Tag Archives: Tony Green

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 9: Good comedy shows and advice from Max Bialystock

My disappointment in this year’s Fringe continues apace. Today I again saw nothing but successful, well-crafted and perfectly-performed comedy shows.

WHERE IS THE SHIT???

I can’t take much more of this excellent entertainment!

Alexander Bennett’s Terrifying Smile (I went back a second time to see it properly) delivered exactly what you would expect from an experienced 37-year-old veteran of the Fringe with 20 years in the business. The fact that Alexander is actually still only 24 is extraordinary and makes it a near-certainty he has made a blood pact either with Satan or the Illuminati.

Sophisticated Thom Tuck: When you got it, flaunt it. Flaunt it!

Thom Tuck, following him at the Dragonfly, is also sickeningly skilled beyond his years.

His involvement with The Penny Dreadfuls and the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society must surely mean he is older than Alexander Bennett.

But, then, who could be younger than Alexander Bennett apart from the baby who won one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards last year?

Individual, unique, hand-crafted Tuck flyers

Rule No 1 in Edinburgh is Always plug your own event(s) even if you are talking about something else.

In the immortal words of the great Max Bialystock: “Baby, when you got it, flaunt it. Flaunt it!”

Thom Tuck’s shows are sophisticated, intellectually clever. And, this year, he stuck a cigarette in his belly button.

He is – as per the title of his show – An August Institution.

Another tradition in Edinburgh is that Thom will create individual flyers – well, pieces of paper in lieu of flyers – to hand out to promote his show.

Why both Alexander and Thom are not regularly on television in Python-style ensemble shows is beyond our ken.

Jollyboat with their rousing, mass-appeal piratical jollity

Likewise unlikely-looking but actual brothers Jollyboat, drawing large queues in the Cowgate with their Why Do Nerds Suddenly Appear? show and delivering crowd-pleasing OTT comic songs and disco/festival type entertainment for the masses of whooping Yoof.

And that is a genuine compliment. Their audience-appeal and audience-control is extraordinary.

Lovely and now loved-up Archie Maddocks

In the evening, I saw two other assured performers and audience manipulators in the best sense of the word.

I first blogged about Archie Maddocks in 2013 and now he has, he says in his IlluminArchie show, fallen in love for the first time – with his accidentally racist girlfriend.

Like several good performers in Edinburgh this year – the Siblings sisters,  Will Hislop of Giants and Ashley Storrie – Archie comes from a solid bit of showbiz breeding. His father Don Warrington became famous in the TV series Rising Damp and his mother, Mary Maddocks, was in The Rocky Horror Show in London’s West End.

Alex Martini – style maestro never knowingly underdressed

Meanwhile the (I’m sure equally well-bred) Italian comic Alex Martini – one of the pack of talented Italian comics based in London – shared his love of both Britain and (even more surprisingly) British food in an assured English language show Martini Dry – his solo Fringe debut show.

His show is entirely family-friendly and there was a lift in the building but I think the age-restriction on some Fringe shows should be linked not to sexual content and language but to the number of stairs and near-vertical cobbled streets you have to climb to get there. I can only hope the trek to some of these shows is strengthening rather than buggering-up my heart.

Tony Green out shopping in the Grassmarket

While leaping around betwixt venues in Edinburgh, I was having a welcome breather walking through the horizontal Grassmarket when I bumped into comedy font of anecdotes Tony Green, who spends half his year in Edinburgh, half in London and half in the 1980s.

Well, I thought, at least this means I won’t have to talk for the next half hour.

He told me that he would be performing in the Edinburgh Horror Festival later this year – 27th-31st October.

“Will you be performing as Sir Gideon McVein?” I asked.

“I’m to quite sure yet,” Tony told me..

Some might say, as they climb the stone stairs to some third storey venue atop a cobbled hill, that the horror festival is already in full swing.

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A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

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


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stayed for seven years in London.

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

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

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

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A Dada celebration staged by a foolish man + Brian Blessed’s voice & a urinal

Mike Freedman is a New York writer and film maker. Or is he?

“I was born in New York,” he tells me, “but I have lived here in London for 31 years. My parents brought me over as a child.”

He has an American accent but was brought up here and, as an adult, has lived in London. So what is the reality? What is reality?

