Timeless and ageless entertainer Earl Okin posted this memory on his Facebook page. Reprinted here with permission:
I suppose that I’m among the relatively few here who can remember singing the words ‘God Save The King’. There’s a famous newsreel clip of King George VI seeing off the young Princess Elizabeth (born the same year as Marilyn Monroe) and her husband as they flew off to Kenya. It was the last time that the King would be seen by the country or his daughter. That last goodbye took place on my 5th birthday.
I suppose that we knew that this Elizabethan reign couldn’t last forever, but now that it has ended and that we’ll once again sing ‘God Save The King’, it all seems surreal.
There are other royal families, other Queens, but if anyone for the last 50 years or more said ‘The Queen’, we all knew of whom that person was talking. Elizabeth Windsor, in all her 70 years on the throne hardly put a foot wrong.
25 years ago, we had the tragic accident that ended the short life of a princess who was known as the ‘Queen of hearts’, but, in the end, it is probably Elizabeth Windsor who has earned that title from most members of the country and her beloved Commonwealth.
That said, Elizabeth Windsor was not The Queen. The Queen was a role that she played to perfection, but we learned much more about the real Elizabeth Windsor earlier this year in that famous last video with Paddington Bear.
Back around the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1978, I was invited to perform at a VERY posh party in Windsor. It was in the massive grounds of someone called Mrs. Heinz. The quests included Rex Harrison, Richard Rodgers, David Frost, Gore Vidal…the list goes on….but the guests of honour were the Windsor sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret. With no media present, they could be themselves. To the music of Monty Sunshine and his band, the Windsor sisters danced with everyone… all evening.
The main thing I remember was how much prettier The Queen was in real life – real film star looks.
15 years ago, I lost the Queen of MY heart. My mother was just a year younger, just before her 95th birthday, and she died without warning. I was a zombie for some weeks, so I know what poor now King Charles III will be going through and he has new royal duties to attend to… I don’t envy him.
Back in 1901, the country must have felt the same way. Victoria had been Queen since 1837. There was a new king…Edward VII. He turned out to be a very good one. I’m sure that Charles III will be too. So…once again let’s sing ‘God Save The King’.
I thought he was a very very good performer and singer and I enjoyed his work when I heard it, but I was never a massive fan of his music.
What he was like as a person – now that is another matter.
I only encountered him once, when we watched television together, back in 1995.
He was one of the guests on a peaktime ITV series called Jack Dee’s Saturday Night.
It was recorded at the New Wimbledon Theatre in London.
The New Wimbledon Theatre, like most London theatres, is very ‘vertical’. You have the stage at, I think, ground level and multiple storeys above the auditorium and at the back. My memory is that the ‘green room’ for the show was right at the top of the building, at the back. It was certainly quite a climb, so you did not move between stage level and the green room unless you had to.
Meat Loaf was not one of ‘my’ acts; I was not looking after him. But we ended up at the top of the building in the green room alone together. I think I may have made us a cup of tea and we sat and watched television together.
It can’t have been broadcast television; it must have been a feed from the stage, where rehearsals were happening. So we just sat there – in two comfortable armchairs, if my memory serves me right – intermittently watching what was happening downstairs and chatting about nothing in particular.
Earlier, I had seen him rehearsing on-stage with his backing group. I don’t know if this was his regular band or if he had just picked them up for his European gigs. He was very much in command, directing them how to ‘perform’ the music, how to add swagger and dramatic movements to their performance.
“You did not move between stage level and the green room…”
It was not just them playing music; it had to be a ‘performance’. He was this grandiose OTT rock star and they were his dramatic backdrop.
But the man I was watching television and drinking tea with was just an ordinary man. No airs and graces and drama and false superiority. No ‘I am a star’ stuff. No acing out a persona. Just an ordinary amiable human being relaxing, whiling away some time in a room with a passing stranger.
Of course, most ‘stars’ are like that. Alas not all. But he seemed particularly ‘ordinary’ (I say that as a big compliment). Particularly comfortable to be with.
I have no idea what he was like with other people the rest of the time. But I have always remembered him as amiable, gentle and relaxed. Not at all the loud, OTT, self-centred ‘performer’.
The first time I was really aware of him was when I saw his Meat Loaf-type performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He commanded the screen. But I was also very impressed with his gentle, vulnerable performance in Fight Club. Two totally different performances.
And that’s what I remember from that afternoon in 1995.
A great, rip-roaring on-stage performance by Meat Loaf and his band.
Meat Loaf interviewed by MTV, 2009 (Photo: Christopher Simon, Wikipedia)
And a quiet, soft-voiced ‘ordinary’ and very very likeable man drinking tea and chatting with me about nothing in particular while waiting to be called downstairs to perform.
I am, of course, too sensible to say that he has now been called upstairs.
