Tag Archives: Wimbledon

Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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Is copywriting gross capitalism and poetry pure art? And what you can do with a cow in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Matt Harvey, poet of the potato and much else

Matt Harvey, poet of the potato

When I was in Totnes at the weekend, I met poet Matt Harvey who told me he had once made a radio programme for BBC Bristol called Beans Means Rhymes, about poetry and advertising.

“How did that come about?” I asked him.

“I had just written a love poem to a potato,” he told me.

“Why?”

“It was for a Waste & Resources Action Project Love Food, Hate Waste campaign. It was specifically created to modify people’s behaviour vis-a-vis the potato.”

“Specifically?” I asked.

“People,” explained Matt, “buy a lot of potatoes, eat a few of them and chuck the rest of them away. I was told I had to communicate in a poem that, if your potato does sprout in your storage area, you should not just chuck it away. You should peel, boil or mash it and, if you have some mash left over, you shouldn’t just chuck that away. You should put it in a bag in a freezer and have it later.”

“I would like to see what Tennyson would have done with that brief,” I said. “Why did they decide to do this in a poem and not in prose?”

“It was,” said Matt, “just someone’s very good idea to give me money to write a poem. They had a series of posters with pictures of specific food items on them and a little poem about each. The poem would contain within its crystalline purity little hints about the best way to relate to this food item.”

“How did you approach your potato poem?”

Brevity results from a good brief

A good brief breeds effective brevity

“They gave me a really tight brief. I now include it in performances I do because it’s so interesting: I read out the brief and then the poem.

“As soon as they told me the brief, I went and wrote a little bit of a gush of enthusiasm for the potato taking into account that your love of the potato should include not wanting to waste any part of the potato.

“I found writing to a brief was just a real pleasure: to write a six line poem that says it all. It made me more confident about writing poems to order. I always thought I would never be able to do that but the more specific the brief the easier it is to do, really.”

“Advertising,” I suggested, “is really the same as poetry in that you are selling a concept in a very few words.”

“Yeah,” agreed Matt. “Although, in poetry, you’re often focussing on something nebulous like a feeling of rapture or a nuanced feeling – as opposed to a vegetable.”

“Do you do widespread readings?” I asked.

“I do lots of village hall gigs,” Matt told me. “Have you come across the Rural Touring Forum?”

“I only heard about it,” I replied, “a couple of months ago from mind reader Doug Segal. He should have known earlier that I would be interested.”

“The Somerset one is called Take Art,” said Matt. “In Shropshire, it is Arts & Lung.”

“Sounds like pun,” I said.

“The Devon one invited me to offer a show,” said Matt. “It goes on the menu and village hall promoters get to choose what they want. I encourage people to bring Anglepoise lamps to my gigs, because I find a few Anglepoise lights will adequately light me and it’s really quite atmospheric.”

When we thought we had reached the end of our chat, Matt checked the messages on his mobile phone.

“Ooh!” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“There is some interest from a local snack manufacturer,” he said. “They want to talk to me about being creative with their foodstuff.”

“You are obviously a culinary cult,” I said.

“I was once a question on The Weakest Link,” Matt mused.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I was the official Wimbledon poet,” he replied.

“The London borough?” I asked.

“The tennis championships in 2010,” he replied.

“You stood up in the crowd and declaimed poetry?” I asked.

Matt declaimed his poetry to the BBC at Wimbledon in 2010

Matt read his Wimbledon poetry on BBC News

“I blogged poetry,” he explained, “and one morning, as a gimmick, I went out and read poetry to the queue. They stared at me, bleary-eyed, but they enjoyed it because they were filmed and they were excited. As soon a they saw cameras, they assumed I was important and assumed they should be excited, so they were.”

At the time, Matt told BBC News: “I have a rich inner tennis fantasy life.”

“How did you get that gig?” I asked.

“Wimbledon have had an ‘artist in residence’ for the past seven or eight years,” Matt explained. “The artist has usually been a water colourist or someone working in inks or oils. But, in 2010, they decided they’d have a poet and two enthusiastic women who had heard me on Radio 4‘s Saturday Live and who worked in the visual side at Wimbledon sold this idea to one member of the committee. The rest of the committee didn’t care either way, so they got it passed. The only thing they said to me was Don’t embarrass us.”

“So not too many references to balls, then,” I said.

“I must go,” said Matt.

