Tag Archives: strippers

Advice if you are a stripper or burlesque dancer: DO NOT GET ON THE FLOOR

John! There’s a new psychedelic from Brazil, but it’s not a plant! She’s an enormous naked fat lady – well she wears only tiny silver pasties and a matching tiny G-string so she seems naked – and she dances tango solo while delicately removing invisible clothing to rapturous applause which was – when I saw it – interspersed with moments of awed silence. All this concluded with a standing ovation.

(That was the start of another missive from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She continued…)

I saw her – Delirious Fenix – yesterday at the Burlesque Festival in Vancouver Playhouse, the municipal theater, which used to show plays and employ actors. I was very sad when the municipal theater company was disbanded a few years ago. I thought it was a sign of the end of the world, but I had not foreseen that Delirious Fenix would perform there.

There is a clip on YouTube of her appearance on the Ferdinando TV show in Brazil.

Babe Camille 2000’s earlier ‘ass dress’

Delirious Fenix and the Emperor of Fabulous were very good, And I stood up and yelled for Camille 2000… She deserves it just for being alive, for having played a dominatrix to Iggy Pop in Miami Vice and also for wearing the costume that displayed her ass so hilariously when she was a babe!

Then there were many beautiful solo lady dancers… But WHY did almost all of them rip their gloves off in the first two seconds and end their acts humping the floor? I always used to leave my gloves on as long as possible. Otherwise you just look like an ordinary naked girl in no time.

Each act at Vancouver Playhouse had four assistants to pick up their clothing which was strewn all over the huge stage. I could tell the more professional ones because their clothes landed in the same general area…

A tables-and-tassles intermission

During the intermission, there were tables selling pasties, hair ornaments and hand-made panties. At one table, volunteers were selling courses on how to do burlesque. A young volunteer lady told me I should take an introductory course in burlesque.

“You would like it,” she told me. “It’s  for all ages.” She brandished a brochure outlining the classes available at The Vancouver Burlesque Center. The classes had titles like Discovering the Sexy You and How to Own The Stage.

I glanced at the brochure. The room was full of excited people wearing bright silly costumes and talking loudly.

“You really should try it,” the young lady said perkily. “It’s more fun than you might think.”

Camille treats Anna like Iggy (Photograph by Bazuka Joe)

I wasn’t in the mood to say that I used to be a headline act or to start explaining that I had spent fifteen solid years dancing on four continents so I didn’t really need an introduction to Stripping For Fun classes.

She looked hopelessly fresh-faced and anxious to convert me to this fun new hobby and smiled hopefully. I found myself having to shout over the surrounding conversations which were punctuated with the squealing sounds of friends admiring each other’s outfits.

“Its ALRIGHT,” I shouted. “THANK YOU BUT I DON’T NEED a brochure. I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I’M SORRY! I HAVE DIFFICULTY HEARING!”

I tried to smile kindly, waving my arms around and escaped.

The poor young girl. She had been so nice. I hope she didn’t feel too badly that she couldn’t convince the poor old deaf lady to try out a strip class.

Did I tell you that Camille 2000’s pet peeve about young strippers is when they do a ‘floor act’. She tells them in her workshops: “Do NOT get on the FLOOR!!! Get a chair. Get a prop. Get ANYTHING. But DO NOT GET ON THE FLOOR!… A STAR does not get on the floor!”

Camille 2000 is from Alabama. The way she says “on” has two syllables and sounds very pretty to me.

Oh, great… A conveyor belt broke at the airport and my flight will be delayed.

I am going to Montreal for six days. I wish it was for longer. Montreal is probably the most culturally ‘happening’ city in Canada… possibly because the rent is cheaper than any of the other major cities here – plus the immigrant mixture, good food and being a major port.

Anna Smith (left) and her group have written a book

I am going for the annual Canadian HIV/AIDS research conference. We (Dr.Dan Allman from the University of Toronto’s Della Lana School of Public Health and the Triple X Workers Solidarity Society – represented by my friends Andrew Sorfleet, Will Pritchard and me) are holding an ancillary event to premiere the short film about our ‘groundbreaking consultation’ with 50 diverse sex worker organisations from across Canada about PrEP and our various concerns about its promotion and use.

It is the project we did for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The sponsors of the conference are mainly big drug companies like Gilead but I noticed that one of the sponsors bears the hipster-sounding name ‘Tweed’. I wondered what Tweed does so I looked it up and it is one if Canada’s largest marijuana facilities. I don’t suppose they will be giving out samples.