Mike Freedman in Soho - London not New York

Mike Freedman in Soho, London not New York

Mike Freedman is very serious.

“I love film,” he tells me, “because it is the only art form that is all the other art forms. It IS drama, theatre; it can also be dance, painting, music, rhythm. All artistic expression can be found in films – if they are good – to an extent that is simply not possible in the other media.”

He made an award-winning feature-length documentary titled Critical Mass, the blurb for which says:

With the planet bursting at the seams, the intelligence and physiological traits that make us human are now crucial to mankind’s survival. This intelligent film interweaves a fascinating 1960s rat experiment with a slick snapshot of today’s urban jungle.

He wrote a book titled: The Revolution Will Be Improvised: Critical Conversations On Our Changing World.

So Mike Freedman is very serious, yes?

Well, he has played in various bands and was a founding member of the “invisible acoustic comedy minstrels” known as Chicken Tikka Masala: The Band.

“I recently finished making a comedy web series,” he tells me, “called The Incidentals, which we will be putting out near the end of the year. It’s about a group of musicians who are hired to write music for a sitcom and it’s done as a behind-the-scenes documentary.”

A week today – next Thursday – Mike is organising LonDADA at the Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle.

“No-one nowadays,” I suggested to him, “knows what Dadaism is, do they?”

“I think that’s the point, isn’t it?” he replied.

“What?” I said. “That it isn’t?”

Mike replied: “I think it was Tristran Tzara who said that there’s nothing more Dada than being anti-Dada. It is the formlessness that appeals to me.”

“So LonDADA is celebrating 100 years of Dada?” I asked.

Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

An early Dada event at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

“Well, June 23rd 1916 was the date that Hugo Ball performed his Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich for the first time and that was the birth of Dada poetry. The Cabaret Voltaire had existed since February and had had a couple of salons but they hadn’t really had their own work.”

“1916,” I said, “is right in the middle of the First World War.”

“Well,” said Mike, “Dada was, in part, a response to the First World War. The mainstream understanding of it is that the horror of the First World War and that wholesale slaughter and the bourgeois industrial capitalist mindset that had created the conditions that made this sort of madness possible was what they were rebelling against. Class structure, monarchy, commercialism, consumerism, industrialism. Dadaism was really a rejection of what came to be regarded as 20th century civilisation. Except they rebelled early.”

“Urinals,” I said. “That’s all people know about Dadaism.”

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

“You are referring,” said Mike, “to Marcel Duchamp who was offered the opportunity to submit an artwork, so he went to a plumbing supply store and purchased a urinal and signed it R.Mutt, dated 1917.”

“Why R. Mutt?” I asked.

“That was the name of the plumbing supplier.”

“That would make sense,” I said.

“He submitted it as a fountain,” explained Mike. “It is what is now called ‘found art’, but was called ‘readymade art’ at the time.”

“So,” I said, “reality in 1916/1917 was so shit that people went to the opposite extreme – the surreal?”

“Well,” said Mike, “Surrealism came later. It was effectively what killed-off Dadaism.”

“So what’s the difference between Surrealism and Dadaism?” I asked.

“To my understanding,” said Mike, “the distinction is that Surrealism sought to speak to or to touch the human by dealing with the language of the sub-conscious and the language of dreams. Surrealism deals with a different language that is only bizarre if one is looking at it in terms of waking life. If you look at Dali paintings as expressions of a dream landscape, they’re not strange at all. Surrealism is very much the idea that, in order for art to touch the heart, you have to bypass the conscious mind. Dadaism was several things that Surrealism never was.

“Dada was political from the outset, certainly in Berlin. Dada was born in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire. It spread to Berlin and to New York. There were brief flutters of it in other places. It became less political in Zurich and New York. The Berlin gang were very political. New York Dada was more interested in the bizarreness of this deconstructionism philosophy. The French obviously got in on the act when René Clair made Entr’acte with Erik Satie – a very famous Dada film. Also Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera was considered a Dadaist film because it was intentionally nonsensical to what the structure of what film was at that time.

Mike Freedman with Duchamp’s urinal, not taking the piss

Mike Freedman – he is not taking the piss

“What interested Dada was shocking the observer in order to create a response that was not anchored in the mind. In that sense, it shares an intention with Surrealism, but it absolutely does not share a visual or artistic language.”

“I see,” I said. “A urinal is not surreal.”

