Tag Archives: poetry

A remarkable fire-eater talks about a death and British alternative comedy

A poster for the Nell Gwynn/Gargoyle Club

A poster for the Nell Gwynn/Gargoyle Club

In a blog a couple of weeks ago, the So It Goes blog’s occasional correspondent Anna Smith wondered what had happened to her acquaintance, an exotic dancer from Winnipeg called Karen, who was last heard-of in London.

Unfortunately, I can tell her.

I had a drink this week with Philip Herbert, best-known to me as fire-eating comedy act Randolph The Remarkable.

“Sadly Karen passed away,” Philip told me. “She got knocked off her bike in London. She was overtaking a lorry and a bus came towards her.”

“When was this? I asked.

“About 15 years ago,” Philip told me.

“The last time I saw her, she was on her bike and I shouted: Careful on that bike!

“That was the last thing I said to her. And, about a fortnight after that, she was dead.

“At the time, I was on a 12-week tour, doing A Tale of Two Cities at the Oxford Playhouse. So I couldn’t get to the funeral. Her parents thought she was working as an au pair and teaching; they had no idea she was working on the strip circuit. All her friends were freaks, were punks, were entertainers. Apparently the wake was weird because everyone was pretending they knew Karen through her teaching.

“She was going into comedy. She was beginning to speak and tell stories and do poetry.

“In the old days, there was a cross-over between stripping and comedy. 69 Dean Street was the Nell Gwynne strip club until about 11 o’clock and then it suddenly turned into The Comedy Store. When it got successful, they stopped doing the stripping on Friday and Saturday and they did two comedy shows – an 8 o’clock and a midnight.

“If you were on the circuit then, you’d do first act in the first house at the Comedy Store, then go off and do a pub in Stoke Newington or wherever, then rush back and do second or third on the bill in the second show at the Comedy Store. If you were good, you were working in more than one place. Everyone worked round each other and there was a cross-over between street acts and alternative acts”

Philip performed feats of skill as Randolph The Remarkable

Philip performed feats of skill as Randolph The Remarkable

“I must have first seen you in the 1980s,” I said, “when you were Randolph The Remarkable.”

“I still do Randolph The Remarkable: Fire-Eater Extraordinaire. Feats of Skill Involving Fire and a Blue Bowl of Lukewarm Water. The only trouble is now, because of Health & Safety, you have to have a Risk Assessment and Public Indemnity Insurance and a fireman standing in the wings who holds a bucket of sand. If you can do all that, then they’re prepared to book you. In the old days at the Comedy Store, you’d get £5 and a drink token and I used to work under a sprinkler and there couldn’t be anything more dangerous than that. I don’t suppose they’d allow that now.”

Philip (right) as Hugh Jelly with Julian Clary

Philip (right) often performed as Hugh Jelly with Julian Clary

“Back in the 1980s, it was much more risky and exciting and there was that cross-over from people who worked as street performers – I started off as Randolph at Covent Garden and Camden Lock… and people saw the act and said Oh, you must do the Comedy Store. Then people would see you at the Comedy Store above the Nell Gwynne strip club and say Oh, you must do the new variety Cast circuit.

“How did you get into fire-eating?” I asked.

“I was an actor in a community company,” explained Philip, “and we were asked if we wanted to learn how to fire-eat for a historical tour. We did Southampton and Portsmouth. We took people round different historical sites and pubs and re-enacted history – it was a pub crawl, really – and then, as the light faded, we stood on the city wall and did fire-eating and fire-blowing.

“Then I was out of work for months and I thought This is ridiculous. I’ve got this skill. So I did it at Covent Garden and, back then in the early 1980s, you could just turn up and do it. You didn’t need a licence; you didn’t need to audition. Now you have to go through this whole rigmarole and they don’t allow fire there any more because there was a silly accident where somebody spilled paraffin into the crowd.

“I still do Randolph at the Punch & Judy Festival at Covent Garden every year.

Philip as Drag Idol favourite Nora (photograph by John Tsangarides)

Philip as Drag Idol favourite Nora (photograph by John Tsangarides)

“And I did Gay Pride last year and I also do a drag act now called Nora Bone. I was a finalist in last year’s Drag Idol. I was in the last four out of 200-odd acts. I wear a red wig; I’ve been described as a bloated Geri Halliwell, because I wear a Union Jack dress. Not a mini – just below the knee. And white tights and very low heels, because I used to be on a higher heel and I fell. A lower heel is much more sensible for a lady of my age.”

