Tag Archives: showbusiness

Comedian Roy Hudd and John Major on music halls and a dead magician

John Major’s fond memories of his father

Last night I dreamt that I got on a train in Manchester and over-shot the station I intended to get off at. The train went on to Blackpool and then to southern Ireland. I had trouble getting on a train back to Manchester.

I also dreamt that comedian Roy Hudd interviewed former Prime Minister John Major about the history of British music halls in a crowded London basement room and we all laughed a lot and ended up singing I’m Henerey the Eighth I Am and If You Were The Only Girl in the World.

Except that last bit was not a dream. It happened for real. John Major really was chatting to Roy Hudd at Soho Theatre, to plug My Old Man his book about his father. Older readers will remember that John Major’s father ended up selling gnomes in South London.

You could not dream it up. Prime Minister John Major’s father Tom Major was a Music Hall performer.

British Music Halls started as singing rooms at the back of pubs, which developed in London into saloon theatres in the pleasure gardens and then into ‘song and supper clubs’ including The Cyder Cellar, The Coal Hole and Evans’ Late Joys. Then Charles Morton opened the Canterbury theatre on Lambeth Marshes as a venue dedicated to music hall and this began to attract a female audience which no-one had done before. And that was when Music Hall really started to grow and grow.

“Usually,” said Roy Hudd last night, “the guy who owned the pub was the chairman, to keep an eye on all the drinks. And people always imagine that, when the chairman banged his gavel and shouted out Order! Order! he was doing the same job as the Speaker in the House of Commons – trying to control a drunken mob. But the original shout-out of Order! Order! was an instruction to the audience to order another round of drinks.”

“Yes and, in the very early days,” John Major explained, “the artists actually got paid dependant on how much alcohol was ordered while they were performing. If you drove them to drink, you became rich.”

Tom Major, his father, was a middle-of-the-bill performer. He never became a star.

“It was his life,” John Major explained last night. “and, when he was dying, lots of people came to see him who had worked with him fifty or sixty years before. None of them had been hugely successful. People say politics is a tough profession, I think showbusiness is tougher and lots of these people, even in their elderly, ailing condition, their minds went back to moments when they were on the stage and those were the highlights of their lives.

“They were pretty shabbily dressed – prosperity, if it had ever known them, had passed on pretty quickly. I remember sitting by the bed one afternoon when they argued who had the best chorus songs – Florrie Forde or Harry Champion. A draw was declared when the whisky ran out.

“There was very little money in it for most people. Certainly not before 1907 when the Variety Artistes’ Federation was formed. My father was actually one of the founder members. There was a great meeting and my dad and (his wife) Kitty were numbers 97 and 98 who signed up on the first evening.”

Roy Hudd interrupted: “I was involved with the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund at one time and Brinsworth House, a residential home for the old pros.”

“My half brother died in Brinsworth House,” said John Major.

“People used to come to us,” said Roy Hudd, “who needed help and people on the committee would say What does she need help for? She never stopped working. 52 weeks a year and she never stopped working! But we had one or two very old producers on the committee who would say: She never stopped working, but she never earned more than £2 a week! There was no pension scheme or anything like that back then. They worked hard, but they never got a lot of reward for it.”

“You didn’t, unless you were at the top,” agreed John Major.

“The great George Leybourne,” said Roy Hudd, “the man who sang Champagne Charlie, in the 1860s, was earning £160 a week. What would that be worth today? You could buy a house then for £15.”

“And,” added John Major, “not only was he paid £160 a week, but he was given free champagne all the time because he was advertising it – Moët & Chandon – and he died penniless at 41. He had lots of ‘friends’ and, as the money began to disappear, the friends disappeared and, bitter and disillusioned, he died at 41 absolutely penniless. The money just ran through his hands. He would have made a very good Chancellor in a recent government.

“Most of the acts,” he continued, “would appear at three, four, five, sometimes six theatres a night. They’d be on the stage in a warm theatre, then go out into the cold air, get into another warm theatre and repeat that several times per night. So they were open to all sorts of colds, coughs, diseases and problems. Some of them lived to an old age. But it was a minority.”

“Well,” said Roy Hudd, “Charles Coborn, whose big hit was Two Lovely Black Eyes, lived to over 90 and, late in life, he was at the funeral of one of his mates and Tommy Trinder was there. Tommy asked him How old are you now then, Charlie? He said I’m 88. And Tommy said Blimey, it’s hardly worth you going home!