Seattle’s Emperor of Fabulous

I did meet the Emperor of Fabulous last night. He is from Seattle and he is a very nice man.

He took my email address and gave me his business card and said we could take a photo together but then he scampered off because the lady ushers at the municipal theater are very fierce. I imagine most of them worked as prison guards before they were drafted into the theater.

I looked up the Emperor of Fabulous on Facebook later and saw that he did a benefit for the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

In the United States many sex workers, mostly women, are serving long prison sentences. Conditions are very harsh.

In Arizona a woman was left for four hours in a cage in the sun and she died of dehydration, ignored by 14 guards while she begged for water. A documentary about this incident was made, with the help of SWOP Behind Bars instigated by sex worker activists Carol Leigh and Christina Sardinia. The documentary is called No Human Involved and it was released in July 2016. It has won several awards.

The incident that prompted the film was back in 2009 but I think, if anything, the situation is now worse in the United States.

There is a trailer for the documentary online.

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Wish you were here: Memories of the Canadian stripper who met a Norse God

Continuing the memories of this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith…

She writes:

The Coronet Motor Hotel in its prime

A postcard from the Coronet Motor Hotel in its heyday

The only person whose tyres I ever wanted to slash was my agent Jules Rabkin, because he overbooked girls all the time. He would send eight girls to a bar in the middle of nowhere that needed only six and the last two to arrive would get bumped and be out of work for a week.

He ripped off my friend Tiffany for $300 and she did something better than slashing his tyres. She marched into his office and set his desk on fire.

“How did he react?” I asked her, full of admiration.

“He handed over my money through the flames,” she said. “After that, he never dared fuck me over again.”

But we also knew how to be discrete back then …yes we were so discrete.

I can’t  imagine why all those motels had to give us all those ridiculous lists of the rules… like we weren’t supposed to walk through the lobbies naked or tie up the switchboard phoning each other’s rooms and we weren’t supposed to lie down inside the club either. And there was a $20 fine if you got caught ‘taking a man in the ladies room’ at one club. So, obviously, it must have been a terrible problem there. And we weren’t allowed to smoke or drink on stage. One really terrible place said that ‘horseplay’ wasn’t allowed. Anyone would have thought it was a building site.

We were in motels for the same reason rock bands were in motels. Touring.

Did I mention the time I met Thor at the Coronet Motor Inn, in Ontario?

Nothing happened between me and Thor. I don’t really go for the God type. I just crossed paths with him in the hallway and felt a bit sorry for him that he had to dress like that. It seemed like even more work than dressing up as a stripper.

We were often in motels. We were often on the road. We could make more money out of town (Toronto).

The furthest north I went was Elliott Lake, a uranium mining town. I was scared travelling alone to such an isolated place. At the time, the ratio of males to females was 10 to 1, so that in itself was scary, plus I was afraid to drink the water so I only drank juice.

The bustling centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The centre of Elliot Lake seen from the Fire Tower Lookout

The motel was on the outskirts of town – strip clubs usually were.

The owner was a really nice woman so I didn’t have to deal with the usual come on we always got from the male managers. And there was a nice painting over the front desk .

It was a landscape, done locally and given to the owner’s father by the artist.

There was another dancer working there the same week as me: a friendly young Jewish guitarist and songwriter from Ottawa. So we spent time in each other’s rooms, watching television in bed, sharing our plans for the future. She wanted to be a famous singer and I wanted to be a famous comedienne in movies. This was in about 1980.

We went for meals together. I remember she was the first person to introduce me to Caesar salad, prepared by the chef at our table in the traditional manner.

The audience was made up of uranium miners who were very rowdy, enthusiastic but not obnoxious. I had so much fun doing my show that I flew off the stage and landed in the audience and broke my foot – luckily it was a Saturday so I only missed one show. I think I was spinning around semi-blindfolded when I went off the stage… I used to often break my feet in those days, but that was the first time I did it while performing.

I met one of the uranium miners years later. He was a little guy from Chile known as ‘Loco Misissauga’. I was surprised he would be in Elliott Lake which is such a remote place, but then he had been a miner in Chile.

Missisauga today

Missisauga today – once a godforsaken suburb of Toronto.

