UPS AND DOWNS
My shoulder’s getting better. But with all the exercise I’m doing, I’m convinced that within a couple of months my arm’s going to resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger’s which is hardly going to match up with my Mickey Mouse other one.
Then wake up with cramp in my foot. Usually this takes a few minutes to clear. But it doesn’t. Could it be gout? It’s not as if I drink 36 pints a day followed by a bottle of brandy (well, not quite). The bit in brackets is a joke, doctor. But whatever it is, it bloody hurts.
Four limping days later it clears up. And then, a front tooth falls out. Shit. The following weekend I’ve promised to a Collecterama for Dr Who, where fans will want to have pictures taken with ’celebrities‘ and, in my current state, it’ll be like having your arm round Ben Gunn’s grandmother.
In desperation, I phone Barry Gatoff, my dentist, who’ll see me at 11.00. Good old Barry. With a couple of valium on board, I go in.
‘You’re going to need a Crown.‘ he tells me. ‘It’ll a take about a week for it to be ready.‘ I tell him about the upcoming Dr Who do. ‘I’ll stick something temporary in, they won’t be able to tell the difference.‘ I leave, the foot’s better and I’m grinning all over the place.
I catch a train on Saturday night, they want us for an early start on Sunday morning.
Milton Keynes is lit by 40wt light bulbs. The taxi to the hotel drives like the wind, either trying to escape MK or the driver’s got a death wish. I arrive in one piece.
Jury’s Inn loomed gloomily out of the murk. I’ve stayed in one before. Hard beds, plastic pillows and pictures of trees and bushes line the walls and no ‘room service.‘ I’m starving, so I have to go to the bar. I order a Panini with ham and cheese (why don’t they sell sandwiches anymore?)
I really don’t like these do’s. Sitting at a long table, in a space the size of four aircraft hangers with photos in front of us, supplied by the management, charging £10 with signature and the money all goes to the bosses. I do get a few bob for turning up, but my main purpose to try and sell a few of my books.
Fifteen minutes later I’m still waiting for my bloody Panini getting myself into a right frazzle about the following day when there’s a tap on my shoulder. It was if all the 40wt bulbs had turned into 150wt’s. The tapper was none other than Michael Jayston, an old pal. With him on board, tomorrow was taking on a new allure.
At 8.40 in the morning the coach arrived. Michael and I were the last to board. It was hard to find a seat. Who are all these people?
We arrived at the M.K.Dons football ground. It was a bleak scene. A few yawning punters hanging around waiting for the ‘big event.’
We were led to the dreaded table. Forty of sitting there, pens poised waiting for the signings. All of us, who thirty years ago had killed Daleks, Cybermen, now looking like for all the world like old aged pensioners waiting to have chilblains treated. But the punters didn’t seem to notice.
Michael and I kept popping out for fag breaks, catching up on old times, laughing at cock ups, yes, having a great time.
Surprisingly I managed to sell two books in the morning and then, miracle of miracles, I sold four more in the afternoon. Eventually, it was time to leave.
On our way out, the organizer of the event came up to me. ‘I’ll let you know when the next one is, Ray.’
‘Thanks. But make sure that Michael is there as well.’
Six books sold and rekindled an old friendship.
The two old granddads wandered through the gathering gloom to the railway station. They’d both had a lovely day in Milton Keynes.
5.45 Saturday the 31st of August 2013. They order some more drinks. The chat is dominated by the game. ‘Stupid last minute goal.‘ They were gutted. Then someone says ‘Checked the train times. Sorry, it’s not 6.00 o’clock. It’s five to. Better drink up.’
At about the same time a taxi is arriving at Newcastle Station. A man, we don’t know, climbs out with his wheelie bag. He searches for his wallet. ‘Sorry, mate.‘ he says to the driver. who’s giving him a beady look.
