Tag Archives: Tommy Cooper

Humour’s not a universal language – it’s a matter of personal or national opinion

I have sat through some weird shit in my time

Michael Powell’s movie Gone To Earth, Robin Hardy’s movie The Fantasist and Edinburgh Fringe stage show Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian. They spring immediately to mind.

And I can now add to that an ‘acclaimed’ Finnish ‘deadpan comedy’ movie The Other Side of Hope.

I was invited to an “influencer preview screening” in Soho yesterday afternoon. It was in English, Finnish and Arabic. With English subtitles.

The first person I saw when I arrived was Scots comic Richard Gadd. His factual movie drama Against The Law is being screened on BBC2 at the end of June.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the lead actor in The Other Side of Hope.,” he told me, apparently slightly affronted that I had not known.

Some people will turn up to the opening of an envelope. I will turn up to anything which has the likelihood of free tea and salmon sandwiches. It does not mean I read the fine details of any press release.

“How come you are the lead in a Finnish film?” I asked Richard Gadd.

“Because,” said Richard Gad, “I am half-Finnish.”

“Heavens,” I said, slightly embarrassed, “I didn’t know that,”

“Well I am,” he told me, slightly wearily.

Thom Tuck (left) and Richard Gadd at Soho House yesterday

The next person I saw was comedian, writer and variably-hirsute thespian Thom Tuck, currently touring Britain in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.

“Are you playing Willy?” I asked.

“No,” he said slightly wearily. “He is in his 60s.”

I thought it unwise to mention anything about ‘playing with Willy’ so, changing the subject, I said: “I didn’t know Richard was half-Finnish.”

“I only know how to swear in Finnish,” Thom replied.

“Don’t let me stop you,” I told him.

“Kusipää…” he said. “Vittu pois… Kivekset.” Then, looking at Richard, he asked: “Was my pronunciation OK?”

“Pretty good,” said Richard, generously.

As for The Other Side of Hope – the film we had come to see…

Well, as for the film…

What can I say…?

One selling synopsis for it is:

MORAL CLARITY IN PLURALITY
A poker playing restauranteur and
former travelling salesman befriends
a group of refugees.

It is about a Syrian immigrant from Aleppo during the current civil war who is in Finland as a refugee.

The film won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and rave reviews for it include:

“Combines poignancy with torrents of laughter” (5-stars. Daily Telegraph)

“’Surreal and screamingly funny” (5-stars. The Times)

“I laughed, I cried, I shrieked.” (5-stars, Observer)

It currently has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.

People say comedy is a universal language.

Well, I am here to tell you it is not.

Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry: too straight-faced for the English

I remember working for a cable or satellite TV channel (I can’t remember which) and, in trailer-making mode, I sat through three episodes of Scotch & Wry, a legendary successful BBC Scotland TV comedy show which I had never seen and which I don’t think had been screened on English terrestrial television. It was absolutely terrifically funny,

After seeing the three episodes, I went back into the office.

“Have you seen Scotch & Wry?” I started to say. “Isn’t it absolutely…”

“Yes,” said someone. “It is utter shit, isn’t it?”

That was the general English view in the office and I think it was because star Rikki Fulton et al performed everything utterly straight-faced. I think deadpan comedy works with Scots audiences, not so well with English audiences and it may ultimately be a Scandinavian thing,

I worked in a Swedish TV company with Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. Each nationality’s sense of humour was slightly different and the Swedes in particular were very, very straight-faced though equally humorous.

My experience of Finns is mostly meeting them on holiday – particularly in the former Soviet Union and, as a result, in cliché mode, I think of Finns as very very amiable but almost always paralytically drunk (there are licensing problems in Finland and the exchange rate between blue jeans and vodka in Leningrad was highly in favour of the Finns).

All this comes as an intro to my opinion of The Other Side of Hope.

The film very-noir in its original Finnish: it translates appropriately as “Beyond Hope”

It was like watching zombies perform some dreary social-realist drama about Syrian immigrants in a grey city. It made Harold Pinter’s dialogue and pauses seem like Robin Williams speeding on cocaine.

The film opened with a woman wearing curlers in her hair. She was sitting at a table on which stood a spherical cactus with thin spines sticking out. I thought: This may be a commendably weird movie.

Well weird it certainly was but, for me, utterly titterless. Not a single titter dropped from my lips, missus.

There was a 10-15 minute section towards the very end of the film which showed signs of very straight-faced, deadpan humour involving a restaurant. But even that was titter-free.

I have obviously missed something.

It is oft – and truly – said that Tommy Cooper could walk on stage, do nothing, say nothing and the audience would laugh. I have often wondered if some American or German or Latvian who had never seen Tommy Cooper before would have laughed.

