Tag Archives: radio

The linguistic joy of the BBC Shipping Forecasts and the soothing Share prices

The joy of Fisher, Dogger, German Bight and sweet Rockall…

Today, my eternally-un-named friend drew my attention to the online Shipping Forecast page on BBC Sounds. She told me: “I really loved listening to the Shipping Forecast. In childhood it was on in the background… Fisher, Dogger, German Bight…”

I too have fond memories of the Shipping Forecast bulletin at the end of daily transmissions on BBC Radio 4. It was and still is the must-listen-to weather forecast for anyone in the seas around the British Isles. The sea is divided into areas including Faeroes, Fair Isle, North Utsire, South Utsire and sweet Rockall.

In the good old, long-gone days of my early youth, I not only found the Shipping Forecast soothing to listen to, but even more soothing was the now sadly abandoned reading of the latest Stock Market share prices – what were considered the main ones – at the end of (I think it was) the Radio 4 Ten O’Clock News every weekday evening.

It was so relaxing to listen to abstract words and numbers without having to concentrate on their meaning. It was like someone reading you a bedtime story in a foreign language where you understood the sounds of the words but not their meanings.

Listening to Italian-language comedy has much the same effect on me. I don’t speak Italian. But I enjoy listening to the linguistic rhythm of Italian jokes which I don’t understand.

If the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had combined the sound of the Shipping Forecast and the share prices and incorporated those into his Transcendental Meditation format, who knows how the world might have been changed for the better?

Sigh.

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Union JACK radio station wants to hear from unusual and innovative comedians

“If people say It’s safe, that’s not really what we want to hear. We want clever ideas which will appeal to a wider audience. We want to hear ‘unusual’ and ‘innovative’. Some people may say: It’s crazy. It will never work, but that’s fine. We like to hear that. ‘Safe’ is what everyone else is doing. We are not interested in that.”

That’s what Donnach O’Driscoll told me when I chatted to him. Strangely, I believed him. He is the CEO of Union JACK Radio. They are now one of the sponsors of the Leicester Comedy Festival and Leicester Comedy Festival boss Geoff Rowe is now part-time Director of Comedy at Union JACK.

But, like I said, I chatted to Donnach O’Driscoll…


Donnach and I supped tea at Soho Theatre

JOHN: You started as…?

DONNACH: My very first job was straight out of university – Trinity College, Dublin. Three years working for Bank of America in Washington DC. I went through their management training programme.

Then I worked three years for Gaston Thorn. He was leaving office as President of the European Commission, leaving Brussels and he wanted a Chef de Cabinet…

JOHN: A chef?

DONNACH: Not a chef. The French call it a Chef de Cabinet… It’s like a personal private secretary in Whitehall.

I wrote speeches, travelled with him, met everyone he met. Before he was President of the European Commission, he had been President of the United Nations General Assembly.

When I was with him, he was Executive President of the largest media company in Europe – RTL so after that, through him, I then worked for RTL for seven years as Head of Radio Development and then as Vice President for UK Activities.

JOHN: What did that involve?

DONNACH: Getting RTL into Channel 5 as 29% of the original investors. I said: “If we want to be a truly pan-European media group, we need to have a presence in the UK.” So I was on the board of Channel 5 when we were originally awarded the licence. RTL ended up buying out the other shareholders before recently selling it to Viacom.

I was also in the process of building a radio group for RTL in the British Isles – We had Atlantic 252 in Ireland. We bought Talk Radio. We were original investors – 15% – in XFM.

But then we were bought by German media group Bertelsmann who were only interested in television. Radio went out the window. So I left and went to Capital Radio for one year and then, with friends, we set up Absolute Radio International.

In 2003, we partnered with UTV in Northern Ireland and bought the Juice radio station in Liverpool. Then, in 2005, UTV decided to buy Talk Radio group and bought the three of us out of Juice. 

In 2006, we bought an FM station in Oxford and won a second Oxford FM licence in 2007. We leased a successful US radio station format JACK from its North American owners and Anglicised it. We aimed our first Oxfordshire station JACKfm at 25-45 year-old males. The second FM station we branded as JACK 2 Hits for a younger, mainly female audience.

There are 50+ JACKs in North America, targeting a 25-45 year old male audience. It has no presenters; it is very irreverent; it has attitude, lots of humour and is, in a way, unpolished. Everything that the rest of commercial radio is not.

Around this time, Virgin Radio was up for sale. We had national ambitions. Through RTL, I knew Times of India – the largest media company in India, who had never invested in anything outside of India. But they backed us and we got it in 2008. 

I became the CEO of Virgin Radio and we re-named the station Absolute Radio. People thought we were mad to change the name. We launched it into the teeth of a Recession. Our three core pillars were music, sport and comedy.

When we bought Virgin Radio, it had about 1.8 million listeners. As Absolute Radio, we built that to close to 4 million.

As featured in the ad industry’s Campaign magazine after the Virgin Radio takeover

We made a point of live music and doing live music in unique locations, like the first rock music concert in the House of Commons. Elbow did a concert in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. We closed Regent Street in London and Madness did a concert. On the comedy side, we wanted two comedy anchors – Frank Skinner on Saturday morning and Dave Gorman on Sunday morning. We brought in Ronnie Wood (of the Rolling Stones) as a presenter.

In 2016, we launched a third station in Oxfordshire on DAB only – JACK3 & Chill – a ‘chill’ station for over-50s. The same humour, the same irreverence, but calmer. Still a very wide playlist, unlike most commercial radio.

We wanted to take the JACK brand national; there was no FM spectrum available so we went DAB to launch Union JACK, which celebrates/plays the best of British music and comedy. Music and comedy are both equally important. All of the music is chosen by the audience. Our app allows people to vote songs up and down a playlist and add songs onto the playlist. To date, we have had over 22 million votes.