But I have always remembered him as a nice man. For me, that is a big compliment.
In 2003, while reporting on Meat Loaf’s support for Hartlepool United football club, the BBC claimed that he was thinking of buying a house in Hartlepool.
Nicholas Parsons – much loved by generations of Brits
I was at a crematorium in Hampshire today. For a celebration of the life of my cousin’s husband, Michael. He was that seemingly rare thing: a kind, decent and gentle man. My cousin chose well marrying him.
When I left, within less than a minute of me switching on my phone again, there was a BBC newsflash that Nicholas Parsons had died, aged. 96.
And it started to rain.
I grew up watching Nicholas Parsons on TV. He played the upper-class and slightly up-himself ‘posh’ foil/neighbour to Arthur Haynes’ working class character/tramp in a ratings-topping ITV comedy show The Arthur Haynes Show, written by Johnny Speight (before he created Till Death Us Do Part).
So, as a child, I suppose I thought of Nicholas Parsons as the character he played – a bit of a posh bloke thinking a bit too much of himself. Sort of a cliché actor type, if you see what I mean.
Later, when I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, I guess in the early 1970s, there was a story in the local Hampstead & Highgate Express about some girl who had been sexually attacked on Hampstead Heath and afterwards she went to the nearest house she found which, as it happened, was Nicholas Parsons’ home.
My memory is that she was effusive about how wonderful and helpful, how kind and considerate, caring and efficient he was, helping her with the police and so on.
I always thought much more of him after that – he was not just some posh sitcom actor/foil on a television show but a good person – a human being.
A few years later, I was working in the on-screen promotion department at Anglia TV in Norwich, where he fronted their big ITV ratings-getter Sale of the Century. (It was getting over 21 million viewers weekly.)
One way to rate TV ‘stars’ I always found was that, if they ate in the canteen with the plebs and the canteen ladies liked them, then they were OK as human beings. The canteen ladies at Anglia TV always liked Nicholas Parsons. (A parallel was Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, early in their careers, in the Granada TV canteen in Manchester.)
His TV gameshow was getting over 21 million viewers weekly
One day, Nicholas Parsons came into the promotion office at Anglia TV and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why – I think maybe he was asking advice or plugging some travel project he had – but he – the big Anglia and ITV Network star – was, as ever, amiable, modest and charming – not in a schmaltzy showbiz promotional way but in a genuinely normal person-to-person way.
His image was, I suppose, of a constantly-smiling, slightly cheesy, always ‘on’ old style showbiz star.
But, on the two occasions I briefly met him in the flesh, he was anything but that. He was, if I have to choose a naff but exactly true term, a ‘real’ person. It was impossible not to like him.
An unlikely meeting of minds in 2007…
The second time I briefly met him was when he was a guest on Janey Godley’s Chat Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. I met him on the steep stone steps behind what had been the old Gilded Balloon, was at that time The Green Room venue and has since gone through various names.
He was, again, a charming, keen-to-please and keen-to-be-helpful, slightly frail gentle man. (He was 83 at the time and I thought to myself: He is going to pop his clogs soon… That was 13 years ago and he was still going strong last year!)
As a result of being a guest on that show, he – the seemingly definitive comfortable ‘Home Counties’ man – and Janey – the definitive tough wee East End Glaswegian – seemed to bond because, as I understand it, his parents had sent him to do manual work in the Glasgow shipyards in his youth to ‘toughen him up’. As a result, despite his image as ‘Home Counties Man’, I think he felt an affinity with working class Glaswegians.
Janey turned up multiple times later both on his own Edinburgh Fringe chat shows and on his long-running BBC Radio 4 show Just a Minute. The BBC tried the format on TV in 1999, but it didn’t catch on there. It has been running on radio since 1967.
On her Facebook page this afternoon, Janey posted this tribute to him:
Just a Minute – Paul Merton, Janey Godley and Nicholas
#NicholasParsons was one of the very few old school iconic comedians/presenters who was very much invested in new and young comics at Edinburgh – he came to see our shows and spent time getting to know us – he was one of “us” he loved stand up.
The sheer delight knowing that Nicholas was in your audience was something that “lifted” our spirits at the Fringe – despite his age and workload he came to see HEAPS of comedy shows and sat and chatted with us afterwards – nobody else that famous did that for us.
He took time with new and emerging comics and always was generous with his time. We were used to famous faces at the Fringe but Nicholas was that guy who sat in a tiny hot room and laughed and cheered you on. And for that I will always love him
That is Janey’s opinion.
TV chat show host Graham Norton Tweeted this afternoon: “Nicholas Parsons was truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with. His continued delight at being a part of show business should be an inspiration to us all!”
I can’t say, personally, that I have ever warmed to men as a species. I’m more of a cat person. Cats have a nobility and (if you feed them) an amiability that is usually sorely lacking in men.
