Tag Archives: Scots

Bitching about famous people. Your chance to guess – who is XXXXX, the lecherous showbiz groper?

Isn’t gossip a wonderful thing?

Yesterday, following on from my blogs about The downside of being a dead celebrity and Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum, I was having a wee e-chat with Scots comedian Stu Who about the “celebrities” we’d met.

He told me: “My own personal nemesis was XXXXX, who I found to be a particularly rude and lecherous auld cunt, when out of the public gaze… Lechery, of course, is no sin, but when a position of power is abused by touching-up young runners and crew in a ‘joking’ way, I just can’t keep quiet and had a couple of altercations with XXXXX …. not a nice man!!!”

This interested me, because I had heard XXXXX was a groper, but wasn’t sure if it was true because I’d met him briefly twice and both times he seemed very amiable, gentle and uncle-ish; he fitted his ‘family entertainer’ image perfectly.

Stu told me, though, that he found dealing with people like XXXXX “was all counterbalanced beautifully by some of the really nice people I have also had the privilege to encounter and work with… Some of them I literally ‘hated’ on TV before meeting them and I was subsequently gobsmacked to find out how cool and friendly they were in real life… Bob Monkhouse being the most notable.

“He’d been my pet hate for decades with his plastic appearance and gushing superficiality, but he turned out to be really pleasant, courteous and astonishingly supportive to this daft Glaswegian who’d been hired to do his warm-up for the Lottery shows.”

I have never heard anything bad about Bob Monkhouse whom I greatly admired. He was known for his great love of slapstick and his collection of comic silent movies. We had him as a guest on the very slapsticky children’s show Tiswas and his only stipulation up-front was that he should not be custard-pied in the face.

There was no problem with this and he mentioned it right up-front when he was booked; but none of us could figure out why he didn’t want to be ‘pied’ – it seemed perfect for his image and he was in no way pompous; he was a lovely man. Our only wild guess was that he wore a wig – but we had never heard of him having one, I have never read of such a thing and it didn’t look like he had a wig. So, to this day, it remains a complete and utter mystery to me.

I’ve been luckier than Stu Who.

I’ve actually only ever worked with one person who played the “I’m a star” bit.

People told me Chris Tarrant was a bit up himself when Tiswas first hit big but, when I encountered and later worked with him, he was a joy: a total laid-back professional. He was nothing like his image – he was a highly professional, highly sophisticated, cigar-smoking reflective fisherman – and a good bloke.

I’m sure his anarchic image can survive that description.

But you can never tell what people are really like.

A few years ago, at a special National Film Theatre screening of her father Anthony Newley’s indescribably odd film Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?Tara Newley confirmed that her mother Joan Collins had decided to divorce him after attending the premiere of the movie. According to Tara, Joan had never seen the finished film before that screening. And, if you have ever seen the autobiographical movie (in which Anthony Newley, Joan Collins and their children all appear), you can see why she divorced him. I seem to remember reading an interview with Joan Collins in which she loved him but couldn’t live with him.

I am not surprised.

I once tried to book Anthony Newley on Channel 4’s The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross and failed.

I talked to his agent while Newley was in the US and before he came to London to appear in a West End stage show. The agent was happy for him to appear on The Last Resort and Newley was keen to appear on the show. The trouble was that our TV show transmitted live from 10.30pm in Wandsworth and Newley was on stage until around 10.30 in the West End.

It would probably take him at least 10 minutes of show over-run, applause and rushing out of the theatre (still in costume and make-up) to get out onto a street where a car could pick him up. He was even prepared to ride pillion on a motorbike to do the journey. But there was no way to guarantee at that time on a Friday night in London that he could be got to Wandsworth and into the studio in time for any meaningful appearance on The Last Resort.

So we had to abandon the idea. No problem.

We had wanted him on the show. He had wanted to appear.

We were all the best of chums and no-one was to blame. It was just one of those things.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call in the Last Resort office.

“Hello, it’s Tony Newley,” the voice on the other end said.

He was phoning from his shower in a Park Lane hotel. I could hear the water in the background.

“Can you believe they have a telephone in the shower?” he asked me.

He said he wanted to apologise for not being able to appear on our show.

I said there was no problem because it was just the timing which had proved impossible. We would have him on in future in a flash if we could.

But he wanted to say sorry.

There was no need for him to make the phone call and certainly no need to make it to me – I was merely the show’s researcher, not the producer.

But he made the call.

I always thought very highly of him after that.

