Tag Archives: SAS

Amy Howerska, the sassy comedian raised by a family of trained killers

Amy Howerska - allegedly

Amy Howerska really was “raised by a pack of trained killers”

Comedian Amy Howerska’s Edinburgh Fringe show in August will be called Sasspot. The publicity blurb for it says she was “raised by a pack of trained killers”.

This understates the truth quite considerably.

I had tea with her.

What this blog does not and cannot represent is the amount of laughter in the recordings. There was a LOT of laughter.

Halfway through, I asked her: “You are allowed to tell me all this, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” she said,

“I think when they get married,” I mused, “they are not allowed to have any photos of themselves in the local newspapers?”

“There are no pictures of my dad anywhere on the internet,” said Amy. “You can’t find him online.”

“Is your dad’s surname the same as yours?”I asked.

“No.”

“It’s probably OK, then,” I said. “There was something recently about three people dying on the Brecon Beacons while training. But that’s happening all the time, isn’t it?”

“That’s in my show,” said Amy. “I almost died on the Brecons when I was seven. My dad used to take us camping. Re-living his glory days. With his kids. Climbing the highest point in the Brecon Beacons in the worst weather recorded in over forty years. He set up a sky-diving centre after he left the… military. He had very limited skills.”

“What?” I asked. “Like overthrowing regimes?”

“I think he did do that to get the money to buy a house,” said Amy. “He went and… I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say.”

“When I have met SAS men…” I started to say, “allegedly-ex SAS men… they were…”

“Short!” laughed Amy. “They’re all short and Cockney! I tried to get a quote off Andy McNab for my Edinburgh Fringe poster, but he wasn’t up for it.”

“You know Andy McNab?” I asked.

“I’ve met him at a… at a few funerals,” she laughed. “He’s very charismatic. He’s very short.”

“Were you born into the SAS?” I asked. “When you were an embryo, was your dad in the SAS?”

“No. Let’s call it The Regiment. I asked my dad for some stories the other day. I asked him what his favourite gun was. He told me all these stories of all these fuck-ups. All these training exercises, hostage situations that all went wrong.

“I have quite a dark sense of humour – obviously. When I have been previewing the show, people have been pissing themselves laughing but some have gone Oh my God!

“I did a preview of the show to 100 Marines on a Royal Marine base and there are loads of jokes about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which I think is probably the funniest thing in the show. It’s a bit that goes consistently well.

“All the young Marines’ wives were pissing themselves laughing because now, if someone comes back with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, they send them off for CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – so they found it quite funny. And the young men were laughing as well. But the older wives were: Ooooh! Is she talking about that? It split the room a bit. But I always think you’re doing something right in comedy if you’re splitting the room – maybe 50% howling with laughter, 25% who are confused and 25% who are angry.

“When I was talking to my sister about writing the show and trying to gather memories, she said: Do you remember when dad used to get out his machete and cut an apple up like he was still living in a hole in the desert? 

“Some of it is so outlandish it sounds made-up but, actually, it’s watered-down to make it more believable and less mental. I just accepted everything as normal and it wasn’t at all.

One day he came in and found me and my sister throwing knives at a dart board when we were about eight years old. He said: What you doing??!! What you doing??!! – and then he taught us how to do it properly. He ran a sky diving centre – a drop zone – for years. He’s 66 now and he still sky dives.”

“So,” I said, “you decided to do a comedy show about your dad and his top secret exploits…”

“Well,” said Amy, “it wasn’t like that. I decided to do my first hour-long show about growing up in a sky-diving family – three generations. My parents met at my granddad’s drop zone. My granddad was also in… in The Regiment.”

“When was that?” I asked. “The Second World War?”

“No. He was only six or seven when the Second World War broke out.”

“So he was in Oman?” I asked.

“No, my dad was in Oman and Dhofar..”

I switched the recorder off at this point.

I like to tease.

When I switched the recorder back on again, Amy was laughing…

“When I started talking about my childhood, people were like: That’s fucking batshit! And I thought: Oh, yes, it is! So it has been quite a challenge to make it relatable. the core of the show is really about people’s family relations.”

“So,” I said, “it’s about life in a family. A bit like The Godfather.

“But with more sky diving.” laughed Amy. “And death. And guns. The show is not about my father. He is in it, but my sister and dad are in it equally; my mum features; Evil Dwarf features; and…”

“Evil Dwarf?” I asked.