“Are you an attractive woman?” I asked.

“Beautiful. I make the boys’ heads turn. I’m trying to do songs that other people don’t do. Not Life’s a Cabaret or I Did It My Way. I do I’m Too Sexy For My Skirt, Save All Your Kisses For Me, Madonna’s Holiday. The idea is that I’m an ex-recording artist that people don’t remember; an ex-supersize model; that I did a lot of ‘before’ photographs in diet magazines; and I’m a stand-in for Adele.”

“Do you regret not being a full-time actor?”

“Well, Nora is all acting. And doing circus, doing panto… a lot of straight actors knock panto. But I tell them To do panto well is as difficult as doing Shakespeare well – because it’s a set piece. You’ve got all the set stuff with the audience, the interaction. And you’ve got men playing women and women playing men.”

“You’re a character actor, really,” I suggested.

“Last year,” said Philip, “I was in a play about music hall legend Dan LenoThe Hard Boiled Egg and The Wasp. When he was committed to what his wife thought was a care home but turned out to be an asylum, I played the warder.

Philip The Poet

…Philip The Poet…

“I also do a character called Philip The Poet. I’ve always written poetry. I met John Hegley on a bus on National Poetry Day and he said to me Why don’t you do a couple of poems? because he runs a regular night at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon. He knew I wrote poems but I didn’t perform them. So I performed at John Hegley’s venue and I really enjoyed it, so I’m doing more and more of that.”

“Would you like to be a straight poet?” I asked.

“Straight-ish,” replied Philip. “With a comical kick at the end. I like my poetry. I comment on things I see. I can write a poem that isn’t a funny poem – that doesn’t need a smile at the end – but I think if you can say something that gets a sharp intake of breath that leads to a laugh… That’s as rewarding as a big guffaw. If you say something that’s quite shocking or meaningful and people gasp and then you undercut it with something that’s funny, then the gasp changes into a laugh and there’s a relief in the laughter. I do like my poetry, but there’s no money in it.

“I sometimes compere gigs as a character called Sebastian Cloy. He comes on in a big frilly shirt – old school compere but not gay – he tells jokes and does the odd song, if required.

“You’re always doing characters,” I said.

“If you create a character then you, in a way, hide behind that character. It’s like a mask. A clown nose. Basically, you put on the clown nose and that allows you to behave in a foolish way. I think it takes a lot of courage just to stand in front of people and say I’m now going to attempt to make you laugh or I’m now going to attempt to sing you a song which I hope will move you.”

“Do you ever actually perform as yourself?” I asked.

“Hardly ever,” said Philip. “though I’ve been doing a one-man show on-and-off for about three or four years. It’s called Naked Splendour. I’ve done life modelling for artists for as long as I’ve been an actor. When I started, the pay was £1.94p clothed and £1.98p naked – 4p difference.

His ongoing one-man show is Naked Splendour (photograph by John Tsangarides)

The man himself in his own Naked Splendour (photograph by John Tsangarides)

“I’ve performed Naked Splendour at the Hackney Empire, the Edinburgh Fringe, Soho Theatre and The Rosemary Branch.

“In it, I sit and pose. People can draw – they’re given materials as they come in. I start dressed, then I undress and I sit and pose and tell true stories. Funny stories. Not all funny. Stories like falling asleep. When you’re in a long pose lying down, you do nod off sometimes. And then, at the end, I get dressed and invite people to bring their work down. They put it on the floor and we have a mini-exhibition like a show-and-tell.

“The trouble is, being on your own, you end up doing four months promoting via the computer. For me to do it again, I’d need someone to take it on.”

“So in Naked Splendour,” I said, “you are yourself.”

“But,” came the reply, “I always cringe slightly if I’m introduced as Philip Herbert, because I’m not used to it. When people say Philip Herbert’s here, I look round and say Who? Whereas, if someone says Randolph The Remarkable or Hugh Jelly from Julian Clary’s show… then I know that’s me.”

YouTube has a video of Philip in bed with Julian Clary:

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What comedian Alex Frackleton learned from Billy Connolly 24 years afterwards

Alex Frackleton, back in 1989

Alex Frackleton, poet, back in 1989

In December, 1989, Alex Frackleton attended a surprise 50th birthday party for Scots folksinger Danny Kyle in the small town of Strathaven, outside Glasgow. About thirty people were hanging around in the bar downstairs while Danny Kyle performed upstairs.

