Tag Archives: Paul Merton

Rest in Peace: British showbiz legend Nicholas Parsons and other gentle men

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.

Truly.

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.

RIP Michael and Nicholas.

Or, as the Tralfamadorians would say:

So it goes.

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Political Correctness has not gone far enough! – Ban Baldism and Beardism!

We have lived long enough in a world where women are constantly undermined in favour of men. For hundreds of years, women have been seen as ‘not as important’ or ‘not as good’ as men.

Recently, it was revealed that BBC TV’s QI host Sandi Toksvig was getting only 40% of the fee previous host Stephen Fry received.

This is outrageous!

The fact that Stephen Fry did the job for ten years and is generally accepted as bringing prestige to the show is not a factor, any more than the fact that Paul Merton has appeared on Have I Got News For You for what seems like generations. Just because he has should not mean he gets paid any more than a one-off guest panelist. People should be paid according to the amount of wordage and length of screen time they have in each episode of each panel show.

Popularity and statistics are less important than pure equality

The fact that Sandi Toksvig currently has 158,000 Twitter followers and Stephen Fry has 12.7 million should not be a factor. This is about equality of pay for people doing the same job.

All comedians in any stage show should be paid exactly the same and there should be a statutory rate per minute no matter whether the comedy is performed in a local club or at the London Palladium. Comedy is comedy. A comedian is a comedian. A presenter is a presenter is a presenter.

There should be statutory rates for plays. All actors playing Hamlet should be paid the same amount. It is outrageous they are not. It is the same play and they are spouting the same words.

“One equal wage for all creative performers” should be the mantra for the 2020s. An actor is an actor. A comic is a comic. A TV presenter is a TV presenter. 

We should ban all financial negotiations on pay and fees

NO PAY DISCRIMINATION!

Talent is a matter of opinion not a fact. We should outlaw performers’ agents and ban all financial negotiations on pay and fees because negotiating is, in itself, an inherently discriminatory endeavour. 

THIS IS ABOUT EQUALITY!

But we should also positively discriminate more generally. 

PC has not gone far enough.  

Equality is not just a right; it is a necessity and should be – it has to be – enforced. 

For years, bald men have been discriminated against and maligned. It is overdue that this is reversed and bald men like me should be paid more and given more job opportunities than more talented, experienced and suitable hirsute men after years of discrimination and ridicule aimed against us. Hairism must be rooted out. We must restore and impose equality.

As far as I am aware, no bald candidate for British Prime Ministership has ever beaten an hairy candidate in a General Election. 

Churchill versus Atlee in two slaphead UK General Elections

With Atlee v Churchill in 1945 and 1951, it was the battle of two slapheads. In the General Election battle between Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock in 1987, Thatcher had the hair and, indeed, the balls.

The fact that baldism is rife in politics and in Society at large is self-evident.

And the same goes for men with beards.

For too long has Society accepted open discrimination against bearded men.

Margaret Thatcher, it is reported, would not appoint any bearded man to her Cabinet.

But this particular discrimination goes way back. It started, I believe, in Britain with the Beard Tax in 16th century England when Queen Elizabeth I introduced a tax on every (male) beard of more than two weeks’ growth.

In 1698, Peter the Great introduced a beard tax in Russia “to bring Russian Society into line with Western European countries”. The Tsarist police were empowered to forcibly shave off the beards of those who refused to pay the tax. This inevitably triggered a revolution in 1917.

But this institutionalised beardism is not just restricted to Right Wing regimes.

Even People’s champion Enver Hoxha fell prey to beardism

When, in 1979, I went to Albania (then under the benevolent leadership of Enver Hoxha) I had to have part of my beard shaved off so there was a gap of at least regulation distance between my chin beard and my sideburns.

Even under a benevolent Socialist regime, beardism can flourish and has flourished.

What all this proves is that there is deep-seated institutionalised beardism and hairism engrained in the very bedrock of society, including  British society.

The only way to rid our country of these pernicious prejudices is to have quotas.

There should be quotas in all jobs in all areas of society for bald men and bearded men related to their percentage of the population at large.

If a hairy-headed or shaved-chin candidate is more qualified to do a job, then he (or she) should be rejected in favour of a bald or bearded candidate, until the correct quotas are met. 

It is unfortunate but it is necessary.

This is about equality.

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An Edinburgh Fringe rant, Paul Merton, Dirty Girls, fart fetishers & Comic Relief

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps could let people take better shows to Edinburgh

One thing that increasingly gets up my nose at the Edinburgh Fringe is comedians who do not do stage shows.

