Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…
So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.
“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…
HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”
KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.
It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…
It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.
JOHN: Why were you there?
KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.
JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.
KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.
JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?
KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.
JOHN: Of what?
JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?
KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.
JOHN: Recreational drugs?
KEITH: Indeed so.
JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?
KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.
JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?
KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.
JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?
KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”
“What?” I asked.
“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.
JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.
KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.
JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?
KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.
JOHN: Where do you keep it?
KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.
KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.
JOHN: What?? In prison??
KEITH: Didn’t you know that?
JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?
KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.
KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.
JOHN: Up the Ruhr?
KEITH: Enough, John.
As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings.
All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”
“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”
The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards
This blog is mostly just an excuse to run an extract from the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Malcolm drowned in London in 2005.
But, on August 23rd, in the Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, the squatters who were evicted from Malcolm’s boat The Wibbley Wobbley earlier this year, are staging a one-night-only show titled Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink.
As is the annual tradition, it starts at 2300 on the last Friday of the Fringe – this year, Friday 25th August – and runs through to 0100 the next morning.
This year, though, so far unannounced, there will be an additional event following the show.
At the end of the main show, the room will be cleared and then, after a short pause, there will be this additional open-ended event. What will happen in it is not going to be announced until the evening itself.
Anyway, here is the extract from Malcolm’s autobiography. This bit is about his time in prison – well, one of the times he was in prison – and meeting MP John Stonehouse.
Malcolm was a man known for stunts
The Governor at Exeter was ex-Army. He’d had half his face blown off in the War and he had a massive scar but he wasn’t too bad.
I got ‘put on report’ to him once. I’d bought some loose tea from a bloke in the kitchens and got caught with it in my cell. You weren’t supposed to have loose tea. You’re not meant to have anything in your cell – particularly loose tea which could only have come from the kitchen. So I was ‘put on report’. I was taken to see the Governor with two Screws – one on each side. You have to give your name and your number.
“What’s your name?” they asked.
“Hardee. Number 594711,” I said. “711 to my friends.”
“Call the Governor SIR!” they said.
“I didn’t realise he’d been knighted,” I said.
Then he gave me a big lecture on taking this tea.
“Well,” he said, “If everybody did the same thing no-one in the prison would have any tea.”
“On the contrary,” I said, “If everyone did the same thing, then we’d all have some tea”.
I lost a fortnight for being offensive.
A little later, I saw a notice outside the Shop saying:
GLEE CLUB THIS TUESDAY
and when I went there was me and about three others.
This camp bloke, Mr Dwyer the Church organist, was running the Glee Club and it transpired that he gave you cigarettes half way through. So one minute we’re singing Gilbert & Sullivan numbers and four-part harmonies to Bread of Heaven and then he starts handing the fags out. Word quickly got round about this and at future Glee Clubs there were about 40 or 50 blokes – the maximum you could get in a class. They went for the cigarettes and none of them could sing. So there were all these West Country criminals trying to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in croaky voices and smoking free fags.
One week there were about 40 cons at the Glee Club and it was the break. They were all smoking and the Governor came round on one of his rare visits with the Educational Officer who was also as camp as a row of tents. The only place you’re supposed to smoke is in your cell at certain times. So there were these 40 cons all with fags hidden under their coats when the Governor and this man came in and the Educational Officer said:
“Oh hello Mr Dwyer. How’s the Glee Club going?”
“Oh, very well,” said Mr Dwyer.
“And what,” asked the Educational Officer, “Are you doing now?”.
“We’re doing Gilbert and Sullivan,” cooed Mr Dwyer.
“The Governor really likes Gilbert and Sullivan,” squeaked the Educational Officer.
“Well, if he likes ‘em,” said one of the surlier cons from the back, in a broad West Country accent: “He’d better fuck off now, then, hadn’t he?”.
Eventually, I ended up in a prison called Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. They wouldn’t take any people at Grendon who were on patches, so the Governor at Exeter had taken me off patches about two months before. Just coming off ‘solitary’ and going into the main Exeter prison itself had been like being released. Then going to Grendon was like freedom.
You were more or less allowed to walk around anywhere you liked at Grendon even though it was a maximum security prison. I don’t think there had been any escapes from there. In those days they called it a ‘Modern’ prison. It was ‘liberal’ and you called the Screws by their first name.
At Grendon, the Screws ‘had’ to treat you right because it was this ‘liberal’ place. It was a psychiatric prison, though not in the sense of being a Prison Hospital like Rampton or Broadmoor. Grendon had two parts: the Psychiatric bit and the Education bit. I was in the Education bit.
There was also a normal Hospital bit which took people’s tattoos off. A lot of prisoners, in order to have a cushy Nick, used to apply to have their tattoos taken off saying, if they kept them, they wouldn’t be able to get a job in a bank when they got out.
