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Steve From Up North is introduced to someone famous by Malcolm Hardee

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee has been called the greatest influence on British comedy in the last 25 years. He knew everybody.

His friend Steve Taylor looked at the 95 photos of Malcolm’s infamous Tunnel Palladium club mentioned in my blog of a couple of days ago – and the references to Johnny Edgecombe, the man who triggered the Profumo sex scandal which brought down the Conservative government in 1964 – and it reminded Steve of one occasion in the 1980s when Malcolm Hardee introduced him to someone else who was very famous…

“At the time,” Steve tells me, “I was running my Laughingas comedy clubs (which I started with Phil Cool) in various Lancashire venues and I used to visit London often looking for new acts.

“I had been told about Malcolm’s club The Tunnel by Jasper Carrott‘s manager. I just introduced myself to Malcolm and tried to sell him Phil Cool, who was on the verge of the big time. Phil came down with me the next week and soon after that played The Tunnel and stormed it.

“After that, I often stayed with Malcolm and his partner Pippa and was rewarded with the honour of lending him money and cooking. With limited facilities it was usually a roast dinner and, of course, Malcolm being Malcolm, he often managed to get a lot of it down the front of his shirt and jacket.

“On this particular visit, for some unknowable reason, Malcolm felt obliged to treat me like a real tourist.

“On my previous visit, I had been roped-in to drive the van and play Wizo’s part in a Greatest Show on Legs tour. We did Salford University, Theatr Hafren in Wales, the Royal College of Egham and a couple more. No comedy clubs, just theatres and the Uni. I did most of the Greatest Show on Legs routines but sadly not the naked balloon dance. I was obviously far too pretty. The time before that, I had helped Malcolm move house.

“But this time, for some reason, he decided I was a tourist.

“So Malcolm says OK, Steve from Up North, what do you fancy doing today?

“I suggested we could go into town and maybe he could introduce me to some of his famous showbiz mates.

“He said that we would sail into the centre of London in his boat.

“This was always a risky proposition, but we got there safely and moored somewhere near Waterloo. (The return trip took hours as the tide was stronger than the motor on the boat.)

“Anyway, I found myself outside Waterloo station and Malcolm took me over to a guy selling flowers and introduced me to him with the words: Oy Oy, This is Steve from Up North.

Pleased to meet you, the guy says and we leave.

There you are, says Malcolm as we walk on, That was Buster Edwards, the Great Train Robber… If you want, I can introduce you to a bloke who knows Charlie Kray….. and there was me thinking we might have been having dinner in Langan’s with Michael Caine!

“Did Malcolm react to this anti-climax? Of course not.

“Every minute in Malcolm’s company was quirky.

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Weird stuff involving a rat, Mr Methane, Iggy Pop and Charlie Chuck

So what is going on at St Pancras station in London?

In my blog yesterday I mentioned weird stuff happening at St Pancras – including a woman talking to a stuffed meerkat.

Today I was at St Pancras again and, blow me down, when I arrived and got off the train there was a group of five men dressed like OTT Chicago gangsters out of Guys and Dolls with striped suits, black shirts, white ties and wide-brimmed hats and one of ‘em had a stuffed rat sitting on his hat. At least I think it was stuffed. Again, no-one but me was giving them a second glance.

Then Mr Methane, the world’s only professional performing farter, phoned me from his theatre dressing room in Crawley. He said he was sitting at a traditional theatrical make-up mirror with light bulbs all round the edges. Very glitzy; very showbiz, you might think. But they were energy-saving bulbs. He said it looked a bit odd. Not really traditional showbiz at all.

I suppose this will spread because of the recession and European legislation.

Then I got a phone call from comedian Charlie Chuck and, almost as a throwaway, he mentioned something so odd I had to ask him to repeat it.

As the late Malcolm Hardee used to say, there is a thin dividing line between genius and madness and like most people I think the long-running SwiftCover car insurance TV ads may have crossed that border in the wrong direction because they are fronted by ‘wild man of rock’ Iggy Pop. It’s a bit like seeing Keith Richards fronting an ad for Tesco.

Even more odd is that, apparently, Charlie Chuck was also in the running to front the SwiftCover ads before Iggy Pop got the gig. I am still trying to get my head round what the already distinctly odd ads might have looked like with Mr Chuck.

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Filed under Comedy, Finance, Strange phenomena, Television, Theatre

The woman who has stayed in a bedroom cupboard for over two years

Last night I had a somewhat over-priced snack in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a very pleasant place to be with subtle up-lighters to the vaulted brick ceiling and tastefully up-dated modernity out in the corridor plus a very emotionally satisfying circular glass lift up to ground level. It is a very relaxing place to sit and chat although, because this is the crypt of a church built in 1542 and re-built in 1726, the chairs and tables and kitchens stand on headstones and ancient bones including, I think, those of Nell Gwyn.