Missisauga was a godforsaken suburb of Toronto. It was one of the places I went to for work. It was where Jules Rabkin, my agent, would send us. I worked there in 1977 when I was just starting out. As I became more experienced I worked in better, more central clubs

The bars in Missisauga were awful, usually run by Greeks. I remember one club called The Oasis which was anything but an Oasis. The small stage was covered in orange shag carpet, with the ceiling done the same. Can you imagine trying to dance in stilettos on that?  Another club out there used to ask the dancers for a $50 deposit to rent a locker for the week. There was no dressing room, just a narrow hallway. So most of the dancers went to sit with the customers between shows and the waitress would take their keys off the table so they would lose their key deposit. Eventually the owner was shot dead, which was hardly surprising.

I don’t have any photos of that time, though I was one of the first adapters of the selfie with my Olympus OM 10 which I bought from a hunky Italian boy stripper I met in a Belgian porno cinema. We had to do a show together because his girlfriend was ill. I became quite close to them and bought the camera and we stayed in touch.

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

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

The last time I ever saw them was in about 1985. They were doing a sex show in Soho, London. They invited me upstairs. They were living above a sex shop, with its lights flashing LIVE SHOW. I went upstairs, and was surprised to see the mother of the Italian boy was up there too.

She was tiny and dressed like a stereotypical Sicilian old lady: all in black, with the headscarf and the gold earings.

I asked the boy: “But your mother? Doesn’t she mind that you are doing a sex show?”

He introduced us and the mother was all smiles.

“She doesn’t have a clue,” he told me. “She never leaves the flat. She’s actually a complete moron.”

The mother kept nodding, smiling away cheerfully, thrilled to meet me, but I must have looked worried, because her son then reassured me: “Don’t worry, she doesn’t speak English.”

I thought about my mother. I didn’t tell her everything I did but no way could I have deposited her above a sex shop in Soho for a couple of weeks.

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A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

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


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stayed for seven years in London.

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

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

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

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The golden age of exotic dancers remembered in a new documentary

The legendary Judith Stein

The legendary Judith Stein in the Golden Age

Two weekends ago, I came down with a very nasty flu.

When I eventually got better, I opened an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She was raving in glowing terms about a documentary she had seen called League of Exotique Dancers.

It was a documentary about burlesque dancers in what is described as ‘the Golden Age’.

“The film,” Anna told me, “includes much never-before-seen footage of exotic dancers (much of it from a private collection of over 300 rare early black and white films of exotic dancers), photos from the private collections of the dancers themselves and interviews with the dancers today.

“And Kitten Natividad is in the movie!!!” she added. “She is hilarious! AND Russ Meyer!”

“Ah,” I replied. “The beloved Russ…”

“Russ, Russ…” agreed Anna. “Very funny indeed. He is wearing a snazzy jacket. Maybe it could inspire David McGillivray to make a jacket film. I wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate Russ Meyer movies when I was young. I preferred porn films with exotic locales and bad translations.”

Anna is not someone without knowledge of the world of exotic dancing. She told me:

“When Beneath The Valley of The Ultravixens (starring Kitten) was released, I was dancing at The Metro Cinema in Toronto. We did shows between the films. It was a vast, echoey, run-down place, but the owner was a nice foreign man who paid us really well.

“He hired me to do voice recordings on the answering machine to announce the coming attractions. I would make up exciting announcements: Chesty Morgan has just arrived from New York and will be here until Friday, four shows a day, starting at noon! Next week, Nurse Annie is flying in from Argentina to attend to your needs….

Anna as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna’s alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’ caused problems

“That one didn’t work out so well because a reporter from the local Spanish paper showed up wanting to interview Nurse Annie (who was me).

“The cashier was an old lady who was practically blind and often she would accidentally let small groups of twelve year old boys into the cinema. I would get out on stage and the twelve year olds would be sitting in the front row like idiots and I would storm off the stage and call the projectionist on the intercom to get them out of there.

“The League of Exotique Dancers also depicts how the dancers coped with the dramatic industry changes over the years, the hardships they overcame and then how they reacted when they were asked to return to the stage… after absences of thirty years!

“It also showed how we used to dance to live bands. And there were comedians too ! And funny strippers…

Camille in 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

Camille 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

“I was laughing through most of the movie, and crying… The film was BRILLIANT… Plus I was at a writers’ workshop for hookers all afternoon…There were eleven of us…

“On opening night in Vancouver, 66 year old Judith Stein performed a comic striptease before the movie started…

“After seeing the film (and making myself known to all in the following Q&A session) I went out with a group of directors and editors including Exotique‘s amazingly intelligent (some might say wily) young female director Rama Rau,  producer Ed Barreveld and Judith Stein.