“My mum’s father. He’s an ex-sergeant major. That was his nickname in…”

“In what?” I asked.

“The Regiment. The show is about my family, my upbringing.”

“And grassing-up your dad,” I said.

“I’m not grassing him up. He gets off very lightly in it.”

“And in your family…” I asked. “What does your sister do?

“She runs a drop zone. She’s married to a sky-dive champion. My mum’s brother is the Ozzy Osbourne of sky diving: he’s just had so many head injuries. And we call my mum ‘Peggy’ after Barbara Windsor on EastEnders: she’s really sassy and little with big boobs and big opinions and not afraid to say ‘em. It’s all about that, really.”

“So you grew up wanting to be a comedian?” I asked.

“I wanted to be a nun. My family is a bit Jewy, but they thought, to confuse me, they would send me to a convent school when I was little. The nuns were lovely: I think I’m one of the few people with a positive experience of Catholicism and I think I wanted…”

“Why,” I asked, “did your parents send you to a convent school?”

“Because they weren’t very Jewish. Only a bit Jewy. So I wanted to be a nun. I liked the accessories. Madonna was very big at the time. They used to let me swing my rosary around in the playground.”

“Was one of your parents Jewish?” I asked.

“My dad’s father was Jewish. and my mum’s grandmother.”

“So,” I said, “after you got over wanting to be a nun, what did you want to be?”

“A journalist, an actress or a comedy writer. I remember watching Blackadder and thinking: Who writes that? Who’s that Richard Curtis bloke? I loved reading and I loved comedy.”

“Then you should,” I suggested, ‘have become a comedy reader.”

“I came to comedy arse-backwards,” explained Amy. “I came in as a writer. I was writing for an act. I’ve been doing all this for five years, building my way up.”

“And now,” I asked, “you don’t want to write any more? You want to get the orgasm of applause?”

“The most fun you can ever have,” said Amy, “is when there’s a group of you writing something together.”

“If you had to put one thing on your passport as a profession,” I asked, “would it be Writer or Performer?”

“Writer probably,” said Amy.

If, dear reader, I die unexpectedly in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris or a random domestic animal falls fatally on my head in Soho, please draw this blog’s existence to the attention of the police.

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Filed under Comedy, Military

They f*** you up, your mum and dad. Example? My chum Lou, the gunman.

Lou greeted me with a small firearm yesterday

Lou greeted me with a small firearm yesterday

When I went to see my chum Lou at his flat yesterday lunchtime, the first thing he said was: “Ello, mate.”

The second thing he said was: “I’ve had a new machine gun delivered.”

All perfectly legal. Bullets can’t be fired from them. He provides them for movies.

“Did I tell you I found out who my grandfather was?” he asked me later.

“You didn’t know?” I replied.

“Well, I did and I didn’t,” he said. “Two or three years before my mum died, I said to her: Why don’t you tell me all the family secrets?

“She said: Well, I’m illegitimate. She was very ashamed of it. I said: Well, it ain’t your fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born bastards; some people become bastards.

“Yes,” I said. “After my father died, my mother told me her father had been illegitimate. But, to our generation, it doesn’t matter at all, does it? My grandfather was born in the 19th century. My mother told me in the 21st century. It was a shameful secret in the early 20th century; by the end of the century it was just normal.”

“I asked my mother,” Lou said, “How did you find out? She told me: I was born in 1917 and my father came home from the War in 1918… Oh! I said. That’s why he used to knock YOU about and not all the other kids? She said: Yeah. That’s why she was partially deaf. He used to bash her.

“When she was 13, her sister said: Do you know who that man is? My mum said: That’s the tallyman – it was a bloke who used to turn up in a Rolls Royce every week or two. Her sister said: No, that’s your dad. He’s giving mum some money for you.

“I thought my mum said he was the Honourable Playdel Bouvier so I looked it up. I found the Bouvier family, which was President John F Kennedy’s wife’s family and I said to my mum: Oh, you’re illegitimately related to JFK’s wife. But I was wrong.

“I tried to find this one Playdel person and eventually it came up Did you mean Pleydell-Bouverie? So I pushed the button and there he was. The Right Honourable Sir William Pleydell-Bouverie, 7th Earl of Radnor.