They want to get picked up by radio or TV producers, so they bung in long pre-taped video sketches or pre-recorded sound recordings. All this makes me think:

  1. they don’t give a shit about the audience and
  2. they are incapable of doing a live performance

If you are doing a live show, then do a live show, do not make the audience sit and watch you do nothing while a pre-recorded piece of irrelevance plays.

There are exceptions to this, of course – notably the wonderful Juliette Burton (an ex-BBC person) who integrates extremely well-researched and shot videos into her shows and then interacts with them.

I tend not to review shows in this blog – it is mostly a blog of previews and interviews. But I am a Scot brought up among Jews so, if there are two free tickets going, I will always turn up.

The 39 Steps - Paul Merton

Paul Merton took The 39 Steps yesterday

This is a prelude to the fact that, last night, the show I was invited to see was The 39 Steps at London’s Criterion Theatre – obviously, a (comic) stage version of the feature film. And, ironically, it was a brilliant and flawless stage production which could only exist as a live stage show.

Anyone intending to perform a stage show based on material from a different medium – well, any narrative comedy show – should see how The 39 Steps had been crafted. The amount of tiny bits of visual stage ‘business’ is staggering. No wonder it won The Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007 and two Tony Awards in the US in 2008. It is a masterclass in writing and directing a live stage comedy.

The reason I was invited to last night’s performance was that it included a cameo by Paul Merton in aid of tonight’s Comic Relief.

And that ‘charity event’ label is enough of a tenuous link for me to mention that, also yesterday, I Skyped Amber Willat, one of The Dirty Girls, in Los Angeles. (The other Dirty Girl is Amber’s sister Harper Willat.)

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles

Amber (right) and Harper Willat: Dirty Girls  in California

The Dirty Girls turned up in a couple of blogs last week, when they contacted my farting chum Mr Methane about possibly performing at their Funny Farty Yoga Party charity event at Venice Beach which is being held this Sunday.

The Funny Farty Yoga Party starts with a laugh therapy session and continues with a ‘guided yoga session’, a Native American flute player and much else.

“Do the good people of Venice Beach,” I asked Amber, “need persuading that yoga is a good idea?”

Ad for the Sunday event in Los Angeles

Dirty Girls’ Funny Farty Yoga Party event ad in Los Angeles

“Californians love their yoga,” said Amber. “That’s for sure. But yoga has become such a hip thing that it’s become a full-fledged, multi-billion dollar industry. So we kinda wanna demystify the whole yoga world. A lot of people, when they do it for the first time are afraid: Ooo! What if I fart? and we wanna say: No worries. People fart in yoga. That’s why we wanted a professional farter like Mr Methane. But there are none in Los Angeles. When I looked for some, I just found guys on Craigslist who are fart fetishers.”

“There are fart fetishers?” I asked.

“There are a lot of fart fetishers,” Amber told me. “I was amazed to see the array of fart fetishers.”

“How did you become The Dirty Girls?” I asked.

“When my sister and I and some of our friends were in high school – like aged 13 and 14 – we were causing a ruckus on campus. They were saying: These girls haven’t showered in the last two years; they’re disgusting. And we kept fighting back. We went: Oh? You wanna see dirty? No problem! 

“So we would literally come to school with like whipped cream in our hair and, instead of lipstick ON our lips, it would be AROUND our lips. We just wanted to completely like obliterate the status quo of feminine products and beauty and all those kinda things.

the original Dirty Girls documentary

Harper and Amber in the original Dirty Girls documentary

“That was in the 1990s, before iPhones. We were just doing it because that’s what we wanted to do. But this other student kid, Michael Lucid. captured it on camera and shelved it as a VHS tape for 17 years and then, in March 2013, he digitised it and put it on YouTube just to show someone in New York and it leaked and just blew up (in hits) in days. We were called The Dirty Girls in high school. It was an insult then, but now we’re flipping it into like an empowered state.”

“And now it’s The Dirty Girls Project,” I said.

“Yes. There was so much outrage from lots of young women and adults and teenagers reaching out saying: Oh! We wish we had more dirty girls on our campus! You guys are so inspiring! So we thought: I guess there is a real calling for more inspirational badass girls that allow you to be who you wanna be. The Dirty Girls give you permission to be weird.

“And The Dirty Girls Project is this new multi-media platform where we collaborate and find more Dirty Girls and produce original content around them – an event, a video, an art project. Badass awesome content. We launched our website in October 2014.”

