Tag Archives: Vietnam

Director/sales agent Julian Richards on film finance, sales and making a profit.

Julian: “The tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog”

In yesterday’s blog, Julian Richards – part film director, part film sales businessman – talked about the two horror films he made this year – Daddy’s Girl and Reborn.

In today’s blog, he puts on his sales agent hat…


JOHN: You direct movies but you also work as a sales agent, through your company Jinga Films. Surely film-making and sales are two different mind-sets.

JULIAN: It’s full of contradictions: sales and production. But it does improve your skills in terms of film-making and the tail doesn’t necessarily wag the dog. Making decisions from a sales point of view can be creative.

JOHN: Directing is a vocation and sales is a profession.

JULIAN: But I enjoy it as well, maybe because I have achieved a certain level of success with it, which was kind of unexpected. Also it provides me with a regular income and quite a degree of autonomy.

JOHN: You have said that horror films are better money-makers than thrillers.

JULIAN: Absolutely. Horror has a very loyal fan base. People don’t go and see a horror film because of the cast. They go to see the core ingredients of the genre. Whereas a thriller needs a central cast member that is going to draw the audience in.

There are basically three niches in the mainstream movie market – there’s horror, Faith and sports documentaries.

JOHN: And sex.

JULIAN: And sex. Porn.

JOHN: Why Faith?

JULIAN: Because there’s an awful lot of Christians out there who will watch a film that is Faith based. And not just Christians. Other religions as well. A film like The Shack.

Prophets and profits are good bedfellows

JOHN: The Shack?

JULIAN: It is from a best-selling, Faith-based novel. I think it made something like $60 million in the US on something like a $20 million production.

JOHN: The rule-of-thumb used to be that the break-even point for a movie was 2½ times your negative cost.

JULIAN: Probably the same now. But another statistic is that it costs around $20 million to release a film theatrically in the US on 1,000 screens for the first week. So you can make a film for $100,000 but it is still going to cost $20 million to get it in theatres.

From a business and investment point of view, a lot of people talk about Box Office Gross… “Oh! I made a film for $100.000 and it made $25 million at the box office!” … But when you subtract $20 million for P&A – Prints and Advertising – then the whole idea of profit comes right down.

When somebody says to me: “The film made such-and-such, I am not interested in Box Office; I am interested in how much the film sold for to distributors via the sales agent. What really matters is the money that comes back to the sales agent from the distributor. That is the only money that ever comes back. The rest is consumed by marketing costs. What comes back is surprisingly small.

Right now, I think the sweet spot is around $300,000. That is what most horror films will sell for, outside of the studio system, no matter what the budget. So, if you make the film for $100,000, you are in profit. If you make it for $1 million, someone is losing a lot of money.

JOHN: There can be tax incentives.

JULIAN: Yes.. If you make a film in the UK, you make 25% back. If you shoot in Georgia in Eastern Europe, you get 25% back. But you can’t really make a film for $100,000 and expect it to compete in the market. What are you going to do? An anthology? A single location? It’s gonna look cheap and you are entering a very competitive market. There is too much product and the shelf space has shrunk enormously.

A few years ago, you might have been able to get a ‘found footage’ film or an anthology into that space. Now you maybe even need ‘cast’ because it’s become so competitive.

You need to find money that doesn’t need to be returned to the investor – which is usually some kind of tax deal or it’s…

JOHN: …money laundering.”

JULIAN: (LAUGHS) Well, there’s that and there’s a lot of that goes on.

JOHN: Can I print that?”

Julian Richards (right) directing

JULIAN: Yeah. I’ve been involved in a number of productions where that has been an issue. The question of it being ‘laundering’ or being ‘avoidance’ is another issue. There are a lot of grey areas with finance through the EIS and the SEIS and Sale & Leaseback. I have worked with producers who are now in prison, serving 9-year sentences for raising finance through tax incentive schemes that they thought were kosher but, retrospectively, ten years down the line, they have been the subject on an HMRC witch hunt. So it is scary.

JOHN: Elsewhere, you have said there is no real theatrical market for horror films in the UK, Germany and America. The market is really places like Vietnam.

