Tag Archives: Nicholas Parsons

Becky Fury, a compassion glut in the Calais migrant jungle and a new award

overview_of_calais_jungle_wikipedia_cut

Becky with her Cunning Stunt Award

Becky with her Cunning Stunt Award at the Edinburgh Fringe

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, comedian Becky Fury won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. But, then, a couple of weeks ago, she got another award.

Last night, she told me: “I did a gig at the Deptford Bird’s Nest which, I believe, was Malcolm Hardee’s old stomping ground.”

“Never heard of it,” I told her.

“And I arrived,” Becky continued, ignoring me, “and I was greeted with another Malcolm Hardee Award. French Fred and Karen decided…”

“Karen?” I asked.

“Was she not one of Malcolm Hardee’s acolytes?”

“She’s a woman,” I said, “so that will almost certainly be a Yes.”

“A woman in South London…” added Becky.

“So almost family,” I said.

“Anyway,” said Becky, “Karen and French Fred greeted me with what is apparently the REAL Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“Which is?” I asked.

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ Malcolm Hardee award

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ competing Malcolm Hardee award

“A framed photo of him. They told me your Malcolm Hardee Awards are just pretenders.”

“They knew you had won the Edinburgh Award?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Because it is so increasingly prestigious,” I suggested.

“Precisely,” Becky confirmed.

“Where have you hung this picture of him?” I asked.

“Well, I had to give it back to them…”

“What?”

“French Fred wanted it back to put in his bedroom,” explained Becky.

“I have a photo of Nicholas Parsons in my bedroom,” I told her.

She just looked at me and said nothing.

The well-organised Anarchist Bookfair cabaret

The organised Anarchist Bookfair cabaret

Becky is organising the cabaret part of the Anarchist Bookfair tomorrow.

“I heard,” I told her, “that some people who organised it in previous years were too disorganised for the anarchists.”

Becky looked at me and raised a Roger Moore style eyebrow.

“We are raising money for the ongoing support of people stuck in Calais,” she said.

“Ah,” I said, “you went to the migrant ‘jungle’ in Calais this week, before it got demolished. Why?”

“Because it was interesting. And because a lot of people I know have gone and helped. And a friend of mine was driving there with some stuff. And I’m basically writing stuff for my new show.”

Becky Fury and friend in Calais

Becky Fury by the Hitler bunker with a friend from the jungle

“Which is about…?”

“I dunno if I want to say. But I actually got an amazing story by going there and actually finding out what was going on in the jungle itself.”

“Your friend,” I prompted, “was driving there with stuff. What stuff?”

“Donations. Tents,” said Becky. “Tins of kidney beans. That sort of thing. Also a friend of mine ran the warehouse there. He used to have a sound system – Bedlam Sound System – and he sold it to set up the warehouse.”

“The jungle had a warehouse?” I asked.

Helpers hard at work in one of the jungle warehouses

Helpers hard at work in one of the Calais jungle’s warehouses

“Two warehouses. I worked in the one that was set up by the sound system squatter collective. I went for four days. I got a lift and I nearly didn’t stay, because the people who gave me a lift were all going to go off and do a squat party in Amsterdam.”

“What was the warehouse like?”

“It was a really unbelievably lovely experience.”

“Because?”

“It was like a distribution point for random acts of kindness. Everyone was there because they wanted to be helpful. It had a really good sense of community.

“I helped in the warehouse for three days but I wanted to go to the jungle and another lift turned up – a guy from London who I knew from years ago. A very rich man. He turned up with his World Music Covers choir. For some reason, he thought that was what people in the jungle really needed. Not tins of kidney beans, not tents, but some white man singing Bob Marley covers at them.”

“Can I write that?” I asked. “You’re putting him down a bit.”

“That’s OK,” said Becky. “Because he left me there. He left me in the jungle. So I think it’s fair enough to slag him off. This is going in my show as well.”

“So,” I said. “World music in the jungle…”

Some of the British newspaper headlines about the migrants

Some of the British newspaper headlines about the migrants

“I was listening to it in the warehouse,” explained Becky, “and thinking: This is really beautiful, very accomplished. But also very white. And there was some level of cultural appropriation. They also did covers from The Lion King… As if these people had not suffered enough!

“I was thinking about all those newspaper stories about rape gangs and aggressive men and thinking: God, we are going to go and serenade them with Bob Marley covers. If they don’t kill us, they should.”

“And the reaction was?” I asked.

“A polite smattering of applause.”

“How many people were watching?”

“About 50.”

“Of the 7,000 to 10,000 in the jungle…” I mused.