I joined every club I could find. I was in the drama society. I was in ‘The Toastmasters’, doing harmony singing. I was into everything.
I was in the bridge club.
It was odd playing bridge in these surroundings, as bridge is a card game normally associated with old ladies and retired colonel types. It was as surreal as watching the murderers singing four-part madrigals.
I played bridge with John Stonehouse as my partner. He was a Conservative MP who had faked his own death. He pretended he drowned in Miami to get an enormous amount of life insurance, but he was also having an affair with his secretary Sheila Buckley, who now coincidentally lives in Thamesmead, not far away from me. John Stonehouse himself is now dead for real. Perhaps.
Two competing Jack The Ripper tours huddle together on opposite sides of the street in London’s East End last night
Last night, I was in the area where Jack The Ripper killed at least five women 127 years ago.
Now he is a legend. He is more famous worldwide than any 19th century British Prime Minister. Last night, I may have counted some twice – though I do not think I did – but there were at least sixteen Jack The Ripper guided tours going round the area.
The gap between despised villain and fascinating legend becomes ever shorter. With 1950s and 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins, we are still close enough to see the legend being built.
The teaser trailer for the latest film about the Krays – Legend – was released last week. It got 2,067,569 hits in its first two days online.
Yesterday afternoon, I met Micky Fawcett, an associate of The Krays, who wrote the book Krayzy Days about his time with them (and much else)
Odd teaser – After leaving their family home, the Krays lived in a council flat – and buildings were not this high in 1960s.
Micky did not think much of the Legend teaser trailer. I too thought the selling line about the Twins “ruling” London was a wild exaggeration. Mickey saw more detailed quirks: apparently, in reality, Ronnie Kray never wore spectacles outside his home.
Some of what follows is taken from Wikipedia, so the facts are (a) in the public domain and (b) as they are from Wikipedia, not necessarily true.
That is one of the things about legends.
They are not necessarily true.
‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell in happy days
From the age of 17 Mitchell was regularly incarcerated in borstals and prisons, mostly for shop-breaking and larceny. In prison, Mitchell was “a thorn in the flesh of authority”. His sentences were characterised by violence against guards and fellow inmates and he was punished with the birch and the cat o’ nine tails.
He slashed a guard across the face and was charged with attempted murder after attacking an inmate he believed had informed on him; he was later acquitted.
In 1955, he was diagnosed as ‘mentally defective’ and sent to the Rampton psychiatric hospital. Two years later Mitchell escaped with another inmate and they attacked a man with an iron bar before stealing his clothes and money.
When he was recaptured, Mitchell attacked police with two meat cleavers and was sent to Broadmoor. He escaped again, broke into a private home and held a married couple hostage with an axe, for which he was nicknamed ‘The Mad Axeman’ in the press.
Micky’s Krayzy Days were lived to full
Micky told me: “He was in Broadmoor first off and he escaped – I don’t know how. What happened was he broke into a cottage and there were a couple of old people in there and he picked up an axe and said: Now, behave yourself.”
“He never used the axe?” I asked.
‘No. I’m not saying he was a saint. He was an idiot. But he didn’t want to go back to Broadmoor. He wanted to go in a prison.
“There was a feller called Tom Bryant who used to come in the Double-R Club (which the Kray Twins owned). He wrote for The People newspaper. He was always in the Double-R.”
“To pick up stories?” I asked.
“Probably. After that incident with the axe, Tom Bryant nicknamed Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’.
“And, after that, it was Keep away from Tom Bryant. The day before, he was a friend. But after he called Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ it was a case of: Frank Mitchell is a friend of ours. Keep away from Tom Bryant.
In October 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for robbery with violence.
Micky Fawcett photographed in the May Fair Hotel recently
Micky told me: “I went down to Dartmoor Prison to meet somebody else and they said: Frank Mitchell never gets any visitors.
“This is a long time – many years – before anything happened to him.
“So I met him. He was quite nice, an ordinary sort of feller… He was not very bright, but quite a pleasant sort of type. He said to the screw (prison warder): Look after Micky. It was like he was threatening the screw. He said: Micky’s a friend of ours now, right? Do you understand?
“And the screw, sounding slightly scared went: Yeah, alright Frank. OK Frank. Keep calm.”
In a 2013 blog, Harry Rogers told me that his chum Johnny Edgecombe (who precipitated the Profumo sex scandal) had shared a cell with Frank Mitchell in Dartmoor and that “everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the screws. He was like an animal.”
Micky told me: “They used to have work parties at Dartmoor: like a chain gang thing. Quarrying. But Frank used to tell the screws I’ll be in the pub and he used to go off to the local pub and have a drink.”
I said to Micky: “I thought Dartmoor Prison was isolated, in the middle of nowhere.”
