Tag Archives: tractor

PR, lateral thinking, political porn and Channel 5 TV’s new Tractor World…

A tractor attracter…

Even if you are on painkillers and muscle relaxant drugs for a sore spine/hip/leg/ankle… when you get an email from an unknown person called Xander with the heading TRACTORS: BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST – as I did three days ago – you tend to open it immediately.

Tractors are currently amusingly sexy in the UK because, a couple of weeks ago, MP Neil Parish had to resign after he was ‘outed’ for watching porn on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber. He said he had been looking at a tractor website and, accidentally, he had then found himself watching a porn site.

The email I got was a PR pitch plugging a new Channel 5 series (starting tonight) called Tractor World

Increasingly prestigious as my blog may be, I am surely not the first choice for publicising a TV farming series about tractors.

I thought: Either this is a wild mistake or it is an admirable piece of lateral thinking – Because of the Neil Parish MP link, you might as well pitch a tractor story to what is sometimes called a comedy blog.

So I asked Xander (Alexander Ross), co-founder of Percy & Warren – a PR agency specialising in the film, TV & entertainment industry – why he had sent me the email…


Xander and I talked about tractor PR via WhatsApp…

JOHN: Why did you contact me?

XANDER: We go to databases to put together relevant lists of people and you filtered through on Comedy and TV. 

JOHN: You contacted me, presumably, because of the Neil Parish tractor porn story.

XANDER: Yeah, we were chatting about Tractor World and thinking maybe we could do a slide show of people and tractors with a romantic Barry White song over the top of it. That might be a little too on-the-nose, but quite fun. You’ve got to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself and it just so happens now that a documentary series on tractors is coming out like a couple of weeks after the MP story.

JOHN: The producers, RawCut Television, didn’t mind you being lighthearted about their serious documentary series?

XANDER: We spoke about it and they wanted something that could make them laugh as well. It was actually a hard brief, but…

JOHN: A hard brief?

XANDER: Well, it’s a lot harder to make somebody laugh than it is to make them cringe.

A lot of the (serious) shows that come out on Channel 5 have got that sort of popular edge to them:. You take something that’s not about the London metropolitan elite or whatever but is for a more dispersed crowd – not your office worker living in the suburbs of London.

Actually, Tractor World HAS been quite a fun one to work on. If you get something like Star Wars or whatever, you’re turning down opportunities of coverage whereas, with something like this, you have to find a way to publicise it that is a little bit different or maybe even a little bit tongue-in-cheek.

For Channel 4, we do Devon and Cornwall, which has been a huge ratings success for the channel. It’s massively popular: a wholesome, kindhearted sort of programme.

JOHN: I know nothing about agriculture or tractors or muck-spreading techniques. Why should I watch a TV series about tractors?

XANDER: If you like things like Clarkson’s Farm and you’re interested in finding out about other lifestyle worlds… Good documentaries are the ones that make you interested about something in which you have no expertise. So, if you can find something that’s nice and warmhearted and has a bit of fun to it, I think you’re onto a good bet with that.

Tractors – always a sexy subject…

JOHN: I once stumbled on a BBC documentary series about the history of British motorway service stations. I have no idea how it got commissioned, but it was fascinating. It was amazing. Who knows? Maybe, in advertiser talk, tractors are now ‘sexy’ too… A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was a bestselling book only a few years ago.

XANDER: As I say, we’re working on Devon and Cornwall at the moment. We’ve also been working recently on The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge with Sandi Toksvig – another Channel 4 show. It’s about making miniature houses and stuff like that. Shows like The Great British Bake Off do very well at the moment. People like nice and warmhearted and a bit of fun.

JOHN: Your company mostly does glamorous media-type things – a master class with film producer Jeremy Thomas, the return of BBC Three to terrestrial TV…

XANDER: Yes. We were born out of the pandemic in July 2020. We were a company that sprang out of another company – Franklin Rae PR – that expanded into loads of different areas.

