Tag Archives: terrorism

Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller in Jakarta on lovely audiences and anti-Semitism

Lynn Ruth went on stage unusually “terrified” in Jakarta

In the last few months, London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller (who recently turned 85) has been gigging in Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, San Francisco and Manila. Coming up are gigs in Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “possibly somewhere in Cambodia”.

But last weekend, betwixt Manila and Shanghai, she writes…


I was in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was hot and wet. A characteristic I gave up when I hit sixty. I arrived at 11.00am their time and the first thing that struck me was how really lovely the airport was. It was amazing how easy it was to navigate compared to Manila, which was a nightmare.

Indonesians like old ladies and I was swept through Immigration so easily I thought I missed a window and someone would make me turn around and start all over again.  

David, the pastor for youth I met while waiting for the plane, was there at baggage collection to help me with my bag and used his phone to contact Eamonn Sadler, who books comedy at The American Club in Jakarta.  

I had had approximately two hours sleep on the plane and was not at my best as I staggered out of Immigration and tried to find Eamonn. But there he was towering above everyone else in that airport looking down at the top of my head.  

I just about reached his kneecap and I knew he was thinking: ”I hired a comedian, not a pygmy.”  

But he is British so he just nodded politely (at least I think he did. I couldn’t see that far up), asked me if I was all right (at least I think he did; my hearing aids were in my bag), took my case and I toddled after him taking fourteen steps to his one.  

As soon as we walked outside I was smacked in the face with hot, wet air.  

Lynn Ruth performed her show Not Dead Yet!

Even Manila is cool compared to Jakarta. But, indoors, the air conditioning is very efficient and for some reason you don’t feel that blast of cold air when you are inside.

The ride from Jakarta Airport took about two and a half hours. Obviously no-one in the place uses his or her feet and everyone has large, cumbersome, air-conditioned automobiles with which they enjoy trying to get as close to one another without actually denting a fender. Bicycles and motorbikes weave in and out between the cars making everyone hate them.  

The traffic department decided to build brick barriers in the middle of the street so no-one can make a right turn. So you have to do a U-turn at intersections if you can. But the roads are like parking lots and nothing moves.

When we pulled up to the entrance of the Liberta hotel, Eamonn stopped the car and I got out thinking we had arrived at our destination. But this was only for a routine inspection. There was a wave of terrorist attacks in Surabaya (Indonesia’s second largest city) last May and there is heightened security in Jakarta because of that and because they hosted the Asian Games. 

Foreigners are often targets, which is why most expats have a night watchman to guard their property and all public buildings conduct routine inspections on every car that enters their premises.  

By the time I got to my hotel room, I was in a coma of fatigue. I crawled into bed and slept until 7.00pm, when we drove to The American Club.

Since The American Club is part of the American Embassy complex in Jakarta, the security is even more intense there.

The thing I liked about the show, which had about seven acts, was that Eamonn established immediately that comedy is meant to be fun, not politically correct and everyone on the bill deserved to be listened to without interruption.

Even so, I was terrified that I would say something that offended someone or would go on for hours without that laugh all of us in this profession lap up like manna from heaven. Or that the local audience would not get the jokes. But they did. They laughed and they clapped and they all joined in the song that ended my set.

Another country; another cake. Lynn Ruth & Eamonn Sadler

At the end of my performance, Eamonn came on stage with… yes… ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CAKE and flowers. This birthday celebration of mine seems to go on and on and on.  If I keep getting all those cakes, I will probably explode before I am 86 or won’t fit into the coffin.

After the show, Naomi and Eric welcomed me on behalf of Jakarta’s Jewish community.

It turns out that there are about 20 Jewish families in Jakarta in this predominately Muslim country. It is estimated that there are about another 20,000 descendants of Jews who have assimilated and are part of greater Indonesia.

Indonesians must carry an identity card that states their religion and, since Judaism is not one of the seven they recognize, most Jews say they are Christian.  

Those who practice Judaism keep a very low profile. It is not easy to be Jewish in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and it is even harder this year, as anti-Semitic sentiment has grown since Donald Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a holy place to both Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Every time there is a Palestinian/Israeli conflict, anti-Semitism flares up in Indonesia.

When I realized how dangerous it is to be Jewish in so many countries, I began to understand why the synagogues in Stamford Hill, London, where I now live, are so hidden that I have lived there for two years and only now have begun to discover where they are located. All of them are set far back from the street,  heavily gated and even more heavily guarded.  

In 2013, The Times of Israel reported that Indonesia’s last synagogue – the Beith Shalom synagogue in Surabaya, Java – had been destroyed to its foundations by unknown persons.