JULIAN: Yeah. Latin America and South East Asia. The reason being that, in the past, these films never went to those territories, because the cost of a 35mm print was too expensive. Now that it has all been digitised, releasing a film theatrically in Vietnam or in Peru is achievable. It’s pretty cheap, apart from the licensing fee, which is a nightmare: they will charge a distributor $500 to use a digital projector which is really crushing for any independent film scenario.

JOHN: I’m surprised there is any theatrical distribution left. Surely everything gets pirated out of profit by Indonesian and Serbian and Western criminals?

JULIAN: Erm… You can buy yourself what they call a ‘black window’. In China, the Chinese distributors have to pay the pirates a sum of money to hold back the piracy of the film so they have a ‘black window’ to release their film.

JOHN: How long is the black window?

JULIAN: I don’t know. Probably about three months.

JOHN: I’m surprised the Chinese government tolerates piracy in such a sensitive cultural area as movies.

JULIAN: If you do it legitimately in China, you run into all sorts of problems: to do with censorship and the quota. You CAN get independent films through, but you are up against all the Hollywood studio films. If you are just doing transactional VOD, though, then all of those rules and regulations don’t apply in the same way, so it is possible to get a small, independent horror movie released in China.

The anti-hero of Julian’s latest film as director – Reborn

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The government suggested they could turn the whole country into a Walt Disney theme park – the whole country

Schoolchildren - not yet Mouseketeers - in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1989

Children (not Mouseketeers) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1989

This is a true story.

In 1989, I was in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Eleven years after that – today fourteen years ago – in the year 2000 – I had lunch in London with a chum who had recently worked for the Walt Disney company, dealing with licensing for Walt Disney in South East Asia. He told me that, in Cambodia, a government official had suggested they could turn the whole country into a Walt Disney theme park – the whole country.

After some consideration, the idea was not proceeded with, possibly because of the thought of land mines. Mickey Mouse having his legs blown off is probably not an attractive PR image.

But it is interesting that basic capitalist ideas – even then, in 2000 – were spreading across South East Asian countries.

In his South East Asian Disney hat, my chum also wanted to hire the Rex Hotel in Saigon, Vietnam, one morning for a presentation. Unfortunately, the Rex Hotel was owned by Saigon Tourism, which owned large chunks of real estate all over Vietnam and was probably second only to the government in political and economic power. This inevitably meant bureaucracy.

Saigon, as I saw it from the roof of the Rex Hotel in 1989

Saigon, as I saw it from the roof of the Rex Hotel back in 1989

So, when my chum phoned to ask the cost of renting the Rex, he was called in to a meeting with the boss of Saigon Tourism. My chum arrived with his translator and was shown into a boardroom with a vast rectangular conference table where, inevitably, they were kept waiting for ages. Eventually, the bossman came in with twelve advisors, heads of departments and top executives. My chum and his small translator sat on one side of the table; the bossman and his twelve executives with briefcases and bundles of papers sat on the other side.

Remember this was not even to book the Rex. it was only to ask how much it would cost if my chum did want to book it.

Eventually, after tea and all sorts of interminable preambles, the boss of Saigon Tourism said he thought it would be a good idea if Disney opened a theme park in Vietnam. My chum explained it was not his section of Disney which was involved in the theme park side of the business: he only dealt with consumer goods licensing. He said he would pass on the suggestion but said he knew Disney took about ten years – literally ten years – to evaluate theme park possibilities. The parks were very big, very complicated to build and to run and very expensive, so decisions could only be taken carefully. But he would certainly pass on the suggestion.

“We could have a smaller theme park,” the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested.

A children’s playground in Saigon in 1989

A typical children’s playground in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1989

My chum explained again that it wasn’t really his area, but he knew Disney only really thought in terms of big theme parks. However, he said, he would pass on the idea and he knew it would be considered very seriously by the top Disney theme park people.

The Vietnamese tourist boss replied: “You could just give us the rides rather than build a theme park round them.”

My chum again explained it wasn’t really his area of decision but he would pass on the suggestion.

“You could just sell us the technology for the rides and we could build them ourselves,” the Vietnamese tourist boss persisted.

My chum went through all his polite rigmarole again.

“You could just give us one ride,” the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested. “Just one ride. I have been to Disneyland. The ride we would want would be the Earthquake Ride where you go in and it simulates the feeling of an earthquake.”