“Absolutely not,” agreed Mike. “The famous example of how to Dada was to just take a newspaper and cut it up and re-order the letters and see what you come to.”

“Like William Burroughs later,” I said.

“Well, about 40 years later,” said Mike. “If you have any inclination towards Punk Rock or the so-called Underground in music and film – the idea of just making things happen for yourself and re-purposing what is around you, of re-interpreting reality by tearing it apart and re-building it – that aesthetic idea has its roots in Dada.

“If you have something that’s a little more Arthouse in that it’s about confounding the intellectual mind by presenting it with imagery or sounds that simply does not speak the language of the everyday life, that is more Surrealism.

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself...

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself in three words…

“Dada was very strongly anti-Establishment, deconstructionist and anti-itself. Its view was that it couldn’t be anything or it would be no longer the thing that it was meant to be. So you got announcements that DADA IS NOT DADA.”

“Why is it called Dada?” I asked.

“No-one knows for certain. One belief is that they chose the word because ‘Dada’ is the first word of almost any child in any language. I find that a bit spurious.”

“Isn’t ‘Papa’ more common than ‘Dada’?” I asked.

“You are assuming they mean ‘Dad’.” said Mike. “They just meant the sound. The idea was to move art away from established forms and disciplines  back to its most protean state where it literally could be anything and rejecting the encroachment of commercial society by intentionally making things that under no circumstances were saleable. Which, of course, is ironic, because now a replica of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘fountain’ is on display in the Tate Modern.

Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916

Hugo Ball performs at Cabaret Voltaire, 1916

“At that time, getting up on stage, wrapped in cardboard and expounding in a fully-made-up language that was, on purpose, totally nonsensical – and taking it seriously… was… Well, they were very much invested in this idea that what they were doing was important. It was not just Let’s fuck around and see what happens because no-one’s done this before, which is what a lot of people tend to do today.

“What produced Dada in 1916 was a perfect storm of social tension and dissolution and disillusion. There was a beautiful synergy between artistic and political radicalism. Today, we no longer seem to have that visible thread of artistic radicalism.

“So, on June 23rd – European Referendum day – the exact 100th anniversary of Hugo Ball’s first performance of Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich – we are putting on LonDADA at the Cinema Museum – the closest thing that I can muster to a recreation of a Dadaist salon. We are having live performance, theatre, poetry, music, film, art, clowning, short films, a 1968 documentary about Dada which has never been shown before in the UK and we are screening Hans Richter’s Dada film Ghosts Before Breakfast from 1928 on 35mm.

“When the Nazis came to power, they destroyed a lot of film as ‘degenerate art’ – including all known copies of Ghosts Before Breakfast which had the soundtrack. No-one knows what the soundtrack was. So I got Austrian composer Vinzenz Stergin to compose a brand new score which he will perform live.

“From 1.00pm on the day, a screening room will be open showing a looped programme of short films (about 90 minutes in all) by Helmut Herbst, Australian Dadaist Bob Georgeson, American Francis Thompson and John Smith, the award-winning British video artist and a few others. That loop will run all the way through.

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“At 6.30pm, the main event starts and goes on until 11.00pm. In the first half of it, we will mainly have live performance and a screening of Ghosts Before Breakfast with live musical accompaniment. Then there will be a theatrical performance and a screening of Germany-DADA: An Alphabet of German DADAism, which runs for about an hour. Before that, there will be a short video introduction from the director, Helmut Herbst. We will also show a very special animated film by Chris Lincé of Karawane voiced by Brian Blessed – he recorded it specifically for the festival.”

“Good grief!” I said. “I’ll go along just for Brian Blessed’s voice.”

“There are also a few ‘Easter eggs’,” said Mike, “a few surprises we are going to throw in. Tony Green as Sir Gideon Vein and a lot more. And live music.”

“Who is going to go to this?” I asked. “Students of Dada?”

“Basically, we have a 120-capacity and I need to sell it out to break even.”

“So you are a foolish man?”

“Yes. A very foolish man. I am banking on the desire of Londoners to experience an evening of out-of-the-box entertainment.”

“Banking might not be the right word,” I suggested.

“Perhaps ‘praying with white knuckles’ would be better,” agreed Mike. “Praying that the population of London comprises at least 120 people interested in the bizarre and the avant-garde.”