I personally have never encountered overt anti-Semitism and so I have never taken it very seriously but, when I met these lovely people in Jakarta who dare not openly practice their faith, I realized how deeply imbedded hatred of the Jews actually is, not just in Indonesia but worldwide.

The next afternoon, Joe and Rheysa took me to Jakarta’s version of an Italian restaurant: Mama Rosy’s.

It turned out that Rheysa once worked for L’Oreal and now she puts on a great deal of make up to look like she has no make up on at all. She explained the procedure for the ‘Natural Look’ that begins with ironing her hair and continues with darkeners and lighteners, blushers and intensifiers to make her look like the natural beauty she is in the first place.  

It occurred to me that I should follow her advice but iron my face instead of my hair. However, I gave up that idea before we got to our coffee. I have not so much as ironed a napkin in sixty years.

After lunch, we drove through the city and I was struck by how crowded the streets are, how dense the concentration of people and how little actual green space. The houses seem to be packed tightly next to one another and the streets are narrow, lined with tiny shops and street food vendors. It was a very different feel from Manila with its very tall streamlined buildings and wide highways. It reminded me a lot of Bangkok.

Jakarta – partly houses packed tightly together – partly not.

That night I had arranged to go to Naomi and Eric’s home for dinner to meet their three children and have dinner. When I got into Eric’s car, I entered a totally different world. He and Naomi have lived in Jakarta for 17 years.

His home is modern and spacious and they have seven servants, as do most of the well-to-do in Jakarta. They have drivers for the children, plus cooks, cleaners and gardeners. They are a part of an ex-pat community that does so well in this part of the world. Both are originally from the United States and after they married lived in Singapore for a while and loved it.

In fact, Naomi still works in Singapore several days a week and both of them do a great deal of travel. That is why they need so much domestic help.  

Yet they are trying to keep up the Jewish traditions we all learned growing up. I too observed those holidays and, of course, loved the special foods: the challah, the gefilte fish, the bagels and the chicken soup. Those things are as much part of being Jewish as observing the Sabbath.

China is next!!!! Not the dinnerware; the country.

But I got a message this morning from Andy Curtain who runs the Kung Fu Comedy Cub in Shanghai that the government had closed down the club.  

In China, there are all kinds of intricacies with licensing and permits that are only occasionally enforced. So it seems I am going to Shanghai with nothing much to do but explore the city…

… CONTINUED HERE

Lynn Ruth with the Jakarta show folk

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Filed under anti-semitism, Indonesia, Jewish, Religion, Travel

Edinburgh Fringe Day 6: A terrifying smile and a lack of terrorism security

Yesterday’s blog ended with a mention of believable and unbelievable anecdotes.

Alexander Bennett’s bloody battle to perform

This morning, I had a long conversation with comedian Alexander Bennett – to whom all hail – in which we discussed the idea of simply making up some bizarre – completely false – event which allegedly happened during his Terrifying Smile show today… simply to promote the fact that he is performing at 2.00pm in the Dragonfly venue.

He, like Becky Fury, has been hit by the Curse of Cowgatehead, having previously been booked into the Opium venue, then Cowgatehead (re-named Bar Bados this year presumably to mask the Curse of Cowgatehead) and finally having to leave the Free Fringe venues altogether with no Fringe Programme listing and eventually, happily, ending up in the Heroes of Fringe Dragonfly venue.

We discussed making up a completely false event – well, OK, I tried to foist the idea on him – in order to publicise where he was actually now appearing… But how could we tell an untruth to this blog’s readers?

Alexander Bennett freshens his mouth today

Clearly we couldn’t.

A pity, as I was rather looking forward to writing about two members of his audience: one dressed as a dragon; the other dressed as a fly. Such a thing would not necessarily be unbelievable in Edinburgh during the Fringe. I remember years ago seeing the then-unknown Piff The Magic Dragon waiting at a pedestrian crossing on Nicholson Street. No-one gave any attention to a man dressed as a green dragon.

Truth and reality can vary depending on your viewpoint.

For example, in a Scotsman piece I read today, Kate Copstick describes me as “aged but still sentient”.

I would disagree with this very strongly indeed.

I certainly do not feel sentient.

Mike’s Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

‘Aged’… fair enough, because I am so old I remember life before the iPhone 6S and things like a Blackpool lunch in the 1980s with stars of Granada’s TV series The Comedians where Frank Carson just never switched off and Bernard Manning (with some justification) seemed to think he was a bit ‘above’ the others. And I remember Saturday mornings on Tiswas with Frank Carson at ATV Birmingham where, again, he was constantly being Frank Carson.

Spike Milligan famously said that the difference between Frank Carson and the M25 was that you could turn off the M25.

