Tag Archives: Punch & Judy

Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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Surrealist comedy performer Martin Soan goes into an Essex mental asylum

Another comedian not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year

Martin Soan, creator of highly original comic ideas…

When I was newly 18, I went voluntarily into a mental asylum as an in-patient because I tried to kill myself. The doctors thought it required treatment; I thought it was a sensible life-choice.

When performer Martin Soan was 17, he voluntarily went into a mental asylum as a member of staff: to work as a porter.

He has been staying with me for the last couple of days.

“When I was 15, my parents won the Football Pools,” he told me and my eternally-un-named friend last night over dinner. “We moved from the East End of London to a village called Earls Colne near Colchester in Essex and I went off the rails. I had been doing really well in the East End – I took pride in my schoolwork; I wasn’t top of the class, but I enjoyed endeavouring. Within months of moving out to Essex, I drifted into odd behaviour, taking drugs and getting into trouble with the police.”

“You left school at 16?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but, by then, aged 15, I’d moved into a squat in Colchester and I’d got made a ward of court because I got caught stealing…”

“Stealing what?” I asked.

“Carpet from a doctor’s office.”

“Was it open?” I asked.

“It was night time,” said Martin. “I got made a ward of court, went home for a matter of weeks, got a night job working for Courtaulds for a few months – weaving things. Water jet looms. Then I got the job at the mental hospital – Severalls Hospital, just outside Colchester in Essex. It was a huge hospital – 300 acres – It was a couple of miles away from Turners Village, a children’s psychiatric hospital which eventually got done for child abuse, neglect, cruelty to patients, everything.”

“Why did you decide to work in a mental home?” I asked.

A recent photo of Severalls Hospital , which closed in 1997

A recent photo of Severalls Hospital, which closed in 1997

“Because I had a fear of people with mental health problems,” he explained. “I grew up with my cousin who was mentally and physically handicapped; he was maybe two years older than me. He had a droopy mouth and a strange walk. He used to clomp along. He was lovely and we used to play together, but he used to get me in these strangleholds and embraces – it was out of love, I suppose. He used to terrify me; he used to half-strangle me. I was always terrified I was going to get really, really hurt by him.

“He was not doing it viciously or vindictively at all. He was just clumsy and didn’t know his own strength. He was incredibly strong.”

“When I was at college,” I said, “I went and interviewed a psychiatrist at the mental hospital where I had been a patient and, sitting in the corridor waiting to see him, I could tell which people passing me were patients and which were staff. The patients walked slower, because they had been drugged so heavily and had no life left in them.”

“Drugs are the straitjacket now,” said Martin. “They used to lock ‘em up and put ‘em in straitjackets because people were frightened of  ’em. Now drugs do exactly the same thing. It stops them being a problem.”

“Were some people in there for life?” I asked.

“There was Albert,” replied Martin. “He had these huge, huge, Denis Healey type eyebrows and a huge belly. He was ancient and used to help me do the laundry and go round the wards with me on these electric vehicles.

“When he was younger, Albert had wounded someone in a field with a shotgun. Accidentally. He didn’t mean to shoot them; he had not intended to kill them and he just wounded them. It was a mistake.”

“Was he simple?” I asked.

“By the time I met him,” Martin explained, “he had a wonderful logic about him, but he had been completely institutionalised and drugged out of his head; he was a drugged, dribbling idiot, basically.

“There was another guy who had a limp. You just had to say the name of one football team to him. I would say West Ham and he would say West Ham 3 Chelsea 2 – Newcastle United 2 Hull City 2 and he would do the latest scores each week. He would walk down the corridors saying the football scores.

“My job being a porter was to do the laundry, take meals and drugs to the wards and all that. There was a morgue there and I had to label the bodies and put them on the things you slid them into the fridges on.”

“You did that by yourself?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

Martin with my eternally-un-named friend yesterday

Martin Soan with my eternally-un-named friend yesterday

“Most of them were thin and weighed less than a sack of potatoes,” explained Martin.

“How often did people die?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Severalls Hospital was big. An average ward held about 40, so I would guess it had an absolute minimum of about 800 people in it… It had its own bank and shops. There were wards in the main hospital and then in the grounds were satellite wards like army barracks around this huge complex – secure wards and medical wards because there was a lot of self-mutilation and health problems.”

