Tag Archives: Tony Blair

Tony Blair’s Muslim sister-in-law is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Muslim sister-in-law is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, was a very vocal opponent of the 2003 Iraq War and a supporter of the Stop The War Coalition.

She is performing Accidentally Muslim at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

She trained as an actress, became a journalist and converted to Islam in 2010.

Her father was actor Tony Boothwho became famous as the Left Wing son-in-law of Alf Garnett in BBC TV’s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.

“Your mother’s maiden name was Pamela Cohen”

Accidentally Muslim is a dramatisation of her 2016 memoir Finding Peace in the Holy Land.


JOHN: Do you still exchange Christmas cards with Tony Blair?

LAUREN: Yes.

JOHN: So you are persona grata…

LAUREN: Ehhh… Well, I think there’s a lot of love in the family.

JOHN: Your mother was Susie Riley née Pamela Cohen. That’s a Jewish name.

LAUREN: Yeah. Her father, my grandfather, was Jewish.

JOHN: Was her mother Jewish?

LAUREN: No.

JOHN: So she’s technically not Jewish.

LAUREN: That’s right.

JOHN: There’s a lot of stuff at the moment about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Can someone be anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish?

LAUREN: I’m not going to go into that, because that’s not in my show.

JOHN: So…?

LAUREN: It’s not the same at all.

JOHN: Why not?

Lauren in Iran with an anti-Zionist Rabbi and Christian priest

LAUREN: Because you can be against a political regime without wishing harm on people who follow a faith. There are Zionists who are not Jewish and it’s the political ideas that people protest against.

JOHN: Why are you an ‘accidental’ Muslim?

LAUREN: Because things kept happening to me that pushed me in one direction until, one day, I pretty much woke up and went: Whaaaaat?? – Oh! OK! Right!

Some people will go and read and study for six years. Other people will just accept a faith. But I was resisting. I was like: Nice food, but no thankyou. And… it just happened.

JOHN: You saw a report on TV in 2000 of a boy who got shot in the Gaza Strip and then you accidentally found yourself in his village.

LAUREN: Yes.

JOHN: Are you Sunni or Shiite?

LAUREN: I just say I am Muslim.

JOHN: Can you be?

LAUREN: You can, because everything is between our hearts and the Creator. I just think it’s really disingenuous and unhelpful to get involved in sectarianism.

JOHN: Don’t people say: “You have to be with us or them”?

LAUREN: Yes, unfortunately that happens and that’s why I don’t go into it.

JOHN: How do you spell the faith? Moslem or Muslim?

LAUREN: Muslim. Like the word mosque. You know the origin? Apparently the colonial troops in India described the people flocking to their religious building as mosquitos – that eeeee sound. There were thousands of them and you didn’t want them, so that’s why it’s ‘mosque’. Most Muslims refer to it as ‘masjid’.

Young Sarah Jane later Lauren Booth

JOHN: You were born Sarah Jane Booth. So where did ‘Lauren’ come from?

LAUREN: It’s an Equity name. There was already an actress called Sarah Jane Booth, my height, brown hair, brown eyes, born the same year.

JOHN: That is rather creepy. You have a doppelgänger!

(LAUREN HUMS THE THEME TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE)

LAUREN: I just plucked ‘Lauren’ out of the air.

JOHN: Accidentally Muslim is billed as a play in the Theatre section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Is it a play or a monologue?

LAUREN: A monologue.

JOHN: So is it a monologue about how we should all become Muslims?

LAUREN: Absolutely not.

JOHN: But it’s going to be a terribly serious talk about death, destruction and…

LAUREN: Well, I’ve just come out of rehearsals for it and we’ve been roaring with laughter for 30 minutes. It has some real light and shade in it.

JOHN: You have a director for the show. You started as an actress, then became a journalist. You can write and you can act. Why do you need a director?

LAUREN: It would have been such an act of arrogance to have come back after 26 years of not being on the stage as an actor and say: “I can do this on my own!”… It would have been a catastrophe. I wanted to dramatise the story and make it ‘live’. It has a soundscape and visuals and lighting cues and I play twelve characters. So it’s very much not a lecture.

JOHN: So it’s not a monologue: it IS more of a play.

LAUREN: Is it a one woman dramatisation? Does that work? One of the characters I play is Billy Connolly.

One of the 12 characters Lauren will play (Photograph by Eva Rinaldi)

JOHN: If you have to cover your head for religious reasons and you don’t have a beard, how are you going to do that?