Alex is now a comedian. Back in 1989, he was a poet.

“Why are we waiting?” Alex asked.

“Billy is coming,” came the reply. “We need to wait.”

“Of course,” Alex told me yesterday, “the penny hadn’t even gone into the slot and I had no idea who he meant, so I just stood there with my pint waiting for this guy called Billy, who was quite obviously fucking late, to turn up. A few minutes later the bar door opens and in walks Billy Connolly with his banjo case.”

Alex continues the story…

* * *

I’m introduced to Billy as a poet and we talk about the poets we like and our conversation takes us to William Topaz McGonagall, whom I love because he is so bad that he’s just brilliant – a comic genius without ever realizing it.

The ‘great’ poet William_McGonagall

The late ‘great’ Scottish poet William McGonagall

“I’d love to do something on old Topaz,” says Billy.

“Like a routine?” I ask.

“Naw,” says Billy. “Naw. I’d like to do something that honours him.”

“Perform one of his poems?”

“Naw, I could never perform one of his poems. Not on stage. It wouldn’t fit in with what I do live.”

“But,” I asked Billy, “if you were to perform one of his poems which one would you do?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” says Billy. “The Tay Bridge Disaster!”

“A classic!” I said.

“Indeed!” said Billy.

It’s time for Danny’s surprise, so we all troop upstairs and burst through the doors just as the applause for his last song begins to fade; then we all start singing Happy Birthday to You.

Danny, always the showman, introduces all of us to the audience of about two hundred, because all the surprise guests are talented musicians and singers, except me: I can’t sing to save to myself, let alone play a musical instrument.

He then introduces Billy – who goes up and does about twenty minutes of then-unheard comedy material about the G-spot. People are falling off their seats laughing and I am mesmerized because, while I had heard him on LP record, I had never seen the man perform before. This is a master craftsman at work. Billy finishes to thunderous applause and Danny comes back on stage and says:

“Thank you, Billy. Thank you very much indeed. Now, ladies and gentlemen, my next guest is a young man whom I’ve had the pleasure of watching over the last half-dozen years mature into a fine poet and performer…”

I look at him and I think: You utter bastard! Putting me on after Connolly, you cunt!

“Will you please welcome on stage the Very Poet, Alex Frackleton…”

I have to go up there. I don’t want to but I must because this is now my job and it’s my friend’s 50th birthday. As I pass Danny on the stage, we have eye contact and I’m sure he sees my fear, confusion, betrayal, bewilderment, not to mention the fucking panic in my eyes – but he just smiles and gives me a big, matey wink, as if to say: Aye, I’ve landed you right in the shit here – Deal with it.

I perform my poem How To Be An Individual.

There are a number of gags throughout Individual but the best one comes about two thirds of the way in. I turn my head left of stage and Connolly is pissing himself laughing.

Nothing will ever take that memory away from me. It means that much to me.

I finish to rapturous applause and I exit the stage.

Billy tells me: “That was fucking fabulous, Alex!”

“Thank you.”

Alex at the Hradec Festival, 2010

Alex at the Hradec Festival, 2010

“Naw,” says Billy. “That really was superb! You should perform The Tay Bridge Disaster! You’d bring it to life!”

“I’ll think about it.”

I never did get around to doing it.

I’ve been performing as a comedian here in the Czech Republic for the last four years and, while my comedy has been received well-enough for me to have repeat bookings at the European Theatre Festival… maybe I should take Billy’s advice and bring The Tay Bridge Disaster to life. Looking back and telling you about that 1989 event today, I have realised I am far, far more comfortable as a performance poet than as a comedian.

Billy did eventually perform The Tay Bridge Disaster in the 1994 BBC TV series Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Scotland.

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Pam Ayes on getting published, her TV talent show and early performing fears

Pam Ayres had the necessary aptitude

The Oldie magazine’s Soho Literary Festival continued at Soho Theatre yesterday with Pam Ayres plugging her autobiography The Necessary Aptitude and explaining how she first got her poetry published.

She was brought up in rural Oxfordshire and made the interesting point that, when she first started, there was a more thriving folk club circuit around the UK.

“Poetry has got a reputation for not selling,” she said yesterday, “What I did was go around the local folk clubs at the time Billy Connolly was working round the folk clubs in Scotland and Jasper Carrott was working round the folk clubs in the Midlands and I got some experience – they were like comedy clubs are today, I suppose.

