Tag Archives: Newcastle

Human pups, video nasties, stuffed rats, Dead Elvis and sex – with Tony Hickson

I bumped into Tony Hickson at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden and he asked me if I wanted to hear about Dogboy – his ‘dogumentary’ film – not a documentary, a DOGumentary – about human pups. So, a few days later, we met at the Soho Theatre Bar. The up-market glamour of my life never ends.

“Human pups?” I asked.

“You must know what they are, John.”

“There is,” I said, falteringly, “some sub-culture where people dress up in furry animal costumes and have sex.”

“No,” said Tony. “Those are Furries. The human puppy thing is mostly latex and a bit of bondage stuff and dog leads and that sort of thing. One of the people in the dogumentary used to be a Furry.”

Tony Hickson directed the new DOGumentary

“Why did he change?” I asked.

“He was drawn to the dog thing, dressing up with the mask and all that.”

“Do they dress up as specific dogs?” I asked. “Are there human chihuahuas and human King Charles spaniels?”

“Now you are just,” said Tony, “being silly.”

“No,” I said. “When you say ‘dress up as a dog’ do you actually mean fur and ears and …”

“More a PVC suit with a dog’s head,” said Tony. “PVC or leather. Not fur.”

“Rather un-dog-like, then,” I suggested. “More BDSM.”

“I did ask them,” said Tony, “whether it was sexual or not. They said it wasn’t. They said it was about being in the headspace of master and servant and roleplaying.”

“How did you stumble on this sub-culture?” I asked.

“I was driving along the seafront at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear and one of them was walking along and he was on a lead. So I stopped and asked: Can I make a documentary about you?”

“Was he on all fours?” I asked.

“No, just walking normally.”

“That’s not being a dog at all!” I complained.

“But,” explained Tony, “if you were on your knees, it would take you ages to walk along the seafront.”

Dogboy with his ‘handler’ shopping in Newcastle city centre

“How long is the Dogboy dogumantary?” I asked.

“22 minutes. I made it for Made Television in Newcastle and their slots are 22 minutes.”

“They screened it?”

“No. They didn’t like the subject matter though there’s no sex in it and it’s not dirty in any way.”

“Have they transmitted other stuff of yours?”

“Yes. A documentary about gurning. I won the South East England Gurning Championships.”

“In the DOGumentary,” I asked, “were the people OK with being identified?”

“One of them never takes his mask off, but his handler doesn’t wear a mask.”

“That’s the official name, is it?” I asked. “Handler?”

“Yeah.”

“What do they do? Just walk along seafronts?”

“They go to meet-ups with other pups.”

“Do they smell each other’s bottoms?”

“I never asked that.”

“Do they urinate on lamp posts?”

“I never asked that. You are going a bit Channel Five here, John.”

Dogboy plays with his bone and ball in Tony Hickson’s film

“I still can’t get my head round what they do. Do they just walk along seafronts and go to meet-ups where they bark at each other?”

“No,” Tony replied. “They play with their rubber bones and their balls.”

“Have you tried any of this yourself?” I asked.

“No. Personally, I can’t really see the point.”

“Do women get involved?”

Yes, but it’s mostly just men.”

“So not much bitching?”

“No.”

“Do they go dogging?”

“I never asked that.”

“So you have made documentaries on gurning and this human puppy thing. What else?”

“I normally make short cartoons. I did make a horror film called Nasty Splurty Brains in 1992 but didn’t start submitting it to festivals until about 2002. It was banned in Scarborough.”

“Banned in Scarborough?” I asked. “Surely not. Why?”

“In 2004 or 2005, there was going to be a film festival in Scarborough called Whitby Shorts and the Council were humming and hahing: Oh! You’ll need a licence and the films will need to be licensed! which was bullshit. So I thought: How can I turn this to my advantage? The BBFC have got a list of video nasties and there’s a copy on Wikipedia, so I added Nasty Splurty Brains at the bottom of the list. Then I wrote to the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association saying: It’s on the list of video nasties! and they got onto Scarborough Borough Council and it was banned because it was on the BBFC list.”