“The Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday is for charity…” I said.

Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building

One of Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building projects

“Yes. It’s going to various women’s groups, local groups and to Shine On Sierra Leone: they’re an amazing organisation that has very successfully empowered the women of the villages. They’ve built primary schools; they’re building an elementary school; they’ve set up a whole micro-loan system; they’re teaching women how to run their own villages. An incredible organisation. So we are working with them too.”

“Why Sierra Leone?” I asked.

“I know it sounds far-fetched,” Amber started to say.

“We like far-fetched,” I told her.

“But,” she continued, “it’s based in Culver City, where we are and we’re very good friends with the woman who is the founder of it and we’ve directly seen the impact she has had.”

“You were born and raised in Hollywood and you live in Culver City,” I said. “When’s your feature film coming out?”

“We’ve put it on a back-burner. There could be two different approaches. One would be a documentary. Michael Lucid did the film in 1996 and then did a follow-up with us in 2000 and then he did a third one.”

“Are you looking to start a Dirty Girls chapter in London?” I asked. “You could have branches everywhere, like Starbucks.”

“We don’t go corporate,” said Amber. “No way. Evil! Evil!?”

You can see the original 1996 Dirty Girls film on YouTube.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Edinburgh, Sex, Sierra Leone, Theatre

Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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The end of the UK’s Greatest Show On Legs and the naked balloon dance?

Martin Soan’s Thriller at The Hob last night

Martin Soan rubbers-up for Thriller at The Hob last night

Last night I went to see Martin Soan perform as part of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe he created years ago. They were performing at the always interesting Hob venue in Forest Hill, South London.

In the interval, a large group of men in the audience cornered Martin in the bar.

“They asked me Have you finished painting yet?” Martin told me this morning. “They’d read your blog. They were out on a stag do. It’s the strangest stag do I’ve ever heard of: coming along to see naked men. But, there you go, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They follow your blog and they know me from my various… eh… performances.”

“It’s the irresistible attraction of The Greatest Show of Legs and the naked Balloon Dance,” I said. ”But you told me you’re not always going to be in The Greatest Show On Legs from now on.”

“No,” said Martin. “I keep trying to pass it on to other people, but they keep saying they can’t do it without me.”

“Well, they can’t,” I agreed.

“It’s perfectly feasible,” said Martin. “If I got them Paul Merton to go out as part of the Greatest Show On Legs, are you telling me people wouldn’t go see that and enjoy it?”

“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said.

“Well, not the same exactly,” agreed Martin.

“Paul Merton – nice man, but he hasn’t got your grace,” I said. “And he wouldn’t do the nude bit.”

“I just think it’s time to make The Legs more sophisticated,” said Martin.

“Sophisticated!!” I spluttered.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Sophisticated.”

“That’d be like Fast & Furious without the cars,” I said, having just watched the trailer. “So there’s Steve Bowditch and now Dickie Ryszynski, but that’s only two people. There has to be three people… Chris Lynam was in the audience last night.”

The Balloon Dance performed at The Hob last night

The Balloon Dance was performed at The Hob last night

“He would be a good contender,” agreed Martin. “The first issue is there are three gigs coming  up in Switzerland.”

“You gotta go to Switzerland,” I said.

“I’d go to Switzerland,” said Martin, “but not by plane.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m not going to fly again,” explained Martin. “I’ve done all my flying. There’s a lot of comedians like me.”

“You think your luck might run out the next time you fly?” I asked.

“No. I just really do not want to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and hang around in airports and sit in a little metal tube and go up to 33,000 feet. I’ve done all that. And I don’t want to go by coach. I want to go by train or car. But the others don’t want to, because it’s more expensive.”

“Why not by coach?” I asked.

“I’ve lost people to coaches,” explained Martin. “Three people. And I was in an accident myself as a kid. Coming home after Christmas, the coach went off the road and into a ditch. No-one was killed, but it scared the living bejesus out of me as a child… and as an adult.”

The Red Sparrows strait to fly last night

The Red Sparrows took a more sophisticated turn last night

“The other issue is I said I only want to do The Legs with new material. You saw a bit of new material last night and getting the old material and doing it properly would be… Last night, for the first time with the Red Sparrows routine, we got proper vapour trails. I think that’s up to speed now.”

