The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.
A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes. I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.) Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”
When we met, we decided it would not.
We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.
“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”
“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”
“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”
“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”
Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.
Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story
He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”
“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.
“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.
“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?
“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”
“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.
“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”
Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”
“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.
“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.
“We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?”
“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”
“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”
Peter’s has multiple London library cards
“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”
“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”
“So how do you survive financially?”
“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”
“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”
“Something like that.”
“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”
“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”
“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.
“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”
“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”
“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”
“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”
The highly-coveted main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind
The Edinburgh Fringe takes place every August but never ends. It is only three months since this year’s Fringe finished and a whole nine months to the next one. But already performers are starting to obsess. It is like having a baby – right down to people having occasional morning sickness with a feeling of nausea in the pit of their stomach.
Fortunately, as a non-performer, I do not have to suffer any of this.
I have already booked a venue for the two-hour 2014 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – on Friday 22nd August – and talked to a venue owner about doing a second year of chat shows in the lead-up to it.
Elsewhere, performers’ traumas reign.
Yesterday, a young starting-out stand-up comedian asked me:
“Can literally anything – ANY experience – be turned into a Fringe comedy show?”
“Yes,” I told her. “Janey Godley’s Good Godley! was the show everyone talked about in 2004. It was very funny and it told exactly the same story as her autobiography Handstands in The Dark which is so terrifying it reads like a novel by Edgar Allan Poe. In the book, the story is horrific; on stage, it was very funny without demeaning the story. But, then, Janey’s talent is that she doesn’t tell funny stories, she tells stories funny.
“And Juliette Burton’s Fringe show this year When I Grow Up had something unexpectedly shocking in it: you could almost hear people’s jaws dropping. It was a happy, uplifting show with a coup de théâtre in it.
“If you’re having really bad time with your boyfriend and the relationship is breaking up,” I said, “write it down. It’s cathartic and it could be turned into comedy gold in a couple of years, if not sooner.”
“Should I wait a week,” asked this would-be comic, “then I write it down so I can be objective about it?”
“No,” I advised her. “The last thing you want to do is write something objective. If something horrible happens, write it down straight away while the pain is still vivid. The writing-down of it distracts you a little from the pain and, when you look at it in 12 months time, you will find you’re objectively looking at something that seems like a stranger’s writing.”
“But you’re not a performer,” she pointed out. “What do you know about it?”
“Nothing,” I said, “but I can give bullshit advice plausibly.”
What you do not write is almost more important than what you do write. It is what you cut out that can give impact to what is left in. This is something known by the twice Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee James Hamilton of comedy troupe Casual Violence.
Casual Violence – surely everybody wants to see their sitcoms
He Facebooked a message yesterday about a one-off London show in January called Casual Violence: Nobody Wants To Make Our Sitcoms (Work in Progress). The blurb goes:
Join us for a low-key, super-informal script readthrough of two new sitcom projects that we’re working on – one for radio, one not for radio, both just for our benefit. We just want a bit of feedback so we can make them ourselves, for you. We’d like you to be our script editors. Come along, listen to our stories, have a drink with us afterwards and tell us what you think. Entry: £3 (entry fee is just to help cover the costs of the venue).
I have told them I will come along if they pay me £3.05p because, in comedy, it is seldom the performers who make the real money. It is the peripheral hangers-on.
Although, with luck, the aforementioned Juliette Burton might be an exception.
She is a combination of English Rose and whirling Tasmanian Devil type character with show ideas and promotional ideas spinning around her like a Wizard of Oz tornado. I had tea with her yesterday afternoon and most of the conversation I cannot repeat.
“What CAN I repeat?” I asked her.
“Well,” she replied, “as of today, it is confirmed that When I Grow Up is the first in a series of six live shows – and hopefully books and who knows what else? They will all be themed around identity – What makes a person? – The books depend on the interest I get from the proposal I have been asked to submit to a publishing company.”
Juliette’s 2014 show Look At Me is going to be staged in association with the facial disfigurement charity Changing Faces, the body image charity B.O.D.Y. and the eating disorder charity B-eat.