“That’s an interesting piece of alternative marketing,” I said.

Where’s Mary? – legally, Tony’s short film obviously can’t say.

“I also made a 10-minute puppet film called Where’s Mary?” said Tony.

“Who is Mary?”

Mary Bell.”

“Oh Jesus!” I said. “Let’s keep off that!”

“It did not get banned,” Tony continued, “but I got a lot of heat. A few death threats.”

“What was the basis of the film?” I asked.

“A child killing other children. A puppet film. Originally, it was going to be more esoteric and experimental, but then I shifted it to puppets. I sold it to the Horror Channel. They went bankrupt.”

“Your other films?” I asked.

I Suck Your Guts – full of movie moments we will never share

“I started making a feature film called I Suck Your Guts around 2012. It was about time-travelling Nazi zombies. But it never got finished, because I fell out with the writer.

“I studied TV and video production at college in Newcastle and worked in corporate video in the late 1980s.

“I stopped making films when I came to London in 1991 because I just ended up working in shoe shops and record shops. I got back into film-making in about 2005 because I started to enjoy it again. Shall I tell you about Dead Elvis?”

“Oh, go on, then.”

“I first started performing as Dead Elvis when I left the circus.”

Circus boy Tony on trapeze at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle

“The circus?” I asked.

“Before I was an actor, I was in the circus. I trained as a trapeze artist and ended up doing knife-throwing and fire-eating for Zippo’s Circus and at a circus called The Foolhardy Folk up in Norfolk.

“I did about five years in the circus but then I got bored. The novelty wears off. Then I came up with a cabaret idea called Dead Elvis around 1998, based on a 1980s drag performer called Dead Marilyn. He did Marilyn Monroe… after she was dead.”

“Did you have much success as Dead Elvis?” I asked.

“I was in a programme on Channel Five.

Dead Elvis supported the 1998 Scottish football team

“And I was in the 1998 Scottish World Cup video as Elvis – not Dead Elvis, just normal Elvis.”

“Why did they have Elvis in the Scottish World Cup video?”

“Because it was filmed at Prestwick Airport, which is the only place in the UK that Elvis ever visited.”

“And Dead Elvis?” I prompted.

“When I did live events, people hated it. I used to sing Suspicious Minds and there’s a part where the lyrics say Dry the tears from your eyes and I had this plastic Madonna on stage which squirted water out of its eyes. And I would sit on a toilet and pull the chain and there was a pyrotechnic which exploded and blew glitter everywhere. But the audience just didn’t get it and I would get booed off stage and I thought: I’m wasting me time here.”

“Would you revive the Dead Elvis to perform it again today?”

“No. There’s lots of people doing it now. Even when I was doing it, there was the Lesbian Elvis, there was the little one – Elfis –  and there was Elephant Man Elvis. Then there was El-vez (the Mexican Elvis) and there was Harry Singh – he was the Sikh Elvis, back in the 1980s with Don’t Step on My Popadoms.”

Tony as Dead Elvis in Jesmond Graveyard on New Year’s Day 1997, shortly before getting thrown out for climbing on graves

“You seem to have had a few careers,” I observed.

“Round about 2008 or 2009 I was a paparazzo photographer in London. I did get Kate Moss once, when she came out of a taxi. I had thought it was going to be Jarvis Cocker but it was Kate Moss and Pete Doherty was with her and she had his guitar in her hand so it looked quite cool.

“As she walked by, I was pressing the button on my camera and the flash didn’t go off and she said: Yer flash is really shit and, for some reason I apologised to her – Oh, sorry.

“On my way home, I threw my flash over Waterloo Bridge into the water. Pete Doherty was always pissed, he always looked like a bag of shit so pictures of him were guaranteed to sell.”

“But I get the impression,” I said, “that you really want to make movies now.”

“In 2015,” Tony told me, “I did a Masters degree in screenwriting at the London College of Communication.”