American B-52 bomb craters in central Cambodia, 1989

B-52 bomb craters seen from plane in central Cambodia, 1989

My chum was a bit taken aback, but did all the polite rigmarole again about how he would pass it on but pointed out that one reason why Disney included the Earthquake Ride in their Californian operation was that California was in an earthquake zone – there was the San Andreas Fault – and, in a sense, it was educational for the children who went there whereas, in Vietnam, there were no earthquakes and no history of earthquakes, as in California, so it wasn’t quite the same.

Immediately, the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested: “We could use the sensations to simulate the effects of carpet-bombing by B-52 bombers.”

My chum never did find out the cost of renting the Rex Hotel for an afternoon.

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I have a flashback to Vietnam in 1989…

On YouTube, there is a video of the last flight out of Da Nang in 1975

Fourteen years later, almost a quarter of a century ago from today – in November 1989 – I was in Da Nang. This is an extract from my diary.

Three of the American ‘journalists’ I saw in Cambodia are here with a lady from the Vietnamese Foreign Office. They are ex-GIs and have been touring former places they were based and fought in and around Huế and Da Nang…and meeting some former Viet Cong fighters.

They have interviewed the Foreign Minister who apparently said little except that the Japanese are “animals”. This was in an on-the-record interview.

The Foreign Office lady was interesting. She had shown film director Oliver Stone (of Platoon and Salvador) around and had a VHS of Spitting Image in her office – she thought it very funny. She had started reading Animal Farm but had got bored. She also went to North Korea last year and had been regaling the Americans with stories of how OTT it is. She said they had eaten potatoes every single day for lunch, so she and her room mate went back to the privacy of their room and talked about how boring potatoes were and how they wished the North Koreans would not serve them. Sure enough, the next day…no potatoes were served.

The Americans told the Foreign Office lady they could have easily won the Vietnam War, but the moral and political price would have been too high.

The most philosophical one of them told her quietly and amiably: “We could have obliterated you. We could have wiped your country off the map.” She smiled politely.

It strikes me the Americans still have not realised (even after the Russian debacle in Afghanistan) that money and might and technology alone cannot defeat motivated individuals. Also, the more I see of this country, the more insane the American tactic seems – staying in fortified enclaves. They could never have won the Vietnam War any more than the British forces on their own can ‘win’ in Northern Ireland. The difference is we know it but have no alternative. I suppose the problem is the Americans don’t understand guerrilla wars. They’re pumping money, arms and equipment into Central America, assuming quantity will triumph.

Anyway….

It was monsoon day today. I woke up at about 0300 in the morning with rain chucking it down. This continued for most of the morning. Sheets of it coming down. I got a chance to wear my waterproof top and leggings. I suspect the locals thought I looked distinguished – if hysterical tittering is a compliment over here.

An old guy attached himself to me as I wandered around. He said he occasionally goes to Saigon “but the crime is bad there. People have guns and sometimes policemen are shot by robbers”. He seemed to be talking about more than one isolated case. He asked me to send him “two movie magazines – American.”

He said only newspapers get censored, not movie magazines, and there is no problem sending him things.

Last night, after I got back to my room, there was a knock on the door.

A young-ish woman.

“Yooseepwon?”

“Sorry?”

“You sleep one?”

Aha! I possibly already have AIDs from the acupuncture needles; I don’t need this.

“No. Sleeps two,” I said. “Two people here.”

She wasn’t convinced, but said, “Ah!” and went away. After I closed my door, I heard her knocking on another door along the corridor. Presumably she had a list of all the rooms occupied by single men and says: “Can I sleep here too?”

Uncle Ho Chi Minh must be turning in his mausoleum up north in Hanoi.

I met a couple of British expats (they’ve been away from home for 37 years) working for the UN who reckon Vietnam could start to flourish within 18 months. In one Hanoi hotel, they told us, twenty rooms are on a retainer to Japanese companies waiting for the right time to move in their businesses. They have retained the empty rooms for six months to see how the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia goes and are waiting for US pressure on Japan to lessen. (ie “Don’t trade with the Viets!”)

I also met a local teacher of English. He has the top teaching post on the highest grade at the local college and earns $10 per month; he has a wife and four children. He does occasional tourist work for meals, not money. He listens to the BBC World Service (illegal, he says) and gave me his business card, printed free for him by a student’s father.

“Don’t write,” he told me, pointing to the address on his card. “It would not be good for me.”