And there is the never-to-be-forgotten lesson of Scotch & Wry.

I am prepared to believe The Other Side of Hope has them rolling in the frozen deadpan-loving aisles of Helsinki. It left me totally enjoyment-free. It was a bleak film about a Syrian immigrant in Helsinki in which people didn’t say much. But, then, I did enjoy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness, I like eating kimchi and, as a child, I enjoyed cod liver oil.

The Other Side of Hope has had great reviews. It can survive without me.

As a coda to all this, I should mention that, as we went into the screening room, Richard Gadd told me he was not half-Finnish and he did not appear in the film at all. He had just been invited along to see it because he is an “influencer”.

This turned out to be true.

He is not in the film.

Yesterday afternoon was just totally weird. I also met a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head like Carmen Miranda. He was not smiling. He may have been an actor of Finnish origin.

Oh, alright.

I made that bit up. I did not meet a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head.

The rest is true.

Though I am beginning to think I may have dreamt the whole of yesterday.

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Filed under Comedy, Finland, Humor, Humour, Movies

A desperate blog with Matt Roper about Lewis Schaffer and Marianne Faithfull

Matt Roper - a man barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

Matt Roper – a comedian barely alive after a bad night’s sleep

“I am a desperate man,” I told comedian Matt Roper, who has been living in my spare room for the last few weeks (with my knowledge).

“I need a blog. You said you have a sore back. What has happened to it?”

“I dunno,” Matt said. “It’s just the way I’ve been sleeping.”

“Or is it the fact you’ve got the weight of the world’s troubles on your shoulders?” I suggested.

“I’m glad you said that,” replied Matt, “because Lewis Schaffer needs to realise he’s not carrying them all on his own.”

“We’ve barely seen each other since you’ve been here,” I said. “Where have you been these last few weeks?”

“John,” said Matt. “This is not an interesting blog. Let’s get Wilfredo out.”

On stage, Matt plays the part of Hispanic singer Wilfredo.

“Nah,” I said.

Matt had been trying to persuade me I should interview him for this blog in character as Wilfredo in my back garden.

“My blog’s about real people,” I had told him. “It would be like Chortle (the comedy industry website) interviewing Alan Partridge instead of Steve Coogan.”

Lewis Schaffer (lefty) exercising in the park yesterday with Martin Soan

Lewis Schaffer, here talking to Martin Soan about ping pong

“Does Lewis Schaffer work at Greggs The Baker?” Matt asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Does he?” asked Matt. “What does he do there?”

“Of course he doesn’t work in Greggs The Baker,” I said. “Why on earth would he?”

His Wikipedia entry said he did last time I looked.”

We looked at Lewis Schaffer’s Wikipedia entry.

It had been changed.

“Don’t mention Greggs The Baker in your blog,” said Matt. “Lewis Schaffer will be upset by that.”

“No he won’t,” I said. “He probably wrote it.”

“I’m going to go out for a ciggie,” said Matt.

“Is there’s a picture in it?” I asked.

“John, this isn’t interesting,” said Matt. “We could invent a fake person specifically for your blog,”

“Lewis Schaffer is enough,” I said. “I’ll take a picture of you.”

“Get your garlic grotto in the background,” said Matt.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden & two weeping angels

“Garlic grotto?”

“Dalek grotto,” said Matt, correcting either me or himself.

I have a Dalek grotto in my back garden.

“How about publicising Wilfredo’s Christmas single?” asked Matt.

“Nah,” I said.

It started to drizzle rain.

“John, I can’t live in this country,” said Matt.

“Why?”

The British attitude to life - A glass half empty

The normal British attitude to life exemplified

“It’s just so painful. Everything’s expensive. The people are miserable. Everyone’s got this glass-half-empty approach to life.”

“But you’re from the North of England!” I laughed.

“Not as far north as you,” said Matt.

“Scotland isn’t the North of England,” I said.

“Maybe I should move back up North,” mused Matt.

“But,” I pointed out, “if you go too far north, you hit Glasgow, which is never a good idea. Talk about misery.”

“I’ve never been to Glasgow,” said Matt.

Glasgow - a fine and refined city of culture

Glasgow – a fine and refined city of culture

“Misery and violence,” I said. “It’s a heady mix. Have you really never been to Glasgow?”

“I was once in a cafe called Leopold’s in Bombay,” replied Matt.

“It’s not the same,” I said.

“I used to spend a lot of winters out there,” said Matt.

“The cafe?”

“India. I used to sing in clubs in the summer down in Devon. There was good money in it.”

“What sort of stuff?”

“Swing and jazz, all sorts of stuff.”

