Tag Archives: Spike Milligan

Comedy legend John Dowie: changed by Spike Milligan’s Bed-Sitting Room

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie talked to me near Euston, London

John Dowie is difficult to describe. Wikipedia’s current attempt is: “a British comedian, musician and writer. He began performing stand-up comedy in 1969.”

His own website describes him as: “Not working. Not writing. Not performing. Not Twittering. Not on Facebook. Not on Radio. Not on TV. Not doing game shows, chat shows, list shows, grumpy-old whatever shows. Not doing quiz shows. Not doing adverts. Not doing voice-overs for insurance companies/banks/supermarkets/dodgy yogurts.”

The synopsis of his up-coming autobiography starts: “If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake.”

I know John Dowie because he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology of comedians’ (often dark) short stories which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee.

The book that was not suspended

A foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb

John’s was the story of a Northern comedian who has a foul mouth, a foul mind and a bomb. The Daily Mirror called it: “a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who plans blood-thirsty revenge. Disturbing? Very.” The Chortle website called it a “breathlessly entertaining yarn”.

Now he is crowdfunding his new book The Freewheeling John Dowie.

“How long are you crowdfunding for?” I asked him.

“They reckon the average book takes about six weeks or two months.”

“Have you started writing it?”

“I’ve already written it!”

“So the crowdfunding is just for the physical creation of it?”

“Yes, you have to reach a funding target for the printing process to begin.”

“So what have you been doing,” I asked, “since the triumph that was Sit-Down Comedy?”

“I have been riding my bicycle.”

“Where?”

“France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland which is horrible, Wales, up and down England.”

“I like Ireland,” I said.

“Bad roads,” said John Dowie.

“And you are publishing your autobiography by crowdfunding…?”

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunder

The Freewheeling John Dowie, crowdfunding and bicycling

“Well, it’s not actually an autobiography,” John corrected me. “It’s like an autobiography, but with the boring bits cut out. There is no stuff like Birmingham is an industrial town in the heart of the Midlands. It’s got autobiographical elements. But, if you are a nobody such as I, then the only way you can tell a story about yourself is if it is a story that stands in its own right.”

“So how do you want The Freewheeling John Dowie described?” I asked. “A bicycling autobiography?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, if you ride a bike and you’re in a quiet piece of the world, what do you do? Your mind is free to wander and, as it wanders, you find yourself going from place to place in your mind that you were not expecting to go.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to write your autobiography now?”

“I’m 65 and I’ve been retired for 15 years,” explained John. “And, if you’re 65, you’re fucked. So I thought: If I’m fucked, I’d better spend my time working because I’m of more use as a fucked-up performer than I am as a fucked-up retiree.”

“You were born in 1950?” I asked.

“Yes. Just in time to miss Elvis Presley and just in time to get the Beatles.”

“Did you approach a ‘proper’ publisher for the book?” I asked.

“No… Well, I think Unbound are more proper than publishers, because they care about the things they make. A friend of mine has a client who’s a comedian who went to a voice-over studio to record her book and was regaled by the engineers with all the comedians who came in to read the books they ‘wrote’ but had never even read yet – and finding mistakes in their own books – Ooh! My mother isn’t called Dorothy! Those are books done by ‘proper’ publishers.”

John Dowie - a living legend from the early alternate days

John Dowie – a living legend from the early alternate days

“Is there what they call a ‘narrative arc’ in your cycling autobiography?” I asked.

“Well, it begins and ends with a Spike Milligan story.”

“I met him once,” I said. “I think he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed that day.”

“I think,” John said, “that he got more crotchety as he got older. When I met him, he was very decent to me. I was hanging around backstage after one of his shows. He was touring a play which he wrote with John AntrobusThe Bed-Sitting Room. People talk about taking LSD for the first time and how it changed their life. Watching The Bed-Sitting Room changed my life. It was like a door had opened.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I had not experienced anything like it before. Live comedy. I was 15 or 16.”

“So you didn’t know what you wanted to be?”

“No.”

“And you decided to be Spike Milligan?”

“Yeah. That’s more or less it, yeah. I became Spike Milligan for a period. Apart from the talented bits, obviously.”

“What happened when you stopped being Spike Milligan?”

“I got my friends back.”

“Why? Because you were rude as Spike Milligan?”

“No. Just not funny.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

Naked Noolies and I Don’t Want To Be Your Amputee

“And then, I said, “you became one of the living legends of the original Alternative Comedy circuit.”

“Well,” said John, “I’m living. That’s halfway there.”

“But you are,” I said, “one of the originators of Alternative Comedy.”

“I don’t think so,” said John. “I don’t think I’m one of them and it’s not as if it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been there. I was coincidental more than anything. It wasn’t as if anybody saw me and thought: Oh, let’s start a movement. I considered myself to be in the same field as Ivor Cutler and Ron Geesin.”

“Wow!” I said. “Ron Geesin! I had forgotten him!”

“Yes,” said John. “He was great. He was a John Peel discovery. Ron played Mother’s Club in Birmingham where John Peel’s Birmingham audience used to go religiously to see the acts John Peel played on the radio. Ron Geesin came on and did his first number on the piano and the place went fucking barmy and Ron Geesin said to the audience: Listen, nobody is THAT good.”

Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

AOK Factory Records’ first release: FAC-2

At this point, farteur Mr Methane, who was sitting with us, piped up: “Weren’t you involved with Tony Wilson years ago?” he asked. “On Factory Records.”

“Yeah,” said John. “The first one. The first Factory Records release. FAC- 2… FAC- 1 was the poster. I was on the same record as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the Durutti Column. It was a double EP.”

“Ah!” I said.

Then he said to me: “It’s all very good if you know everything about comedy, John, but, if you don’t know about pop music…”

“Why should people crowdfund your autobiography?” I asked.

“Because I’m fuckin’ fantastic,” he replied.

I tend to agree.

If you want to crowd fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-freewheeling-john-dowie

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy, Nostalgia

The new Peter Sellers film that is 90% made but needs a bit of crowdfunding

GhostOfPeterSellarsPosterI am a massive admirer of the Hungarian director Peter Medak’s movie The Ruling Class, starring Peter O’Toole – rarely seen because it got mired in distribution problems. Peter Medak also directed the 1990 film The Krays. And he directed the 1973 pirate comedy movie Ghost in the Noonday Sun, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

No, I had not heard of it either until, back in February, I got an e-mail from Paul Iacovou, who was  producing a documentary called The Ghost of Peter Sellers about the making of the Noonday Sun movie.