Look At Me is billed as “a docu-comedy” (which is what When I Grow Up actually was) and, like When I Grow Up, will include video footage shot throughout the year – including interviews (the first is on 18th December) – and, in this case, the blurb goes:
By changing her appearance in dramatic (and hilarious) ways, Juliette will document how people react to her, how she feels and how she behaves. From wearing her glasses to being a man, from wearing a burka to dressing provocatively, from revisiting her “fat” self to being “old” and even going nude. Can we change who we are on the inside by changing who we appear to be on the outside? And is what we appear to be who we are?
I normally hate videos within live stage shows, but Juliette (a former BBC Radio journalist) showed with When I Grow Up this year that she can make it work smoothly and superbly.
He is making a special guest appearance with Robbie Williams and recently retired Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on the 10th anniversary edition of the show.
In fact, the show was pre-recorded on 22nd November in front of an audience of 8,000 at the Oslo Spektrum stadium.
Mr Methane tells me: “I had a brief chat with Robbie Williams as I came off stage and he went on – that’s right I was his warm up man. He said he had once gone to see me at a gig in Newcastle-under-Lyme in the early 1990s.
“Between us, me and Robbie had both ends covered on this gig. Although we both grew up not too far from one another and we both tread the boards, other similarities are not readily apparent. However I can now exclusively reveal that we both like oatcakes.
“Last weekend I went back to Norway again – this time to Kristiansand – where I did a 25th birthday gig for the Norwegian importer of Umbro sportswear.”
Part of Mr Methane’s much-admired yet seldom imitated stage act involves farting-out the candles on a birthday cake.
He told me:
“The Norwegian boss wanted me to wear Umbro sportswear until I explained that I came from Macclesfield where the Humphrey Brothers of Wilmslow set up their first Umbro factory. (The name UMBRO apparently obscurely comes from the words hUMphrey BROthers.)
Methane’s mate’s mum made his costume
“My mate’s mum, who made my Mr Methane costume, was an Umbro seamstress so I told the Norwegian boss that, technically, I was already wearing Umbro kit.
“He was delighted, but that didn’t stop a rather drunken member of the audience slamming the birthday cake candles into my bottom, burning my arse and rather spoiling the big moment. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or just fell over because he was so drunk.
“But that’s Northern Europe for you: long cold winter nights and large amounts of booze.
“The next day, I got food poisoning at breakfast and had a rough journey home. I am now finally getting back on track. It is a big relief as I am on my last pair of pyjamas.”
Patrick Monahan on stage with Tim Fitzhigham last Friday (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)
In yesterday’s blog, I quoted a Facebook conversation with comedian Bob Walsh about last Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got some reaction from readers, including Bob Walsh himself. On Facebook, he posted (and I’m not quite sure what the first seven words mean):
“If the press put on a show DONT SAY A WORD about it whatever you do. This so called Journalist has turned a 4am drunken rant on Facebook into a thinly veiled advert at my expense, classy ground breaking work. Even if wrong CAN NOBODY CRITICSISE THE CRITISISER without a sad bitter self obsessed old man attempting to ruin their career?”
And, although I was actually not annoyed by his Facebook comments, merely interested to hear in more detail what they were, Bob has commented at the bottom of yesterday’s blog:
“While I understand you may be annoyed a drunken 4am rant on Facebook of mine after the MH Awards which was a garbled mess I admit and I read your article with interest.. I find it difficult to understand why you would take it all so seriously frankly, a drunken comedian acting out on social media about comedy stuff ! NO ! I did withdraw the thread as I realised it was drunken rubbish that had upset people but really you in your job reacting to a few contrary opinions with an article like that. Pathetic. As for my sources some people have conversations not statements and I am allowed to allude to a conversation with my friends on Facebook without naming them thank you. Is nobody allowed wether correctly or otherwise to CRITICISE THE CRITICISER !”
Another reaction came from Mr Methane, the farter of alternative comedy. He was slightly miffed by Bob Walsh’s quoted comment:
“I hope y’all enjoyed the MH awards whilst the people that actually worked with him DIDNT GET INVITED! The people that headlined his shows ARE NOT INVITED! And his whole ethos has been ignored by middle class cunts who he would have HATED enjoyed yourselves.”