“And,” I said, “you now have a routine that can actually follow the naked Balloon Dance, which I would have thought was impossible… You say you don’t want to do old material, but you have to do the Balloon Dance.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right there,” agreed Martin. “I just want to do new material. I’m not saying I want to be taken seriously as an actor.

“Oh, go on, say it,” I said.

“I want to be taken seriously as an actor,” said Martin.

“As a vagina?” I asked.

“No, but if we follow the simple rule…”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well,” said Martin, “The Number One rule is that in certain situations – not all situations – the prop is more important than you.”

“Even when you’re naked?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “Not when you’re naked.”

“Good,” I said.

“Rule Number Two,” said Martin. “Come in hard. Exit hard.”

“Is that just in performance or in other things?” I asked.

“Everything,” said Martin. “So it’s not as if I’m a stick-in-the-mud. It’s just that there are rules. Observe the rules and you’ll do fine.”

Audience participation Greatest Show On Legs style last night

Audience participation Greatest Show On Legs style last night

“What’s the third rule?” I asked.

“Why should there be a third rule?” asked Martin.

“The Rule of Three,” I said.

“OK,” said Martin. “Rule Three – There is no Rule of Three.”

“But,” I said, “Just to check. The three of you are coming up to perform at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 23rd August.”

“I’ll be coming up especially for that,” confirmed Martin. “By train.”

“You could sail up to Edinburgh,” I suggested. “You’re near the River Thames. Get a boat; take it up to Edinburgh. Although I suppose Malcolm Hardee’s not a good example of surviving on water.” (He drowned in 2005)

Despite the gloss, Martin continues painting

Despite the gloss, Martin paints this morning

“We once got a gig in Rotterdam,” said Martin. “Malcolm said Let’s go by boat. I said Yes. Steve Bowditch said No. Not in any way whatsoever.

“Then I looked it up and the English Channel into the port of Rotterdam is the biggest navigable waterway in the world. Absolutely frightening. Even Malcolm chickened out of that one. I think we would have died… Though what a brilliant death…

“You could have blogged and blogged about that one, John. Two of us dead in one go and it could then have been the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee/Martin Soan Awards. And it would have been a lot bleedin’ easier for me. I wouldn’t be here painting your woodwork with old-fashioned gloss paint.”

“Is there a new-fashioned gloss?” I asked.

“Yes there is,” said Martin.

“I like the old gloss,” I said.

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Sex scandals spread at the BBC… ten years ago…

Today’s Daily Mirror front page

I have been getting (for me) abnormally high hits on one particular old blog of mine. Normally my blogs get hits on the day of posting and a couple of days after, then tail off to nothing except for a few occasional random hits.

This particular blog – now 27-days-old – has been getting steady hits since it was posted. Yesterday, it had 2,897 hits. That’s a lot for an almost one-month old blog of mine. It describes the background to the infamous hoax Have I Got News For You transcript about Jimmy Savile.

The front of today’s i newspaper

Yesterday, Gary Glitter was arrested in connection with the police enquiries into Jimmy Savile’s paedophile attacks. Today, the newspapers are full of the story.

As the thing I was going to blog about this morning fell through, I looked in my electronic diary for this day ten years ago – Tuesday 29th October 2002.

Guess what.

It was the day the BBC sacked presenter Angus Deayton from Have I Got News For You because newspaper stories about his sex life had become a subject of the programme and therefore, it was said, he could not be a detached presenter. Panelists Paul Merton and Ian Hislop had gone for his throat again on the show the previous Friday. The next show (recorded on Thursday night for a Friday transmission) was going to be presented by Paul Merton while the producers looked for another full-time presenter.

The tabloids on that morning ten years ago were also claiming that there were now 29 separate allegations of rape against former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. I had not really been following the unfolding story, but reportedly presenter Ulrika Jonsson had been in hospital for three days after her alleged rape.

Meanwhile, real life went on. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail about her small son:

He looks very peaky and white with big black rings under his eyes. The only thing that helps is apparently a double dose of Toy Story every day. It is driving me nuts, I sit there mouthing the words to all the characters. 

Her husband was ill too:

He is still coughing his guts up and I am in the best shape of all but even I am still taking cortisone pills to clear the catarrh.

Also on that day, someone I worked with gave me some advice: “Never do deals with people whose names begin or end with the letter O”

That basically covered the Irish and Nigerians.

So there we have it ten years ago.

Sex scandals at the BBC, disease and racism.

Life.

So it goes.