I have been warned about pickpockets in Da Nang.

I had a walk around town. Everyone ignored me. I assumed this was because they thought I was a Russian. The Russians took over the vast US naval base and airfield – I think it’s a main port for their Pacific Fleet. People who did look at me did so without expression or with a slight scowl. On some of the secondary shopping streets, though, I got some “Hello”s followed by smiles when I replied in English. On four occasions, when I said I was “English” they insisted on grasping and shaking my hand. I have never had this before. One bloke, discovering I was English, tried to sell me “real Viet Cong’s jacket…with holes in it…Real holes!…A memento…”

Only a couple of kids half-heartedly asked for money. There are more brightly-coloured Saigon consumer goods here than in Huế. More hustle and bustle. More money, I suspect…unless you teach.

The sad teacher said he agreed with Tolstoy: “Life is a dream.” He was an amiable man unable to control or affect his own destiny because of history, politics and lack of money. An intelligent man trapped below his ability and unable to do anything about it.

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UK comedian Matt Roper has ended up in a wheelchair in a hospital in Saigon

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Oh the joys of modern communication via the internet.

The last I heard from British comedian Matt Roper was just over a month ago when I blogged that he had diarrhoea in India after a rather too enthusiastic encounter with a local drink called Fenny.

Imagine my surprise then, yesterday, when I received an e-mail from Saigon… and the cyber conversation that ensued.

MATT: I am hospitalized in Saigon. God giveth but he doesn’t piss about when he takes it away again… But I thank him for Cuban trained nurses and free wi-fi! Hope you are well!

JOHN: You are hospitalised? Seriously? With what? Are you insured? Are you OK? If there is a ceiling fan, you can live the start of Apocalypse Now! – “Saigon… Shit, I’m still in Saigon…” Are you OK? (Given that you are in hospital) Actually, yes, Cuban levels of healthcare will be a bonus point.

MATT: Cubans train some of the finest doctors and nurses in the world. Latin America is very, very lucky to have them. Some of the staff here trained in Cuba, Vietnam being communist and all, the two countries have a strong relationship. They’re amazing with me.

JOHN: So how are you?

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital in Saigon

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital – officially in Ho Chi Minh City – but it is still called Saigon by almost everyone

MATT: I’m fine but for my right leg. Deep vein thrombosis. Specialist reckons it can be healed back to normal 100%. But then she also thinks footballer Wayne Rooney is the British prime minister. I’m in a fucking wheelchair and on a drip. But strangely enjoying being waited on and given the opportunity to rest as much as I want. Franco-Vietnamese Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City. Fully covered for travel insurance. Thank fuck.

JOHN: How/why are you in Saigon? Your trip was to India.

MATT: I don’t fucking know. Why does the sun rise in the morning and then set again in the evening? Life leads me John and not the other way around.

JOHN: Deep vein thrombosis? Jesus. That’s the thing you’re supposed to get from long-distance flights, isn’t it? Keep a diary of your stay. It could be an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

MATT: That remains to be seen.

JOHN: Have you been elsewhere in SE Asia? Laos is interesting.

MATT: I spent a week or so in Bangkok. From there I came here. First time in Vietnam for me. When a new nurse comes to deal with me they ask if I live here in Saigon. When I say “Just a holiday” they sort of throw their heads back and laugh. What luck I have! What sort of a man gets deep vein thrombosis from a 90 minute flight? I ask you.

JOHN: What are your impressions of Saigon?

MATT: The ceiling in my room. The pisspot by my bed. The steady wheels of the commode, gliding gently across the polished floor of the ward. Seriously, the night before I was in the hospital, I was in the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel sipping coffee, looking out over the rooftops of the city, my heart filled with joy. Isn’t there an Arabic proverb? One minute your hand is in your pocket, the next it’s up your arse… ?

Saigon in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

Saigon as it was in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

JOHN: I was in Saigon in 1989. I remember having drinks atop the Rex Hotel.

MATT: During the Vietnam War (it’s called the American War here) the Caravelle Hotel was the base for all the foreign journalists. That hotel was bombed, they managed to hit one of the rooms, but they reckon if they’d have targeted the bar instead they would’ve taken out every last one of the hacks.

JOHN: How did the hospitalisation happen?