They had been a film and TV specialist for about 20-odd years and had moved into architecture, financial technology and stuff like that. I was heading up the (media) division, but when we were pitching for new business, people would say we were too generalist.

So we asked the CEO if we could spin it off into a separate company. We did that in July 2020 and we’ve just gone from strength to strength, very much with an international outlook… Clients in Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US; done stuff in Brazil; done a little bit with Japan, although Japan can take a lot longer than other countries.

JOHN: Why?

XANDER: Just that decisions are taken a lot more slowly. You get moved through hierarchies. You have to establish trust with one person, then move on to establish trust with the next person. Eventually you reach the decision-maker and then they decide Yes or No. It just takes a longer time to go through all those networks, but it’s worth it.

JOHN: What’s the most bizarre and interesting account you’ve worked on?

XANDER: I worked on a show a few years back called The Penis Extension Clinic

JOHN: Who did you approach to get PR for that?

XANDER: Oh, you go straight to the tabloids for that sort of stuff.

JOHN: Presumably for Tractor World, you have been going for the agricultural community.

XANDER: Yes, Farming Life and so on. Agribusiness. It’s in Farmers World today, but it’s also in the Daily Telegraph.

JOHN: What’s the Telegraph’s angle?

XANDER: They’ve said it’s something for Neil Parish to watch.

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Comic Malcolm Hardee – the infamous tractor incident at the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee, prankster (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

With the revival of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this week, it is maybe timely to remember the late, great prankster’s infamous incident with the tractor…

Here is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake… 


We went back to Edinburgh the next year – back to The Hole in The Ground – and this time Circuit had three tents. They loved a tent. They had a big one in the middle, with a small one on one side and a medium one on the other. Like Daddy Tent, Mummy Tent and Little Baby Tent. You could pay to see one show and hear all three as the shows were running simultaneously.

We were in the Daddy Tent. Emma Thompson was in the little one with ‘The Emma Thompson Band’. And, in the medium one, was this American creature called Eric Bogosian. He later starred in Oliver Stone’s movie Talk Radio. I never got on with him. He was a prima donna. He upset everyone. He upset Emma Thompson. She was in tears and I boldly told him to leave her alone. 

All the arguments and artistic friction came about because of the clash of noise.

What we tried to arrange was to perform all our noisy bits at the same time and all our quiet bits at the same time, so the audiences wouldn’t get too distracted. But Eric was having none of it. One part of his show had Heavy Metal music – very loud – in our quiet bit. His show was called Funhouse – An Anarchistic Romp Through The American Way of Life. So, I thought, well at least he’s a bit of an anarchist. He’ll like a laugh, won’t he? 

Our show that year started with me entering on a tractor. I tried to leap over ten toy cars but, of course, the tractor went off the ramp and squashed the cars. Good opening. We had persuaded the manager of a local garden centre to lend us the tractor for free and we advertised his business. He was a typical dour Scot and was in the audience with his family the night I decided to visit Eric Bogosian.

We had had about six days of Eric’s Heavy Metal music coming through into our show, so I decided to go and see Eric in his tent. During a performance.

It came to the part of our show where Eric was making a hell of a row with his heavy metal tape. I screamed at our audience to make myself heard above the noise: 

“Look, we’ll go and see Eric. All of us. He’ll like it. He’s a bit of a laugh. He’s an anarchist.” 

I jumped on the tractor, naked. The stages were flat. So I drove out of our tent on the tractor and straight in to his tent and onto his stage. Our audience followed behind the tractor. 

“Hello, Eric!” I said.

He was swaying backwards and forwards, ‘air-guitaring’ with a broom handle in his hands and he was going “Brrrrrmmmmmm!” to this AC/DC track that was coming out of the loudspeakers. Very witty, I presume. 

When he saw me in the nude on the tractor followed by all our audience, he stopped performing and flopped in a chair that was at the back of the stage. We all filed past, then came out of his tent and back into our own and thought no more about it. 