“Why have you never been to Glasgow?” I asked.

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday

The show Matt saw on London’s South Bank last Friday night

“I did go,” said Matt, “to see Marianne Faithfull in London last Friday night.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “you told me you thought she should be a comedian.”

“She was very very funny,” said Matt. “She had a stick because she had shattered her hip bone. So she sits in a chair on stage with this stick, yelling at all the techies because the lights are too bright. Then she counts – One – Two – Three – and unseats herself grandly from this chair and all the audience applaud and she shouts Imagine! Getting a round of applause just for standing up! I feel  like Tommy Cooper! and all the audience applauded.

Tommy Cooper

The late great Tommy Cooper

I love Tommy Cooper! she says. I AM Tommy Cooper! My kinda guy!”

“So there’s a scoop for your blog,” said Matt. “Marianne Faithfull is a huge Tommy Cooper fan.”

I left Matt outside, smoking in the drizzle.

Inside, there was a message on my computer from someone I know who had better remain nameless.

“I am listening to Lewis Schaffer attempting to interview Stewart Lee on Nunhead American Radio,” it said. “Worth a listen. Total chaos.”

Sometimes I think: Should I continue to write this blog? Does anyone really believe Lewis Schaffer exists?

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Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Scotland, UK

Why do British comedy clubs have to just book samey stand-up comedy acts?

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

In a not-yet-posted blog-chat with Dutch comedian Jorik Mol earlier this week, the subject came up of the difficulty of succeeding as a comedian in Britain when there are simply too many stand-up and wannabe stand-up comedians around.

British comedy clubs are having a tough time at the moment and I think one of the reasons is that they programme wall-to-wall stand-up comedians.

In the 1980s, when alternative comedy really WAS alternative, a typical comedy club bill might include a juggler, a poet and an indefinably anarchic act as well as straight stand-ups.

Nowadays, too often, there is no variation. It is all a bit samey. The stand-ups may be good, bad or indifferent but they are, basically, doing the same thing.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the comedy clubs were general comedy clubs. Now they are almost entirely stand-up comedy clubs.

In blogs before I have mentioned that many of the most original and funny comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last couple of years were not listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme but in the Cabaret section.

Last night, I saw a glorious night of comedy at Pull The Other One in South East London. It was their last show of the year, it was a real corker and there was not a single traditional stand-up on the bill. Unlike most comedy clubs, you did not know what TYPE of act was coming next.

Jon Hicks was simply indescribable (he describes himself as ‘The International Man of Artistry’) and his act involved three elephants, a hammer and scientific principles all on PTOO’s small stage.

Jody Kamali was a performer of note

Jody Kamali was a comedy performer of note

Jody Kamali seems to inhabit a different on-stage character every time I see him. This time, he managed to cram into one 20-minute spot three bizarre, physically active and visually surprising characters plus he dragged a dodgy punter on-stage and sucked the guy’s arm.

Ewan Wardrop – formerly a principal dancer with Matthew Bourne‘s company Adventures in Motion Pictures – managed to refine his already astonishing 1935 visitor from Venus act – The Silver Peevil – AND do a wonderful post-modernist George Formby pastiche AND sing original songs as himself.

The nearest thing to a traditional stand-up on the bill was Steve Best, performing his flawless act which could also be from another planet – It is like a recording of Tommy Cooper performing comedy on acid which is then run at 4-times normal speed.

All these extraordinarily original acts were presented by Lindsay Sharman in her charismatic thespian poetess compere mode with popping eyes and acrobatic lips – a face-changing, voice-morphing Joyce Grenfell for the 21st century.

What the Germans will make of a show like this when Vivienne & Martin Soan start their Pull The Other One shows in Leipzig in February I cannot even begin to imagine.

And nor do I know when a broadcast company will come to its senses and transfer Pull The Other One’s already fully-formed bizarre comedy variety show to television.

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The day English comedians Malcolm Hardee & Ricky Grover broke into a zoo

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover in the glamour of South Mimms service station

So, yesterday I was sitting in South Mimms service station on the M25 motorway talking to comedian and actor Ricky Grover about Malcolm Hardee, ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’.

“Every day I spent out with Malcolm,” said Ricky, “there were always two or three near-death experiences. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

“I know,” I laughed. “I went out on the Thames with him on his boat twice. We could have died both times.”

“That was just part and parcel of Malcolm,” laughed Ricky. “Do you know we once broke into a zoo?”

“No.”

“Years ago,” Ricky said, “I bought a new car. I was really pleased. It was the first brand-new car I’d ever bought. A Toyota RAV4. I drove round and showed Malcolm and he said: Oy Oy That’s alright, innit? My mum wants to learn to drive. Would you teach her to drive?