“It is.” said Micky.
Dartmoor Prison – it’s a long way to the nearest public house
Mitchell was sent to Dartmoor prison in 1962 and, whilst there, his behaviour improved. He kept budgerigars and was transferred to the honour party, a small group of trustee inmates who were allowed to work outside the prison walls with minimal supervision. Mitchell was permitted to roam the moors and feed the wild ponies and even visited nearby pubs. On one occasion he caught a taxi to Okehampton to buy a budgerigar. The governor of the prison promised Mitchell that if he stayed out of trouble he would recommend to the Home Office that he be given a release date. Four years later, Mitchell was aggrieved that he had still not received one.
Mitchell had befriended Ronnie Kray when they served a sentence together at Wandsworth Prison in the 1950s. During Mitchell’s trial for attempted murder, Ron hired a lawyer for him and paid for him to have a new suit fitted. Ron was keen on breaking Mitchell out of prison, thinking it would help him to publicise his grievance and earn a release date, as well as enhance the Krays’ standing in the underworld. Reg Kray recalled that he was reluctant, but finally reasoned that “if nothing else, it would stick two fingers up to the law”.
Micky told me: “The big story is that The Twins ‘sprung’ Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor. But all they did was say to someone: Can you just go down and pick Frank up – and he just walked out, got in the car and came to London.”
Teddy Smith in the 1960s: a man in the car at Dartmoor
On 12 December 1966, while with a small work party on the moors, Mitchell asked the sole guard for permission to feed some nearby Dartmoor ponies. His request was granted, he walked over to a quiet road where a getaway car containing associates of the Krays – Albert Donoghue, ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith and Billy Exley – was waiting for him, and they drove to London, where the Krays put him up in a flat in Barking, East Ham. It was over five hours before Mitchell was reported missing.
Mitchell’s escape made national news, led to a political storm over the lax security around a man described in the press as ‘Britain’s most violent convict’, and was debated in the house of Commons. A large manhunt ensued, with 200 policemen, 100 Royal Marines and a Royal Air Force helicopter searching the moors.
Micky told me: “It was mad the way the whole thing went and he got shot in the end in the way that he did. Poor old Frank Mitchell.”
“This,” I said, “is Brown Bread Fred in the back of a van?”
“Yes,” said Micky. “The most horrible part about it was that I think it was Albert Donoghue who said that, as they came over Bow bridge, Frank said: Oh, I’d like to go down there. Me dad and all me family are in Bow. And they told him: No, you can’t go there; we’re taking you to Barking. Or it might have been East Ham. That was his last journey. That’s horrible.
“Because really he was just a big bicycle thief. (At the age of 9 he stole a bicycle from another child, for which he was taken before a juvenile court and put on probation.)
Freddie Foreman’s 2007 autobiography
Mitchell soon became a problem for the Krays. Owing to his physical strength and short temper, he was difficult to control. He was unwilling to give himself up and return to prison, and was not allowed to leave the flat in case he was recognised. Effectively, he had traded one prison cell for another. The Krays feared releasing him or turning him in as he could implicate them in his escape. Mitchell felt insulted that Reg had only visited him in person once and was particularly upset that he could not visit his parents, despite them living nearby. He grew increasingly agitated and began making threats against the Krays. The Krays decided the only solution was to kill him.
On 24 December 1966, Mitchell was led into the back of a van by Albert Donoghue, thinking he was to be taken to a safe house in the countryside where he would meet up with Ron Kray. Waiting in the van were several men, among them Freddie Foreman and Alfie Gerrard, who were armed with revolvers. Once the van doors were closed and the engine started, they opened fire on Mitchell, killing him. Donoghue thought that 12 shots were fired before Mitchell died. His body was never recovered.
Ronnie (right) & Reggie Kray, photographed by David Bailey
I said to Micky: “There was a story the Krays knew someone with a boat in a seaside town and bodies would be dumped over the side, weighed down and wrapped in chicken wire so, when they rotted and/or fish ate them, large bits of body would not float to the surface.”
“That’s not true,” said Micky.
“No?” I asked.
“You don’ t want to know,” he told me.
“I do want to know, provided it doesn’t involve names.”
“Exactly,” said Micky.
Albert Donoghue’s 1996 autobiography
In 1968, the Krays and various accomplices were arrested and put on trial for an array of offences, including the murder of Frank Mitchell. Their attempt to cajole gang member Albert Donoghue into confessing to killing Mitchell led to him becoming a crown witness and testifying against them. Ron, Reg and Charlie Kray and Freddie Foreman were all acquitted of Mitchell’s murder, due to lack of evidence and the perceived unreliability of Donoghue’s testimony.