MATT: I thought I’d torn my calf muscle. After three days I couldn’t walk, so I ended up coming in for a check-up. They gave me an ultra-sound scan and it turned out to be thrombosis. A public statement to the fact that I am suffering and I continue to suffer. Even Lewis Schaffer couldn’t lay claim to this.

JOHN: I wouldn’t be so sure.

MATT: I have only just let go of the notion that actually they’re going to amputate my leg. The things that have crossed this restless mind… If they did amputate it, would they show it to me afterwards? Would I want to see it? I doubt it. But, on the other hand, my chances of getting a series with the BBC would increase tenfold.

JOHN: I will blog about this tomorrow. Do you have a picture of yourself in a wheelchair or similar?

MATT: You’re a sick man, Fleming.

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

JOHN: Seriously. Send me a photo. When are you out?

MATT: When I’m allowed out. I don’t know. I think maybe a week or so more. I still can’t walk proper, so…

JOHN: Are you going elsewhere? Or coming straight back to the UK?

MATT: I really don’t know. I have either to stay put in Vietnam as they need to monitor my blood regularly or get back to Bangkok overland until it’s safe for me to fly again. Still, there’s stacks of material. Stacks of the stuff.

JOHN: It is an Edinburgh Fringe show. Trust me.

MATT: Nurse Than Thiet Sang must be credited for taking the attached photos of me. She was on a mission checking blood pressure before she was stopped to take these. If you really want a wheelchair shot you will have to wait until the male nurse who wheels me out for a strictly forbidden cigarette is on shift (later today).

JOHN: Too late. I will survive. I hope you do too.

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The poor Vietnamese woman, the Gilded Balloon & the millionaire Iranian

Yesterday evening, American comedian Lewis Schaffer (who, like all other self-obsessed comedians, likes to be name-dropped at every opportunity and to get a link) sent me a text message about my blog:

It’s amazing you can keep on doing it every day.

Well, I can tell him and you it ain’t always easy.

Yesterday, I moved a friend’s sofa from Essex to Greenwich and was helping clean up a house. Not a good subject for blogging.

So, this morning, I looked through my e-diary for what had happened around this date in previous years. These extracts are the results:

1989

In Hanoi, my local guide tells me:

“This is still a Socialist country – like Russia, da.”

He keeps absent-mindedly saying “da” instead of “yes”.

A fat woman in a rickshaw in Hanoi, 1989

Fat woman of money in rickshaw in Hanoi, Vietnam, 1989

I think I now eventually have the economics worked out.

Beggars ask local people for money but they don’t ask me. They assume I am a Russian, because I am a white-skinned foreigner.

The Vietnamese have no time for Russians because they (a) don’t smile and (b) have no money. No-one wants roubles, only dollars and, even if they did want roubles, the Russians don’t have spare cash.

The problem with using travellers cheques here is the US economic embargo on Vietnam – US companies are banned from trading with the Vietnamese. (This does not stop the North Koreans accepting cheques, though – they deal with American Express via Moscow.) My Hanoi guide tells me credit cards here are “many many years” away because there are very few computers in Vietnam.

When we pass the very flash Hanoi Opera House, he tells me it was intended for the people, but only the very rich can afford it. This implies there is a group of very rich (as opposed to just very privileged) people.

At lunchtime, I took a walk and met Hanoi’s equivalent of a bag lady in ragged-sleeved jacket, the bottom half of her face entirely red. Her face was like a robin redbreast. Brown top half. Red bottom half. I think she must have been knocking-back some particularly brutal local equivalent of meths. She muttered (and probably cursed) at me a bit, then staggered away.

'Hanoi Hilton' no longer taking foreign guests in 1989

The ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison – not taking foreign ‘guests’ in 1989

My local guide asked me if he could use the shower in my hotel room. Perhaps it is a perk of the job – a glamorous Russian shower. He told me he lives on his own in a Tourist Office room with no cooking facilities – presumably he can always eat in hotels……I think he agreed when I asked about this last bit.

I was writing a postcard on the balcony of my hotel when bits of brick started falling on me: they are building a new storey above me. I had to go to two separate buildings to send the postcard. One to buy a stamp and another to hand it in for sending. There was a power cut halfway through this process.

I had dinner tonight with the two Hong Kong Brits I met in Da Nang – plus a couple of Canadians. When he was in Da Nang, the Canadian bloke told me he had had a T-shirt printed saying in Vietnamese I AM NOT A RUSSIAN.