JOHN: So you are a franchise of the American JACK Radio…

DONNACH: No. Before we launched our two national stations, we, as it were, bought the freehold for Europe in perpetuity. It was like what we did at Virgin. We felt we needed to hold the freehold for the brand. We can launch JACK stations anywhere in Europe.

Jack Radio – aimed by women for women (and some men)

We launched our second national UK radio station – JACK Radio – a year ago: music aimed at a female audience. And we’ve started to introduce editorial content into it. We have a women’s sports show. Not just ‘women’s sports’… Things like a female perspective on the Premier League. There’s now a relationship show. We’re working on a wellness show. And we will introduce comedy. It won’t be as important as on Union JACK Radio; it will just be one additional element. A bit like the glossy magazine which appeals primarily to a female audience but in no way deters a male audience and actually, at the moment, there are more male listeners than female to JACK Radio.

JOHN: So how do you make Union JACK stand out among all the other radio brands?

DONNACH: Commercial radio, generically, is tight playlists, researched heavily, very slick. They will do a short bit of talk, then play Rihanna for the third time in an hour. JACK is the antithesis of that. JACK is spontaneous. As soon as something happens, we have our station voice recording funny, irreverent lines about what Boris Johnson has just done or whatever.

We look to play two new unsigned music acts every hour. We have a character on the station called Lucy Leeds – she’s from Leeds – and she goes round interviewing new bands and effectively familiarising our audience with those new bands.

We’re not a big corporate. We don’t have the resources of Global or Bauer or News International. So, within our limited financial resources, we have to stand for something. It’s very difficult to find audience niches. You have to try to be creative. Our ethos is to try and support new talent in music and in comedy.

JOHN: The pace on Union JACK is very fast. 

DONNACH: What we do NOT want is traditional DJs and traditional presenters doing 4-hour blocks. Turn on Heart or Magic or Kiss and that’s traditional radio. It’s two songs, 5 or 6 minutes of ads. From our perspective, we are trying to do it differently.

JOHN: Between your music, short scattered ads and the scattered station voice stuff, you also drop in short extracts from classic BBC comedy shows.

DONNACH: In order to familiarise the audience with the output and the brand, I thought it would help to have some classic comedy clips in there. But new comedy is what we want to do. Original comedy. We want to meet comedians with ideas.

JOHN: What’s your pitch to comedians?

Part of the increasing original comedy output on Union Jack

DONNACH: We are small. We are self-funded. We don’t have big corporate backing, but we want to develop relationships with comedians… If you can’t get exposure because the limited space on BBC Radio 4 is effectively locked-up with shows you can’t get near and you don’t have the resources to do a national tour… then we have a national platform and we are looking for content. Please come and talk to us. Even if it’s the nuttiest idea.

JOHN: And they presumably have to record in your studio in Oxford.

DONNACH: No. There’s plenty of studios around.

JOHN: So you might rent them a sound studio in Soho or…

DONNACH: Wherever. Wherever. If they’re in Newcastle, Doncaster, wherever, we’ll find a studio which we would pay for. We have a platform. We will make it work including finding the studio, recording it, getting it onto a podcast, whatever. We will do the mechanics of it. 

I hope that, as we develop, the ‘talent’ may see us as even more of a friend than their agent. They may have an agent who is keen to develop their careers but who gets a commission. We don’t take a commission. We are not in it other than to find great content. 

We want content and we want people who feel they haven’t had an outlet for their content. We don’t have preconceived ideas. 

If you go to the BBC, it can take up to two years to get something on air. We can get something to air very, very quickly. If we like the idea and we can make the finances work, we can get it to air on Union JACK Radio within a couple of weeks.

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Douglas Adams talks. Part 4: Science fiction, comedy, re-writes and ambitions

After Parts One, Two and Three, the final part of my 1980 interview with Douglas Adams

Concept by Jim Francis for a Vogon demolition ship in BBC TV’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“…virtually impossible to read science fiction”

JOHN: Are you actually interested in science fiction?

DOUGLAS: Yes and no. I always thought I was interested until I discovered this enormous sub-culture and met people and found I knew nothing about it whatsoever. I always used to enjoy reading the odd science fiction book. Having done The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who for this length of time, I now find it virtually impossible to read science fiction, which is simply a measure of the extent of which I’ve been saturated with it. I’m a bit nervous, at the moment, of being pigeon-holed as a science fiction writer, which I’m not. I’m a comedy writer who happens to be in science fiction.

JOHN: There’s the double problem that you’re thought of as a science fiction person and as a comedy writer. So, if you wanted to write a serious book…

DOUGLAS: I don’t think I could do a serious book anyway: jokes would start to creep in.

JOHN: You’re not like a stand-up comic who, deep down, wants to play Hamlet?

“I was being fairly flippant about it”

DOUGLAS: No, you see, I actually think comedy’s a serious business, although I may not give that impression. I was being interviewed the other day by a woman from the Telegraph Magazine who’d read the new book (The Restaurant at the End of The Universe) and was asking me all sorts of questions and I was being fairly flippant about it and I think she got rather disappointed, because she expected me to be much more serious about it than I was being.

I think that comes about because, when you’re actually working on something, you have to take it absolutely seriously; you have to be totally, passionately committed to it. But you can’t maintain that if you’re going to stay sane. So, on the whole, when I talk about  it to other people I tend then to be quite flippant about it. Because I’m just so glad to have got through it. (LAUGHS) You say: Ah well, it’s just that. It’s just jokes. She was saying she thought the second book was much weightier than the first, which surprised me. I wasn’t aware of that.

