Tag Archives: showbiz

David McGillivray’s autobiography: if you are in it, be afraid… be very afraid

David McGillivray has been described as “the Truffaut of smut” and (by Jonathan Ross) as “a comedy legend”.

He has appeared in this blog at various times – in 2015 touting Trouser Bar, his film of an allegedly hard-core alleged script by the late Sir John Gielgud… alleged, that is, by everyone except the worried guardians of the estate of Sir John Gielgud.

Lawyers’ letters, threats and phrases ensued.

In 2017, he was in this blog touting Doing Rude Things, a reissue of his book on dodgy soft-core porn films.

He has a bit of previous in touting.

When not anguished, people enjoyed the book launch party

When I arrived for this week’s launch of his autobiography Little Did You Know: The Confessions of David McGillivray, people who had already bought copies were feverishly skimming through the index to see if they were mentioned. 

“A huge amount of those people,” David told me, “will have wanted to check for libel. Some sighing with relief when they found they weren’t included.”

Comedian Julian Clary’s approved cover quote for the book is that it is “a meticulous account of a life so sordid I think each copy should come with a complimentary sanitary wipe”.

The book’s press-release says David McG’s autobiography was “eagerly-awaited”. I think it might equally be said its publication was “desperately feared”. I can do no better than quote from the possibly understated PR blurb:

McGillivray (left) and Clary in Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, s’il vous plait in 1982 (Photograph from Little Did You Know)

“The grandson of an acrobat and briefly the UK’s youngest film critic, McGillivray wrote his first film when he was 23, then moved on to a succession of cheap shockers and skin flicks. After Prime Minister Thatcher dealt killer blows to the UK’s independent film industry, McGillivray found alternative employment in radio, TV and theatre, becoming Julian Clary’s long-serving scriptwriter. Around the year 2000 he put these careers temporarily on hold to dabble in another form of exploitation, but one closely associated with the more secretive side of show business.

“In this sensational memoir, McGillivray takes us through the cocaine-lined world of London’s media industry, the tragic heights of the AIDS epidemic and the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho… McGillivray hosted London’s wildest parties at his home. They were attended by some of the biggest names of stage, screen, music and fashion. The revelations of what went on under the figurative noses of law enforcement agencies and the literal noses of McG and his high-flying guests are not for the faint-hearted.”

Julian Clary introduced David at the book launch thus:

“It makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the W.I…”

“I thought I put it about a bit in my youth, but this makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the Women’s Institute… McG has said on several occasions that he will never work again once this book has been published, but I don’t think we should get our hopes up. I suspect some seedy project will catch his eye soon…. (maybe) a long-lost lesbian porn script allegedly written by Mother Teresa… You will know and understand David better after you have read this book, but you may cross the road when you see him coming.”

The next day, David and I had a chat in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho – well, in the pleasant environs of the Soho Theatre Bar in Dean Street.


McGillivray talked in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho

JOHN: You had trouble getting this book published.

DAVID: Oh yes. 

JOHN: When did you start it?

DAVID: 2000. So many re-writes; so many lawyers. Libel was a huge problem in the early editions. It was very stressful. I got very fed up with the process and put the idea on the shelf in 2015, but then I met the publisher Harvey Fenton of FAB Press and I thought maybe it was his cup of tea, because he is the man who gave us Cinema Sewer and Satanic Panic.

It has taken another 2 or 3 years. Now the book comes out officially in the shops on 1st August but, if you pre-order, you will get signed copies sent to you from 1st June. After so many versions and God knows how many lawyers, apparently it will now leave me legally in the clear. There is a disclaimer at the front to tidy up any loose ends:

DISCLAIMER

The inclusion of a person’s name or likeness in this book does not imply that the person has at any time bought, traded or accepted as a gift an illegal drug from the author or has used an illegal drug from any source. Some names and identifying features have been changed.

“It will leave me legally in the clear…”

JOHN: People in the film business? The theatrical business?

DAVID: (LAUGHS) Oh yes… all media. It’s been a colourful life and I’ve indulged in all manner of things in my 71 years.

JOHN: Knowing a lot of it was unrepeatable for legal reasons, why did you start it?

DAVID: I thought there was a story about what was going on at the turn of the century and, while everyone seemed almost supernaturally obsessed with the end of 1000 years and convinced that planes were going to fall out of the sky, I thought there was something else going on. I knew there was something else going on, because it was going on in my living room every Friday night for five years. So I wrote about my own life, particularly around that period, 1998-2003. But the lifestyle I was indulging in those five years stretched back to my teenage years, so I thought I might as well write about my entire life.

JOHN: You said: “…going on in my living room”.

DAVID: That is the essence of what the book is about.

JOHN: Your living room?

DAVID: Yes… Well, it was mostly in my basement. It was a four-storey house in a very charming crescent in Kings Cross.

JOHN: At the time when it was gentrifying…

McGillivray: a life of unbridled glamour

DAVID: When I moved there in 1995, it was still very rough indeed. By the time I left two years ago, it was completely unrecognisable. The old community I knew had completely gone and the rest of the street was virtually rented out for Airbnb. I didn’t like that.

JOHN: So, parties in your basement on Friday nights for five years… Details?

DAVID: I don’t know where to begin… I was a party animal and all that that entails.

JOHN: What does it entail?

DAVID: An enormous amount of activity every Friday night.