LAUREN: You’ll have to see the play to find out.

JOHN: Good PR!… So the play is a coming-together of your skills as an actress, journalist, world traveller…?

LAUREN: You know, going through these rehearsals, it’s a story of somebody who’s by chance at certain pivotal moments in history and has certain realisations along the way. It covers 40 years, 12 characters, 2 faiths and 2 or 3 continents.

JOHN: Which continent is the Middle East in?

LAUREN: It’s a totally Orientalist term. The Orientalists said Britain is the middle of the world and everything else (beyond the English Channel) is East, so it is the Middle of the East.

JOHN: It’s certainly not Africa; it’s certainly not Europe; it’s not Asia.

LAUREN: What about calling it Middle Earth?

JOHN: We would have to worry about the Nazgûl coming in. Talking of which, among others, you wrote for the New Statesman AND for the Mail on Sunday. There’s a – eh – mixture of politics in there.

LAUREN: Well, my politics was always the same. I like to tell myself that the Right Wing paid for my Left Wing pretensions. But I don’t know if ethically, looking back, that really works. Can you take quite so much money off Associated Newspapers and still be Left Wing? That’s up for debate. But I wrote what I wanted. They did give me free rein and I did get some good stories that I wanted in because I used to stand-in for Suzanne Moore: hardly a bastion of the Right.

I described doing that kind of job as being an aquifer for hatred for Middle England.

JOHN: …and at the New Statesman? The type of stuff you were writing was…?

LAUREN: I would call myself  “a chronicler of London society” at that time.

The Daily Mail’s photo of Lauren with her dad Tony Booth

JOHN: Someone said, when you converted, you had moved “from hedonism to hajj”. Your dad, actor Tony Booth, was very Bohemian.

LAUREN: Well, we are all products of our childhood and my dad taught me an awful lot. He taught me how to roll a spliff that would look like a cigarette.

JOHN: Remembered fondly.

LAUREN: Absolutely.

JOHN: You’ve worked for Press TV AND Al Jazeera. Press TV? That’s pure propaganda…

LAUREN: It was the only place to get out some really good information about Palestine.

JOHN: You spend a lot of time in the Middle East?

LAUREN: I haven’t been for five years. I’m hoping to go back to Qatar. I can’t really get into Gaza at the moment. The last time I went through Israel was 2009. The problem with getting into Gaza is you can’t get in through Egypt. You have to go in through Israel.

JOHN: Do you personally, specifically have problems getting into Israel?

LAUREN: I haven’t so far.

JOHN: You were on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2006. Why did you do that?

LAUREN: Because it was adventure. The only thing that scared me was bungee jumping and I did three… Three!

JOHN: The viewers voted that you had to?

LAUREN: Yeah.

JOHN: You are always going to be tarred with Tony Blair… but the good side is you will always get coverage out of it.

LAUREN: It’s not about coverage. I have no issue with it having been a door-opener. At certain times, you have to say: That door was absolutely opened because of it. What you do when you get inside, though, is what defines you. So I am very grateful for that and I hope I’ve used it for good and made some points that needed to be made and told stories for people who don’t normally get their stories told.

JOHN: I was going to say it’s a cross you have to bear. But I suppose it’s a crescent you have to bear.

LAUREN: Can I have that for the play?

JOHN: It’s yours.

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Filed under Islam, Palestine, Politics, Religion

The link between ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair & gangsters The Kray Twins

(L-R) Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair (née Booth), Tony Booth, 1983

In the 1960s: Labour MP and Soviet agent Tom Driberg (left) with Conservative Lord Bob Boothby, a chum of Ronnie Kray.

I always think Six Degrees of Separation is overstating the case.

It is usually less. And the overlap of politics, showbiz and crime is pretty much a given constant.

Three days ago, actor Tony Booth (of Till Death Us Do Part, Coronation Street, the Confessions comedy films et al) died.

He married Pat Phoenix (of Coronation Street). His daughter – Cherie Booth – married politician Tony Blair. (of Iraq War Two). His brother was the actor James Booth (of Zulu etc).

Coincidentally, two days before Tony Booth died, I was having a chat with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett and the Stratford East Theatre Workshop cropped up in conversation.

Joan Littlewood outside the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

This was a hotbed of new working class talent run by alas now half-forgotten Joan Littlewood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her base – the Theatre Royal, Stratford (in London’s East End) – was/is a hop, a spit and a left hook away from the Krays’ family home in Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. So, of course, everyone knew everyone else. East End working class culture and all that.

