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a very pleasant place to be with subtle up-lighters to the vaulted brick ceiling and tastefully up-dated modernity out in the corridor plus a very emotionally satisfying circular glass lift up to ground level. It is a very relaxing place to sit and chat although, because this is the crypt of a church built in 1542 and re-built in 1726, the chairs and tables and kitchens stand on headstones and ancient bones including, I think, those of Nell Gwyn.

I sat wondering what Samuel Pepys would have made of this future world if he could see it. Pepys had a nude picture of Nell Gwyn hanging above his desk.

“What am I going to do with my mother?” my friend interrupted.

“What?” I asked, distracted.

“My mother. I don’t know what to do with her. She’ll have to go somewhere.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“In the bedroom cupboard at home. She’s been there for over two years.”

“I know,” I said, trying to be sympathetic. “I had my father in the kitchen for about 18 months. I didn’t like to bring up the subject with my mother in case it upset her. Is there anywhere your mother liked that had a special place in her heart?”

My friend pondered this long and hard.

Dickens & Jones,” she eventually mused. “She adored Dickens & Jones.”

“They might think it was bad for business,” I said, trying to be practical while remaining sympathetic. “And department stores tend to clean the floors an awful lot. They’d vacuum her up.”

“It’s what she would have wanted,” my friend said quietly. “She was always at her happiest in Dickens & Jones. But it doesn’t exist any more. So, realistically, I would have to scatter her ashes inside John Lewis in Oxford Street. She liked shopping there too.”

“How about St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?” I suggested.

My friend looked unconvinced.

“She would be among the great and the good of the country,” I re-assured her. “Nelson, Wellington, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, people like that… You could just go in and drop her surreptitiously in a corner when no-one’s looking. It’s all grey stone. They’d never notice and they must only sweep the corners and dust the edges of the floors by the walls every couple of centuries. I’m sure someone must have done it before.”

My friend still looked unconvinced.

“It would be like The Great Escape,” I suggested, trying to get her enthusiasm going. “When they drop the earth from the tunnel down the inside of their trouser legs.”

“Sounds a bit messy,” my friend said.

And that was that.

But I am still convinced it is good idea and deserves further consideration. We live in occasionally surreal times and have to think laterally to keep pace with reality.

Who would have thought a man would try to blow up a plane using a shoe bomb, that MPs would be going to prison for fiddling their expenses and that the European Court’s advisors would reckon it is against basic Human Rights to ban people imprisoned for murder, rape and terrorist offences from voting in an election.

Later, as I was walking through St Pancras station, my eyes accidentally strayed to the Eurostar arrivals board. The next three trains were from Paris, Brussels and Disneyland. I half expected to see Mickey Mouse get off a train hand-in-hand with Pinnochio.

Twenty feet further on, I passed an overweight man in his 40s sitting at a table. He had receding hair at the front of his head and a bald patch at the back. He was eating a croissant and was dressed as a schoolboy. No-one looked at him because no-one thought it odd.

In my train home, a middle-aged woman was talking to a stuffed meerkat. Neither the woman nor the meerkat appeared to have a mobile phone.

What would Samuel Pepys have made of this future world?

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