The Chortle comedy website wrote a very good article about the project back in February.

“Our documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” Paul Iacovou told me yesterday on Skype from Cyprus, “is called that to mirror the original title but also because the ghost of Peter Sellers is the ghost that haunted Peter Medak for 43 years because he blames this film for altering the trajectory of his career. He was THE hot director of the time and then there was Ghost in the Noonday Sun with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and it was a pirate comedy and everybody was waiting for it and it never materialised. In the film world, you’re only as good as your last film. That’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers is Peter Medak re-tracing what happened 43 years ago, by talking to a huge variety of people who haven’t really given interviews before. The original film’s producer John Hayman. John Goldstone who was the Monty Python producer. Actor Robert Wagner who was a great friend of Peter Sellers. Executives and people in the movie business of the 1970s. It gives an incredible insight into how movies were made in those days.

“One of the great things is that everybody is in their 70s, some early 80s. So they speak with such candour. They’re not trying to gain anything. They’re reflective, they look back and are totally honest in what they say, which is so refreshing on camera.”

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellars

Peter Medak (right) directing The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Paul Iacovou is producing The Ghost of Peter Sellers; Peter Medak is directing; there is an Indiegogo crowdfunding initiative. At the time of writing, there are nine days to go to reach their $40,000 target and the Indiegogo appeal has raised $22,485.

“We’ve managed to do quite well,” Paul told me. “It was quite a large amount we were going for. It’s been quite a bit of a struggle. The crowdfunding audience tends to be much younger. I contacted the strategist at Indiegogo and he told me he had had a meeting with his guys internally and not one of them knew who Peter Sellers was. Their average age is between 25 and early 30s. They are in New York, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”

“The fleeting nature of fame,” I said.

“Tragic, really,” said Paul.

“What’s your link with Peter Sellers?” I asked.

“Well, I’m half Cypriot,” Paul told me. “I moved here eight years ago and just by chance I was in a friend’s office and his father had a photograph of Spike Milligan on the wall. I asked why. He told me: Oh, it’s from the Peter Sellers movie that they shot here in 1973. I had never heard of it. So I started research it and it just got so interesting – a disaster of a production that was never released.

Made but unseen

Death Wish to movie nightmare

“I got in touch with the original director, Peter Medak, who lives in Hollywood now. We got on like a house on fire and it turned out he had been waiting 40-odd years to tell this story.

“Back then, United Artists had called him to New York and said: We want you to direct this film called Death Wish. He read the script. He loved it. He said he wanted Henry Fonda to play the lead role and they said: Henry Fonda’s too old. You can have anybody else on the planet except him. Then, because he had promised Henry Fonda the part, he walked off the project which went on to be made by Michael Winner with Charles Bronson.”

“It would have been an interestingly different film with Henry Fonda,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Paul. “Medak saw Henry Fonda as a sort-of shy, retiring accountant type who is pushed into becoming a vigilante. With Bronson, he looked like a tough guy from the start.

“Anyway, Medak came back from New York, was walking along the King’s Road in London and bumped into Peter Sellers who said: Don’t worry about it. Come with me to Cyprus. I have a film ready to go. I want you to direct it. Let’s go. So he did.

“Peter Sellers was his friend. And then Sellers turned on him because Sellers decided, when he got here, he didn’t want to do the movie. And it knocked Peter Medak off that trajectory of success and he’s been carrying this weight with him for 43 years.

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun

Peter Medak directing Ghost of the Noonday Sun in 1973

“They completed the whole film but, because Sellers became so difficult and he was unavailable for so much of the filming, they ended up falling behind schedule and cutting out a big fight scene between Sellers and Anthony Franciosa and other scenes and then, when they delivered it to Columbia, they said: But the fight scene is missing! and they rejected it. They said: We don’t want to release it now. It ended up costing John Hayman, the producer, $2½ million in 1973.”

“John Hayman?” I asked.

“He’s a financier,” explained Paul, “who has made something like 180 films. He says: Forty of them I should never have made. This was one of them. His son, David Hayman, produced the Harry Potter films. John was the 7th employee at the BBC when they re-started TV after the War and he’s still going strong at 84.”

“If you can’t get the Indiegogo money,” I asked, “does that mean you can’t complete your film?”

“Well,” said Paul, “it makes it harder. It means we won’t complete it NOW. We would lose a bit of momentum. The most important thing is to finish the film ourselves without going to any distributor who then takes a big chunk of it and then could end up diluting the film we want to make.

“It’s kind of grown and grown, which is very good on the one hand but was very difficult for the budget. We’re 90% complete. We shot in London and Cyprus last summer and we just about finished shooting in LA the other day. When we started the crowdfunding campaign, it was to shoot in LA but we took a leap of faith and started shooting anyway.

“The crowdfunding is basically to cover the cost of what we’ve shot and some other stuff we need to shoot and then post production, which is going to be a huge cost because we want to lace the film with as much archive content as we can of Sellers and Milligan etc etc. But we’ve also got permission to use of about 15-18 minutes of the original film itself. The thing is for people to see these incredible scenes that they’ve never seen of Milligan and Sellers – that nobody’s ever seen. That’s where it all started for me.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Movies

The link between Brecht, Milligan, Python, The Bonzos and Stephen Fry

Michael Livesley

Michael Livesley: another link

My previous blog was about how Michael Livesley – a fan of Vivian Stanshall and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band first staged his version of Vivian Stanshall’s radio/LP record/film of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.


“The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band started in 1962,” I said, “and ended in 1970. Sir Henry was created by Vivian Stanshall after that.”

“Yes,” said Michael. “After the Bonzos finished, Viv was at a loose end and so he sat in for John Peel (the BBC Radio DJ) in 1971 when he had a month off. Viv did four shows called Radio Flashes which featured comedy sketches with him and Keith Moon (of The Who rock group) as Colonel Knutt and Lemmy.”

“Those two must have taken some controlling.” I suggested.