The Kray Twins owned the Kentucky club in nearby Mile End Road.

A lot of the Joan Littlewood acting talent appear in the movie Sparrows Can’t Sing which she directed. It starred her protegés James Booth and Barbara Windsor and, apparently in a small cameo towards the end, the Kray Twins even turn up in it.

James Booth at the Kray Twins’ club in Sparrows Can’t Sing

“Joan Littlewood was always in The Kentucky,” Micky Fawcett told me. “Her, Barbara Windsor, Victor Spinetti, James Booth, George Sewell – George Sewell’s dad was a famous character.

“She said to me once: I’d love to make a film about the two boys and I’d have him – James Booth – play them. But she never made it, of course.”

According to Micky, both Joan Littlewood and the Twins hated the biographical film The Krays, eventually made in 1990.

In his book Krayzy Days, Micky writes of the Twins:

‘They loved having the celebrities around and were thrilled to be invited to the premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing at the ABC, a cinema which stood opposite The Kentucky. I usually blanked all of those showbiz events. They were a real bore. Whenever the stars were around, the conversation would always have to be about the Twins. That was all any of them were interested in. Ronnie and Reggie were happy to play along. That night, they were done up in dinner suits, standing out from everyone else with their bow ties. A friend of mine whispered to me: I can’t wait to see if one of them stars thinks Ronnie’s a waiter and asks him to get a drink.

The premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing, with Barbara Windsor (an ex-girlfriend of Charlie Kray) accompanied by future husband, armed robber Ronnie Knight.

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Ex-government minister Norman Baker on the Coalition & mad Prime Ministers

The Reform Club, with Norman Baker |(centre)

Reform Club, with Norman Baker (centre)

Politician Norman Baker served 28 years in elected office – 18 as an MP. He lost his seat at the general election in May this year.

In 2010, as part of the Conservative & Liberal Democrat Coalition government he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

In 2013, he was appointed Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. That means he was based at the Home Office, preventing crime – not that he was preventing crime happening within the Home Office.

In 2014, he resigned, citing conflicts with Home Secretary Theresa May.  (Bear this fact in mind later.) He was quoted as saying that being the only Liberal Democrat at the Home Office was like being “the only hippy at an Iron Maiden concert”.

The music analogy is not random. For the last 20-odd years, he has been lead singer and lyricist for The Reform Club, a band which he describes as playing “retro-1960s pop” music.

There is a video of them on YouTube, performing at Piccadilly Circus in 2013.

“Did you want to be a rock star?” I asked him yesterday in Soho.

“No,” he told me. “That’s a ridiculous thing to want to be. I just wanted to have some fun. It’s a therapy, a release. It’s like playing pinball. I’ve got a pinball machine.”

“I have never,” I said, “seen the point of playing pinball.”

“It’s a bit like playing snooker or playing in a band,” he told me. “You just switch off. It’s like meditating for an hour.”

“You are,” I said, “President of the Tibet Society and you were a member of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. Why?”

“Well,” he replied, “it’s a matter of human rights and justice and trying to take on bullies.”

“But you’ve been quoted,” I said, “as saying: Compromise is a useful thing.”

“It is a necessary thing. No-one gets 100% their own way.”

“But you have to,” I said, “do deals with nasty people.”

“Yes, you do. Sometimes you have to work with them.”

“In the Home Office?” I asked.

He did not reply.

Norman’s books include The Strange Death of David Kelly

Norman Baker’s books include The Strange Death of David Kelly (on the alleged ‘suicide’ of the UN’s pre-Iraq War weapons inspector)

“You seem to be a terribly principled man,” I said. “Don’t you compromise your principles by talking to and doing deals with shits?”

“Well, otherwise,” he replied, “they run the show themselves. People asked why didn’t I resign, why didn’t the LibDems resign from the government? The answer is because all the people you don’t like would be left there and we’d be gone. Do you really want to hand the government over to the people you disagree with most?”

“So you’re a left wing LibDem,” I said.

“Yes.”

“The LibDems have got lost somewhere,” I said. “I don’t know where they are in the spectrum.”

“We need them,” he replied. “We need a liberal voice.”

“So what’s the book you’ve just written? – Against The Grain?”

“It is,” he said, “a political memoir. 1987-2015.”

“Why write it?” I asked. “To justify your time in office?”

Norman Baker with his latest ’tell-all' book

Norman Baker with his latest ’tell-all’ book

“No, to close a door on it. And so the public know what happened. It’s the first Coalition book and shows how it worked. But it was quite selfish of me in a way. It was cathartic, rationalising the last 28 years in my head, putting it in some sort of order and shutting the door on it.”