After about two minutes, I heard the sound of a tractor being smashed up with a sledge-hammer. Then I heard, round the back, all the dressing-rooms being smashed up. Then he came running in. By this time, Martin Soan was naked and I had clothes on. Eric saw Martin and thought it was me. So he hit Martin and knocked him over and then ran out screaming. Martin got up and carried on, because we’ve had worse than that.


Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is out-of-print but still available on Amazon.co.uk, where the description of it has been wildly incorrect for several years. It currently reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.”

Despite at least three attempts to get Amazon.co.uk to correct the description, they seem to be incapable of doing so.

On the other hand, I suspect Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) would approve the surreal description with a hearty “Oy Oy! Fuck it!”

The details are listed correctly on Amazon.com.

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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The night Malcolm Hardee visited Eric Bogosian, naked, at the Edinburgh Fringe

This is the near-legendary true tale of one of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s most celebrated stunts. Recently, I was told by Malcolm’s long-term partner Pip that she was in the audience at Eric Bogosian’s show that night. So that may add some extra context. Malcolm did like to show off a bit. This is the story in his own words, taken from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

_________

We went back to Edinburgh the next year – back to The Hole in The Ground – and this time Circuit had three tents. They loved a tent. They had a big one in the middle, with a small one on one side and a medium one on the other. Like Daddy Tent, Mummy Tent and Little Baby Tent. You could pay to see one show and hear all three as the shows were running simultaneously.

We were in the Daddy Tent. Emma Thompson was in the little one with ‘The Emma Thompson Band’. And, in the medium one, was this American creature called Eric Bogosian. He later starred in Oliver Stone’s movie Talk Radio. I never got on with him. He was a prima donna. He upset everyone. He upset Emma Thompson. She was in tears and I boldly told him to leave her alone.

All the arguments and artistic friction came about because of the clash of noise.

What we tried to arrange was to perform all our noisy bits at the same time and all our quiet bits at the same time, so the audiences wouldn’t get too distracted. But Eric was having none of it. One part of his show had Heavy Metal music – very loud – in our quiet bit. His show was called Funhouse – An Anarchistic Romp Through The American Way of Life. So, I thought, well at least he’s a bit of an anarchist. He’ll like a laugh, won’t he?

Our show that year started with me entering on a tractor. I tried to leap over ten toy cars but, of course, the tractor went off the ramp and squashed the cars. Good opening. We had persuaded the manager of a local garden centre to lend us the tractor for free and we advertised his business. He was a typical dour Scot and was in the audience with his family the night I decided to visit Eric Bogosian.

We had had about six days of Eric’s Heavy Metal music coming through into our show, so I decided to go and see Eric in his tent. During a performance.

It came to the part of our show where Eric was making a hell of a row with his heavy metal tape. I screamed at our audience to make myself heard above the noise:

“Look, we’ll go and see Eric. All of us. He’ll like it. He’s a bit of a laugh. He’s an anarchist.”

I jumped on the tractor, naked. The stages were flat. So I drove out of our tent on the tractor and straight in to his tent and onto his stage. Our audience followed behind the tractor.

“Hello, Eric!” I said.

He was swaying backwards and forwards, ‘air-guitaring’ with a broom handle in his hands and he was going “Brrrrrmmmmmm!” to this AC/DC track that was coming out of the loudspeakers. Very witty, I presume.

When he saw me in the nude on the tractor followed by all our audience, he stopped performing and flopped in a chair that was at the back of the stage. We all filed past, then came out of his tent and back into our own and thought no more about it.

After about two minutes, I heard the sound of a tractor being smashed up with a sledge-hammer. Then I heard, round the back, all the dressing-rooms being smashed up. Then he came running in. By this time, Martin Soan was naked and I had clothes on. Eric saw Martin and thought it was me. So he hit Martin and knocked him over and then ran out screaming. Martin got up and carried on, because we’ve had worse than that.

_____________

(The excerpt from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is copyright John Fleming and the Estate of Malcolm Hardee)

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