Reg Kray was found guilty of conspiring to effect Mitchell’s escape from Dartmoor, for which he received a five-year sentence to run concurrently with his other sentences. Donoghue and another Firm member, John Dickson, pleaded guilty to harbouring Mitchell and respectively received 18-month and 9-month sentences.
Freddie Foreman’s 1996 autobiography
In his 1996 autobiography Respect, Foreman admitted to shooting Mitchell as a favour to the Krays.
Donoghue said Foreman was paid £1,000 for it.
Foreman was arrested and questioned by police after repeating his confession in a 2000 television documentary, but the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not be re-opening the case due to the then extant Double Jeopardy law.
Malcolm Hardee on the BBC TV show Diners. He was drunk.
Because (to be honest) of time constraints on my originality, here is another extract from the autobiography of Malcolm Hardee, godfather to British alternative comedy – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – now tragically out-of-print.
Malcolm was not a man un-acquainted with the law and with prison and detention centres.
He did steal Freddie Mercury’s cake…
When you are taken from court, the police are in charge of you. When you get to the detention centre or prison, the Screws – the warders – are in charge. When you arrived at Blantyre House, the routine was that the Screws said:
“Stand up against that wall!”
Then they just whacked your head straight into the side of the wall.
I watched this through a gap in the door and saw them do it to the three blokes before me. But they didn’t do it to me because of my glasses. So I didn’t get the full treatment. But life at Blantyre House was very hard.
You had to run about four miles with medicine balls under your arms and get up at six o’clock to do press-ups every morning and drill like in the Army:
“Quick march! Slow march! Get in line!”
They had a swimming pool and on May 1st, whatever the weather, you had to do four lengths of the swimming pool. This particular May was one of those cold ones and the swimming pool had a thin layer of ice on it. Someone just forced us all to dive in it. They worked you like demons. I got solitary confinement for two days, in a damp cell on bread and water, just for shouting out: “Bollocks!” at some point during a football match.
I was in Blantyre House in 1968 when the gangsters who were thought to be untouchable were put behind bars: The Krays (Ronnie and Reggie). They only operated in London’s East End and it has become over-magnified how important they were. They were just one of many gangs. The Richardsons (Charlie and Eddie) were operating in South East London and they weren’t quite so high profile. The good ones, of course, are the ones you don’t read about – the Frenches were well known for local villainy and drew very little publicity. I was just on the very vague periphery of all this as they were a lot older and in a different league.
Eddie Richardson was involved in a big shooting at Mr Smith’s, underneath The Witchdoctor. It was a inter-gang thing. They all met down the gaming club and this bloke got shot and was bleeding all over the place from an artery. ‘Mad Frankie’ Fraser (the Richardson’s infamous ‘enforcer’) hit a bloke who subsequently died and ‘Mad Frankie’ himself was shot in the thigh. He got outside and the police found him lying in a front garden round the corner in Fordel Road, Catford, where my Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Doug – the ones connected with the train crash – were then living. His mates had just left ‘Mad Frankie’ there. A bit inconsiderate to the neighbours.
No-one outside South East London knew the Richardsons until they were arrested and there was a lot of publicity at their trial about torturing people in a home-made electric chair.
But everyone knew the Krays. As comedian Lee Hurst says, the Blind Beggar must be the biggest pub in the world. Every time you meet a London taxi driver he was in the Blind Beggar the day Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.
Some people say the Krays wouldn’t have been big if there hadn’t been the shooting in the Blind Beggar. But these days people are getting shot all the time. In the paper yesterday there was a bloke shot in a pub in Yorkshire at lunchtime. I suppose The Krays were setting a trend.
The Krays also had that showbiz thing about them. They actually owned a club; the actress Barbara Windsor was a girlfriend of Charlie Kray and later married Ronnie Knight who worked for The Krays; and the Conservative politician Lord Bob Boothby, whose mistress had been Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife, was having it off with Ronnie, the gay Kray.
The film about The Krays was wrong on almost everything, really. I saw part of it being filmed in Greenwich, which was the wrong place to begin with. They’d done-up this street to look like 1934 when the twins were born and there was a scene where Billie Whitelaw was coming out of a door as their mother. I was watching this scene being shot with a friend. We were sitting in a place called Lil’s Diner, a local cafe, where a lot of lorry drivers go. The director was trying to get it right and first an aeroplane went over, then a lorry drove past and then someone coughed loudly and, on about the 5th or 6th take, he got it right and it was all quiet and the light was right and the sun was out and Billie Whitelaw came out the door with this double pram with two kids in it and one of the lorry drivers yelled out:
At the Grouchy Club itself, Mathilda Gregory had told us about writing werewolf erotica.
Mathilda Gregory – funny girl turned mistress of wolf erotica
Mathilda was the Komedia New Act of The Year in 2000, a BBC Writers’ Room/Laughing Stock winner in 2011 and a Funny Women ‘One To Watch’ in 2013.