“If you were at the top,” said John Major, “you could command a very good fee but, once they’d got their one or two headliners, everybody else below was interchangeable with a dozen other people. So they could be offered very low wages and usually were and, if they didn’t take them, then they simply didn’t get employed. So they lived on the hope they were suddenly going to make it. It was a very harsh, tough business right the way through the Victorian era until the strike of 1907, when things began to get better. They were remarkable people to have lived through that and loved performing so much that they continued to do so.

“One magician, The Great Layafette, used to have a sign above his door: The more I see Man, the more I love my dog. And he was buried with his dog. He died in a fire in a theatre. They found the body and they were going to bury him when they realised it was not The Great Lafayette – it was his body double for a trick. So, in a further part of the rubble, they found his body, which they then buried with his dog in a cemetery in Edinburgh.

“There were some amazing acts – Prago the Missing Link, Felix the Talking Duck, Bessie Squelch and Her Big Brass Six. And there were some amazing magicians. There was a guy called Washington Bishop who was a fraud as an illusionist. He was always getting into trouble. He was sued at one stage and fled the country for a while because he owed £10,000 he couldn’t pay. His will specified that his body could be used for science. So, when he died, the doctors grabbed his body and it was dismantled. The next day, his mother turned up and said: But he wasn’t dead! He’s always had these fits. I think these doctors should be arrested for murder!

“The doctors were horrified. There was a great fuss and eventually they brought back the pieces – they found his brain in his chest cavity – and there was another autopsy and eventually the doctors got away with it because it turned out that the mother was as big a fruitcake as the son.”

Showbusiness does not change.

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Never perform comedy with intelligent dogs

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

The first rule of showbusiness is you never perform on the same bill as animals or children.

Last night, there was a very good line-up in the New Variety Lives! show at the Shaw Theatre in London. But what can you do when, also on the stage, unbilled, is ‘Sid Russell’, a small Jack Russell terrier who has bafflingly had over 1,730,000 hits on YouTube in a month – for just running up and down steps –

and who, last night, kept a blue balloon in the air by death-defying leaps upwards to bop it with his cute nose?

On any other night, top-of-the-bill US comedian David Mills, one of the smoothest new acts on the UK comedy circuit – indeed, he was New Act of the Year 2011 – would have been a difficult act to follow, but even a highly charismatic comedian is no competition for a leaping Jack Russell.

Compere Jo Brand, excellent new female comedian Tania Edwards, Nathaniel Tapley as cast-iron-TV-show-prospect ‘Sir Ian Bowler MP’ and New Zealand comic Javier Jarquin who had an excellent street-theatre-type act which I have never seen before and which built to a cracking climax – all those and more were trumped by an acrobatic Jack Russell terrier…

But then, earlier in the day, I had learned with others at the Fortean Times UnConvention all about the species superiority of Canine Intellectuals and Celebrated Talking Dogs.

Jan Bondeson was plugging his new book Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities and, if his book is anything like his one-hour lecture, it must be a cracker.

We had tales of Rolf, the militaristically-inclined German dog who could discuss religion and philosophy but who, at the outbreak of World War One, demanded he should join the German Army despite the fact he was a Yorkshire terrier.

And we had Don, an alleged talking dog who was so intelligent he was earning 12,000 marks per month in German music halls even before he went to the US in July 1912 to perform at Oscar Hammerstein’s famous Roof Garden theatre in New York, where he shared the bill with a man with a 9-foot beard and a troupe of dancing midgets. Don was insured for $50,000, kept profitably touring the US until August 1914 and met Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini and Buster Keaton.

At my school, I never got taught any of this in history lessons.

Apparently Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, taught a dog to say, “How do you do, grandma?”

And even the Nazis took an interest in super-intelligent dogs. When they transported Jews, any ‘innocent’ pet dogs were given to ‘good’ Aryan families and there were even Nazi research institutes for educated dogs.

All this came as enough of a shock to me yesterday without It being topped by ‘Sid Russell’ and his acrobatic, balloon-bopping antics.

I think I need to lie down.

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Day Five of Malcolm Hardee Week – the perils of publicity stunts

Well, at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Award Show, there was a change of plan when we found out we had been successfully conned by Bob Slayer who masterminded the ‘Cockgate’ publicity stunt for Kunt and the Gang – in which Kunt’s penis stickers were put on other acts’ posters throughout Edinburgh…..