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A drunk comedian with blood coming out of his mouth = Great British culture

Tony Green after our tragic chat

Tony Green in London after our tragic chat

A couple of days ago, I had a chat with Tony Green who, I suppose, I have to describe as a comedy veteran.

In a tragic 21st century accident, I accidentally erased 59 minutes of the recording on my iPhone. The only snippet of an anecdote left is this one:

“…had this habit of going down to pick up the post with no clothes on and got locked out once. He said: Dave, could you phone up my girlfriend at work. She’s got a spare key. But Dave didn’t have a phone…”

With my bad memory I, of course, cannot remember how the story ended.

Yesterday, I had a chat with writer and occasional performer Mark Kelly.

I had not realised, until it came up in conversation with Tony Green, that Tony and Mark had known each other years ago but had fallen out. Tony told me why but, of course, I accidentally erased what he said.

So what follows is Mark’s version only…

“Tony and I were really good friends in the mid-1980s,” Mark told me, “and we fell out eventually over an act he started putting on which I thought was racist. The act claimed to be doing a parody of racism. But I found – particularly given the nature of the audiences Tony was encouraging…

Interrupting him, I asked: “What were the audiences like?”

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state

Mark Kelly – never normally seen as Mr Light Entertainment

“Well,” explained Mark, “Tony was in love with East End lowlife culture so, at Tony’s gigs, there would be a mixture of arty Bohemians and East End criminals, some of whom were very right wing.

“It seemed very obvious to me that this particular act, whose name I genuinely can’t remember, was getting laughs for very mixed reasons and it was all very, very dodgy. And we fell out over that. Tony is a very interesting person.”

“He is indeed,” I said. “These shows were at his Open Heart Cabaret?”

“Yes. He ran it in various locations. He briefly ran it in Chiswick – not his usual territory. The pub had a function room at the back which was on stilts and once he was about to cancel the gig because there was hardly anyone there – three or four people – but then, for no apparent reason, a coach driver pulled in and everyone in the coach went into the gig. I think maybe the coach driver went off for a drink. The gig was saved in the sense of not being cancelled, but the coach party had no idea why they were there and they didn’t like any of the acts. It was terrible.”

“A lot of the acts he put on,” I said, “were… err… very experimental.”

“At Tony’s gigs,” agreed Mark, “even I felt like Mr Mainstream Light Entertainment. Tony was quite enamoured of an act called Ian Hinchliffe, an old performance artist who would usually take all his clothes off, eat glass – which he usually did quite badly – and get blind drunk.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green (as Sir Gideon Vein)

“The last time I ever saw Hinchliffe, he was naked, had Sellotaped his genitals together and was, of course, blind drunk. The glass-eating had gone wrong so he was bleeding from the mouth and he knocked over a couple of tables including all the drinks, horrifying the innocent people who were sitting there. That is my abiding memory of him.”

“Hinchliffe,” I said, “was quite nice except when he got drunk, which he usually quickly did. He didn’t really become a befuddled drunk; he became an aggressive drunk. But I can see why Tony found him interesting.”

“What I did find interesting,” Mark told me, “was that, even towards the end, the British Council was still sending Hinchliffe abroad, representing Britain culturally.”

“That must,” I suggested, “have caused a major deterioration in international relations.”

“I presume,” said Mark, “that he was only bookable wherever there was a bar and a drinking culture.”

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What Vincent Price told Christopher Lee about Peter Cushing’s wife + which well-known English actor was “a nonce”

Yesterday’s quickly-made logo

A daily watering/gossip hole at the Edinburgh Fringe this year

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I am co-hosting The Grouchy Club with Scotsman comedy reviewer Kate Copstick.

The idea is that it is a daily one-hour watering hole where comedians, other performers and – God forbid – members of the public can just come along and – uncensored – chat and gossip and bitch about their ongoing experiences at the Fringe.

The stories, I hope, will all be true; but some may have been elaborated in the telling.

There is that famous line in John Ford’s movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Some stories are unverifiable, but are too good not to print. One of the things I studied at college was journalism. Our course tutor was, at that time, Production Editor at the News of The World.

He told us that, when a newspaper – particularly a tabloid – puts a question mark at the end of a headline, it usually means they do not actually believe the story but it is too good not to print. So:

MAN HAS SEX WITH ARMADILLO

is a real, factual story. But

MAN HAS SEX WITH ARMADILLO?

is entertaining but is probably a load of old cobblers.

