Tag Archives: Tony Green

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the very personal opinion of ex-Sir Gideon Vein

The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.

The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…

I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.

I have just received his highly-personal account…

I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…


The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.

Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows. 

I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.

It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not. 

There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus. 

So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.

I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary. 

Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show

Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like:  “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…” 

I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena. 

Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?” 

I was not asked – a pity perhaps. 

Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show. 

I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up. 

So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.  

The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me  – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity. 

His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though. 

It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity. 

Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended. 

A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about. 

He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate. 

I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women. 

The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).

‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).

An opportunity missed I thought. 

Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back). 

Few posters at the Fringe in 2021

It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement. 

The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.

In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.

It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…

The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…

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Travelling hopefully with Tony Green, Michael Gove, Princess Diana, lizards

Sometimes, to slightly mis-quote Robert Louis Stevenson, it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

It’s what happens along the way that is interesting – the diversions and the sidetracks.

It’s a book, not a hairdressing salon…

Celine’s Salon,” Tony Green said to me in the Soho Theatre Bar, back on June 9th, almost exactly two months ago.

“A hairdressing salon?” I asked.

“No,” said Tony. “Celine’s Salon, The Anthology: Volume 1. Poems, short stories, song lyrics, that sort of thing. 

“Celine used to run her ‘salon’ just round the corner from here. Celine Hispiche. That’s her name. I read a few short stories there. At Celine’s Salon. Now it’s going to be a book. Celine’s Salon, Volume One. The publisher phoned me up and said: Could you do a 600 word short story? One of the stories you read at the club? So I did.”

“What’s it called?” I asked. “Your short story.”

Shape-Shifting Lizards.

“Autobiographical?” I asked.

Tony laughed.

How very kind of him, I thought. But then he is an actor.

There are so many sub-cultures in Soho, let alone in London, that no-one can know them all. Tony Green, the comedy performer formerly known as Sir Gideon Vein, knows lots of sub-cultures and people I don’t.

He took me along to Torture Garden late last century dressed as a cricketer – HE was the one dressed as a cricketer – or maybe it was an homage to Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who – because he (Tony Green) knew Sophie Seashell who was organising the Berlin-Between-The-Wars-type cabaret performances amid the slightly self-conscious fetishism and kinkiness going on in the disused 3-storey warehouse up a back street in Islington.

Celine must have been right under my nose all the time…

I hang my head in shame that I had never heard of Celine Hispiche until two months ago. She started her career as a featured writer at the Royal Court Theatre, progressed to singing duets with Marc Almond on his album Bluegate Fields and playing support to the Human League with her band Nitewreckage.

Then there was touring down the US East Coast with fellow comedians from Saturday Night Live, playing the comedy stage at the Glastonbury Festival, supporting Harry Hill at the Hackney Empire, four consecutive cabaret years at the Edinburgh Fringe and starting Celine’s Salon in 2015 at the Society Club, described as “an arts and culture bookshop in the daytime and a private members Bohemian cocktail lounge in the evening.”

Tony Green in his mask outside Soho Theatre

“So,” I said, two months ago, “Shape-Shifting Lizards?”

“I got the idea,” Tony explained, “because some friends of mine who, at one time were quite well-balanced human beings, have gone… Well, they wouldn’t say ‘Conspiracy Mad’. They would say their eyes have been fully opened to this awful situation…”

“The Covid-19 situation?” I asked.

“Oh no!” said Tony. “Not that! I’m quoting Gilbert & Sullivan here. My eyes are fully opened to this awful situation…

“No, no, not the virus, although they know all about the virus, of course. That’s why none of them are having the vaccination.” 

“Because the world is run by an international cabal of Satanic paedophile cannibals?” I suggested.

“Of course.” said Tony. “I’m not saying this is the truth, but it’s what was told in a pub. You meet some strange people in public houses… So Lady Diana…”

“…was killed by the Cabal?” I guessed.

“Oh definitely,” said Tony. “But this is what was told in a pub… She was ‘nutted-off’ because she found out…”

“…about the Royal Family all being lizards?” I guessed.

“Oh definitely,” said Tony. Prince Philip told her: Whenever you want to see us about anything, always knock on the door first.

“So they have time to shape-change?”