“Do you have an elevator pitch for the book?” I asked.

“Truthful, controversial, humorous, contrary, pleasingly insulting. That sort of thing.”

“Is that a description of you or the book?”

“Me… Well, both.”

“You have said you’re not interested in going back into politics.”

“I’m not. I have done 28 years in elected office.”

“But, if you’re really passionate about changing things…”

“I’ll do it in a different way. I’ll write books or lecture. Tony Benn famously said he was leaving the House of Commons to spend more time on politics.”

“I’m not an admirer of Tony Benn,” I said. “He was a bit too far up his own arse.”

“It’s a good quote, though,” said Norman.

“Do you think the book you have written will have as big as an effect as being an MP?”

“Probably not.”

“Books are on the way out,” I said. “You can only have an effect if you’re on TV.”

Norman Baker as a LibDem MP “in goverment on your side

As a LibDem MP – “in goverment on your side”

“I don’t have to have an effect. I need to do what I think is right. And I need to put myself first for a bit. I spent 28 years serving the public. I don’t want to sound too grand about it, but that’s the sum of it. You don’t become a LibDem if you are after power; you do it from the ground up. If I can make a pittance writing books or doing music, then that’s fine. I don’t have to be ‘out there’. I’ve done that.”

“The irony,” I said, “is that people became LibDems thinking they would never actually be in power and then they ended up in the Coalition government.”

“We had a big effect. You can see the effect we had, because it’s all being undone by the Tories.”

“What,” I asked, “is the worst thing they’re un-doing?”

“Well, reducing the tax credits is clearly just vicious.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that, with the tax credit thing, George Osborne is undermining his own chances of becoming Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is going to become Conservative Party leader now…”

“Well,” said Norman, “out of all the candidates, it may sound unlikely but I would rather have Theresa May. At least she’s got principles, even if you don’t agree with them. Osborne is just terrible. Boris is a nasty bit of work and Osborne is just power crazy.”

“But being power crazy is OK in politics, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Well, Osborne is interested in two things: becoming leader of the Tory Party and winning the 2020 Election and everything is being sacrificed to those two ends. That is not in the interests of the country; that’s the interests of Osborne.”

“I think Boris will make a good Prime Minister,” I said, “because…”

“Boris has not been a very good Mayor of London,” Norman told me. “He’s had his back covered by a lot of people. He’s made a lot of mistakes.”

“Why is he a nasty piece of work?” I asked.

“You need to listen to the interview with Eddie Mair.”

(It was on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show in March 2013)

“What does it show?” I asked.

“Well, it shows he’s a nasty bit of work.”

“Did you used to read Scallywag magazine?” I asked.

“Yes, in fact, the guy who wrote it (Simon Regan) sent me some information.”

“About what?’

“About MPs allegedly involved in child sex exploitation.”

“You didn’t live in Dolphin Square?”

“No.”

“The male prostitutes allegedly in that place…”

“That’s one thing, There’s nothing wrong with that. I take the view, if you’re over 18, you can make up your own mind what you do.”

Scallwag 'knew' it was true but it was not

Scallywag had the wrong woman as mistress

“The scandal Simon Regan got wrong, though,” I said, “was the John Major affair with…”

“…Edwina Currie,” said Norman.

“No, the caterer,” I said. “Scallywag wrongly kept going on about Claire’s Kitchen. Everyone was thrown by that.”

“I think it’s nobody’s business,” said Norman. “I feel quite strongly about that.”

“John Major was married, though,” I said.

“But so what?” said Norman. “You’re entitled to a private life. Mitterrand and everyone else has all these affairs and no-one worries about that. The question is: Are you, in public life, doing what you are supposed to do for the benefit of the public? Yes or No? End of question.”

“I think,” I said, “that the problem was John Major was talking about Victorian Values a lot at the time.”

“No,” said Norman, “to be fair to John Major, it was Back To Basics and, by that, he meant things like the Three Rs in education, but it was taken by the press to mean some sort of puritanical view. I don’t think he ever meant that.”

“John Major,” I said, “seems to have grown in stature since he stopped being Conservative Party leader.”

“Well, he is not mad.,” said Norman. “He’s the only Prime Minister in recent times to leave office not mad.”

Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“She was hopeless,” said Norman. “She went to the Sistine Chapel with all the other European leaders on some EU trip and they were all in there admiring the Michaelangelos, or pretending to, and there was silence and she barked out: My goodness! How do they keep the floors so clean?”