Russell Brand had a sex shop theme?

Russell Brand: did he have a sex shop theme?

I remember the excellent Chortle comedy website once published a story that Russell Brand was considering (note that word) opening a string of comedy clubs which would have a decor theme based on sex shops.

This, I presume was part of an ongoing campaign of a load of old cobblers made up by his publicist to get Russell’s name printed on a regular basis to raise his profile. (It worked) I presume Chortle editor Steve Bennett did not believe it was true, but it was too good a story not to print in his trivia collection. I have never asked Steve about this but – to hell with checking the facts – I will assume what I say about him is true.

In my blog yesterday, I posted comedian Tony Green’s entirely true memories of the Demolition Decorators’ act in the 1970s/1980s.

Tony is also a mine of gossip on the British film industry. Here are two stories he has told me. Both, I think, are true:

STORY ONE

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green told me tales of the silver screen & more

Vincent Price and Christopher Lee,” he told me, “shared the same birthday and Peter Cushing’s was the day before – which was strange, because they all ended up as horror film stars.

“When Peter Cushing’s wife died, he tried to top himself. He tried to drown himself, but he could swim. It is not easy to drown yourself when you can swim. He tried to give himself a heart attack by running up and down the stairs, but he did not have a weak heart.

“So he didn’t have a heart attack, couldn’t drown himself, didn’t really want to take an overdose – this is a few hours after his wife died. Then he reckoned he heard a voice saying: Peter, your time is not yet come. When God says your time has come, we will be re-united in heaven. And it was 23 years later before he died.

“Vincent Price had a sense of humour and occasionally he would phone up Christopher Lee who had no sense of humour and one time he asked: How is Peter?

Well, said Christopher, as you know, he’s still waiting to go to heaven and meet Helen and, when that day comes Peter will, I think, find the happiness that he craves.

But what if, said Vincent, when he dies, he knocks on heaven’s door and God says she’s out?

“Christopher said: I don’t understand.

She could be out doing something else, suggested Vincent.

I want you to know, Christopher told him, I find that remark extremely tasteless and I can’t believe that you’d make such a crass remark. When I next speak to Peter, I am going to tell him what you said.

“And, when he did, he had to hold the phone about three minutes because Peter Cushing found it so funny he fell off his chair.

“When Peter told Vincent about it, he said: As you know, Vincent, Christopher has never had much of a sense of humour.”

STORY TWO

Tony Green, in his character of Sir Gideon Vein, recorded a series of introductions to his favourite horror films. (Sir Gideon Vein Presents)

“I think we did about four,” Tony told me. “They’re all very bitchy, last about five minutes and, considering they were all improvised – there’s no script… Have you seen Life & Death With Gideon Vein?”

“No.”

It is a 20-minute film made in 1984. It is on YouTube.

“It was particularly difficult,” Tony told me, “because the bloke who made it was a rich gay Australian actor. We met him at the Henley Festival. My wife at the time got the mad hots for him and he got the mad hots for me. So we would all be in the pub and he would be saying to me: Surely you’ve got to be a little bit gay? And she would ask me: Why don’t you sleep with him?

“I would tell her: But I’m not gay! I enjoy having sex with you. He’s not a bad looking bloke, but I’m not a gay man.

“Somebody said to a very camp old actor: You’re a queer! And he replied: It’s not our fault that Nature played a dirty trick on us.

“These days, with Simon Callow and Ian McKellen around, if someone says You’re straight, aren’t you? you could say: Yes. It’s not my fault. Nature played a dirty trick on me. Ian McKellen is going around outing everyone. But not everyone wants to be out.

Eric Portman, English film star

Eric Portman, UK movie star

“He outed Eric Porter – not to be confused with Eric Portman, who was a nonce. I’ve got nothing against gay people, but being a nonce is a totally different thing. I know Eric Portman was a nonce, because a friend of mine had him fucking him up the arse when he was seven years old.

“My friend told me he remembered being a little seven year old boy and Portman saying: Don’t tell yer dad. This is what happens to all little boys. It happened to me. It probably happened to yer dad. Don’t tell yer dad. It might hurt a little bit but you might like it. Don’t tell him what Uncle Eric did. Never tell anyone.”