“Why did you stop performing comedy?” I asked.
“It was a lot of hard work,” explained Mathilda. “You had to physically go to a place. You thought: Oh God! I’ve got to go to Birmingham!”
“It was specifically Birmingham that put you off?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Mathilda. “Or maybe it was the person I was sharing a car with.”
“So you took up writing instead…” I said.
“I’ve written six novels,” Mathilda replied. “Three of them are about werewolves.”
“What are the other three about?” I asked.
“One of them is about a woman who likes to spy on gay men having sex. One is about a woman who gets obsessed with a male prostitute. And one is about a woman who has a disability fetish. I won Writer of the Year at the Erotic Awards in 2007 and I have a wonderful trophy from that.”
A highly coveted Erotic Award – the Golden Flying Penis
“Ah!” said Grouchy Club co-presenter Kate Copstick. “The penis with wings.”
“Yes,” said Mathilda. “But my wings have fallen off.”
“How did you get into this?” I asked.
“My publisher,” explained Mathilda, “told me: We’re starting a line in paranormal erotica. There’s a huge market. In America, this is going to do really well.”
“Is it sex between consenting werewolves?” asked Copstick.
“There are three books,” said Mathilda. “We get into all kinds of things.”
“Apparently,” said Copstick, “wolves are much, much better at sex than men are.”
“I can believe that,” said Mathilda. “I’ve obviously done the research now. Vampires are not really very virile.”
Mathilda Gregory and one of her close friends
“I think everybody’s fucked a vampire by now,” said Copstick.
“You have a show about your werewolf books at the Fringe this year,” I prompted. “Werewolf Erotica She Wrote.”
“Well,” she said, “one of my books had been the subject of a court case. In 2013 a male prisoner in California, who was imprisoned for the attempted murder of a member of the Mexican Mafia, took his prison to court because they wouldn’t allow him to have one of my werewolf novels in prison. There was a two-year long court case where they read my book and tried to assess whether I had enough literary merit to be allowed in prison.
“They compared it to Shakespeare. They compared it to Dostoyevsky. The court report is the most amazing gift I’ve ever been given – 30 pages, just banging on about my book. It’s like an author’s dream.”
“Were they objecting to the sex?” I asked. “Or to the werewolves?”
Mathilda at the Grouchy Club
“They said it was inter-laced with pornography and that it incited violence. But the court found against them. So legally I have literary merit. There’s a lovely quote from an author called Peter Orner who they called as an expert witness. It says something like Pelican Bay is one of the most violent prisons in California. It has a lot of serious problems. An inmate reading books about werewolves having sex is really not a concern.
“So, legally, I have a judgment that my book has literary merit and is ‘perhaps’ less than Shakespearean. I like the fact they used the word ‘perhaps’ – so there is some legal doubt as to whether or not I am better than Shakespeare.”
Fifteen years ago today – in 1999 – I had to write a statement for a court about someone I knew who was standing trial for the second time over the same incident. He had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a very short sentence – something the police clearly considered too lenient. Now, over a year later, they had prosecuted him again on a more serious charge related to the same incident. This is the statement I wrote. I have changed his name to Harry Hardwicke (nothing like his real name) and have blanked-out some identifying details:
I have known Harry Hardwicke for about 20 years. We worked together briefly at ***** in ***** then later at ***** in *****, ***** in ***** and ***** in *****. I have also known him personally over those years, when he had three separate long-term loving relationships, including his marriage. He has stayed friends with these ex-girlfriends. He has always been an outgoing person – ‘life and soul of the party’ is a phrase that could have been coined for Harry. I have seen him regularly but not often over the years – perhaps every three or four months so I can, perhaps more than most, see the changes in him.
When I visited ***** Open Prison where he was incarcerated for two months over the same incident he has now been charged with again, I was rather taken aback by the change I saw in Harry: he was extremely quiet and noticeably withdrawn. In my ignorance, I thought life in an open prison would be rather ‘cushy’. That was certainly not the case for him. The imprisonment and separation from his three children, on whom he dotes, had taken such a visible toll that I was shocked by the effect on him. He was also upset and concerned by his inability to be available should his mentally ‘delicate’ sister suffer one of her not-too-uncommon relapses. (Although no danger to anyone else, she has been in-and-out of mental institutions over the 20 years I have known Harry and he is, in effect, her only family member.)
As both Harry and I are British males born in the 1950s, confiding innermost thoughts to each other is not a normal thing except in extremis. But, in the months after his release from prison, he did frequently tell me in person and on the telephone how he had despaired in prison and the shame he felt as a result of having been imprisoned. He despaired to the extent of not wanting to see or be seen by anybody. I believe at one time he was almost suicidal with despair.