“So I said: Course I will. When do you wanna go?

Now, he said. So this first day of getting my car, we drove to Deal on the Kent coast, where Malcolm’s mum lived.

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm and mother Joan

“When he’d said ‘learn to drive’ I’d thought he’d meant she’d had a few lessons. But she was brand spanking new to it – like she went to get into the passenger side.

“This was a new car. You know what it’s like when you get a new car? You’re worried it’s gonna scratch and all that. All that went out the window. I didn’t care. I thought Oh. It’s Malcolm. I’ll just go with the flow. By the end, we was missing things by inches, going down weird alleys and things.

“So I drop his mum back home and, on the way back to London from Deal, Malcolm asked: Do you wanna go to the zoo? Right out of the blue, as Malcolm did.

“I said: Yeah, alright.

“He says: It’s not a normal zoo. This bloke let’s all the animals walk about free and you can stroke them…

John Aspinall?” I asked. “He had an animal park near Canterbury.”

“I dunno,” replied Ricky, “but we go to the zoo and it’s closed, so I said: Oh, that’s a shame! And Malcolm says: Don’t matter. It’s alright. He took his coat off, threw it over the barbed wire at the top, climbed over and let me in through the turnstiles. He said: It’ll be alright, I know the bloke who owns the place. He didn’t – obviously.

“So we start walking through the middle of this zoo and, after a few minutes, it hit me again what he’d said: It’s not a normal zoo. It’s a zoo where the animals just walk about. And Malcolm had that ridiculous walk. He looked like an animal himself, didn’t he? He was like a smaller version of a Bigfoot. You remember he had that weird walk?

“So I thought: If them animals see us, he’ll be alright. Because Malcolm didn’t give a fuck about anything. I thought: If an animal sees us, Malcolm’s gonna be alright and the animal’s gonna be on me.”

“Because,” I said, “Malcolm wouldn’t be scared but you would be?”

“Not only that,” said Ricky, “but because I’m the lumpy one. More flesh. More meat. I’m a better deal. They’ll get a good couple of days of eating out of me. They’d only get a half hour out of Malcolm.

“I’m walking through there and me arsehole went a little bit and then Malcolm shouted Oy! Oy! – I jumped out of me skin but I’m trying to act brave. And Malcolm’s seen a silverback gorilla, hasn’t he? A great big silverback. And he says Oy Oy to it, calls it over and shook hands with the silverback and the gorilla’s hand must have been five times bigger that Malcolm’s. It only had to give a jerk and it’d pull Malcolm’s arm right off his body.

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

Oy Oy… Oy Oy goes Malcolm, like he’s saying Hello to it and he says Come over! Come over! to me.

“So I go over and I think I don’t really fancy shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. You can’t reason with a silverback – it ain’t gonna make no difference.

“So I say: No, it’s alright, Malcolm. I’m alright for a minute.

“And I look round and I think: What the fuck am I doing? I’m in the middle of a zoo almost shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. And I started stepping out, trying to walk towards the exit. And I could hear all these growls in the bushes.

“Anyway, I got out and we managed to get home. But that was just an average day with Malcolm. When I got my car home, it looked like it had been to Afghanistan, because Malcolm’s mum had been driving it. It was splattered with mud and scratches. Typical Malcolm. It was a white car.

“My wife Maria looked at it and went: What’s happened? 

I’ve just been out with Malcolm, I told her.

Oh, she said.

“What I loved about Malcolm was he had funny bones. There are gonna be so many people at the Edinburgh Fringe this year – like always – really working at becoming funny. With Malcolm, he started off funny and ended up being on the stage rather than getting on the stage and trying to be funny.”

“As soon as I met him,” Ricky told me, “I clicked with him and the reason was he wasn’t like a normal person. Normal people drive me fucking mad. Not many people got much out of Malcolm except Oy Oy. But I think Malcolm opened up to me a bit. He told me things I’d never say that were quite deep. He had a really lovely genuineness about him.”

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

“Everybody,” I said, “tended to say Malcolm’s act was his life.”

“His act was shit, wasn’t it?” said Ricky. “His actual act was shit, but he was SO funny.”

“Well,” I said, “he only had about six jokes which he told for about twenty years.”

“I went to the Edinburgh Fringe with him,” said Ricky, “when I’d been doing comedy about six months and the shows were really badly organised – obviously. No advertising. Just giving out flyers to anyone in the street, so most of our audience was foreign. They didn’t have a clue what we was talking about. They were just sitting there staring at us.