Personally, I never rated the basic stunt itself. If you are trying to raise awareness of an act called Kunt… really, do not spread penis stickers all over Edinburgh, especially if they do not have the name of the act/show on and just one of those little square things which smartphones can read but which, in fact, no-one noticed. It’s like promoting 101 Dalmatians by putting blank stickers of the outline of a cat all over the place.

Then there was the racing certainty that it would annoy all the other acts, promoters and venues which had paid for and put up the posters. I was told that one promoter has spent £36,000 on Edinburgh Fringe posters for a particular act. If you deface their posters, it ain’t surprising they are going to be a tad pissed-off.

To my mind, the whole concept of ‘Cockgate’ was cock-eyed and against the basic spirit of the Fringe. The acts (who ultimately pay for everything) are having a bad enough time at the Fringe already without some plonker coming along defacing their marketing tools.

There is much truth in the idea that the posters festooning Edinburgh are promoting promoters not acts but, ultimately, they are building awareness of acts even if they are not putting extra bums on seats; and every act – even one perceived to be successful – is struggling in some way. Showbiz careers are frail facades of mirrors and smoke.

So why did Kunt and The Gang get nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe?

Basically, because – as the nomination said – Kunt (or, rather, Bob Slayer) managed to push the basic sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible. There were tales about agents, managers and promoters threatening people legally, physically and financially; there were humorous quotes from Edinburgh Council officials about seizing and pulling off cocks; there were tales of the outrage caused; and there were photocalls with comedians far more famous than Kunt sporting the iconic penis stickers.

The stunt itself was a load of balls. The handling of and the spin put on the stunt was a work of art.

There was talk among the Malcolm Hardee Award judges of awarding the Cunning Stunt trophy to Bob Slayer instead of Kunt, but the’ Cockgate’ publicity stunt was no different to PR men Mark Borkowski or Max Clifford creating a buzz about an act. Any prize or box office credit goes to the performer not the PR man/woman.

So the nomination went to Kunt and was only slightly wobbled when Kunt sacked Bob Slayer as his PR man in this e-mail which Bob Slayer posted on his website and which I included in my blog yesterday:

Kunt has sacked me

___________________________________

Dear Bob

Sorry to have to tell you by email but I don’t want you doing anything else on the cock sticker campaign. As much as I appreciate the other comedians turning out for the photocalls that you organised, I didn’t want to be in the photos and you convinced me against my better judgement that it would be a good idea. I’ve seen the resulting photos and I look more awkward than Jade Goody’s mum on a juggling course. Also I’m getting grief off my bird after you made me put that sticker on Kate Copstick’s jumper and some cunt took that photo which is now doing the rounds that looks like I’m titting her up.

I know you were doing what you thought best but the reason I don’t do any press releases is because I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers. Since you took it upon yourself to ‘help’ with my cock sticker campaign, coverage in po-faced luvvie mags like The Stage has meant the shows have been increasingly full of pompous, middle class, chin-stroking ponces. For fuck’s sake, the poxy Culture Show have even been in!

In the last seven days since you helped ‘mastermind’ the cock campaign I have had more roll-necked twats in cuntish berets sat there with a glass of red wine and laughing ironically than in the previous seven years of gigs. Fuck knows how this has happened because I’d hardly call your act highbrow, I was there the night that bird stuck her finger up your arsehole and pulled it out leaving a rubber glove hanging out your brown eye.

I will buy you a beer when I see you to say thanks for helping us get nominated for the cunning stunt award. But I don’t want you doing anything else. At this rate it’s only a matter of time before Michael fucking MacIntyre turns up covered in cock stickers shouting ‘Where’s the party?’.

Cheers

Kunt

P.S. I seriously think you are liable for Daniel Sloss’s agent losing her sense of humour and invoicing us for 900 quid. I told you in confidence that I overheard someone saying that he didn’t have pubes yet, there was no need to go and blog it.

___________________________________

When I first read this, I thought it might be another brilliant piece of spin to keep the ‘Cockgate’ saga spinning even longer but, no, I spoke to Bob Slayer and it was genuine; he was very upset.

Except that he was not.

None of it was true.

The e-mail was a fake and was, indeed, written just to stoke the spin on ‘Cockgate’ even more.

Malcolm Hardee judge Kate Copstick and I were totally taken in. We did not realise we had been conned until we were told by Bob immediately before the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show last night.

His reason for the fake e-mail?

“We wanted to confuse Daniel Sloss’s agent so she didn’t know which one of us to sue.”

What was our reaction?