I sat wondering what Samuel Pepys would have made of this future world if he could see it. Pepys had a nude picture of Nell Gwyn hanging above his desk.

“What am I going to do with my mother?” my friend interrupted.

“What?” I asked, distracted.

“My mother. I don’t know what to do with her. She’ll have to go somewhere.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“In the bedroom cupboard at home. She’s been there for over two years.”

“I know,” I said, trying to be sympathetic. “I had my father in the kitchen for about 18 months. I didn’t like to bring up the subject with my mother in case it upset her. Is there anywhere your mother liked that had a special place in her heart?”

My friend pondered this long and hard.

Dickens & Jones,” she eventually mused. “She adored Dickens & Jones.”

“They might think it was bad for business,” I said, trying to be practical while remaining sympathetic. “And department stores tend to clean the floors an awful lot. They’d vacuum her up.”

“It’s what she would have wanted,” my friend said quietly. “She was always at her happiest in Dickens & Jones. But it doesn’t exist any more. So, realistically, I would have to scatter her ashes inside John Lewis in Oxford Street. She liked shopping there too.”

“How about St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?” I suggested.

My friend looked unconvinced.

“She would be among the great and the good of the country,” I re-assured her. “Nelson, Wellington, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, people like that… You could just go in and drop her surreptitiously in a corner when no-one’s looking. It’s all grey stone. They’d never notice and they must only sweep the corners and dust the edges of the floors by the walls every couple of centuries. I’m sure someone must have done it before.”

My friend still looked unconvinced.

“It would be like The Great Escape,” I suggested, trying to get her enthusiasm going. “When they drop the earth from the tunnel down the inside of their trouser legs.”

“Sounds a bit messy,” my friend said.

And that was that.

But I am still convinced it is good idea and deserves further consideration. We live in occasionally surreal times and have to think laterally to keep pace with reality.

Who would have thought a man would try to blow up a plane using a shoe bomb, that MPs would be going to prison for fiddling their expenses and that the European Court’s advisors would reckon it is against basic Human Rights to ban people imprisoned for murder, rape and terrorist offences from voting in an election.

Later, as I was walking through St Pancras station, my eyes accidentally strayed to the Eurostar arrivals board. The next three trains were from Paris, Brussels and Disneyland. I half expected to see Mickey Mouse get off a train hand-in-hand with Pinnochio.

Twenty feet further on, I passed an overweight man in his 40s sitting at a table. He had receding hair at the front of his head and a bald patch at the back. He was eating a croissant and was dressed as a schoolboy. No-one looked at him because no-one thought it odd.

In my train home, a middle-aged woman was talking to a stuffed meerkat. Neither the woman nor the meerkat appeared to have a mobile phone.

What would Samuel Pepys have made of this future world?

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Filed under Comedy, History, Strange phenomena

Painting a New York fart, Tony Blair and Jo Brand

Yesterday, in response to my blog mentioning farteur Mr Methane, Jackie Hunter, former features editor of The Scotsman newspaper, reminded me that early 20th-century artist Maxfield Parrish painted a fart into a mural that now adorns the famous King Cole Bar in New York’s St Regis hotel. I have to agree with her that painting a fart is quite an achievement.

Yesterday was a funny old mixture of a day because British comedians are now planning for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Going to the Fringe, like having a baby, is a nine-month project involving a lot of nausea, pain and uncertain results.

Charlie Chuck phoned me about his planned return to Edinburgh which sounds suitably unusual and the extraordinarily multi-talented Janey Godley, not planning to play the Edinburgh Fringe this year but just about to go to the Adelaide Fringe, told me about two possibilities she has been unexpectedly offered in two totally different media. From Janey, the unexpected comes as no surprise.

In the afternoon, I had to take a friend to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, is surrounded by a high Grade A security fence which makes it look more like a Stalag Luft Queen Elizabeth II escape-proof prison camp in World War II or a Ministry of Defence site in the Cold War.

In the evening, I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club at the beleaguered and now closed Ivy House pub in Nunhead. The venue was re-opened specially for the night to stage Pull The Other One with this month’s headliner Jo Brand.

Vivienne & Martin now have their next six shows arranged but with no definite venue and are looking round, although they would prefer to stay at the warmly ornate and atmospheric mirrored ‘golden room’ behind the Ivy House bar. One local alternative might be The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station.

Comedian and novelist Dominic Holland, making his second appearance at Pull The Other One called it “the weirdest gig that exists,” which it surely is. The format is about two hours of variety acts and two stand-up comics. Unusually, nowadays, the bizarre variety acts – far be it from me to name-drop Bob Slayer and Holly Burn – are as important to the feel of the shows as the stand-ups.