“So every week someone would die?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Oh yeah,” Martin replied immediately. “There was a mixture of people there. A lot of ordinary Alzheimer’s cases. Just old people and some very ordinary people who shouldn’t have been there at all. Like Albert, who made a mistake and wounded someone with a shotgun and they put him in a mental hospital.

“But there were some characters who were completely bonkers. I was walking to one of the outside wards and suddenly this old woman comes out of the forest completely stark bonkers naked and just throws herself on me so I’m on the ground with her screaming something about me not bringing the ring to the wedding.”

“Things like that must have really done-in your 17 or 18 year-old brain,” I suggested.

“I think I just needed to confront my fears,” said Martin. “The problem was my physical fear of my cousin and I had mixed it up in my mind with being frightened of all mad people or very extrovert type people. But, very quickly, I realised it wasn’t them I was frightened of. It was my own mental state. As soon as I sussed that, I just ended up with another set of problems.”

“What mental state?” I asked.

“My mental state,” said Martin.

Martin Soan got high with B.A.

Martin Soan, accomplished surrealist

“Why?” I asked. “Because you were close to the brink yourself? I understand that feeling.”

“Yes, that,” he replied. “And Martin, just stop worrying about stuff. Stop worrying about your petty fears. There are people out there with far worse problems. It normalised what’s going on in your own head. At the time, I was taking lots of LSD. I used to take it at weekends. On the rota, you had almost four days off between your work, so you could take a load of drugs and sober up and go back in. But, one Sunday afternoon, when there was a skeleton staff and no authority figures in, I went in completely high on acid.”

“Were you hallucinating?”  I asked.

“Some of the time, yeah. But I’d been taking so much it had become the norm. You acclimatise to it. So I knew I could go off into little reveries of surreal imagery by focussing on the minutiae of the world around me and then, if something happened, I could snap myself out of it.”

“But,” I said, “if you’d been high on acid when some naked woman had leapt out of the woods onto you, that would have REALLY done your head in.”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “But it all becomes the norm. It’s just mundane in the end. I realised what I had to be careful of was my own brain, not other people’s.”

“Were you interested in performing comedy before you worked in the mental asylum?” I asked.

“I was doing Punch & Judy shows all the way through this,” said Martin, “but my comedy was always a bit weird. I used to do surreal puppetry when I was about 16.”

“People being mad and people being creative is very similar,” I said, “because their minds are going off at wild tangents. If you do surreal humour, you know you are being surreal, whereas mad people don’t know they’re being surreal. Maybe comedy performers are controlling their interesting lateral thinking and mad people are not.”

“With the surreal puppetry,” said Martin, “I thought I can’t do that sort of stuff, because no-one’s going to understand me. So I ended up doing Punch & Judy shows but, within that, I started bending, perverting the story of Punch & Judy.”

Martin’s Punch & Judy shows were called The Greatest Show On Legs.

“Did you always do adult Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but it wasn’t aimed at adults. “It was just my interpretation of Punch & Judy.”

“I thought it was rude?” I asked.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

The Greatest Show on Legs in a later incarnation (from left) Malcolm Hardee, Steve Bowdidge, Martin Soan

“It did start getting rude,” agreed Martin, “and, when Malcolm Hardee joined The Greatest Show On Legs it was fully-fledged and took off as a rude Punch & Judy show.”

“And, at Severalls,” I prompted, “you did lots of different things as a porter…”

“We rotated all the jobs,” said Martin. “One of them was to escort patients up to the ECT ward.”

“I didn’t know they still did ECT – electro-convulsive therapy – in those days,” I said.

“I was disturbed they were still doing it,” replied Martin.

“Around which year was this?” I asked.

“1970. Even though it was the Seventies, it was very Victorian in all sorts of ways. They hadn’t moved on very much. When you dropped them off for ECT, even though they were troubled, they were animated – they had life. Even if they were paranoid. Paranoia takes up a lot of energy. But, after they had had ECT, they were lethargic, uncommunicative. It had just robbed them of the life, really. They couldn’t remember what they were upset about but they still had this Oh fuck, there’s something wrong with me feeling. From what I saw, it didn’t do any good.