We gave Kunt his Cunning Stunt Award, but we also gave another Cunning Stunt Award to Bob Slayer for fooling us.

This is a one-off extra award and only because somehow, by accident, I had an extra Cunning Stunt Award made. I do not know how this happened. Clearly senility has hit. I cannot count. I cannot spot PR cons.

Yesterday afternoon was also the deadline for bids on eBay from anyone wanting to buy last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award from winner Robert White, who could do with some hard cash. Yesterday morning, I got an e-mail from Robert:
______________

Dear John

Malcolm came to me in a dream last night and got me to stop this obvious sham of a self-promoting non-real auction and as such the item is no longer for sale. Although I believe you can acquire one of your own by doing the Edinburgh Festival and being mental enough.

Yours with best wishes and God’s blessings,

Robert

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The very worst visual horrors of life – from Jaffa Cakes to nipples

Last night, I went to a very belated birthday party thrown for Scots comedian Janey Godley by a central London private members’ club whose name, much like Lord Voldemort, cannot be spoken out loud. By “very belated” I mean that Janey’s birthday was actually in January.

There are always interesting conversations to be had at the ‘Voldemort Club’.

Last night, it started with Jaffa Cakes.

Janey’s new agent Triona Adams, a former nun, told me that actor Ian Richardson’s father had created the Jaffa Cake when he was working for McVitie’s in the 1920s.

There was then talk of people laying Jaffa Cakes on graves because artificial flowers turned white, which I did not quite follow.

And I mentioned I used to work with someone at a Soho facilities house who claimed she was terrified of Jaffa Cakes, which I took to be a joke or a mild eccentricity until, many months later, someone actually brought a plate of Jaffa Cakes into the room and she had to leave in quite considerable emotional distress.

She told me afterwards, still upset: “It’s the texture. They’re dark and it’s the way the light reflects off the dark curves of the chocolate.”

Comedian Meryl O’Rourke – who annoyingly told me she has the ability to eat loads yet stay thin – something I miserably fail to do – was able to top this story last night with the tale of an ex-boyfriend who was frightened of buttons.

Not Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons but the ones on clothing.

Quite how he managed to function in everyday life I cannot imagine.

Apparently he developed the idea as a child that babies came out of the belly-button and I can only imagine as an adult he had visions of a straining button on a shirt suddenly exploding into a new-born baby, much like the chest-buster scene in Alien.

It got worse because he found the visual appearance of women’s nipples reminded him of buttons and, the first time Meryl took her clothes off in front of him, he vomited.

Surprisingly, the relationship carried on for a while and Meryl has now been happily married for twelve years (obviously not to that boyfriend), though her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show is titled Bad Mother.

The show is about Meryl’s relationship to her daughter and to her own mother. Apparently her mother, whose first memory was being beaten by a Nazi officer (she was a German Jew), used to stalk minor British showbiz celebrities with young Meryl in tow. I heard some of the stories last night. The show itself should be a cracker.

Perhaps appropriately, Bad Mother is going to be in the Underbelly.

You certainly meet interesting people at the ‘Voldemort Club’.

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Why Roman Polanski’s glamorous rape-excusing friends should be ashamed

I once had to make a television trailer for a documentary on the Waffen-SS. It was very difficult to cut together any pictures that did not make the SS look glamorous because most of the footage was actually shot by the Nazi regime itself, therefore it had a Triumph of the Will style about it. Wonderful angled shots of smart, black-uniformed men marching down steps in formation. The Nazis tended not to film the Waffen-SS butchering men, women and children. Bad for the image.

Let’s be honest, Hitler’s Third Reich made good films and had a great sense of visual style in the design of their uniforms, their architecture and the staging of big-scale live events. But that doesn’t mean that The Holocaust was a minor matter and that Adolf Hitler “should be forgiven this one sin”.

I always find that, if you take an opinion or an event – especially on moral questions – and re-position it into an extreme situation, then that clarifies the opinion or event. My extreme situation is Nazi Germany.

If an argument works put into the context of Nazi Germany, then it probably works in general. Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

His glamorous showbiz chums sit around saying that he should be ‘let off’ the sex abuse charges on which he was found guilty in the US – and on which he jumped bail – in 1977. They say that he should be forgiven his trespasses because (a) he is famous, (b) he is or was a good film director, (c) he had a bad time in the War and (d) it all happened a good few years ago.

I admire Polanski’s earlier films.

But he drugged, raped and buggered a 13 year old girl. This is no small matter and the facts are not in dispute.

If Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact the Holocaust was a long time ago and he had had a difficult childhood would not quite merit ignoring what was done and letting him off with a slap on the head and “Don’t do it again, you naughty boy,” said in a disapproving tone.

I recently mentioned in passing on my Facebook page that when IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with attempted rape, was initially refused bail, one reason the judge gave for not giving him bail was the fact that Roman Polanski had done a runner on a rape charge.

Someone pointed out to me that the girl victim in the Polanski case “has been trying to drop charges for the last ten years… She has said that all of the publicity for this incident has hurt her more than the actual crime itself… She’s suffered enough; let it drop.”

Well, if Hitler were found living in Surbiton, the fact that the Holocaust was a long time ago and the people who suffered would be upset by a trial would not affect what crimes had been intentionally committed.

Raping a 13 year old is not right. Buggering a 13 year old is not right. And, equally, jumping bail to avoid a jail sentence for drugging, raping and buggering a 13 year old girl is not something to be ignored just because you used to be a good movie director and it happened a while ago.

The fact Polanski’s original trial judge in 1977 was running for public office, desperate for self-publicity and sounds like he changed his mind on giving Polanski a custodial sentence does not enter into it. I imagine some of the judges at the Nuremberg Trials were scumbags; it does not mean that Nazis found living in freedom 30 years later should not be tried.

My bottom line is that, if you drug, rape and bugger a 13 year old girl and then flee abroad to escape a custodial sentence, you deserve to be imprisoned for a considerable time. The fact glamorous showbiz names champion Roman Polanski and, in effect, say he should be pardoned for artistic merit nauseates me. Hitler was a painter and commissioned good movies. I don’t think his artistic merit or the artistic merit of Leni_Riefenstahl enters into it.

You can read the 37 page transcript of the Grand Jury proceedings against Roman Polanski in 1977 HERE.

According to the girl’s testimony, after giving her champagne and a Quaalude, Polanski sat down beside her and kissed her, despite demands that he “keep away.” He eventually, she said, “started to have intercourse with me.” Later, he asked the 13 year old: “Would you want me to go in through your back?” before he “put his penis in my butt.”

Asked why she did not more forcefully resist 43 year old Polanski, the teenager, who was 13 at the time of the rape, said: “Because I was afraid of him.”

The girl sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. In 1993 Polanski agreed to settle with her and according to the Los Angeles Times he agreed to give her half a million dollars. Reportedly, she was still trying to get part of this money from him in 1996 but she and her lawyers later confirmed the financial settlement was completed.

The girl publicly forgave Polanski in 1997, twenty years after the rape and buggery.

In 2009, Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, argued that Polanski “should be forgiven this one sin.”

I say fuck him.

Details of what was in Polanski’s 111 page Polish Secret Service file are HERE.

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At the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, two comedy debates, two bizarre live events and a two-hour variety show

Forgive me while I amiably meander in almost – but not quite – the same way as preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe meander – well, OK, they meander increasingly manically as the year progresses. Preparations for the annual August adrenaline fest normally start around December or January…

As background for what is coming, remember that, in the wonderful world of showbiz, TV shows always take precedence over live stage shows. One year, not so long ago, well after the Edinburgh Fringe Programme deadline had passed, comedian John Oliver was offered a regular spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the US so, quite rightly, he decamped Stateside. He had been due to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe in his show with Andy Zaltzman in the August and was billed in the printed Programme to appear but Andy successfully carried it off as a solo show. So it all turned out well.

Pity the poor Edinburgh Fringe staff at this time of year, though – indeed, pity them at any time of year.

The Fringe this year does not start until the first week in August, but the deadline for entry into the Fringe Programme was nine days ago and yesterday afternoon at 5.00pm was the final deadline for making changes to any of the entries. The Programme is published in June.

As we are talking of Fringe performers here, chaos must have reigned all over the UK yesterday. I got phone calls from two comedians changing their show titles and wording and asking me what I thought. One of those calls was from American comedian Lewis Schaffer who, last year, managed to incorrectly bill his 7.00pm show in the Programme as a 17.00 show. What can you expect from a nation that calls mathematics “math” instead of “maths”?

Lewis reckons that it is Europe’s fault for confusingly listing 5 o’clock as 17 o’clock.

Last year, however, he miraculously managed to get a second timeslot at 7.00pm for part of his Fringe run to compensate and did two shows a day and then, when he lost the venue for the extra slot, he waited outside the venue at the appropriate time, picked up people who thought he was performing inside and dragged them off like some latter-day Pied Piper for a performance outside in another street.