“Of course. And, of course, there was that one unfortunate time she didn’t knock. She burst in and saw and was told If you say anything about this… It wasn’t the fact she was expecting a baby with Dodi Fayed or because the chauffeur was drunk…”

“Whenever you want to see us, always knock on the door first”

“It has to be said,” I suggested, trying to be helpful, “that, in his dying days, Prince Philip did look a bit lizard-like – Did you see that photo in the car?”

“Oh, they’re all lizards,” said Tony with a twinkle in his eye. Well, both eyes. There was more than one twinkle in more than one eye. “On one a occasion, a very well-spoken young actor said to me: Oh, I’ve just heard you’re a ‘Cockney’, aren’t you? I know why all of you Cockney chaps are all so ugly and stunted and stupid. You’re all inbred, aren’t you… And then somebody said: I think he must be confusing Cockneys with the Royal Family.

“You told me you also wrote a novella,” I prompted him.

“Oh – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – yes. It’s called that because the story came to me when I WAS halfway up Arthur’s Seat. In Edinburgh. I think it would make a great film, but it would cost a helluva lot of money. It needs 200 extras. It’s an homage to Edinburgh. It ends with what could possibly be described as a supernatural element. My partner read it and she felt it needed more explaining. I don’t think it does.

“A journalist friend of mine wrote a story about a certain notorious serial killer and he said to me: Do you think I made the ending only too obvious? I told him…”

“What?” I asked.

“Have you read any of Jake Arnott’s books?” Tony asked.

“I’ve seen the TV adaptations,” I told him, “but not read them. Have you read The Long Firm?”

“I have. When I wrote my story – Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat – it’s nothing at all like Jake Arnott – but I’d been reading a lot of Muriel Spark stuff. It was reading her stuff that prompted me – that and living in Edinburgh…”

Did I mention Tony spends a lot of time in Edinburgh now? Mostly, he says, “as a result of the bleedin’ virus and the lockdown’s etc.” I met him when he was briefly back in London.

Tony Green in Soho, London, not in Edinburgh

Thus the Soho Theatre Bar location.

I forgot to tell you.

It was two months ago. Other things have intervened.

Apologies.

“The hero of my story,” Tony continued, “is called T. Jellicoe Mungham. He wrote a book in 1902 called Dear Oscar, when he was at Cambridge. He was lauded for this book. He is a mischievous but loveable person in my book but also quite wise.”

“Autobiographical?” I asked.

Tony ignored this and continued:

“Muriel Spark is a hero of mine, like Andrew Marr and my idol Michael Gove. All Scots. All I can say about Michael Gove is that the horror film industry’s loss is politics’ gain. You know he was in a film, playing a vicar? Robert Hardy on one side and Christopher Lee on the other. 

Michael Gove: from movie minister to government minister

“Michael Gove was actually adopted and his parents were Socialists. I can only imagine someone said to him when he was quite young: Michael, you can’t keep backing losers. Conservative is just another name for Winner. You’re a Winner. Join the Conservatives and get rid of that Scots accent… Muriel Spark had no Scots accent either.

“Of course, she left Edinburgh when relatively young and lived in Camberwell in London, for years, virtually turning her back on her Scottish/Jewish heritage and becoming a devout Roman Catholic like her friends and admirers Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Funny that she wrote her must famous book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in Edinburgh in the early 1960s on an extended visit to her parents flat in Bruntsfield Place.

“I think my stories have a very Scottish ring… The reason I wrote Halfway Up Arthur’s Seat was because there is NOT a part in it for me. People accuse me of being up my own anus, but I’ve written a story where there’s no part in it for me at all… Did you know Jake Arnott wrote a book about Alastair Crowley?”

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

Fenella Fielding on her 90th birthday (Photo Etienne Gilfillan)

“Just before she died,” Tony continued, “I saw Fenella Fielding do a reading. She was over 90. The reading she did from her autobiography, for a woman of that age, was A1. It was a perfect rendering. The reading was only a few months before her departure. There was a Q&A afterwards and I said to her: It’s very refreshing to hear someone reading as you read. You don’t give the impression of being a luvvie. As an actor, was there anyone you ever worked with you didn’t like?

Oh, that’s a very naughty question, she said. I don’t think I could answer that here. She was a nonagenarian and a likeable one. She knew even months before her demise that she still needed to ‘play the game’.”

Tony Green has returned to Edinburgh now.