Keith Moon (left) and Vivian Stanshall

Keith Moon (left) and Vivian Stanshall were far from uniform

“There is a story,” said Michael, of a bierkeller here in Soho and Viv Stanshall and Keith Moon walk in – Viv is dressed as an SS officer and Moonie’s dressed as Hitler. There’s photos of him and Moon with the map of Europe open and the riding crop.

“Anyway, after Radio Flashes, Viv got asked in to the BBC to do more John Peel sessions and what Viv chose to do was a thing called Rawlinson End which was essentially a long, rambling monologue about this crumbling stately home with the heroically drunk Sir Henry and all the people who inhabited the environs. And, as a result, the mailbag was full of: What is this? Where can I get it? 

“So John Peel’s producer John Walters used to go round to Viv’s house and literally drag him out and take him to Broadcasting House to record this thing and I suppose, by 1978, the momentum was so large they turned it into an LP.

“In Sir Henry, there are so many lines lifted from so many things, but Viv has placed them forensically in there, like with tweezers – like Joe Orton defacing a library book – and you don’t notice them because they’re seamless.

“There’s a line – I stumbled with all the assurance of a sleepwalker. Viv nicked that line from Mein Kampf.”

Michael Livesley as Sir Henry

Michael Livesley performing as Sir Henry

“That sounds unusually poetic of Hitler,” I said.

“Yes,” said Michael. “Viv puts the line – I stumbled with all the assurance of a sleepwalker – into the mouth of Hubert, his brother, crossing to the wind-up gramophone to put on some old popadoms which Sir Henry brought back from India.”

“I like the fact,” I told Michael, “that you mentioned Joe Orton and the library books.”

“Oh yes,” said Michael. “It’s like a pointless little act of rebellion that nobody may ever notice.”

“There is something oddly Joe Ortonish about it all,” I said.

“Yes,” said Michael, “They completely chew away at the foundations of all of our culture in this country and spit it out. We are talking about this, aren’t we, because you blogged about The Alberts.”

“Indeed,” I said. “How did you hear about the Alberts?”

An Evening of British Rubbish toured Britain

Influential Evening of British Rubbish

“They did a year in the West End in London in 1963,” replied Michael, “with Ivor Cutler in a show called An Evening of British Rubbish. Neil Innes and the Bonzos went to see that show and thought: This is what we should be doing!”

“So it’s not bullshit,” I said, “to claim The Alberts and An Evening of British Rubbish influenced the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band?”

“Oh no,” said Michael, “And a line can be drawn directly from Spike Milligan and The Goon Show to The Alberts to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Bruce Lacey doing the sound effects for The Goon Show and then performing with The Alberts, who influenced the Bonzos.

“I like to know every link in the chain – such as Joe Orton or The Alberts or knowing that Bertolt Brecht influenced Spike Milligan. It’s nice to know where all this stuff comes from. The Theatre of The Absurd and all that. Stuff does not just pop up out of the ground.”

I said: “The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band started in 1962 and ended in 1970. So they are a pure 1960s group.”

“Yes,” agreed Michael.

The Bonzo’s last London performance

I never saw the Bonzo’s last London performance

“In my spare bedroom,” I said, “I have a poster for the Bonzo’s last London performance – at the Polytechnic in Regent Street – but I didn’t go. I did see Grimms. I remember Neil Innes singing How Sweet To Be an Idiot with a duck on his head.”

“It was a thing out of Woolworth’s,” replied Michael, “called a Quacksie with the wheels took off it.

“Viv got on stage at The Lyceum in London on 28th December 1969 to announce the band was ending. At the time, he was completely bald after getting up halfway through the family Christmas dinner and shaving off all his long hair. He returned to the table to resume eating with a bald head.

“They worked out their commitments for the next 3 months, including the Polytechnic gig on 21st February, and their very last gig was at Loughborough University on 14th March 1970. They had to do an LP in 1970 due to contractual obligations. And Viv’s LP of Rawlinson End was released in 1978.”

“When Lou Reed was contractually obliged to do an album,” I said. “he released a double album of just noise.”

“Yes,” said Michael. “In the mid-1960s, Brian Epstein was going to sell the Beatles to Robert Stigwood, who managed the Bee Gees and the Beatles said: If you do that then, for all the albums we owe you, we’re just gonna sing God Save The Queen for every track.”

“The 1960s and 1970s,” I said, “always seem to have culture-changing originality.”

“That,” said Michael, “is the crux of a lot of the radio documentary I’m currently making about Neil Innes – The Bonzos were the house band on ITV’s Do Not Adjust Your Set and that’s where they met Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones (later in Monty Python’s Flying Circus). Then, in the second series of Do Not Adjust Your Set, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python) comes along doing the animations. When I talked to Terry Gilliam, it became self-evident to me just how different those times were and how mavericks like Tony Stratton-Smith were so important to that thing.”

YouTube currently has a clip of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on Do Not Adjust Your Set.

“There’s a book – Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall – and, in that, he argues that young people were making art then because tomorrow they might be blown to smithereens. There was an immediacy to art in the 1960s and 1970s when you were growing up with the threat of nuclear destruction over your head. You’re not going to have the same set of values. You’re not going to have the same application of deference. You’re just going to do stuff because you might not be here tomorrow.

Arty Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall

Arty Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall

“I think within Bomb Culture there’s a lot of explanation for the 1960s and 1970s – that immediacy, that explosion of culture in the 1960s and 1970s. There were people like Brian Epstein and Robert Stigwood and Tony Stratton-Smith who had money and said: Just go do it. We’ll worry about it later

“Tony Stratton-Smith – BOF! Go make Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Here’s money. Go make it. He wasn’t worried about getting his money back and, in the short term he lost a lot of money. But that attitude means you can just create.

“You don’t get that now – it’s all about making money – though now there’s a democratisation about the tools of creating. You’ve got a recording studio in your pocket.”

“And you get to work with whoever you want,” I said.

“I am the luckiest fan there is,” said Michael, “to be working with all these people. I love every aspect of creating, like everybody does in this game. I’ve been asked to sing with the Bonzos at the Coco in Camden Town on 17th April. That’s even madder. To be asked to sing with them.

“And I sang the Bonzo’s number Sport (The Odd Boy) – with Stephen Fry at the Old Vic in January, which was a real Pinch myself moment.”