In this blog a couple of weeks ago, fellow comic Mike McCabe said: “For someone to go on and on and on like that, there had to be some problem deep down.”

Mike’s current show about Frank Carson If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry, tries to figure out Frank’s mindset and benefits from the fact Mike actually worked with him.

Steve Best amid his photos at the Stills centre this afternoon

I also felt slightly old going to the current exhibition of Steve Best’s photos of comedians at the Stills Centre For Photography in Edinburgh, designed to promote Joker Face, his second book of photos, quotes and quirky facts – featuring over 450 comedians.

And then I bumped into Gill Smith, the inspiraton for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

She is in Edinburgh for a week, reviewing shows for one4review. She was with her daughter Pippa, now aged seven. I think the last time Pippa and I were in the same room together was when she was a bump in her mother’s tummy.

Gill Smith and her 7-year-old daughter Pippa

In 2008 Gill, as a stand-up comic, sent me an email telling me she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, by nominating herself, she could legitimately put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She added that she thought Malcolm would have approved of this.

I had to agree with her and created a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award before she could give herself one. Ooh missus. Since then, of course, all the Malcolm Hardee Awards have become increasingly prestigious.

Today it was confirmed that Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee is coming up to Edinburgh to sing on the final Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 25th August.

Becky Fury’s Molotov Cocktail Party curse

Which brings us to terrorism and last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner Becky Fury (her suitably real name).

In the High Street and elsewhere in Edinburgh, giant obstacles have sprouted to deter and prevent  random lorry attacks on the Fringe crowds, but none of the venues seem to make even cursory checks on bags going into shows.

Becky is another victim of the Curse of Cowgatehead and has been thinking of ways to promote the fact she is now in a different venue at a different time (10.00pm in the Black Market) to her billing in the Fringe Programme.

There was her appearance in a London riot the other night.

And she decided today that fire-blowing in the streets or wherever might attract attention. So she bought some paraffin.

..so she bought some paraffin…

It is relevant to point out here that her show is titled Molotov Cocktail Party.

Tonight, she and I went to see the always brilliant Milton Jones perform in the giant main Assembly Hall on The Mound.

In her back pack she had paraffin in a bottle – in essence, a Molotov cocktail. And, low on battery, I had a fairly large re-charger in my inside jacket pocket with a wire to the iPhone in my shirt pocket.

Just as well we were not given any cursory search. Or was it?

I look old and far from sentient with Becky Fury at tonight’s Milton Jones show in the Assembly Hall

 

 

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Filed under Comedy, publicity stunts

Comic Becky Fury on what ISIS/ISIL’s beheader Jihadi John was really like

Becky was talking just off Brick Lane last night

After yesterday’s blog with Chris Dangerfield was posted, Becky Fury – winner of at least one genuine Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award – asked if she could give a response.

So I met her last night in London’s East End, just off Brick Lane.

“What made you want to respond to the blog?” I asked her.

“I basically,” she told me, “wanted to do some self promotion…”

“Oh God,” I said.

“…and I had some ideas about politics,” Becky continued.

“Good grief,” I said. “You didn’t want to have a go at Chris Dangerfield for perceived Islamophobia?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s no use at all,” I told her. “You just wanted a chat.”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I just wanted to be validated. Do you want me to talk about Islamic Fundamentalism?”

“It’d be something,” I told her.

“My friend actually taught Jihadi John,” Becky said. “He was basically a kid in remedial maths at school.”

“And he went to my college,” I told her. “The University of Westminster… Well, it was The Polytechnic in my day.”

“When he was at school,” said Becky, “he was a kid that nobody liked. He had B.O. and bad breath. He was basically a disenfranchised kid and this idea of running off to become an Islamic Fundamentalist was obviously quite attractive. Then he got turned into this character in tabloid newspaper mythology. But he was basically just a kid from remedial maths who didn’t get on with anyone.”

“This character in tabloid newspaper mythology”

“Well,” I said, “beheading people certainly works as a bid for attention.”

“He was basically pissed-off,” said Becky. “Maybe if they had had better pastoral care in his local London borough he wouldn’t have done that. And then there were all those girls running off to find this hunky Jihadi John in Syria and, when they get there, they just find that it’s Muhammad, the smelly kid from remedial maths and they think: Well, we might as well have just stayed in Tower Hamlets and met him and our mums wouldn’t have been quite so pissed-off.

“Obviously, you don’t want to encourage any type of religious fundamentalism. You can pick on one as being worse but, if you do pick on one as being worse, you make it worse and it turns it into something that becomes more dangerous because you have given people something to join in with. After they started trying to ban the burkha, lots more Moslem women started wearing burkhas because they were told they should not be allowed to do it. That’s what happens when you try to put a lid on things.”