JOHN: Activity? Only Fridays? What happened on Thursdays in your basement?

DAVID: Nothing.

JOHN: You are a tease.

DAVID: I’m a wicked tease. Well, I used to be in the exploitation movie business. I want people to buy the book and be surprised.

JOHN: “Used to be”?

DAVID: Well, I haven’t done any of those sort of films since 1977.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location

JOHN: What about Trouser Bar – the one allegedly – ooh, err – definitely not written by John Gielgud?

DAVID: I think it is a work of ar…

JOHN: Arse?

DAVID: Art. It’s not an exploitation film.

JOHN: What happened in your house on Saturday mornings?

DAVID: Hangovers and Oh God! Why did I do it? conversations.

JOHN: You are being reticent, but the book is over the top.

DAVID: It’s excessive, yes.

JOHN: But detailed and true. You kept diaries.

DAVID: From the age of 12. I have diaries from 1960 to today and haven’t missed a day.

JOHN: Can worried participants in your life expect a sequel?

DAVID: Almost certainly, yes, because a lot has happened since 2015 and you have blogged about some of those incidents. 

“…and the film WILL be made.”

JOHN: Regrets?

DAVID: I don’t regret anything I’ve done at all. One should only regret the things one hasn’t done.

JOHN: Any other films on the horizon?

DAVID: I’m still trying to find a director for The Wrong People – based on the novel by Robin Maugham. It’s a quite expensive feature film; one I can’t finance myself. I bought the film rights. More controversy: “It’s unfilmable” and all that. At the moment, nobody will touch it with a bargepole. But I WILL get a director for it and the film WILL be made.

JOHN: That sounds like a threat.

Leave a comment

Filed under Drugs, London, Movies, showbiz

A glimpse at the history of the casting couch before/during the Weinstein era

Harvey Weinstein at Cannes Film Festival (Photo, Rita Molnár)

With Harvey Weinstein in the news, I thought this was quite interesting.

The currently-posted Wikipedia entry on CASTING COUCH has these under the heading ALLEGATIONS. I have edited out the more generalised bits.

I can, of course, not confirm the truth of any.


EUROPE

• In 1930s Nazi Germany, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels allegedly ran a casting-couch operation and aided the careers of actresses such as Jenny Jugo and Irene von Meyendorff. In her memoirs, Swedish actress Zarah Leander described the “sleazy seduction scene” Goebbels arranged for her at his villa.

• In 1956, British fan magazine Picturegoer published a four-part casting-couch exposé entitled “The Perils of Show Business” featuring interviews with actresses such as Joy Webster, Dorinda Stevens, Anne Heywood and Marigold Russell.

• On an episode of The Word in 1994, English actress Kate O’Mara claimed American producer Judd Bernard pulled down her panties during a hotel-room audition for the Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble (1967). In her autobiography Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003), O’Mara described this alleged casting couch incident (p. 61) and “many other close encounters with… this very unpleasant and humiliating procedure” (p. 32), including a well-known television casting director (pp. 32–33), the boss of Associated Television at Elstree Studios (pp. 34–35) and the director of Great Catherine (pp. 41–42).

• In 1998, writer-director Bruce Robinson described how as a 20-year-old young actor he was given a role in Romeo and Juliet (1968) after Franco Zeffirelli went down on him in Rome.

• In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: “The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it… My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there”. In a 1977 interview, she had also said: “I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them… Believe me, the casting couch is no myth”. In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: “Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

• In 2005, French film director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for Choses Secrètes (2002).

• In 2008, actress Ingrid Pitt described the unwelcome advances of two producers in hotels.

• In August 2012, actress Julie Delpy spoke out about casting-couch paedophiles in France in the 1980s.

• In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theatre and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed “the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry.”

• In 2013, Myleene Klass stated that, “I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing”. Earlier, in 2010, she revealed a major Hollywood star (named in 2017 as Harvey Weinstein) wanted to sign a sex contract with her.

• In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN of how, aged 18, she was auditioned by a male director and a female casting director. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair and before I started my dialogue, [I was told] to think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person. It turned out the director used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house – a video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt.” She declined to name the director.

• In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford‘s “casting couch” at his Mayfair office was “his daughter’s specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle”.

• In May 2017, actress Barbara Windsor claimed that in the 1950s an influential former actor ran his hands all over her after promising her a film role.

UNITED STATES

• In her memoir Past Imperfect: An Autobiography (1978), actress Joan Collins described her experience of the casting-couch behaviour of two 20th Century Fox execs in the 1950s.

• Since 1988, Theresa Russell has alleged in multiple interviews that she was propositioned by legendary producer Sam Spiegel during her first casting session for The Last Tycoon. According to his biographer, Spiegel had previously made liberal use of the casting couch during the making of The Chase (1966).

• In her memoir Child Star (1988), actress Shirley Temple claimed that one producer exposed himself to her in 1940 when she was 12.

• In 2003, Italian actress Asia Argento stated that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles. Her semi-autobiographical film Scarlet Diva (2000) features a scene along these lines with painter Joe Coleman playing a lecherous producer inspired, as revealed in October 2017, by Argento’s alleged experience with Harvey Weinstein.

• Robert Hofler’s book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005) alleged that Hollywood agent Henry Willson was a gay casting-couch predator.