So it is a very great loss when genuinely decent gentle men die.
Nicholas Parsons had three wildly successful, long-running, overlapping showbiz peaks – The Arthur Haynes Show, Sale of the Century and Just a Minute – and, quite rightly, memories of him are splattered all over TV and radio news, in print and on the internet.
My cousin’s husband Michael – whose memorial celebration was packed to standing room only in a small Hampshire town today – tried to follow the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:
“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”
Michael lived his life to the full and added to it the other key ingredient: kindness. I think he and Nicholas Parsons shared that.
At the end of the celebration of Michael’s life today, the poem One At Rest by that prolific writer Anon was read out. It ends:
“And in my fleeting lifespan, as time went rushing by I found some time to hesitate, to laugh, to love, to cry. Matters it now if time began if time will ever cease? I was here, I used it all and I am now at peace.”
Today would have been comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 69th birthday. Who knows how he might have commented on that number?
He was born on 5th January 1950. He drowned in a dock in Rotherhithe, by the River Thames, on 31st January 2005. He was drunk and fell in.
In their coverage of his death, the Daily Telegraph called him the “Godfather to a generation of comic talent”.
The Guardian’s extensive coverage called him the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”
The Independent’s obituary said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.
The Times’ obituary said: “Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessnessand an indifference to consequences”.
A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him.
These are a few of those memories, starting with my own…
JOHN FLEMING – 3rd February 2005
Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.
People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.
He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.
I remember being in his living room one afternoon.
For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.
At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not AGAIN, Malcolm.”
He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.
The irony, of course, is that, with his trousers down, he was never embarrassed.
I’ve met some great people on the comedy circuit but Malcolm was without a doubt one of the best… and the funniest.
When I heard the terrible news, after the initial shock, I hoped that this might just be another of his scams to wind people up. I wouldn’t put it past him – but sadly I now know it isn’t.
I’ll never forget the Sunday night at Up The Creek when two girls died a terrible death. As they left the stage with the hair standing up on the back of their necks, Malcolm said: “Well, they were shit but… I’d fuck the fat one!”
Thanks Malcolm for all the laughs and encouragement and South Africa and Glastonbury and The Wibbley Wobbley and the odd bit of trouble you got me into. I’m proud to have known you. I’ll miss you a hell of a lot.
My abiding and most recent memories involve an early morning swim (I know) after a bit of a night ahht.
He’d managed to find some security code for one of the big officey blocks round the dock with its own, and subsequently Malc’s, private pool overlooking the Thames. It was an hour earlier than I expected ‘cos he’d never put his clock back and this was December.
So it’s into one of his dodgy cars to visit an 80 year old lady called Moth for morning coffee, then off to try and blag some horse riding. Upon reaching these stables, after a spot of lunch, we were told someone had moved in nearby who claimed to know Malcolm.
Without ascertaining friend or foe, we went to a house in the middle of nowhere.
“Who am I?” asked Malcolm.
We were invited in for champagne and Christmas dinner. Then to the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich where we seemed to blag some free buffet, (I can just see him wiping his hands halfway up his suit, the way he did after cleaning his plate with his finger, and why not.)
Finally back to the Wibbley Wobbley to find more playmates.
Up until the evening, Malcolm had drunk just half a pint of bitter and blagged a fiver off me for petrol.
No fucking drama, just a lovely day out with a lovely man.
Irresponsible, conscience free, worry free, fun seeking, knew how to have a laugh, a woman in every port, highly intelligent… all the things I wish I could be… So I resented him a lot of the time!
But the measure of this man is that he could wind you up, rip you off, embarrass and exasperate you… and you’d still love him despite all that. What a rare quality!!
I will miss him, despite the load of shit he spouted about me and the world is definitely a poorer place for his passing. Why could this not have happened to any other comic or promoter????!!!!!
MAURICE GIBB, Edinburgh fireman – 6th February
I first met Malcolm back in 1981 when he appeared with The Greatest Show on Legs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following on from their successful TV appearance on OTT performing the Balloon Dance.
I was the Fire Brigade officer that year tasked with ensuring the public were safe in respect of fire hazards during a performance – no mean feat considering Malcolm’s love of all things incendiary!
Like many others who knew Malcolm I was taken by his personality, intelligence and love of fun but in particular it was his “Fuck it” attitude to life that I truly admired and envied the most.
Malcolm and I remained friends and in contact right up to his untimely death and I will always be grateful for the fun and laughter that we shared over the last 23 years.
I will miss him a lot.
PAUL ‘WIZO’ WISEMAN, accomplice – 6th February
I first meet Malcolm when I was five.
I was dressed in a full cowboy outfit (it was the fashion then) and it was my first day at primary school. He looked at me and started giggling.
