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Day One of Malcolm Hardee Week – and only one bit of genital exposure

The first ever Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe has started and yesterday was a strange old day.

For most of the day, things went well.

I saw the funniest show so far at the Fringe – Johnny Sorrow’s The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society, which made me laugh-out-loud – a rare thing (television production experience, luv).

Having lost two helpers who were no longer coming to Edinburgh as planned, I had offers of help from several sources.

Ever-enthusiastic science-comedy star Helen Keen of Radio 4‘s It Is Rocket Science!) may be able to help me Wednesday to Friday, as can my chum Dr Sophia Khan, formerly of NASA and Harvard and assistant professor of Astrophysics at Shanghai University (Helen’s co-star in last year’s Fringe science comedy show Starstruck!)

From Thursday, I will also have Sophia’s chum Dr Andrew Bunker, former Head of Astronomy at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Oz and now Reader in Astrophysics at Oxford University.

With help like this, surely there will be no problem keeping pasta in the air during Wednesday and Thursday’s spaghetti-juggle contests. Indeed, we should surely be able to get the cooked and aerodynamic strands into low Earth orbit.

On Friday, at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – really a two-hour anarchic variety show – I have also been offered help by comic Gill Smith who inspired the original Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award with a cracking Fringe publicity stunt in 2008 – she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award and saying that, by doing so, she would be justified in putting Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee on her posters.

OCD is a wonderful thing.

Last night’s first Malcolm Hardee Week event went well: it was allegedly a debate on the proposition that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish”. I think it went well, anyway. It was due to run from 6.15 to 7.00pm but over-ran by an hour to 8.00pm with no walk-outs when panelist Bob Slayer (whose show followed ours) decided that everyone was enjoying themselves so much, we should just carry on and the continuation of our show would become his hour-long show for the night.

That is what large amounts of drinking can lead to.

As I said, I do not think there were any walk-outs; in fact, of course, the audience swelled.

There was, surprisingly, only one incident of genital exposure during the show – when Paul Provenza did a Malcolm Hardee impression – and there were some interesting, if unprintable stories told in the over-run.

Scotsman critic and ITV Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick told a story I can’t possibly repeat about the origin of the Mrs Merton character – and a story about one promoter’s reaction to Kunt and the Gang’s current ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe, which was more Godfather anecdote than comedy story.

And comedienne Janey Godley told a true tale about Jerry Sadowitz performing in her pub in the East End of Glasgow to an audience which included real-life (now dead) Glasgow godfather Arthur Thompson. The largely-English audience I think missed a detail about Arthur Thompson which Janey mentioned in passing and which I do not think is generally known. Though true, I am most certainly not going to repeat it.

Thompson died in 1993, but I think waking up to a severed horse’s head might still be a possibility.

So yesterday – apart from the distant possibilities of horses’ heads and crucifixion on a wooden tenement floor – was good.

With Miss Behave now very sadly unable to compere Friday night’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at The Counting House because of her meningitis, Scott Capurro and New Comedy Act of the Year 2011 winner David Mills have stepped in to the breach by agreeing to be co-comperes. Scott even cancelled a party on Friday night so he could do the gig.

He told me that, after the first gig he played for Malcolm Hardee, as an American new to the London circuit, he was given his money in a brown envelope. When he got home, he found there was £20 less in the envelope than Malcolm had promised.

“Well, of course there was,” his comedian friends told him. “It’s Malcolm.”

It is extraordinary but true that Malcolm was always – and remains – held in such high esteem by his fellow comedians.

How often was the sentence uttered, “Well, it’s just Malcolm being Malcolm, isn’t it…” ?

But the one bad bit of news yesterday late afternoon was that Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison cannot be on the panel of tonight’s 6.15pm Malcolm Hardee comedy debate at The Hive – allegedly on the proposition “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – because Ian has injured his back in Glasgow and cannot get to Edinburgh.

So, at the moment, the panel are Viz magazine creator Simon Donald, BBC TV One Show presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli and Laughing Cows‘ international compere Maureen Younger plus A.N.Other.

It was a bit of a downer when I heard that Ian cannot join us.

But yesterday ended well when I was told that the wonderful Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds has had a son called Oscar… the first Malcolm Hardee Award winner to have an Oscar…

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Scots wha hae an aggressive voice and Scots wha dinnae – Rab C Nesbitt versus Gordon Jackson

A few years ago, a Liverpudlian friend of mine who is of Indian descent (by which I mean to explain she has a gentle voice) went to Glasgow for the first time.