He seemed to be coming out of this depression in the last few months of 1998 – before this case reared its head again. He had only just started to pick up the threads of his life and his career which would certainly be broken again should he be imprisoned once more.
Two very visible effects the ***** Open Prison sentence had on his personality was to damage his normally reliable work – his concentration on release was affected by depression – and to devastatingly damage his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. His severe depression and abnormal introversion caused a very painful breakup in the relationship though they have since slowly and successfully patched things up.
Harry is petrified of going to prison again, petrified by shame and embarrassment at the effect his actions have had on his children and on the relationship in which he puts so much hope. I believe he has already suffered disproportionately for his admitted crime – certainly way beyond the intention of his original sentence.
Should his character be broken again by imprisonment, I have no doubt that these additional strains could be nothing but devastatingly harmful to his long-term relationship, enormously destabilising for his children, abnormally destructive to his career and totally destabilising for his mental condition.
Harry received a conditional discharge. A rare case of justice in the UK.
* * *
A couple of weeks after I wrote the above, I found out it was factually incorrect. For the real outcome, see HERE.
My blog two days ago told of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s recent visit to Kenya, where she has been running her Mama Biashara charity since 2008. As well as health care projects and workshops, it gives small grants and helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small businesses which may let them build a better life for themselves.
In the last blog, she told of being stopped by the police, having £800 stolen and the security forces’ crackdown during the terrorist attack.
“When I went back to Nairobi,” she told me, “the police were still rounding up all the wrong people with added GBH.
“Because of that, with my Mama Biashara helper Doris – she of the bottom that would have given Rubens wet dreams forever – we went to people’s houses and organised things in a more low-key way.
“One day we were at this house with five mixed groups of commercial sex workers and guys who had come out of prison. The businesses we set up with them are just fantastic. They hate their lives so much and want to change their lives so much that they grab these chances with both hands.
“We were in this rather nice compound and they were coming to us in five small groups, so it wasn’t one of the big groups. We had dealt with three groups when there was all this hoo-ha outside. Doris went out, came back, closed the door and told me: Don’t go out!
“When I was finishing off with the third group, Doris came back and told me that the rancid old bitch of a landlady who owned the compound had called the police and the last two groups of sex workers and ex-cons had been on their knees in front of an armed policeman begging for their lives. They had done nothing.
Members of Kenya’s General Service Unit police in Nairobi
“Doris had explained to the policeman why the two groups were there, the policeman had said Get out of here! and they’d all run off. The third group I was working with heard the word ‘policeman’ and ran off too.
“Doris and I went out and there was this foul old bitch staring at us. I asked her in Swahili: You think you’re a Christian?
“She said: Yes.
“I said in English: Even as ye do it unto one of the least of these my children, ye do it unto me.
“She screwed up her face and said in Swahili: I don’t want thieves and whores in my compound!
“I gave her the Copstick death stare, which usually works a treat, but she just death stared back. I wanted to say a lot of things I couldn’t say fast enough in Swahili, so I told her You have a bad heart and God will see your heart.
“Off the top of my head, I could not think of the Swahili for Burn in Hell, you rancid old git.
“Anyway, we left and started looking for other safer places to do workshops.
“I was going to do one up in Uthiru (NW of Nairobi), but the police were in Uthiru, so we went to Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi. There’s a lovely old lady with a cafe there and she doesn’t mind what I do provided I keep buying tea and mandazi for everybody.
“Doris brought the people from Uthiru to Dagoretti Corner and we were doing the workshops there. Starting good businesses. Great businesses.”
“So,” I asked, “at Dagoretti Corner, you were helping the same sort of people who wanted to get out of the life they were in?”
“Yes,” said Copstick. “Commercial sex workers – male and female – and ex-convicts. The ex-cons were all married guys with kids and it’s a big, big thing for them to have another chance.
“They get put in prison for things like looking the wrong way at a policeman and, once you’re in the prison system in Kenya, if you haven’t got someone who can bribe someone else to let you out, you just stay there. You can end up doing six months in prison for nothing – just cos people have forgotten about you. When you come out, employers ask where you’ve been and, if you say In prison, obviously, they say No job.
One rather glamorised view of Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi
“We had done a lot of funding with these people at Dagoretti Corner and then Doris started to get phone calls. There was a guy sitting there who wanted to sell quails and quails’ eggs as a business and Doris suddenly said Right. We’re finished now. We’re packing up.
“I said: No, no. There’s a couple more groups.
“No, no, we’re packing up, said Doris.
“As most people realise, I am insensitive and didn’t catch the note of outright panic in her voice.
“She told me: There are men outside.
“OK, OK, OK, I said. It’s Dagoretti Corner…
“We need to go, she said. What are you doing?
“I’m just texting my dad, to tell him everything’s OK and I’m fine.