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Filed under Politics, Terrorism

Giada Garofalo on terrorism, porn and comedy – but don’t mention the Mafia

On their way to Shepherd’s Bush tonight (L-R): Luca Cupani, Giacinto Palmieri, Giada Garofalo, Romina Puma

On their way to Shepherd’s Bush tonight (L-R): Luca Cupani, Giacinto Palmieri, Giada Garofalo and Romina Puma

Tonight, I am off to see the London-based Italian language comics of Il Puma Londinese preview their Edinburgh Fringe show at Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

I talked to one of them – Giada Garofalo – about her upcoming Edinburgh solo show, catchily titled Live in The Staff Room (Sex, Fairytales, Serial Killers and Other Stuff)

“You are a Sicilian,” I started. “So you’re not to be messed around with…”

“I am not connected to the Mafia,” she told me. “I am a good girl, though I know people. But I don’t want to talk about that, because that could be really weird.”

“Oh,” I said. “OK. How long have you been in the UK?”

“I have been here for 13 years.”

“Why did you come over here?’

“I ran away. I was going through a tough time. My mama had passed away two years before. I was a bit lost. I was in a very serious relationship. I was going to get married soon.”

“So you came over here to marry an Englishman?”

“No. I came over to run away from my Italian. But it wasn’t just for that. I came for two months, just to refresh my English and, instead, I thought – Hey! – I don’t want to go back home. I don’t want to get married. I want to live a different life. I went back home for a month, left everything, came back to London and here I am.

“The first year, it was tough to find a job and I started to do an unpaid internship in PR because, after my degree, I did a Masters in Italy in Business Communication. Big mistake. It’s not me.”

“What is Business Communication?” I asked.

“Marketing, PR. So I did an internship here and, after a couple of internships, I got a job doing a little bit of PR, then moved into Admin because, at the same time, I had started to write bits because I wanted to be an academic.”

“In what?” I asked.

Serial killer aficionado and terrorism expert Giada

Serial killer aficionado and terrorism expert Giada

“I specialised in terrorism and security. I have written about human rights. I have written about European politics. I wanted to do a PhD. So, while I had my job in Admin here, I started to work with some universities as an external researcher and I was writing at night.”

“For British universities?” I asked.

“No. a couple of Italian ones. We wrote papers that were collected in academic books. Then I did another Masters here in Security Studies and I kept writing about terrorism, theories of the state and blah blah blah. Then I wanted to do a PhD but I didn’t get a full scholarship and thought: I can’t carry on working full-time and doing academic stuff at night. I was tired and I was also a little bit fed up with politics, a little bit cynical, and so, one day, I thought: I’ll do a comedy course.”

“Terrorism to comedy is a bit of a jump,” I suggested.

“Well, not really. You can be interested in different things. I just wanted to do one gig, just for my birthday. I had already said In another life I might be a comedian and my sister said Why do you have to wait for another life? So I did the comedy course. I did the gig. And I really enjoyed it and haven’t stopped since.”

“What is the appeal?” I asked.

“At the beginning, when you start, I think it’s the adrenaline on stage. Now I really enjoy the writing. My favourite moment in comedy is the first time I come out with ten minutes of new stuff and it’s not even polished. Then there is the editing and the things you learn. It’s a learning process. To learn how to be more concise and connect with the audience. It took me nine months to get rid of the microphone stand.

“I had always used to study, analyse, deconstruct. But with comedy – and with photography, which I started at the same time – I’m learning by doing. It comes from the inside. It’s very slow – it’s coming up to seven years now… That’s pretty much me in a nutshell… Maybe more nuts than shell.”

“How would you describe your act?” I asked.

“I do more storytelling than stand-up.”

“And, when you started…?”

“The first gigs I did were about language and being Italian but then I thought: I can’t do that, because all foreigners do that. Then I became aware of this idea that all women in comedy talk about the same things, so I thought: I’m not going to talk about these; I am NOT going to be ‘the female comedian’ or ‘the foreign comedian’. So all I had left was politics and I got into a niche: benefit gigs, the Marxist Festival. But I thought: I want to talk about other things. So I gave up for six months, then I started to do Il Puma Londinese, which was really interesting. It started three years ago and I joined about six months later.

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

After Il Puma Londinese show (L-R) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini

“I stopped seeing myself as an Italian, stopped seeing myself as a female – just being me. Humour is more universal than we think, except for specific cultural references”

“Is your Italian-language comedy different from your English-language comedy?”

“No. Though some jokes are different. In Italian, I maybe play more with the language, but 95% of what I say in Italian is what I say in English.

“In Italy, we have this tradition where you do a comedy monologue as a character. In this country, you just do it as yourself. You don’t have to create a character. That’s great, because I can’t act, I don’t know how to create a character, so I can just be me.”