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary's Vancouver premiere

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary’s Vancouver premiere

“When I asked Judith how to get into The Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Las Vegas, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age and she said: “You’re too young. You’re not allowed in until you’re sixty.“

“Don’t quote me on this, unless you can’t help it, but I have never seen a contemporary burlesque stripper move as well as the older ex-professional ones, (such as myself haha). One of the dancers in the movie noted that although she admires the efforts of contemporary burlesque dancers the fact is that, for most of them it is a hobby rather than a profession. She also admired the working strippers of today, lap dancers and pole dancers who make a lot of money and see glamorous, travel, etc. She said they work really hard for it though..

“When I see contemporary burlesque I find it usually looks a bit too contrived. Obviously, when we did the shows six and seven days a week for years on end, that experience became part of our stage presence and we became good at adapting and improvising according to the club and audience.

Anna Smith lives a quiet life near Vancouver

Anna Smith lives quietly in Canada

“Since I didn’t know anyone, but had been kindly invited along by Ed and Judith, I didn’t speak much, but sat there fascinated, listening to their astonishing and articulate discussion about film making,

Editors are fuckers…they have to be… etc.

“Somehow, toward the end of the night, I found myself hearing two men (I have no idea who they were) talking very seriously about Mr Methane.

Mr Methane?” I cried out. “I know Mr Methane!

“The two men looked at me with surprise. One of them was Irish and he said in disbelief:

You know Mr. Methane?

Well,” I said. “I mean I know who he IS… We appear in the same blog, sometimes even on the same page… Sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.

Mr Methane

Mr Methane – not a known exotic dancer

“I asked the Irishman who had shown an interest: “How do you know Mr Methane?

Oh,” he told me, a bit exhaustedly, “I have been trying to make a film about him for years… about eight years… What blog?

John Fleming’s blog,” I said.

“The man scrambled for a pen. After all, he was Irish.

Just look for TheJohnFleming,” I said.

Is he on Facebook?

He is on Facebook. He is on Twitter. He is on everything.

“I promise to Skype you when I get a phone again. I keep hoping my old (lost) phone will appear and been trying to revive several old ones without success.

“My sister on Vancouver Island has a WordPress blog about dolls… “

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Nudity among the English, the East Germans, art colleges and comedians

Matt Roper chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

Matt chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

“What’s it like being naked on stage?” my eternally-un-named-friend asked my temporary lodger Matt Roper in my living room last night.

Matt is performing with the Greatest Show on Legs in Totnes, Devon, next Friday night. This inevitably involves performing the naked balloon dance.

“You’ve just got to get on with it really,” replied Matt. “there’s no time to consider being nervous or not nervous: you’ve got to go on and do it. I think it’s a great honour to be naked on stage with nothing but a balloon and your socks on as part of Martin Soan’s Greatest Show on Legs.”

“I’m just going to urinate,” I said and went upstairs to the toilet. My iPhone kept recording.

Martin Soan chats to an audience member after last night’s show

Martin Soan stands around naked

“Martin is quite used to being naked,” my eternally-un-named-friend told Matt after I had left. “He’s done this sort of show a lot, so he ends up just standing around almost forgetting he IS naked. In my family, we were very familiar with walking around naked in the house. John’s family was not.”

“My family was not a nudie house at all,” said Matt.

“You didn’t sit and chat to your sister while she was in the bath?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“We probably did when we were all little,” said Matt. “I was by far the youngest. At what point does it stop?”

“In Germany,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, there’s a park in Munich where everyone’s naked.”

“And,” said Matt, “when the East German state was in existence, nude beaches and nude life was a big part of the state culture, because you can have equality when everybody’s naked.”

“But in England,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “it’s not acceptable at all.”

Matt Roper, Alex Frackleton and Czech friend

Matt (left) is not un-used to oddity

“Maybe I’m a little bit different,” said Matt, “because I’ve been so much submerged into alternative culture with Totnes and all of that. And nudity isn’t a big deal at festivals. Being naked and drunk at festivals, covered in mud.”

At this point I came back in the room.

“John doesn’t walk naked around the house at all,” said Matt.