“Is Stephen Fry a fan of Vivian Stanshall?” I asked.

“Oh, massive. He’s a huge fan. He indulged Viv an awful lot while he was alive. He helped him put on shows. He bankrolled Stinkfoot at the Bloomsbury Theatre.”

“You yourself don’t have that sort of Medici figure,” I said.

“But I’m happy to be at the mercy of market forces,” Michael told me.” There’s got to be some satisfaction in this work. It’s no good going playing to your mates every week and them telling you you’re wonderful.”

“The worst thing,” I agreed, “is to be on your death bed and wonder What if?

“It is,” said Michael, “like that great philosopher Terry Venables said: I’d rather regret what I’ve done than what I’ve not done.”

Michael’s upcoming gigs are on the Sir Henry website.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1960s, Comedy, Music, Theatre

The death of Tony Gray of The Alberts, who linked BBC2’s awful opening to The Goons, the Bonzo Dogs & Monty Python

Tony Gray

Tony Gray was billed for the opening of BBC2

Fifty years ago this Sunday – 20th April 1964 – the BBC2 television channel was due to start with a special programme The Albert’s Channel Too by anarchic comedy duo The Alberts.

It was billed as coming “direct from the Alberts’ Television Centre” featuring (according to Radio Times) Ivor Cutler, David Jacobs, Adolf Hitler and Birma the elephant.

Instead, a fire broke out at Battersea Power Station and, separately, there was a fault in a 60,000 volt cable at Iver in Buckinghamshire which cut power in West London, including BBC Television Centre.

The opening of BBC2 was a shambles.

The Alberts performed the following night, so BBC2 had two consecutive opening nights, both utterly anarchic.

Last Saturday, I sent a message to Albion Gray, the son of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts:

Tony Gray (left), Douglas Gray (right) and Bruce Lacey (top)

The Alberts – Tony Gray (left) and Douglas Gray (right) – with Bruce Lacey (top) and dog (bottom)

I trekked out to Norfolk to chat to them in the 1980s when I was a researcher on, I guess, Game For a Laugh

Possibly Malcolm Hardee mentioned them to me. They were wonderful people. I don’t suppose they’d be up for a blog chat would they?

He replied:

My dad Tony is a bit too frail to be interviewed but Douglas is in better shape. Let me find out and get back to you.

Yesterday, I got another message from Albion. It started:

Unfortunately my father passed away yesterday, at the grand old age of 86. 

By last night, there was an obituary on the Daily Telegraph website headlined

Tony Gray was a co-founder of a musical comedy act whose brand of anarchic slapstick inspired Monty Python

The Alberts were brothers Tony and Douglas Gray. The Daily Telegraph obituary is rather low-key in saying “their specialities included bubble-blowing automata and exploding camels”.

A Show Called Fred (from left). Top row: Graham Stark, Spike Milligan, Tony Gray, Valentine Dyall, Peter Sellers. Bottom row: Kenneth Connor, Douglas Gray, Johnny Vyvyan, Mario Fabrizi

A Show Called Fred (from left)… Top row: Graham Stark, unknown dummy, Spike Milligan, Tony Gray, Valentine Dyall, Peter Sellers… Bottom row: Kenneth Connor, Douglas Gray, Johnny Vyvyan, Mario Fabrizi

In 1956, in an attempt to transfer the radio success of The Goon Show to TV, Associated-Rediffusion made the series A Show Called Fred in which The Alberts featured. It was broadcast only in the London region, was written by Spike Milligan, starred Peter Sellers and was produced & directed by Dick Lester (who went on to direct cult short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film with Peter Sellers and Bruce Lacey in 1960 and later The Beatles’ feature films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

There is an entire 25-minute episode of A Show Called Fred on YouTube. The Alberts first appear 20 seconds into the pre-credit sequence carrying musical instruments. Douglas enters first.

If you want to know what The Alberts were like – both on AND off stage and screen, think The Goons on the way to Monty Python with The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band stirred in.

Satirist John Wells famously described one of The Alberts’ 1960s performances thus:

“Moth-eaten men in beards and baggy Edwardian clothes strode on and off the stage; there were a great many random bangs and explosions, trumpets were blown, jokes were muttered and shouted, usually into the wings; the stuffed camel had its tail turned like a starting handle to the accompaniment of further bangs and more dirty men in ancient military uniforms strode on and off shouting at each other; someone appeared dressed as a bee; a mechanical dummy was wheeled on to deliver a monosyllabic political speech; a musician in grubby white tie and tails attempted to play the cello, and subversive figures winking at the audience and slyly tapping their noses were seen to lay a charge of dynamite under his chair, reel out the cable to a plunger and finally blow themselves up with another thunderous bang.”

There is a 4-minute video on YouTube of The Flying Alberts – Tony & Douglas with Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce in the 1960s.

In 1962, Peter Cook booked The Alberts for a residency at his seminal London comedy club The Establishment. They performed a Dada-inspired quiz show in which Bruce Lacey asked the questions. A description of one show said Lacey asked a question, the competitor got a bucket of whitewash poured over his head and then said: “Could you repeat the question, please?”

American comic Lenny Bruce saw The Alberts perform at The Establishment and booked them for an American tour. They crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary liner, reportedly either entertaining or annoying other passengers by riding penny-farthing bicycles around the decks. By the time they arrived in New York, Lenny Bruce had been arrested on charges of obscenity but The Alberts’ show was a success in New York. Somewhat oddly, it reportedly bombed in San Francisco which, you would think, would have been more open to their eccentricities.

The Alberts - purveyors of fine British Rubbish to royalty

The Alberts – purveyors of fine British Rubbish to royalty

Back in London, their West End show An Evening of British Rubbish ran for almost a year in 1963 (Princess Margaret went to see it twice) and they later toured the show in Belgium and France, under the title Crazy Show de British Rubbish.

An Evening of British Rubbish was released as an LP in 1963, produced by George Martin whose work with The Alberts was rather overshadowed that year by his work with The Beatles. George Martin also produced a single for The Alberts (with Bruce Lacey) featuring The Morse Code Melody on one side and Sleepy Valley on the other.