“Basically,” explained Becky, “some of them couldn’t get away from us because it was set up near the queue for the food. There was no escape. And we also turned up in the Sudanese community where they were all drinking tea and one of the guys there was wearing sportswear with a pair of Nikes and a branded hoodie, looked at this posh white man with an acoustic guitar and asked: Are we gonna make party? Sarcastically.

“This guy who organised it was, I think, trying to impress me with his world music choirs covers band but I had really gone there to find out more information about the place and I started chatting to a guy from Peckham. He had come from Afghanistan when he was 12.”

“So he had suffered,” I said. “First Afghanistan, then Peckham.”

“Yeah. So that’s his home. Peckham. But we (the British) refused to give him a visa so he ended up in the jungle in Calais. He told me: I have fantasies about being stuck on the Central Line. He’s basically a Londoner. He speaks perfect English and even had a South London  twang. But he was stuck in Calais.

Becky thought: "As if these people had not suffered enough!"

Becky thought: “As if these people had not suffered enough!”

“In Calais, there was a glut of compassion. People in the West don’t have the opportunity to be kind and to be compassionate often enough. In a Buddhist country, you’ve got that in your culture. It’s more engrained. What happened in Calais was basically a glut of compassion where everyone was going there because they wanted to be nice. And all the compassion was re-distributed to all the people coming from all these places having a horrible time, coming to receive that compassion.

“But it caused problems, because the people in Calais didn’t want all those refugees to be in their town because the compassion was not being distributed out properly. If everyone in the West were more compassionate on a day-to-day level, it would be more evenly distributed and everyone would feel better about themselves and you wouldn’t get this compassion clot like in Calais.”

calaisjunglecard

 

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My talkative night with Melvyn Bragg, Nicholas Parsons & maybe a dead actor

Melvyn Bragg

Melvyn Bragg was waiting in my living room

So I was in my living room, about to interview Melvyn Bragg about his career in the Arts, when Bill Fraser woke up. I had thought he was dead. He used to co-star in ITV’s most popular sitcom of its day Bootsie & Snudge.

I don’t mean I had thought he was dead when he was lying there asleep at the side of the room. I mean I thought he had died several years ago.

But Bill Fraser had only been sleeping at the side of my living room. He was not wearing his wig.

This confused me, because I could not remember him wearing a wig on Bootsie and Snudge in which, I thought, he was bald. So it should not have been a surprise to me that he was bald – but he did not seem to be bald in the way I remembered him being bald.

Bill Fraser

Bill Fraser interrupted me with a long anecdote

He interrupted me with a fairly long anecdote then, after I took a photograph of him, I was able to start interviewing Melvyn Bragg. The first question I asked was how he had got into the arts field when he had already built up quite a reputation playing straight man to various people including… and I could not quite remember the name of the ITV comedy show in which he played the next-door neighbour of… comedy actor Arthur Haynes.

Melvyn Bragg, sitting on the sofa in my living room, looked slightly surprised.

Then I woke up and realised it had all been a dream.

I normally only remember dreams if something wakes me up in the middle of one. But I could not figure out what had woken me up during this one.

I went downstairs to the kitchen to make myself toast and tea and came back up with two slices of toast and a cup of milk.

Then I realised why Bill Fraser’s baldness had looked slightly familiar and yet slightly wrong.

A few nights ago on BBC iPlayer, I had watched Behind the Candelabra, a movie in which actor Michael Douglas plays the part of pianist Liberace. Late in the film, Michael Douglas appears as Liberace without his wig on. I mean Liberace’s wig, not Michael Douglas’. I have no reason to believe Michael Douglas wears a wig. I had transferred Michael Douglas’ skull-cap of bald-headedness onto Bill Fraser’s face.

The photo of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

The photo of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

It was Nicholas Parsons, not Melvyn Bragg who played the cravat-wearing next door neighbour in the Arthur Haynes TV series. For the last two or three years, I have slept with a large photo of Nicholas Parsons above my bed. It seems to fit the decor. The photo is in a wooden frame and looks similar to the formal picture of any generic Communist dictator which might have hung on the wall in a post office or a cafe to stoke the flames of a personality cult. I always think the grey suit Nicholas Parsons is wearing in the photo makes him look a little like Enver Hoxha, once Communist dictator of Albania.

Enver Hoxha

Communist Enver Hoxha, not Nicholas Parsons

I thought this seemed odd.

Then I woke up.

I went downstairs to the kitchen to make myself toast and tea and came back up with two slices of toast and a cup of milk.

I had only dreamt I had gone downstairs to the kitchen the first time.

I looked up Bill Fraser in Wikipedia.

He is dead. So it goes.

He died from emphysema in Hertfordshire, in 1987.