I got this reaction from Mr Methane today, before he set off to appear at a week long steam fair in Dorset:
Mr Methane in the cab of a train at Crumpsall, Manchester
Interesting stuff and a strange rant. In my case at least as I worked with Malcolm Hardee. In 1992 I did a short spot at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh in the Pleasance at which Frank Skinner saw me.
A few years later, in 1997, Frank had a TV chat show and mentioned me to Gene Wilder during an interview – making a casual remark about me being a bit out of tune.
I contacted Frank who said he was only joking and would I like to come on the show and sing a duet which I did… Then it got banned by the BBC and was released on a video which then had an injunction placed on it by Phil Spector as he didn’t like our duet of Da Do Ron Ron.
Frank later wrote in his autobiography that Spector had ranted about our defilement of his masterpiece during an Australian music awards ceremony to which Frank replied: You can have your wall of sound, Phil, and I’ll have mine.
All of the above happened because Malcolm had invited me to make an appearance on his Edinburgh show.
I came to appear at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh because Malcolm knew me from cameo appearances at his Up The Creek club with Charlie Chuck.
These performances allegedly led to Vic & Bob’s El Petomane characters in their Smell of Reeves & Mortimer TV series – They saw what a big laugh a fart gag got.
In the year Malcolm was promoting Jools Holland in Edinburgh he also asked me and Charlie to do a spot at the old Gilded Balloon’s Late ‘n’ Live show.
All these above events happened because of Malcolm’s role as a hub through which comedy ideas and characters flowed and connected with one another.
So, in my case, it’s a very big pair of Malcolm’s Bollocks when someone says I never worked with him and that he would have hated me.
If so, why would he have kept putting opportunities my way?
As for middle class… Well, sorry, Bob Walsh lost me there.
I come from a working class background and think the Guardian is for champagne socialist wankers. I was a staff rep for ASLEF in the 1980s – the union which, after the NUM, was Margaret Thatcher’s most hated trade union and a hotbed of ‘Commie Bastards’ according to most of the tabloid press.
I don’t, however, wear my working class pedigree like a badge of honour or alternatively a chip on my shoulder.
I am very proud of my working class roots as I feel working class values have a far greater depth of meaning, value and integrity than some of the valueless values of being middle class.
The old saying that there is more warmth in a Working Class insult than there is in a Middle Class greeting is, I feel, very true… But, that said, I can live with the middle and don’t endlessly need to slag them off as I believe in respect for others.
As you know, I drove up to do the gig in Edinburgh at my own expense and didn’t stop to network afterwards as I had a drive home ahead of me. In fact, I don’t really network after comedy shows in any case.
So, to summarise & clarify: I let just my arse do the talking and, on this particular night, it seems I was not the only person doing so.
Mr Methane showcased his talents at Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Mr Methane had performed for a week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, then returned home and, as he said, he came back up to perform on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show for free, paying his own expenses.
All proceeds from the show are donated to the Mama Biashara charity and no personal expenses (including mine) are reimbursed. While Mr Methane was in Edinburgh for his week-long Fringe run, he stayed in my rented Edinburgh flat and we talked of many things, including his time touring with the infamously offensive Macc Lads punk band. (Macc = Macclesfield in Cheshire)
“The ironic thing is, when I was on tour with them, I was the only one who was actually born in Macclesfield,” he told me. “The original line-up were public schoolboys taking the piss out of the homophobic, sexist and…”
“They were all public schoolboys?” I asked.
“All except Stez 2,” said Mr Methane. “He was actually a drummer in The Icicle Works. And he was also Eddie Shit, one of Malcolm Hardee’s favourite acts.”
“People took the Macc Lads too literally,” explained Mr Methane. “Jeff, the beta – the lead guitarist – he’s now a postman – he lived with a nice girl. Her family were quite well-off, because they ran one of those car and home stereo businesses. So he’s all right; he doesn’t have to do too much.
“He didn’t like it when people threw urine at him and one night he got upset because he said: Someone must have thrown a turd at me, cos me teeshirt smells of shit.
“He was only doing it for the money. His love was jazz. Back at that time, he was living in Didsbury (a well-to-do part of Manchester) and he was into jazz guitar. So, really, playing in the Macc Lads was below him. It was something he’d done at school. It was something he could still go out on the road and earn a few hundred quid a night in cash from.