“It must have been the worst show on the Fringe. It was Malcolm, me and The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper and the show climaxed with the Dam Busters theme music playing and us standing there in black bin-liners, back-to-back, going round in circles holding little wooden planes on sticks. The planes were painted with ultra violet paint, but it wasn’t totally dark and the audience could see us: just sixteen foreigners who didn’t speak English staring at us performing with ultra violet planes not in the dark.

“It was just shit and, after we’d done about three shows, I told him: Malcolm, I don’t think I want to do comedy. I’ve tried it and I think I’ll go back to doing what I was doing before, just messing about. I can nick a living. This alternative comedy thing isn’t really for me. 

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (pholograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Malcolm said: Listen to me. I’ve spotted some of the biggest talent in this country. And he rolled off all these names. Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Paul Merton… all the names. He said: I was the one who spotted them. I was the one who found them. I was the one who told people about them.

“And he said to me: You’ve got something a lot more special. You’ve got a lot more layers. You’ve got a lot more gears. You are going to be absolutely massive. 

“So I was really enthralled in the moment. Can you imagine? A young comic, six months in. And I said Do you really mean that? and he said No. Of course I don’t.

“And I pissed myself for about twenty minutes. I couldn’t stop laughing and I still laugh about it now. And whenever I start taking myself seriously, I always think of that because it brings it all down to earth.

“I remember telling Jo Brand about it and she really laughed. Because what happens is you can get so wrapped-up in the importance of it all and what you think you can achieve but no-one knows. No-one knows what will happen.

“You know and I know there are shit people who make it massive and there’s people we both know who should have their own series on telly who never get the chance. Like everything else in this world, most of it is all corrupt. It’s not how it should be. So I think you’ve got to just enjoy the journey. Enjoy what you’re doing the best way you can – and that’s what Malcolm did. It was such a laugh being with Malcolm.

“When you said he only had half a dozen jokes, when we went to Edinburgh, he was already twenty years into doing them. There was a group of firemen used to come and watch him in Edinburgh – and, every year, they used to piss themselves like it was the first time they’d ever heard the jokes.

“It wasn’t about the jokes. The Number One thing you need to be funny is insecurity. As soon as you think you’ve got something, you’re in trouble. And Malcolm was full of all of that. I’ve seen him have a pop at someone in the audience with cancer and bring the house down and make the geezer with cancer piss himself laughing and feel like a person again instead of an object who’s dying.

“Malcolm had a real good connection with people.

“One thing I’m sad about, though,” said Ricky, “is that I gave Malcolm a wide berth the last couple of years of his life. I still saw him, but I didn’t spend time with him like I used to, because I’ve got an addictive nature, so if…”

“He was on cocaine…” I said.

Wreaths on the hearse at Malcolm Hardee's funeral

Wreaths on Malcolm Hardee’s hearse. The top one was from Ricky Grover.

“Exactly,” said Ricky. “So, if I’d ended up on gear, I wouldn’t have been able to function. It’s hard enough living with the addiction of over-eating, let alone getting into all that as well. Because he went that next step. He didn’t want to make old bones. I think Malcolm went pretty much when he… He knew he was going to go over early…”

Malcolm drowned, drunk, in January 2005.

So it goes.

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How to get publicity and become an award-winning comedian. With sex.

Chris Dangerfield – award winning comedian

I arranged to meet Chris Dangerfield yesterday on a street corner in Soho, London’s central sex district.

It was his idea and it seemed appropriate for a man who performed his Sex Tourist show at the recent Edinburgh Fringe and who almost won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for getting his flyers sponsored by an Edinburgh ‘escort agency’ – punters got 10% off the agency’s ‘services’ if they produced one of Chris’ Sex Tourist flyers.

We went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Soho. Chris knows the people who own it. He lives in Soho. We had prawn salad. The restaurant owner told us someone from the prestigious and very up-market Ivy restaurant had come and asked for the recipe to the seriously delicious prawn salad and they had given the person the recipe, but missed out one vital ingredient.

Chris told me: “My brother’s name is Torren. He was named after the Torrey Canyon oil tanker, which ran aground in 1967. My parents were going to call me Cadiz – after the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker which ran aground in 1978. But the surname Dangerfield is a Romany name and they didn’t call me Cadiz because they decided ‘Cadiz Dangerfield’ would be too gypsy. So they called me Christopher. I think I would have been better off with Cadiz.

“Having lost the Cunning Stunt to a higher bidder this year,” Chris continued, “obviously I am very very bitter. I should’ve known to just stump up some cash. I’ll find some way of paying for it next year.”

“But almost everyone can say they’re an award winner,” I suggested. “When I was eleven, I won an award for handwriting. In 2010, Fringe Report gave me an award as ‘Best Awards Founder’ – so I got an award for awarding awards.”

