Tag Archives: Yorkshire

Scots comedian Del Strain talks about treason and independence for Scotland

(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Del Strain not mincing his words in London last week

Comic Del Strain sits on a pile of newspapers

With less than a year to go before the referendum on Scottish independence and with support in Scotland running at a reported 25%, I though it would be interesting to ask London-based Scots stand-up comedian Del Strain for his opinion.

“We all need to decide,” Del told me, “and the Prime Minister Mr Cameron is making it so easy for the Scottish people to decide where they wanna go. “

“I think they’ll vote No,” I said. “Devo Max sounds a good alternative.”

“That’s not how Scotland works,” Del told me. “You’ve got 40% of people who love Ireland. You’ve got 40% who love England. And then you’ve got the 20% like me who despise both sides and think it’s everything that’s held us back a thousand years. That’s the way it is.

“It has been said on the grapevine that a lot of the southern (English) comedy acts have been finding it hard when they’ve gone up to play in Scotland this last two years because of this (British) government and the way it affects society in general. People have not taken to southerners.”

“But that’s ever since Braveheart,” I suggested. “I think the combination of Margaret Thatcher being Prime Minister until 1990 and then the release of Braveheart in 1995 followed oddly by the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996… That all stoked Scottish nationalism and anti-English sentiment.”

“It’s not necessarily anti-English,” argued Del. “I saw a thing a couple of months ago which said the Geordies and people in Northumberland and even North Yorkshire said: If Scotland gets independence, can you draw the border with England further down, please?

“It’s that southern English guy in a Hugo Boss suit telling people it’s not a something-for-nothing society, even though the only time that southern man’s ever broke sweat in his life wasn’t with a shovel: it was wearing a gimp mask.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Coke-snorting, hooker-shagging (NAME OF A POLITICIAN CENSORED IN CASE I GET SUED),” said Del.

“I remember,” I said, “that, in 2008, ITV did an opinion poll in Berwick-upon-Tweed in England and a clear majority of people said they wanted to be in Scotland. And my Indian-born optician from Carlisle told me people in Carlisle want to be in Scotland.”

“Well,” said Del, “a Geordie is more like a Scotsman than someone from Surrey. Even people from Yorkshire or Liverpool don’t class themselves as being English. If you’re from Liverpool, you class yourself as being Scouse.”

“There’s a historical thing about the North being Danish, isn’t there?” I agreed. “The Anglo Saxons were only in the southern part of what is now England.”

“Celts and Picts are what Scotsmen came from,” said Del, “and then a wee mix of Scandinavian later on.”

“So, you reckon Scotland is going to vote for independence?” I asked.

“Through the looking glass,” said Del, “the sums don’t add up. All the problems we’ve got: dependencies and alcoholism, the ageing population of the baby boomers… I don’t see where the money is there to do it and fly solo. If it was 30 years ago, Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But to hand us over to the European Union now and become what Ireland was? Another puppet? That’s treason in my book. To do that just to get a ‘Scottish’ thing in the front of a passport is treason.

“But I hear that possibly there’s more oil that we haven’t declared to the English state and that’s why we’re doing it. So, if that did happen, maybe England and Scotland would even to go to war again. Who knows what could happen? Who knows?”

“You’re saying that with some excitement,” I said.

“I would get evicted, I suppose,” laughed Del. “I’d have to move back over the border!”

“But,” I said, “if Scotland got independence, England would never, ever have a Labour government – because of the voting patterns.”

“But I think the three party system’s dead,” said Del. “I think what people should do is… The Solidarność movement brought Communism down in Poland.”

“You’re not mellowing with age,” I suggested.

“Not really,” said Del. “The way it’s unravelling is phenomenal.”

“What’s unravelling?”

“The whole world. Comedy. Life. The way it is in America. The currencies.”

“How’s comedy unravelling?”