And, again, we thought this was the end of our conversation, but it was not.

Comedian Matt Roper arrived.

“Did John tell you he went to Cambodia in 1989?” Matt Roper asked Matt Harvey.

“No,” said Matt Harvey.

Why would I? I thought.

“Matt has been to Cambodia too,” said Matt Roper of Matt Harvey.

“Oh?” I said. “Phnom Penh was very empty when I was there. The city had maybe only a third or a quarter of its previous population in it, so it felt very open and empty. The Vietnamese Army had left a month before, so people thought the Khmer Rouge might be back in power in a week or a month or six months. This was back in 1989. Now, from TV footage I’ve seen, I think it’s full of sex tourists and UN jeeps. S-21 was the saddest place I’ve ever been.”

The regulations at Tuol Sleng - S-21 - Phnom Penh

Regulations to be followed at Tuol Sleng – S-21 – Phnom Penh

S-21 was the former girls’ high school which had been turned into a Khmer Rouge interrogation centre and prison.

“S-21 is still on the list of tourist sites,” said Matt Harvey, “together with the Russian market and the royal palace. And you can also pay to fire a bazooka at a live cow.”

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People are strange – serial killers, comedians and criminal psychologists

Mary Ann Cotton - an efficient killer

I am interested in strange people’s psychology – stand-up comedians – people  like that. People who are different.

But, really, everyone is different. Drag the most ordinary, dull-looking person out of a bus queue, ask them the right questions about themselves and you will find they have had the most extraordinary life and are probably very strange in one way or another.

Yesterday, I went to a lecture by Professor Glenn Wilson at Gresham College in London about the psychological profiling of serial killers.

You know the sort of stuff – some bloke comes along and tells the police: “The man you are looking for is 6ft 3in tall, likes Royal Doulton pottery and anal sex, has few friends, a lisp and probably makes pasta in an Italian restaurant owned by a one-legged woman within a three mile radius of Hastings.”

Except that seems to be bollocks.

As far as I can make out, psychological profiling is smoke and mirrors.

Professor Wilson’s conclusion yesterday was that “while psychological profiling may reduce the size of the haystack in which the needle is sought” (the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry had to process 268,000 named suspects) it is much better at explaining serial killers after they are caught but much less impressive at finding and catching them.

Well, yes, in other words… it does not work.

Anyone can psychologically profile a serial killer after they are caught.

Serial killers are not the same as ‘spree killers’ who just rampage round Cumbria or attack a Jewish school in Toulouse or go onto a Norwegian island and simply kill everyone in sight. A serial killer is defined as someone who kills three or more people with intervals between – like Jack the Ripper or Harold Shipman.

I was fascinated to hear about Mary Ann Cotton, a Durham woman who poisoned at least 21 people in the mid-19th century – including her mother, three husbands, a lover, ten of her own children, five step-children and her best friend. Now there is an interesting woman though, even with high 19th century mortality rates, you have to question the general gullibility of the police and locals before she was suspected of murder.

The FBI put serial killers into two categories: Organised and Disorganised.

Organised serial killers leave few clues, follow their case in the media and are “socially adequate” with friends, lovers, wife and children.

Disorganised serial killers leave a chaotic crime scene, have little interest in the publicity and have few friends.

In other words, there is no ‘typical’ serial killer. They are not the cliché loner: the Yorkshire Ripper, like many others, was married.

As Professor Wilson understated yesterday, “Profiling has its limitations. Certain background details are said to be common in psychopaths (eg bed-wetting, fire-setting and animal cruelty) but these are widespread in the community, whereas serial killers are rare. Childhood abuse and neglect may lead to serious crimes but equally motivate others to rise above their difficulties and develop a brilliant career (Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin).”

In other words, everyone is different. As in general life, so in the serial killing community.

There is also the fact that the police and the press can prosecute and persecute innocent people based on the fact they sound like ’the sort of person’ who might have done it.

Colin Stagg was charged with the Wimbledon Common killing of Rachel Nickell after a ‘profile’ of the killer was given on BBC TV’s Crimewatch. The police charged him with obscenity after he admitted having sunbathed in the nude and, based solely on this, the tabloids then described him as a ‘sex offender’. He then spent a year in prison awaiting trial for the Wimbledon Common killing, but was released then persecuted for years in the press (encouraged by the police). It turned out he was not the killer.