When she came back, she told me: “At first, I couldn’t understand why everyone I met was so angry and why they were all so angry with each other. Then, after about forty minutes, I realised it was just their Glasgow accents.”

That was no joke. She genuinely was initially confused.

It came to mind today when I heard Glasgow comedienne Janey Godley discussing Scottish football managers on both BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC World Service’s lunchtime Newshour. (There are now seven Glasgow-born managers of English Premier League teams.)

“There’s something that’s come through so much today,” Janey said in the Newshour interview, “and it’s that a Scottish accent equals aggression. It’s something that people like me have had to fight for a long time. People don’t say I’m a strong comic; I’m called a tough, aggressive comic because of my accent. But our accent isn’t always synonymous with aggression.”

Janey puts the “don’t mess with us” accent down to “gritty Celtic upbringing” in Glasgow.

But the bizarre other side of the coin is that British telephone call centres are often based in the lowlands of Scotland because a Scottish accent is also found by English people to be comforting and honest.

I am old enough to remember when this started and it was specifically to do with soft-toned Glasgow-born actor Gordon Jackson who, in the early 1970s, appeared in the high-rating ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs as calm, reassuring and authoritative butler Mr Hudson.

To cash in on his TV image, a financial services company had him voice their TV commercials and their business rocketed. He – and other Scots ‘voices’ – became much in demand for financial ads. One bonus was that, unless the words were rasped out in a clearly scummy Rab C Nesbitt type accent, the English were unable to socially place any Scottish accent: they could not label the accent as belonging to any particular ‘class’ or any particular area… the accent was just “Scottish” and came with images of financial probity and Mr Hudson style trustworthiness.

Cliche images, of course, are a fascinating area of illogicality. as with Rab C Nesbitt AND Mr Gordon Jackson both being the epitome of cliche Scottishness.

The Scots have an unusual dichotomy of cliche images. They are seen as both drunken petty criminals and morally-strict Calvinists… as both penniless jack-the-lads and dead-honest people canny with their money.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United lies sandwiched somewhere between Rab C Nesbitt and Gordon Jackson.

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The mystery of a £500 million man, the German love of Red Indians and the tough future for seven dwarfs.

I was in Brighton yesterday, visiting a friend. Her partner comes from Wolverhampton.

When I arrived, she asked me: “Have you heard about Snow White?”

“Erm, no” I said, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Apparently,” she told me, “Radio 4 says the local panto in Wolverhampton this year is Snow White, but they have sacked the seven dwarfs… Sacked them! Suddenly!”

I looked at my friend.

“What on earth did they do?” I asked.

I had visions of the legendary mayhem and Bacchanalia which reportedly happened among the Munchkins during the filming of The Wizard of Oz.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” my friend explained. “It was the economic recession and the soaring cost of dwarfs… The theatre is going to replace the dwarfs with children wearing masks.”

“It won’t be the same,” I replied. “Don’t Look Now would’t have been the same. Didn’t they think about the soaring cost of vertically-challenged people before they employed the seven dwarfs in the first place?”

“Radio 4 didn’t say.”

“That seems a bit remiss of them. Standards are falling at the BBC.”

“Yes,” my friend replied.

“We live in a strange and mysterious world,” I said.

“Yes,” my friend replied.

We had a cup of tea.

Later in the afternoon, in The Lanes, we picked up a leaflet for the Brighton Festival Fringe. At the top, it said: The third largest Fringe in the world.

“Brighton has always been billed as the second biggest,” my friend said.

“You’ve been shamed,” I ventured. “Edinburgh is by far the biggest arts festival in the world and the biggest Fringe. What on earth is the second biggest?”

“It’s a mystery to me,” said my friend.

So we went to Brighton’s always surreal-sounding Vegetarian Shoes shop and stared in the window. Nearby, was a man sitting on the ground outside a Native American shop; he was dressed as a Tibetan lama and was apparently talking on his mobile phone to his girlfriend; he had an English accent.

“They’re very popular in Germany,” my friend told me.

“Tibetan monks?” I asked.

“Native American artifacts.”

“I seem to remember reading,” I said, “that German movie-goers are very fond of Westerns, too. What’s that all about?”

“It’s a mystery to me,” said my friend.

“I can’t help feeling that, if Hitler had dressed in a Red Indian head-dress, it would have undermined his credibility,” I suggested.

My friend looked at me.

She said nothing.

Any news of Nicholas van Hoogstraten?” I asked, as we walked on. I’m always interested in people with unusual lives and my friend had once given me a biography of van Hoogstraten as a Christmas present.