I still don’t know if Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? is a good film, though. And I have seen it three times. It is certainly bizarre.

But Anthony Newley, on the basis of my one phone call with him, seemed a good man.

On the other hand, though, on the basis of two brief meetings, XXXXX seemed OK to me.

Who can tell?

Gossip is an in-exact art.

________

NB… I should point out that XXXXX, a well-known entertainer, is definitely not any of the people named in this blog and I have never mentioned him in any previous blog.

________

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Movies, PR, Sex, Television, Theatre

Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Television, Theatre

Bad language in Scotland?

Last night I went to a very interesting talk at the British Library by author and publisher James Robertson about The Guid Scots Tongue.

It was a bit like Scots comic Stanley Baxter’s legendary series of Parliamo Glasgow sketches in his 1960s and 1970s TV shows. But with genuine academic credibility.

James Robertson seemed to confirm that Old English developed into Middle English south of the border and into the “Scottish” language north of the border and that, ever since then, people have bemoaned the ‘fact’ that Scots is dying.

I remember Melvyn Bragg saying in his ITV series The Adventure of English that, before Henry VIII, English was a dying language only used by the underclasses. The upper ruling elite spoke Latin and Norman French. But, when Henry decided to split from the Roman Catholic Church so he could knob the wife of his choice, he created the Church of England and commissioned ’The Great Bible’ – the first authorised translation of the Bible into English not Latin. This was distributed to every church in the country and rescued English from its decline and possible extinction.

Last night, James Robertson pointed out that, when King James VI of Scotland took over the English throne in 1603, became King James I of England and brought the Scottish court to London, one of the things he did was to commission the 1611 translation of the Bible into English – the Authorised King James Version of the Bible – which was distributed to every church in England, Scotland and Wales. Ironically, it was never translated into Scottish and this strengthened the hold of the English language in Scotland.

My mother’s grandmother could not speak English until she came down out of the hills. She was born and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland and spoke Gaelic – pronounced Gaah-lick not Gay-lick. She only learned English when she came to the village of Dunning in Perthshire. Or, some might say, she only learned “Scottish” when she moved to Dunning.

Historically in Scotland, after a certain point, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands and so-called “Scottish” was the language of the Lowlands.

I have never believed there was such a language as “Scottish”. To me, it’s clearly a dialect of English (as opposed to Gaelic which IS a different language). Wikipedian debate will no doubt run for decades about it.

If you disagree, haud yer wheesht, dinnae fash yersell aboot it and try no to be too scunnered.

Most languages, dialects and accents are a dog’s dinner of sources. Fash apparently comes from the Old French fascher and ultimately the Latin fastidium. Scunnered apparently has its origins in Middle English. Nothing is pure, not even Baby Spice. Only the French try (unsuccessfully) to keep their language pure.

I was born in Campbeltown near the Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. My home town pipe band played on possibly the dreariest song any Beatle ever wrote. When I was three, we moved to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. My parents had friends along the coast in Banffshire where the locals speak to each other in an almost totally incomprehensible dialect which theoretical academics now apparently call Buchan. I call it bloody incomprehensible.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think I saw a comedy show entitled 100 Shit Things About Scotland though I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. But one of the 100 shit things about Scotland I thought I heard was the fact “There are some accents even WE don’t understand”.

Bloody right. Buchan fer yin.

When I was eight, we moved to Ilford in England – it is theoretically in Essex but actually on the outer edge of East London. Over the years, I’ve lost my accent; I never chose to.

So what I’m trying to tell you is I’m interested in language. Perhaps you guessed that.

On the version of the recent Census form distributed in Scotland there is, for the first time, a question about whether you can read/speak/understand not just Gaelic but also the so-called “Scots” language – though how many supposed Scots language variations there might be I cannot even begin to imagine. The words people use in Dundee, Glasgow and Thurso are very different.

There are some great common words. Dreich is almost un-translatable into English in less than an entire paragraph. Crabbit is just a great and appropriate sound. As is Peelie-wallie and many others. But there are amazingly diverse words all over the UK – Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have wild variations in words, let alone Tyneside, North Norfolk, the Black Country and Devon. They are not separate languages, though.

English is a wonderful language because it has so many variants and has hoovered up so much from other languages – cascade, table and situation are all unchanged in spelling from the original French but pronounced differently. The arrival of radio, movies and then television may have homogenised the English language and be slowly eliminating a lot of dialect and accent variations but, with English now the de facto world language, there are going to be hundreds of variant languages growing up in coming years to rival past pidgin English.