Celine’s Salon is published in the UK on 6th September.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t quite say at the beginning of this blog… Sometimes it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. It is the journey that is interesting. The sidetracks. And – hey! – Robert Louis Stevenson ended up in the South Seas Islands, which wasn’t too bad a place to end up at the time.

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Paris, circa 1979, as experienced by young striptease artiste Anna Smith

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, based in Vancouver, wrote about how A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World.

The murder took place in Paris and, after reading it, I said to Anna: “You have lived everywhere… You must have lived in Paris at some point…”

This was her reply…


Anna Smith in Ealing, London, circa 1984 (Photograph by Tony Green)

I have not lived everywhere. But I did live in Paris for a couple of months when I was in my early twenties.

My trip there and accommodation was paid for by the Canadian government, because I had organised an exhibition of paintings at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

I supervised the hanging of the paintings.

The young workmen were very happy and friendly.

Although I was already a striptease artist, I felt lonely in Paris, where the only people I knew were the distinguished administrators at the Cultural Centre.

The Cultural Attaché took me and a couple of Canadian artists to dinner at an expensive restaurant, where I ordered skate because I had never tried it before. The skate arrived covered in white sauce and I didn’t enjoy it much.

I spent most of my days walking for miles across the city and visiting art galleries. It was November and the walking and the galleries were very enjoyable.

I visited a small theatre on the Left Bank, whose name I forget, which specialised in erotic performance. I did not see the show but inquired of the staff whether it was possible to work there. I was told yes, indeed I would be very welcome to work with them. As usual in those days, there was no mention of work permits.

Anna Smith, striptease artist. (Photograph circa 1979.)

They showed me inside the theatre. It had a nicely sized stage which could hold about a hundred people and everything was painted black. It was daytime and there were no performances until night time. There were strong nets high above the rows of seats and I was made to understand that the actors would be performing in the nets as well as on stage. It looked like fun. 

I asked when could I start. 

They said I could start right away. 

But then they asked: I did understand that I would be doing a live sex act show, didn’t I? 

Ooops….

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m only a striptease artist…”

They looked at me sympathetically and kindly told me that I was very welcome to come back if I changed my mind.

The only other job I could possibly have done at the time was jello wresting (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “When women wrestle in a pit of jello – UK jelly – in their bikinis while a bunch of horny men sit by and watch.”)

But I was pretty snobby at the time and thought that was beneath my level of artistic excellence…

I would not mind trying it now though.. haha. 

I wonder if Lynn Ruth Miller would consider joining me….or maybe I could rent a sex robot, if she isn’t available…

Woman versus machine…hmmmm…

Josephine Baker, banana costume, 1927

When I was in Paris, I also visited The Folies Bergère – the haunt of one of my idols, Josephine Baker – and The Crazy Horse. 

The Folies Bergère were a disappointment, more like a light show than a human performance. The dancers’ costumes were illuminated with thousands of tiny lights which glowed in the dark when the lights on stage went out. I have seen more interesting displays of Christmas lights on houses in suburban Minneapolis. 

The Crazy Horse was slightly better. Although I had bought the least expensive ticket possible, the hostess seated me in the front row, likely because I was the only single woman in the house, young and dressed sexily.

The show was highly choreographed (as it still is) and I later wrote a critique for Canada’s national newspaper (the Globe and Mail), that “not one spontaneous wink” escaped from the performers.

I visited Paris a couple of times after that, when I was living in London. One time I went there with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green).

Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) & Anna Smith in London, 1984

We stayed at The Hotel Lima and in the daytime we performed in the plaza of The Pompidou Centre. We did a sort of burlesque style performance art piece. 

I was dressed in a black outfit, wrapped in flecked hat netting, my skirts trimmed with silver and violet spangles, like a nineteenth century ‘dame perdue’ and Sir Gideon Vein resembled Jack the Ripper, with his frock coat and usual blood-stained cravat. 

We played Death and the Maiden on a ghetto blaster and had a rubber knife with which we eventually stabbed each other to death. I remember slowly sprinkling corn flakes over Sir Gideon’s dying body…

We did not make very much money doing this, a small crowd gathered to watch and afterwards a kind man bought each of us a vanilla ice cream cone.

I remembered being mystified that a fat, dowdy middle aged French woman wearing ordinary clothes and playing a penny whistle badly was pulling in a small fortune in coins at the same time.

But now I realise that people must have felt sorry for her.

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The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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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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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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