We then spent the next 48 years giggling with occasional bouts of prison, setting fire to cinemas, blowing up stolen buses with fireworks and driving cars through supermarket windows as well as showbiz bollocks.
He was the most fearless man I have ever meet as well as painfully shy, which he overcame with bluster and sheer persistence and a large pair of bollocks.
When we were both sentenced to Borstal for various naughty boy things at Exeter Assizes in 1971, we both got our dicks out to the judge when he sent us down.
I was 19 when I did my first paid spot on the comedy circuit. It was at Up The Creek and for many years after it was the only club I played, because Malcolm was the only person who’d book me.
Some years ago I’d expressed interest in the fairground mirrors that were in the since closed Comedy Empire in Willesden and Malcolm had assured me I’d be able to get them for only a few quid so I took a trip up to London especially.
I was directed to some bloke in Greenwich market who said they’d cost me a grand, so I called Malcolm who apologised for the mistake but asked me to pop round.
We visited his boat and ‘Concrete Ken’, where we had a beer, and then we drove to some place in Whitechapel for a fantastic curry, all courtesy of Malcolm of course.
Next we visited a bookie’s where he proceeded to bet shockingly high stakes on two races, both of which he won and we finally drove back to his place where his son’s friends were hanging around outside the house, sitting on steps and car bonnets.
“Look, it’s like New York,” he said, and then, “Right, I’m going back to bed. Knob out!”
It’s a small but fond memory.
A genuinely lovely man. The comedy circuit will not be the same without him. Malcolm was to British comedy what John Peel was to British music.
Is there anyone in comedy who was more liked than Malcolm?
It is sad but, in an industry where success is covertly resented by too many, I suppose Malcolm fitted the bill for being liked perfectly. He was notorious but crucially not so successful either.
What he had that set him apart was his great generosity of spirit.
A rogue and a shyster, of course, but he was also a genuinely kind man and, aside from all his knob out antics, he was actually a shy and sensitive man who needed just as much approval as the next comic.
I expect most people that knew him weren’t altogether surprised to hear the sad news about his death, but their sadness would have been brief and countered by their own memories and warmth of this lovely man.
I’ll remember him most for the way he brought me on stage at the Creek on a dire Sunday night. I’d avoided Sundays for years. All the comics said that they were shit, so I thought What’s the point? But Malcolm kept on at me and finally I stuck it in the diary.
So, after about 8 acts, most of which hadn’t gone very well, Malcolm was about to bring me on:
“Last bloke on now. It’s his first Sunday night down here, because he just does Fridays and Saturdays and storms it… so he’s well overdue for a shit one. Oy, oy.”
And he was right.
I had a shit gig and smiled all the way home because only Malcolm would have said that and only Malcolm Hardee could have got away with it.
In comedy, people try desperately hard to appear different.
Malcolm was different, and as said by so many other people, he will be very very missed.
I always thought that, underneath all that East End stuff he had going on, Malcolm was genuinely a really nice bloke and a real character. There’s not enough characters around these days and consequently its a sad loss.
You were suspicious of poetry
saw clear through most of it
even with those glasses.
Dickens would have loved you Malcolm
would have immortalised you, given you
a name like Swindle Rotherhind, or Tucker Lawless.
But you didn’t need Dickens, you wrote
the chapters of your own life.
Your name fitted you like your food-stained ill fitting baggy suits. You were wide open, a big bad innocent book with no new leaves to turn.
All your pages stuck together, bound by your first rule of comedy: “Fall over! Get your knob out!”
You once caused me to cry with laughter until
I thought I would die. You took me for a ride in The Tartan Taxi. It had tartan seats and tartan carpets and tartan fairy-lights and a tape playing awful tartan bagpipe music and the driver changed hats and smiled like a lunatic as he drove us round and round and round the same roundabout for half an hour.
You encouraged him Malcolm. You encouraged the child in all of us, blew raspberries and pissed down the back of pomposity. We will miss you Malcolm. No one is brave enough to take your place. So when you fell over for the last time on Monday the thirty first of January two thousand and five, I really hope you had your knob out.
This last bit of the poem is a bit tasteless Malcolm. Some people might be offended by it.
They might think it’s not very nice to speak of the dead in this way… What’s that you say? Fuck ‘em Oy Oy!
Yes, that’s what I thought you said.
Actress Jacqueline Pearce died two days ago. So it goes. She is remembered, among other roles, for being the iconic main villain Servalan in BBC TV’s science fiction series Blake’s 7.
Yesterday’s blog was taken from the chat which I had with her in December 1980, as published in Starburst magazine in April 1981. The chat happened between Series 3 and Series 4 of Blake’s 7. This blog concludes that interview.
JOHN: Getting back to te way you approach roles. Between 1967 and 1971, you were in America. You joined the Actors Studio in New York, which is the home of Method Acting – Marlon Brando and so on. Why did you go to America?