Afterwards, Dominic told me that his 14-year-old son Tom Holland, recently on stage as Billy Elliot in the West End, is currently in Thailand filming a lead role in major Hollywood blockbuster The Impossible. I thought Dominic was probably ‘talking up’ this film out of fatherly pride until I looked it up on IMDB Pro and found it is a big-budget tsunami disaster movie “starring Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland” and is one of the “most anticipated films of 2011”.

Other shocks of the evening were that the much talked-about cult comedian Dr Brown has got an entirely new character act in which he actually moves and talks semi-coherently. And I heard that legendary ‘open spot’ act Jimbo – he seems to have been doing open spots as long as Cilla Black has been acting-out the role of ordinary woman next door – is now getting paid gigs, has allegedly changed into a (different) character act and is perhaps going to the Edinburgh Fringe. If he won an award as Best Newcomer at the Fringe it would be very funny and would be a triumph for Brian Damage of Pear Shaped, who has long championed Jimbo and other – even by my standards – very, very bizarre acts.

A very funny night at Pull The Other One ended very entertainingly but totally unsurprisingly with nudity. There were even some calls for The Naked Balloon Dance of fond memory.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, Tunisia continued to stumble around like a blinded meerkat towards potential anarchic chaos and tanks were rolling around Cairo to prevent what threatened to be a popular uprising.

Is it my imagination or have things deteriorated badly in that area since the United Nations, evidently an organisation with no sense of irony, appointed Tony Blair as Middle East Peace Envoy and why is it I never actually see any pictures of him in the Middle East?

Could it be he’s just too busy talking to God and this week, according to The Times, signing a six-figure deal to make four speeches for a hedge fund which made around £100 million by betting on the collapse of the Northern Rock bank in the UK?

This was shortly after the Daily Mail reported that he got £300,000 for making one speech for banking giant Goldman Sachs, while he had a £2.5 million deal as “advisor”  to JP Morgan, who, according to London’s Evening Standard, won a contract to set up an Iraqi bank in the wake of the US-led invasion.

Which gets us back to the subject of Mr Methane and farting around the world and brings up the possibly pertinent question:

What is the difference between being a comedian and taking the piss?

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Bankers, Cockney rhyming slang and a very wise woman

There’s a report out today about the British banking system. About whether the banks are too big. The problem for me isn’t size, it’s efficiency – and I wish I could say that in reference to other areas of my life.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “in”, a”, “organise” and “couldn’t” spring to mind and the Cockney rhyming slang for “wankers” comes as no surprise to me.

For many years, my current account has been with Bank of Scotland; I also have an account with Halifax, which is part of Bank of Scotland. Both are now owned by Lloyds Bank.

Because of the lack of Bank of Scotland branches in London, I have long paid money into my BoS account via Halifax: I just walk into any Halifax branch with my BoS Cashcard and pay money into my BoS account.

If I want to pay a bill – a gas or electricity bill or anything else, I can now just go into any branch of Lloyds Bank with the appropriate paying-in slip and pay the bill using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

Yesterday, I attempted to pay a Virgin Media cheque into my own Bank of Scotland current account at a Lloyds branch.

I was told I could not pay anything into my Bank of Scotland current account – not a cheque, not cash – because, although Lloyds own Bank of Scotland, it is “a separate bank”.

Well, chums, Bank of Scotland and Halifax are equally separate, but I can still pay money into BoS via Halifax – and I can still pay a bill via Lloyds using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

So I can pay money into other people’s accounts with other banks via Lloyds, but I cannot pay money into my own Bank of Scotland account, despite the fact Lloyds own Bank of Scotland.

We appear to have entered a surreal parallel universe here.

So I am moving my account to Royal Bank of Scotland. They have not-a-lot of branches in London, but they do own NatWest Bank and I can simply walk into any NatWest branch and pay money into a Royal Bank of Scotland account. No problem.

Lloyds may not be too big to survive. But it is certainly too incompetent to survive.

I remember standing in Liverpool Street station in the heart of the City of London one Friday afternoon at 4.30pm watching City workers going home, early, paralytically drunk. Not just swaying but staggering, their limbs jerking erratically like headless chickens with Parkinson’s Disease wearing dark business suits.

These were not old drunken men; they were bright young City dudes in their twenties and early thirties and they must have been drinking all afternoon, while foggy-mindedly running the UK economy in the financial powerhouse that is the City of London.

I had money in two Icelandic banks when their entire financial system disintegrated in 2007. Those two banks were each more efficient than Lloyds Bank – and they both crashed. I suspect those Icelandic bankers did not drink ‘on the job’.

British bankers do.

Whither the British banking system?

Whither Lloyds?

The mother of a friend of mine used to live in various dodgy foreign countries (her husband was in the RAF and she later worked for NATO). She wore a series of thin but pure gold bracelets on her wrists because she knew, with them, she could buy her way out of any country if it suddenly collapsed.

A very wise woman.

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