By 1968 (aged 23), he simultaneously became Britain’s youngest millionaire and started a 4-year prison sentence for paying a gang to throw a grenade into the house of Rev Braunstein, a Jewish leader whose eldest son owed him £3,000. He later said of the people who threw the grenade: “These weren’t anarchists: they were businessmen, respectable people.”

In 2002, he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for the manslaughter by two other men of business rival Mohammed Raja; a jury decided that “although he wanted Mr Raja harmed, he had not wanted him murdered”. He was released in 2004 after successfully appealing against his conviction on the grounds that “there was no foundation for a manslaughter case.” In 2005, Mohammed Raja’s family won £6 million in a civil action against van Hoogstraten after the court found that the balance of probabilities was “that the recruitment of the two thugs was for the purpose of murdering Mr Raja and not merely frightening or hurting him”. Van Hoogstraten reportedly told the BBC that the family would “never get a penny”.

“Is he still in Brighton?” I asked my friend.

“It’s a mystery to me,” my friend said. “Every now and then you hear stories. Some people say he’s in Zimbabwe.”

“Among friends, then,” I said.

“Not any more,” my friend said. “One story is he sold all his assets in this country and put all his money into Zimbabwe because he was so chummy with the regime but they fell out and he lost all his land there.”

The last time I heard van Hoogstraten, he was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme defending Robert Mugabe’s ‘land reform’ policies.

“How’s van Hoogstraten mausoleum?” I asked.

“Crumbling,” my friend said.

By this point, we were passing a bronze statue of the British music hall star Max Miller.

“An interesting place, Brighton,” I said. “Max Miller and Nicholas van Hoogstraten were both equally at home here.”

“Yes,” said my friend.

“Bronze is very colourless for Max Miller,” I said.

“Yes,” said my friend.

Apparently Adelaide is the second biggest Fringe in the world.

And, according to Wikipedia, which is surprisingly accurate on such things, Nicholas van Hoogstraten has been reported to be worth £500 million, “though he has stated that his assets in the UK have all been placed in the names of his children”. His assets in property and farming in Zimbabwe were estimated to be worth over £200 million.

I don’t know what he is worth now or where he is. Nor does my friend.

All I know for certain is that life is tough for dwarfs in Wolverhampton.

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Blow me! – My sex education

There was an item on the BBC News Channel last night in which two teenagers were explaining how the Scout movement had now introduced sex education into the curriculum to join tent erection and tying knots in ropes. For some, there might be no distinction. The newscaster asked if there would be a badge for it. The answer, sadly, was No.

Then, this morning in the bath, I turned on Radio 4 and – blow me – Woman’s Hour was talking about sex education.

What is going on?

In my day, sex education was non-existent but, from peripheral evidence, it seemed to involve stamens on flowers and the human bowel system.

I am old enough to have hit puberty before the Penguin English Dictionary was published. This was the first widely-available UK dictionary which included 4-letter words and defined clearly what other sex-related words actually meant.

As my parents were Scottish, my sex education came largely through reading the News of the World on a Sunday (and looking at the pictures).

Sex for me was a strange world of naughty vicars, women with large lines between their squeezed-tightly-together breasts and evil people of opposite sexes who were “living in sin” together, mostly in flats and bedsits. The News of the World would expose these people in long articles with pictures. They were not celebrities, just seemingly normal people who were, in secret, immoral and evil and had started to live with each other without being married but – ever vigilant – the admirable News of the World and, to a lesser extent, The People hunted them down and exposed their sinful ways in print.

My sex education also involved Carry On films at the cinema – breasts and a lot of running about and screaming seemed much involved in sex.

At home, we had a large pre-Penguin dictionary circa 1935.

This tended to confuse me.

When the News of the World and The People reported sex cases, the key words mostly seemed to be “rape” (as both a verb and a noun) and people having “carnal knowledge” of each other.

When I looked up “rape” in the dictionary, it said it was an agricultural crop grown in fields and further investigation uncovered the fact that seeds and oil were a related outcome. This “rape” was a noun and there appeared to be no verb for the word. So it seemed unlikely it was what was being described in the News of the World; but it was worth my keeping it in mind, just in case.

The alternative definition for “rape” – a verb – was to “carry off by force”. I knew this was a good definition as I had vaguely heard of The Rape of the Sabine Women, in which the Romans carried off female members of some tribe or other – well, it must have been the Sabine tribe, obviously. I was a very good researcher, so I also knew this incident had been turned into the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. So that also obviously involved rape, too. But this didn’t help much. Though I did know the Italians and French made sex films with lots of large naked breasts which were shown at small cinemas in London’s West End.