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The Demolition Decorators’ act in 1979: provocation and nudity at a London pub

The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…

The Demolition Decorators’ online album Don’t Say Baloney

The Demolition Decorators’ online album, released in 2005

The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an album Don’t Say Baloney in 2005.

I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley aka 1970s Spudikins

“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”

“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.

“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.

“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.

Demolition Decorators at Glastonbury 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

Demolition Decorators perform at Glastonbury Festival, 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.

“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.

“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.

“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.

“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.

– What would you like to see?

– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?

– Yes.

– I wanna fuck ‘er.

– Right… What’s your name?

– Bill.

– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?

– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.

– Right.

“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.

“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.

“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.

“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.

“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.

“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.

“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.

“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?

From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?

Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.

So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.

“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!

“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.

“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.

“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”

“Where are they now?” I asked.

“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.

“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?

A young Tony Green (right) with unknown monster (Photograph by Anna Smith)

A young Tony Green (right) at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.

“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.

“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”

Diarist Paul Lyons remembers the Demolition Decorators online HERE… And there are memories of Glastonbury 1979 HERE.

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More about forgotten act ‘The Glove’ and early UK alternative comedy clubs

Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

After reading my piece yesterday in which Pull The Other One comedy club’s Vivienne & Martin Soan remembered ‘The Glove’ – a London taxi driver turned stand-up comic in the early days of UK alternative comedy – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me more memories of this long-forgotten character. Remember you read it first here. You don’t get this stuff in newspapers.


Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green ran the suspect comedy club. (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

I remember The Glove. He showed up at a comedy club Tony Green and I ran briefly somewhere in the wilds of Near East London.

The Glove was very enthusiastic. We used to call him The Gauntlet.

He was very intense and had imploring eyes… such imploring eyes… He was always very grateful that we let him do his act.

At that time, he was just driving a mini cab.

He was young, handsome, maybe a mix of Mediterranean and Indian or Persian, perhaps Iraqi. He had a London-raised accent, but as if he might have arrived there as a child. He had very dark eyes, dense longish black hair gelled or oiled back and was very pretty in a way. He looked like maybe he worked out in a gym – neat and very clean, ready to assume the mantle of stardom at any moment, yet somehow ordinary, wearing blue jeans, track shoes and a nice leather jacket that fit.

When he put on THE GLOVE, it was as if he had transformed into a superstar in his own mind.

His spectacular black leather glove sparkled with bling and it was the focus of his act… In fact, it really WAS his act.

Felexible Anna Smith

Anna Smith in Wild East days

He just held his gloved arm straight in front of him, danced in the background and was completely serious about it… which was bizarre enough for us to let him perform his act whenever he liked. I think he may also have driven us to the tube station afterwards, which was good of him and much appreciated as our club was in such a dodgy area.

I do not at all remember where our club was. It was in London somewhere towards Plaistow, off the Central Line of the Underground. It was in a function room above a scruffy pub at the corner of some wasteland.

I remember the locals were skinheads and other ruffians who were elated by our presence because they figured that we were a lot of poofs and it would be fun to attack us later on. They acted like we were running a poofs’ convention, but they were afraid to see what we were up to by actually coming in.

Ian Hinchliffe did a great show there involving pasta. I did one also involving pasta on the same night, so I felt I had reached a great zenith… The skinheads were downstairs, daring each other to take a lunge up the staircase and finally the boldest, largest, craziest one bolted up the stairs, while his mates stood at the bottom waiting to see what would happen.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

The great lout arrived at the door, pushed past and it happened that John Hegley was on stage reading one of his poems about his spectacles. This was too much for the would-be attacker to bear and he collapsed, bent over, convulsing with laughter, tears streaming down his face. Then slowly, quivering, he backed away and, stunned, returned to the foot of the stairs.

His mates were demanding:

“What is it?”

“What happened?”

“What are they doing?”

The guy gasped: “There’s a bloke… Up there… Telling POMES about his GLASSES!!!”

After that, they left us alone.

Did you ever hear of Lizzie and Her Handbag who lived in Camberwell? Or Rosie The Clown, who was a supply teacher who used to come up from the coast and perform in South London in a tigerskin Tarzan outfit which revealed one breast? She used to lie on glass and let men stomp up and down on her chest – only on stage, of course.


… I feel we may hear more from Anna Smith about this…

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