Lou's mum and her Second World War medals

Lou’s mum & her World War II medals displayed on his wall

“This man didn’t have to give my mum’s mum money every week. If he owned the land she lived on, he could have just told her to fuck off. It was 1917. He would have been like a local god. He had huge amounts of money and nobody else had anything in those days. But he gave her money to raise my mum.”

I asked: “When did he die?”

“1968. I could have met him when I was young if I’d known.”

“Do you look anything like him?” I asked.

“I look more like my father,” said Lou. “And my son is more like my father than me. He’s just like his grandfather: a hard man.

“My father used to tell people that, during the Second World War, he dished out bullets and blankets. He said he didn’t actually fight in the War. After the War, he drank 50 bottles of Whitbread a day, because he was in the trade. He was a very dangerous man. If you touched him when he was asleep, he’d hit you and then he’d get the hump because you’d upset him. He was a very hard man to deal with.

“He’d tell me: Here’s some money, son, now fuck off. I could have any amount of money I wanted, but he wouldn’t put his arms round me and tell me he loved me.

“When he died, this bloke called Dosser Chapman phoned me up and said: I served in the War with your dad and I’m doing this scrapbook for the Lifeguards Association. Have you got any pictures of your dad?

“He said: Your dad was a wonderful man. I said: Was he? You shoulda tried living with him!

“This Dosser bloke said: No, no. We went rough the War together. He was a wonderful man. I said: You might have the wrong bloke, mate.

“Dosser said: We used to go on missions behind enemy lines. We’d say to each other: ‘You do it. No you do it. No you do it.’ And he would say: ‘Give me the fucking knife; I’ll do it’ and he’d go and kill a sentry.

Lou’s dad as he remembers him

Lou’s dad after the War

“I said: How many of these sentries did he kill? Dosser said: Well, I didn’t go on every mission with him, but I know he killed at least eleven men and he only ever got upset once. I said: Why was that?

“He said: He cut this bloke when this bloke was looking at his pay book. The pay book dropped.

“You don’t die right away when your throat’s cut. It takes about 10 or 12 seconds to bleed out. And, as the bloke dropped, my old man picked up the pay book and there was a picture of the guy’s wife and three little girls.

“He showed it to the bloke on the ground and the bloke looked at the picture as he died.”

“What happened then? I asked.

“Dosser said: Your old man started crying. So I left it about five seconds, then touched him on his shoulder and said ‘We gotta get on with it, mate’.”

“And then?”

He wiped the knife, Dosser told me, and then killed the next one. So I said: Nah! I said: My dad didn’t fight in the War.

“Dosser asked me to send him pictures of my dad and he sent me some. He sent me this picture of a group of them with my old man sat at the front and at the bottom, written in at the time, was HELL’S ANGELS. This was about 1942 or 1943.

“I said to my uncle – who was about seven when my dad was a teenager: I didn’t realise my father fought in the War and killed people. He said: I’m not surprised. He was seconded to the Long Range Desert Group. I mean, my God! They were a load of murdering bastards dressed in pink.”

Now there are children’s toys of the LRDG vehicles

Now children’s toys of the Long Range Desert Group vehicles

“Pink?” I asked.

“They used to paint their jeeps pink.”

“Because it merged in with the sand?” I asked.

“Apparently so,” said Lou. “My dad also won the King’s Medal. It was stolen with my mum’s wedding ring from the old Conservative Club in the 1950s when I was a tiny child.”

“Your father ran the local Conservative Club, didn’t he?” I asked.

“Yeah, from 1950 to 1978 and, before that, he ran another Conservative Club for a year and, before that, he was at a Working Men’s club.

Lou’s dad (left) behind the bar at the local Conservative Club

Lou’s dad (left) behind the bar at the local Conservative Club

“He was in the booze trade as soon as he left the Army, really. He gave up his driving licence and took to drink and then later he got pissed off with me cos I took drugs.”

“You were just doing weed, though?” I asked.

“Oh no, I got into everything.”

“But, at that time…”

“Oh yes, I was just smoking puff and he thought I was an awful person for taking cannabis and there was him banging back 50 bottles of Whitbread a day. For him, that was normal.”

“Literally 50 bottles a day?” I asked. “He wouldn’t be able to stand up.”

At home with Lou last night

Lou greets me at his home, 2012

“You would think so,” said Lou. “But he could drink that amount and seem sober. If you gave him one whisky, though…fuck me, he was a really dangerous cunt then. He would knock my mother about.