JOHN: Presumably the reason the first book didn’t include the last two episodes of the original radio series was that you hadn’t totally written them yourself and you weren’t totally happy with them.

DOUGLAS: Yes. I also wanted to keep those last two episodes for the end of the second book.

JOHN: Were you not totally happy with the second radio series?

BBC Radio 4’s The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Most of the second series was first draft…”

DOUGLAS: No. You see, the first series was written and re-written and re-written and worked on very, very heavily. The second series I had to do under immense pressure while I was doing other things as well. There was an element of desperation in writing it. Also, the first time round, it was my own, private little world which only I really knew about. Writing the sequel series was like running round the street naked because suddenly it’s become everyone else’s property as well. Most of the second series was first draft, as opposed to fourth draft. So about two-thirds of the second book actually comes from episodes 5 and 6 of the first series.

The first third of it was a re-structured plotting of aspects of the second series. I think it works out better like that, although it meant I had to write the book backwards, I couldn’t get the thing started and it held me up and held me up and held me up and eventually I wrote the last bit, then the bit before that and the bit before that – and the beginning was worked out, more or less, by a process of elimination.

Special Effects designer Jim Francis’ concept for BBC TV’s Alpha Centauri

JOHN: It’s all been very successful, though.

DOUGLAS: I now have a company and everything goes through the company. It’s called Serious Productions. I decided most people I know with companies had silly names for them, so I decided I wasn’t. I was going to have a Serious name.

JOHN: How do you get out of the trap of being forever ‘The man who wrote Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘?

DOUGLAS: Well, by doing something else, really. I think we’ll probably do a second TV series, although it’s by no means certain. I think it’s on the cards and, if we did, then it would be a totally new series written for television rather than adapted. And that, as far as I’m concerned, would be the end of Hitch-Hiker.

JOHN: And you would go on to .. .

DOUGLAS: I want to write a book from scratch to prove that I can do it. I’ve now written two books which are based on something I’d already written. That’s not quite kosher. And I would like to write a stage-play because that was the one failure Hitch-Hiker had. And I’d like to write a film. These are all fairly wishy-washy ideas at the moment, but that’s what I’d like to do… Oh, and I’d like to be a guitarist.

(DOUGLAS ADAMS, 11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001, R.I.P.)

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Prince and the tangled web which gave farter Mr Methane his big US TV break

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

Prince in 2008 (Photo by Micahmedia)

I stopped writing this blog daily at the end of last year, thinking it would give me more time to do other things.

Since stopping, I have had less time. Who knew? I am now seven un-transcribed blogs behind.

Almost four weeks ago, I had a chat with Mr Methane – the world’s only professional performing farter.

Around midnight last night, he texted me a message. Surprisingly, it did not say: Where the fuck is the blog your were going to write? Instead, it read:

“Quite stunned and saddened to hear about the death of Prince – an artist whose global success indirectly led to me appearing on the Howard Stern Show in the US.

“I made my first ever visit to the Howard Stern Show thanks to the hard work of Lenny Shabes. He was President of WATV. Lenny was a big fan of Howard and became aware of my alimentary talents while in London visiting his friend, artist manager and producer Steve Fargnoli – a man responsible for the careers of Prince and also possibly my biggest fan Sinéad O’Connor.

Mr Methane Let’s Rip in his VHS release

Mr Methane Let’s Rip opened him up to the US audience

“Steve Fargnoli introduced Lenny to my manager Barrie Barlow and, on returning to the States, Lenny sent a copy of my video Mr Methane Lets Rip to Howard’s producer Gary Dell’Abate AKA ‘Baba Booey’.

“Lenny followed it up with an astonishing 90-odd phone calls until Gary and Howard eventually caved in and watched the tape.

“Gary and Howard liked what they saw and invited me to the show where I performed a special rendition of Happy Birthday.

“The appearance was judged to be a success and was shown on Howard’s E TV & CBS television shows with Howard Stern proclaiming himself to be a huge Mr. Methane fan.

“This may have never happened if Prince’s Purple Rain hadn’t established Steve Fargnoli as a giant of music business management with an office in London.

“The law of unintended consequences strikes again.”

There is a video on YouTube of Mr Methane’s first appearance on the Howard Stern Show.

Last year, I wrote a blog which pointed out Mr Methane is related to the Queen of England and Thurston de Basset, Grand Falconer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

It now turns out that, as well as being related to Queen Elizabeth II, he is also related to Lord Byron. Genuinely.

When Mr Methane and I met again a month ago in St Pancras station, he was NOT going to the Paaspop festival in Holland. He had been booked to perform in a cabaret tent at the festival but then, for unknown reasons, the cabaret tent and all its acts were cancelled. They paid him half his fee and all his travel costs. So, instead of going to Holland, he took a train down from Macclesfield to London to celebrate what he called his “birthday we won’t mention.”

Mr Methane’s sister is still researching the family tree.

“Our grandma was Joan Byron,” Mr Methane told me, “and she married into the Bassets. She came from the Byron dynasty which used to hang out originally at Clayton Hall, where Manchester City’s football ground is now.

“We’ve got another grandma – Cecilia de Warren and her dad was the Earl of Surrey. She’s a connection that takes us back to the Plantagenets.”

“So,” I said, “your sister’s doing all this family research.”

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

Mr Methane wearing a Howard Stern badge

“Yes. She’s got a BA and an MA and she took the BA in Art History. Before she came out with her Art History degree, I used to think Salford Van Hire was a Dutch painter.”

“Wey-hey!” I said.

“I’ve learned a lot off other people,” Mr Methane continued. “Barrie, my business manager is in the music industry and I knew very little about that too. I used to think Dexy’s Midnight Runners was a laxative.”