“Ye Gods,” I said. “What have I missed?”

“Martin,” said Matt, “is in better shape than all of us in the Greatest Show on Legs and he’s the oldest.”

“It’s his lentils,” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Is that what you call them?” I asked.

“They’re keeping him fit and regular,” continued my eternally-un-named-friend. “And he doesn’t have a sweet tooth.”

“No,” said Matt, “ but he smokes and drinks and…”

“It just goes to show what poison sugar is,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He’s been here at John’s and you bring out the chocolate and he doesn’t touch it.”

“Martin,” said Matt, “banned sweets for his two daughters when they were growing up. I think he used to let them have sweets or chocolate on a Saturday. His daughters thought that sweets were illegal except on a Saturday. I grew up on all sorts of shite. Lots of E numbers and crisps.”

My eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg

My eternally-un-named-friend has been a life model

“Did you mention you were a life model,” I asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I was sort-of comfortable about it,” she explained, “except I wanted to be actually drawing instead of being the model. And keeping still is a real drag.”

“For how long?” asked Matt.

“Possibly a half hour. But within ten minutes you’re in agony. You can’t find a position to stay in that’s comfortable unless you’re flat on your back.”

“I’m saying nothing,” I said.

“Where was this?” asked Matt.

Goldsmiths and other arts colleges.”

“Were you happy with the results?” asked Matt.

“No. They were just averagy.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“In my early twenties.”

“How about naked balloons?” Matt asked. “Would you be comfortable with nudity for comedy purposes?”

“What? Me doing it?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Yes.”

The Greatest Show on Legs' balloon dance

A previous Greatest Show on Legs balloon dance

“I would not be comfortable with me doing something DRESSED for comedy purposes!” she laughed.

“The trouble with including a woman,” I said, “is that the balloon dance with the Greatest Show on Legs is asexual…”

“Yes,” said Matt. “That’s why we keep our socks on. There is something that de-sexualises it. Three naked men with their socks on.”

“I thought Martin should advertise socks,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “I thought he could get sponsorship. He was wearing £30 spotted socks that his eldest daughter had got him when she was working at a posh men’s clothing company.”

Martin Soan earlier this week, naked on radio

Soan wore socks on Schaffer’s radio show

“On stage?” asked Matt.

“No,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He was on a Lewis Schaffer‘s radio show and he had decided to do it naked.”

“There was,” I said, “a Malcolm Hardee Awards Show I staged in Edinburgh where a woman comic told me she wanted to take part in the naked balloon dance and I thought about it but figured you couldn’t add a naked woman because it would become sexual and then, also, there’s a physical problem because she has three bits to hide with two balloons whereas a man only really has one bit.”

“Why would it be sexual if you added in a woman?” asked Matt.

“I dunno,” I said. “I just felt it would.”

“I saw a funny act,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “where a woman had a balloon stuffed down her shorts and she was taking the piss out of the Ch… the Ch…”

“The Chechnyan freedom fighters?” I asked.

“The Chipperfields?” suggested my eternally-un-named-friend.

The Chippendales,” I said.

“Have you ever,” Matt asked my eternally-un-named-friend, “seen women at a male strip show: the way they behave?”

“Only on television,” she replied.

The Full Monty has a lot to answer for

The Full Monty movie has a lot to answer for

“Years ago, when I was eighteen,” said Matt, “I worked in a pub up north and they had a strip night in one of the rooms and I was on the bar and they were doing obscene things to the strippers.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Everything apart from full sex.”

“Oral?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt.

“This was just an ordinary pub?” I asked.

“Just an ordinary pub. I can’t remember what the occasion was. It could have been the Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society.”

“Did they have erections?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“The Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society?”

“No. The guys.”

“Yes. But they kind of go out and, I guess ‘fluff’ themselves and then tie it up with an elastic band to keep the blood…”

New Legs (left to right) Adam Taffler, Matt Roper, Martin Soan use sanitised rubber bands

Greatest Show on Legs demonstrate one use for rubber bands

“Oh gawd!” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“…to make it look erect,” continued Matt, “when it’s perhaps not naturally erect.”

“Tying it with an elastic band?” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I think that’s pretty common,” said Matt.

“Well,” I said, “the Greatest Show of Legs always carry elastic bands for their Michael Jackson’s Thriller routine…”

“Which brings us back to Totnes,” said Matt.

“Are you the permanent third member of the Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked. “After the second we can’t mention.”