He lives in an apartment in Calgary with a one-metre long iguana which, he says, craps in a sandbox behind the television set. He feeds it on cat food and says it can sense when he is about to go away because it pines and goes off its food. The iguana has its own dead tree – “well, it’s dead now,” the Canadian said – in the apartment, so it can climb occasionally. It normally sleeps on its own heated pad although once the Canadian found it curled inside his pillowcase. The only problem is it likes to climb up the Canadian’s leg and has sharp claws.

In the same apartment block, a neighbour keeps a pet boa constrictor.

I must remember to avoid Calgary.

2000

A taxi driver told me that lap dancers at Stringfellows nightclub in St Martin’s Lane pay £200 per night to work there, then make the money back by commission on drinks bought by punters and tips from punters. Competition among the girls is cut-throat… not surprisingly, given that they have to make £1,000 in a five-day week just to break even.

2001

I went round to an interesting Iranian woman’s home. She is thinking of writing her autobiography… but will probably not.

“I am not rich,” she tells me. “If I get £100,000, I spend £25,000 here and £25,000 there. It soon goes.”

She has what appears to be a part-time Kosovar maid, pale, white skinned, hook nose, melancholic hang-dog expression, cavernous eyes with black lines in the skin underneath as if on drugs.

Also there was a Kosovar translator from Pristina.

The Iranian has a British and (as of two years ago) an Iranian passport. She is thinking of publishing her autobiography when her son is 21 because he will be “more able to take things” then. He is now 16. Her family is related to the former Prime Minister of Iran assassinated by Khomeini’s agents in  Paris. Her grandmother was a Mossadeq – as in the Mossadeq who was overthrown by the CIA to install the last two Shahs of Iran.

She lived in Dubai with first husband. She once had to go to China to buy a plane – she knew the Chinese general who was selling it.

If it gets around that she is writing about her life, she says, there will be panic calls from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi offering her millions not to publish. She has lots of dirt on the Saudi royal family.

A former Swedish boyfriend found oil in Texas and she spent one year in LA after her son was born (by her second husband). She has stories of the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner’s parties.

“I always went for the wrong men,” she told me.

Once, she says, she lost £5 million in a London casino.

She has a tiny and very amiable shih tzu dog which came from the US. She flew with it to Paris, then drove to the UK, hiding the dog under her armpit to avoid the six-month quarantine restrictions aimed at stopping rabies.

2002

I heard a radio report that a big fire in Cowgate, Edinburgh, had destroyed the Gilded Balloon venue last night. I phoned comedian Malcolm Hardee, who phoned his Edinburgh friend Maurice The Fireman. When Malcolm phoned him, Maurice was still fighting the fire.

The bestselling hardback version of Janey's book

The bestselling hardback version of Janey Godley’s autobiography

2003

Comedian Janey Godley is writing her autobiography. I have a terrible cold. My advice to her today was:

DON’T DON’T DO NOT GO BACK AND RE-WRITE THAT BIT. YOU CAN SORT IT OUT IN THE NEXT VERSION YOU WRITE. KEEP GOING EVER FORWARD LIKE THE SNOT DOWN MY NOSE. 

But just remember I am either a man living in New Zealand who has never seen the building you are writing about nor heard your life story… Or I am a housewife in Gloucester reading the book in bed at night before she goes to sleep. And, frankly, the way I feel I would prefer to be a housewife in Gloucester. Lead me to the sex-change shop. Bring on the Rabbi with the meat-cleaver.

I will read tonight’s (I’m sure excellent) piece tomorrow. If I live. Which seems unlikely. I don’t so much shiver as wobble around the waist and shoulders while an invisible Grimm giant takes an axe to my throat. Childbirth? Pah! NOTHING compared to the suffering of men with slight chills.

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A glimpse back ten years ago to Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland’s Golden Jubilee

Concorde flypast of Buckingham Palace on 4th June 2002

In those less cyberspaced days before I blogged, I occasionally kept notes in diaries. These are extracts from 2002, when Queen Elizabeth II (or, if you are being very Scottish, Queen Elizabeth I) was celebrating her Golden Jubilee.

Saturday 1st June 2002

I went to see comedian Charlie Chuck at home in Leicestershire. In the local pub in the evening, there was a noisy disco – people wearing St George’s flag clothes amid Union Flag bunting.