“And you have made films since then?” I asked.

Ratty etc – such stuff as dreams are made on

“There was Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader. I made it in 2015. It was screened at about five film festivals including one in China and at the Anča International Animation Festival in Slovakia.

“It uses rats. Proper rats. The rats are dead. One of my hobbies is taxidermy, so I just bought a rat, two mice and a gerbil from the local pet shop and stuffed them. They were dead before I stuffed them.”

“Do pet shops,” I asked, “sell dead rodents?”

“Yeah. For snake food. Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader is good. It’s quality. People hated it though… Obviously.”

“Did the stuffed rat move?” I asked.

“Yes. I moved it with me hand. Like a puppet. There was a film festival in Brighton where they brought in kids from the local autistic school.”

“Please tell me you didn’t stuff them,” I said.

“No. But one of the kids saw Captain Ratty on the screen and he freaked out. He had to be taken from the hall. He didn’t like it. But it is a good film. Highly recommended.”

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Malcolm Hardee & Bob Slayer, British comedians, discovered high and naked

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

Last year’s poster for the annual Awards…

The Edinburgh Fringe does not start until August but has to be thought about from now.

Yesterday, I paid the fee for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show to be listed in the Edinburgh Fringe programme.

The extract below from Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake proved to be slightly relevant yesterday. Malcolm died in 2005. The incident took place in the early 1990s and actually did happen – I talked to other comedians who were in the hotel at the time and they confirmed Malcolm got his balconies confused. They told me the policemen looked “stunned”.

* * * * *

Julia remained a flatmate but wasn’t into mating or at least not with me. We did share many things, naturally; we even co-owned a long leather coat that she had bought but which I decided looked much finer on me. And we often mooched around together. When I was asked to screen test for a part in the video recording of a live show in Newcastle of Vic Reeves’ Big Night OutJulia was keen to come along on the jaunt.

The day before we were to head North I had gone into Ladbroke’s bookmakers at Charing Cross with twenty pounds and, in a miraculous series of drink-inspired bets, had won £5,200 by the end of the afternoon. Ladbroke’s didn’t have enough cash in the office to pay me so I agreed to pick up my winnings the following day. For some reason Julia and I convinced ourselves that the most appropriate place for this vast booty was a hat box she intended to take to Newcastle. So we turned up at King’s Cross for the train, Julia manically clinging to her hat box and me feeling like the cock of the walk as I swaggered along in my favourite leather coat – though I probably looked more like a raddled Gestapo torturer.

At Newcastle we were booked into the five-star Copthorne Hotel where Vic Reeves, Simon Day, Jimmy Nail and assorted others connected with Vic’s Big Night Out were staying. Julia and I scanned our room for a hiding place for the five grand and the only thing even vaguely suitable was a tall vase on top of the television. I picked the vase up, shook it and tipped out a pack of very pornographic playing cards. There were pictures of people – mainly – doing things even I wouldn’t do. I pocketed the cards. In case the owner came back in search of them we decided not to put the cash in the vase and so it ended up divided between the pockets of the leather coat.

I failed to make it on to Vic’s video but the live show was jolly. We trooped back from it on Vic’s tour bus – a sort of mobile hotel with bedrooms and lounge area – and spent a liquid evening in the Copthorne bar. I was one of the last to leave and when I was approaching my room I realised that Simon Day, who had been chosen in preference to me for the video, was on the same landing. He had been given the presidential suite – a very grand affair with a balcony that ran along the front of the hotel. I suspected that Simon had retired early to his room because he had lured some unsuspecting female there and, all things considered, it seemed right that I should bid him a congratulatory goodnight.

Wearing only the leather coat and a pair of socks I crawled along the balcony of my room and clambered across to Simon’s. I hammered on his window intending to flash open the coat when he pulled back the curtains. Not a sound. Disappointed I eventually returned to my room to find Julia in her bed, cowering under the sheets, and two men with guns pointed at me. They were Special Branch. Anti-terrorism. And I vaguely recalled some notices pinned in the hotel about a senior politician – Michael Heseltine, I think – who was staying there and ‘would guests behave accordingly’ as the Special Branch boys handcuffed me and marched me down to a Portakabin in the car park that was both their headquarters and their prison cell.