“There was a girl patient I found attractive. She had dark hair and stunning eyes. I wasn’t being anything other than friendly. Nothing sexual. She was just a lovely person; very friendly. I had this motor bike and there was this rock concert nearby. I took her off to the concert; we had a couple of beers and might have smoked a joint, then I dropped her off back at the ward.

“The Unit Administrator had me up and told me: There’s no way you socialise with the patients and I thought Well, that’s a bit heavy. Yes, it was unprofessional, but I was only a porter, not a doctor. I wasn’t trying to take advantage of her. I was young and didn’t understand the consequences, the trouble I could be getting myself into.

“I don’t know if it was connected, but shortly afterwards I was sent to pick up the girl and take her to the ECT ward. And that was a killer because afterwards… to see this lovely girl with her soul ripped out of her basically. It was horrible.”

“Why did you leave Severalls Hospital?” I asked.

“After what happened to that girl,” said Martin, “I suppose I started turning psychotic myself so, in the end, I walked out. I didn’t want to work there any more.  I was conscientious, I think I did my job well, but the Head Porter kept having a go at me.”

“How did your bosses react to you wanting to leave?” I asked.

“They were all worried and freaked out,” said Martin. “No-one had walked out before. All the porters were either young like me or had been there forever. Those jobs were for life. There had been a few incidents of staff becoming patients. I used to have my dinner and tea breaks in the patients’ canteen because I found the staff canteen very stuffy because they had behavioural norms. There was a formality about it and I got… not panic attacks as such, but… In the patients’ canteen, it was like the bar in Star Wars. I just sat down and they loved me and I liked being there; I could have a laugh with them because, like I said, a lot of them shouldn’t have been in there.”

“Anyone who thinks differently,” I said, “risks getting labelled as mad.”

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Jimmy Savile writer in tabloid storm labels my blog as ‘revolutionary’ and drunken UK comic Slayer as ‘political’

Nick Awde Facebook photo

Nick Awde as he wants to be seen on his Facebook page

Writer Nick Awde wanted to interview me for a book he is currently writing.

UK comedian and Edinburgh Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer told me that Nick had received a death threat because he has written a play called Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show for the upcoming Fringe in August. The truth is more complicated than that. And it is not the first time he has been threatened.

“I did an anthology on Women in Islam and got at least one death threat out of that.,” Nick told me this morning, when I Skyped him at his home in Paris.

“So are you actually doing a physical Punch & Judy show in Edinburgh?” I asked.

“No,” he told me. “No puppets. No-one wants to put their hand up Jimmy Savile.”

“So how are you doing it?” I asked.

“It will be live actors,” Nick explained, “playing all the characters in a Punch & Judy way.”

“Dressed as Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“Still don’t know,” said Nick. “Budgetry constraints.”

“Will you be making a guest appearance in the show at Edinburgh?” I asked.

Nick laughed: “What? So the audience can beat the crap out of me? No.”

“You could be the policemen or the crocodile,” I suggested.

“Well, trying to get the crocodile into it is difficult. I don’t think there were any crocodiles supporting Jimmy Savile although, God knows, everyone was in on it. Maybe he was given the keys to the zoos as well.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show

“Jimmy Savile was there because Society put him there and Society’s problem after his death is trying to deal with the fact that we all put him there, especially all the pillars of Society – but we support the pillars. We all looked at him and thought There’s a creepy old man and probably a lot of people did think There’s a dirty old man. But we still went along with it.”

“So why Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“We take our children – we encourage our children,” explained Nick, “to go see Punch & Judy like we did as children and our parents and parents’ parents did before them. We go off and we laugh and joke and are wowed and throw money at the puppet master afterwards… but we are watching a man who is a wife-beater, a child-killer and who also takes on every single pillar of Society. Even if he does get beaten up by them, he ends up beating them up or avoiding them or avoiding the issue entirely. This is Jimmy Savile. He did exactly the same thing. He bullied his way through Society.”

“And,” I said, “the press reaction to the show’s imminent staging has been what?”

“The tabloid reaction so far is interesting,” said Nick. “Oh! What about the victims? they ask. Well, in fact, this format avoids the victims. The format of Punch & Judy is a great way to avoid anything to do with the victims. The match is perfect. You concentrate on Jimmy Savile and his dealings with Society.”