Sunday 2nd June 2002

Actor Mike Wattam told me that, in the Vietnam War, the Vietcong hung prisoners upside down with bags on their heads. The bags had rats inside. The prisoners’ blood rushed to their heads. The frightened and hungry rats ate the prisoners’ faces.

On my way home, I drove through a street party in Radlett, Hertfordshire. Union flags and St George’s flags flying, bunting, trestle tables with food, lots of children excited at a licence to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

Monday 3rd June 2002

Extracts from an Instant Message with a friend in Washington DC:

Her: I met a twat hack from the Washington Post last night. Complete arrogant tosser.

Me: You have a way with words. What was wrong with him?

Her: I told him : “At least you’re consistent, as all the bars and restaurants you recommend tend to be crap.”

Me: Bunting, St George’s flags and Union flags aplenty here.

Her: He told me: “Oh, I only recommend places that I think readers will like, not places I like.”  Critics don’t do that!  It’s egocentric that brand of journalism.

Me: It’s normal!

Her: Really?

Me: Like TV producers looking down on punters and making programmes they wouldn’t themselves watch.

Her: So film critics don’t recommend movies they like, but that they think other people will like?

Me: I think tabloid journos probably do that.

Her: Well I still think it’s wrong.  He recommends very expensive very bland places where he gets free drinks.

Me: It is wrong

Her: The place I went to last night he said was the most disgusting skanky place in DC. It’s actually a really nice private house with eclectic decorations (you would love it), full of interesting people. But he is so goddamn arrogant because people in DC cannot go out without consulting his reviews. You would really like it. He started to insult me because he thought I was stupid (I mentioned I had friends in the Independent Media who are Socialists)

Me: What’s the Independent Media?

Her: dc.indymedia.org Free press. I told him I’d rather live in a society where people get free healthcare and education and he left the room.

Me: In the US, “Liberal” means Communist, so “Socialist” must mean “In League With the Devil”… Americans!

Her: I think Socialism means Communism here.  He said he’d read Marx and I told him he obviously didn’t know what Socialism actually is. I think he got pissed off when he realised I was more intelligent than him.

Me: I should tell him kibbutzes are Socialism in action. Communism, indeed. Ironic that right-wingers in the US support Israeli kibbutzes.

Tuesday 4th June 2002

Live Jubilee coverage all over the TV. Somehow it seems bigger than the Silver Jubilee.

Wednesday 5th June 2002

I talked to someone who has dealings with prisoners. She says prison letters all have the same smell. Slightly musty, slightly medical.

She told me about an old woman of 78 who reads newspapers then, unsteady on her feet, moves around her home by touching the walls for support. She leaves black finger marks everywhere – which she can’t see because of her bad eyesight.

‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ Charles Bronson, has been inside for 28 years. This week he was given a TV set for the first time and, for the past three days, he has been totally docile – watching episodes of the children’s series Teletubbies.

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How Charlie Chuck got into showbiz and what’s next at the Edinburgh Fringe

Next week, I am organising – if that is the word – Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe – five events over five days to celebrate the memory of the late great godfather of British alternative comedy. Things seem to becoming together fairly well.

Yesterday morning, Paul Provenza agreed to take part in the first Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd on the proposition that “Comedians are Psychopathic Masochists with a Death Wish”. I will be chairing the debate which will, in theory, be serious but, with luck, include lots of laughs.

Paul will be flying in from Los Angeles this Thursday in time for next Monday’s debate. He is perhaps most famous on this side of the pond for directing The Aristocrats movie. Also on the panel for the Malcolm Hardee Debate will be “the godmother of Scottish comedy” Janey Godley and Show Me the Funny judge and doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick. There will also be a forth, hopefully jaw-dropping panelist who cannot be confirmed nor named until later this week.

I think it’s quite an interesting line-up, especially if I get that fourth surprise and surprising guest. It starts Malcolm Hardee Week on an interesting level and the week ends with the likes of Puppetry of the Penis, Frank Sanazi and Charlie Chuck in the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday 26th.

Which I why I went to have tea and two fried eggs with Charlie Chuck yesterday lunchtime.