• In her 2005 autobiography, actress Goldie Hawn stated that cartoonist Al Capp sexually propositioned her on a casting couch and exposed himself to her when she was nineteen years old. When she refused his advances, Capp became angry and told her that she was “never gonna make anything in your life” and that she should “go and marry a Jewish dentist. You’ll never get anywhere in this business.”

• In her autobiography Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (2006), Austrian actress Senta Berger (b. 1941) claimed that in a New York hotel suite in 1965 a producer (b. 1902) exposed himself to her beneath his silk dressing gown and offered to forgive her for the atrocities of the Nazis if she slept with him.

• In 2006, a New York City producer was accused of sexually harassing several members of the cast of the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God.

• In 2007, an article in Vanity Fair denounced former manager of boy bands the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, Lou Pearlman (who was arrested for financial related crimes such as money laundering) for improper casting couch-behavior.

• In 2009, Hollywood composer Joseph Brooks was arrested on charges of raping or sexually assaulting eleven women between 2005 and 2008, allegedly having lured them to his apartment to audition for movie roles. Brooks committed suicide in 2011 before the case came to trial.

• In a 2009 interview with OK! Magazine, actress Charlize Theron claimed that when she was 18 she was propositioned at an audition by a pajama-clad Hollywood director. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal.”

• In a 2010 interview with Elle magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that early in her career a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish “in the bedroom”.

• In April 2010, actor Ryan Phillippe admitted on the Howard Stern Show that he had had to flee a “creepy” casting-couch session when he was 18 or 19.

• In a 2010 interview with Access Hollywood, actress Lisa Rinna said a producer had asked her for “a quickie” when she was a 24-year-old candidate for a role on a prominent television series. At the same interview, Rinna’s husband Harry Hamlin claimed that a female casting director attempted to seduce him in the late 1970s when he was 27.

• In 2011, Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch. Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are “still in the game” and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and “passed around” in the 1980s.

• In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon spoke of a “really disgusting” casting-couch experience in New York City in the late 1960s or early 1970s. “I just went into a room and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done.”

• Amy Berg‘s documentary An Open Secret (2014) followed the stories of five former child actors whose lives were turned upside down by multiple predators, including the convicted sex offenders Marc Collins-Rector, Brian Peck, Marty Weiss and Bob Villard.

• In July 2016, television executive Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson. More than twenty other women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have since come forward with similar allegations about Ailes’ predatory casting couch-like behavior in the television industry over a 50-year period.

• In October 2016, Cher posted on Twitter that she had had a “scary experience” with an unnamed and now deceased “gross” rich, important film producer at his house. She stated that she walked out and they never spoke again because “no job is worth that”.

• Also in October 2016, Rose McGowan tweeted that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood. A year later, the studio head McGowan accused was revealed to have been Harvey Weinstein.

• On 1 November 2016, defence lawyers for Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 60 women, wrote that, “Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr. Cosby, and thus not a ‘signature’ nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses’ stories, let alone a conviction.”

• In March 2017, actress Jane Fonda claimed: “I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”.

• In June 2017, Alison Brie claimed she was asked to take her top off during an Entourage audition and Emmy Rossum alleged she was asked to visit a film director’s office in a bikini.

• In July 2017, actress Zoe Kazan stated: “I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed”.

• On 5 October 2017, a New York Times article accused Oscar-winning film producer and mogul Harvey Weinstein of three decades of sexual harassment of and paying off settlements to actresses Ashley Judd (in 1996) and Rose McGowan (in 1997), Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez (in 2015) and several named and unnamed female Miramax and Weinstein Company production assistants, temps and other employees. Weinstein promptly issued an apology for his past behavior and denied some of the allegations before being fired by the board of his own company. Shortly thereafter, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Judith Godrèche, Heather GrahamCara DelevingneLéa Seydoux, Kate Beckinsale and many others spoke out about their experiences of being sexually harassed by Weinstein.

• In the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein scandal in October 2017, actor Terry Crews tweeted that a “high-level Hollywood executive” had groped his genitals at an industry event in 2016, actor Rob Schneider spoke of a “gross” hotel-room encounter before he was famous with a famous, now-deceased director and actor James Van Der Beek tweeted about sexual harassment by “older, powerful men” in Hollywood.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Sex

Save Soho!

Tim Arnold stands next to a photo of his mum

Tim stands by a photo of his mum in a Windmill programme

I was chatting to singer-songwriter Tim Arnold, aka The Soho Hobo about his Save Soho! campaign following the sudden closure of iconic Soho club Madame JoJo’s.

I photographed him standing by a photo of his mother.

“Gillian Arnold,” I said, reading the name on the photo.

“Yes,” said Tim. “Mother was a Windmill girl, just before it closed down. She was the youngest nude at the Windmill Theatre at 15. She changed her name to Polly Perkins.”

“Polly Perkins?” I said, genuinely surprised. “Heavens! Really?”

“Yes,” said Tim. “That’s my mum. She was one of the first presenters on Ready Steady Go! before Cathy McGowan. She made several records in the 1960s. Jimmy Page played lead guitar for her for a time, which was inspiring for me when I started writing music. She ran her own club in Mayfair: The Candlelight Club. And then she was a TV actress in both Eldorado and, three years ago, EastEnders.”

The reason I mention this is to show Tim Arnold has quite a background in both show business and in London’s Soho.