The Alberts – always very musical – are often cited as a big influence on The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Vivian Stanshall of The Bonzos said: “If there was any influence at all, it would be The Alberts or the Commedia dell’arte.”

According to their oft-times collaborator Bruce Lacey, The Temperance Seven band was originally formed by the Alberts but they were later ejected for ‘musical incompatibility’. I know no more.

The fake accounts and AGM of Albert, Lacey & Albert 1960-1961

The fake accounts and AGM of entertainment experts Albert, Lacey & Albert Ltd, 1960-1961

Around 1971, EMI issued a musical compilation album simply titled: The Alberts/The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band/The Temperance Seven and there was a later 1999 album called By Jingo, It’s British Rubbish with tracks by The Alberts, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Temperance Seven, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers

It was almost 30 years ago – in the mid 1980s – when I went up to meet Tony and Douglas Gray at home in Norfolk. I can remember very little except that it was an ex-vicarage and I liked both of the brothers immediately and immensely. I do remember Douglas played bagpipes indoors (a commendably eccentric thing to do, though never a good idea to experience) and Tony was dressed in full cricketing outfit… Neither did either of these things for any discernible reason.

Producer Danny Greenstone, who was with me on the visit, told me this morning: “I remember the bagpipe playing, but it didn’t stop at bagpipes. We were also treated to the tuba, a ukulele and other bizarre instruments. We wanted them for Game For a Laugh (of course) but I can’t remember what it was we wanted them to do. It MUST have been some kind of musical act and I think we DID get them to do it, but the details have faded. I also remember that you got a flat tyre on the way back.”

Memories fade. I only remember the bagpipes, Tony’s clothes and their personalities. I think there is a slight possibility that Douglas wore a kilt and a sporran. Perhaps I imagined it. Perhaps not.

At the time Danny and I met them, they were both working for the Sunday Telegraph and, I think other Fleet Street newspapers by driving delivery vans. This was before Rupert Murdoch fully broke the power of the newspaper unions and I have some vague memory of them telling me that they performed part of their journalistic duties by signing in (or having other people sign in for them) as M.Mouse in London while staying in Norfolk and not actually doing anything. Perhaps I imagined it. Perhaps not.

Tony (left) and Douglas Gray when they were young

Brothers Tony (left) and Douglas Gray when they were young

The Alberts had a varied and influential career which deserves to be remembered. They appeared in several Ken Russell films and in the 1965 Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium and, in 1966, they appeared in their own show The Three Musketeers Ride Again both at the Arts Theatre and the Royal Court theatre in London.

On YouTube, there is a song – sung by Tony Gray this century – which was written for The Alberts’ 1966 production of The Three Musketeers Ride Again. It is called When I Was Seventeen.

RIP Tony Gray 1927-2014

So it goes.

3 Comments

Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Surreal

Comedian Al Murray has a chat about his Pub Landlord character, TV satire and mentally sub-normal medieval fools

Guns ’n’ Moses were the new schlock ’n’ roll

Guns ’n’ Moses (from left) Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré

In yesterday’s blog, Al Murray talked about his interest in history, Britishness and World Wars.

“You were also a drummer in the group Guns ’n’ Moses with Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré,” I said when I met him last week. “But you’re not a frustrated drummer and a frustrated historian. You must be rolling in dosh. So you’re not thinking I should have taken a different career path?”

“No,” said Al. “I remember on a school report a very long time ago they called me a dilettante and I had to ask my dad what it meant. He said It means someone who dabbles in different things and doesn’t really specialise and I remember thinking That sounds brilliant! That sounds like a good job option.

“Polymath might sound better,” I suggested. “You’re in an ideal position now. I imagine you don’t desperately need to work.”

“Yes and no,” replied Al. “I really love doing the stand-up side. This is the 20th year I’ve been doing the Pub Landlord character. Each time I sit down to write a new show, which is what I’m doing right now, I always realise there’s a whole load of things I could do with it which I haven’t explored yet. The character is the same but, if you watch the shows, they’re all very different from each other, with different textures.”

“With Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part,” I said, “I thought maybe he was a role model for people who agreed with his bigoted views. I never believed he would change people’s views.”

“The problem is,” said Al, “if you go too far along that road, you start to argue against irony. The opposite of irony is everything being taken literally. If you’re going to be literal about everything, you’re gonna have to have figurative paintings; you can’t have Impressionism… The thing that’s happening in stand-up comedy at the moment is you’re supposed to be sincere. Why?”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it’s prescriptive,” said Al, “and art suffers when you get prescriptive. On stage, I don’t talk about me – ever – because I’m not interested and I’m not interested in anyone else being interested. I’d rather talk about the world or ideas. If people really do agree with what the Pub Landlord says then they’re mental, so there’s nothing I can do about them. And isn’t it like a cosmic prank? If people think he’s real, that’s fucking hilarious. I think our job as comics is to be pranksters. We’re not supposed to agree. We’re supposed to cause confusion.”

ITV publicity shot for Multiple Personality Disorder

ITV publicity for Al Murray’s Multiple Personality  Disorder

“In 2009,” I said, “you did do an ITV show Multiple Personality Disorder in which you played lots of different characters and I genuinely thought the range of characters was wonderful and…”

“ITV didn’t think that!” laughed Al. “Dealing with TV people! The guy who had been championing me went elsewhere, so we ended up with someone new as commissioner. I loved making that programme. The fun was doing different things and seeing if they’d work. But, for stand-up, the Pub Landlord is… I’ve got him… When people say Why don’t you do something else? I say Alright, I’ll do that when Jack Dee does his ‘I’m Not Grumpy Any More’ show or Harry Hill does observational comedy or Michael McIntyre talks about American foreign policy.”

“So,” I said, “your two big interests are, let’s say, history and comedy. And they come together in this book you’re writing about fools.”

Will Sommers, fool to the Tudor monarchs

Will Sommers, a fool to the Tudors

“Well, I’m trying to write it,” said Al. “I’m trying to draw the stuff together and see if I can make it cohere. I found out about Henry VIII’s fool Will Sommers. He survived as a fool through Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and through to Elizabeth I. He survived all four reigns in court.

“The traditional reading of that period is it’s a roller coaster politically and religiously. So how did he survive? The answer is either he wasn’t saying anything dangerous at all OR that having him there saying awkward things at the right moment was SO important you could not get rid of him. The Tudor fools were the last of the classic old-fashioned fools.”