JACQUELINE: I got divorced. I just wanted to get away. I joined the Actors Studio because I wasn’t working and so I was going crazy. I didn’t have a work permit. I knew I had to do something, so I went to the Actors Studio and auditioned and passed and was accepted, which meant I could work there. So it was a way of saving my sanity.
JOHN: Did you learn anything useful?
JACQUELINE: I think one always does, even if it doesn’t seem to have much value at the time. I think Lee Strasberg (who runs the Actors Studio) tends to be a little bit of a dictator. His way is the only way and that’s it. It’s like religion. If you’re not Catholic, you won’t go to heaven. And, if you don’t do the Actors Studio, you won’t be a good actress. That’s rubbish..
JOHN: Just like being back in a convent?
JACQUELINE: Yes, it is.
JOHN: And you react against that?
JACQUELINE: Yes, I do. I always do react against it.
JOHN: Why did you not stay in America?
JACQUELINE: Well, I love New York passionately, but Los Angeles is like a planet all on its own. It’s hard enough to cope if you’re a man. It’s virtually impossible if you’re a woman. Also, I didn’t get a work permit from working with Strasberg. I just became a member of the Studio. It took about three years to get my work permit, by which time I was so homesick I just had to come home.
JOHN: Did you come back a Method actress?
Jacqueline as Servalan and Paul Darrow as Avon in Blake’s 7
JACQUELINE: I came back with an understanding of it, but not necessarily a way to work with it. I’m very instinctive in the way I work – You ask Paul Darrow! (Avon in Blake’s 7) I love working with him. We work together very, very well. Paul always knows what he’s doing in front of a camera; technically, he’s quite brilliant and I rely on him for that. He will make sure I’m in the light or not blocking myself. He lets me go completely intuitively and he responds to that. It’s like a wonderful marriage: very rare and wonderful when it happens.
JOHN: You have had to contend with two different actors playing the part of Travis.
JACQUELINE: That was very difficult.
JOHN: They were slightly different characters.
JACQUELINE: Totally different.
JOHN: It must have been very difficult to…
Jacqueline (Servalan) with Brian Croucher (Travis) in Blake’s 7
JACQUELINE: … adjust. Yes, it was. Steve (Greif), the first one, I could bounce off. Brian (Croucher) is a totally different type of actor. And the reason he had to go on being (a character called) Travis was that Terry Nation (the show’s originator) insisted on having that name.
But, instead of letting Brian find HIS Travis, they tried to make him follow Stephen’s. Fatal. He’s actually a wonderful actor. I’ve seen him do wonderful things. But Brian’s not really a heavy. He’s lightweight and cuddly. He’s not really menacing, which Stephen was.
JOHN: Menace is indefinable. Your character is sort of menacing.
JACQUELINE: I think it’s the danger of Servalan that makes her menacing: the opposites that are in present in her all the time. No-one ever feels totally relaxed around her except Avon.
JOHN: Avon has two facets to his character, too.
JACQUELINE: Well, we have always felt they were opposite sides of the same coin.
JOHN: He’s nice with nasty bits and you are nasty with nice bits?
JACQUELINE: That’s right, yes.
JOHN: Was that conscious?
JACQUELINE: No. In the third series, we got more and more to do together because we insisted on it. When we had the love scene: that brought in loads of fan letters. And, in another episode, I kissed him as well and the audiences loved it. They like people to relate.
JOHN: The new character Tarrant is a sort of Blake Mark II. The first Blake character didn’t seem to work out, because it’s difficult to get any humanity into a straight up-and-down hero.
Audience thinks: “I’m not quite so bad after all”
JACQUELINE: Impossible. No-one really likes a nice guy.
JOHN: Why do you think villains like you are more interesting than heroes like the original Blake?
JACQUELINE: The straight up-and-down characters tend to make most people resentful because they’re being good and, God knows, we are not. Whereas someone who is a villain is fallible and makes mistakes and is cheap and rotten and we all are that sometimes. So, seeing someone be that, an audience thinks: Oh, I’m not quite so bad after all. They can identify and empathise. Well, Servelan’s a bit over-the-top: there aren’t many people who go around like her. (LAUGHS)
JOHN: You are maybe not a Hitler figure, but you are a sort of female Napoleon?
JACQUELINE: Yes, but I think if Servalan did get full power, full control, she would rule very fairly. I don’t think she’s into power for its own sake; I think power means something different for her. It might originally have been power for its own sake but, when she fell in love with Avon, she realised that the main power is love.
JOHN: Ah! You should be a scriptwriter.
JACQUELINE: It requires tremendous self-discipline, which I don’t have. What I would really like to do is produce.
JACQUELINE: Because then I could pick the directors I wanted, the crew, the actors and the script.
JOHN: You would just produce?