“His family owned half of Upper Brook Street in Winchester, a hotel, two hairdressers and a bar. It’s all gone now. Him and his brothers were very good at betting on one-eyed, three-legged horses and drinking. It all went.”

Yesterday afternoon, my chum Lou showed me a couple of knives he had made recently.

They have little holes bored in their hollow blades so the fake blood will spurt out when it is pumped through a tube when you pretend to cut someone’s throat.

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Filed under Psychology, World War I, World War II

Comic Matt Price receives a threat and a stab vest and I suggest gangsters and stand-up comedians have similar needs

Matt has a chat with me at McDonald’s in Camden

Matt has a normal chat with me at McDonald’s

So I got an e-mail from comedian Matt Price. It read:

Last November, I received a stab vest through the post from a friend of mine with a “colourful past”. I was wondering if you have time to discuss this or if indeed it would be of interest to you in your blog.

So obviously we met up in Camden Town this week. Less obviously, we met in a McDonald’s. He had tea. I had ice cream. He brought along the stab vest in a suitcase.

“I don’t know what they’ll make of it in McDonald’s if I get it out,” Matt said.

“Better than getting it out in a bank,” I suggested.

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe had consequences

Last year, Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe show Turkeygate, Tinky Winky and The Mafia was about a dodgy UK promoter who booked him on a dodgy series of gigs in Turkey involving some dodgy Turks with alleged criminal associations.

There was a problem when Matt performed his show.

“During the Fringe last year,” Matt told me, “there wasn’t an altercation as such but there was an incident with another comedian every day. The guy who was on after me said I was not there to do an hour, I was there to do 45 minutes and so he would turn up after I had been doing my show for 40 minutes and I ended up getting kicked out on the street every night, performing my show to my audience out on the street.

“Then I got a threat from Turkey, saying: I hear you are out on the streets of Edinburgh talking about my family!”

“So this dodgy Turkish guy,” I asked, “thought that you were just generally standing in the middle of Princes Street in Edinburgh bitching to passers by and one-and-all about him and his family?”

“Yes,” said Matt, “and he was understandably upset. I think he was concerned I was going to start badmouthing him in London too. I was having nightmares. I was staying in a room in (Scotsman journalist) Claire Smith’s flat and quite often she told me: Matt, you were screaming in the middle of the night!”

“And then you got this threat?” I asked.

“Yes. On Facebook. I wasn’t thinking clearly. So I phoned up ‘Stab Vest’ Steve and said to him: Look, I’m actually quite frightened.”

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Matt demonstrates in a Camden back street that the stab vest does not quite fit him

“’Stab Vest’ Steve?” I asked. “In London?”

“Hertfordshire,” said Matt.

“That’s where I live,” I said. “This is not re-assuring.”

“So ‘Stab Vest’ Steve sent me a stab vest recorded delivery through the post and my missus Martha signed for it, thinking it was something she had bought off eBay. She opened it up and, when I got back home again, she said: We’ve been together for nine years. I know we’ve had our ups and downs. But why have you got a stab vest?

“The thing is it doesn’t actually fit. My stomach’s exposed. So Steve either thinks I’m physically smaller or that I‘m a teenage girl. It’s of no practical use.

“I phoned up Steve and said The missus is being a bit funny about this and he explained the situation to her, then he told me the stab vest was worth £400 and got me to phone ‘The Boss’ (a well-known celebrity criminal mentioned under this nom-de-crime in Matt’s show last year) and, once ‘The Boss’ stopped laughing, he said:

Now, look, I’m really sorry, but you’ve been threatened on Facebook. Have a think about that for a second. If I threatened somebody on Facebook and that person ended up hurt and I was taken to court, people would turn up just to piss themselves laughing.”

“Had the Turkish guy,” I asked, “threatened you from a Facebook account with his real name on?”

“Yeah.”

“What had the threat been?” I asked.

Matt Price at his North London gig Natural Born Storytellers

Matt at his Natural Born Storytellers gig

“He said: I am going to send a North London crime family around to your storytelling night in Camden to beat you up.

“‘The Boss’ told me: You need to e-mail him back and say: Thankyou very much. Hope you and your family are well. Message understood completely. Tell the family to arrive early, because we are a very popular night.