Passers by - Madame JoJo’s last night

Soho punters passing by the closed Madame JoJo’s last night

In late October, there was a fight between Madame JoJo’s bouncers and a customer. The police report recommended the club’s licence be suspended. The club changed its manager and selected a new team of bouncers approved by Westminster Council. The Council then permanently revoked Madame JoJo’s licence and, as Tim wrote in an open letter to London Mayor Boris Johnson on 3rd December, “half a century of Soho history ended.”

The letter was also signed by Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Paul O’Grady. Pete Townshend, Eddie Izzard and a virtual roll-call of the British entertainment industry.

“What’s it all about?” I asked Tim yesterday.

“It’s quite complicated,” he told me. “What we know is that Westminster Council suspended the licence and then they permanently revoked the licence. But what we also know is that, a year beforehand, the Council was given an application by Soho Estates to redevelop that block, which would have involved demolishing Madame JoJo’s.”

“Who,” I asked, “is Soho Estates? Is that the Paul Raymond company?”

“Yes. Paul Raymond’s granddaughters.” (Fawn James & India Rose James)

“I’m surprised,” I said. “Because they quite like Soho.”

“I’m surprised too,” said Tim. “Fawn is a friend who I met three years ago, at the launch of the Soho Flea Market. It was lovely for me to finally meet her, because my grandfather used to work for her grandfather – my grandfather Dickie Arnold was actor-manager of the Raymond Revue when it toured; and, later on, he worked at the Raymond Revuebar with my grandmother.

“It was really great to make that connection with Fawn and, because she’s an actress as well, she performed in one of my videos – Manners On The Manor – which was shot at Ronnie Scott’s – playing the role of Queen of Soho.

“So I am quite confused as to how this has been allowed to happen with her being involved, because I know that Fawn supports the performing arts. And Paul Raymond supported the arts – people don’t realise this.

“I grew up surrounded by musicians, comedians, actors and singers who all, at one point or another, were given a start in Soho, largely down to Paul Raymond. He supported the arts and that is part of what his legacy should be.”

“When I interviewed Fawn on BBC1’s Inside Out a year ago, I asked her off-camera what was going to happen to Madame JoJo’s and she said it was going to have to be moved; but she didn’t elaborate. It’s also a year ago since I sang at Madame JoJo’s with Andy Serkis and The Blockheads. That’s the last time I was inside the venue.

“The sadness over the closure is not about the name. It’s about the space.

“Soho has been a stage for every emerging artist from all over the country for 50 years. Madam JoJo’s was not a pub which had been given a licence for performers to work in – it was a professional space where people could hawk their wares and showcase their talents to the entertainment industry in general which, by and large, is based in London.”

“Surely,” I said. “one little club dying isn’t going to destroy the whole of Soho?”

The London Astoria

The London Astoria – now knocked down & being redeveloped

“They’ve taken a lot of them out already,” said Tim. “The Astoria being knocked down was a shock, particularly to the music industry. That seemed to make it open season on other venues.

“I signed my first record deal with Sony after doing a gig in a basement club called the Borderline – a 200-capacity venue like Madame JoJo’s. These venues are important for up-and-coming bands. We have to keep these venues open, unless developers want to argue that TV talent shows are the only way forward for young artists to get their feet in the industry.

“People keep talking about Madame JoJo’s being representative of the gay and transgender culture. It is. But it was also somewhere bands could perform regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“It wasn’t particularly gay, though, was it?” I asked. “Lots of straight people went there for shows. It was not a gay club as such. It was cabaret, music, comedy, some gay stuff in among all that sex stuff around the Raymond Revuebar alleyway.”

“It was,” said Tim, “a microcosm of what Soho is. It’s everything – a melting pot. It does not have one single identity. Madam JoJo’s disappearing is almost like the performance heart of Soho is. It doesn’t matter what your culture, background, religion, sexual orientation is, you were welcome and that’s why it is pretty serious it has gone.

The Raymond Revuebar in its heyday

The Raymond Revuebar in its heyday

“I’m not a campaigner, I’m an entertainer. That’s the key. A campaign has arisen out of my passion for where I and my family have lived and worked for the last 50 years. I didn’t plan it as a campaign. My mother said I should write a letter to the mayor and I thought How can I make him respond to the letter quicker? So I called my friend Benedict Cumberbatch and he said he would help and, after that, it snowballed.

“Madame JoJo’s was open from 7.30pm to 3.00am. That’s a lot of entertainment. It kept performers working, earning a living, promoting what they do. Equity have come on board today and are also talking to the Council about this to try and repeal the decision.

“Where we are sitting now, in my flat on Frith Street, from Thursday to Saturday night, I see violent altercations pretty much every night dealt with by the police. It’s dealt with responsibly and none of these venues, restaurants or clubs get closed down. If a bouncer did something inappropriate on this street, they would lose their job. The venue does not get closed down and it doesn’t get green-lit for demolition. If they did that all the time, we would be able to see Buckingham Palace from here!”

The closed Raymond Revuebar (left) and Madame JoJo’s (right) in Soho last night

The closed Raymond Revuebar (left) and Madame JoJo’s (right) in Soho last night

“It sounds,” I said, “like bizarre corruption of some sort. They close down this venue where there is an application to change it.”

“I have never,” said Tim, “mentioned corruption, but I have never heard a single person this week not mention it. I’m a singer-songwriter. What do I know?

“And, of course,”I said, “in Soho, there is no history of corruption involving the police in Soho.”

“Anyway,” said Tim, “I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on a very clear message from all sides of the entertainment industry – emerging and established artists – saying You can’t keep doing this without talking to this community first.