“You are NOT OK and everything is NOT fine! Doris told me. There are armed men outside.
“The phone calls had been to tell her there was a gang of six guys outside. One was at the chemist shop opposite, keeping an eye on where we were sitting… and then there were three others spread out… and two with guns waiting for us to come out of the doorway of the little cafe.
“I told Doris: Well, we’ll just stay in here; we’ll be fine.
“No, it won’t be fine, said Doris, because they’ll know there’s only us in here and they don’t care if they kill the shosho (the old lady). They’ll kill everybody. They’ll just shoot everybody as long as they get the money and then run off.
“So we phoned one of Doris’ friends who borrowed a car, drove it up to the entrance and we ducked down, got in and roared off. It was unreal. I wasn’t scared, because it was so unreal, but I knew I should have been scared because Doris was shaking like a leaf and Doris is one kick-ass woman – and she has a lot of ass to kick.
“So that was the armed would-be hold-up and then, because we now knew there were armed men roaming Dagoretti Corner with a view to attacking and robbing me, we decided to avoid it.
The perceived safe haven of Nakumatt Junction in Nairobi
“That whole area was obviously a bit suspect, so we decided to meet down at Nakumatt Junction – Nakumatt is their biggest chain of quite posh supermarkets.
“I told Doris: We’ll meet there, because they’ve got guards and a huge car park and we’re not going to get held up, unless it’s terrorists who just blow the whole place up… It’s as safe as Westgate… It’s as safe as Westgate…
(CONCLUDED HERE… IN WHICH COPSTICK IS ATTACKED IN PUBLIC BY 17 MEN WHILE THE POLICE LOOK ON…)
I stood for Parliament in the very important Greenwich by-election in 1987 when Rosie Barnes stood for the SDP and Deirdre Wood was standing for the Labour Party. Everyone expected Labour to win in Greenwich but Rosie Barnes won.
I was supported by The Rainbow Alliance, who were loosely linked to The Monster Raving Loony Party. They linked up on this election and I met David – Screaming Lord – Sutch. He was broke and living with his mum at the time. He was ringing up from phone boxes trying to get his £500 deposit together.
The Rainbow Alliance was run by a peculiar old hippy called George Weiss. He had got a lot of money from his parents who were in the jewellery and silverware business and he’d blown it by gambling and betting on himself winning these elections, which he never did. I think he is convinced that one day he will win. He wanted computer-based referenda and Peace and Love all over the world. He always wanted to be a ‘personality’ but never managed it. His idea of humour was carrying a Gonk about – one of those stuffed toys that were popular in the 1960s.
George had come to the Tunnel Club which I ran and he wanted Jools Holland to run for The Rainbow Alliance in Greenwich. Jools didn’t want to appear to be a fool, so said he didn’t want to run but agreed to be my sponsor and Rainbow George put up my £500 deposit.
I ran for election under the banner THE RAINBOW ALLIANCE BEER, FAGS AND SKITTLES PARTY and we got an enormous amount of press and TV coverage because everyone thought it was going to be the last by-election before the General Election.
It was a good laugh, especially when I went to the count. The Great British public’s ignorance knows no bounds. It must be the easiest thing in the world to put an ‘X’ next to a candidate’s name. Some people had put ticks. A few had put marks out of ten. Some had voted for them all.
I got 174 votes. I beat the Communist Party. And I beat the National Front, which takes some doing because there’s strong support for them in the area.
At that time, the comedy agent Addison Cresswell was very left wing and was handling all the Red Wedge tours. He phoned me up and went mad at me because I was standing. He thought I’d take votes from the Labour Party which might have an effect if it was a close-run thing. In the event, their candidate lost by a lot more than 174.
If I had thought more seriously about it, part of my Manifesto could actually have won it for me. This was Bring Charlton Athletic Back to The Valley. Charlton is the local football club and The Valley was their ground. At the time, they had to play at Crystal Palace’s ground. If I had got the whole of the Charlton Football Supporters’ Club on my side, I would have got enough votes to win it. Four years later, they did form a Valley Party for the local elections and they did get a counsellor in and did get Charlton back to The Valley.
My other Manifesto ideas were a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill (This has since been successfully suggested by the Millennium Committee)…Proper rides at the funfair and proper prizes….Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake….And concreting the Thames so people can travel about easier.
I’ve always felt detached from politics because Government represents authority whether Labour or Conservative. The strangest thing I noticed, when I was in prison, was that prisoners always had a better deal under a Right Wing government. Parole came in under a Conservative government. One-Third and later One-Half Remission came in under a Conservative government. I also used to think that, when a Conservative government was in power, the prison officers themselves were happier and therefore the prisoners got treated better. Due to recent developments with the Hang ‘em and Flog ‘em brigade, this is no longer the case.