“I think it will probably have a rotating cast of members.”

“You will be rotating members?” I asked.

“Let’s talk about Totnes on Friday 21st,” said Matt. “The naked balloon dance is coming home. It was invented in Totnes. And (Matt’s on-stage character) Wilfredo, too, was invented in Totnes.”

“Both?” I asked.

“It is a fantastic place to live,” said Matt, “and it’s full of very creative, interesting people – a nice community – but there’s a very precious, almost slightly pretentious side to its attitude to art or artists’ attitude to their own art.”

“You don’t want to be quoted saying that,” I suggested.

“I’m quite comfortable saying it,” said Matt. “Martin and Malcolm (Hardee) had come across a group of militant feminists who were having a weekly meeting about how to wipe out Chinese foot-binding.”

“I think,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “that John wrote about it in a blog.”

“I might have done,” I said. “I don’t read my blogs.”

“So they just created the balloon dance,” said Matt, “as a kind of statement.”

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo seduces comedy critic Kate Copstick

“And,” my eternally-un-named-friend asked Matt, “you created Wilfredo because…?”

“I was sick and tired of how seriously people were taking themselves and…”

“Keep talking,” I said, “I’m watching the penguin…”

The John Lewis Christmas ad was on TV.

“I’m watching the penguin too,” said Matt.

I switched off my iPhone and we watched the penguin.

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A chat about a Christmas video turns to talk of comedians in court in the 1960s

Matt Roper - Christmas in Soho

Matt Roper spends a Happy Goddam Christmas in Soho

Comedian Matt Roper is flying to India on New Year’s Eve for two months. At least, that was what he intended to do.

“I think my new principle should be Don’t book flights when you’ve had two bottles of wine and a load of Guinness and a few tequilas,” he told me over pizza in London’s Soho.

“I’d had a heavy night out and woke up in the morning. My life most mornings, if I’m being honest is… Well, if you’ve ever seen a window with condensation on it and it slowly clears away… That’s my brain in the morning… I remembered doing something about a flight, so I went and checked my emails and the Confirmation was there… Flying out on 31st December, which is perfect for me because I don’t like New Year… and coming back on June 3rd…. What?… June 3rd?!!… but the most surprising thing was I’d managed to choose my seat and decide what sort of meal I was having.

“I’ve been many, many times to India. I love it out there, but I haven’t been for about six years. I’ll go to Goa and then hopefully write my Edinburgh Fringe show in some hill station. But my point is Never book a flight when you’re hammered.

“Maybe that should be your Fringe show title,” I suggested: “Never Book a Flight When You’re Pissed. But you shouldn’t go to India. You’re in the iTunes Comedy charts at the moment with Happy Goddam Christmas, this Christmas song of yours.”

“Well, it’s an anti-Christmas Christmassy song, really,” Matt corrected me, “like Fairytale of New York.”

“When that was released,” I said, “it was inconceivable it could become a standard festive song like White Christmas.”

“It’s a British thing,” suggested Matt. “We’re maybe not drawn to the natural sugary, positive ditties.”

“Is it the first song you’ve written?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “All the Wifredo stuff you hear at Edinburgh is all orginal songs, though I did one of those in collaberation with Pippa Evans.

“With Happy Goddam Christmas, I had the music for a long time – the basic structure of the song – it was about an ex I was feeling particularly, you know, bitter and jaded about. But the song isn’t iactually about me feeling bitter about an ex. I took it to Pippa Evans and she added a middle eight onto it and we worked together on the lyrics.”

Pippa Evans performs as her on-stage character Loretta Maine. Someone once described her as ‘Dolly Parton as seen through the lens of Mike Leigh’.

“Arthur Smith has a little cameo in the video,” Matt told me, “and we have Sanderson Jones and Imran Yusef – in the video, they’re in the band – Arthur’s in the toilet brandishing his Hammond organ.”

“So you wanted to make lots of money with a Christmas song?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Matt. “It was just about having a bit of fun. It’s easy to release whatever you want on iTunes. It’s quite incredible how the music industry’s changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Edinburgh Fringe were along similar lines? If you could cut out all the middle people.”

“Well,” I said, “the Free Fringe and the Free Festival sort-of do that. Are you thinking of doing one of the two free festivals next year?”