“You mean men with funny hats?” I asked.

“No,” said Al. “There’s fools and there’s jesters. Jesters are people pretending to be fools. Fools were – although it’s unpalatable for us – essentially people with behavioural and learning difficulties. In the medieval theology of the time, if that was your intellectual capacity, you were regarded as ‘innocent before God’ because you couldn’t understand theology. So you had a Get Out of Jail card. Literally.”

You’re an idiot, so we won’t burn you at the stake,” I said.

“Exactly,” agreed Al. “So you could say what you liked. Most of the fools were called ‘naturals’ and they fitted this mental category. Then, separately, you had jesters – ‘artificials’ – who were pretending to be like that and they’re the people who get in the shit because everyone knows they’re pretending – so, when they say the terrible thing that shouldn’t be said, the assumption is You knew what you were saying so you’re for the chop.

“A lot of what we think fools were comes at us through art and stage plays. So we think fools were like the fool in King Lear, but that’s Shakespeare’s dramatisation of what their function was. In fact, you had these people essentially gigging up and down the country and there was a circuit. If you were a man of status, you would have your own fool saying stupid things or juggling or farting. Farting was very big in the 12th century.”

Al Murray writing in Soho last week

Al Murray writing new ideas in Soho last week

“And there was a circuit?” I asked.

“And a career structure,” added Al. “This was an era when mentally ill people were not locked away. That didn’t happen until the 18th century. Before that, you had ‘village idiots’ and everyone knew who they were and what their problems were and they had a role. And they were innocent before God.

“In the Domesday Book, there’s a fool who was probably one of Edward The Confessor’s fools who has retired out to the Welsh Marches who has a big estate – so he’s really rich. But he’s been removed or exiled because he’s a previous king’s jester and we need a new one for the Normans.”

“Do you think fools were mentally sub-normal,” I asked, “or might they have been autistic, where there’s a mixture of high intelligence and social awkwardness?”

“That whole spectrum,” said Al. “Different people with different problems. I think we would now be incredibly uncomfortable about laughing at them. You only have to look at the response to Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek where he’s pretending to be someone who would have had a role as a fool… The response to that is super-uncomfortable for a lot of people.

“Fools were very important, because they spoke the truth. There are examples of them giving the king bad news because no-one else dared. The fool had a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

“Nowadays,” I said, “I suppose we have satirists.”

“Well,” said Al, “there’s this preposterous idea that people in the 1960s invented satire. They did it on TV and what was unusual about them was they were people who could have been in the Establishment taking the piss out of the Establishment. The Goon Show was a satire of Britain in the 1950s, but Spike Milligan was blue collar, so he doesn’t get that elevation as a great satirist because he’s not from the Establishment. He had not rejected something in becoming a satirist.”

“Is he a satirist or a surrealist?” I asked.

“Well,” said Al. “The Goon Show had the absurdities of National Service, was about rationing, was about Class. It’s all in there, but Spike Milligan dressed it up as something else. The 1960s satire boom, though, was… It’s a bit like me… My grandfather (Sir Ralph Murray) was a diplomat, my dad worked in management at British Rail, so he was a sort of civil servant and that’s where I was heading – or a lawyer or something. To do comedy was a bit of a departure.”

“You’ve got no showbiz background?”

The Navy Lark with (on left) Stephen Murray

The Navy Lark with (on left) Stephen Murray

“My great uncle Stephen Murray was an actor. I never knew him. He was in The Navy Lark on radio when his serious actor career mis-fired a little. But that was always like Your great uncle Stephen’s an actor… Phoah! That’s really weird!”

“I remember Stephen Murray always played authority figures,” I said.

“Which is what his brother was,” said Al. “His brother was an ambassador.”

(Al did not mention to me that he is a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of John Murray, 3rd Duke of Atholl nor that his great-great-great-grandfather was author William Makepeace Thackeray.)

“Most satire,” I suggested, “is sort of elitist, whereas what you’re doing with the Pub Landlord is populist. Are you sneaking in under the radar?”

“Maybe,” said Al. “Whenever there’s a round-up of what’s going on in satire, I always think: Why am I not on this list?

“Maybe,” I suggested, “because you are appealing to Joe Public in general and not exclusively to Guardian readers?”

“Maybe,” said Al. “It always makes me laugh. I think Oh, come on! At least give me a mention! Or at least print ‘some people say it is but it isn’t’ .

… CONTINUED HERE

 

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, History, Mental health, Mental illness

Why comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith committed suicide by jumping off a cliff

A fortnight ago, I blogged about the death of music and comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith. And followed it up with comedian Martin Soan’s memories of him in a second blog. His friend and former manager Joe Stead now tells me: “His state of mind the last nine months had actually been very good. He had a wonderful new girl friend. I popped down to Dorset regularly after his wife Viva died in 2009 to keep an eye on him. I was last there (twice) in November when he was in good spirits except for toothache.

“He had undergone tooth surgery in Hungary in July. Yes! Only Derek would choose Hungary over Guy’s Hospital in London and things were not quite right. He went back to Hungary for further remedial treatment in September and had been in pain on and off since then. The specialist he saw in Dorchester (private) hospital advised him there was nothing wrong, he was simply chewing incorrectly. Apparently if he chewed up and down like normal people – and not sideways like cows – his pain would disappear in a couple of weeks.”

Now Joe Stead has posted memories of an Amazing man in his own online blog: The Ramblings of an old Codgerwhich I reprint with his permission below:

* * * * *

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers...

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers…

Derek (The Amazing Mr) Smith was born a genius on the 1st April 1948.  Now whether you believe in astrology or not you have to admit that out of the 366 days in which Derek could have chosen to be born that year, he chose the 1st of April. A pretty toxic mix don’t you think?

He had an IQ of over 160 and history is littered with people of equal or near intelligence all of whom walked the fine line of normality as they knew it.

 Spike Milligan was another hyper intelligent man who had spasms of deep depression that plagued him throughout his life.  There was a time in the sixties when Milligan was living with his then wife near me in a house in Blackheath, London. Spike lived upstairs, his wife lived downstairs. They weren’t really talking to each other. But Spike would phone her up every time he wanted a cup of tea.