He is living in a flat in Dalry House near Haymarket in Edinburgh. In the late 1600s, a rich bloke called John Chiesley owned the house. In 1688, he divorced his wife who wanted a lot of his money in settlement and the local magistrate Sir George Lockhart told John Chiesley he should pay it. He didn’t take this news well. He shot the magistrate dead the next year. They arrested him, chopped off the arm he shot the gun with and hung him. The ghost of ‘Johnny One Arm’ was said to haunt Dalry House until 1965 when a body was found in the garden – a 300-year-old one-armed corpse. The hauntings stopped.

“I suppose,” Charlie Chuck suggested, “after he were dug up, he figured I can’t be bothered any more.”

But Charlie Chuck had other problems when he moved into the house for the Fringe.

He told me: “The woman upstairs seen me going in and out of the building with long hair and a bicycle I’d borrowed and a balaclava hat on me head because of the rain and she called the police. They came and talked to me and they went upstairs and they told the woman:

It’s Charlie Chuck. He got a four star review in The Scotsman.

“The woman felt awkward about this, so she comes down knocking on my door with a pink cake she’s baked to say sorry. She had looked on my website and seen all about Cakey Pig and One-Eyed Dog and she’d made me a big pink cake shaped like a pig’s head and she said it were Cakey Pig.

“I were a bit apprehensive at first and thought Oh, I hope she’s not put nowt dodgy in it, but she’s a lovely lass and she’s from Texas. I said to her At least it’s not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I got on great with her and she might be coming to see the show tonight.”

Charlie Chuck – or, rather, Dave Kear – the man who is Chuck – covers an extraordinary range of British showbiz history in music and comedy, from meeting Bill Haley and the Comets through playing as a drummer in a soul and a hippie band to performing at US air bases in Germany for US troops going off to Vietnam, many of whom never returned… to being part of a highly successful German Oompah band and performing on the mainstream British holiday camp circuit before turning to alternative comedy, Malcolm Hardee, fame on the James Whale TV shows and The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.

Charlie Chuck’s career mirrors enormous social changes in Britain over the last 50 years.

At one time in the mid 1960s – well before his TV fame in the early 1990s – he owned six houses and became a horse race tipster – he was banned from three betting offices for being too successful. He had inside information: he knew someone who was married to a multi-millionaire who sold meat to Morrison’s supermarkets:

“She knew by looking at a horse if it were fit,” he told me.

“My dad were a coal miner for thirty year. I had a rough upbringing in Leeds. I remember one old woman was found half-eaten by a rat. What changed me life were sitting down and having dinner with the team from the Carry On films.

“I used to be a dustbin man but I strained myself and they put me on road sweeping – picking dead dogs up. I had two dustbins, a flask on one side and a radio on the other. I was also playing part-time as a drummer in a band called Mama’s Little Children. We had an agent called Eddie who also managed The Troggs, but they weren’t famous then.

“Round about 1961 or 1962, Eddie got us booked into Battersea Park in London. It were a three-day event for the News of the World. Roger Moore was there because, at the time, he were famous as The Saint on TV and Sean Connery because he were James Bond and there were Cheyenne off the TV and the cast of BonanzaDan Blocker and all that lot – and James Mason. Then there were lots of bands who were famous at the time: The Fourmost, The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans.

“So, on Friday night I were a road sweeper… then Saturday I’m in Battersea Park at this mega-event held in three compounds… When I went out of the compound, I were mobbed. People were mobbing me thinking I were maybe one of the Swinging Blue Jeans cos I had long hair. There were that many celebs and bands they didn’t know who I were, really, but they thought I might be famous. And I thought Well, this is fantastic!

“When I went back in the compound, away from the public, of course, I were a nobody. Mama’s Little Children and The Troggs were doing the gig for free – cos we weren’t famous. But I met all these people and we sat down for dinner – big long table – and I were sat next to The Pretty Things and Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films.

“On Sunday night, I came back home from this exhilarating experience and I were picking me dustbins up on Monday morning in Seacroft in Leeds. I thought Bloody hell! I don’t want this!

“That was in the August. In November, me and two of the lads who worked at Burtons the tailor and another who were a taxi driver – we all turned professional and all went to Germany. We were out there playing gigs until January. My wages as a dustbin man were £11 a week; but in Germany, I got £53 a week and we toured with Tony Sheridan who the Beatles had played with.

“It were great. That were how it all started.”

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