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Filed under Newspapers, Sex, Television

Crowd funding the man who wrote for Tony Hancock ten years after he died

(Versions of this piece was also published by the Huffington Post and Indian site We Speak News)

Robert Ross yesterday – cheers to donations

Robert Ross has written books on the Carry On films, Fawlty Towers, Marty Feldman, The Goodies, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, Sid James, Monty Python – the list goes on and on and on.

But his latest book Forgotten Heroes of Comedy is not being handled by a ‘traditional’ publisher. It is being ‘crowd-funded’ by Unbound.

“The way the pledging works,” Robert told me yesterday, “is that, for donating £10, you get an eBook version and your name in the back of the book. For £30, you get a hardback copy, an eBook and your name in the back. For £50, you get all that plus I sign the hardback. For £150, you also get invited to the launch party. For £250, we throw in a pub lunch with Barry Cryer and me, which some people have paid for already. And, if you pay £1,000, you can have the forgotten comedy hero of your choice added into the book.”

“Has anyone forked out the £1,000 yet?” I asked.

“Well,” Robert told me, “I have had offers of £1,000 not to write about some people – like Jimmy Clitheroe and Peter Glaze. Someone was very anti-Peter Glaze. But he’s still going to be in the book because I liked him on Crackerjack as a kid.”

“So what is the criteria for getting in?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Robert, “You have to be a professional comic and not had a book written about you nor had the whole TV docu-drama thing or the Unforgettable-type documentary made about you. And you have to be dead. I’m not going to say that a person is alive but hasn’t worked for ten years, so they’re forgotten. You’ve definitely gotta be dead.”

Mario Fabrizi,” I suggested.

“Absolutely,” said Robert Ross. “He’ll be in the book.”

Arthur Haynes,” I said. “The biggest name in TV comedy in the early 1960s.”

“Arthur Haynes is going to be in the book,” said Robert, “although he is going through a little bit of a resurgence now because Network DVD have just released two or three volumes of his shows and Paul Merton did a BBC4 show on him. Ironically, ITV were a lot better at keeping stuff than the BBC who tended to junk things quite willy-nilly. With Arthur Haynes, almost a complete collection of his shows exist. They just haven’t been re-screened. So he’s been forgotten.

Max Miller: not forgotten

“People like Tony Hancock are not forgotten because his shows have been broadcast ever since. There are some music hall comedians who are still remembered – like Max Miller who made a lot of films and he has a statue in Brighton and a fan club. So he won’t be in the book because he’s not a forgotten comedian, even though you could ask the guys in this pub who he was and they wouldn’t know.

“It’s almost like a tightrope. The comedians have to be interesting and justifiable to be remembered but not too famous to have been ‘done’ before. It’s ones I think should have been celebrated more than they have been.”

“Traditional publishers,” I suggested, “must have been wary of a book about forgotten comedians?”

“Well, that’s why Unbound are great as publishers,” said Robert, “because they will take a chance on proven writers and help them do their dream projects. They give writers a chance to take something out of the bottom drawer that no-one’s wanted to do so far. They have authors like Julie Burchill, Terry Jones, Katy Brand, Robert Llewellyn, Jonathan Meades and Hardeep Singh Kohli with books that are very personal to the writer.

“The major selling point of Forgotten Heroes of Comedy – though they are forgotten comedians – is that, if you love comedy, all these people intertwine with Frankie Howerd, Morecambe & Wise and all the greats and each one will be championed by a contemporary comic or comedy writer… so Danny Baker’s going to do an introductory piece on Peter Glaze, Terry Jones will do Ronald Frankau. I’ll write the major article about the comedian, but they’ll do a couple of paragraphs about why they love them so much – Why the fans of, say, Mark Gatiss or Stephen Fry should find out about these people because they made them what they are today.

“The original idea was that the book would include around 120 or 125 comedians and have about 1,000 words per person. That’s gone a bit mad now because, since I started doing it, I’ve written at least 2,000 on some people. I’ll try and preserve the fun thing on the page. And, as I write it, I’m dropping in autobiographical bits about how I remembered them as a kid, things my dad told me about them and stuff like that.”

“How did you first get interested in comedians?” I asked.

“When I was small, my dad – bless him – illegally taped Hancock’s Half Hour shows and Goon Shows off the radio and he would play those to me. They were almost like my lullabies. Then my mum and dad worked out at an early age that I would stop crying if they put me in front of a TV and I fell in love with uncles and aunts like The Two Ronnies and Hattie Jacques and Frankie Howerd. I developed an obsession with comedy. When I was about ten or twelve, I wrote scripts for Tony Hancock who, at that point, had been dead about ten years – just writing silly half minutes.”