Prison warders are the type of people who would have been prefects at school. They’re even worse than the Police and the Army because they’ve got authority over people who in the main are completely helpless.
To be a prison warder all you have to do is to have a clean record and be over 5’6” tall, then take a very simple exam like What is your name?
Psychologically, policemen are much the same as Screws. I’ve actually had two brother-in-laws – in effect they were my brother-in-laws – who were both policemen.
I lived with a woman for 13 years and her brother was a copper. Now my wife’s sister’s husband is a policeman. He became a policeman because he couldn’t get a proper job. He was a salesman for a bit.
Sometimes people who become policeman are quite decent but being in the Force changes them just because of the pressure of all the other people who are there. They just go along with the gang like people do in many jobs. With the Police, I think the qualifications are much too low: again you’ve only got to be over a certain height and take exams. I think you should have the same qualifications you need to be a social worker or probation officer.
I don’t like people in authority.
Malcolm’s other election suggestions included:
– Flexible licensing laws
– Treble old age pensions
– Re-launch the Cutty Sark
– Free TV Licences for over 18s
– Funfair on Blackheath to be free
He arranged a Victory Celebration Party, at his Tunnel comedy club, two days before Election Day.
Supporting his candidacy, Jools Holland said Malcolm was “unbalanced and completely untrustworthy – the kind of person who would do well in British politics.”
This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are announced at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 24th August, during a two-hour Awards show.
Concorde flypast of Buckingham Palace on 4th June 2002
In those less cyberspaced days before I blogged, I occasionally kept notes in diaries. These are extracts from 2002, when Queen Elizabeth II (or, if you are being very Scottish, Queen Elizabeth I) was celebrating her Golden Jubilee.
Saturday 1st June 2002
I went to see comedian Charlie Chuck at home in Leicestershire. In the local pub in the evening, there was a noisy disco – people wearing St George’s flag clothes amid Union Flag bunting.
Sunday 2nd June 2002
Actor Mike Wattam told me that, in the Vietnam War, the Vietcong hung prisoners upside down with bags on their heads. The bags had rats inside. The prisoners’ blood rushed to their heads. The frightened and hungry rats ate the prisoners’ faces.
On my way home, I drove through a street party in Radlett, Hertfordshire. Union flags and St George’s flags flying, bunting, trestle tables with food, lots of children excited at a licence to do pretty much whatever they wanted.
Monday 3rd June 2002
Extracts from an Instant Message with a friend in Washington DC:
Her: I met a twat hack from the Washington Post last night. Complete arrogant tosser.
Me: You have a way with words. What was wrong with him?
Her: I told him : “At least you’re consistent, as all the bars and restaurants you recommend tend to be crap.”
Me: Bunting, St George’s flags and Union flags aplenty here.
Her: He told me: “Oh, I only recommend places that I think readers will like, not places I like.” Critics don’t do that! It’s egocentric that brand of journalism.
Me: It’s normal!
Me: Like TV producers looking down on punters and making programmes they wouldn’t themselves watch.
Her: So film critics don’t recommend movies they like, but that they think other people will like?
Me: I think tabloid journos probably do that.
Her: Well I still think it’s wrong. He recommends very expensive very bland places where he gets free drinks.
Me: It is wrong
Her: The place I went to last night he said was the most disgusting skanky place in DC. It’s actually a really nice private house with eclectic decorations (you would love it), full of interesting people. But he is so goddamn arrogant because people in DC cannot go out without consulting his reviews. You would really like it. He started to insult me because he thought I was stupid (I mentioned I had friends in the Independent Media who are Socialists)
Me: What’s the Independent Media?
Her:dc.indymedia.org Free press. I told him I’d rather live in a society where people get free healthcare and education and he left the room.
Me: In the US, “Liberal” means Communist, so “Socialist” must mean “In League With the Devil”… Americans!
Her: I think Socialism means Communism here. He said he’d read Marx and I told him he obviously didn’t know what Socialism actually is. I think he got pissed off when he realised I was more intelligent than him.
Me: I should tell him kibbutzes are Socialism in action. Communism, indeed. Ironic that right-wingers in the US support Israeli kibbutzes.
Tuesday 4th June 2002
Live Jubilee coverage all over the TV. Somehow it seems bigger than the Silver Jubilee.
Wednesday 5th June 2002
I talked to someone who has dealings with prisoners. She says prison letters all have the same smell. Slightly musty, slightly medical.
She told me about an old woman of 78 who reads newspapers then, unsteady on her feet, moves around her home by touching the walls for support. She leaves black finger marks everywhere – which she can’t see because of her bad eyesight.
‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ Charles Bronson, has been inside for 28 years. This week he was given a TV set for the first time and, for the past three days, he has been totally docile – watching episodes of the children’s series Teletubbies.