“And your Edinburgh Fringe show this year…?” I prompted.

“I get bored very easily with what I write so, this year, I have decided to go unscripted. I have five bullet points. Every time I go on stage, I will try to say it in a different way and improvise it.”

“When I saw the preview,” I said, “it seemed tight.”

“I’ve got a good memory. The problem is that, if I write down the script, I will remember it word-for-word immediately and, after that, it becomes a lecture. This year, I want to play the show to the room, not just play the show.”

“It is about fairy tales?” I asked.

Giada with some cutting-edge Fringe comedy

Giada with her cutting-edge Fringe comedy

“Fairy tales with a twist, because I talk about the original fairy tales, which were horror stories. We have this idea of fairy tales as Oh! Find your Prince Charming! – Well, in fact, Prince Charming used to rape the princesses.”

“In the original version,” I said, “he did not waken up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss…?”

“No. They were really gruesome. In Cinderella, one of the sisters gets her toes cut off to try to fit in the shoe. Sleeping Beauty is really gruesome.”

“And you have this interest in serial killers…” I said.

“When someone tells me: This is how you should feel about something, I tend to go the opposite way just to see if it’s true or not. And, since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by serial killers.

“I think there is a potential serial killer in all of us and, I guess, being a comic means you are a bit of a psychopath. Serial killers lack empathy with their victims and, to find humour, you have to be detached, you need to lack empathy. For a comic, if they have had a good night, they say they ‘killed’.”

“Or,” I said, “the comic ‘dies’ on stage… But surely the performer has to have total empathy to ride and control the audience’s emotions?”

“That’s when you’re performing,” said Giada. “I’m talking about writing. But, even on stage, you have to assert your power over an audience – in a nice way. You do want to control the audience, to manipulate them and that’s what serial killers want. But it’s just comedy. I’m just messing around. I dunno.”

“Your show title also has the word ‘sex’ in it,” I said.

“I discovered porn at a late age,” said Giada. “I think maybe I watched a couple of movies back in the age of videocassettes. But, in the last couple of years, there has been a lot of talk of… I don’t know if it’s because of social media or because there’s been a shift in people… a lot of talk about pornography and feminism and anti-feminism and, I think, in some cases, it’s a bit trivial. So I decided to watch porn.

“Some stuff was really fun; some stuff made me feel uncomfortable. Maybe porn is to other people what serial killers are to me. Where I can explore some darker fantasies without acting upon them. And one of the theories about fairy tales is that they had that same function: to provide a safe place for children to explore their fears and darker fantasies. I dunno. I don’t have an answer. I just have questions.”

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Fairy Tales, Pornography

The Angry Brigade was mildly irritating

The Bush Theatre stage production

The Bush Theatre stage production today

At the end of April, I blogged about The Angry Brigade play opening at London’s Bush Theatre and quoted my friend Sam Taylor (not his real name) who was around at the time.

This afternoon, I went to see the play with Sam.

I was more concerned with the style; Sam with the content.

The play was two-and-a-half hours long including a 20-minute interval in the middle and the first half, at least, could/should have been cut by a third. Words were being written and spouted simply for the sake of writing and spouting words, not developing a plot.

The first half seemed like some stylised semi-farce or something out of a 1970s sitcom with comic police and added serious bits and the second half seemed to be trying to be poetic and arty and cutting-edge.

“I just don’t know,” I told Sam, “why the story of The Angry Brigade has gone off the radar and disappeared from memories of British social history. I mean, you say it’s cos they were so dull, but…”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“You were in two minds about seeing the play,” I said.

“I just didn’t have a clue,” explained Sam, “what they could possibly do with the four of them because, as far as I know, they’ve never given out their story and no-one knows, so I just didn’t see how you could make a play out of these four very dull people. They just were not very charismatic people.”

At the time of the eventual trial verdict...

Four of the eight charged were sentenced…

“The real people?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Sam. “And they were so young.”

“Immediately post-university,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sam. “I was afraid of what the play might do with the story – try and make it politically justified. That all their wild ramblings would be rationalised.”

“I thought,” I said, “that the play gave vent to their wild ramblings in the second half in a reasonably fair way.”

“But the astonishing 168 or was it 186 attacks in one year?” said Sam. “That is quite astounding. At what point did the papers first print the story?”

“I have to say I didn’t know there had been an embargo on it,” I said. “I guess there must have been a ‘D’ Notice on it.”

“Yes,” said Sam.

“And, in the play,” I said, “the police seemed to be baffled why they bombed the Post Office Tower.”