Now I am awake. I think.

One can never be entirely sure of anything.

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My bedroom pin-up Nicholas Parsons and the Irish navvies in Shepherds Bush

Brian Damage at home with his painting

Brian Damage, comedian & artist, at home with his paintings

So I was talking to Brian Damage, comedian, musician and artist…

“I started as a drummer,” he told me, “because my dad brought home a drum kit. I joined a group and our first gig was for Butty Sugrue. He had put on a Muhammad Ali fight in Dublin in 1972, but he was really an Irish circus strongman who used to pull buses with his teeth and, in London, he ran the Wellington pub in Shepherd’s Bush.”

Butty reportedly died trying to carry a fridge up stairs at the Wellington pub.

So it goes.

“The pub was the size of a tennis court,” Brian Damage told me, “and Butty used to put on cabaret. The gigs used to be full of Irishmen – lots of navvies – standing. His wife was an actress and her agent also represented people like Nicholas Parsons, Joe Lynch (who was a big star at the time because of his TV series Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width) and Diana Dors (a major British film star). So you would get Diana Dors and Nicholas Parsons playing to a big room of Irish navvies in Shepherds Bush.”

I have a portrait of Nicholas Parsons above my bed

TV presenter & comedy straight man Nicholas Parsons’ portrait hangs proudly over my bed

“Nicholas Parsons was doing a stand-up act at the time?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Brian told me. “There was this tennis court sized room full of Irishmen and he’d tell a joke, then say: Right, that didn’t go down very well. But, of course, being Irish, it probably went over your heads… Fuck me, how they booed him!”

“He played there more than once?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Brian. “He was very persistent. It’s an admirable trait.”

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Dave Gorman warms-ups, Nicholas Parsons is sorry & Omid Djalili laughs

Dave Gorman warms to warm-ups

Dave Gorman warms to the difficulty of warm-up

Yesterday, I blogged about a distinctly un-enjoyable TV pilot show I went to see at the BBC. I mentioned the warm-up man. There was some reaction to this.

Comedian Dave Gorman commented:

“I think it’s always been a mixed bag. Some recordings are fun to attend and some are more like hostage situations. I was in a studio audience 20 years ago where it was not unlike the one you describe here and I’ve been in others more recently that have been great.

“Warm-up’s a hugely difficult (and hugely underrated) skill. A lot of brilliant acts make for lousy warm-ups. Some know they can’t do it and steer well clear. Others think they can… but the only way of finding out is to do it. Nothing about the circuit – not even the most fluid of compering – tells who can or can’t.

“Some shows fly under their own steam and the warm-up really only has to do a set at the top of the show. In other shows where there are set changes and/or multiple takes, the warm-up might well end up performing more than everyone else involved put together.”

Jake Betancourt-Laverde, who studies TV Production at the University of Westminster (where I studied it) Tweeted:

“Sounds very similar to the two times I saw Mock the Week being recorded. Genuinely the most depressing experience I’ve ever had at a comedy show.”

Comedian Tiernan Douieb picked up on this and asked: “Yet you went twice???”

Jake explained: “Second time I was a VIP! I got free wine and wotsits after!” but later he told me,  “Mock The Week was akin to a battery farm for laughter. Three soulless hours of one liners.”

More upliftingly, Toby Martin Tweeted:

“This reminds me of something that once happened to me. A couple of years ago I travelled the breadth of the country to see a recording of Just a Minute, which I’d grown up listening to and adored. After queuing with my brother for an hour, we were turned away as the available seats had been taken up by those who had apparently queued since lunch time.

“In a haze of mindless ire I fired off an angry e-mail to BBC customer services, knowing full well that I would only receive a courtesy e-mail reminding me that the Terms & Conditions on my tickets covered just such an eventuality… and roughly two weeks later I DID receive said e-mail.

Nicholas Parsons? Hold on a minute!

The lovely Nicholas Parsons is forever not for Just a Minute

“Then, about a fortnight later and having forgotten about the whole sorry episode, I received the following voicemail on my phone: Hello Toby, this is Nicholas Parsons. I’ve been given your e-mail that you sent a little while ago to the BBC and would like to apologise profusely for the inconvenience you were caused. I would like to invite you to the next recording of Just a Minute as my personal guest.

“Needless to say, I was suitably stunned and glowed with pride a few weeks later as I took my specially reserved seat right at the front of the auditorium in Broadcasting House.

“The episode filled me with even more adulation for Nicholas Parsons, who took the time to meet me afterwards… but I haven’t bothered attending any more BBC recordings since!”