JACQUELINE: I would act as well. But I would love to produce, even if it were just once – which it probably will be. I would love to do it on film. You know – go for broke. (LAUGHS)
A BBC TV fan photo signed by Jacqueline
JOHN: Why film rather than stage or TV?
JACQUELINE: Of all the media, I love film best. It is free-est. It uses the imagination in a way you can’t in theatre and don’t on telly. The options are enormous. Ideally, I would like to do films all the time.
JOHN: So what have you been doing since the last season of Blake’s 7?
JACQUELINE: I went straight off to America the day after we finished the show and spent some time in New York and Mississippi and then went out to Los Angeles and I saw Terry Nation when I was in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to be in England any more. You can understand. It takes so long to get anything done here. Anyway, I came back from there and I was offered a film which I turned down. It was vulgar, cheap and exploitative.
It was a science fiction film, of course – you can see how their minds work. My part consisted of sitting on a loo doing something extremely intimate and then I got murdered sitting on the loo and I could see no justification for this. I thought: No! I am not going to sit on a loo, dear! Awful film! I can’t even remember its name.
JOHN: And then?
“… I collapsed and was resting in hospital …”
JACQUELINE: Then I went into hospital. I collapsed and was resting in hospital for a while. Then I came out and I was going to do one of the first Hammer House of Horror (TV) films and I found I had a lump on my breast and had to go and have that taken out. I had never been ill before. I came out of hospital again and went off to do (the Tom Stoppard play) Night and Day and apparently anaesthetic stays in your system for about a month after you have had a general anaesthetic and I didn’t allow enough time and I’m quite highly-strung, as you may have noticed.
So I finished Night and Day, which is a very, very tough job, came back here, tried to keep going but I got to the state where all I could do was cry. The other Saturday morning, I was just sitting in a heap here crying and crying and crying.
JOHN: Night and Day has the female lead on stage most of the time, doesn’t it?
JACQUELINE: Yes, it’s a huge part to carry, particularly when you’re not well. But now I feel absolutely wonderful.
JOHN: You have done Blake’s 7 for three years. There’s the obvious problem of being typecast.
JACQUELINE: Well, we will just have to see. I mean, I’ve always been typecast as a strong lady. I think being dark-haired you tend to get put into a category. If you are blonde, you play the wife and, if you’re dark, you play the mistress.
JOHN: I am surprised Blake’s 7 has developed such a following. The BBC scheduled it against Coronation Street.
JACQUELINE: I know. And one year we were put up against Charlie’s Angels, which had a very, very big following. But, last season, we averaged 10 million viewers a week, which is a lot of people.
JOHN: What happens if Blake’s 7 stops after the upcoming fourth season?
JACQUELINE: Well, the way it looks to me, it could go on forever, if they keep giving the public what the public seems to want and not trying to give them something they want the public to have, which is very different. There is no reason why it couldn’t go on forever.
Actress Jacqueline Pearce’s death was announced yesterday. So it goes. Aged 74, she died at her home in Lancashire, a couple of weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
She was possibly best known for playing the part of Servalan, the villainess in BBC TV sci-fi series Blake’s 7.
I chatted to her in December 1980 at her then home in London, before shooting started on what turned out to be the final, fourth, series of Blake’s 7. The interview was published in April 1981 in Starburst magazine. This is Part 1 of that interview…
Jacqueline Pearce at home in London in 1980, holding her Starburst Award for Best Actress
Jacqueline Pearce was born in Woking and grew up in Byfleet, Surrey. Her father was an interior decorator and her family background is East End. At the age of six or seven, she started having elocution lessons to get rid of a “slight Cockney accent” and she was educated at the Marist Convent in Byfleet.
It was there that a lay preacher (ie not a nun) encouraged her acting talent. But young Jacqueline’s time at convent school was not altogether happy. She says she hated the rules and couldn’t abide the discipline. She could never understand why the nuns said she should walk upstairs when to run would have been much quicker. Now, she says, “Every time I go on as Servalan and I’ve got one of those dresses that’s slit down to the waist and up to the hips, I look in the mirror and say: “Up yours, Reverend Mother!”
At the age of sixteen, she was almost expelled for performing outspoken dialogue from John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at a local drama festival. The nuns thought it was “wicked and shocking” but Jacqueline won first prize and a cup to put on the convent mantelpiece, so she was forgiven. When she eventually did leave the convent, in 1961, she won a scholarship to RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London) despite strong initial opposition from the nuns and her family.
Newly-married ‘Jacky’ Pearce and Drewe Henley appeared in Granada TV’s Watch Me, I’m a Bird
She spent two years at RADA with fellow students Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Simon Ward and David Warner. During that time, she also met young actor Drewe Henley at a local coffee bar and they married.