“Also I went on the local radio and I produced a little book of my own – a little pamphlet, really – that’s all it was – and I drew the drawings and I typed the manuscript and I took it to the Church Army Press in Oxford and I got sixty run off .

“I took them round the local bookshops and it was, without a doubt, the most difficult and excruciatingly humiliating experience of me life. I had to stand in a bookshop surrounded by expensive, well-produced volumes and say: Please will you stock my book? It looked so paltry and they had used the wrong paper and if you touched it, the fingerprints stuck on it. So it looked really awful…

“But not a single person said No. Everybody took some. I always thought that was a great credit to the local booksellers.”

Her breakthrough came in 1975, when she won the Opportunity Knocks talent show on ITV.

“In an instant,” she said yesterday, “I went from folk clubs, where a few beer-sodden friends would cheer you on… to being thrust out in front of an enormous paying audience. One of the first professional gigs I had was at the Winter Gardens in Margate with thousands and thousands of people and I had an act of about 20 minutes.

“I was utterly mortified. I was terrified for years because, if you win a TV talent competition, you go from performing in a small way to going into a massive arena. It was terrifying. For years, I was terrified of performing and I always thought the audience was hostile. A lot of performers feel that. It’s not true, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t buy a ticket.

“When people say to me I’d like to be a performer I tell them the only way to do it is to do it. Even if you fail the first few times, you learn from it and you become more relaxed.

“Now that I’m a woman of a certain age I think, Well, I’ve got me marbles and I’ve got me health. But I don’t know how long I’m going to keep those for, so I just enjoy it now and all that fear has lifted off. I just write the funniest things I can and go out and put them over as best I can and enjoy it and love it in a way I wasn’t able to earlier.”

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London’s naked bike riders exposed to heavy traffic yesterday (& Prince Philip)

Peter Stanford holding a bag of small genitals

(Versions of this blog were also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

While the supposedly trend-setting Edinburgh Fringe gets more-and-more Puritan, edging ever closer to insisting that all female performers wear burkas… and this year – in a new move – censoring words like C*ck and Pr*ck from their listings because “our Programme is read by families”, London yesterday paraded up to a thousand real-life cocks, tits and ladies’ pudenda unimagined by the Fringe around the main streets of a sunny capital city thronged with children, tourists, persons of a nervous disposition and, in Piccadilly, three nuns.

It was the annual Naked Bike Ride.

I first met actor Peter Stanford at a Mensa meeting in a basement in Holborn, London. He was working as Henry VIII at Hampton Court and the Tower of London at the time, but had just dipped his toe into comedy – He had rushed on-stage at a comedy club in Kingston, done five minutes on why he hated Agatha Christie and rushed off again without saying hello, goodbye or telling the audience what his name was.

Yesterday afternoon, I met him again in central London, just behind Buckingham Palace, at the Wellington Arch, where Piccadilly meets Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner. Peter was naked and was wearing a crown; he was carrying a small canvas bag which had printed on it The Three Pintos.

Starkers starters with a prophetic message

“Why are you wearing a crown?” I asked.

“Because I’m Henry the Eighth,” he replied.

“Next week,” he told me, “I should be performing at the National Theatre in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, but they’ve cancelled it again, so it’s going to be September now. I’m going to be Lord Hatamkhan in a play by the wildly famous Azerbaijani playwright Mizra Fatali Akhundov – it’s his bicentenary.

“I did a play written by the current Deputy Minister of Azerbaijan. He booked a whole theatre for his bodyguards and people, just in case there was a coup or someone threw a bomb at him.

“Apparantly I’m reading Dickens to an Azerbaijani audience in a couple of weeks. I saw my name advertised and contacted the director who said he was going to tell me soon.

“As an actor in Britain, I’m mostly type-cast as doctors these days. I was an evil doctor in March and I had these genuine metal obstetric forceps and I strangled our heroine with them. That was in an opera.”

“And how long have you been doing the Naked Bike Ride?” I asked.

“I think it’s my fifth or sixth year. Just for fun. No reason. You shouldn’t have reasons for these things.”

“How did you hear about it?” I asked.

“Somebody said Why aren’t you doing it? So I did the next year. And, of course, I have been naked on Page Three of the Sun and also ‘Image of the Day’ in the Guardian.”