“But it’s not a puppet show,” I double-checked.

“Everyone said they did not want to do it as a puppet show,” said Nick. “I think it should be done as a puppet show but I don’t have any money to put it on because – guess what? – I won’t personally profit from the show. So I can’t be accused of trying to cash in.”

“So the tabloids at least can’t accuse you of that,” I said.

Nick Awde talking to me from Paris this morning, via Skype

Nick Awde talking to me from Paris this morning, via Skype

“The tabloids who are going to come gunning for me,” said Nick, “indeed gunning for anyone who wants to try and address things that they don’t want to be addressed or which they don’t want to be addressed in their way… These are the same tabloids who are sitting on the files which they have on people like Jimmy Savile and a lot of other people in Society, a lot of whom are big names, who are still alive and still doing it.”

“You mean in showbiz or politics?” I asked.

“Everything,” said Nick. “There’s no conspiracy about it. You and I, we understand this. We understand why they do it. Like me, I think you are very much up for the independence of the press. We don’t want the government being able to force people to hand over things like the Obama government recently did to Associated Press in America.

“I’ve seen these files. Anyone who’s worked for a long time on national newspapers will have come across a file somewhere and it’s not Da Vinci Code stuff. It makes perfect common sense that people will come to a newspaper for whatever reason. Some will come wanting money. Some will come because the police or institutions have put them down and they will go to a newspaper and say Please help me. It could be whistleblowers or victims themselves. In this case, it’s child abuse or institutionalised child abuse.

“The newspapers put it on record. They think about whether they have enough to publish and also whether it’s a juicy-enough story. Very rarely do they hand the files over to PC Plod because you never know… You could use it one day for one reason or another.”

“And these,” I said, “are the same tabloids who have been attacking your upcoming play without having seen it.”

“Yes,” said Nick, “these are the same tabloids who’ve been sitting on these documents and possibly also have files on a lot of victims – a lot more than we think – accumulated over the years. These are the same ones who want to criticise someone for trying to address Jimmy Savile’s relationship with the institutions which kept him in power for sixty years.”

“Surely,” I said, “being attacked by the tabloids is great because it’s publicity for your play?”

“Sure,” said Nick. “But incitement to violence is something different.”

“Who was inciting violence?” I asked.

“The Daily Star,” he replied and held up a double-page spread headlined:

Nick holds up a Daily Star double spread via Skype

Nick holds up Daily Star double spread for me this morning

SICK NICK DESERVES A PUNCH FOR SAVILE PLAY

Nick has written, edited or illustrated more than 50 books.

He has freelanced as a feature writer and critic for The Stage for more than twenty years, as well as being a political journalist and, more recently, a book publisher.

“What sort of books do you publish?” I asked him this morning.

Things like phrasebooks for non-European languages spoken in countries where people have been generally fucked around by things like oil politics,” he replied. “Places where it’s the ordinary people who lose out, like Chechnya, Somalia, Armenia.”

“So how does a Chechen-Somali phrasebook publisher end up with a drunken ne’er-do-well like comedian Bob Slayer?” I asked.

Critic Nick Awde (left) and comic Bob Slayer yesterday

Nick Awde + Bob Slayer being piratical rather than political

“Because I think he’s very political in what he does,” said Nick.

“Is he?” I asked, incredulous. “This presumably is political with a small pee?”

“Oh yes,” said Nick. “But I’m political with a small ‘p’ too. I think Bob’s Alternative Fringe is extraordinarily political in terms of what it is. It evolves, whereas things like the Free Fringe don’t evolve.

“I write in theatre very much as a political thing, because theatre really gives people a voice. You know that. The way you write about comedy and report on comedy in your blog – not just the young blood that’s coming up, but the old revolutionaries and all the rest of it. I think you can see the effect the revolutionary side of live comedy has had on people over the years.”

“Well, that’ll go straight onto my publicity,” I said. “John Fleming – Revolutionary. I can see it up in lights now.”

“I really do believe it,” insisted Nick.

“I’m all for anything provided there are knob gags in it,” I said.

“I don’t think there will be knob gags in Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show,” said Nick, “unless there might be a knob gag which would have existed in a real Punch & Judy show.”