Indeed, this seems to have already happened with BT call centres in India. I don’t know what they are speaking, but it’s no form of English I recognise.

Perhaps I am just mare than a wee bit glakit.

Several times in bookshops, I have picked up Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting and looked at the first page then put it back on the shelf. It looks too difficult to read, though lots of English people have, so it must just be wee me. I remember at school in Ilford, for some extraordinary reason, we had to read Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Antiquary and I found it incomprehensible in places; heaven knows what my English classmates made of it. They never said. Must be just me.

When I edited Scots comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Darkwhich reads a bit like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the movie Gladiator – the two of us had to decide how to write quoted dialogue which could be printed on the page, as she was brought up in East Glasgow where dialect, slang and strong accents prevail. Should we write it with all the dialect words intact or spell words phonetically? Both of those would mean it might be difficult for readers in London, let alone New York or Sydney, to understand.

Eventually, we decided to slightly Anglicise the dialogue but to include Scots words which would be easily understandable to non Scots… and to print some words phonetically so there would be a feeling of accent – for example, we printed the “police” as the “polis” throughout, because that is how it is pronounced in Glasgow and it is a distinct yet not too confusing word. It felt like you were reading genuine Scots dialogue, even though it was slightly Anglicised. I was wary of using the Glasgow word close, which means an indoor stairwell, because, in Edinburgh, it means an outdoor alleyway.

It’s a sare fecht.

Look, I could go on for hours about this. Think yourself lucky it stops here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, History, Travel

Myths, dangers and curses of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

(This blog appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Roadshow in London on Saturday and a couple of people asked my advice because they have decided to perform on the Fringe for the first time this year. Then, on Monday morning, a non-performer who appeared briefly as a guest at last year’s Fringe e-mailed me about the possibility of staging a full show throughout this year’s Fringe in August. On Tuesday morning, an established comedy act phoned me about returning to the Fringe after a gap of several years. And, yesterday afternoon, I got Skyped by someone who lives in mainland Europe about coming to the UK and playing the Fringe for the first time.

On Saturday, I asked about the long-and-widely-quoted statistics that the average Fringe show audience comprises six people and the average Fringe-goer is only in the city for three days. The Fringe Office told me both were urban myths.

Fringe Chief Executive Kath Mainland, in fact, told me that 50% of Fringe audiences come from Edinburgh (ie the EH postcodes). And that does not include the large numbers of Glaswegians who commute to Edinburgh Fringe shows. If true, it would mean that over half the audience is coming from lowland Scotland and performers should perhaps tailor their shows more towards Scots audiences if they want to get bums on seats.

Like all Fringe statistics, of course, even that one should be treated with a pinch of salt. The only way of knowing who goes to the Fringe is if punters buy tickets in advance and give their postcodes. The vast numbers who buy tickets with cash at the venue on the day don’t do that. And all Fringe statistics are mightily skewed by the fact no-one does nor can know how many punters attend the increasing number of free shows – let alone where they come from.

So, as always, performing at the Fringe is like juggling spaghetti in the dark and, when you get there, like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. This year, the uncertainties are even greater – not because of the recession but because of the rapidly changing nature of the Fringe – especially the crumbling of the box office for middle-ranking comedy shows. It happened last year and is likely to happen even moreso this year.

There are two types of show at the Fringe.

There are the traditional shows where audiences pay for tickets. And the free shows put on by the original PBH Free Fringe and the separate Laughing Horse Free Festival.

On Saturday, the gloriously entertaining Peter Buckley Hill of the PBH Free Fringe (a notable former Malcolm Hardee Award nominee) said he has had an 85% increase in applications for the PBH Free Fringe this year.

This is not surprising.

Paid-for show tickets are usually around £10 each – that means £20 if you are a couple and, if you see three shows in one day (which is not uncommon), that is going to set you back £60. For that amount of money and with limited time and vast numbers of shows on offer, you want to make sure you are not throwing your money away. So you pay to see ‘safe’ acts you have seen on TV or, at least, very long-established Biggish Name acts with a known track record.

People used to go to the Fringe and ‘take a punt’ on a show which sounded like it might be good… though it might be shit. That was what the Fringe was about. The excitement of the unexpected and the chance of stumbling on future stars.

