Tag Archives: six degrees of separation

A small incident, soon forgotten… but it scarred another person for life.

I think the American comic Lewis Schaffer may have taken leave of his senses.

Last night he said to me:

“You should do something with your blog. People have book tours. You should have a blog tour. Go round the country telling stories from your blog.”

Lewis grabbed my attention by saying this – not because it was a good idea but because I was taken aback by the fact he was not talking about himself.

“Lewis,” I told him in the patient tone I reserve only for small children, drunks and people from the Colonies, “I am not in any way a performer; I have no charisma; no-one has ever heard of me in Leamington Spa (my eternal benchmark for middle England); and I have a shit memory.”

I have mentioned in these blogs before – but I cannot remember when – that I may be the ideal comedy audience because I can sit through a superb show with great gags rolling on like overlapping waves for an hour and yet, two minutes after leaving the venue, I cannot remember any of the jokes at all.

I once mentioned to someone with whom I have been friends for 36 years that, although I had worked briefly and peripherally with Sylvester McCoy on the TV series Tiswas, I had never actually seen him perform on stage.

“Yes you have,” my long-term friend told me. “You and I saw him on stage in Accidental Death of an Anarchist!”

“We did?” I asked, astonished. “I can’t remember ever going to a theatre with you.”

She then reeled off about five occasions when we had been to the theatre together. And another occasion when we had both gone to see Sylvester McCoy perform on stage. (Obviously, at the time of writing this blog, I cannot remember what that second play was.)

Fortunately, my friend knew me well enough not to be insulted.

Ironically, people who do not know me as well as she does think I have a very good memory because I always remember their birthdays. But this is because I write everything which seems likely to be important down in a diary which I always carry around with me. I once lost it for two days and virtually needed psychological counselling.

Sometimes, when transferring birthday dates into a new diary, I can barely remember who some of the people are but, if I were ever to meet them again, I would be able to impressively know when their birthdays are.

It is a minor compulsion and I control it. It does not control me.

This same friend (the one with whom I apparently saw Sylvester McCoy in Accidental Death of an Anarchist) told me, knowing I never wanted to live beyond my 18th birthday:

“The irony is you are liable to live into your nineties because you don’t worry very much and people who don’t get worried are supposed to live longer… You worry-away at things but not about things – and you tend to look forward not back.”

Readers of this blog may disagree.

But she knows me quite well… although one reason I do not look back too much is that I have mostly forgotten what happened.

Life just stretches apparently endlessly onwards but occasionally people remind me of something I did or saw and I think: “Ooh. Perhaps I have had a more interesting life than I thought I had.”

I am quite a good editor and perhaps I edit my memory too tightly. Perhaps I too quickly discard into the forgotten recesses of my mind’s filing cabinet seemingly irrelevant things which I think will be of no practical use to me in the future and I only keep in my immediate frontal memory things which I think may have some relevant cross-referencing value later on.

My blog a couple of days ago was about a road accident in Greenwich.

In it, I wrote:

“By the weekend, I will have forgotten any of this ever happened. It is not relevant to my life”

This was read by the retired senior fire officer whom I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

After he read it, the retired senior fire officer sent me an e-mail in which he said:

“It is strange how apparently irrelevant events can become relevant later. Doing my old job consisted of lots of events that weren’t really relevant to my own life, only to others…  or so I thought.

“But I received a phone call out of the blue last year from a young lady. She asked me if I remembered a road accident on an obscure B road about 20 years previously.

“Until her call, all I had remembered about that accident was that the passenger in the other car had been reading a novel called Dead On Arrival. The book was open, in the footwell, as we removed her body.

“Talking to the lady on the phone brought the accident back to me and I was able to remember in detail the two-car double-fatal event which also left three badly injured. This included the recovery of two seriously injured little girls trapped in an upside-down car pinned into a ditch full of water. I gave one of the little girls a teddy bear which I carried around – to comfort her and to stop her unnerving screaming.

“She was the girl talking on the phone and she had been looking for me since she was able. Despite her brain damage and crippled body she had survived, grown up, married and had children. She wanted to say “thanks” and to tell me how she had got on… about her home, her children and husband.

“Because of that one phone call, she is now no longer an irrelevant part of my past and I think all the perceived irrelevant things we see, do or sometimes think have some sort of impact, even if its just…..  ‘just’….. on our character.”

The retired senior fire officer is, of course, right. And the same incident one person forgets can be the very incident that scars – literally or figuratively – another person for life.

My mother, a very sensitive woman, was Christened with the name Agnes but was never called that, even by her parents – she was always called Nan.

When she was a young girl at school, her English teacher told her, “Oh, Agnes. You have no soul for poetry.”

As a result, after that, she took no interest in reading books.

A few seconds after that schoolteacher had said the words, I am sure he would have forgotten that he had ever said them.

But they scarred her for life.

She was born with only one hand. She had no left hand. As a child, she was brought up to always hide her hand in public.

In her late twenties, when she became engaged to my father, a member of his family said to her:

“I wish Harry could marry a whole woman.”

Obviously, she never forgot. She had been brought up to be ashamed of her missing hand. She never told my father about his relative’s comment. She lived until she was 86.


Filed under Psychology, Relationships

One man can change the world with a bullet (or six) in the right place….

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)

My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.

“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”

Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.

In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.

All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.

I only knew of him by reputation.

He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.

He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraphthe Guardian and the Independent.

In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.

Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardianthe Independent and The Times – indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.

Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:

“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”

When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.

Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.

Edgecombe had fired six shots at osteopath Stephen Ward’s mews flat, where Edgecombe’s ex-girlfriend Christine Keeler was hiding.

Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins.  I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.

Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at  the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).

When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.

Links within links within links.

To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.

Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.

Links within links within links.

Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.

A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….

“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”

Or six bullets.

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Filed under Crime, History, Politics

John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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Filed under Classical music, Drugs, Movies, Rock music, Television

Kate Middleton, Mary Millington, Adolf Hitler, the New York Jew and the British porn baron

Six degrees of separation? Probably less.

I was talking to someone who went to University (UCL, London) with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen. He didn’t know her well, only peripherally. But he also knew peripherally fellow London University student David Sullivan (Queen Mary College) who was captain of a rowing team at the time but who was also chummy with future porn star Mary Millington and who was dipping his toes in what was later to become his vast pornography empire, including the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport newspapers.

This vague link between our possibly future Queen’s mum and one of the UK’s primary purveyors of soft-ish porn reminds me of esteemed American comedian Andrew J Lederer who, a few years ago, built an entire Edinburgh Fringe comedy show round his close link to Adolf Hitler.

Well, one degree of separation (or is it two?)

A few years before, at some movie event in the United States, Andrew had met and shaken the hand of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s famous film director. She, obviously, had shaken Hitler’s hand way back in the 1930s and 1940s. So Andrew, a New York Jew, was only one handshake removed from Adolf Hitler.

All this and I’ve still never met Baby Spice. So near and yet, tragically, so far.


Tell me about it.

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Strange phenomena