Daily Express - ‘Outrage’

Daily Express – ‘Outrage’

“Well, rude bits are part of traditional satire,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Nick. “Tits, knobs, poo, crap, dicks and farting. In satire, you are literally throwing all that at the people at the top and telling them: You are the same as us! It’s a bit of a rocky road to follow – you will be excoriated by all sides at some points – but the people who have done it well have made people think. People time and time again quote satire.”

“And I gather your Jimmy Savile show is going to be satire,” I said.

“Obviously,” said Nick, “you can’t do the hardcore stuff on television or radio but, live on stage, there can be far more hard-hitting stuff.”

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British Airways are a bunch of drug smugglers who ruined a relationship

Martin Soan got high flying with B.A.

The story so far…

British Airways buggered up their flight from London to Beijing by overbooking it, downgraded my ticket, promised to refund the difference in fare (they have not yet) and gave me £75 compensation in the form of a BA Visa card which they are trying to foist on people.

However, most cash machines only dispense £10 and £20 notes, not £5. So British Airways, in attempting a bit of good PR have created bad PR for themselves by giving alleged compensation in a form where they accidentally but actually screw people for £5. Now read on…

As a Scot brought up among Jews, £5 is £5. I would have been happy with £70 compensation, which I could have accessed. But I am pissed-off if they are allegedly giving me £5 which cannot be accessed.

So, yesterday, having had no response to a message I sent to their Customer Relations Dept via the BA website ten days before, I blogged about it and their Twitter team @British_Airways sent me a message:

Hi John, sorry to read of your disappointing flight. Here is a link to our compensation card info.

All very jolly. Except it just says you get your money by using an ATM. That will be the ATMs which cannot dispense £75 then… Their next attempt was:

You can use the card at a retailer for the residual balance.

Sure enough, if you plough through their Compensation Card Info, you can indeed, use your card to pay at selected retailers displaying a Visa Electron sign. Even if you find a retailer visibly displaying this sign, it involves a terrible rigmarole of using another plastic card in addition to using the BA plastic card but making sure you use the BA one first.

At this point yesterday, I was just interested to see what hoops individuals at BA would contort themselves through in order not to sort out the problem and give me my £5.

What retailer? I replied. Why should I? What if I just want the money?

I got no reply to this, but my Facebook friend comedian Sameena Zehra told me:

BA have been crap for years. What really irritates me is the ‘One World’ concept, so that you can buy a Quantas flight (as I did when I went to Adelaide in March) but find out that one of the flights is operated by British Airways. and then they have different luggage allowances, check in procedures and their attitude is ‘Tough shit – you should have booked a different flight’. Arse.

My Facebook friend Aileen Kane told me: “Cash machines in Scotland give out fivers now! Worth checking…” but it seemed a long way to go from London to get my extra £5.

Pursued further, BA’s Twitter twits then tweeted:

Sorry you’re having difficulty withdrawing your cash, John.  Please call Customer Relations on 0844 493 0787.

I decided to see how much worse they could bugger up their customer PR. So I called.

“You can get £5 notes through-the-wall from Barclays Bank and Lloyds Bank,” I was told.

“I have tried that,” I replied. “Their machines don’t dispense £5 notes.”

“Yes they do,” I was told.

“Righto,” I replied.

So, with the same sense of adventure that built the British Empire, I went down to my high street.

I tried (again) Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest, HSBC, Halifax, Santander and Nationwide. None of their machines dispensed £5 notes. I even, humorously, went in to the Lloyds and Barclays branches and told them British Airways said their machines dispense £5 notes. “No they don’t,” replied one bank…. “British Airways are idiots,” replied the other bank.

I had to agree.

At home, there was an e-mail waiting from comedian Ian Fox saying: “I just got 2 fivers out of a Tesco cash machine.”

Unfortunately, this was in Manchester.

There was a second e-mail from Ian. It said: “You know I did think right after tweeting that That’s probably not going to help. I think I was right.”

This morning, I got a Tweet from journalist and Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Jay Richardson telling me: “You can get £5 only out in Glasgow. Don’t even have to pawn anything.”

But life is cheaper in Glasgow. I understand you can get someone killed for £5. If I could get my extra £5, I would put out a contract for a hit on the entire PR Dept at British Airways. Though it might cost £10 in Glasgow.

