Tag Archives: Sir Gideon Vein

Paris, circa 1979, as experienced by young striptease artiste Anna Smith

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver, wrote about how A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World.

The murder took place in Paris and, after reading it, I said to Anna: “You have lived everywhere… You must have lived in Paris at some point…”

This was her reply…


Anna Smith in Ealing, London, circa 1984 (Photograph by Tony Green)

I have not lived everywhere. But I did live in Paris for a couple of months when I was in my early twenties.

My trip there and accommodation was paid for by the Canadian government, because I had organised an exhibition of paintings at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

Although I was already a striptease artist, I felt lonely in Paris, where the only people I knew were the distinguished administrators at the Cultural Centre.

The Cultural Attaché took me and a couple of Canadian artists to dinner at an expensive restaurant, where I ordered skate because I had never tried it before. The skate arrived covered in white sauce and I didn’t enjoy it much.

I spent most of my days walking for miles across the city and visiting art galleries. It was November and the walking and the galleries were very enjoyable.

I visited a small theatre on the Left Bank, whose name I forget, which specialised in erotic performance. I did not see the show but inquired of the staff whether it was possible to work there. I was told yes, indeed I would be very welcome to work with them. As usual in those days, there was no mention of work permits.

Anna Smith, striptease artist. (Photograph circa 1979.)

They showed me inside the theatre. It had a nicely sized stage which could hold about a hundred people and everything was painted black. It was daytime and there were no performances until night time. There were strong nets high above the rows of seats and I was made to understand that the actors would be performing in the nets as well as on stage. It looked like fun. 

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

But then they asked: I did understand that I would be doing a live sex act show, didn’t I? 

Ooops….

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m only a striptease artist…”

They looked at me sympathetically and kindly told me that I was very welcome to come back if I changed my mind.

The only other job I could possibly have done at the time was jello wresting (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “When women wrestle in a pit of jello – UK jelly – in their bikinis while a bunch of horny men sit by and watch.”)

But I was pretty snobby at the time and thought that was beneath my level of artistic excellence…

I would not mind trying it now though.. haha. 

I wonder if Lynn Ruth Miller would consider joining me….or maybe I could rent a sex robot, if she isn’t available…

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

When I was in Paris, I also visited The Folies Bergère – the haunt of one of my idols, Josephine Baker – and The Crazy Horse. 

The Folies Bergère were a disappointment, more like a light show than a human performance. The dancers’ costumes were illuminated with thousands of tiny lights which glowed in the dark when the lights on stage went out. I have seen more interesting displays of Christmas lights on houses in suburban Minneapolis. 

The Crazy Horse was slightly better. Although I had bought the least expensive ticket possible, the hostess seated me in the front row, likely because I was the only single woman in the house, young and dressed sexily.

The show was highly choreographed (as it still is) and I later wrote a critique for Canada’s national newspaper (the Globe and Mail), that “not one spontaneous wink” escaped from the performers.

I visited Paris a couple of times after that, when I was living in London. One time I went there with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green).

Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) & Anna Smith in London, 1984

We stayed at The Hotel Lima and in the daytime we performed in the plaza of The Pompidou Centre. We did a sort of burlesque style performance art piece. 

I was dressed in a black outfit, wrapped in flecked hat netting, my skirts trimmed with silver and violet spangles, like a nineteenth century ‘dame perdue’ and Sir Gideon Vein resembled Jack the Ripper, with his frock coat and usual blood-stained cravat. 

We played Death and the Maiden on a ghetto blaster and had a rubber knife with which we eventually stabbed each other to death. I remember slowly sprinkling corn flakes over Sir Gideon’s dying body…

We did not make very much money doing this, a small crowd gathered to watch and afterwards a kind man bought each of us a vanilla ice cream cone.

I remembered being mystified that a fat, dowdy middle aged French woman wearing ordinary clothes and playing a penny whistle badly was pulling in a small fortune in coins at the same time.

But now I realise that people must have felt sorry for her.

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A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

I asked Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, if she had any memories of Christmases past. She sent me this about a time when she was an exotic dancer and comedy performer.


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

The second time I went to England, on the QE2 liner, was in mid-November 1979. Traveling on the QE2 was cheaper than the plane fare. Ian McKellen was on the ship and he gave a little lecture about acting. He had a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t ask him anything.

When I arrived, I had £30 pounds in cash and the address of the Nell Gwyn club in Soho, where I stayed for seven years. I worked at the Nell Gwyn/Gargoyle Club and ended up living in a house on Royal College Street in Camden full of actors and strippers and comics and an ape expert (Peter Elliott) but they all went to their parents’ houses for Christmas so I was left alone for my first Christmas in London.

It was unusually snowy that year and I got very ill from running around Soho taking my clothes off in different clubs.

So I relaxed in bed. I don’t recall quite which bed, but likely it was the ape man’s, since he probably was the only one who could afford a television.

He used to lie in bed and get woken up by calls from his agent for auditions or odd jobs like teaching Romanian child acrobats to imitate chimpanzees. One time his agent called and asked if he wanted to go to Canada, to work on a film called Quest for Fire. He was an actor and ape expert… Still is. Any British movie about apes for the last forty years, he’s been in or consulted on it.