“Well,” said Chris, “I got the 1989 Downs Comprehensive School Prize for Painting and Drawing.”

“So you’re an award-winner,” I said. “and therefore you can justifiably put on your posters and flyers that you are an award-winning comedian. I won a school prize for handwriting, so even more justifiably, I could bill myself as an award-winning writer. In fact, I may well start doing that.”

“I self-published a novel when I was 24,” revealed Chris, “and i-D magazine – cool in its day – referred to it as ‘genius’… They said This slight volume’s genius warms…

“What was the novel called?” I asked.

Tired etc,” shrugged Chris. “It was a rubbish novel about a couple of blokes who grew a lot of skunk and took a lot of speed. Autobiographical obviously. It was a vanity project, but it sold a lot and got a lovely review. i-D called it ‘genius’ so I have sometimes put on posters for my comedy gigs ‘Genius (i-D)’ because I think I am, really. Essentially.”

“You know the Jason Wood story, do you?” I asked. “Kate Copstick gave his Edinburgh Fringe show a one-star review in The Scotsman so, the next day, on all his posters, he had emblazoned ‘A STAR (The Scotsman)’. Copstick told me she was filled with admiration and wanted to give him extra stars just for that.”

Chris laughed. “This year,” he said, “Marie Claire magazine did Ten Top Tips to get the most out of the Fringe written by someone called Anna Saunders and, just in passing, she said I will not be attending Chris Dangerfield’s show ‘Sex Tourist’. That was it. That was all she said. But I actually thanked her for that. I said In your how-to-get-thin-and-fuck-men rag… I don’t really want any of those people in my show anyway. I offered to do Sex Tourist in her front room for free. She hasn’t got back to me.”

“Good publicity idea,” I said.

“But I would do the show in her front room,” insisted Chris. “I toured with Trevor Lock last year, performing in living rooms. We done 45 paid shows in people’s front rooms. It was the most amazing tour. We were doing two a week. We done Sadie Frost’s living room, which was bigger than a lot of venues I’ve done. We also done three women in Bath.”

“Did you advertise for people who wanted comedy shows in their living rooms?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Chris, “Trevor had a slightly bigger profile than I had – he just put it on Facebook and Twitter and, when we got booked by Sadie Frost, Kate Moss came so there was a bit of publicity around that and Boy George booked us, so that helped.

“There was one couple who lived in a house that used to belong to Madonna or Guy Ritchie up in Lancaster Gate and they were very, very posh so it was funny telling them whore stories. Halfway through my set, one woman very quietly said: You should be in a cage. Which was alright. That was fine. She’s probably right.

“We spent so long in people’s toilets on that tour,” said Chris. “Because there’s no Green Room in people’s houses. So, while they’re all shuffling chairs round in their front room and drinking vodka, where do you prepare? In the toilet. I have a selection of photographs of Trevor in people’s toilets and he’s always having a poo. Pre-match nerves from Trevor. I’ve actually had a pee between his legs while he had a poo. It was a tour of living rooms where our relationship blossomed in toilets. We were cottaging, essentially.”

“You told me Trevor Lock had been one of your comedy heroes,” I said.

“I don’t like to do that Who inspired you? business, but Doug Stanhope is up there, who I also stalk. He occasionally asks if he can stay in my lovely Soho flat when he’s performing at Leicester Square. I tell him No, because I don’t want you puking in my hand-made shoes.

“But Trevor was a comedy hero of mine. We ended up at a gig together and I was just blown away. I absolutely was. I think he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. A friend of mine used to work with Paul Foot and told me I’ve got that Trevor Lock’s phone number so I said Well, do the wrong thing and give it to me so he did.

“I remember I came out of this Chinese massage shop – and, by massage shop, I mean brothel – and I had a spring in my step and I texted Trevor. I was in such a good mood I said: You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching a lot of your gigs and I’ve just had my balls milked by a Chinese woman and what seemed to be her daughter.

“And he texted back… I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was a fear-based response. He had constructed a sentence in which he obviously wished in no way to provoke or encourage me to contact him ever again.

“Then I saw him at a couple of more gigs and let him know that was me who had sent the text.”

“So at what point after you became chums,” I asked, “did he realise that his first fear-based reaction towards you had actually been the correct one?”

“Every time we get together to this day.” said Chris. “But he helped turn me from an open mic comedian into someone who felt he could offer a bit more. He just taught me how to be a comedian.”

“And you ended up last year playing rich people’s living rooms together,” I said.