“That’s surely good PR,” I said. “…I’m the woman next door.”

“Completely gormless, actually,” said Norman.

“Mrs Thatcher wasn’t a great brain,” I suggested. “She got where she got by being really hard working. But no Einstein.”

“She was hard-working,” agreed Norman. “She wasn’t Einstein, but she thought she was in some ways: I’m a chemist, therefore I understand this.”

“By the end,” I said, “she thought she knew better than the public.”

“Yes,” said Norman. “Blair had the same fault. It’s a sign of madness.”

“Blair talked to God,” I said. “and, it seems, God does not always make good decisions.”

“Well,” said Norman, “Blair became a Catholic and, within two weeks was telling the Pope he was wrong, which must take some medal for arrogance.”

“You asked questions in the Commons on UFOs,” I said, “which seems totally out-of-character.”

Animal Countdown - an EP by ‘Norman Baker and Friends'

Animal Countdown – a new EP by ‘Norman Baker & Friends’

“I didn’t ask any UFO questions,” said Norman. “This is a slur put about by my enemies. I asked about expenditure by the Ministry of Defence on a particular area. I was interested in the potential of other countries invading our airspace without being detected by radar. I’m afraid you’ll find that people who want to try to disagree with my arguments seek to character assassinate me. That’s what people do. They’ll go for the player rather than the ball. It’s a standard technique.”

“It must be a relief not being in Parliament,” I said. “You don’t get all that crap.”

“Yes. I enjoyed it and I achieved quite a lot, but I’ve now shut the door on it and I’m feeling rather better for it. The new Reform Club album is out on January 16th. It’s called Never Yesterday.”

YouTube also has an audio track from Animal Countdown – the latest EP by Norman Baker and Friends.

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Tony Blair and the Lord God persuaded me Britain should get out of Europe

Tony blair - These are the eyes of a man who has talked to god (Photo: Marc Müller

Tony Blair – These are the eyes of a man who has talked to God (Photograph: Marc Müller)

Tony Blair has opened my eyes to the way the Good Lord God thinks.

I saw him (Tony Blair) give an impassioned speech this morning on why Britain should stay in the European Union.

Well, I suppose it was not actually impassioned because we are talking, here, about Tony Blair. But I suspect he would have had a chat with God before making the speech, so I guess what Mr Bliar – eh, Blair – was spouting was what he deemed to be the Word of God. And it clarified my thinking on the matter.

Before I listened to Tony Blair, my gut instinct was that Britain should get out of Europe, but there might be some slight economic reason for staying in. Now, after Mr Blair’s impassioned pro-European Union speech, I have no doubts.

I am old enough to remember the referendum which took us into what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). The politicians said the economic argument for being a part of – rather than outside – the European Economic Community was strong. There was no political angle. You could banish that thought from your mind. There would never be even any talk of political union. The clue was in the name – the European Economic Community. It was merely a free trade community like the existing smaller free trade community of which we were happily a part.

Pro-European politicians now seem to act as if the choice back then was – and still is – between little Britain being on its own or being part of Europe.

That is utter bollocks.

Wikipedia’s map of the current EFTA (dark green) showing ex-EFTA members who are now EU members (light green0

Wikipedia’s map of the current EFTA (dark green) showing ex-EFTA members who are now EU members (light green)

We were part of the European Free Trade Association – Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The bigger EEC comprised Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

When we joined the EEC, so did Denmark and Ireland. (Portugal joined in 1986)

Soon after we joined the European Economic Community – “It’s only a free trade area, nothing to do with politics” – started calling itself the European Community and now it calls itself the European Union.

I always thought it was bizarre that we were joining an economic organisation with vaguely similar Western European economies and abandoning or weakening our Commonwealth trade ties with countries around the world who had complementary not competing economies – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, developing countries in Africa and lots of other complementary economies including the rising future superpower of India.

Culturally, Belgium and France – just 22 miles away – are far for more foreign than New Zealand – literally on the other side of the world. And our historical and cultural ties with India are – arguably – as close as any ties to continental Europe.

EFTA made sense. Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are far ‘closer’ and far more complementary to us than France, Germany and Italy. The Commonwealth makes sense.

Wikipedia’s map of the NAFTA free trade area

Wikipedia’s map of NAFTA’s trade area

My gut instinct is that we should get out of a pointless European Union of power-hungry politicians who want to control larger areas and get back to a trade-based economic association of countries. The Commonwealth is already ideal. EFTA was fine. And there is the interesting though embarrassingly acronymed NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. Not ideal, but interesting.