“That little revival we were hoping we would get because, during the last Conservative government, comedy went mental with alternative comedy and it was actually good for it because people need a laugh… It hasn’t worked like that this time. The economics, the way I see it, is that people are going out and spending pounds on comedians in big theatres as opposed to going out to clubs… Clubs are closing all round the country and the trend is slightly worrying. You don’t need a degree from the London School of Economics to work out that, if there are less gigs and more comedians, something;s got to give. It’s not even new acts. Twenty years veterans are worried.”

“So what’s your future in comedy?” I asked.

“I don’t know. For me it was part I get a buzz off doing it, part I didn’t want to break the law any more, part positive affirmation of my son who’s just about to be 16. It was all a package of everything. I don’t know what the next five or ten years hold. I could end up living in the mountains in Ibiza in that beautiful little village they’ve got where they grow their own pot and grow their own food. I could end up driving around all over the country in a Winnebago. Or a could grow a Mohican. I really do not know.”

“In the meantime, you’re doing a mini-tour of Scotland in November,” I prompted.

“Yeah,” said Del. “Shotts, Dundee, Aberdeen twice, Liverpool.”

“Alright,” I corrected myself. “A mini-tour of Scotland and part of Ireland.”

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Filed under Comedy, England, Politics, Scotland, UK

Devvo, Lee Nelson & television people

Devvo smiles in Edinburgh last month

When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, a couple of weeks ago, I had a chat with chav character Devvo who was performing in the Comedy section of the festival.

‘Chav’ translates as ‘Ned’ in Scotland and in American, I guess, it translates as ‘trailer trash’.

I did not have time to include the chat in this blog, a sign of my very bad time-management at this year’s Fringe but, for the purposes of bullshitting, perhaps that was suitably irresponsible of me, given Devvo’s irresponsible chav image.

“You’re sometimes labelled a ‘You Tube sensation’. Why?” I asked him.

“Just for being me, really,” Devvo answered in his Yorkshire accent. “I started out – what? – eight years ago just being me. Being a young lad going around causing trouble, causing bother and then people started picking up on it. But people are filming you and saying stuff and then you suddenly think Hang on! I’ve got a voice! I could be clever! I can teach people all my knowledge and give ‘em me life tips – so now I’ve started doin’ life tips videos on YouTube. School’s crap. Who learns owt from school? Learn it from the man in the street… That’s me.

“Everyone wants to make money, John. Everyone wants to know how other people do it. Everyone’s got boring jobs haven’t they? I’ve got no job. I’m a dole queue hero, I am. I’ve got teeshirts that say I am so I must be.

“You see people dressed like me with me Burberry cap on an’ people get scared. Don’t be scared, cos some of ‘em have got knowledge. But be scared of some of ‘em, because some of ‘em have got knives.”

“And,” I said, “the people who come to see your stage shows are…”

“It’s a nice mix,” said the man with the Yorkshire accent. “Cos there’s different levels of Devvo fans. You get the real low-level idiots who are just on my wavelength. Then you get the middle group who’re a bit more intelligent, but they know about me character. And then you get the people who’ve got no idea and that’s right fun. But I did have a gig the other day with a load of Army squaddies in at the low level of intelligence and I were stood there doin’ me show thinking Why am I even bothering? I left thinking This is ‘orrible.”

“What were they doing?”

“They were just idiots. It was a nice gig but I just thought You’re all idiots. Cos I’m growing into a bit of a businessman now – sellin’ teeshirts, sellin’ DVDs, givin’ out me life tips. I’ve gone up-market. I started out as, like, a rap character, but you’ve gotta move on.”

“You used to do music gigs, but now it’s mostly comedy gigs?” I asked.

“I’m not really that arsed about doing music gigs again,” said Devvo, “because I just felt I were ripping people off. Which is alright. But it’s not that much fun when you’re just stood there for half an hour takin’ money off people for doing all of yer old songs. It’s not really as good as breaking it up and having funny bits in between.”

“How were you ripping people off?” I asked.

“Just cos you think I’ve only done half an hour an’ I’ve just played these old songs an’ I’ve done nothing new. Now it feels like I’m gettin’ back to doing it just for a laugh again.”