“We can welcome any new addition – Mozart lived on this street and television was first demonstrated just a few doors down this same street – but not at the expense of taking away what we already have here.

“Having new art galleries and pop-up art galleries is all well and fine and it looks, on the surface, like the landlords supporting those art galleries are supporting the arts, but Soho IS an art gallery.”

Tim has a song called Soho Heroes

3 Comments

Filed under Gay, London, Music

“No, I was not bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee,” says UK performer

Matt Roper with his dad George Roper

Matt Roper (left) with his dad George Roper

You have no idea how I and other people suffer for this blog.

At the moment, I have comedy performer Matt Roper staying in my spare bedroom for the next four weeks. Well, he may emerge occasionally. Matt performs as comedy singing character Wilfredo. His father was stand-up comedian George Roper, who rose to fame on Granada TV’s stand-up series The Comedians in the 1960s, along with Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and others.

“I don’t have a blog today,” I told Matt this afternoon. “You’ll have to give me one. I always tell people that, as a boy, you were bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee and you say you weren’t. There must be a blog in that.”

“I was bounced on Cilla Black’s knee,” said Matt.

“In blog terms,” I said, “Cilla Black is not as sexy as Bernard Manning.”

“We are not talking about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t you want to be associated with Manning?”

“It’s just that I didn’t know him that well. I might as well be associated with Hermann Goering.”

“Well, you are,” I said.

Matt introduced me to Hermann Goering’s great-niece for a blog last year.

Les Dawson: not to be confused with Bernard Manning

Les Dawson shared knee-bouncing with Cilla Black?

“Bernard Manning,” I persisted, “kept coming round for Sunday lunch, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Matt. “Les Dawson used to come round for Sunday lunch sometimes.”

“Did he bounce you on his knee?” I asked hopefully.

Matt did not answer.

“There’s a picture of me sitting on Cilla’s knee,” said Matt, “but she might not like me letting you put it online. She’s in a swimming costume. This is not interesting, John.”

“It is,” I insisted. “I WAS NOT BOUNCED ON BERNARD MANNING’S KNEE is the headline, then we talk about something completely different.”

“OK,” said Matt. “But I think Louis Armstrong kissing Molly Parkin is far more interesting.”

“Where did he kiss her?” I asked.

“Do you mean…” Matt started to ask.

“I mean whatever you think I mean,” I said.

“You’ve always got Johnnie Hamp as a blog,” suggested Matt about the legendary Granada TV producer.

“He’s very interesting,” I said, “but he’s up in Cheshire.”

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

“Next year,” persisted Matt, “it’s the 50th anniversary of a TV show he produced called The Music of Lennon & McCartney. Brian Epstein (The Beatles’ manager) was very loyal. Not the best businessman, but a very loyal man to people who had given him a helping hand.

“By 1965, The Beatles didn’t really need to do a Granada TV show but Johnnie had been one of the first people to put The Beatles on TV in a regional Granada show Scene at 6.30. It’s on YouTube.

“In 1965, Johnnie had this idea The Music of Lennon & McCartney and there was this huge spectacular in Studio One at Granada TV and he flew people in – Henry Mancini played If I Fell on the piano; Ella Fitzgerald;  Cilla was on it; Peter Sellers reciting A Hard Day’s Night as Richard III. That’s on YouTube.”

“What were Cilla’s knees like?” I asked.

Matt ignored me.

“Johnnie Hamp,” he continued, “brought Woody Allen over to do a TV special – it’s the 50th anniversary of that next year, too. It’s the only television special Woody Allen ever did. Just for Johnnie Hamp at Granada. There’s a clip on YouTube.

“Johnnie told me recently: Back in those days, we didn’t care about ratings; creativity was more important. I mean, The Comedians was interesting because, today, no-one would take a chance on giving twelve unknown comics a primetime TV series.”

“That,” I said, “was why Sidney Bernstein (who owned Granada) was a great man.”

“Was it him or his brother who had a wooden leg?” asked Matt.

“That was Denis Forman,” I said. “It might have been metal.”

“I’ve got a Beatles-related story you could end your blog with,” said Matt.

“Just tell me what Cilla Black’s knees were like,” I told him.

“My dad,” said Matt, ignoring me, “told a story of when all the Beatles’ brothers and uncles in Liverpool – all the men of the family – heard that The Beatles were smoking drugs. What’s all this? they went. They took the train down from Lime Street to Euston to sort the fookin’ whatever’s going on owt. We’ll sort this fookin’ droogs thing owt.

“And the story goes that, three days later, they all got off the train back in Liverpool Lime Street saying: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

“I’d better take a photo of you,” I said, “for the blog.”

“Not if you’re going to go on and on about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

 

4 Comments

Filed under 1960s, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Music

TV success or total creative satisfaction? The eternal choice facing comedians.

Creative excess or compromised, homogenised TV success?

My blog yesterday was about when performers should just give up because they are not going to ‘make it’.

Someone criticised me for apparently setting the choice up as: Appear on TV or fail.

That is not quite the situation, but it is, alas, very close to it.

It depends on your definition of ’success’.

To make money, to be really successful, you currently pretty-much have to do TV. (The internet may enter more into the equation at a later date.)

Of course, creative and aesthetic success is not the same as making lots of money. But, if you are the greatest artist/creator/performer in the world and no-one sees what you do, then there is little point in doing it – you are doing it for yourself. Making money is a sign of acceptance and appreciation by a large section of the population.