Free Trade = good.

Power-crazed politicians trying to get control over ever-larger areas = bad.

I remember being in a hotel in Samarkand in Uzbekistan in the mid-1980s.

Opposite the hotel, a new multi-storey building was rising. Only the concrete skeleton was visible so far… and the concrete was already cracking.

One of the people I was with was an architect.

He explained: ‘The trouble is someone in Moscow is deciding which concrete they will use across the USSR but, in Siberia, it’s freezing – way-below zero – and, around Samarkand, it’s baking-hot desert.’

Centralised decision-making does not work.

Wikipedia’s map of the USSR

Wikipedia’s map of the USSR

The USSR fell apart – partly – because it shoved totally unconnected countries together which had nothing in common. The same thing happened, in a way, in Yugoslavia.

The European Union is a dog’s dinner of separate countries with little holding them together except politicians’ lust for greater power over more people. I mean – come on – is Denmark really a neat cultural and historical fit with Greece?

One of the few sensible ideas the appalling Tony Blair (the UN’s peacemaker in the Middle East) ever floated was for a Council of The Isles  – but not just the British-Irish Council – one to encompass a possibly independent England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Economic links between countries with complementary economies or a clubbing-together of countries with cultural and/or historical similarities tends to work. Just shoving together incompatible entities into bigger and bigger units for the sake of increased political power has a tendency to lead to wars.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, UK

My Top Ten biggest blog hits – Maybe I should forget comedy and turn to crime

Pencil_CUTYesterday, there were a lot of hits on a non-comedy-related piece I wrote in 2013.

This blog is often called a comedy blog, but the statistics of all-time highest hits on specific pieces are interesting. Only three out of the top ten are actually comedy-related.

On my Twitter page, I say: “I blog daily about interesting people doing creative things.”

And who am I to disbelieve myself?

But it is more complicated than that.

My ten blogs with the most hits are:

No 1
JIMMY SAVILE: THE BIRTH OF A PAEDOPHILE HOAX ON “HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU”

No 2
FEMINIST FEMALE COMEDIANS AGREE THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RAPE IN EDINBURGH

No 3
HOW THE EDINBURGH FRINGE IS FINANCED: THE ARTICLE WHICH YOU CANNOT READ IN THIS MORNING’S EDITION OF “THE SCOTSMAN”

No 4
WHAT THE TAXI DRIVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE PROSTITUTES AND THE CRIMINAL FAMILIES

No 5
JIMMY SAVILE: THE INFAMOUS “HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU” TRANSCRIPT FROM 1999

No 6
KRAYZY DAYS – WHY LONDON GANGSTER RONNIE KRAY REALLY SHOT GEORGE CORNELL INSIDE THE BLIND BEGGAR PUB IN 1966

No 7
THE STORY TWO-FACED TONY BLAIR/BLIAR SUCCESSFULLY HID FROM THE BRITISH PUBLIC

No 8
THE QUIET MEN: ‘MAD’ FRANK FRASER, MALCOLM HARDEE AND JOHN McVICAR

No 9
CABINET MINISTER CHRIS HUHNE AND THE CONVENT-RAISED COMEDIAN

No 10
THE DEATH OF A UK BOXER LINKED TO THE SADISTIC MURDERS OF PROSTITUTES BY SERIAL KILLER ‘JACK THE STRIPPER’

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Socialism? Religion? Self-help groups? They’re all the same…

“Some things we know we know… Some things we know we don’t know… Some things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Who said that?

No. Not ex-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It was a 76 year-old American woman presenting a life-changing seminar last night. I am not sure if she stole the lines from him or if he went to one of these seminars and stole the lines from her; I fear it may be the latter.

“Life-change” was the object – “the freedom to be yourself” – You pay £375 for the basic course, £590 for the advanced course and, if you come into the “teens and young” category, you pay £390.

This was just an introductory talk to draw new punters in.

Provided I don’t have to pay, I am a sucker for these things.

On a rainy day in 1969, I went into the Scientology building in London’s Tottenham Court Road. They attached me to a box, asked me questions to which I had to give Yes/No answers but most of which did not have Yes/No answers and then they told me that I was adrift in life and confused but Scientology could sort me out.