“Wey-hey!” I said. “So what have you got coming up in your farting career?”

“I’ve got a very very secret thing that I can’t talk about in Finland.”

“And sadly,” I said, “you can’t do the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show in Edinburgh in August because…”

“…I’m at the Dorset Steam Fair,” agreed Mr Methane. “Blowing my own trumpet. Then I’ve got to start writing the Mr Methane book. It’s going to be a long time in the process, but this year’s going to be the start of that. I think I need to leave a legacy. I don’t know whether to call it Behind The Behind or Life at The Bottom.”

“This will be your auto-blow-ography?” I asked.

“Yes, there will be loads of double-entendres in it,” agreed Mr Methane. “There’s something else I’m doing… I should write a list, shouldn’t I? But, being a performer, I don’t write lists, I just have things rattling around in me that come out.”

At this point, our conversation was interrupted by a text on his phone from a friend. It read:

A Belgian Shepherd dog not on the beach (Photo by Ulrik Wallström)

A Belgian Shepherd dog shot not on the beach (Photograph by Ulrik Wallström)

Can’t get on the beach for sheep.

“That’s right,” Mr Methane told me. “A friend has got a couple of big Belgian Shepherd Dogs and the sheep graze on the salt marsh, so you can’t have big Belgian Shepherd dogs chasing the sheep, can you?”

“No,” I agreed, “you can’t.”

I had no idea what we were talking about.

It often happens.

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Death of producer Danny Greenstone

Danny Greenstone

Danny Greenstone – So it goes

I had got as far as Newcastle when I read the email.

For most of today (Sunday) I was on the long coach trail down from Edinburgh to London. It took most of the day.

The National Express coach station in Newcastle had a weak telephone signal and no WiFi (neither did their coach) and my iPhone was already running low on battery.

The email was from writer Ian Hawkins.

It said:


I expect you’ve heard by now the dreadful news that Danny Greenstone died suddenly yesterday morning. 


I had not.

Danny and I were going to meet on Wednesday this week to have a chat for my blog, but we had not arranged a place. I was going to email him tomorrow to arrange the details.

The chat was going to be about The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London (which I mentioned in this blog three weeks ago) – the unproduced Goon Show which he was due to direct on stage in London’s West End this October.

LWT Head of Entertainment Alan Boyd with Danny Greenstone

LWT Head of Entertainment Alan Boyd (left) with Danny

I first met Danny in either 1984 or 1985 when we worked together on either Game For a Laugh or Cilla Black’s Surprise! Surprise! The same basic production team worked on both, so it is difficult to remember, especially with my notoriously shit memory.

I remember it was his first job in television and he was suggested and highly recommended by Jeremy Beadle, whose BBC radio show Jeremy Beadle’s Nightcap he had produced.

Danny produces BBC World Service show Old Took’s Almanac, while by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (right) watches

Danny produces BBC World Service show Old Took’s Almanac, watched by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Danny had joined BBC Radio in 1969, as a filing clerk in News Information but, by 1973 he was a producer in Light Entertainment. In 1977, with producer John Lloyd, he invented The News Quiz and, he said, the only argument they ever had was about the title. Danny wanted to call the series Keep Taking The Tabloids.

I asked Ian Hawkins to send me a piece about Danny which I would get when I eventually reached home. This is what he wrote:


He felt unwell on Friday night and his partner Liz called an ambulance in the early hours of Saturday morning when he started having trouble breathing. They said he was having a heart attack. Danny thought they were being melodramatic. Whilst he was being X-rayed, he lost consciousness and couldn’t be revived. All this entirely out of the blue; he was apparently his usual self through Friday. 

I last saw Danny a couple of weeks back – just after Cilla Black’s death – as he was regaling me with stories about being able to get her to do things no other producer could. He was looking a bit thinner, which I put down to the healthy eating regime he was on. We also talked about his job directing The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London. “I’m a West End director,” he told me, “entirely by accident.” And then he was off to do another series of Soccer Prince in the Middle East. 

We shared a love of old jokes and I was showing off my copy of The Joey Adams Book of Ethnic Humour (pub 1972, and understandably never reprinted). Danny also had a copy. Likewise Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, in which every definition is illustrated with a joke. 

I had found an old business card of my great grandfather whose shop sold china in North London. Danny’s dad was a greengrocer. I emailed it to him, speculating that it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that one of the Greenstone’s bananas had ended up in one of my ancestor’s bowls. 

I completely adored him. When BBC Three Counties Radio gave him his own show nearly ten years ago, he brought me on to do a newspaper review. Many’s the time he would look at me across the desk while I went off on a tangent somewhere, knowing that he was manning the safety net for when I over-reached myself. Occasionally I actually flew. Plenty of people will tell you a similar story – he had a knack for spotting talent and giving people faith in themselves. He made everyone around him feel they were an essential part of a team.

We met through JLAwhere I was an agent, though not a particularly outstanding one. He did the occasional job for them as a speaker and, rather more often, as a coach for other speakers, including (blind UK politician) David Blunkett. His best advice was ‘always tell the audience something they don’t know about someone or something they do know.’ Less successful was advising David Blunkett to make eye contact with the audience. 

I left JLA to focus on writing, coaching and stand-up and helped him move between homes. I guess the real talent he spotted in me was being able to drive a transit van through London and up to Bedfordshire. Not the greatest of talents but Danny still made me feel like a hero for doing it. 

Though I would’ve crawled over hot coals for him if he’d asked. 

Small mercies: I told him I loved him. He was the sort of man you could say that to. 

Danny was always full of ideas and jokes and puns of varying quality. About three times today I’ve seen something and thought ‘Danny would find that hilarious.’ But then Danny laughed at everything, which is why we were friends. 