But Tesco may be the furrow to plough. Sadly, this morning, I am currently far from a Tesco. (Who would have thought such a thing was possible?)

Last night, comedian Martin Soan suggested Tesco probably do issue £5 notes because they would not want to lose the custom of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager.

“Why wouldn’t they just use their card?” his wife Vivienne asked.

“I know the mentality of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager,” said Martin.

And he told me his own British Airways story.

“My brother was out in Greece” he said, “and I’d never been out of the country before. I was only 18 or 19. My girlfriend encouraged me to go out there with her. But she made it abundantly clear – after seeing my excessive behaviour in the genre of drug-taking – that I must not take any drugs with me on the flight.

“Of course, I completely ignored her and took about five tabs of ‘Orange Sunshine’, which was the best acid you could buy at the time – about twice the strength of other types of LSD. It was infamously very powerful acid indeed.

“I was working as a Punch & Judy man at the time, calling myself The Greatest Show on Legs. Being a Punch & Judy man, I could accommodate – embarrassing though it is to say – a large mass at the back of my throat.”

(Background info: The swazzle which creates the voice of Mr Punch is two bits of silver held together by a piece of cotton thread. It is put in the back of the performer’s throat. When he wants to speak as Mr Punch, he presses the base of his tongue against the swazzle and directs all the air from his windpipe through the swazzle.)

“So,” Martin told me, “I had this ability to hold and manipulate things at the back of my mouth, top of my throat. The night before the flight, I chewed-up a load of chewing gum and lay the five tabs of acid in the resulting tiny ‘pudding’ of chewing gum. I waited for it to go hard, then shaved it down with a Stanley knife, making it into a small saucer shape – roughly swazzle size. If any Customs man caused problems, I could swallow it.

“In the morning, I had the thing in the back of my throat, leaving the country for the first time, going off to Greece which had very draconian laws against drugs. I was nervous.

“In the departure lounge, I took it out and had a drink, then put it back in my mouth. We get on the British Airways plane. A little later, the pilot announces we’re flying over Paris at so-many-thousand feet. I am nervous. I absent-mindedly think What’s that in my mouth? and feel this bit of what feels like plastic in my mouth. What’s that? I think. I put it between my teeth and pull. I see this vaguely orange saliva-ey thing on the end of forefinger and thumb and think Oh fuck! and then swallow the whole lot – five tabs of Orange Sunshine acid – out of shock.

“I spent the next hour ordering whisky from the flight attendant and trying to ‘come down’ but events started overtaking me and I had some very interesting conversations with my girlfriend who was sitting next to me.

You promised you wouldn’t take drugs, she said. Everything’s OK, I told her. Why are you drinking so much whisky? she asked. I thought Why do I have to be stuck in a Social Security office with 150 of the ugliest and weirdest people I have ever seen in my life? Things like that. Then Oh! I know why! Because I’m not in a Social Security office; I’ve taken some acid and I’m on a plane.

“I remember the British Airways stewardess struggling to understand this man behaving rather strangely It was about 1971.

“At one point I thought I’ve just got to say something to appear normal. It’s going to seem weird if I don’t talk. People were murmuring all around me, then the plane hit this pocket of air and we dropped maybe 50 feet. Everybody went Ooh! and shut up. Total silence. But I immediately launched into some loud nonsensical monologue and everyone looked round at me.

“When I got off the plane, the blast of Greek heat hit me and sent me doolally. I completely lost control. I was convinced we were in Ireland and there was some trouble with the tarmac, so I wanted to lie on it to protect it. I was aware people were looking at me oddly but didn’t know why. I then started running to the terminal building and managed to run through the Customs and out the other side before any staff had arrived there.

“Then I panicked and went back through. I had nothing to declare and I wanted to prove it. They accepted that.

“The girlfriend was not pleased. She had this restrained anger about her the whole holiday. When we got back to Britain, she wrote me a horrendous letter. Quite deservedly. End of relationship. I’ve never seen her since.”

“So,” I asked Martin, “British Airways are a bunch of drug smugglers who ruined your relationship?”

“You want to say that?” asked Martin.

“Well,” I replied, “it would be quite jolly and would it make a good blog heading.”

“Oh,” said Martin. “OK.”

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Filed under Comedy, Travel, PR, Drugs, Airlines