I was a researcher on the final series of anarchic Saturday morning ITV children’s show Tiswas. It had been going for years at the point and everything ran fairly smoothly. It was broadcast live usually for 2-3 hours. I remember at least a couple of the live shows ran for 4 hours. I think the series I worked on ran for 39 weeks of the year.
Because it was allegedly for young-ish children (and university students) all the items were very short because of their short attention span. The only long items were cartoons (about 7 minutes long) and live pop songs (about 3 minutes).
Everything else tended to be I guess no longer than around 30 seconds.
On a live TV show – with guests, children, rock bands, cameras and crew in the studio, with anarchy being the format and with water, custard pies, electric cables and people moving all over the place all the time on the studio floor – this was a recipe for disaster.
The trick was to have one meeting early in the week with representatives of all the technical and editorial departments involved to pre-spot potential problems… and an editorial meeting late in the week to iron out the detailed practicalities.
One week, at one of these meetings, the producer lamented that everything ran far too smoothly on-screen. It was an ‘anarchic show’ but so well-planned that nothing ever actually went too wrong. How could we add in some genuinely unplanned chaos?
The answer was, really, that we couldn’t. Because the only way to run anarchy on stage or in a TV studio is to plan it carefully in advance, with fall-back positions, and then fly by the seat of your pants. You plan for as many possible contingencies as you can and then it is easier to cope with the ‘impossible’ things that actually happen on the day.
Which brings us to the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. I used to run them but no longer do – so, when things go wrong, I can comfortably sit back in London and observe from afar.
The format is that there are (over the years) 4-6 judges who decide on three Awards – Comic Originality, Cunning Stunt and ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’. In the past, the Short List of nominees was announced around Tuesday of the Fringe’s final week and the Awards were decided by the judges at Friday lunchtime, then announced and presented during a live 2-hour stage show just before midnight in the ballroom of The Counting House venue, which is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.
This involved me getting a taxi down to Leith as soon as the winners were decided… to get the names engraved on the three Awards… and rushing down again around teatime to collect them before the evening show. Meanwhile, acts for that night’s show would be dropping out or changing arrival times or causing creative chaos in sundry ways.
During the show, acts would also not arrive at all or arrive an hour late or whatever. It was like juggling spaghetti. (Another thing I occasionally included in the show.)
Oh the joy of it all…
The ballroom had a 150 seating capacity and we got in trouble one year because too many people had been standing round the edges of the 150 seated audience. The fire regulations did not allow this.
The next year, we had officials counting numbers in and out of the room. With all seats occupied, no-one was allowed in unless someone went out. This meant, if you went out to the toilet, you might not be able to get back in again. I did wonder if some people just ‘did the necessary’ in situ rather than leave. If so, I suspect Malcolm would have approved.
The live show was a Hardee-esque variety show of bizarre-as-possible comedy acts plus, in later years, a competitive Russian Roulette contest with eggs (organised by the World Egg-Throwing Federation) in which comedians smashed eggs against their forehead in a knock-out contest to find out which was the sole hard-boiled egg. It was messy.
I never booked the nominees or upcoming winners of the Awards to perform in these variety shows in case their acts were so bizarre the audience hated them…
I stopped organising the Awards in 2017 after ten years.
There were no Awards in 2018 because I couldn’t find anyone to take them over – and nor could a top UK PR who tried to find sponsors for them.
They returned briefly in 2019 organised by the British Comedy Guide and then, of course, Covid hit. So there were no Awards in 2020/2021 although, in 2021, when there was a sort-of Edinburgh Fringe, Will Mars was given a Cunning Stunt Award.
The Awards re-started ‘properly’ this year, with the Edinburgh Fringe re-emerging from Covid.
The winners were due to be announced last night (Friday) during a live show in The Counting House at 11.30pm.
I am totally uninvolved in the Awards now but, as a courtesy, I am kindly kept in the loop by email, so I know roughly what is going on.
On Thursday evening at 21.28, there was talk of cancelling the Friday show because “it wasn’t felt there were enough original acts here to put on a show and we’ve left it a bit late to organise a good show even if there were… (We) should be sending over the results and pictures that you can use in your blog first thing tomorrow”.
And, indeed, yesterday, Friday, the Counting House show was cancelled and moved to the upper level of former Award-winner Bob Slayer’s Blundabus venue (a double-decker bus), to start after midnight, around 01.00 .
I woke up this morning to an email sent at 02.59 telling me: “The news announcement (of the Award-winners) might be a little delayed… One bit proved quite controversial, so the judges are going to need a chance to decide on the wording first.”
Around 15.10 this afternoon, the Awards were finally announced:
COMIC ORIGINALITY: The Flop.
CUNNING STUNT: Ivor Dembina & the Edinburgh bin collectors.
ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID: Jerry Sadowitz.
The phrase “in light of the present unpleasantness” has been used on Facebook.
At the time of posting this blog, I know no more that you, dear reader.
I suspect more will follow in a further blog… AND IT DOES, HERE…
Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005. Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue produced this tribute at the time…