Sorry this is a gush, I’m heartbroken. Truly. 


Danny Greenstone in 1988

Danny Greenstone in 1988

Danny used to say he had been involved in the entertainment industry since 1958 when he took the lead role in St.Mary’s Parochial School’s production of Old King Cole.

But, more seriously, in over twenty years, he produced and directed for radio, television and live events. He co-created, wrote and produced BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz and, for television worked on Game For A Laugh, Surprise, Surprise, You Bet, Child’s Play, The Main Event, Going For Gold, Small Talk, Celebrity Squares and many more. His programmes appeared on every terrestrial network in the UK.

He was part of the team that brought the UK’s first series of Pop Idol to the screen and was also instrumental in the creation of Ant & Dec ‘s PokerFace.

Later, in 2008/2009, he was the Director of Culture & Entertainment for Global Village, a theme park in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which, over 102-days, attracted three million visitors.

The post on Facebook

The post on Facebook

In a post on Facebook, his daughter Katy wrote:


Yesterday I lost the most wonderful man I’ve ever known, my dad. 

He has left us far too soon, but his influence has brought happiness, laughter and love to an enormous number of people all over he world – and I am so proud to be his daughter.


Danny Greenstone died Saturday 29th August 2015.

So it goes.

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No farting records in Ireland in 1999

I have to admit to laziness… I cannot face listening to and transcribing an admittedly interesting two-hour recording this morning so, continuing occasional extracts from old e-diaries this week…

In October 1999, I was in Ireland. This is one day’s entry.


Irish flag

Ah, the things my electronic diary never shows. Like, the chat today with a tennis-playing guest at my Dublin hotel about Soviet economic policy and a man called Pat Murphy in Cork who was matey with Lenin, Trotsky and all the rest in 1917… Then there was the blind woman I met on a train and took to the other station for a trip to Portadown… And having a fight with Hertz about hire cars at Dublin Airport and changing to Avis, then losing my return air ticket and finding it again elsewhere… Ah! the things that disappear on a day-to-day basis..

Today I drove from Dublin to Limerick (just under 200 km) in a hire car. In a very Irish way, it seems that road distances are given in kilometres; the speed limits are in mph; and car speedometers are like the British – in mph but with tiny km equivalents underneath.

The Irish seem to drive slightly slower than the British, but make up for it with some seriously dangerous overtaking on blind bends and on straight stretches with oncoming traffic. The other disconcerting thing is that traffic lights go from RED to GREEN with no amber in between, so it is always a shock when the green lights up.

mrmethanebendsIn the evening, I drove to Shannon Airport to phone my mother and my chum Mr Methane – the world’s only professionally performing farteur. He had left a message on my answerphone back in England. He told me his website had registered 400,000 visits in the last month and that he was selling £6,500 worth of CDs a week, mostly to Americans, because his record is being played on local radio stations over there.

He has zoomed ahead of me in internet terms, talking about exceeding his bandwidth, side entrances and all sorts of unknown technical phrases. At least, I think they were technical phrases.

He phoned me up because he is thinking of moving to Virgin for his internet service, as they give 10Mb rather than 5Mb of webspace plus unlimited bandwidth. This means nothing to me but, says Mr Methane, “It’s like a bicycle. Once you learn how to ride, it’s easy to learn more and more.”

I did not tell him I can’t ride a bicycle.

He told me his record cannot be heard on Irish radio because the stations here feel they cannot play lyrics like “the brown eye”.

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My radio encounter yesterday with the President and a late Nigerian pastor

President Obonjo yesterday in Streatham

President Obonjo yesterday in Streatham cafe

Yesterday, I was asked to be on the Anti-Duhring Battalion’s show on London Hott Radio

The radio station is also a cafe just off Streatham High Street in London.

The show featured President Obonjo Obonjo of the Lafta Republic (a UK circuit comedian for the last three years) and religious cult leader Pastor Femi.

I mistakenly believed Pastor Femi was a character act too, but he turned out to be a genuine Senior Pastor in the City of Light Evangelical Ministries.

Their website proclaims:

“The Mandate of the Ministry was received on the 27th of May 2013 and the Word received was Bring Light back into every City through the preaching of the undiluted Word of God by releasing the Light in the Gospel into every sector via businessmen/ women, students, athletes, footballers, singles and married, politicians etc.

It might have been interesting to talk to the pastor at some length about God’s very specific mention of footballers, but the radio show over-ran somewhat and I had to go home, partly to preserve what little sanity I had left.

The radio show was due to start at 5.00pm and end at 6.00pm. The pastor had not arrived by 5.00pm so – somewhat oddly I thought – we waited for him.

The Anti-Duhring Battalion (right, in stripes) supervised the live radio show yesterday

The Anti-Duhring Battalion (man, right, in stripes) supervised the live radio show yesterday at its Streatham cafe home base

When he had not appeared by 6.10pm (he was still apparently on the A3 into London) we started the show.

He arrived at 7.30pm. The show was still on air (or, more correctly, in cyberspace).

The show finished at 7.55.

Somewhere during the course of the three hours, President Obonjo Obonjo observed: “We seem to be working on Nigerian time.”

He is allowed to say that.

He was born in Liverpool. Moved to Nigeria when he was 5. Moved to London when he was 20.

The radio show seemed to mostly involve discussing pies, which took me a little by surprise. I was introduced as a famous author and religious expert. Which took me a little by surprise. And there was a phone-in from a man who sculpted things. Living things. Well, dead living things. Furry animals, it seemed. He had apparently posted one to the radio show by Royal Mail – a sculpted blend of dead furry animal and IKEA sign, it seemed… but it had somehow got lost in the post.