But, when I go to the Edinburgh Fringe, I tend not to see the already-famous, already highly-financially-successful acts because I prefer to find what I perceive as more ‘original’ acts. To get any form of mainstream success, I think you have to homogenise your act to some extent and lose some of the unpredictable originality.

I am not saying that is a good or a bad thing. I just happen to prefer to see less well-known acts. I am prepared to plough through 90% mud to find a diamond rather than watch perfection in plastic. And, to an extent, you learn more watching imperfect shows than perfect homogenised shows.

I was recently in North Korea, where the level of stage and event professionalism makes shows on Broadway, in Las Vegas and in London’s West End look like amateur night at the village hall. But – hey! – I could not face seeing those OTT North Korean mega-shows too often…

For the British comedian, struggling to eke out a living and get more than three people to come to his/her show, television is the Holy Grail. And it is simple mathematics.

If you do a shit TV series that is an appalling, disastrous failure and “gets no ratings”, that means it may be getting 300,000 viewers. That is no audience at all in TV terms. But, to be seen by that number of people in sold-out 100 or 150-seater venues would take forever and have less impact.

If you play the Edinburgh Fringe for 29 nights and sell out your 100-seater venue every night, that is a massive success in Fringe terms, but it is only 2,900 people over the course of a month compared to 300,000 people in one night on a failed TV show. And those 300,000 people are possibly seeing you in each of six episodes of the TV show and are more likely to pay to see you live and to buy your DVDs…

If you appear on a successful TV series, you may get 5 million viewers or top-of-the-range 9 million viewers in one night. If only 1% of them like you, that is 50,000 or 90,000 people as opposed to 2,900 in a smash-hit, month-long Edinburgh Fringe show. If only 50% of the TV show’s audience like you, it is 2.5 million or 4.5 million new fans aware of you, possibly in a single night. And, of course, in actual awareness terms, it is 5 million or 9 million who have suddenly seen you ‘selling’ your ‘product’.

The best thing Michael McIntyre ever did in career terms was go on Britain’s Got Talent as a judge. He was already well-known by live comedy fans and TV comedy fans, but Britain’s Got Talent has phenomenal ratings across the board.

TV creates wider awareness.

But getting a TV break, of course, is well-nigh impossible – especially if you are a truly original act.

You have to be able to replicate the act for the TV director or, at least, make a good stab at it. On a big show, the director is maybe going to see the act rehearse twice in the afternoon and then shoot the show in the evening. In the rehearsals, he needs to see where the pauses are, where the glances are.

So, if you have an only-average comedian who performs a set script, who can do the words and pauses exactly the same then – to a lot of TV directors and producers – that is preferable to a really, really original act which is totally unpredictable. And, if the only-average act’s material runs to the same duration within 5 seconds every time it is delivered, then Christmas, New Year, the director’s 18th birthday and the Royal Jubilee have all come together.

A not-utterly-brilliant, not-utterly-original but OK act that is dependable is ‘better’ for TV than an utterly original, unpredictable act that is not going to be the same every single time it’s done.

With TV shows, you are talking about large amounts of money, even on the cheap ones. And, if you are talking about a peaktime show on BBC1 or ITV1 – which is where the large audiences are – you are talking serious, serious money. You cannot waste it by risking it on people who are brilliant only 60% or even 75% of the time.

Some acts – maybe not the best acts – CAN deliver good dependable performances and acceptable material 100% or 98% of the time.

You can edit an act’s material in theory but, with some of the best, most original, most unpredictable acts, it is very difficult to edit out material and keep up the TV pace.

Televised performances tend to need a faster pace than stage performances because there is no ‘atmosphere’ as such. In a live show, you can feel the atmosphere in the air. The adrenaline in the air keeps you ‘high’. On TV, the ‘atmosphere’ that keeps you ‘high’ on interest and excitement is artificially created by the timing of the visual cuts and the mixing of the sound from various microphones.

I know one comedian who has been on TV a fair amount, but he is never likely to become a major star in his own show, or even headline a big show, because he does not know, even when he starts to perform, exactly what he will say. If you give him a script, he may diverge from it.

I can think of another act who has perhaps four or five hours of comedy material which they use all the time – with occasional new additions and lots of reactions to the audience – but the stage show is never the same twice.

And another act – sublimely brilliant – where there may be ‘headings’ in the person’s brain, but it is totally ad-libbed.

Those last two acts would make great TV presenters on pre-recorded shows – presenting their own documentaries, for example, where a strong personality would dominate – but neither tells brief punchlined gags. They are not stand-up comedians in TV terms.

A TV stand-up comedian is someone who can deliver two minutes to camera. Or someone who can be on a panel show delivering some pre-scripted lines and perhaps ad-libbing one or two short sentences in a sequence. Brief. Succinct. With a traditional punch-line every time. Guaranteed laugh-laugh-laugh material.

Being a personality-based comedian is great on some TV shows, but not for stand-up comedy shows. TV wants sound-bites. It wants sequences which can be edited to fit into a greater jigsaw.

Comedians who are brilliant at long-form storytelling have no real outlet on TV at the moment.

There is one comedian who always gets amazing reviews. Amazingly-stonking reviews. You could die happy if you got even one of those reviews. You could not write better reviews for yourself. And, I think, a lot of other acts do not understand why this person gets those reviews because they have only seen bits-and-pieces of this particular act.