I went to an American Christian preacher’s event at Earl’s Court during which he asked any people in the audience who were HIV Positive to come up on stage and he would ‘cure’ them. Some did. He touched them. He told them they no longer had HIV. He told people in the audience to donate to his organisation not what they could afford to pay but more than they could afford, because “God will provide”.

I spent around 25 years in TV promotions and marketing. I am interested in the techniques of persuasion.

I once got told I had definitely won a prize in a time-share company’s draw which I had not entered: anything from a golden carriage clock to a car and luxury holiday. I was interested to see how they could avoid giving me something so I went along to their Leicester Square office where, before you got the prize, you had to watch a promotional film and have a chat with a representative who put forward a surprisingly strong and persuasive argument as to why I would be foolish not to buy the time-share I did not need. Eventually, I got given the cheap carriage clock. I did not ‘invest’ in the time-share.

Last night’s seminar involved around 200 people, maybe 30 of whom were ‘guests’ like me. As soon as I arrived, the phrase “Happy Clappy” leapt into my mind.  I do find innocent American over-enthusiasm very tiring. Surely people must damage their facial muscles by smiling so widely for so long? All that optimism was profoundly un-British and lasted from 7.15pm-10.45pm. The real courses last all day – from ten in the morning until midnight.

The first words by the woman presenting the evening were “I missed you” and there was heavy usage in the first three minutes of phrases like “just amazing” and “such an honour”. I half expected the words “insanely great” to be used and to see the late Steve Jobs emerge with an unexpected new Apple product to enthusiastic applause.

And there really was a lot of applause – and the occasional Whoop! – over the next three-and-a-half hours. Happy Clappy it really was and I was clapped-out by the end of it.

I am not one of Life’s natural Whoopers.

I have nothing against Happy Clappy but it does feel un-British. I could never stomach The Price Is Right with Leslie Crowther, which last night’s enthusiasm faintly resembled, though without the light bulbs.

Instead of guessing the price of and winning prizes, you had to spot your real problems, spot or be helped to spot the immediate solutions and sign up there-and-then for the course.

Last night’s offering was really a pyramid scheme – current participants introduce friends whose lives can be changed – with the addition of a series of increasingly-expensive course levels.

It resembled many ‘self-help’ courses: they are basically substitute religions and are very big on “we are all your support team” language.

Someone said to me: “It’s a con,” but I am not sure I agree. There was some heavy selling going on. If anyone looked susceptible to joining then two, sometimes three people would try to convince them to sign-up for the course, with un-blinking eye-contact enthusiasm.

But I have seen that with born-again or new-born Christians. They have, they believe, found the answer to Life and have had their own lives transformed, so they want to share the joyful good news. I am even prepared to believe Scientology is not the evil world-devouring Behemoth it is sometimes portrayed as but just has lots of genuine believers blinkered by their belief in their own ‘Right’ness into doing occasionally suspect things.

Much like Tony Blair or Socialism. (I obviously do not link those two.)

In 1986, I talked to a girl in a bookshop in Pyongyang in North Korea. She had actually seen – in the flesh – not a photo – the real person – she had seen and been in the presence of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Her eyes shone like exploding supernovas as she told me the story. It was as if she had seen Jesus.

Socialism, I have always thought, is more of a religion than a political philosophy. Because Socialism has the true answer to life and, if implemented, perfection and a people’s paradise will inevitably follow, as it has in North Korea. If someone of a Militant Tendency persuasion meets a Conservative voter, the Conservative voter is likely to think the left-winger is misguided. But the Militant Tendency person will think the Conservative voter is evil.

Last night, thank God, conversion not extermination was the idea.

I was approached by a very likeable, wide-eyed young man from Slovenia.

“I wanted to travel,” he told me, “but did not have the confidence to travel until I did the course.”

“Where did you do the course?” I asked.

“Here in London.” he replied. “I came here from Slovenia to do the course… And now I am a photographer. I always wanted to be a photographer. I am going to India to take photographs.”

“How do you support yourself?” I asked. “Do you sell the photographs?”

“I have a job working in Starbucks,” he told me.

In religion, people take comfort from the fact they ‘know’ that there are High Priests with a better – indeed, total – knowledge of how the world works and how you can reach that high, ultimate plateau of spiritual and philosophical attainment.

Last night was a religious ceremony with a teacher who was selling courses not a Church or a political party.

“You are already powerful, it just got covered over; you are already free, you just forgot,” was one line.

“You are powerful in the face of failure.”

“When you get balance, you’re able to walk.”

“Make a difference to everyone, including yourself… Everyone wins.”