Pastor Femi (in purple) is admonished for his timekeeping

Pastor Femi (in purple) is admonished for his timekeeping

By this time – halfway through the show – I was not surprised.

As I travelled back home in a train with President Obonjo Obonjo (me to Elstree; he to St Albans), he said to me:

“What just happened there?”

I had no answer.

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Let me tell you an Ashley Storrie…

Ashley Storriw

Ashley Storrie wrote Conundrums My Dad Says

Ashley Storrie has a sitcom pilot Conundrums My Dad Says transmitted on BBC Radio Scotland at lunchtime tomorrow.

She has a bit of previous.

She got her first acting part at the age of three as ‘the wee girl in the metal tea urn’ in the movie Alabama.

At five, she was playing the lead child in a TV ad for Fairy Liquid soap powder – directed by Ken Loach.

By 1996, aged ten, she was cast in the lead role of the independent film Wednesday’s Child, which screened in the British pavilion at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

She was a stand-up comedian from the age of 11 to 14. She performed her first ever stand up comedy routine at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Glasgow and went on to perform stand-up in London supporting the likes of Omid Djalili and Donna McPhail

Ashley's Edinburgh Fringe show when she was 13

Ashley’s Edinburgh Fringe show, aged 13

In 1999, still only thirteen, she wrote, produced and performed her own show What Were You Doing When You Were 13? at the Edinburgh Fringe, becoming the youngest ever stand up in the history of the Festival. She was guest presenter on the Disney Channel that same year.

She was offered a chance to appear on the Jay Leno TV chat show in the US, but decided she preferred to go on a school trip to the Lake District.

Then she decided she did not want to do stand-up any more.

But, just under two years ago, she returned to stand-up and, just before that, started writing for radio and TV.

“Why,” I asked, “did you call the sitcom Conundrums My Dad Says?”

“Everything I ever write,” she explained, “has a hidden reference to William Shatner in it.”

Ashley considering William Shatner as a bra rack

On Facebook, Ashley considered using famed and admired actor Shatner as a bra rack

“William Shatner?” I asked. “Conundrums?”

“He had a show called Shit My Dad Says.”

“Ah!” I said.

“It’s not meant to be a blatant, shout-out William Shatner reference,” said Ashley.

“No other references to William Shatner in it?” I asked.

“No. It’s about a man and his son and the dad has got Asperger’s. It’s about their relationship and his relationship with other people.”

“Your dad,” I said, “has got Asperger’s.”

“Yes.”

“How did the pilot happen?” I asked.

“The BBC had a commissioning round,” said Ashley. “I put in two pitches and I tried to make one of them tick every box I thought they wanted. I knew the demographic for Radio Scotland was mainly older men, so I wrote a comedy about fishermen, about a small fishing village in Scotland and a woman turns up to take over a boat and, you know, they don’t believe women should be on boats because it’s bad luck. So I submitted that, but I also had this thing I had kind of worked on when I was younger – I probably wrote the original treatment about six years ago – it was about a man with Asperger’s. And that was the one they picked. No-one really liked the proposal about fishermen, apart from me.”

“Why did you write about fishermen?” I asked.

“I really like programmes about fishermen. I watch a lot of Deadliest Catch and Wicked Tuna.”

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

Fishermen with oilskin jacket (left) and high trousers (right).

“Didn’t you get the hots at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago,” I asked, “for some group of young men dressed as fishermen, roaming round the streets singing sea shanties?”

“That was in Adelaide,” said Ashley.

“Wasn’t it Edinburgh?”

“They might have been in Edinburgh as well… Bound. They were called Bound. There was a woman with a squint eye who really liked them and she kept going: I looov Bound! Me and Bound have been owt! She didn’t refer to them individually; they were just Bound.”

“But,” I said, “Conundrums My Dad Says is not about fishermen but about a father with Asperger’s Syndrome.”

“The whole point,” said Ashley, “is that the father is the one with a syndrome but he is probably the most normal person in his circle, even though he’s the one with autism. He sees the world more clearly and that’s important to me and I think it’s important especially in this day and age where so many people – because Asperger’s is such a ‘new’ thing – so many people who for years thought they were strange or socially abnormal or couldn’t make friends – they’re all just autistic.”

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

The cast of Conundrums My Dad Says (Ashley 3rd from left)

“You’re in it but not in a major role,” I said.

“I’m in a supporting role.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I wrote it about a man and his son. I thought it would be more interesting to see the dynamics between a man and his son rather than a man and his daughter. I think that would have been a completely different story.”

“Would that have been too autobiographical?” I asked.

“A wee bit. I didn’t want it to be This Is Your Life in a radio show. When I handed in the first draft, that was questioned a lot.”

“That you had not done it as a man and his daughter?”

“Yes. I genuinely just thought the dynamics between two men would be funnier. As a female, there is a certain amount of… especially on screen and in the media… women are always more understanding and have a little bit more compassion… and it’s harder. When you see women on TV and in films who are less compassionate and colder, they’re less well-received. I wanted there to be that friction of somebody not quite being able to deal with their dad and I think that comes better off a man. I just think it’s funnier. Especially as that man is his role model.”

“So,” I said, “it’s more of a comedy drama than a traditional sitcom which is there simply for the laughs.”

“It is not gag-gag-gag,” said Ashley, “but I don’t think it could be. I don’t think you would do Asperger’s any service by just being gag-gag-gag. It’s warm and its loving and it’s funny. It’s not dark. It’s the least dark thing I’ve ever written.”

“If it were a traditional sitcom,” I suggested, “you would be laughing at them rather than with them.”