I was asked to turn out my pockets: £5,200 in cash and a very pornographic pack of playing cards. I was asked for my address, which I gave as 1 Mell Street, Greenwich, which they ran through their computer. This told them a fact that I had known but not been unduly bothered by before: that Mell Street had been the home of Gerard Tuite, the convicted IRA bomber who had been arrested there some years before.

Things did not look good. I was facing a charge that could have resulted in life imprisonment had a jury been convinced that I intended to murder Mr Heseltine with a pack of dirty playing cards. I spent an uncomfortable few hours – what a waste of a night in a five-star hotel – until Vic Reeves’ tour manager could be found to confirm that I was there to not star in his video.

* * * * *

Bob Slayer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe

That anecdote became relevant yesterday because I asked comedian Bob Slayer if anything interesting had happened when he performed in Leicester on Friday.

“Yes I nearly died,” he told me. “Well, almost. I was given a Health & Safety lecture after the gig because, during the show, I ran along the balcony wall (naked of course) 40 feet up.”

The moral to this story is simple.

Times change.

Comedians don’t.

The attraction of British balconies to naked comedians remains constant.

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“Get Carter” – the best British gangster film ever made despite alcoholism

Michael Caine playing his own ghost in Get Carter

The first time I ever paid attention to film directing as a child was watching the British ABC TV arts series Tempo.

One episode I saw was so visually stylish and so vividly edited that I actually went to the TV Times listings magazine and checked who the director was.

It was Mike Hodges and I looked out for his name ever after. He is 80 years old in nine days time.

He directed the wonderful and little-seen 1969 Thames TV thriller Rumour (if ever any film were ripe for a re-make, this one is) and his first cinema movie was Get Carter (1971), arguably the best British gangster film ever made (although The Long Good Friday gives it a run for its money).

Michael Caine has said: “One of the reasons I wanted to make Get Carter was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny.” He said central character Jack Carter was the sort of person he might himself have become: “Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine.”

Mike Hodges had originally written the script (based on Ted Lewis‘ novel Jack’s Return Homewith Ian Hendry in mind for the title role (in the finished film, he plays a subsidiary role as the henchman Eric Paice). But producer Michael Klinger wanted Michael Caine, by then already a bankable star.

Ian Hendry’s career had declined, he was alcoholic and in poor physical shape. The climactic chase scene between Caine and Hendry was shot in reverse order, with Hodges filming Hendry’s death first because he was worried Hendry would be too out of breath to play the death scene after running. Hendry’s jealousy of Caine’s success was apparently obvious on set and was made worse by his drinking. Hodges tried to rehearse the film’s racecourse scene between Caine and Hendry in their hotel the night before, but Hendry’s “drunken and resentful state” forced him to abandon the attempt.

Despite all this, Ian Hendry got a 1972 BAFTA Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor and Michael Caine, in one of his best film roles, got nothing.

Mike Hodges introduced a screening of Get Carter at the National Film Theatre in London last night, part of their celebrations of the hundredth birthday of cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (who was in the audience and, according to Mike Hodges, still “leaps up stairs like a gazelle”).

The reason Hodges chose Suschitzky to shoot Get Carter was because he remembered seeing a 1963 movie The Small World of Sammy Lee starring the great Anthony Newley, on which Wolf also cinematographer.

“I loved that film,” Mike said last night. “It was shot in Soho and I was going to be shooting Get Carter in the North East of England, but it was in the same sort of milieu as Get Carter – a seedy underworld.

The Small World of Sammy Lee was shot in black and white. To show poverty and seedy world is comparatively easy in black and white: it lends itself to showing that kind of decay. But colour is a different matter.