At 5 minutes, the act is nothing special, because they’re not a gag-based act. They’re not Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine (all of whom are superbly creatively successful in the gag-based comedy genre which TV requires).

At 20 minutes, the act is fine. But doesn’t stand out totally from other acts.

At 30 minutes in length, it’s better.

At 60 minutes or 90 minutes or 120 minutes it is amazing. Utterly brilliant.

But this is not an act which can be shoe-horned into Live at The Apollo.

It would work on a chat show or if the person were used as a presenter, because it is a personality-based act. But, because it is not a gag-based act and cannot be chopped in the editing process, it is not an act which can really be screened as part of a show with multiple comedians in it.

To get a useful TV break, by and large, comedians with true originality have to compromise. To a certain extent, they have to choose between lots and lots of money by appealing to a wide TV audience… or being able to do totally original stuff on stage (but not on TV) with quite a high risk of failure.

There is an act, famous on the circuit and among fans of alternative comedy but unknown by the woman standing in a bus queue in Leamington Spa.

This performer’s act used to contain maybe 5% of extraordinary, near-genius originality. But there was often 40% that did not work at all, 40% that was average and 15% that was quite good. I liked seeing the act. But that sort of act would never get on TV because it has 80% of nothing exceptional, 15% of sort-of-so-so-OK material and 5% of really good stuff.

That particular comic has evened the act out a bit more now: maybe 85% is good and 15% is average.; occasionally maybe 1% of near-genius peeps through. So he has much more likelihood of getting TV success. But I preferred watching the old act where you got 5% of amazing near-genius with 40% of stuff that didn’t work at all..

To be cynical, it is a choice between compromised financial comfort with the added bonus of ego satisfaction… and creative satisfaction over something which is likely to be widely unseen and unknown by audiences.

2 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Comedy, Television

Are they still celebrities even if you don’t know who on earth they are?

Someone said I was namedropping in yesterday’s blog when I mentioned that comedian Peter Cook once almost collided with me while he was running in the rain in Hampstead…

I don’t think it was. It is merely bizarre how people intersect with others. It is usually less than six degrees of separation.

I remember Jewish American comedian Andrew J.Lederer telling me (and, indeed, mentioning in one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows) that once in New York he encountered the Nazi’s favourite film director Leni Riefenstahl and she, of course, had shaken the hand of Hitler so he – a New York Jew in the 2000s – was only one handshake away from Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

Someone told me last night that she thinks she may have briefly met Sammy Davis Jnr “at Alice Cooper’s birthday party” in the US perhaps 30 years ago…. “But it might not have been Sammy Davis. I did not talk to him and Alice Cooper was not even at the birthday party.”

I once showed Captain Sensible, formerly of punk rock band The Damned, round the Coronation Street set. He was up at the Granada TV studios in Manchester for some long-forgotten pop show, but all he really wanted to do was have his photograph taken in Coronation Street. I seem to vaguely remember him sitting happily on top of a red pillar box.

Comic Bob Slayer tells me: “At the Killer Bitch movie premiere, I met that lovely lady The Black Widow Murderer who was Myra Hindley’s hairdresser. I once had an ex-girlfriend who said she was having an affair with Neil Morrisey, but she was making it up. And several years ago (at least ten) I had a go at internet dating but didn’t have a digital photo of me myself or a camera so, I used an image of Buster Bloodvessel (lead singer of the band Bad Manners) which I found online… no-one ever said the photo was not of me.”

I myself once drove Buster Bloodvessel from Monmouth to Norwich for a film shoot.  He was very nice.

Bob Slayer says: “I drove Snoop Dogg from St Martin’s Lane to the Playboy Club in London recently, where he was doing a private gig. At the Club, there was some little fella having his photo taken with some bunny girls who were nearly a foot taller than him. I leant in and told him that there were probably some others his own size inside. Inside, some guy I did not recognise was talking about football to a bouncer. The next day, I saw the showbiz photos taken at the Playboy Club and it turned out the short-arse was Joe McElderry. Apparently he won the sixth series of The X Factor? It also turned out that the guy talking about football was Ashley Cole and the big fella who I thought was a bouncer was boxer David Haye.”

Andy Warhol was wrong when he said that, in future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

He should have added “…but you may not know who they are”.

Who is the Black Widow Murderer and is there only one? It sounds like a tabloid term that may have been used more than once in different countries.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

The Edinburgh Fringe? – “It is called show business and not show charity”

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about two types of show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

In normal ‘paid’ shows, the audience pays for its tickets before seeing the show and reviewers and talent scouts for the media/showbiz industry mostly get free tickets because they potentially may publicise the show or further the performers’ careers.

At ‘free’ shows, people do not buy tickets in advance, but are encouraged to pay on exit and reviewers/talent scouts may be scowled-at if they do not pay. In yesterday’s blog, I suggested the fact that ‘industry’ people ironically do not pay for ‘paid’ shows but may be expected to pay for ‘free’ shows might discourage reviewers and talent scouts from attending free shows. They would, in effect, be paying to promote the shows/further the performers’ careers.

I quoted Peter Buckley Hill, organiser of the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh, as saying: “This is not something that concerns me greatly… Our performers are strongly advised to concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame… What happens at paid shows is nothing to me either.  But in my view, both (the employers of) reviewers and competition judges should pay for their show tickets.”