Her first acting role on screen was with Drewe Henley, Ian McShane and John Hurt in the 1964 Granada TV play Watch Me, I’m a Bird. In the same year, she also appeared in the feature film Genghis Khan: “I was given as a present by Eli Wallach to Stephen Boyd. Not a word was said and I flew all the way to Yugoslavia for it.”
In 1965, she played Ian McShane’s girlfriend in the John Mills movie Sky West and Crooked. She also appeared in the Morecambe & Wise movie The Magnificent Two and the Jerry Lewis fiasco Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (both 1967). But her best-remembered movie roles were in Hammer horror pictures.
The Plague of the Zombies: “It was very strange walking in to make-up the next day and seeing my head on a shelf.”
JACQUELINE: Yes, for The Plague of the Zombies, he made a plaster thing of my face and head for a sequence where my head was chopped off. It was dreadful.
I had to stop halfway through because, at that time, I was very claustrophobic. Suddenly I was having this plaster of Paris all over me with just slight holes left for the nose and it’s very, very heavy and, at one point, I just said, “I can’t take it any more! You’ve got to take it off!” and then we had to start all over again. It was very unpleasant. I suppose it must have taken about half an hour for it to set. It’s – oohh – it’s dreadful.
I was married then and had my husband literally holding my hand and getting me through it. It’s clammy and then it gets hard and it gets so heavy and you know you can’t pull it off, so – oohh – not fun. I got more and more frightened. And it was very strange walking in to make-up the next day and seeing my head on a shelf. That was a little disturbing.
JOHN: You tested for Hammer, did you?
JACQUELINE: I went along for an interview and had a chat with the director (John Gilling) and he said: “I’d like you to play the parts because you have such a wonderful face for films.”… So he cast me (LAUGHS) as a zombie and a reptile.
Jacqueline Pearce starred as The Reptile: “I hissed a lot.”
JOHN: How did you act the part of a snake in The Reptile?
JACQUELINE: I hissed a lot. I think that was about it.
JOHN: Your movement was quite good too.
JACQUELINE: I know the bit you’re referring to. (LAUGHS) There was a bit where I was shifting under the blankets, which everyone seemed to enjoy a lot – I was shedding my skin.
JOHN: It’s a difficult part. You are cast as a snake. How are you going to act it?
JACQUELINE: Well, she was half-snake, half-woman.
JOHN: Like Servalan.
JACQUELINE: Do you think Servalan’s a snake?
JOHN: She’s a villainess.
JACQUELINE: But she’s got great style. I adore Servalan.
JOHN: How did you get the part in Blake’s 7?
JACQUELINE: I was working in Vienna at the English Speaking Theatre. I got a phone call from my agent saying that this series I’d never heard of was being made and would I be interested in playing a part. So I said: “Sure.”
It meant I started rehearsals the day I got back from Vienna. I got off the plane and went to the BBC. My hair was short at the time and they said: “Please, will you keep it like that?”
Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan in Blake’s 7 – “Short, dark and sinister”?
JOHN: I thought maybe you had cut and dyed your hair specially for the part – short, dark and sinister.
JACQUELINE: No. Most people love it. They find it compulsive and want to stroke it – Feel free – It’s simply because I’m no good at doing hair. I can’t put rollers in. I had lovely long thick hair that used to blow into my face all the time – When I put my head down, I couldn’t see.
JOHN: What did you know about the character when you started?
JACQUELINE: Nothing. Except that I knew she was the Supreme Commander. What we all did, really, was make our own personalities. When it came to costume-fitting, they said, “We’ll fit you up in trousers, a safari jacket and jackboots,” and I said, “No! If you’re going to do that with this haircut, you might as well have a man. I think you should go totally opposite.”
If she is a woman who has this kind of power, then make her so feminine, so pretty, you don’t know what she’s going to do next. So, when she is sitting there looking wonderful, saying Kill him! it’s such a shock. It’s the contrasts.
JOHN: How did you build up the character? A female Adolf Hitler?
JACQUELINE: No. I don’t think she is, actually. I think she is a very caring human being. No-one would believe that. (PAUSE) No, lots of people do – It’s surprising.
JOHN: Surely she’s nasty. She wants to get our heroes and do horrible things to them.
JACQUELINE: Yes, but if she were a man doing those things, everyone would accept it. I remember there was one episode (The Harvest of Kairos, in series 3) about a sort of precious jewel called kairopan and they said: “We can’t afford to get ALL the kairopan and all the men,” so Servalan said, “Well, get rid of the men – Kill the men.”
It was logical. One had to go. She wanted the kairopan, so the men had to go because they were less important. The scriptwriter put in that line and then wrote Laugh cruelly. Rubbish! She doesn’t get a kick out of killing people at all. She does what she feels she has to do. I’m not saying that makes her the girl next door.
JOHN: Has she changed?