The first time I met him, he had just returned from Birmingham with a huge white bandage on one of his fingers. A female chimpanzee had tried to rape him.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

I think he was from an acrobat family…. Do they have many of those in Yorkshire?  Who knows?

But Yorkshire produced Ian Hinchliffe who was no acrobat, though he did perform tricks with broken glass.

Anyway, Peter Elliott, the ape expert, was a Desmond Morris fanatic; he advised me to read The Naked Ape and was not mean to me about being an ignorant Canadian.

One lady who lived in that house was very aloof about me and she was always pointing out how inferior people from the Colonies were. One time we were both heading into central London at the same time. I don’t know where she was off to but I was on my way to work and a bit late. It was very snowy and when I saw our bus rushing towards us I flagged it as if it was a taxi, even though we were not at a bus stop. She looked appalled and said sternly: “This is London – We don’t flag the bus here!”

But the bus stopped right in front of us and we both got onto it.

Really, I never have had any problems flagging a bus. One time I did it during a sandstorm in Sydney. Because of the storm I was the only passenger, so the driver took me all the way home. I think he had just finished his shift.

As for that lady who was so mean and had not appreciated that I had flagged the bus for her so, when she went out of town, I slept with her boyfriend who did not seem to think I was inferior at all.

Anyhow, I had an interesting Christmas alone in that tall four story townhouse. in Royal College Street.

I did not have much food, but I enjoyed watching television because there were so many talk shows, though I did not know who any of the guests were or have any idea what they were talking about. It was all very interesting because I was trying to figure out stuff like Why is Esther Rantzen so important to British people?

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, c 1983/1884

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, in a London graveyard c1984

I phoned my mother in Vancouver to tell her I was fine in London making friends with lots of fantastic strippers and nice men who were ape impersonators or who wrote poetry about their glasses (John Hegley) with friends who pretended they were dead (Tony Green) and who wrote songs about stomping on their cats (Tony De Meur). Also there was a very nice gay actor who had sex with a woman once because he was very professional and said he wanted to know what it felt like in case it ever came up at an audition.

We were all very responsible and only one of the men had ever got a woman pregnant (a comedian who is now a big Name).

I did not mention to my mother the man from British Telecom who somehow had ended up at our parties, because he was a bit older and I did not want her to worry.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984… She had to borrow the cat

“Thank God you’re alright,” my mother had told me. “I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you for a month.”

Then she told me she had phoned Scotland Yard to ask them to look for me. Scotland Yard told my mother that hundreds of girls disappear in London every day so not to call them for another six months.

I stayed for seven years in London.

I had to keep leaving to go dance in Belgium because of UK visa restrictions.

I was constantly in trouble over my work permit in Belgium and eventually I had up go to a Belgian doctor in London’s Harley Street to get my vaccines updated and a certificate saying I was mentally fit to strip in Belgium.

Once in Brussels, we had to sign elaborate contracts in quadruplicate in French and Flemish which had hundreds of items including that if we were performing trapeze or with wild animals we were responsible for obtaining our own insurance.

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Memories of early alternative comedy: Malcolm Hardee and Sir Gideon Vein and the late lamented Ian Hinchliffe…

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna, not too long ago, recovering in a Vancouver hospital

Last week, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. In part it read:

“The whole time I was living in London – over four years – I never saw a window with the blinds or curtains open, except once.

“I was walking home from The Earth Exchange, which was a vegetarian restaurant in North London that used to be a good place for comics to work – Julian Clary played there when he was starting off and Andrew Bailey and David Rappaport did a macabre duo with candelabra and a huge birdcage which David wore on his head as he descended the stairs making bird sounds while Andrew carried the lit-up candelabra, throwing corn flakes at him…

“Anyhow, one night at about three in the morning, I was walking back towards central London with Tony Green, who was dressed as Sir Gideon Vein, when I spotted a window lit up, curtains pulled wide open, on the main floor of a house. I was amazed! Finally I would get to see what went on inside a dwelling in London at night.

“Tony tried to stop me. No, he begged. Don’t do it. What will the people who live in there think when they look out their window and see a big girl with red hair in plaits standing outside and staring into their sitting room?

“But I could not stop myself, so I raced up to the window. Tony gave up. Besides, he had to take a piss. I stood in front of the window staring in, but there were no people at all; it was just a very dull looking sitting room.

“So, a bit dejectedly, I returned to the pavement where I found Tony  urinating into a flowerbed. What will the people think, I asked, if they open their front door and look out and see you pissing on their flowers?

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green is an interesting figure from – if he can forgive me for saying this or even if he cannot – the early years of British Alternative Comedy. His character Sir Gideon Vein was (and, indeed, occasionally is) a Victorian era throw-back character.

Tony has occasionally turned up fleetingly in this blog. About 20 years ago, he took me to the fetish club Torture Garden. He looked like he was dressed as the Peter Davidson incarnation of Doctor Who. But he was not. That was normal attire for him. A few weeks ago, I mentioned him performing as both The Obnoxious Man and The Pompous man at Pull The Other One comedy club.