In the case of Barry George, admittedly a bit of an odd man, he was wrongly convicted of killing TV presenter Jill Dando (I once worked with the person who found her body). It was said he kept news clippings about her at his home. In fact, he had a stack of old newspapers, a few of which mentioned her but none were clipped or highlighted in any way.

Now, the chief suspect in that killing appears to be an unknown Serbian hit man who is presumed to have killed her in revenge for the NATO bombing (a few days before) of the TV station in Belgrade which killed several journalists.

Who knows?

Real life is stranger – and much more varied – than fiction or psychological profiling would allow.

How about a vegetarian who hated anyone who was cruel to animals? That person could never be responsible for any deaths, could he? Yet that person was Adolph Hitler.

To quote William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade, “Nobody knows anything”.

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Of credit fraud, Rocket Science and an elf

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

It’s as inevitable as rain at Wimbledon or mud at Glastonbury – things going wrong immediately before the Fringe, just to add to the last-minute pressure and increase my chocolate-eating.

On 16th August, my home phone is moving from BT to O2 and my broadband is moving from Pipex to O2. All arranged – letters from O2, BT and Pipex confirming everything… then, today, a letter and text from O2 saying they’ve cancelled it all. Eventually (after 50 minutes with O2, BT and the mysterious Equifax company), it turns out I’ve suddenly developed a bad credit rating (despite being Mr Squeaky Clean) and O2 have turned me down as untouchable despite the fact I already have my mobile phone with them.

The very dodgy-feeling Equifax credit agency won’t tell me why they’ve given me a bad credit rating without me telling them endless security details about myself over two days – details which they don’t appear to have.

I have a funny feeling this may go back to a bizarre letter I got about a year ago from Littlewoods saying they were going to stop my account because of credit problems. This surprised me as I had never had any account with Littlewoods and it seemed to involve someone ordering goods via my address in North West London for delivery very close to the home of a dodgy South London semi-gangster who appeared in Killer Bitch, the soon-to-be-a-cult-classic movie which I financed.

Dealing with the Chaps has its downsides as well as its upside.

The upside is ease of problem-solving. I once told one of the Chaps about a person who was giving me hassle and he said: “Back of a pillion. Pop-pop-pop. End of your problems.” I declined, though with profuse thanks for the offer.

The downside is you may get your identity stolen and/or end up in a packing crate on a dockside in Albania.

Time will tell with the very unhelpful Equifax – well, the next two days – including tonight when I’m videoing Helen Keen’s late night Camden preview of her Fringe show It Is Rocket Science! V2 and tomorrow when I’m leaving London at 0600 to drive up to Edinburgh with elfin comedian Laura Lexx (she once worked as an elf in Finland) and Helen Keen’s set and props.

Helen Keen’s preview of It Is Rocket Science! V2 last night got a very fast and very good review at lunchtime today, around twelve hours after it finished. An admirable example of the power of modern technology, which is also evident in the release today of a Janey Godley Nokia app for mobile phones.

This clever little app keeps the user updated on the move with what’s going on in the sometimes very very very odd world of “the Godmother of Scottish Comedy”… “Scotland’s funniest woman”… “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain”.  You can check her 500,000-hits-per-week blog (I have seen the figures and think that’s usually an underestimate), watch videos she’s uploaded to YouTube and download the regular podcasts she’s currently making with her daughter Ashley Storrie.

All this techno stuff is enough to make the late ‘godfather of alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee turn in his urn. He found even simple e-mails a bit daunting although (unlike me – but who knows what the future holds) he was arrested and imprisoned for credit card fraud. He found it surprising in his latter years that he was bombarded by letters from American Express and other credit card companies offering him gold cards immediately, no questions asked.

Malcolm is in my mind because, last weekend, the Independent on Sunday listed its Top Ten Tips for comedy shows at the Fringe this year. Number One was Aaaaaaaargh! Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview. It’s possibly the first ever time a film, as opposed to a live performance, has been recommended by a national newspaper as the best comedy event to see at the Fringe.

It’s definitely an event rather than a film, as it involves the screening of a 32-minute documentary The Tunnel (about the notorious comedy club which Malcolm ran), plus the trailer for a longer documentary currently in production: Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There plus a trailer for that longer film. There is a trailer for The Tunnel short itself on YouTube here.

Ah! 21st Century Comedy!

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