“They were just kids,” replied Sam. “They were just… Biba, the Post Office Tower. How can you rationalise that?…”

Photo (left) of bombing at the Employment Secretary’s home

Photo (left) of bombing at the Employment Secretary’s home

“Well,” I said. “The Post Office Tower is fair enough. It was a defence installation. Presumably is. Nothing to do with the Post Office. But I just thought the whole play was superficial. There is so much material in that story, there has to be a good play – or film – in there somewhere. But this wasn’t it.”

“You have to have charismatic characters,” said Sam, “a premise and some genuine political beliefs instead of playing at anarchism.”

“They vaguely,” I said, “tried to have some depth in the second half, but it just degenerated into running around, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. A lot of the budget must have gone in buying the music rights.”

“It wasn’t any music I ever listened to,” said Sam. “The strange thing is that, in that circle, I don’t remember anyone ever playing music. At university you did; you used to go to each other’s rooms but, in that circle, with so many people coming and going in all the squats and in these communes – we weren’t in squats, we were communes – I don’t remember anyone ever sitting quietly listening to music.”

“Also,” I said, “the play was only about four people and the police in the play only seemed to be pursuing four people. Maybe it was concentrated for artistic reasons.”

Poster supporting The Angry Brigade

Poster supporting The Angry Brigade

The Angry Brigade trial was called, at the time, the trial of The Stoke Newington Eight.

“I knew nothing about the trial,” said Sam, “except everyone knew that they were guilty, though not on those charges. I do remember there was fundraising for them and marches for them and the feeling – which you would appreciate – that those charges were false. They did it, but not what they were charged with… I’d have to go back and read about it in retrospect because I knew about it so little at the time.”

“And there was the other guy,” I said, “who I think everyone thought was the central one. Though the play did include a German bloke coming over with guns. And they mentioned Paris.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “They were clearly getting their supplies from Paris.”

“I was,” I said, “amazed they only got ten year sentences. You would think, just for setting off bombs at the front and back doors of the Employment Secretary’s home alone they would have got stiffer sentences.”

“Mmmm…” Sam responded.

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Filed under Anarchy, Politics, Terrorism

The Angry Brigade, British anarchists – the real bombers were never arrested?

The Post Office Tower was bombed by The Angry Brigade

London’s Post Office Tower – bombed by The Angry Brigade

Tonight, the new play about 1970s anarchist bombers The Angry Brigade is being premiered at the Bush Theatre in London.

I have always thought it odd that The Angry Brigade are seldom mentioned in social histories of the 1960s and 1970s. They were active around 1969-1972 and the Bomb Squad (now called SO13) was specifically formed to track down The Angry Brigade.

Their targets included banks, embassies, factories, the 1970 Miss World contest (a BBC Outside Broadcast van was bombed) and the homes of judges, police chiefs and government MPs. In 1971, a bomb exploded in the Post Office Tower (now renamed the BT Tower) and two bombs exploded outside Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s house.

Some of the alleged Angry Brigade’s alleged arms

Some of the alleged Angry Brigade’s arms found by the police

I have a friend called Sam Taylor. Well, no, I don’t. I have no friend called Sam Taylor. But let us pretend that is his real name. It is not.

When I mentioned the new play at the Bush Theatre to Sam Taylor, he told me he did not think the play should have been written.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because,” he told me, “I thought the Angry Brigade were meaningless. I thought they were just a sad little collection of young people who were doing something which was very wrong. They were making the facts fit the plot. They wanted to do something. They were caught up in their own propaganda. These days, the propaganda is political correctness. Back then, it was anarchism. I can only remember being in the same room as them once.”

“With who?” I asked.

The Bush Theatre stage production

The Bush Theatre stage production tonight

“With the four who were convicted. The men I can’t remember at all. I remember one of the girls. They were very unprepossessing young people. I only remember them being in the corner of a room, probably at some meeting about what time we were going to arrive at Covent Garden Market in the morning to pick up the fruit and veg.

“London had had the Vietnam protests and there were a lot of Americans in London at the time. So, from that protest movement grew this anarchist movement and it had its roots in things which are quite acceptable now.”

“You were living in a squat at that time?” I asked.

“No,” said Sam. “The squatting movement was pretty much starting up around then, but we are not squatting. We were renting. We were a collective. It was a very loose group of anarchists, all having different aims. The other collectives were quite well-off. We were probably the poorest. The other collectives were not short of money. We were the only working class people I ever met. In one collective, one of the members was very much into women’s refuges. I remember there was a Food Co-op but also there was an Adventure Playground group. Adventure Playgrounds were thought to be quite revolutionary in their day.