“There had been a film called Up The Junction released a little earlier, in 1968. It had been a TV play in black and white, then they made a cinema film of it in colour, which made it look very glossy and beautiful and expensive and, although it was made in London in the same sort of sad, junky-ridden areas we were shooting in in the North East… Well, Wolf’s gift to me on Get Carter was to capture the seediness in colour.”

Thus are great movies made.

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So there was this comic with cerebral palsy and no voice who auditioned as a singer on The X Factor yesterday…

Lee voices his amusement at yesterday’s X-Factor auditions

One of the joys of writing this daily blog is that people send me bizarre anecdotes.

This is certainly one, so pin back your eyes like you are Alex in A Clockwork Orange and read on.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a Jeff Lantern, who describes himself as “an enigmatic North East England based act” and who says: “I perform on the comedy circuit because no-one else will take me seriously”.

He said he had “recently met a new comic from Sunderland called Lee Ridley, aka ‘Lost Voice Guy’ who cannot physically talk. Today, he is auditioning in Newcastle to go on The X Factor.”

This successfully grabbed my attention, so I got in touch with Lee, who had just returned from the auditions. And this is what he told me:

Basically, I have cerebral palsy from when I was ill when I was a baby. This resulted in me losing my speech and having a weaker right side of the body (which means I walk funny). Instead of talking, I use a small computer called a Lightwriter to communicate with – although I use an Apple iPad on stage as it is clearer and more practical. I just type what I want to say and the iPad says it out loud. A bit like Stephen Hawking.

I only started doing comedy last month so I’m still building up my profile. I’ve only had three gigs so far. I started because I’d always enjoyed making people laugh and watching stand-up. I never thought I’d get to do it because of my disability. But then my mates suggested it might work. I thought about it for a bit and then decided to give it a go. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.

I already had some X Factor material in my act so, as it looked like it might be a boring Saturday, I thought it would be funny to audition for The X Factor as a singer and see what they said when I turned up. I decided to do I Believe I Can Fly because I thought it seemed apt in a deluded kind of way. I got up this morning at 6.00am to get to the auditions for 8.00am. Once there, I was put into ‘Pen B’ which was for disabled auditionees. I thought it apt that the staff referred to them as Pen A and Pen B as if we were animals going to the slaughter.

I was signed in by an assistant who talked to me through my communication device. This begs a question about how she expected me to sing when she could see I couldn’t talk. Was she just being polite? Two more people spoke to me in the same way and still no questions were asked. Good news for me!

We stood in the cold for an hour while X Factor production staff got people to sing Fog On The Tyne and Let’s Get Ready To Rumble. Stereotypical?  I was surprised they didn’t bring in the fat topless bloke from Newcastle games just for good measure. Or maybe Gazza with some chicken, a dressing gown and a fishing rod.

Then we were let into the venue – the Metro Radio ArenaOnce inside, we had to sit together and wait to be called for our audition. Everyone around me started practising and I did start to feel a tiny bit bad for potentially wasting someone’s opportunity. But not too bad.

When I finally got in for my audition (about two hours after arriving) – basically in the side corridors of the arena – I was greeted by two production assistant type people who were my judge and jury. I could see straight away that they weren’t sure what was going to happen. They asked me if I was going to sing, like they were double checking.

I broke into I Believe I Can Fly and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could tell they were still trying to figure out if I was serious or not. In my opinion, I quite obviously wasn’t (I even had a Lost Voice slogan on my t-shirt), but the sense of humour seemed to be lost in translation. I tried not to laugh too much and just sway along to the words. After a few verses and some very weird glances, they stopped me and told me I wasn’t going through to the next stage. Part of me thought they looked annoyed at me for being a twat and wasting their precious time. I hope they were anyway.

I asked if I had sounded too flat as I walked out.

Still not a smile.

As I said, I already had some X Factor material in my act, so I plan to add to it with what has taken place today. My biggest gig yet is coming up is next month – Sunday 8 April 2012 at Rib Ticklers’ 1st birthday in Hartlepool with special guest headliner Patrick Monahan.

I have decided to record my ‘losers song’ and put it online.

