Tag Archives: protection racket

A hard man is good to find

I was in the bar at Elstree Film Studios last week, which can feel a little like swimming in the recently dangerous waters off Sharm-el-Sheikh, surrounded by sharks circling for prey – though, in the current economic climate, the dead eyes are more desperate that deadly (unless, one presumes, you go into business with them).

Fortunately, though, I was there for a drink with the extremely amiable and apparently totally indefatigable criminal-turned-author Jason Cook (not to be confused with the amiable and I’m sure equally indefatigable comedian Jason Cook).

The first Jason Cook’s film company moves into production offices at Elstree Studios today.

He is one of those interesting people who are a just joy to meet, although I suspect living his life was considerably less enjoyable than sitting back and hearing about it. He is a dyslexic ex-con, who was smoking and selling hash from his bedroom when he was 12. By the time he was 16, he had moved on to ecstasy and became involved with local gangsters. He carried knives and guns, took steroids and worked out at the gym to build himself up. By 17, he was helping alleged gangsters collect debts – related to money-lending, drugs, anything.

Eventually, by now addicted to cocaine, Jason was given a seven and a half year prison sentence, of which he served two years, nine months. During this stretch in one of Her Majesty’s finer residential establishments, he joined the education programme and volunteered for a ‘drug-free wing’, where he was given help and support to kick his habit.

As part of the rehabilitation programme he was encouraged to start writing about his experiences and this inspired him to write his first partly autobiographical book, There’s No Room for Jugglers in my Circus (2006). This was followed by The Gangster’s Runner (2009) and the upcoming A Nice Little Earner ( to be published in 2011).

It’s a rare thing to find an optimistic story about a hard working indefatigable person who has overcome the odds and could succeed because of sheer personal determination.

Jason’s first two novels are being used by local community ‘drug awareness’ groups; he does an impressively heavy schedule of book signings in Waterstones etc etc; and he is trying to raise finance for the first of a movie trilogy based on his books – thus the move into Elstree Studios today.

But one of the strangest things he told me is that his definitely – indeed, definitively – ‘hard man’ books are mostly bought by women. Neither he nor I understand why as, from all the above, you can tell they appear to be resolutely “lads” books about “the Chaps”. One theory Jason has is that his books are being bought by women as presents for their men; the only other possibility would seem to be that women are somehow moving from ‘chick-lit’ to tougher books.

Perhaps they, like Mae West, believe that “a hard man is good to find”.

PS If you have couple of million pounds to invest, Jason Cook is your man. That’s the author/producer not the stand-up comedian, though I’m sure that other Jason Cook wouldn’t turn it down either.

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Showbiz and TV talent shows before Margaret Thatcher

I had lunch last week with the highly entertaining Derek Hobson, host of ITV’s seminal talent show New Faces, which was responsible for the ‘discovery’ of Michael Barrymore, the wonderful Marti Caine, Jim Davidson, Les Dennis, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood etc in the pre-Thatcher 1970s. He reminded me about the old union-dominated days at ATV (where I worked a various times). Lenny Henry was chosen by the producers to be on New Faces and it made him a star, but it took a whole year before he was seen on screen because the unions only allowed card-carrying Equity or Musicians’ Union members to appear on the show.

Derek told me that, when Yorkshire TV recorded its classic sitcom Rising Damp, which was screened on ITV as six-part series, the company used to schedule recordings for seven episodes per series on the basis that one entire episode would always be lost due to Luddite practices during the recordings by the all-powerful ACTT union. I well remember their pre-Thatcher power. The ACTT was less a union protecting its members, more a protection racket threatening employers and running a heavily enforced closed shop.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists at ATV, I suggested a documentary to be transmitted on the 40th anniversary of the 1940 Wartime bombing of Coventry (and provided research and sources) but I was not allowed to be employed nor credited as a researcher on the show because I was not an ACTT member and researchers could only be ACTT members.

Derek also told me the story of a singer who triumphantly performed on one edition of New Faces, wowing the judges, the studio audience and the viewers at home. The response was immense. On the Monday after the show was transmitted, the singer received a phone call from the manager of two of the biggest music acts of the time – acts with a similar style. The manager wanted to sign the singer to an exclusive management contract. The singer was overwhelmed and flattered to be approached by the high-profile and highly successful manager; he  thought his career was made and his life would be transformed. But, in fact, the manager wanted to sign the singer because he saw a potential threat to his two existing acts. The singer was too similar; he was given ten duff songs in a row to record, his potential career was destroyed and the manager’s two existing acts continued to prosper with no threat of competition.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Television