“The Macc Lads used to sell out Rock City in Nottingham which is a 1,700 capacity venue. They used to do two tours a year – so, 20 years ago, they were getting a cash income of about £9,000 a year after all expenses were paid.
“Mutley was the lead singer and he was the brains behind it. He started the Macc Lads because he wanted to make a social commentary. He came from Liverpool – I think he came from Fazakerley – and he wanted to make a social comment because he came to this small town – Macclesfield – where people just drank and farted and fought and did very little else and were these strange sexist and racist stereotypes. He decided, rather than write about it, he would make a social commentary, which was the Macc Lads, and he’d take the mickey out of it. But people took them seriously.
“At the time, he was co-promoting it with Sandy Gort. Mutley eventually bought him out or they parted in some way and Sandy went to Manchester to manage various acts which became Steve Coogan, John Thomson and Caroline Aherne.
“Mutley now runs a corporate voting system. When you go to conferences and people ask Do you agree with this? and you press the keypad and you immediately see on the screen what several hundred people think… that’s him. He makes a shedload of money from that.
“But he’s also got this huge back catalogue of social commentary which he sort of shies away from. He’s a reluctant cult superstar. He’s known but he doesn’t like to be known. He’s a very complex intellectual. His house is full of books like Power of The Mind and psychology books. He’s into what goes on in your head.
“Eventually, it all became too much when somebody threw a paving slab at him in Chester and it severed a main artery in his head and, because he had to play this tough guy, he had to carry on to the end of the show.
“Afterwards, he was like something off a horror movie – just congealed blood around his face. It had pumped out of his body. He walked offstage, collapsed in the back and they carried him off to the A&E. In his own words, he said They put me on the machine that goes beep. They pumped a load of blood into him and he said, after that, he was never going to do a gig again because they’d said to him Your artery’s weak there now. You only need another bang there. I think it was near death enough for him to give up. Rock City, at one point, were offering him £6,000 to play Christmas but he said No thankyou.”
“So there will never be a reunion of the Macc Lads?” I asked.
“We had a reunion when Al O’Peesha Peter Bossley died. He’s the guy who everybody walks away from in the bar scene of the Newcy Brown video. Mutley had brought him in when Sandy Gort left because he needed a PR man and Peter came in from the South Manchester News where he was a journalist and then, when the Macc Lads finished, he went to work for The Sentinel in Stoke and won some national award for his investigative journalism.
Robbie Williams (left) in the Macc Lads’ Newcy Brown video
“Robbie Williams is in the Newcy Brown video,” Mr Methane told me. “I think that was his first taste of the music business. He was a big Macc Lads fan. His dad was – still is – a singer called Pete Conway – a Sinatra type crooner. If you go to an over-50s hotel, he’ll be there singing Spanish Eyes or something.
“Like Amy Winehouse learned off her dad, I guess Robbie Williams learned off his dad about singing but, in the early days, it wasn’t working out for him. Robbie was struggling. I remember his dad sent him down to Stoke railway station for a job. But it was the early 1990s and there was a recession, so they weren’t taking on staff.
“So he went away and, a few months later, he got the gig with Take That. Whether he got it on the basis of being in a Macc Lads video, I wouldn’t know.
“The Newcy Brown video is a segment of a whole bigger video of different tunes. I was in a tune called Mr Methanewhere I solve all the world’s problems – You ring me up and I fart down the telephone.”
“You’re well known for your ring,” I said.
Mr Methane did not react.
“I sort out German unity,” he continued, “and I tell you with a fart who will win the 2 o’clock at York racecourse. At the time, it wasn’t the high point of my career but, because the Macc Lads have got such a strong fanbase and it’s so cult, people are always telling me: It must have been incredible when you were on tour with the Macc Lads. It must have been fantastic!
“At the time, I just remember we were all very young, so everyone had big strong egos and wanted to be top of the pile.
“I think their downfall was that Oasis took it to the mainstream. Oasis behaved like a real Macc Lads. They were real working class and did the whole rock carry-on, so really the Macc Lads became very tame… And then your rap artists had all these horrible, sexist lyrics contained within the culture of their whole thing. So the Macc Lads weren’t shocking any more.”