“‘The Boss’ told me: You are a very easily frightened person. If you were going to get killed, they would have just killed you. There’s plenty of holes in the ground.

“But it was mindless panic I felt. The result was I spent several months this year being very angry with myself for being under-assertive. I thought: Why don’t you stand up for yourself? You get walked over all the time? And that led me to this year’s Fringe show.”

“Well promoted, if un-subtle,” I said. “What’s it called?”

Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur

Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe show this year…

The Maryhill Dinosaur.”

Maryhill is an area in Glasgow.

“Initially,” said Matt, “it was inspired by the true story of a local character called Arthur in his mid-fifties who believed he was a dinosaur. But the show has turned into being about my own lack of self-assertion. The basic premise is that I spent several months of last year feeling bad about myself for being a guy anybody can walk all over. But then I realised that, if I wasn’t that guy, I wouldn’t have met all these great people.”

“Who?”

“Gangsters,” replied Matt.

I said: “I think it’s wise not to be too assertive to certain gangsters.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I’ve sort of reached a point with the gangsters now where I can speak my mind with them. I know where the boundaries are and, actually, they quite like it. The only thing that gangsters seem to dislike is anybody who pretends to be one of them when they’re not.”

“Oddly,” I said, “I think the biggest thing proper criminals don’t like is dishonesty. The really dangerous people are the quiet ones. I’ve met about three allegedly-ex-SAS men and they were all very quiet and polite and wouldn’t say boo to a mouse.”

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

“Have you ever met people who pretend to be in the SAS?” asked Matt. “That’s a very popular thing in Cornwall. You get a certain breed of middle-aged man in his fifties… Mythology is something people can manipulate. Years ago, I mentioned to (the comedian) Ian Cognito: There’s a rumour going round you used to be an opera singer and he said: Oooh! Keep that one going, dahlin’ – I do like that one!

“‘The Boss’ likes to be talked about. He saw my show in Essex last year and, afterwards, he asked me Why didn’t you use my real name? and I told him I didn’t want to be another hanger-on. The world’s full of people who say Oh, I know ‘The Boss’ but I don’t want to be that sort of guy. And I like him. I don’t like the crime, I’m not drawn to the violence. What I’m drawn to is the humour and the psychology and who wouldn’t be? Because gangsters think differently and yet – as you know – they’re capable of compassion and they can be very nice and yet they may bite your nose off.”

“What’s interesting,” I said, “is there has always been a cross-over between showbiz and crime.”

“Yes,” agreed Matt.

Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Rosa, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor & actor Ronald Fraser

A photo from former criminal Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days – Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Roza, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor and actor Ronald Fraser

“It’s partly the financing of the business,” I said, “but it’s not just that. There’s some sort of mentality link-up. Maybe a performer wants to be up on stage and hear the applause and be watched and that’s like being a ‘Face’ in your local community. You can stride round Bethnal Green or Lewisham or Tottenham and people will be frightened of you. Maybe it’s that Godfather thing of respect. Comedians want to get up on stage and boost their self-esteem by being laughed at and, when The Krays walked round the East End and people were frightened into showing them respect, they thought they had ‘made it’ in much the same way. Though maybe not so many people laughed at the Krays.”

“I see what you mean,” said Matt, “but I’ve always felt comedy and boxing are more linked.”

“Have you boxed?” I asked.

“Oh, I was terrible at boxing. I wasn’t very assertive, but I don’t like to give up easily. So that made it a nightmare. When you punch someone in the head and then apologise, they don’t take it very well. I found it makes them furious.”

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Filed under Comedy, Crime

The transvestite corrupt police officer + a comic cycling to the Edinburgh Fringe

Martin Soan naked, before his bicycle accident

A couple of days ago, a car knocked comedian Martin Soan off his bicycle in a road just south of Tower Bridge in London. The car did not stop.

I saw Martin last night. He said he was “OK apart from a sore bum. But the bike’s a write-off. Absolute nightmare. Smashed.”

We were at last night’s Sohemian Society meeting.

As soon as Martin walked into the room above the Wheatsheaf pub in Rathbone Place, he recognised it as an early alternative comedy venue decades ago: the Guilty Pea.

“The only comedy clubs around then,” Martin told me, “were the Guilty Pea, the Sombrero – which was more of a variety-type place – the Comedy Store, the Earth Exchange and Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club. I think the Sombrero opened up before the Comedy Store.”