I have to say I, too, have a great deal of admiration for Nicholas Parsons. I met him fleetingly when he was presenting Sale of The Century at Anglia TV and he seemed very very decent – an impression strengthened when my comedy chum Janey Godley published her jaw-droppingly shocking autobiography Handstands in the Dark. She told me:

“Nicholas called me up to say he read my book on holiday and it equally traumatised and entertained him – what a man! He says he will never forget the holiday as everywhere he looked he saw a wee ‘Janey’ walking about in his head and he wanted to hug me. He has always been supportive of anyone new who comes on Just a Minute – makes us feel nurtured.”

Another comedian who read my blog yesterday was Omid Djalili. He commented:

“During a recording of my BBC show in 2009, the audience left after an hour. It was OK though – I recorded my own laughter 167 times and found I achieved many a nuance in the laugh track.”

Comedians. What can you do with ’em?

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Even if you get famous you are probably going to end up an unknown nonentity

At the Edinburgh Fringe last week, I was talking to someone about the fame of Tony Bennett, the great crooner from the golden era of crooners. He even played Glastonbury because he is so famous as the great crooner from the golden era of crooners.

More of him later.

I got home from the bubble of the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday, where reviews and the number of stars each show gets is all-important.

Hold on. Was it yesterday I got home? No, it was Monday. My mind is fogged.

I got home from the Edinburgh Fringe two days ago to find The X Factor has re-started on ITV1 or, at least, programmes in which vast auditoria are filled by excited punters watching the auditions for The X Factor… and Celebrity Big Brother is doing rather well in ratings terms on Channel 5, though I do not recognise anyone on it except the paparazzo with pink hair, Jedward and (because she seemed drugged out of her head) someone I realised was Kerry Katona (and because people keep calling her “Kerry”).

This demonstrates two things.

Edinburgh really is a self-absorbed bubble.

I am out-of-touch with Heat magazine.

And celebrity is fleeting.

That’s  three things.

My mind is fogged.

But I do know there are two clichés of showbiz success.

One is the overnight success and the other is the scenario of plodding-away-for-years, ‘paying your dues’ and then becoming famous.

Of these, the overnight success cliché is easier to comprehend. Talent shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are like job interviews and non-showbiz viewers can understand that. Showbiz talent shows are like The Apprentice – which has the format of a glorified job interview – with added glitter and stardust.

To the ordinary punter, Michael McIntyre is an overnight success much like an X Factor contestant. It seemed like he was a total unknown one week and, within a month or so, he seemed to just come from nowhere to achieve what punters regard as superstardom.

But last year sometime (my mind is fogged) he said he did not want to crack America because “it’s taken me long enough to sort things out here and I don’t want to start again somewhere else.”

Whether that is actually 100% true and he doesn’t actually want to crack America, I don’t know. But he has certainly paid his dues. He was toiling away for years, mostly unseen, and has eventually succeeded through solid, dogged hard work and talent.

Many others with exactly the same degree of talent or more, also working doggedly for their big break are, of course, still toiling away and will never get even a tenth of one percent of the public recognition Michael McIntyre has received.

Michael McIntyre deserves to be successful.

So do many other equally talented performers.

So, perhaps, do some of the X Factor hopefuls.

But they won’t be.

Because talent is not enough.

Dogged determination and hard work is not enough.

Paying your dues is not enough.

The three ingredients for potential success are talent (not always 100% necessary), dogged determination and pure luck.

The joker in the pack is that many vastly talented people have a self-destructive streak. They have the seeds of their own failure within them.

One of the oddest problems is that many performers, confident on stage, are painfully shy off stage. This means they are terrified of self-publicity when off-stage. Being themselves is a terrifying thought, so they ironically do not want and/or do not understand self-publicity.

But without self-publicity, it is unlikely they will succeed.

And, as several years of Big Brother show, even with rampant self-publicity, celebrity is fleeting.

When I was very young, the biggest comedy and entertainment name on British television was Arthur Haynes. His scripts were written by Johnny Speight.

Ask most struggling professional British comics today who Johnny Speight was and they may know because of Till Death Us Do Part.

Ask them who Arthur Haynes was and they will look at you blankly.

Who was his long-time TV straight man?

Nicholas Parsons.

The also-ran has become a star; the megastar is forgotten.

Because the other way to achieve fame is to out-live the competition.

Tony Bennett – the great crooner from the golden era of crooners?

Bollocks.

There was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, endless others.

At the time, Tony Bennett was way down the list of crooners. But he outlived them all, so his place in the running-order of fame has risen.

Perry Como was a megastar.

I hear muffled cries of “Who?”

Exactly.

Fame is like a TV weather forecast.

Everyone thinks it’s important to pay attention at the time but, ten minutes later, you can’t remember it.

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