 Educated at a grammar school in South East London, Derek went on to Bristol University graduating sometime in the late 1960s with an honours degree. 

He went to work at Burroughs Wellcome in Beckenham (later to become GlaxoSmithKline) as one of their top scientists specializing in heart diseases. 

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

He stayed in that employment until 1994 when he and his wife Viva bought the house down in Loders, Dorset. One of the first things he did, to fill his spare time when he arrived, was to take Pure Maths at University Degree level. He took two exams and got 95 and 99 percent marks. He was genuinely annoyed he didn’t get 100 in both exams because he couldn’t see anywhere, in his reasoning, where he had gone wrong.

He was, of course, an inventor par excellence. And most were quite simple inventions that you and I would never dream of. The condom bagpipes being just one example.

I remember one time, before he moved to Dorset, visiting him at his house in Bromley. He had taken a standard dining chair, sawn the back off it, drilled holes up each leg and he had it hanging from the ceiling as a lamp shade.

I actually first met Derek around about 1970. It might have been a little later; I can’t remember the exact year. Derek had appeared on the folk scene in South East London performing as the guitarist in the group Wild Oats.

Wild Oats’ album cover with Mr Smith (extreme left) and future wife Viva

Wild Oats’ album with Mr Smith (left) & his future wife Viva

Viva was lead singer. Ray Tassie played mandolin, with Mike Flood on bass. Ray tells me that apparently Derek, not Viva, worked out the four part harmonies for the group and he did them all at the same time. Note by note. He was never wrong. He was able to work on four harmonies at the same time note by note – and the bloke couldn’t even sing!

Derek and I became the closest of friends and we did many crazy things together.  All instigated by Derek of course.

In January of 1982, Derek came to my flat in Greenwich to ask me if I would be his best man.

I said” “Certainly. When are you getting married?”

He said: “I don’t know. I’ve not asked Viva yet”

At the time I was his manager, so I said: “Right, look. You’ve got three weeks in May when you don’t have any work. If you marry Viva on May 9th (a Saturday) I’ll get you an American tour between May 13h and May 30th.”

He said “Right” and apparently went home, woke Viva up and said: “Joe says we can get married on May 9th and go to America on May 13h. He’ll get me some gigs there.”

Viva apparently said “Yes,” and went back to sleep.

A slightly off-the-wall marriage proposal I suppose. But, with Derek, I guess you would expect nothing less. And so it was, as his best man, I got him to the church on time – and only just, if I’m honest, as we couldn’t find the church.

I’ll tell you about some of the crazy things.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

There was the time he showed up at my house just before Christmas one year to go out for a Christmas drink. In those days, Derek was always super untidy. When I opened the door, he was in full evening dress – bow tie, the lot – and carrying a parcel which apparently was my Christmas present. I was really very embarrassed that I had not thought of buying him a Christmas present until he explained it was my present to him

When he entered the house, I suddenly realised that his evening jacket was rent at the back, down the middle, from collar to hem. In fact, it was only the collar holding it together. It sort of flowed open at the back showing his white shirt. Apparently we were off to Welling on a pub crawl and I was to give him my present when we were in the first pub. At the pub, Derek dashed off to the bar to get the drinks, making sure at least half the occupants saw his jacket, while I sat at a table with the parcel. Not knowing what was in it. When he came back, he enthused really quite loudly that I had bought him a present. He opened up the parcel and therein was the most hideous jacket you could ever imagine any American wearing to church on a Sunday morning. 

Derek was, of course, delighted with it and he swapped jacket immediately putting the dinner jacket with the rent back straight back into the brown paper parcel. Thus we made our way to the next pub and the whole procedure was acted out again in reverse. We did that all night going round at least eight, maybe ten, pubs drinking half pints to try to stay as sober possible. This was an impossibility in Derek’s case because, in those days, it only took a pint or maybe two to get him completely pissed.

A bit childish you might think. Not for Derek. He was in his element. He had a great need to entertain people.

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

A rather shy, gentle man with a propeller on his nose

I remember a time in Northolt High Street when he proceeded to water lamp posts, telegraph poles and phone boxes with a kettle he had filled in a friend’s kitchen. When he got to the bus stop, the queue all backed away from him by about three feet. And this was years and years before anybody tried making a TV programme like this.

One hot summer Sunday lunchtime in early May, we stopped off at Teignmouth for a drink at a pub by the dockside where workmen were laying huge pipes about 2 feet in diameter by about 45 feet long on the other side of the bridge. The pipes were stacked up on the dockside about 30 yards from the pub. A lot of people were drinking outside. Derek disappeared, ostensibly to go to the bathroom, but instead he appeared alongside the piping. Bending down, he sung into the pipework: “Day-o; Day-o, Daylight come and I want to go home” very loudly.  He then ran the 45 feet or so to the end of the pipe, cupping his hand to his ear to hear the sound come out the other end.

He did this at least half a dozen times, always from the same end, much to the amusement of the people drinking on the dockside, not to mention the workmen who were all totally non-plussed.

I heard somebody nearby murmour: “The lunatic must be drunk”. 

I turned and said: “No, it’s just a man with an IQ over 160 acting quite normally”.

His humour camouflaged a creative, sensitive, vulnerable man who, with careful artistry, consistently challenged his own inventiveness and put everyone, including himself, outside of their comfort zones.

He never ceased to amaze.

SO WHY DID THE AMAZING MR SMITH COMMIT SUICIDE?

East Cliff, West Bay, Bridport in Dorset

Mr Smith died on beach at foot of East Cliff, Bridport, Dorset

Derek was being treated by his doctor for a number of problems which included either severe toothache or severe pain in the jaw.

Despite being assured by a specialist at Dorchester Hospital only 48 hours before his death that he had nothing wrong with him, he was convinced he had a poisoned bone which antibiotics could not touch.

His doctor had prescribed Seroxat.  Which he had taken for precisely two nights.

The NHS describe Seroxat thus………

Some people who take Seroxat may find that it intensifies depression and suicidal feelings in the early stages of treatment.  These people have an increased risk of self-harm or suicide in the early stages of taking Seroxat. As Seroxat starts to work these risks decrease.