JACQUELINE: She changed a lot in the third series. The miscarriage episode. It started there, where her personal feelings, her woman-ness, started to come through. I remember I did a personal appearance, opening (an event) Computers For The Home, and I was surrounded by some of the top brains in the country, who were all really avid Blake’s 7 fans. They rushed home from their computers on Monday nights to watch it. One of them said that he watched the scene where I had the miscarriage and found it shocking because it was so totally unexpected.
Jacqueline Pearce and Paul Darrow laugh, filming Blake’s 7
From then on, I tried to show the female side of her as much as possible. She does like men; she’s crazy about Avon (played by Paul Darrow) – that’s why she always lets him go. Otherwise it makes no sense to have this intelligent woman chasing these people around in a spaceship, catching them, then letting them go. I had to find a motivation – which was Avon.
JOHN: Is that the only change you’ve made? – She’s more feminine.
JACQUELINE: That’s a huge change to have made.
JOHN: Any resistance from the BBC?
JACQUELINE: For the first two series, I played her the way they wanted, which was as a substitute man. And she’s not; she’s 100% female. So I tried to get more of that over.
JOHN: Do you think the audience appreciates that?
JACQUELINE: I think they do, judging from the fan letters I get. Everyone responds to her in a very positive way. Some people, particularly women, love her – I think Women’s Lib love her. I think to men she’s a challenge.
JOHN: What sort of letters do you get?
JACQUELINE: I get lovely letters. There was one letter that made me laugh so much. A man wrote and asked if he could have a full-length photograph of me with no clothes on and hastened to add that this was not for any sexual purposes! (LAUGHS)
(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)
My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.
“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”
Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.
In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, thatMike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.
All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.
I only knew of him by reputation.
He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.
He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardianand theIndependent.
In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.
Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardian, theIndependent and The Times– indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.
Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:
“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”
When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.
Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.
Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins. I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.
It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.
Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).
When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.
Links within links within links.
To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.
Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.
Links within links within links.
Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.
A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….
“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”
It is not often that a celebration of someone’s life includes a tribute by a belly dancer, four people smashing wine glasses with small hammers and two people with blood capsules in their mouths eating beer glasses with the result that apparent glass and blood spews down onto the stage, but Ian Hinchliffe was the sort of performance artist/comic/artist/musician/absurdist in whose memory this seemed an almost understated tribute.
Ian drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December last year.
An obituary written by his friends said he “was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and a surreal/absurd humour into any creative arena, unrivalled by any other artist of his time.”
He was indisputably – and perhaps again this understates the reality – mad, bad and dangerous to know.
Roger Ely was a friend and occasional co-performer. He organised yesterday’s six-hour event Ian Hinchliffe: The Memorial at Beaconsfield arts studio in London. As part of his tribute, Roger said Ian was “one of the most loveable people and one of the most difficult people” he had ever met. “He could be an evil sod,” he added, but one who created occasional “pieces of genius”.
Writer and performer Jim Sweeney was too Ill to be there yesterday, but sent a tribute saying: “He was the best of drunks and he was the worst of drunks.”
Dave Stephens is now a sculptor but was originally a performance artist often credited as an early forerunner of alternative comedy. He said that, in the early days performing with Ian, the routine was to “go down the pub, get pissed and see what happens”.
There were colourful reminiscences aplenty, including a tale of furniture being thrown out of a pub window and, when people went in to discover why, they found Ian with porridge coming out of his trousers because he was simulating an abortion.
I only met Ian a handful of times but, when I got chatting to Lois Keidan who was Director of Live Arts at the ICA in the 1990s, she told me he had once set fire to his own foot there. Why he did that she had no idea. But Why was perhaps always an unnecessary and unanswerable question in Ian Hinchliffe’s life.
Lois also told me a story about police going into the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and saying to the staff: “There’s a man outside doing strange things in the roadworks.”
“Oh,” the police were told, “that’s just Ian Hinchliffe. It’s art.”
The police, to do them justice, apparently accepted this answer though exactly what “strange things” he was doing remain lost in the mists of anecdote.
At Beaconsfield yesterday, Simon Miles and Pete Mielniczek did a tribute performance in which a small plastic skull, perhaps not irrelevantly, quoted those famous lines from the Scottish play…
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
The indomitable Tony Green told a true story about Ian Hinchliffe performing at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and, not for the first time, Ian was naked. He got hold of a chair and cut about three inches off one of its legs so it was unstable. He then got a broom handle and broke it in half. He managed to stuff about six inches of it up his arsehole, leaving half a broom handle protruding. He then balanced a full pint of beer on the chair, put both hands on the sides of the chair, leant forward so that his genitalia were in the pint of beer and lifted his feet off the ground so he was balancing.
“You’ll never work here again,” he was told afterwards.
I presume the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith was not the first venue to have told him that.
There is a YouTube video of Ian Hinchliffe performing in 1990 here.
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.)