As in some churches, people in the audience stood up to “share” and to give testimony:

“I realised that I have a very large family and it’s seven billion strong!”

“As soon as you start spending, money comes in!”

“I cured my asthma!”

As the woman leading the meeting said: “This is a miracle space… Your sharing tonight was breathtaking to me… Don’t forget, kick the ‘but’ out of your life and put your butt on the line.”

The basic message of the course is: “No action… No result.”

Fair enough.

And it is probably worth £360 for some people to have a support group to encourage them. There is an attraction in fluent speakers for insecure people adrift in their own lives. But it is not for me.

And I have a nasty feeling that, in order to re-build a stronger person, you have to break-down the insecure person who was previously there. Once you have a support group, how do you kick the habit?

It sounds a tad like training a dog. By the time the dog understands what he is supposed to do, he has become dependent on you.

Someone I met said his life had been totally changed in three days by the course.

But he also told me he started the course in 2006 and he is still doing it.

And I do find it unsettling that they have courses for 8-12 year olds.

I did once suggest to the comedian Simon Munnery that he and I should start a religion by reading lots of self-help books and cobbling all the ideas into a philosophy. It worked for L.Ron Hubbard.

Simon turned me down. I think he was wrong.

I am sure the idea still has mileage.

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Ed Miliband and Ed Balls – Are they the Laurel and Hardy of British politics?

What is happening with Ed Miliband and what has happened to the Labour Party’s once-feared PR machine?

Young Ed looks like he is being paid by the Tories to undermine his own party and Alastair Campbell’s once gleaming and perfectly-oiled Labour PR machine seems to have seized up with rust or is being operated by 5-year-old children who are too small to reach the levers they have to pull.

That Labour Party conference speech yesterday and all the interviews around it were an unmitigated piece of failed image-building tripe.

The long-thought-out line – they are supposed to have worked all night on the speech – seemed to be:

“We, the Labour Party, would like to apologise for the things we did wrong which we humbly admit, sort of, but it’s the Tories’ fault for anything we did really and, if they are doing now what we said we would do or what we would have had to do, well, that’s what comes of all those years of Tory… erm… government… erm… oh…

“Oh… and the government should make things better and tell other people to make things better. We have had long discussions about this and decided that both the people and the country would be better off if the Economy were in a better state and not worse. Vote for us next time because we are new people not the ones who made any of the mistakes before. Well, sort of.”

One of Ed’s problems is he cannot ‘do’ passion. Someone is writing passionate speeches for him, but he is unable to deliver them. He tries to be passionate, but his lightweight voice is just not up to it and his heart is clearly not in it. It is like he is reading Chaucer to the English class.

I saw an interview he gave a couple of days ago in which he said, basically: “The government should not lecture the Europeans and tell them how to make things better. The government should make things better and, if we were in power, we would be pro-active and tell the Europeans how to make things better.”

The main problem young Ed has is not difficulties in writing credible speeches and an apparent lack of any actual policies. The even bigger problem is a superficial presentational one.

Before Margaret Thatcher came to power, she listened to her very wise advisors. She softened her hairstyle and she lowered the pitch of her voice.

Tony Blair was already a master of fake sincerity when he got the Top Job – that’s what comes of being a good lawyer – lots of experience telling barefaced lies. His technique was so good he almost made me believe in David Icke’s theory that all the top-nobs in Britain are actually alien lizards in human skins.

But no-one seems to have given poor young Ed any advice at all. He is an apprentice lizard.

He still looks like a scared schoolboy unexpectedly made into a prefect and, with his rabbit-in-the-car-headlights eyes, looks shit-scared that people will find out that even he does not believe he is up to the job.

A couple of days ago, there were staggeringly mis-judged PR pictures of slim Ed Miliband and chunky Ed Balls – and there is an image problem here to begin with, as Ed Miliband looked like Stan Laurel to Ed Balls’ version of Oliver Hardy and who wants Stan Laurel as their Prime Minister?… I almost expected Ed Miliband to scratch his head and stare at the camera in innocent confusion with those big open calf’s eyes.

Anyway… there were the two of them walking across a square, being filmed smiling for the TV News, smiling and chatting in an attempt to look in relaxed conversation, but the separated body language and the appallingly stilted audible conversation appeared to show there was no chemistry, no amiability, no ability nor desire to communicate with each other.

They looked as if, in a party – let alone in a Party – they would stand alone at opposite sides of the room and try to avoid ever meeting because they knew there would be an embarrassing, awkward silence.

In this case, two Eds were not better than one.

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