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

If you are taking Seroxat, or you care for someone who is taking Seroxat, you need to look out for changes in behaviour that could be linked to self-harm or suicide.

If you notice any of these changes or are worried about how Seroxat is affecting you or someone you care for, you should contact your prescriber, a mental health professional or NHS Direct as soon as possible.

It is important that you discuss with your prescriber how long it will take before you can expect to feel any benefits from taking Seroxat.

Do not share your medicine with other people. It may not be suitable for them and may harm them.

I therefore have to wonder why Derek Smith (a genius but, like so many geniuses, a manic depressive) was prescribed a drug that the doctor knew might cause him to commit suicide.

Seroxat, by the way, is supplied by GlaxoSmithKline UK. The very company for whom Derek had worked as a heart specialist.

I would like to thank those of you who wrote expressing their amazement and horror at the awful events that occurred in West Bay, Bridport in the early hours of Sunday December 8th.

* * * * *

There is a 7-minute mini-documentary about The Amazing Mr Smith on Vimeo

…and snippets of his various acts on YouTube.

BBC TV’s current affairs series Panorama transmitted a programme on the dangers of Seroxat in 2002. The transcript is HERE.

10 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Mental health, Suicide

Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, “Blake’s 7″ and “Survivors” really wanted to be a stand-up comedian

(A version of this piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, someone read my piece about Doctor Who in the Huffington Post in which I mentioned that the series’ original budget was £2,000 per show.

They pointed out to me that the BBC science fiction TV series Blake’s 7 initially inherited the special effects budget of the BBC’s (for the time) gritty, realistic police series Softly, Softly – which was £50 per show.

Blake’s 7, unlike Softly Softly, involved model space ships, explosions, physics-defying events and interstellar warfare.

It seems to me a little unlikely that Blake’s 7 actually did inherit Softly, Softly’s effects budget, because Softly, Softly ended in 1969 and Blake’s 7 started in 1978. It sounds like it might be a fan-based myth. But, to mis-quote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend sounds fascinating, print the legend”.

It got me thinking, though, about Blake’s 7 (yesterday was a slow day) and reminded me that, in 1978, I interviewed the show’s creator Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks for Doctor Who.

The interview was published in the January 1979 issue of Starburst magazine.

Terry Nation died in 1997. As a writer, he will be remembered for those two things – the Daleks and Blake’s 7 – but he was far more interesting than that.

My introduction to the interview (with some clarifications for 2011 readers) ran like this:

_____

Terry Nation was best known for his fantasy writing, as creator of the Daleks and Blake’s 7. But it was not always that way. He originally wanted to get up on stage and be a stand-up comedian.

Born in Cardiff, he grew up during World War II. His father was away in the army and his mother was an air-raid warden, so there were times when he would sit alone in the air-raid shelter as German planes bombed Cardiff. He said he believed in the only child syndrome: “Being an only child (as he was) you have to invent your own persona and your own stories.” As for other influences, he said: “I grew up with a marvellous BBC radio service that had a thing called Children’s Hour. I read early. And I also grew up in the front row of the local Odeon cinema.”

He started his working life at eighteen, as a commercial traveller for the family furniture factory. But, aged 25, he gave up this career and moved to London with hopes of becoming a stage comedian. These hopes were dashed. As he said: “To play your best jokes and receive back absolute silence is pretty devastating.”

Eventually, a talent broker told him: “Son, the jokes are funny – it’s you that’s not.” If there was a turning point in Terry Nation’s life, then that was it.

Fortunately, he encountered the comedian Spike Milligan who saw Nation was starving, gave him £10 and commissioned him to write a Goon Show radio script. At the time, Milligan was involved in a talent agency which included Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, Eric Sykes and Johnny Speight. It was a small world and Nation’s successful comedy script led to writing work for such major comedians of the time as Peter Sellers, Tony HancockFrankie HowerdTed Ray and Harry Worth,

In all, he wrote more than 200 radio shows; he also contributed to attempted Goon Show TV spin-off The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d and to The Jimmy Logan Show and Val Parnell’s Startime. But, by that time, he had decided his comedy writing “wasn’t really very good”.

So he turned down the chance to write four episodes of ITV’s The Army Game (ironically co-starring the future first Doctor Who William Hartnell). Instead, he wrote three scripts for the ITV science fiction series Out of This World. He adapted Philip K.Dick’s Imposter, Clifford Simak’s Immigrant and wrote an original screenplay Botany Bay.

He then returned to comedy, writing for a Tony Hancock stage show in Nottingham: “I leapt at it,” Nation said, “because he was the greatest comic in the world.” At which point, “the BBC came up with this idea for this crazy doctor who travelled through time and space. They called my agent, my agent called me, Hancock said Don’t write for flippin’ kids and I told my agent to turn it down.”

Luckily, Nation and Hancock then had a ‘dispute’, parted company and Nation agreed to work on Doctor Who…. But then Eric Sykes offered him a comedy writing assignment in Sweden, so he wrote the seven episodes of the first Dalek story (The Dead Planet) in seven days and left to join Sykes.

Doctor Who first appeared on screen in 1963. Within  three weeks, it was drawing the largest audience for its time-slot in BBC history. After a four-part introductory story, The Dead Planet introduced the Daleks.

In 1965, Dalek merchandising (toys etc) reportedly earned Nation £50,000. The Dr Who and The Daleks feature film (1965) reportedly brought him in £300,000. And Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD followed in 1966. By 1977, the Daleks were still one of the four top TV toys and their creator was reportedly earning £40,000 a year from scripts.

But the Daleks were only a small part of his output.

He wrote a dozen scripts (more than anyone else) for the original ITV series of The Saint. That success led to a job as script editor and writer on The Baron TV series. He also wrote for The Champions, was script editor on The Avengers (the series which co-starred Linda Thorson), was script editor and associate producer on The Persuaders! He created Survivors and Blake’s 7.

_____

I met Terry Nation at the Reform Club in London’s Pall Mall (the base for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days) and talked about the fantasy world which he had created. I thought he was rather shy and insecure. I think he was a new member of the Reform Club and rather over-awed by the fact a middle class boy like himself had broken into what he saw as ‘the Establishment’.

(Extracts from the interview appeared in later blogs HERE and HERE)

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Science fiction, Television, Writing