“Of course you have,” I said. “You have? Page Three?”

“It was a mass naked event by Spencer Tunick,” Peter explained.

“How many of you were there?”

“I think about 1,500. It was in Newcastle. During the Mensa Weekend in Newcastle. The one day I was in Newcastle, so I thought These things are meant.”

“And the Guardian?”

“It was the ‘Image of the Day’ – they have a double-page spread. They had a picture of the Naked Bike Ride but I’m right in the front. I thought People who read the Guardian are very good at re-cycling so, on re-cycling day, I crawled round all the bins in my neighbourhood and got ten copies.”

The Duke of Edinburgh, on his bike yesterday

At this point, a naked man with a Prince Philip mask walked past us, dressed only in bow tie and white cuffs.

“You don’t mind being naked?” I asked Peter.

“There’s a great difference,” he explained, “between one person on their own being naked among lots of clothed people and 1,500 people being naked.”

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“You get wet,” Peter replied.

“Human skin is waterproof,” a passer-by chipped in.

“Exhibitionism?” I suggested.

“Mmmm… possibly,” Peter admitted. “All us actors are naked on stage, you know,” he laughed.

“Have you done nudity on stage?”

“No,”

“This could be your calling card.”

“You get more money if you’re naked on stage,” Peter told me. “There are special Equity rates.”

“You have nude roles planned in the near future?” I asked.

“No,” said Peter. “I’m doing the Dickens bicentenary at the Poetry Cafe and I’ve got a one-man show as James Robertson Justice. I’m still fixing that because the hip young dudes who do comedy have never heard of him and the old folk who liked him don’t go to comedy clubs.”

“You look like him.” I said. “You should think about staging it at the Edinburgh Fringe next year, if the Fringe haven’t banned acting by then. People think James Robertson Justice is Scottish and anything Scots gets bums-on-seats. My mother met him when she was in the RAF during the War. She didn’t like him. He acted like a star and didn’t pay his bills.”

“Yes,” said Peter, “the more I find out about him, the less I like him.”

“Why are you holding a bag which says The Three Pintos?” I asked.

Riders were exposed to the heavy traffic in London’s West End

“It’s an opera by Weber,” Peter said, “but someone told me that apparently, somewhere in South America, ‘pinto’ is slang for ‘small genitals’. I’ve asked all the South Americans I know, but none of them could confirm it.”

“You are under-selling yourself,” I said.

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Punks were Hippies with short hair – the link from beatniks to The Beatles

When I was in my teens, I used to read the hippie newspaper it (International Times – the title was reduced to the iconic it after The Times threatened to sue, on the somewhat unlikely grounds that people would confuse the hippie International Times with The Times, serious recorder of world events). Later, I wrote a column about movies for a briefly-revived it.

In the earlier issues I read, though, there was a far more prominent column by a guy called only Miles.

He was and is an interesting man. He had created the International Times with that other seminal Swinging London figure John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins.

Miles managed the legendary Better Books shop in London’s New Compton Street and later, with Marianne Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar, he ran the Indica gallery/bookshop where Dunbar introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono. Still later, Miles ran the Beatles’ Zapple record label and lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

Last night, he was chatting to the Sohemian Society, who shrewdly billed his talk with the line:

If You Can Remember The 60s, You Are Probably Miles

And – though this might be affected by a comparison with my own terrible memory – he does have an extraordinary, fluent memory for names, dates and descriptions of locations… they all tumbled out, recreating the height of the Swinging Sixties, which he reckons really ran from about 1964 to about 1976.

“I always thought punk was really the end of that same period,” he says, “I used to know The Clash quite well, because I used to write for NME, and they told me Well, of course, we grew up in the years of Oz and Kerouac and Burroughsbut we couldn’t tell anybody, because Malcolm McLaren had told everyone to say ‘Who gives a shit?’ It was all ridiculous.

“You see early pictures of Mick Jones and The Clash with hair out to here, it looks like something out of Mott The Hoople who were, of course, his favourite band.

“I always thought that the punks were just hippies with short hair.

Joe Strummer cast the I Ching to decide whether to join The Clash or not – you can’t get more hippie than that.

“Somebody like John Lydon was probably a bit more authentic and generally more angry and cut off from that underground culture, but most of them were still arts students. I used to know Rat Scabies’ mum. She used to come to the UFO club.