The Angry Brigade logo - whoever they really all were

The Angry Brigade logo – whoever they really all were

“These were not mainstream things in those times and that was the link. That was how I got to be on the fringes of these collectives. We only ever knew them as the name of where they lived. It was a very small, loosely-connected group of collectives and one of them was the Amhurst Road Collective.”

“Which,” I said, “was partly the Angry Brigade.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “But I didn’t know that at the time. The extraordinary thing about the whole of that anarchist movement is how nobody has spoken about it. The big story is the extraordinary loyalty. As far as I know, I never heard that anyone had shopped anyone else. Everyone was being arrested, followed, searched, intimidated, beaten-up…”

“I think,” I said, “that beating-up suspects was standard practice at the time.”

“Yes,” Sam agreed. “The words you did not want to hear were: Come along with me to Barnet police station.”

“Barnet?” I asked.

The offices of Time Out magazine were raided in the search for The Angry Brigade

Time Out magazine’s offices were raided in the police search

“For some reason it was always Barnet police station. We were just hearing: Such-and-such a collective were all taken to Barnet. They were trying to say these people were loosely affiliated but, after people were arrested and released and their names were in the frame, the bombings were still continuing. As far as I know, nobody has ever come clean about what was actually going on and who was running it.

“There was clearly, from what I could see, a lot of coming-and-going between France, Germany and London and the people I met had clearly been very involved in the student revolt in Paris in 1968. I never knew the back story except I knew there were foreign links. The people in these other collectives had links with foreigners and they were going off abroad.

“The other thing I remember is someone called Petra turning up and I was told I had to leave the house I was staying in because Petra was arriving. When I asked about her, everyone closed down and I was even told there were two Petras. I wondered if that was to throw me off the scent. I always wondered if was Petra from the Baader-Meinhof group.”

Part Schelm of Baader-Meinhof

Petra Schelm of Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang

(In May 1970, Petra Schelm travelled with other members of Baader-Meinhof to Jordan where they were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organisation in urban guerrilla warfare. On 15 July 1971, after a car chase in Hamburg, Petra fired a handgun at police. The police returned fire, allegedly with a submachine gun. However, a closeup photograph of her body taken at the scene immediately after her death shows a single gunshot wound through the eye.)

“I don’t know if there was a link with the Baader-Meinhof group,” Sam told me, “because nobody has ever come out and spoken about any links between all those groups. There were lots and lots of raids going on and the one thing they were always after was address books.

“At the time, my collective were simply paranoid about smoking dope. We knew we were being watched, but we thought it was the Drugs Squad. I took it all with a pinch of salt. But then we heard Amhurst Road mentioned in the news and we saw the names and we realised it was that collective. And all these people were being arrested and taken to Barnet police station. We were surprised and shocked and moved out very quickly.

“I went to stay on people’s floors within London. They were regarded as safe houses; I don’t know why. I don’t know why they were safe when everyone else was being picked up. Then I worked under another name in London and then I left London to work in the West Country.

At the Angry Brigade trial, the jury was bette for their political beliefs

Angry Brigade trial jury was vetted for their political beliefs

“It seemed to me from what I read and heard that they were framed by the police, that the evidence was planted on them. Clearly they were involved in it – but it may simply have been that they were the printing press.”

“Supposedly,” I said, “the Rolling Stones’ arrest involved drugs being planted on them. They were guilty as hell, but the police planted the drugs to get an arrest.”

“Exactly,” said Sam. “That seemed to be accepted at the time. What came out at the trial was that they seemed to have believed the… I don’t know much about the others. I only know about the four. I didn’t really follow it at the time… But, as far as I know, no-one was ever arrested successfully for placing the bombs. They were charged with conspiracy. No people – because it seemed there were many more than just one person – were actually successfully arrested or prosecuted for planting the bombs.”

“There were an awful lot of bombs going off,” I said to Sam.

“Yes,” he agreed. “And the press were not printing them all. There were a great many more bombs than were publicised. I found that out retrospectively. And what happened has stayed with me. Even now, I instinctively don’t like having my picture taken.”

There is a trailer on YouTube for the Bush Theatre play.

and there is a 72-minute documentary about The Angry Brigade on YouTube. I can’t guarantee the facts are true.

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Filed under Anarchy, Sociology, Terrorism, UK

Is this why the British government does not like amiable Scots comic Del Strain?

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews yesterday

I managed to photograph Del Strain by Royalty Mews in Soho yesterday. I felt some elation at this triumph.

“Are you a Scottish National Party supporter now, or still Labour?” I asked Del Strain yesterday.

“I’m at the stage now,” he told me immediately, “where the rotted corpse of the three or four party system has gone.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there’s only going to be one party in Scotland after the General Election.”