I recently met him at the Soho Theatre bar in London for a cup of tea, but he soon moved us to the upstairs room of a nearby pub. No surprise there.

When I switched my iPhone’s recorder on for this blog, Tony was doing an imitation of the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe’s gruff Yorkshire accent.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony/Sir Gideon Vein at T’others

I’m not having people thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt-lifter. Are you taping any of this? You’ve got it at the middle, really. I mean anyone will be thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt lifter. Such bad terminology and who really cares these days?… Not that I give a damn, you know, but…”

“Sadly missed,” I said. “Sadly missed. The first time I saw Ian Hinchliffe was at a club down in Oval around 1990 – I think you were running it. Malcolm Hardee and I went to it.”

“That was T’others at The Ship,” said Tony. “You and Malcolm came with his mother. I remember I got into an altercation with Malcolm and she said: Hit him, Malcolm! Hit him!

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm Hardee and mum

“He told her He don’t mean it, mum. I know him. It’s only a joke! and he said to me You didn’t mean that, what you said? and after that, I got on very well with Malcolm’s mother and I told her Mrs Hardee, you’re very well-spoken.

Yes, she told me, I don’t know how Malcolm came to get that accent. It was around the time his little eye started going off in the wrong direction.”

“I met someone,” I told Tony, “at the interment of Malcolm’s ashes. He had known Malcolm as a teenager and said he used to practise it in front of a mirror – the accent, the droop of the cigarette out of the mouth and everything, the whole character.”

“I once said to Malcolm,” Tony told me, “I don’t know how you get away with it. Your material’s crap. And he said It’s not a question of the material, is it? It’s not a question of talent. You don’t need talent, you don’t need material when you’re me. It’s charisma. When you’ve got as much charisma as what I’ve got, you don’t need nothing else.

“That’s sort of true,” I said. “Are you a Londoner?” I asked, trying the get the chat onto some course.

“Of course I am,” said Tony in mock outrage.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You could be from anywhere.”

“That,” replied Tony, “is what someone said to me the other day. Are you from the Colonies? How dare… God, sir… I’m a Londoner born and… (He started singing) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

“… from the 19th century, perhaps,” I said.

Kirk Douglas in The List of Adrian Messenger

Did Kirk sing Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger?

“Of course,” said Tony. “Well, I’ve been going a long time now. Remember Kirk Douglas singing Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger? He can’t do it with the authentic Cockney accent any more that I taught him in 1963. I was only a young man then.”

“You taught him an accent?” I asked.

“Of course I did!” said Tony in mock outrage. “His Cockney accent.”

“How did you meet him?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Tony, “I was only – what? – in my (he started laughing) in my sixties at the time. I look very good for my age, you gotta admit it does work. I can tell you the secret, John. It’s Oscar. There’s a picture in the attic. Hey!” he said, putting on a Kirk Douglas whine, “what’s that song you’re singing? and I said It’s a song. Buy us a few drinks, Kirk. Buy US a few drinks – there were ten of us in the company…”

“You just bumped into him?” I asked.

“You don’t believe this, do you?” asked Tony. He started laughing. “You’ll believe anything!… It was in the Cutty Sark and I thought it was going to get me into movies. All I got was half a pint. I never saw him again. He’s been using it ever since. Even now – how old is he? He’s nearly 100 now. He’s had two strokes. When he gets on TV, he still sings (Tony put on a Kirk Douglas whine) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… He’s forgotten to do the Cockney accent, but you can’t expect everything at 97. But I forgive him. I’m like that in my old age.”

“Someone,” I said, “was lamenting to me that they had not seen Sir Gideon Vein perform for ages.”

“I used to run a private little club off Mallow Street,” said Tony. “It was one of those places, John, where you got carte blanche to do as you like. I could put all of my favourite performers on there. People like Mr Hinchliffe and one or two other oddities.”

“You were one of the few people to put Mr Hinchliffe on,” I said.

“We did a gig some time ago at an arts centre,” said Tony. “Someone called Chris Brooke put us on and I said to Chris: Do you think it’s a good idea, Chris, really? You’ve just taken over this new job as programme devisor which, from what I understand it, is quite a good job. Do you think it’s a good idea for the first one to put on the likes of Hugh Metcalfe – the man who started The Klinker club – and Hinchliffe and me as compere? For the first one, that’s not a good idea.”

“Because?” I asked. “It’s great idea, surely?”

“Well, did he want to keep the job? But he was quite clever, because we kicked off and, after us, he put on the Mike Westbrook Band and you can’t go wrong with the Mike Westbrook Band. I saw Ian in the dressing room. On this occasion, they had had some particularly good canned beer – one of his favourites – on the train and he had over-indulged. Maybe about 15 pints. Anyway, he fell asleep on stage. His partner – they were both over 60, so you could hardly call her his girlfriend – went Wake up! Wake up! And, after about seven minutes of snoring on stage, he did wake up and he looked at the audience and said: What are you bastards doing in my bedroom?

“Quite a good line, actually. So funny, in fact, that someone who was running a mega performance art festival in Belfast decided to book him as one of the headline acts.”

… TONY GREEN’S MEMORIES ARE CONTINUED HERE …

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