“It was part of the same scene as far as I was concerned. Joe Strummer was only eight years younger than me.”

Miles’ start in trendy London, though, was much earlier, after seeing a TV documentary on the American ‘Beat Poets’ – Allen GinsbergGregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

He became the 21-year-old manager of Better Books, which had links with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco (run by Ferlinghetti) and the Peace Eye Bookstore in New York’s Lower East Side (run by Ed Sanders of The Fugs).

This ultimately resulted in an astonishing poetry reading – the International Poetry Incarnation – at the Albert Hall in London on 11th June 1965.

At the beginning of 1965, Allen Ginsberg went from the US to Cuba to “check it out” and managed to get himself deported. They could not send him back to the US because there had been no official transport connection between the two countries since the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis problems.

So they deported Ginsberg to Czechoslovakia where eventually, according to Miles, he “fell foul of the secret police. He got so involved with the students there that he was elected the King of May and 100,000 people paraded through the streets and he was wearing a crown and the authorities started to take a very dim view of this, so the secret police managed to get hold of his secret notebook which, unfortunately, had a long description of some insertions of a broom handle. So they put him on the next plane out of town and that was going to London.”

Ed Sanders had given Ginsberg a list of interesting contacts which included Miles at Better Books.

For a time, Ginsberg stayed at Miles’ flat in Fitzrovia which, then, was a ‘beat’ area.

Ginsberg, according to Miles, was “hanging out at all the local beatnik bars around there. In the winter, everybody used to wear long greatcoats with long white scarves – I think that was the symbol of being a proper English beatnik.”

Ginsberg, though widely-travelled, had never encountered the concept of gas meters, where you put a coin in the meter to obtain a power supply.

“One day,” says Miles, “a man from the Gas Board came to empty the money from the meter and had to stand on a chair to get the half-crowns out. I just left him there as usual and went off to do something in the back room. Then, suddenly, I heard him say: I’m finished now, sir. Can I go now, sir? which was odd.

“Normally, he would just go and let himself out. I went back into the room and the man from the Gas Board was on the chair with Allen standing stark naked next to him asking him all these questions about the money going in the meter and how it worked. The man refused to come down from his chair until Allen moved away from him.”

Ginsberg later turned up at an event naked and, according to Miles, John Lennon’s reaction was: “You don’t do that in front of the birds.” Ironically, says Miles: “John himself did it two-and-a-half years later on the album sleeve of Two Virgins, so everybody could see.”

When Ginsberg had first walked into Better Books, Miles had asked him: “Would you like to do a reading?”

“Of course,” came the immediate reply.

At that time, Ginsberg had a policy of not charging for readings – because poetry had to remain “pure”… Look, it was the 1960s.

The reading was unadvertised but the shop was filled for it, with people halfway out into the street.

Donovan was pressed against the window,” Miles remembers, “and there was Gypsy Dave and Andy Warhol was in the front row – he would never have been outside.”

This Better Books reading was so successful, they decided to have another more ambitious one because they found they could get Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso together in London at the same time.

Ginsberg was almost entirely gay but had an on-off girlfriend, underground film-maker Barbara Rubin

“She was very, very aggressive,” according to Miles, “just like his own mother and poor Allen was quite scared of her.”

Both Barbara and Ginsberg’s mother had mental problems: his mother died in a mental hospital.

“When the idea of having this big Beat Poet reading came up, Barbara asked: What’s the biggest hall in town? and my wife said, Well, the Albert Hall, I suppose. So Barbara phoned the Albert Hall and booked it. Pure American chutzpah. My weekly wage at the time was, I think, £8.16s.8p. The Albert Hall cost £400; an unbelievable amount of money. Plus another £100 for every hour we ran on.

“The booking was in ten days time, but we got quite a lot of publicity in the Sunday Times, the Observer and so on. At that time, Hoppy (John Hopkins, co-founder of it) was a press photographer and handed photos out all around Fleet Street.

“We got so many people turning up, we had to turn people away. I think the Albert Hall holds about 7,000. It was just an unbelievable evening.

“The one flaw in it was that we ended up with 17 people on the bill and an awful lot of them had never read in anything bigger than the upstairs room in a pub. And they were just frozen sometimes with all the lights and 7,000 people looking at them.”

Very 1960s.

The film-maker Peter Whitehead made a short documentary Wholly Communionon the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation, which is on YouTube in four parts.

Miles’ books include London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945.

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