__________

Here it is:

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How to pretend in a blog that you are successful in showbusiness by targeted, relentless b***sh****ng…

Three things have always held me back from a glittering and financially wildly successful career in showbiz: I’m not gay, I’m not Jewish and I’m shit at schmoozing.

Ooh – and I’m spectacularly lacking in any discernible performing talent of any kind.

However, I can bullshit quite well after many years of turning occasional sows’ ears of TV schedules into silk purses in on-air channel trailers.

Someone bemoaning the naivety of North Korean government propaganda in the 1980s once said to me: “You can only do good propaganda if you do NOT believe in what you’re saying. The trouble we have here is that these people believe what they’re saying.”

So, with that in mind, let me tell you all about my glamour-filled afternoon in London’s showbizzy Soho district yesterday.

After lunch, I went to St Martin’s College of Art in Charing Cross Road, forever immortalised in Pulp’s Top Ten hit Common People – “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge… She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College”.

(See what I did there? It might have sounded irrelevant, but you get tiny amounts of reflected glory from selective name-dropping. Unless that name is Gary Glitter)

The comedian Charmian Hughes was already at the photo studio in St Martin’s, getting publicity shots taken for her upcoming Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments.

(Always mention quality show names in passing and, again, you will get some slight reflected glory. Never mention inept productions unless it’s the current IKEA TV ad and even then only if you’re trying to capitalise on shitloads of previous hits on your blog.)

I was at St Martin’s to get photos taken of myself for use as publicity at the Edinburgh Fringe. As far as I know, up there in August, I will be directing one show, producing another and chairing two debates.

(Always self-promote, however crass it seems. All publicity is good publicity, unless it involves Gary Glitter.)

Director Mel Brooks once told me (name-drop) during a very brief encounter:

“Always open your mouth when you do it – a publicity shot. It makes you look happier, more extrovert, more full of confidence and that’s half the job!”

A female comedienne, who had better remain nameless (never annoy the Talent) once told me:

“Don’t allow the photographer to take shots of you from a level lower than your chin because a shot taken looking upwards at your face will accentuate any double chins, jowls and flabby bits.”

And I learned a lot once by going to a photo shoot with the very lovely Isla St Clair (name-drop) who was a revelation (give credit where credit is due), offering the camera a continually changing range of angles and expressions for the photographer to choose from.

I am not a natural and I tried my best at St Martin’s, though I seem to have trouble doing that old Hollywood standby – looking over my shoulder at the camera. My neck – like my good self, perhaps – seems to be either too thick or too stiff.

(Self-deprecation can be appealing in the UK, though don’t try it in the US – they see it as lack of self-confidence.)

I hate photos of myself. I may be turning into a luvvie, but I have always realised one thing – I am very definitely not photogenic. (Again, use self-deprecation sparingly if you have a US audience)

Towards the end of the photo session, I started jumping in the air, something The Beatles (name-drop) did much more successfully on a beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1963. My legs are not as good as the 21 year old Paul McCartney’s. (name-drop combined with self-deprecation)

At the very end of the session, I was pouring water into my mouth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it turned out not to be. Don’t ask.

After that, I went off to Leicester Square to have tea with stand-up comedian, qualified psychotherapist and occasional PR/marketing guru Shelley Cooper. She told me she has accidentally developed a new on-stage confidence and I advised her to adopt a new approach to performing her comedy. I told her:

“Don’t think of writing comedy material. Instead, think of what really, genuinely gets up your nose, go on stage and rant about it and, through personality, natural comic tendencies and experience, the comedy element will add itself in.”

(That’s more than a bit pompous and a therefore a bit iffy, but the pro factor of being seen to give advice to a psychotherapist probably just-about outweighs the negative factors.)