Last night’s Sohemian Society talk was by Professor Judith Walkowitz of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who has written a book about London’s Soho in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s: Nights Out Life in Cosmopolitan London.

She was surprised, perhaps because she is an American, to find out that the Metropolitan Police’s extensive and now well-publicised corruption in the 1950s and 1960s stretched back well before then.

After her talk, conversation turned to an era after the period covered in her book when Sohemian Society organiser Marc brought up the subject of Harold ‘Tanky’ Challenor, a former World War II SAS man who became a corrupt transvestite CID officer at the legendarily corrupt West End Central police station in London – the station which covered Soho.

Challenor was the model for Inspector Truscott in Joe Orton’s play Loot and apparently used to pretend he had to work undercover as an excuse to dress up as a woman when, in fact, everyone knew he was a transvestite and, when he walked into a Soho pub or club in his female ‘disguise’ , everyone immediately recognised him.

This talk of policemen dressing up led Martin Soan to tell me about a police drugs raid on a pub in Portobello Road around 40 years ago, when Martin was an 18-year old plying his then-trade of Punch & Judy man.

“It must have been in the early 1970s,” he said. “I used to go to the pub to build up my courage to do the Punch & Judy show. I was in there at lunchtime, the sun was out and a twelve-man police team came in, supposedly in disguise.

“They were pretending to be painters and decorators, but they were wearing these perfectly-laundered overalls. They looked like they had come straight out of the packet and still had creases where they had been folded. There was no dirt on them – nothing – but they had obviously stood the policemen in a line and got some paint and flicked it onto the overalls.

“They walked into the pub and everyone just said: Uho… It’s the police! and most people who were carrying drugs just walked out of the pub. I think they managed to arrest some poor old bloke who didn’t know what day of the week it was.”

Martin also told me he is thinking of reviving his Greatest Show on Legs act (not the Punch & Judy act but the one involving the infamous naked balloon dance) with Steve Bowditch and Martin Clarke at the Edinburgh Fringe this year – but he has not yet decided.

“It’s the cost,” said Martin. “Going to the Fringe costs a fortune – even the free shows – because you have to pay for accommodation and transport up there. I am thinking of cycling up.”

“Cycling up to Edinburgh from London?” I asked. “That’s 400 miles each way.”

“I have a trailer to pull behind my bike now,” said Martin. “As you know, I have a few props. I’ve got a…”

“Hold on,” I said, “Hasn’t your bike been destroyed?”

“Well yes,” said Martin, “obviously there are a few issues surrounding my biking capacity at the moment, but I have a trailer for it now and I can fit the miniature Irish dancers and the whole show into it, though I couldn’t take my hydraulic lifting chair. So I am thinking of cycling up. I can make it to Norwich.”

“Norwich?” I interrupted. “That’s not on the way to Edinburgh.”

“Well,” Martin explained patiently, “you’re going by car. I’m going by bike, man. I would start off about two weeks before… Make it to Norwich, where I know some people, stay the night… Lincolnshire’s after that and I know someone I can stay with in Lincolnshire… And then I know someone in Hartlepool where I can stay… The major thing is, obviously, on a bike, I can’t do the motorways… And even the country lanes are dangerous on a bike, especially with a trailer behind it…

“But it’s really cool… I would have a lovely, lovely time… Loads of caffs and cake shops and cycling through villages… Not that I’m fond of cakes myself, but I do like a cake shop… I like the tea and they often do a sandwich supplement to their cakes…”

“Oh, that’d be fine, then,” I agreed.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, London, Police

The quiet men: ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser, Malcolm Hardee and John McVicar

John McVicar with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s autobiography

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered. Though often only if they create their own legends.

I think I have met two, possibly three, SAS men (it is difficult to know for sure). They will probably not be remembered, except by their friends and family, because they did not write books.

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee never became famous during his lifetime. The irony is that he may be remembered much longer than many comedians who achieved fame because he wrote an autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which was not just a bland quick hack book. One of the stories in the book took place when Malcolm was in prison:

___________

I used to play bridge with this bloke called Johnny Hart, who was one of the most pleasant blokes you could meet. But he started to get depressed. So he went and saw the doctor. Then he went to a psychiatrist who gave him some tablets. And, after that, he started getting extremely paranoid at certain times. When you play bridge with someone, you sometimes say:

“Well, you shouldn’t have led with that card.”