“Not all of them were rich,” Chris corrected me. “Some people who booked us were students who’d sold tickets. So we’d go from these lovely posh houses in Lancaster Gate and Primrose Hill one day to a house the next day in Southampton where we’d be performing in some students’ kitchen which, as everyone knows, is always an unpleasant place and you’ve got a smelly bin next to you and a sink full of beer cans. It was an amazing tour.”

“I’m amazed you didn’t get the Cunning Stunt Award,” I said.

“For so many things,” said Chris with a trace of bitterness.

“A career award, maybe?” I suggested.

“I’m going to be like that bloke who left The Beatles,” said Chris.

“Stuart Sutcliffe?” I suggested.

“Pete Best,” said Chris. “Stuart Sutcliffe died. Well, I will die too.”

“As a career move?” I asked.

“Dying?” asked Chris. “No, as a Cunning Stunt. Some people with heart attacks came close to getting nominated this year, didn’t they?”

“Yes they did,” I agreed.

“Every day in my Fringe show,” Chris told me, “about 36 minutes in, after a particularly violent re-enactment of something lustful and unholy, I thought I was going to die. Every day. Actual pains in my heart. So I nearly did die.”

“Perhaps it was God trying to strike you down for your lifestyle,” I suggested.

“There’s always next year,” said Chris.

“Dying young-ish is a good career move,” I said. “The Jim Morrison factor.”

“But he didn’t die on stage,” said Chris. “Now, Tommy Cooper…”

“Yes,” I said, “Tommy Cooper out-shone Eric Morecambe in death. In life, Eric was a bigger star. But he only died offstage in the wings after he had performed a show. Tommy Cooper had a better death because he died on stage on live television.”

“So what are my options?” asked Chris. “One died on stage. One died coming off stage. So all that’s left is to walk on stage and die immediately.”

“I’m sure you’ve done that before,” I said.

Chris laughed

It seems a churlish way to end a blog.

But Chris said I should do it.

Honest.

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“I was there in the theatre that night” – The death of Tommy Cooper, live on TV

The day the magic died – live on nationwide TV

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

In my blog a couple of days ago, comedian Jeff Stevenson remembered the night of 15th April 1984 when comedian Tommy Cooper may have died on stage during the Live From Her Majesty’s TV show – which was screened live by London Weekend Television on the full ITV network.

When she read this, a friend of mine who worked for LWT at the time and whom I shall call Anne O’Nimus, told me:

“I was there in the theatre that night, standing at the back of the Circle.”

She told me: “Bearing in mind that Her Majesty’s is a small theatre, I had a good view but wasn’t close or behind the curtains. I never found Tommy Cooper amusing – I never ‘got’ his act – so I wasn’t laughing and, perhaps because of that, as soon as I saw him collapse, I thought he was ill.

Tommy Cooper at Her Majesty’s on the night of 15 April 1984

“I remember him falling back, clutching at the curtains and falling through them until I could just see his legs twitching and the audience continued to laugh not knowing that he was dying as his legs twitched through the curtain. I think he was either dragged fully back through the curtains or the curtains were arranged in front of him. I mainly remember the twitching legs and realising immediately that the man was ill whilst people around me were laughing and thinking it was part of the act.”

Someone else I know – comedy scriptwriter Nigel Crowle – tells me:

“I was working for the Presentation Department at BBC Television Centre that night, actually running transmission in Pres B, so – as you can imagine – all TV screens were tuned to either BBC 1 or BBC 2. I remember being frustrated that everybody else seemed to have been watching the show live whereas I was cueing up a trail for something like The Two Ronnies.

“In the 1990s, however, I remember talking to Alasdair Macmillan about that night – he had been directing the show. Alasdair said it was one of the worst nights of his life. He knew instantly that something was wrong because Tommy had collapsed mid-act, so they cut to the commercial break early.”

In my blog a couple of days ago, Jeff Stevenson told me:

“The curtains closed and Jimmy Tarbuck, who was the compere, had to stand on stage in front of the curtains filling-in to the audience. He told me later that, as he was talking, he could hear them hitting Tommy’s chest behind the curtain, trying to revive him – and Tommy was one of Jimmy’s heroes. Terrible, terrible.”

Nigel Crowle says: “Then – and this is where in retrospect they should never have returned to the show during live transmission – they made Les Dennis go on with Dustin Gee and do their Mavis and Vera (characters from Coronation Street) routine in front of the curtain, whilst attempts were made behind them to revive Tommy.

“Les Dennis later told me that, as Jimmy Tarbuck told Jeff, it was a harrowing experience because, as he and Dustin were trying to get laughs, (having been told to go on-stage despite knowing that Tommy was in real trouble), they could hear a groaning noise and the sound of people thumping Tommy’s chest a few feet behind them.”