As I left Shelley outside the Prince Charles Cinema, she turned left, I turned right and almost immediately I bumped into John Park, editor of Fringe Report – he is the man who did not design the Baghdad metro system. I always think he did, but he didn’t. It’s a long story. I still lament the passing of his monthly Fringe Report parties. Fringe Report also gave me an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’ – basically an award for being the best awarder of awards – something which has always endeared them and him to me. (True, but beware of too-blatant crawling to John Park)

John P told me he has written a play about love called Wild Elusive Butterfly which the Wireless Theatre Company will be recording in the next couple of months for internet streaming and download.

(Always plug something which sounds like it may be very good in the hope of some reflected glory.)

“Is it all singing, all dancing and with a dolphin in it?” I asked John P.

“You know?” he asked me. “Someone mentioned it?”

“Eh?”

“We have a porpoise,” John told me.

“You have a purpose?”

“We have a porpoise – in the play. You know the story of Freddie the Dolphin?”

“I don’t.”

“There was a court case where a man was accused of assaulting a dolphin because he…”

“Ah!,” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “The dolphin-wanking case! I loved it.”

In 1991, animal-rights campaigner Alan Cooper was accused in Newcastle of “outraging public decency” with local aquatic celebrity Freddie The Dolphin by masturbating the dolphin’s penis with his armpit.

“In court,” explained John, “one of the Defence Counsel’s angles was that a dolphin’s penis is a means of communication.”

“I heard it’s not uncommon,” I said. “All round Britain, dolphins are swimming up to people and sticking their penises in the swimmers’ armpits to have a wank. People are too embarrassed to complain or even mention it and you can hardly prosecute a dolphin for sexual harassment. I think that the…”

“Anyway,” said John, “it was a great line and I felt had to have it in the play. A dolphin’s penis is a means of communication. A great line. Although, in my play, it’s a porpoise. I think they may be different.”

“Everyone needs a purpose,” I said.

“I think I have to be going,” said John, looking at his watch.

(When in doubt, make up dialogue, but keep it close to what was actually said and try to add in a dash of self-deprecating humour, if possible. Unless you are trying to impress people in the US.)

Glamour? Glitz? Showbiz sparkle?

I live it every day, luv.

While we were walking through Soho, Shelley Cooper said to me: “That was Suggs.”

“What?”

“On that corner, back there. That was Suggs of Madness talking to Boy George’s ex-boyfriend.”

“Did he recognise me?”

“It’s unlikely,” Shelley said.

“I suppose so,” I agreed.

By the way, the dolphin man was found innocent after several expert witnesses were called.

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Sex & poltergeists; the talking mongoose & the vampire rabbit

Day two of the Fortean Times UnConvention brought tales of “Sex and The Poltergeist” from Alan Murdie – by day a lawyer specialising in Intellectual Property legislation and Civil Liberties and by night a former chairman of the Ghost Club who now chairs the Spontaneous Cases Committee of the Society for Psychical Research – an interesting man, one of whose friends has the 4th largest collection of eye baths in private hands (which makes me wonder how many eye baths are in public collections). And he also knows of someone who is making a list of the registration numbers of bassoons.

Alan expounded on the true story of Gef The Talking Mongoose in the Isle of Man – also known as the Dalby Spook – an allegedly talking mongoose in the 1930s who also had the added advantage of psychic abilities… and he was also pretty good at catching rabbits too. The general consensus seems to have been that Gef was a Freudian projection from the mind of his owners’ 18 year old daughter… or possibly an imaginary talking penis as he was long, pink and had hair at one end. A story with a hint of Forbidden Planet about it: monsters from the Id with balls.

You don’t get this sort of stuff at most conventions and the Fortean Times UnConvention was suitably rounded-off by freelance art journalist Gail-Nina Anderson, who lectures on Pre-Raphaelite art. She gave a lively lecture on ‘The Vampire Rabbit’ of Newcastle – a bizarre carving on an early 20th century office block – about which no-one knows anything or, as she put it, “a myth waiting to happen”.

It has all the ingredients for a good myth – or, rather, it could have – it just needs someone to make up plausible – or even interestingly implausible – background stories.

Now… creating a myth… that would be something.

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Filed under Comedy, Strange phenomena