There has been some reaction from other Fringe veterans to yesterday’s blog.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers, ITV Show Me The Funny judge and a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge, Facebooked me: “Shame on you, you skinflint Fleming. I make a POINT of seeing as many free shows as I can and, yes, they are the only ones I end up paying for but, to coin a literary term, SO THE FUCK WHAT ? It is the right thing to do. If we don’t review goodly numbers of free shows then we are saying that money WILL buy you reviews. Not mine it won’t.”

American comedian Lewis Schaffer has used the Fringe’s ‘free’ show model in his twice-weekly Free Until Famous shows which re-start in London’s Soho tomorrow and in a mini-tour of UK arts centres which I blogged about recently. He says:

“Whether or not to let reviewers in for free is such a minor point and one easily addressed: give the promoters and industry people ‘get out of show free’ passes to drop in the performers’ jars. Simple. If a performer doesn’t want to accept them, he can post a notice at the entrance.

“Acts are willing to lose massive amounts of money just to be seen by entertainment industry people in Edinburgh. That’s always been the main benefit of putting on shows at the Big Four venues. Industry people are corralled, cuddled and coddled at the Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly. Is it worth it? Well, for many shows, yes.

“Why shouldn’t the free venues do the same?”

Alex Petty, who organises the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe (separately from PBH’s Free Fringe) says:

“I like the idea of tokens. It would be good to come up with a zero maintenance solution to this.”

Bob Slayer, who ran the Hive venue as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival last year and who, this year, will be running his Alternative Edinburgh Fringe at the Hive with a mixture of ‘free’ shows in the afternoon and and ‘paid’ shows in the evening says:

“As a promoter I think, if this really is a problem, the free shows should look at a low-maintenance way to address it. Personally, I only really know one of the reviewers that ‘does’ my Fringe shows – Kate Copstick from The Scotsman – and she always drops in a fiver and buys me copious amounts of Jagermeister. I think the other reviewers may have heard how expensive it is to review me and sneak in quietly.

“Copstick is one of the good people. But the question is Do you only want to be reviewed by good people?? I am more than happy for evil, tight-fisted people to enjoy and review my show too. (I fear they might be my target audience.) So this year, instead of paying for PR I will offer a bottle of whisky and/or a hand-job to anyone who reviews my nonsense. And, just to keep this creatively pure, I will give extra for bad reviews.

“However, I think your blog has opened up some wider and bigger questions beyond reviewers.

“I cannot agree with your statement that, at the Fringe, performers (quite rightly) assume they will not make any profit. This is the biggest single problem at the Fringe today.

“Two million tickets are sold at the Edinburgh Fringe every year, so someone is making money. A lot of money. This myth that performers should expect to lose money has been very successfully spread by the people who are making the cash in order to protect their annual golden goose. If there is not enough money left for performers – after venues, PR people, poster people, publications, marketing services etc have taken their cut – then the obvious solution is that we cannot afford all these services and we should re-structure everything so that all the money doesn’t disappear into these people’s pockets.

“That is what we are aiming to do with the Alternative Fringe – paid shows with no rent/guarantee or other hidden costs, plus low ticket pricing and efficient marketing so that the performer earns from the first ticket sold.

“I also find myself totally agreeing with PBH and have very little to add when he says performers should concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame. The former leads to satisfaction in a job well done; the latter to frustration and the sort of nervous breakdown behaviour often associated with Fringe performers.

“However, as admirable as PBH’s non-profit stance is, this is still a business model that needs to be sustained and it is hardly wise to ignore the industry and reviewers altogether. Performers want to be able to keep performing and/or build a career.

“Reviews, along with word-of-mouth, recommendations, online activity, marketing etc, can all help them put bums-on-seats. But it is a question of balance and priorities. Find and develop an audience and the industry will come – Kunt and the Gang proved last year that, if you create a buzz amongst ‘normal’ people, then the industry and press will follow, no matter how inappropriate your act or name is!”

Lewis Schaffer adds:

“Someone in Edinburgh is certainly making money out of the free shows. It is the pub owner who sells alcohol to the punters coming in droves for free entertainment. The ‘free’ shows hinge on punters drinking. How British is that!?

“No punters drinking mean no shows, no PBH Free Fringe, no Laughing Horse Free Festival, no Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, 18th Year, Again, at the Counting House this August.

“Peter Buckley Hill provides entertainment that draws punters to the pubs, which makes Peter Buckley Hill a promoter for pubs in Edinburgh.

“I don’t have an axe to grind with the dude. His existence doesn’t hurt or harm what I do enough for it to matter. I am just a participant doing a free show. Though it does hurt me a little when he calls what he does a charity and holds benefits and makes free shows seem like charity cases, which my show isn’t. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me any more than is necessary!

“All performers at the free festivals are just alcohol salesmen, really. If PBH wants to sell himself as some saviour of entertainers or some charity for lost performers, that is one thing. The truth is something else.

“Everyone involved has a business model: the acts who want a venue at the lowest cost, the pubs who want drinkers in their pubs, the promoters who need money to conduct their businesses and live (… Oh, PBH isn’t doing it for the money? But the Free Fringe needs money to operate. And PBH has a ‘business plan’ to have his needs met as the saviour of entertainers and the liberator of worker artists.)

“The Fringe is part of show business. It is called show business and not show charity.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Marketing, PR, Theatre