“Possibly. I had a lot of fun with Just The Tonic this year. I would like to see the Fringe level out into an event where your established comics and TV names are on the ticketed Fringe and the less-established acts can realistically afford to do it and make at least a little bit of money by the end of it.”

Matt’s father, George Roper, was one of The Comedians on the seminal Granada TV comedy stand-up show of the 1970s.

It was a different era.

“There was a club called The New Luxor Club in Hulme, Manchester,” Matt told me.

I raised my eyebrow at the mention of a club in Hulme. I went to Hulme a few times when I worked at Granada TV in the 1980s. If you went to the Aaben Cinema there, when you came out, you might find three youths sitting on your car bonnet saying: “So how much are you gonna pay to get your car back?”

“In the 1960s,” Matt told me, “they would have ‘gentlemen’s evenings’ at some of the Manchester social clubs, working men’s clubs, cabaret clubs. It would not be uncommon to have six stand-up comics and six female strippers/exotic dancers on one bill. At this point in the 1960s, it was legal to be naked on-stage, but it was illegal to move.

“The police decided to bust The New Luxor Club and my father was one of the six comics performing there that night. The police raided the club and charged the comedians with aiding and abetting the club owner – a guy called Vincent Chilton – for running a disorderly house.

“The six strippers and the six comics were in the dock at Manchester Crown Court and the police had to stand up in the court and tell the jokes. I swear – no word of a lie.

“I don’t know the exact date, but the police had to get up and say something like On the 28th of June 1965, George Roper stood up on stage and said the following joke: ‘A policewoman and a policeman were walking ‘ome from t’station one night. Ooh, she said, I’ve left me knickers back at t’station. Ooh, don’t worry, said t’policeman. Hitch up yer skirt, let the dog ‘ave a sniff. Half an hour later, t’dog comes back with t’sergeant’s balls in its mouth’…

“Can you imagine? In the Crown Court? The public gallery had to be cleared because everyone was laughing so much.

“There was a guy called Jackie Carlton, who was the apotheosis of Manchester club comics at the time and all the younger comics like Frank Carson and Bernard Manning looked up to him. He was very camp, very flamboyant. When it was his turn in the dock, the judge asked: Was that one of your jokes? and he said, Yes, but I tell it much better than that. He was found guilty.

“My dad was the last comic up and, when it was his turn to stand in the dock, the judge asked Is that one of your stories? and he said Oh! Not heard that one before and, for some reason, he got off with it by playing the underdog, as he always did. The other five comics got fined, but my dad got off with it.

“I asked my uncle about it not long ago and he said people were queueing round the block to buy the Manchester Evening News to read the jokes that were told in court.”

* * *

Below, Jackie Carlton talks in the 1970s about camp comedy and obscenity…

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Normal for Norfolk – cat wrestling and drinking sheep

Norwich comedian Dan McKee read my recent blog about Steve Coogan’s planned film Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica and my stories of wrestling bouts in the Raymond Revuebar entrance lounge and a cheetah which was trained to strip the underwear off girls with his teeth.

There used to be an old wrestler up here in Norwich,” Dan tells me, “who drank in a very strange pub I frequented called the Ironmongers Arms. He was called ‘Bear’ and he once told me a story about wrestling in a strip club in what he called ‘naughtly Soho’ down in London.

“One night, when Bear was halfway through a bout with another wrestler in this club, a ‘fucking massive cat’ leapt into the ring and, not wanting to break the ‘kayfaybe’ of the moment, he ended up wrestling the beast for a few minutes before it got bored and walked off.”

This does, indeed, sound like the Raymond Revuebar, but the Ironmongers Arms in Norwich appears to be just as bizarre. For starters, Dan tells me it is the only pub in the UK with that name.

“The peculiarities of the old Ironmongers Arms knew no bounds,” Dan tells me. “The landlord had no tongue, but he did have a pet jackdaw which hopped around the bar and Friday night entertainment consisted of a young lady singing the hits of Tina Turner. She didn’t sing to karaoke tracks but actually sang over the original Tina Turner records on the juke box and she just tried to sing louder than Tina’s vocals.

“Then there was the night somebody brought a sheep in for a pint. We asked him why he had come in with a sheep and he replied: Well, I couldn’t very well leave it at home.

“As we couldn’t fault his logic, we didn’t ask any more questions. We always hoped he might come in again, but he never did.”

I worked in Norwich for two years. This sounds relatively normal.

(There is more about the sheep mentioned in this blog in a 2013 posting…)

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