After starting the tablets, if you said that to Johnny Hart, he’d really explode and look quite dangerous.

One day, I was eating my dinner in the dining room and, all of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Johnny Hart get up and stab this black guy. He’d stolen a 10’-12″ knife from the kitchen and he pushed it in this guy’s back. He pushed it into him right up to the hilt. The black guy literally looked like he’d turned white. He collapsed over my table. 

Johnny Hart went to court for attempted murder and it turned out it was all over the fact he thought this black guy was wearing his plimsolls.

I read some years later that Johnny Hart had committed an awful crime where he’d burgled a house, tied a couple up and murdered the wife. So maybe it wasn’t the tablets.

___________

Malcolm Hardee was quietly-spoken off-stage, rather shy, polite and sometimes had a strange inner stillness about him which I could not understand at first, until I realised he had spent rather a lot of time in prison in the 1970s. If you have lived and mixed with dangerous, sometimes psychopathic men whose personalities may suddenly turn on a sixpence, you have a certain inner wariness.

I was with Malcolm at the Edinburgh Fringe one year – it was the year he performed his show in the living room of his rented flat. After the show, a member of the audience came up to him to chat. Before the man spoke, Malcolm said: “You’ve been inside,” and he had. Malcolm had recognised something in the man’s look and demeanour and knew that he had spent time in prison.

Eric Mason died last Wednesday, aged 81. I only met him twice, very briefly. He had been in prison. He was very quietly-spoken, very polite in a slightly old-fashioned way. He had that same stillness, He was like a kindly old uncle.

One night, outside the Astor Club in London, Eric got into an argument with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser.

Frank says he “slung him in the motor”, took him to the Atlantic Machines office and had a chat with him. Frank then drove Eric to the London Hospital and dumped him in the car park with, so the story goes, the axe still sticking out of Eric’s head.

The way Frank used to tell this story on his coach tours of Gangland London: “I wouldn’t ‘ave minded so much, except I never got me axe back and that axe was from ‘arrods.”

Frank Fraser is quietly-spoken and very polite; like a kindly old uncle. He may be remembered because he has a good turn of phrase, because he played panto and because he has been so well marketed.

He once said to me: “I worry a little bit about what they’ll say about me after I’ve gone,” but he has helped his own legend by writing copiously, notably in his autobiography Mad Frank and in Mad Frank and Friends, Mad Frank’s Britain, Mad Frank’s Underworld History of Britain et al.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

Eric Mason may be remembered, slightly, because he wrote two books: The Inside Story and The Brutal Truth

Norman Parker was also – and presumably still is – a quiet-voiced, very polite man in a neat suit. I met him briefly, once, in 2001.

In 1963, when he was 18, he killed his girlfriend Susan Fitzgerald. Her best friend testified in court that Susan slept with a gun underneath her pillow and had a record of violence. Norman is Jewish. Susan admired Adolf Hitler and both her brothers had been guards for British Nazi Sir Oswald Mosley. Susan read books on concentration camps and her family was deeply involved in armed robberies. It was said “she was a violent and unbalanced girl.” Norman pleaded self-defence and was sentenced to 6 years for manslaughter.

He later explained: “One day we had a hideous argument. She pulled out a gun. I thought she was going to shoot me, so I pulled out my gun and fired one shot. It hit her in the head.”

In 1970, when he was 26, Norman was sentenced to life imprisonment for another murder. He had killed Eddie Coleman.

‘We had an argument,” he explained, “about the way we wanted to hijack a lorry. Edward pulled a gun on me. I struggled for it, David (Woods, Norman’s co-defendant) hit him with a hammer. He fell to the ground and I killed him with his own gun. I killed a man who seconds before was trying to kill me. At worst it was manslaughter. I don’t think the public lose much sleep when violent criminals kill one another. I covered up the murder. But we bumped into a policeman when we were trying to dispose of the body, and I assaulted him.”

Norman Parker was sentenced to 23 years.

After 24 years, he was released, having spent over half his life in jail. A week after his release, he was interviewed: “I can’t believe the homeless people on the streets,” he said. “ People actually sleep in cardboard boxes. I’m also shocked by sex and promiscuity. Take these phone lines where people talk dirty to you. If someone had come out with that 23 years ago, he’d have been dragged into a psychiatric hospital.”