My friend Anne O’Nimus thinks Tommy Cooper died on the stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre that night. She tells me:

“Afterwards, the press kept chasing the story that he died on camera and LWT stuck to their story that he died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

“Oddly, I read notices of a book recently, purportedly from LWT crew on duty that night, who were also sticking to the company line that Tommy Cooper died later in the ambulance. I think his son stuck to that line as well, so maybe I am wrong.

“But, if so, David Bell (LWT’s Head of Entertainment at the time) and his cohorts were behaving mighty oddly. Everyone clammed-up whenever I asked about it, which was unusual enough. I never knew whether it was because they were afraid that it would put the kibosh on live productions or whether the company might be found to be negligent in some way – which was unlikely, given it was a heart attack. There was no public discussion about it in my presence, even at editorials.

“I felt that they were lying,” my friend Anne O’Nimus told me yesterday, “and I was horrified that anyone would lie about someone’s death – but, then, they said LWT’s Director of Programmes Cyril Bennett fell from that window didn’t they?”

Cyril Bennett was a hugely popular man at LWT and in the television industry. In November 1976, it was said, he was leaning out of the window of his flat in Dolphin Square to see whether his car was there and fell to his death. The verdict was accidental death.

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Comedy legends…The cheek of Malcolm Hardee… The death of Tommy Cooper…

Jeff Stevenson and Lewis Schaffer in London’s Soho last night

Occasionally, I go to see Lewis Schaffer’s twice-weekly Soho show Free Until Famous – the longest-running solo comedy show in London it’s different every night and last night was a particularly good night.

Afterwards, I had a meal with Lewis and his chum Jeff Stevenson, a man who has, as they say, been around – he has been in showbiz for 37 years, starting as a child actor in the original Bugsy Malone movie. He was a mainstream comic, became an alternate comic, had his own ITV shows in the 1980s, was an LWT warm-up man in the 1980s and 1990s – he and I must have bumped into each other at LWT because we seem to have known the same people – but we don’t remember. Well, I barely remember anything about anything. Now Jeff performs 35 weeks a year on cruise ships around the world and gets his own UK work 15 weeks a year.

Recently, he was warm-up man for the Piers Morgan’s Life Stories TV series and the support act on UK tours by Barry Manilow and Johnny Mathis.

“I like to keep a few plates spinning at the same time,” he told me last night.

I would say it’s more like the entire crockery department at Harrods.

Last night, he was going off to sleep in a cruise liner docked at Greenwich, which was setting sail today with him performing the cabaret.

Inevitably, when Greenwich was mentioned, the subject of comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee came up.

When Jeff switched from mainstream to alternative comedy, he used the name Harvey Oliver on the alternative circuit and started by doing free ‘open spots’ at alternative comedy clubs like Malcolm’s Up The Creek in Greenwich.

“So I turn up as Harvey Oliver to do my first 5-minute open spot at Up The Creek,” Jeff told me last night, “Malcolm sees me and he must have also seen me perform as Jeff Stevenson, because he immediately says Can you be the closing act tonight? I presume the main act had not turned up. So I was the headliner at Up The Creek that night for my open spot.”

“And obviously he didn’t pay you…” I said.

“He did,” said Jeff. “He gave me some money but, after the show, we went next door to the Lord Hood pub and he asked if I would loan it to him…

“The other one when I was performing as Harvey Oliver was when Malcolm booked me into Murphy’s Laughter Lounge in Dublin. I’ve just realised, he said, it’s St Patrick’s Night so they’re gonna expect Irish performers. So you’ve got two choices, Either we elbow the Dublin gig and you do Up The Creek for me here in London. Or you can go to Dublin, but we’ll re-bill you as Harvey O’Liver so you sound Irish.

“So I gigged at Up The Creek.”

Jeff also told me a story which he claims is absolutely true – about the night comedian Tommy Cooper died on stage during the Live From Her Majesty’s TV show – which was screened live on ITV.

“I watched Tommy die live on TV,” Jeff told me. “The curtains closed and Jimmy Tarbuck, who was the compere, had to stand on stage in front of the curtains filling-in to the audience. He told me later that, as he was talking, he could hear them hitting Tommy’s chest behind the curtain, trying to revive him – and Tommy was one of Jimmy’s heroes. Terrible, terrible.

“I was playing a club later that night. So I walk in and Graham, the manager, says to me: You’re late, and I said I know. Did you see what happened on TV? Did you see Tommy Cooper tonight? He said No.

He died on Live From Her Majesty’s, I said.

Well, Graham said, he didn’t do too fucking well here last week either.

“That’s what he said. That’s absolutely true.”

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