Tag Archives: Sylvester McCoy

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

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

Last night he said to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers of this blog may disagree.

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

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

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

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

In it, I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they scarred her for life.

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

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

“I wish Harry could marry a whole woman.”

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


Filed under Psychology, Relationships

Bandages and zumba at the surrealist comedian’s ping-pong birthday party

Yesterday afternoon, I went to surrealist comedian Martin Soan’s birthday party, one of those rare occasions when people playing ping-pong outside in the rain seems perfectly normal. As did Martin’s unique method of extinguishing the single large candle on his birthday cake; something I can only describe as a reverse banger-up-the-bum routine but done in the best possible taste.

Note my careful use of the word ‘possible’.

Martin was still aglow at being the new honorary Malcolm Hardee Memorial Mime champion having seen off a cheeky challenge from a French mime artist during the recent Royal Festival Hall At Last The 1981 Show shindig. That performance did involve all his clothing being blown off by a giant wind machine and Martin seems never happier than ending up on stage naked. Yesterday, though, he remained disappointingly clothed.

It was an interesting party in other unexpected ways, with larger-than-life Bob Slayer (one-time jockey and manager of Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock one of whom got killed by a fish in the infamous Killer Bitch movie), in co-charge of the barbecue. Bob told me that he was considering putting on rock bands at future Edinburgh Fringes. Not any old run-of-the-mill rock bands, but visually unusual rock bands. I am surprised no-one has done this before, as it does seem in the spirit of the Fringe and would appeal to the same audiences.

Bouncing ball of jollity Charmian Hughes had to leave the party early to go to a Zumba class – she intends to develop the already odd sand dance in her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments in unexpected ways by incorporating Zumba and traditional Indian dance moves into the traditional Wilson, Keppel and Betty style routine.

“It will probably look much the same as it was before,” she told me with a raised eyebrow and then showed me some of her ballet moves.

Charmian’s ever-dapper magician husband David Don’t was dressed in something not dissimilar to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor Who costume. His magic sometimes doesn’t work, which makes it all the more entertaining. Yesterday, both of his hands and one leg/knee were swathed in heavy bandages. The last time I saw him perform, his act included a sharp spike under one of several up-ended polystyrene cups and David slamming his hand down onto the cups. There was also a legendary occasion, at which I was not present, when a spectacular act of his accidentally caught fire. And let’s not ever again mention the human dartboard with real darts and blindfolded dart-throwers.

I did not ask David for details about his bandages yesterday. I felt it might intrude on private, if comedic, grief.

I feel I have failed you in factual blogging, dear reader.

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A visit to a fetish club and the recent death of a unique British comedy performer

I blogged yesterday about a Pull the Other One show in Herne Hill, South East London, run by Vivienne and Martin Soan.

Before the show, Martin told me: “I’m in the final of a mime competition at the Royal Festival Hall on 29th May. It’s going to be me against France.”

“The whole of France?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Martin. “It’s in honour of Malcolm Hardee because he admired the art of mime so much.”

(Malcolm thought mime was “a tragic waste of time”)

“You’re competing against the whole of France?” I asked Martin.

“Yes. I’ve actually got a real French mime artist to take part and I’m going to win. The contest is rigged because Malcolm would have approved of that.”

“Have there been any heats?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “No heats. But it’s called The England v France Mime-Off and I’ve got through to the final.”

I think he was joking but, with a surreal comedian, you can never be altogether certain.

It was also an interesting night at Pull the Other One because Tony Green was performing in his guise as The Obnoxious Man, whose act is to shout two-minutes of ad-libbed vitriolic abuse at the audience.

I first met him in the early 1990s, when the late Malcolm Hardee suggested I see Tony compere at a now long-forgotten comedy night called T’others at The Ship in Kennington, South London.

A few months later, Tony somehow persuaded me it would be interesting to go to the monthly fetish club Torture Garden which, that month, was being held in a three-storey warehouse in Islington. The top floor was given over to unconventional cabaret acts and Tony’s chum Sophie Seashell, the partner of one of The Tiger Lillies, had booked bizarre acts for the night. That month’s acts included the extraordinary Andrew Bailey.

Torture Garden still exists and, earlier this year, Adolf Hitler singing act Frank Sanazi told me he was performing there, so their taste for the bizarre clearly still remain high.

There was and I presume still is a dress code at Torture Garden and perhaps rather naively, when I went, my concession to fetishism was wearing an ageing hippie Indian-style shirt and colourful trousers while Tony was wearing a white straw hat and rather louche suit and looked a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who.

When we arrived, Tony was told: “You’re OK, you look perverted,” but my shirt was not deemed good enough as a costume. The people on the door suggested I take off my shirt so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front. I think it may have been some personal fantasy of the man on the door.

“If I take my belt off, my trousers may fall down,” I said.

“All the better,” the man replied.

“It won’t be a pretty sight,” I warned him.

“All the better,” the man replied.

That’s the good thing about sado-masochists – they always see half a glass – although whether it is half-full or half-empty depends on their particular tendencies.

I was not reassured a fetish club was my scene, but it was certainly interesting. I think Americans take to such things much more wholeheartedly – there was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.

Tony Green took in his stride such things as a slightly-self-conscious naked fat man ‘walking’ his wife like a dog on a lead. She was scrambling about on all-fours and I think her knees were playing up a bit. Presumably in suburbia there are carpets.

At Pull the Other One, Tony told me things are looking up for him at the moment as he is performing in the play Reign at 4th Floor West Studios in Commercial Road this week. Tony is a man never short of an interesting story.

When I mentioned that Pull the Other One has more than a touch of Andy Kaufman’s experimental anarchy about it, inevitably, Tony had an Andy Kaufman story.

He told me of an evening in the early 1980s when Comedy Store founder Pete Rosengard phoned up Andy Kaufman, who was in London, and persuaded him to come down and perform at the Store. Andy appeared as his ‘women’s wrestling champion’ character, challenging any women in the audience to wrestle him on stage… and was gonged off. This was the early 1980s and Tony himself led heckles of “Fuck off, you sexist pig!” perhaps not unconnected to the fact he himself had been gonged off earlier.

Andy Kaufman was not amused.

Tony also told me sad news which I had not heard – that the extraordinary performance artist and comedy performer Ian Hinchliffe drowned in Arkansas around two months ago. He was there with his American partner and, the way Tony told it, Ian was fishing in a boat on a lake with a 94-year-old friend. They caught a whopper of a large fish, both got excited, both fell out of the boat and the 94-year-old man survived but Ian, 68, drowned.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (Malcolm drowned too, in 2005) quoted an anecdote about Ian Hinchliffe and Ian was not amused because his surname was mis-spelled ‘Hinchcliffe’ – not surprising as, even though I wrote the manuscript, publishers Fourth Estate never showed me a proof copy and the result was a plethora of mis-prints throughout the book.

I had not met Ian at the time the book was published but I met him later and he was most certainly a one-off. We exchanged slightly odd Christmas cards for a while although I hadn’t seen him for years.

The reference to him in I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is below (with the spelling of his name corrected):


Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.


Tony Green tells me an Ian Hinchliffe Memorial Day is being organised on Saturday 2nd July, probably starting around 2.00pm, at Beaconsfield arts studio in Newport Street, SE11 which will include Tony Allen’s Jazz Tea Party and a host of prominent early alternative comedians.

If the day is anything like Ian Hinchliffe, it will be truly original.

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