His book, Parkhurst Tales, sold over 20,000 copies in hardback. He followed this with five  other books: The Goldfish Bowl, Parkhurst Tales 2, Life After Life, Dangerous People Dangerous Places and Living With Killers.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

I only met John McVicar once, many years ago, in his flat near Battersea. He, too, was very quietly-spoken, polite and reflective. And he too wrote his own legend.

He was an armed robber in the 1960s. He, too, received a 23-year jail sentence. He escaped from prison several times and, after his final re-arrest in 1970, he was given a sentence of 26 years.

His autobiography, McVicar by Himself was filmed in 1980 as McVicar, with Roger Daltrey of The Who in the title role.

If you write your own legend, memory of what you have done in your life may survive death.

If you have a rock star play you on screen, you will be remembered.

Or – if not the ‘real’ you – the ‘you’ which you yourself have created.

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered.

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An unsettling story about an illegal gun and “an awful lot of firepower out there”

In a recent blog, I mentioned that mad inventor John Ward – a man of often admirable creative eccentricity – used to have a gun licence for several weapons. It was not something I ever found reassuring.

He now tells me this true story…

_____

One evening in the early 1990s, before the Dunblane massacre, I was at my local shooting range. It was not unusual for members to bring guests.

The evening went on its merry way with members blasting away at paper targets and seeing who had the best score. Then, at the end of the night, as we were clearing up to go home, a guest who had been watching asked:

“Does anybody mind if I use of the target area?”

No-one did.

So he went to the boot of his car, dragged out a bag and walked back to the shooting area which was a wall about twenty feet high and twelve feet wide made from old wooden railway sleepers because, as well as being a ‘stopping point’ for all the bullets fired in its direction, it ‘soaked up’ the bullets and prevented any ricochets.

The guest unwrapped his weapon and it was a German MP 40 machine pistol – also called the Schmeisser sub machine gun – of the sort that is a staple of World War 2 films when the German side is shown with automatic weapons – think Where Eagles Dare. It is the cheaper-made model that derived from the MP 38 but, for all that, it still killed folk efficiently.

Its magazine holds 40 rounds of 9mm ammo. It is not a sporting gun by any stretch of the imagination and, as such, was/is a banned weapon on these shores for obvious reasons and can only be legally owned by a very few people or dealers who hold a Home Office Section 5 Licence.

So we stood there with our mouths wide open and the silence was deafening. Our guest then inserted a magazine into the forward section of the MP 40, cocked the weapon, turned to us and said:

“I’m not sure how this is going to go as I have had it years and I’m not sure what noise it gives out.”

With that, we put our fingers in our ears – we had already cleared away our ear defenders/ear muffs – and… BBBBBBBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRR as our guest emptied a full magazine of forty 9mm bullets at the target area in about ten seconds – much like Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare in fact!

As the smoke cleared, he turned to us and said:

“Well! – that seemed to go alright, didn’t it?”

And, with that, he took the magazine out, thanked us, proceeded to put it back in the bag with the gun and took it to the boot of his car and drove off.

Afterwards, oddly, nobody could recall just who had brought him along as a guest…

For the next few weeks, I scanned the newspapers to see if there had been any ‘bank jobs’ done locally but there were none.

That was almost twenty years ago.

All this was and is illegal and, if caught with an MP 40, one’s future holiday arrangements might be arranged by Her Majesty for the next twenty years, but the streets of this country are nowadays awash with far more of this sort of stuff than ever before.

There is even more firepower in the MAC-10, which has 32 rounds of 9mm held a stick magazine housed in the pistol grip – a .45 calibre option was/is also available. The MAC-10 can empty its magazine in about 2 to 3 seconds flat.

It was put on test by the SAS but they refused to adopt it as it was inaccurate unless  – I quote – “you were having a fire fight in a telephone box”.

The MAC-10 is now a common fashion accessory among British drug gangs.

There is an awful lot of ‘firepower’ out there, perhaps some of it nearer than you might think.

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The man who kept accused war criminal Ratko Mladic’s hat in his living room

I posted this blog a few months ago but, with the arrest yesterday of former Serbian general Ratko Mladic, I thought part of it might be of interest again. It is about one of the most interesting people I never met.

* * *

Bill Foxton is dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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