What is increasingly happening now is that audiences are prepared to pay for the TV names they know. And they are prepared to take a risk by visiting several free shows. But excellent, experienced comedy acts playing paid-for venues who have not had TV exposure are seeing their audiences fall year-on-year. I know of at least three top-notch comedians who are not going to the Fringe this year because the potential on the paid-for Fringe in major venues is increasingly risky – they will still make a profit but the profit-to-hassle ratio has changed – and they cannot be seen to play free shows because it would lower their professional reputation with reviewers and the media.

It can cost £7,500+ to stage a good comedy show in a major venue at the Fringe.

The Fringe is alive and well for Fringe-goers who want to take a free punt with a high risk of seeing shit… and for Fringe-goers who want to pay to see re-heated TV acts of known quality. But the Fringe is increasingly difficult to financially justify for excellent, experienced live comedians with no TV exposure.

Another factor this year will be the death of the Fringe in the new town.

Edinburgh is two cities – the ‘new town’ (Georgian) and the ‘old town’ (medieval).

With the move this year (for at least three years) of the major Assembly venue from George Street in the new town to George Square in the old town, all the Big Four venues will now be clustered around Bristo Square, George Square and the Cowgate.

People may decide to go to a specific show in the new town, but the four places where punters will come to vaguely sit down and only then decide which show to see will be the Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly Pasture in Bristo Square, the Pleasance Dome in Bristo Square and the George Square gardens which will have, I understand, two new Assembly venues in them. So street flyerers will get more passing trade and bums-on-seats potential in or near Bristo Square/George Square/Cowgate (as well as in the traditional maelstrom of the High Street on the Royal Mile). If someone flyers in the new town near a venue, they will be flyering in isolation and not picking up other shows’ punters.

This August will be particularly interesting to see and particularly uncertain for performers, yet the lure of the Fringe is still almost irresistible. There is that 85% increase in people applying to perform at PBH Free Fringe venues.

Uncertainty is almost an aphrodisiac for performers, but the financial repercussions are incalculable and go on and on.

What will happen next year when the end of the London Olympics overlaps with the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe? Who knows?

For years, I have tried to find someone who can juggle cooked spaghetti for one minute and have always been unable to find anyone. But I have blind faith success may be possible. In that respect, I suppose I am much like Fringe performers going to Edinburgh.

The Fringe is an ongoing Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

(NOTE TO READERS IN THE USA: The British English phrase “bums-on-seats” means something more financially sustainable than it does in American English)

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Television, Theatre

Yesterday I met a man from Atlantis who speaks Japanese

For ages, I have thought there was mileage in a Real People chat show on TV – if you go to any bus queue in any town in Britain and choose any person at random then, with the right questions, that person will reveal the most extraordinary life story.

Life truly is stranger than fiction. Novels are very often watered-down versions of the truth and they have been watered-down simply to make them believable.

I was reminded of this when I was passing through the food department of Selfridges in Oxford Street yesterday and I was offered a free tea sample by a Greek-Bulgarian sales specialist working for the East India Company which was bought by an Indian entrepreneur in 2005 and which opened a shop in London’s West End last year. It turned out the tea-offerer was from the island of Santorini (claimed by some to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis). He told me he spoke six languages including Japanese and Scots Gaelic – which he then proceeded to do.

Speak Gaelic.

It is a tad odd to have a Greek-Bulgarian from Atlantis who works for the East India Company (given its charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600) speak Gaelic to you when you are passing through the food department of Selfridges department store.

To surprise me, it would have been enough for him, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company because I hadn’t realised it had been re-born.

While being one of the most successful commercial companies ever to exist –  at its height, the company allegedly generated half of world trade and it established Singapore and Hong Kong as trading centres – it also effectively ruled India with its own army on behalf of the British government 1757-1858 and virtually built the British Empire by monopolising the Opium Trade – it was responsible both for the Opium Wars and the Indian Mutiny!

That Indian entrepreneur – Sanjiv Mehta – who bought the name in 2005 and re-started the company last year is a near genius. People are buying recognisable brand names for millions of pounds/dollars all over the world and the East India Company must be one of the most famous names worldwide – it has been around for 411 years – though I’m not sure trade with China will be easy!

So it would have been enough for the tea-offerer, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company but, good heavens – perhaps you had to be there – a Greek-Bulgarian who works for the East India Company, comes from the original Atlantis and speaks Gaelic! What are the odds of that combination happening? If you wrote a novel with a character like that in it, people would laugh at how stupid you were for including such a literally incredible character…

What price a Real People chat show?

1 Comment

Filed under Books, History, Television, Travel