Lewis is a New York Jew and he did those performance in a street opposite the main Edinburgh Mosque. I think he claimed to me at the time that this location was coincidental (and it was never referred to in his show) but I have never been too sure, as he is that rare thing: an American with a hyper-active sense of irony.

Anyway, this year it was me who had to change one show I’m putting on.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy have been around since 2005 and, in varying ways, there have been stage shows since then in London or Edinburgh.

This year, there is going to be a two-hour Awards show – well, maybe ten minutes of actually awarding Awards in the middle of a two-hour comedy variety show – at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 26th August.

Until yesterday, it was going to be preceded by four nights of comedy debates – chaired by me on the Monday/Tuesday and by Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy critics, on the Wednesday/Thursday.

At the last minute, though, a TV show to which Kate was already committed switched its recording days so she now has to be in London on the Wednesday/Thursday (and possibly also the Tuesday). She can’t do her two Malcolm Hardee Debate shows and can’t switch her two dates with mine.

So, at the last minute yesterday, I changed the Wednesday/Thursday show and its venue (don’t ask about the venue change – private grief).

Now, in the final full week of the Fringe, 22nd-26th August 2011, there will be Malcolm Hardee debates on the Monday/Tuesday evenings at The Hive, a bizarre event which I have always wanted to stage on the Wednesday/Thursday evenings in the Grassmarket and a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday night at The Counting House.

Alright, it means bugger all to you and I didn’t say what the bizarre event is.

But to me, this blog posting counts as a promotional pre-launch. You insert in people’s brains the vague idea that something is happening in the future, then say nothing about it for a while and then plug it increasingly nearer the time.

You have been warned.

More will follow.

Eventually.

Unless it all changes.

We are talking, here, after all, about the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kate Copstick should be appearing in the Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd August. But who knows?

Any profits from the debates and from the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards show on Friday 26th August will certainly go to her Mama Biashara charity.

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He’s a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character – long may he continue to rip us all off

A while ago, I wrote a blog which answered nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Answer 6 delved briefly into the murky waters of dodgy agents/managers/promoters who rip off their own acts.

But there are some people who try to rip you off so endearingly that you can’t help but like them.

A few weeks ago, writer Mark Kelly, who used to perform stand-up as Mr Nasty, told me about playing three consecutive nights at one of the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. Each night, Malcolm tried to pay Mark less than he agreed by pretending he had forgotten how much he had agreed or pretending they had agreed a different sum and, each night, Mark ‘reprimanded’ him and had to go through hoops to get his money. It was like a game. Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm was trying to rip him off. But Malcolm almost felt obliged to play this Jack The Lad figure because it was part of the persona he had intentionally built up over the years. When he died, people joked – actually laughed – about the amount of money he owed to each of them. They enjoyed having been part of his games.

I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Mr Methane late last night: he is still away from home farting around the world. The name of the agent in this message has been changed. Any similarity to any agent with access to libel lawyers is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Mr Methane told me:

“I just bumped into our old friend Lobby Lud, he still talks me up despite not putting a booking my way since about 1994 when I started asking for a decent cut of the fees he was charging. I remember arriving in Baden Baden by limo from Frankfurt airport with Lobby one time to meet a producer and Lobby said, Let me do the talking…

“Before I knew it, I apparently had a house in London and one in Los Angeles; then the producer said we must be tired after our long flight, to which Lobby quickly got the first word in and said yes we were. It turned out he’d charged the producer for two Business Class fares from Los Angeles to Frankfurt although he had flown me bargain bucket from Manchester. He had even tried to get me to pay for a peak hour train from Manchester down to London Heathrow so he could fly me over even cheaper !!!!”

I had much the same shenanigans with Lobby when we were making Jack Dee’s Saturday Night for ITV. I can’t remember the exact details, but it somehow involved clearly non-existent flights from Los Angeles to London. The over-all cost was acceptable so was not queried, but Lobby was shafting his own act rather than us as it was him who was pocketing the conned money, not the act.

We all liked Lobby because he had – and I guess still has – a genuine love of the show business and a love of and fascination for good acts.

As Mr Methane wrote to me:

“A loveable rogue: that’s Lobby. You can’t help but like him even when he’s shafting you big time. He’s such a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character full of genuine 100% bullshit.”

Long may he thrive. And he has some great showbiz stories. It’s almost worth getting ripped off just to meet him.

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