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

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

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

This was her reply…


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

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

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

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

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

Ooops….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Edinburgh and Vancouver – where people are strippers AND comedians

Vancouver’s Folk Festival before the Great Hula Hoop Robbery

Vancouver’s placid Folk Festival before the Great Hula Hoop Robbery of 2013

I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today.

Being at the Edinburgh Fringe for what amounts to four weeks can be like living inside a rather noisy and crowded bubble. But, if you think it’s noisy and crowded in Edinburgh, think what it’s like in Vancouver.

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent e-mailed me before I set off for Edinburgh at 6.00am this morning.

“Last night,” she told me, “only 200,000 people showed up for the annual fireworks show in Vancouver…. 400,000 had been expected and the Vancouver Police Department had issued a radio advisory that vast numbers of people were going to be performing public urination. I saw no evidence of that at all and the streets smelled normal this morning.

“Vancouver is awash with festivals at this time of year – There’s the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, the International Buddhist Film Festival, the Powell Street Festival (of Japanese Culture), a Brazilian Festival, at least two Latin American Festivals, a Caribbean Festival and Gay Pride Week.

“For the last, a rainbow version of the Canadian Flag is flown merrily on flagpoles all over downtown, all the major Canadian banks have rainbow-coloured feather boas and ribbons fluttering everywhere and a zebra crossing on Davie Street has evolved into a rainbow crossing.”

Anna has been working at one of the festivals – the Folk Festival.

“I was a receptionist in the massage tent,” she told me, “booking massages for the artists. I recognised one of them from his name tag – one of Canada’s top violinists whom I had known thirty years ago, when I was a striptease artist in Toronto.

“I greeted him with the words: Holy shit…It’s Ben Mink! and he was so surprised to see me he immediately telephoned a recluse we both knew in Ontario so I could say Hi

Complementary cucumbers were the order of the day

Complementary cucumbers were on display

“Later during the festival I had a conversation with Marie Lynn Hammond, who cleverly realised that I was ‘Nurse Annie’ – one of the characters I performed as, in striptease AND comedy.”

Yes, Anna was both a striptease artist AND a comedian – so it was not/is not just Malcolm Hardee, Martin Soan and Bob Slayer who combine the two vocations.

Anna continued: “Marie Lynn Hammond’s bass player Dennis Nichol asked me: You are Nurse Annie?? Can I have your autograph?

“I thought he was joking, but he insisted. I was flabbergasted. Nobody has asked for my autograph for the last thirty years – except for building managers wanting it on my rent cheque.

“We had a conversation about the good old days before cassette tapes were invented and strippers had to dance to live music. It turned out that he had once played at the Zanzibar Circus Tavern on Yonge Street in Toronto, which is the first place I danced professionally.

“The only sad thing that happened during the festival was a public announcement that there had been a theft of hula hoops and juggling balls…. WOULD THE THIEF PLEASE RETURN THE HULA HOOPS AND JUGGLING BALLS the plaintive announcement said.

“I thought,” Anna told me, “that perhaps the spirit of Malcolm Hardee was roaming the forests and mountains.”

But no.

With luck, though, it will be roaming the venues, streets and pubs of Edinburgh over the next four weeks.

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Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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A funny thing happened at comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday show in January 1999

The comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005. His birthday was on 5th January. Every year at his Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich, he used to put on a show and post-show party on the nearest Sunday to 5th January.  This is an extract from my 1999 diary…

***

SUNDAY 3rd JANUARY 1999

In the evening, I went to Malcolm Hardee’s birthday show and party.

Before the show started, we were in the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek and, for some reason, I asked him: “Who are those people sitting over there?”

He nodded at one of the group: “That’s the stripper I used to go out with.”

She was a middle-aged woman.

“She hasn’t done it for a while,” he added.

Malcolm started his show by saying lots of people in the audience had seen him so many times he was just going to tell the set-up for each of his jokes and they could complete the punch-line… Which they did.

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe
She had so many children…

…Her cunt fell off.

What goes in-out, in-out, in-out and smells of piss?…

…The Queen Mother doing the Hokey Cokey.

And so on.

The first act on was Chris Luby, performing his traditional imitations of Trooping The Colour and wartime spitfires with his mouth. Apparently, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show, Chris’ act had gone badly and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler had yelled out: “Do a glider!”

Tonight’s acts also included The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper who did a couple of sword-swallowing routines I hadn’t seen before. He bent a wire coat-hanger flat, put it down his throat as normal – his head bent back to let the metal go down his throat in a straight line – and then he brought his head 90 degrees forward to its normal position and pulled out the bent coat-hanger. He also put a red neon strip light down his throat while the house lights were dimmed and we could see his throat illuminated through the thin skin.

Charlie Chuck performed as only Charlie Chuck can. A drum kit was destroyed. Then someone I didn’t recognise came on and imitated Malcolm as host and, after Boothby Graffoe performed, the stand-in came on again and impersonated Malcolm hosting the show.

Where is Malcolm? I wondered.

So I went to the bar and it turned out he had collapsed by the toilets. I met his mother who said she had thought he was dead: his face had been grey and they had almost called an ambulance. Both she and I were surprised because he hadn’t really been drunk earlier. And, as I had seen him paralytically drunk a few months ago, I was especially surprised.

Malcolm told me: “I just went straight down – unconscious. I think someone spiked my drink.”

When he returned to the stage to continue the show, he still didn’t seem particularly drunk either, so maybe someone did indeed spike his drink.

He took it in his stride – as he takes any unique, bizarre event – as if it’s a perfectly normal thing to happen.

If they built a Malcolm Hardee theme park it would be in the style of Magritte and/or Salvador Dali.

***

POSTSCRIPTS

This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy will be presented during a special two-hour tribute show at the Edinburgh Fringe – starting at 10.00pm on the evening of Friday 26th August 2011.

There is a Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

Malcolm’s friend Deke is holding his annual remembrance celebration of Malcolm this Sunday (9th January 2011) from 7.00pm at the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek in Greenwich. The event will include a screening of The Tunnel the award-nominated short film about Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel Palladium. Deke’s e-mail is dekedecore@hotmail.com

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