“The SNP is part of the problem, not the solution,” Del told me. “How about we have a society where, before you become an MP, you have to wear a lie detector to take public decisions? I don’t care if, at the weekend, you’re into dominatrixes or crystal meth or taking ecstacy… I don’t care so long as, when you come to work at 9.00am on a Monday morning, you’re all biscuits and gravy and non-corruptible.

“We need revolution, we need change, we need radical men to form this country into the next generation. We need to be world leaders, we need to make stuff, not just people who work for minimum bloody wage and Tescos, watching The Great British Bake Off while our children won’t have a National Health Service and will be aspiring to have teeth in a few years.”

“So it’s you and Tommy Sheridan against the world?” I asked.

“I would let Tommy run the country.”

“Free crystal meth for everyone?” I suggested.

“No. Don’t do meth,” said Del. “Meth’s a bad drug. It was invented by the US military so they could kill for longer in Vietnam. It’s a very horrible drug.”

“Everything was invented by the US military,” I said. “LSD was invented by the US military, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. And the internet and false flag attacks.”

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

John Lewis store in Oxford Street, London (Photograph by Martin Addison)

“But you surely can’t want Communism?” I asked. “The only place where Communism has ever worked is John Lewis and Israel – and Israel’s been at war since 1948, so that doesn’t really count.”

“Well,” said Del, “we live in a world now where neo-liberals have actually become Fascists. They’re the Thought Police. See me? If it’s 1936 in Spain, I’d be fighting Franco. If I was in Warsaw in 1943, I’d have stood tooth & nail with those brave Jewish people against the Nazis. But, at the same time, right now I understand the plight of the Palestinians. And I can say Muslim extremists blah blah blah and that’s OK, but the minute I say anything about Netanyahu or Israel, I’m ‘anti-Semitic’. There seems to be a whole lot of double standards and people trying to censor stuff that shouldn’t be censored. There’s dark forces at work here, John.”

“But,” I said, “there’s a difference between being anti-Israeli and ant-Jewish.”

“It’s not being anti-Israeli,” replied Del. “It’s being anti-Zionist, cos they’re extremists… Jew, Arab, Catholic, Protestant, black, white, it’s all bogus. It’s all just labels to have us all at each others throats and divide and conquer. There’s only one battle and that’s the battle between good and evil and rich and poor and that’s all over the world. The rest is just semantics.”

“Have you met Naom Chomsky?” I asked.

“No. I’ve met (punk rockers) Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, but I’ve never met Chomsky. There must be something to commemorate Joe Strummer better than an underpass at Paddington where people urinate. I would have him on Nelson’s Column. I would have Clash lyrics in the national curriculum for all children to liven them up.”

“So when are you becoming an MP?” I asked. “Comedians are standing in elections now.”

“I wouldn’t like to be an MP,” said Del. “Apparently I’m undesirable. They wouldn’t even let me in the Houses of Parliament during the War on Welfare or into a Select Committee on Palestine with George Galloway. I was invited to both and I got to the gate and I was told I was ‘an undesirable’.”

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square with Parliament behind him

“Did George Galloway invite you there?”

“Yes. He wanted me to speak, man.”

“So why did they stop you going in?”

“I dunno. I presume it was because of my criminal convictions. They had a list of people who had been invited, but they must go and do a police records check before you arrive and it just had ‘Undesirable’ next to my name.”

“But terrorists are being invited to the Commons to speak all the time,” I said.

“Yes,” said Del. “You’ve got Gerry Adams. Martin McGuinness for godsake! But I’m telling you it happened to me twice – ‘Undesirable’. Twice. Last year. And I was one of the main set-ups: me, Francesca Martinez and Rick and Caro from War on Welfare; we were the ones who got the ball rolling. That got 120,000 signatures to the Select Committee.”

“Your criminal record is not for anything political, though,” I said.

“Not at all,” agreed Del. “And there’s no extreme violence on it either.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“The trick with extreme violence,” laughed Del, “is Don’t get caught.”

“It’s just drugs, then,” I said.

“Well, intent to supply, concerning supply, importation…”

“That’s surely OK,” I said. “It’s perfectly politically clean.”

“But I was, for a couple of weeks, every day, sending Tweets to the Conservative Party and David Cameron and George Osborne telling them a few facts about the nest of paedophiles that was running the country. So maybe it was something to do with that. Free speech, John! We gotta use it while it’s still here!

“They wouldn’t let me in. ‘Undesirable’. I couldn’t even go to Disneyworld with my kid, because of felonies. The Americans are shit hot on stuff like that. They’re just paranoid. It’s not even the drugs. They just see the words ‘felony’ and ‘British passport holder’ and, because of that guy with the shoe bomb, they just changed everything. It’s a paranoid world we live in.”

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Scotland, UK