“Yes,” said Ashley. “And this is more subtle. I want people to feel warm. You remember old sitcoms? They had a warmth to them, especially in British sitcoms. They weren’t like The Big Bang Theory which is joke-joke-joke. I wanted that warmth to be evident in mine. A lot of people have Asperger’s and it should be discussed and it should be accepted. We should be able to laugh about it. But not at it.”

“Have you 15 other sitcom ideas lined up?” I asked.

Janey Godley Ashley Storrie

Ashley Storrie with her mother, comedienne Janey Godley

“I’m always jotting shite down and telling mum, then watching her stare blankly at me as I tell her my idea of a sitcom set in space or for a drama about people who make clothes for animals.”

“Is that a real one?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to have your own solo show at the Fringe next year?”

“Yeah.”

“On the Free Festival?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have a title for the show yet?”

“Well, it’s easy with my name. I’m spoiled for choice. I could have Never Ending Storrie…or The Storrie of My Life Featuring One Direction.”

“You own a toy action figure of William Shatner,” I said.

“I do.”

The Storrie of William Shatner?” I suggested.

“No,” said Ashley.

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Lewis Schaffer and the clenched fist of comedian Tim Renkow’s cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer and failed moustache last night

“I can see why you are not a success,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me,”but why am I not a success?”

“Why am I not a success?” I asked.

“Because you started too late,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Maybe I was doing other things before I didn’t become this,” I said.

“Everyone who’s a success,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a success because they started young.”

George Eliot,” I countered.

“Him too,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “When you write that in your blog, John, add in as Lewis Schaffer said with a wink.”

Frank Skinner,” said Tim Renkow.

It was last night. We were sitting in a branch of the Subway sandwich shop near London Bridge. Comedian Tim Renkow had just been a guest on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly Resonance FM radio show Nunhead American Radio, allegedly aimed at Americans living in Nunhead, which is part of Peckham in South East London. He had invited me along to sit on the floor during the recording.

“How many Americans are actually living in Nunhead?” I had asked.

“Thirteen,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “Maybe twelve.”

“Do you meet up?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Frank Skinner,” repeated Tim Renkow.

“Maybe he started in his thirties,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But he didn’t start as a blogger.”

“They didn’t have blogs when Frank Skinner started,” I said.

“You’ve been doing this blog,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “At the end of the day, it’s just a blog. I’ve been doing two free shows every week since the start of 2009; I’ve been doing my Sunday paid shows at the Leicester Square Theatre all this year; I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since 2009…. And nothing. I’ve got nothing out of it… What’s happened to you with your blog? Nothing. You’ve been focussing on the smallest aspect of the entertainment business, which is…”

“Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.

“Lewis Schaffer,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “is the smallest part of the smallest part of the entertainment business. Even if you were focussing on somebody really big – John Bishop or Michael McIntyre – there’s only a limited number of people who want to read about stand-up comedians. “

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – He is famous in little Britain

“No-one’s famous,” I said. “No-one’s heard of John Bishop or Michael McIntyre even in America.”

“You’ll never get big writing about stand-up comedy,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “Even worse, you’re picking on the dregs of the stand-up comedy business, which is Lewis Schaffer.”

I pulled down my shirt and exposed my right nipple to Lewis Schaffer.

“No-one wants to see your body, John. It’s not funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’d rather look at Tim Renkow’s drooling.”

“It IS funny,” said Tim Renkow.

“You make a note, John” said Lewis Schaffer, “that I was the first stranger to tell Tim Renkow that he needs to tidy himself up.”

“I dress like a homeless person,” agreed Tim.

“You too, John,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “I’ve also criticised your dress sense.”

“What dress sense?” I asked.

“My point is…” said Lewis Schaffer. “My point is… At one point, I thought to myself Well, it’s only because I moved countries from America to England that I’m not famous or it’s because I’m an artist or something but… I’m never going to make it, okay?”

“You can never tell,” I said. “Someone picks you up for a TV show, you can become famous within a week. Supposedly famous.”

“Was it a good radio show tonight?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It was,” I said. And it had been.

“You’re from America,” Lewis Schaffer had asked Tim Renkow on the show. “You’re doing comedy here in England. How did you get here? Why did you get here?”

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer last night in Subway

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer joking last night in Subway

“I got here cos I burned every bridge I had,” Tim told him. “I told a couple of promoters in New York to fu… to do something I can’t say on the radio at 6.30 at night.”

“What is it?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Is it an anger you have?”

“In New York,” said Tim, “when you start out, they make you bring your friends to the show and then they charge ‘em like 50 bucks and I didn’t like that and I told them that and they didn’t like me telling them that.”

“Why here? Why Nunhead?” asked Lewis Schaffer’s co-presenter Lisa Moyle.

“I’ve been asking myself ever since,” laughed Tim. “I like that you don’t drive here.”

“…So you can get around,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “You’ve got cerebral palsy.”

“Yeah,” said Tim. “So I COULD drive, but it would be a disaster.”

“You’re a rebel,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re constantly drooling all over the place.”

“Is that an act of rebellion?” asked Lisa Moyle.

“I only do it on Lewis Schaffer,” said Tim.

“Is that true?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” said Tim.

“It that a act of rebellion?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Tim.

“Is it really?”

“No.”

“Are you having an argument with me?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m trying,” said Tim.

“Is there a cerebral palsy community?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “When you see someone with CP do you go up to them?”

“Yes,” said Tim, “I give ‘em the Black Power fist. But that’s only cos I can’t open my hands.”

“How did you meet Lewis?” asked Lisa Moyle. “And would you call him a friend?”

“What would you call Lewis?” mused Tim. “An interesting case study… I like Lewis. I like anyone with the balls to tell me to Walk right, which is what Lewis said the first time he met me.”