“So you’re angling more towards comedy now,” I said. “What about Lee Nelson? He’s on TV already. He came along after you’d made a YouTube name for yourself. Some people have even said he ripped-off the Devvo character, though I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“Well,” said Devvo, “they’ve gone and said to him: Lee, here’s a cheque and can you do this for us and make it all friendly and clean and polished for BBC3? And, fair enough, if he’s happy with that, that’s up to him. If that’s where his comedy lies, you can’t begrudge him that.”

“What was he doing before he became you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Devvo, “because he’s got another character which is a Spanish footballer or an English footballer or something and that’s even worse. And he’s got a similar shirt on to mine, except mine I got from a charity shop about eight years ago for £3.”

“You did some TV stuff before the Lee Nelson character appeared on TV…” I prompted.

“Yeah. When we were filming some stuff for TV, they said to me: Why don’t we find somewhere in London that looks like Yorkshire and film down there? And that’s when I started to think You’re a set of knobheads because why don’t we just film it in Yorkshire?”

“Who was this for? Not the BBC?” I asked.

“No, it were for Funny Cuts on E4 a few years ago. I did it for Monkey Kingdom and it got the most views out of everything, but they just came and they said Right, we want some scripts now and I said We don’t do scripts and they suddenly all panicked and went in a flap and said What? You don’t do scripts and it’s in Yorkshire? Aaaaahhhhh!”

“But,” I asked, “if someone like BBC3 approached you, you’d still be happy to do television?”

“I would do, but I kinda stopped doin’ all me filming stuff a while ago because I just got bored. I thought Sod you all! Originally, we started doin’ things just for fun. People were filming me just for fun and then it got to a point where all these TV people were getting involved and then I suddenly thought I should be doin’ all this TV stuff now, because I’ve been given sommat! and then I took a step back and thought What? No! We were just doing stuff for fun and then TV tried to get its fucking claws into it and ruin everything, so I walked away from it and thought I’d just live me life, get me life tips ready and now I feel I’m just doin’ it for a laugh again.

“The Monkey Kingdom stuff’s been on E4 and Channel 4 and YouTube but now, if someone came to me with some TV stuff, if it don’t work out, I’ll just carry on doin’ me life tips in Yorkshire.”

“Can you develop the character into something else?” I asked.

“Probably. I could do owt. There are Waller FM podcasts on fat-pie.com and Devvo – me – I’m in there somewhere.”

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Television

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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Filed under Crime, Psychology

One of the legendary characters of ITV

ITV used to be made up of separate commercial companies.

In Cardiff last night, I had a chat with some people I used to work with at HTV.

The name Malcolm Leach came up and the general consensus was that he was dead. I have heard this too, though no-one seems to know the exact details.

I asked, “Didn’t he die before?” which is not as silly a question as it sounds, given his past.

He used to freelance around the then ITV network, mostly in Promotion Departments, making trailers for forthcoming programmes. The last time I heard of him – in 2003 – he had been staying with a long-term friend of his from Yorkshire Television, but he had been asked to leave after two days because he was scaring his friend’s children – he had developed a tendency to get up without warning or provocation and start talking to the wall.

Whereas other people might drink a few cups of tea during the course of a day, he replaced each cup of tea with a bottle of wine.

I only worked with him once, at Granada TV, and was amazed that he was so apparently charming.

I should not have been surprised – that is how he got away with so much.

If he really is dead, the word “plausible” should be inscribed on his tombstone.

His exploits were many, including an attempt to buy an ITV franchise to broadcast. Many people lost money. The most definitive Malcolm Leach story I every heard, though, was one which, depending on the telling, either happened at Granada or at BBC TV.

As a freelance, he had either managed to get Granada to provide him with a company car or got the BBC to provide him with a hire car.

After he left the company, they realised the car was missing.

He had sold it.

Men and women die. Legends live on and this story sounds entirely in character.

In fact, it sounds quite low-key for him.

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Filed under Television, Uncategorized

Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

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Filed under History, Racism