“So you wanted to be a comic?” I asked.

“No,” said Robert firmly. “I was just fascinated by comedy. I wanted to write about it. I wanted to be a writer. Around the age of fourteen, I was writing film quiz books on old films – comedies, westerns, old horror films. I loved old films. I was trying to get published at fourteen – very precocious. but I didn’t get published. I started writing my Carry On book when I was sixteen – it wasn’t published for another ten years. In between, I worked for a bit and went to university.”

“Worked for a bit doing dull things?”

“Worked for British Rail, the Ministry of Defence, all very hush-hush.”

“You can tell me,” I said.

“No I can’t,” he said. “But I only worked in ‘proper’ jobs for about three years before university. I graduated in English and Film Studies and got the Carry On Companion published within about six months of leaving university. Ever since, I’ve written about one or two books a year, supplemented with CDs and DVDs and sleeve notes and commentaries for DVDs and radio shows.”

“And the idea for Forgotten Heroes of Comedy first came to you when?” I asked.

Monty Python’s Terry Jones does not live in Muswell Hill

“In 1999,” explained Robert. “I was having dinner with Terry Jones – so it was the 30th anniversary of Monty Python. I was having some take-away curry at his house in Muswell Hill – he’s moved now, so you can’t find him there – and he had this 78 record player and he was going through his records.

“He had all sorts of weird and wonderful things like Laurence Olivier reading poetry – and he had this one of Ronald Frankau – a song called Winnie The Worm – a quite double-entendre laden song – and he played this and I said I like Ronald Frankau and he said No-one’s ever heard of Ronald Frankau. He’s one of those forgotten heroes of comedy and then he said, That’s a great idea for a book. I’ll do the foreword and you write it. So I said OK, fine. And that was 13 years ago because, as you suggested, publishers don’t want to do a book about people who are forgotten.

“After that, every time I saw Terry, he said Have you got a publisher yet? and I said No. Not got a publisher yet. But now Unbound have picked it up.

“If people sponsor it by pledging money up-front to get it going,” I said.

“Yes,” said Robert.

“You are only including forgotten recent comedians?” I asked. “Would you do an 1862 music hall act? You presumably wouldn’t do Greek comedy.”

“I’m gonna go back to maybe the turn of the last century, when people were making gramophone records. Maybe back to 1890.”

“So not the first Punch & Judy man in London?”

“No, that’s more a historian job than a comedy historian job.”

“Only British comics?” I asked.

“I’m doing Americans too. British and American at the moment.”

“Americans such as?”

Shemp Howard.”

“Who he?” I asked.

“Exactly,” said Robert. “The forgotten third of The Three Stooges. He was the one who came in to replace Curly, the bald one, when he got very ill and died and he was there for a good seven or eight years making lots of films, but no-one knows who he is.”

“So,” I suggested, “you wouldn’t have an entry on Zeppo Marx, but you might do one on Gummo Marx?”

“At the moment,” said Robert, “Zeppo is in, because Zeppo left early. And maybe Gummo will be in as a footnote to Zeppo.”

“You’ve got a great life,” I suggested, “writing about your heroes.”

“And, by virtue of doing that,” said Robert. “you meet some of your heroes and some of them become really good mates, which is quite bizarre.”

“I never want to meet my heroes,” I said. “People who seem great on screen tend to turn out to be shits and people you assume are going to be shits turn out to be great.”

“You can meet a few people who are not nice,” said Robert.

“Charlie Drake?” I suggested.

“Well, I never met him and he was never a hero of mine.”

“So tell me some awful story about some person without naming them.”

“No,” said Robert. “I might want to use the stories for the book! And, if I tell you a story about some anonymous person, I’ll be hounded with Who was this person? – You’ve got to pay for the book to find out who people are. I’ll slag them off in the book, I promise – if you pay me.”

Which brings us to the point of writing this blog.

Can anyone lend me £1,000?

It will go to a good cause.

(As an aside to illustrate how interesting this proposed book might be, Ronald Frankau, whose Winnie The Worm Robert heard at Terry Jones’ home… is the father of Rosemary Frankau, who co-starred in the long-running 1980s BBC TV sitcom Terry and June and grandfather of Sam Bain, who co-writes Channel 4’s sitcom Peep Show.)

Here are Robert Ross, Terry Jones and Barry Cryer talking about the book…

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Nostalgia