This whole carrying off by force lark was presumably akin to kidnap though some of the cases reported in the News of the World did not seem to involve any carrying off to other locations. It was a puzzle.

Then there was the problem of what “carnal knowledge” actually meant. The dictionary defined “carnal” as “fleshly”, so “carnal knowledge” meant “fleshly knowledge” so, presumably, these people being exposed in the News of the World had seen other people of the opposite sex without their clothes on and that was what the big hoo-hah was all about.

It was all a great mystery to me and still is.

If anyone can help, I would be very grateful.

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Anti-Semitic Royalist fans of ‘the C word’ and Baby Spice in chocolate

My blog seems to have almost doubled the number of hits it gets in the last few days. I guess that’s what comes of writing about the words “fuck” and “cunt”.

It’s a great thing – the Google search engine.

I used to have photographs on my website. One was what I thought was an interesting picture of the interior of a mid-1980s school room under Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. (I have since got a life.) Imagine my surprise at the number of people who found my photos page because of their Google searches for “Albanian schoolboys”.

Who is reading my blog now?

Some of the search engine phrases put in by people who found my blog by accident yesterday were:

– john fleming east belfast

– is kate middleton jew

– how to act manic

– racism addressed on tv

– swearing / c word

From this, I can only assume my readers include:

– a sectarian stalker and/or hit man

– an anti Semite with Royalist tendencies

– a stand up comic and/or depressive with manic/depressive aspirations

– a racist media academic

– a BBC Radio 4 presenter

And who is to say that is a bad collection of people?

But I have added “rampant meerkats” and “Baby Spice in chocolate” to the tags of this blog entry to get a better class of reader.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

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The C word on BBC Radio 4

On Monday, BBC Radio 4 managed to amuse some and horrify others when highly-respected and experienced Today programme presenter James Naughtie managed to Spoonerise the live on-air trail for an upcoming interview with government minister Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, by announcing “We’re going to be talking to Jeremy Cunt, the…” and then attempting to stop himself from laughing.

…and then – blow me – just another hour later, equally highly-respected and experienced political commentator Andrew Marr repeated the blunder live on air. It might have been less unwise if Jeremy Hunt were not the government minister in charge of setting the BBC’s Licence Fee.

News of this double gaffe (now on YouTube etc) has now reached uber-promoter Calvin Wynter over in New York and he tells me much the same thing happened in the refined streets of Edinburgh back in August.

I wish he’d told me at the time and I might have got some extra publicity out of it!

I sponsor the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, one of which – the one for best publicity stunt – is called the Cunning Stunt Award. Oh yes it is. This year, one of the nominees was Manos The Greek whose shows were very successfully promoted by Calvin’s then-outfit The Green Room Presents (since then, he has gone on to bigger and better things with his new production and promotion company Inbrook).

Calvin tells me:

“One member of our flyering team shouted in the street for 30 minutes: Manos the Greek!… Stunning Cunt Award Nominee… and wondered why she was gathering such a big crowd.  People were taking lots of flyers from her. She thought she must be doing her promotion work really well. Finally, four guys pointed out to her exactly what she was saying… In fact, I now wonder if maybe it was no accident, because they took her out for drinks after she finished her shift… It might have been her own unique way of attracting young men…”

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“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was then…. now “It Is Rocket Science!”

It may be comedy sacrilege, but I never thought the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was quite as good as its reputation. It was good and Douglas Adams, whom I once interviewed for a magazine, was very likeable. But the original Hitchhiker never quite lived up to its later reputation. Perhaps nothing could.

The BBC’s first Director General, Lord Reith, must nowadays spend most of his time turning in his grave. His most famous original directive was that the Beeb should “educate, inform and entertain”. It is very rare nowadays that anyone succeeds in simultaneously achieving all three. But I suppose it was always very rare.

Last night, though, Helen Keen and her writing partner Miriam Underhill achieved it.

I went to a recording at BBC Broadcasting House of their four-part Radio 4 series It Is Rocket Science! which had to be very extensively (and has been very successfullly) re-written for radio because the original 2008 and 2010 stage versions were so visual.

The It Is Rocket Science! series will be transmitted on BBC Radio 4 early in the new year and I suspect it will get a lot of coverage because it manages to be intelligent, intriguing and funny – and it is as accessibly informative as it is funny.

Off-hand, I can’t think of anything similar that I’ve ever heard on radio.

It could be a classic in the making.

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