Tim Renkow at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Tim Renkow outside Bob’s Bookshop at the Edinburgh Fringe during August this year (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Well, he goes around with no shoes on” said Lewis Schaffer.

“That’s dangerous,” said Lisa Moyle.

“Especially in some of the comedy clubs we have,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, I can’t walk with shoes,” said Tim. “And it bothers people. I like that it bothers people.”

“That’s what I like about you,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re very similar to me.”

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Comedian Barry Ferns, climber of dead Edinburgh Fringe volcanoes, bakes well

Barry Ferns, comedian and caterer

Barry Ferns, comedian, caterer and oft climber of volcanoes

On Friday, comedian Barry Ferns cooked me a baked potato at his home in Maida Vale, London. If this comedy lark does not work out for him, he could always re-start his career in catering.

“I always wanted to be a stand-up,” he told me. “One of my earliest memories is one Christmas when I got a radio/tape player that you could record things on and I got one of those really tall, giant joke books – 1001 Jokes – and I read jokes out of that into the tape recorder under the duvet, because my parents used to put me to bed really early, at about 5.00pm.

“When I was at school, I was always the class wannabe clown. I remember one time I made a silly joke and the whole class, as one, just went Oh, Barry! and Mr Powell, my history teacher, just looked at me with sadness in his eyes and said: Why do you do it to yourself, Barry?… Which is maybe what the comedy industry’s been trying to tell me for the last 17 years.

“It’s funny the career paths you fall into. You never quite know where you’re going to end up. I started in comedy as a cleaner at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I think class has got a lot to do with the jobs I ended up doing.

“I’ve got 32 cousins. My dad’s got 5 brothers and my dad’s got 5 sisters. My dad’s a printer. My brother cleans cars. I went to university, but no-one else in my direct family had ever gone to university. I think because of that, I didn’t expect to go into a good job. So I finished university and went to work in a pork pie factory for a year. I ended up in Burger King and various other things, then I started to realise Oh, I could get that job or that job.

“In the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to make films, purely because I want to make my own pilot of a show that Carlton TV wanted to pick up. I had a script, it was optioned, but it didn’t happen and Carlton TV was taken over. Somebody else tried to make it with David Sant directing. But it didn’t get made; didn’t get made; didn’t get made. Then, after I went bankrupt – performing at the Edinburgh Fringe made me bankrupt in 2007, the year I changed my name to Lionel Richie – in 2008 I thought Right. I’m going to learn how to make it myself, so I spent two years learning how to make film, editing, those kind of skills and that’s how I earn money now.”

Testing Mrs Patterson screened in LA

Barry’s short film Testing Mrs Patterson, as screened in LA

Barry’s 5-minute film Testing Mrs Patterson was screened at the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival in 2012.

“It seems like any industry’s about connections and people you know,” Barry suggested to me.

“I think,” I said, “people tend to approach things from the wrong viewpoint. Performers think How can little old me push my career by approaching this Big important media person? But that seemingly big person sees himself or herself as a small cog in a larger machine and is trying to push his or her own career. So you have to approach them from the viewpoint of What can I do to help this media person develop his or her career?

“That’s the way I think of agents,” replied Barry. “How can I help them to earn money? Likewise, it’s why a lot of people won’t take risks nowadays; they don’t want to jeopardise their own career.”

“Risk-taking is complicated,” I said, “because everyone assumes TV and radio people won’t risk doing original ideas. But that’s only half true. They won’t take too much risk. But they don’t want to be seen to be doing what’s been done before either, because that doesn’t help their career. So they want to be seen to be making new, cutting-edge stuff because, if they produce the next new wave thing, they will get kudos and a better, higher job. But, at the same time and utterly in conflict with that, they don’t want to risk making something totally original which might turn out to be a disaster.”

Barry and I were eating baked potatoes at his home, because he wanted to talk to me about my memories of the Edinburgh Fringe. Unfortunately for him, I can barely remember what I did last week.

Last year, he created a downloadable Audio Tour of Edinburgh with Fringe stories about various locations. This year, he will be doing the same, but there will also be similar segments in Arthur Smith’s BBC Radio 4 Extra show – which is why, in the past few weeks, he has been gathering stories from the like of me, comedian Simon Munnery and critic Kate Copstick.

I suspect he will also use some of the stories in his three Edinburgh Fringe shows this year – Barry On Arthur’s Seat (he is foolishly going to climb to the top of Edinburgh’s extinct volcano every day to perform this show)… Tales From The Fringe (another daily show)… and This Arthur’s Seat Gala Belongs to Lionel Richie (a one-off show on 17th August atop the aforementioned extinct volcano). Last year, his shows were well-reviewed.

Barry aka Lionel atop Arthur’s Seat

Barry F aka Lionel R atop Arthur’s Seat

“The best thing for a show in Edinburgh,” I said, “is to get a 1-star review AND a 5-star review. That has to mean it is interesting.”

“Well, in 2001,” Barry told me, “I took a show up to Edinburgh called Doreen and it got every star in reviews – 1-2-3-4-and-5. Some people absolutely loved it. But so many people walked out. It was at the Gilded Balloon. We had a sign on the door – HATE THE SHOW? WHY NOT TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS HOW MUCH YOU DISLIKED IT.

“Somebody who ended up being a really well-known producer and director came three times. And Count Arthur Strong came three times as well. He absolutely loved it. But other people absolutely hated it. The show ended as the audience filed out with us with our trousers round our ankles, apologising to them for being pathetic human beings… We’re so sorry… We’re so sorry…. with our hands covering our crotches.”

“You should bring it back,” I said. “I would go see it.”

Barry certainly gets 5 stars from me for his baked potato. But I hope he does not have to fall back on catering.

I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, though, that I will have to climb Arthur’s Seat this year.

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