Our pals are trotting down the hill to the station. The wallet is found and the driver is paid. The pals reach the platform with minutes to spare. ‘Coach H.‘
The man is is dragging his case along the platform. ‘Coach G, coach G.‘ he mutters. He finds it, the door is open and he climbs into the train pulling his bag behind him.
The pals are hurrying along the platform searching for their carriage.
One of the wheels of the man’s bag has become wedged under the carriage step.
‘Here’s coach G, next one along.’
The man pulls at the bag trying to dislodge it.
The pals can see coach H. One of them his lagging behind. ‘Are we nearly there?‘ he gasps.
The man has got one foot against the door frame, tugging at his bag still trying to release it.
The pals are at coach H. The straggler is bringing up the rear. ‘Hurry up!‘ they shout at him.
With a final mighty heave, the man pulls at the handle of the bag, this bag is a cheap copy of an up market brand certainly not made to a high standard, the material is of sub standard cloth and the stitching is hap hazard therefore the handle, not used to this rigorous treatment, gives up the ghost and separates itself from the bag, which tumbles back on to the platform.
The straggler, unaware of anything but the need to get to coach H, hits the wayward bag and falls on the platform like a ton of bricks.
I open my eyes. ‘Where are we?’
‘On the train.’
I’m aware of blood dripping down my face and my left shoulder is giving me terrible pain.
‘This Jordan, dad, the physio with the Arsenal under 18 team, they’ve been playing in Sunderland, he’s going to help you.’
Jordan cleaned me up and put a plaster on my forehead. Then made up a sling for my painful shoulder.
‘Now, Ray.‘ he said. ‘Keep you head still and follow my finger. No, don’t move your head, just use your eyes. Good. Good.‘ he looked at me intently. ‘What were you doing in Newcastle?’
‘Watching Fulham playing Newcastle.’
‘What was the score?’
‘We lost one nil.’
‘Who did you play last week?’
‘Arsenal at home.’
‘We lost three one.’
Jordan looked at my son. ‘He’s alright. Not concussed.’
I don’t remember the journey but when we arrive at King’s Cross there are two Special Constables waiting for me. ‘The train phoned ahead, there’s an ambulance waiting for you.’
My boys came with me to the local hospital. After an X-ray and a tetanus injection and good news that I didn’t need stitches or an operation on my shoulder, I went home. Ten weeks later I’m writing this.
The last three blogs about Brownlee Home for Demented Actors I was just marking time. Saving you the tedium of me going on and on about the shit I was going through, bloody exercises and not being able to sleep.
What a good boy I am!
GOING, GOING, GONE.
I had to get some money to get out Calais and back home. Busking was the only way to escape. I had to come up with a bright idea to replace Roger’s almost irreplaceable rhythm on the washboard. I needed some sort of backing. I hammered six tacks into the soles of my shoes, laid the washboard on the ground and while strumming my guitar, did my impression of the Wilson, Kepple and Betty shuffle over the ribbed steel on the board. It went down a storm. The Euros tumbled in. I could have ended my days there but I had to get home.
The English Channel was flat as a snooker table and the sun was shining (!) I sat on the deck and dozed off. After a few minutes it seemed as if a cloud had covered up the last rays of the sun. When I opened my eyes, the sun was still shining but the ‘cloud’ turned out to be a crowd of people standing in front of me staring out to sea. It was a bloody nuisance, I decided to move to another chair. I stood up. ‘Excuse me.’ I said and pushed through them to get to my guitar and the washboard that I’d left leaning on the ship’s rails.
As I went to pick them up, a voice behind said. ‘Excuse me, sir, is that yours?’
‘Yes, it is.’ I said tersely to the owner of the ‘voice’, who looked like a double portion of cheese cake covered in custard.
‘Please let introduce myself, sir, I’m Herman Winston Grasshopper the 7th. And this is my good wife Martha.’ Martha stepped out and curtsied. ‘Wonderful to meet you, sir.’ She was just one portion (‘easy on the custard’) with whitest teeth I’ve ever seen, so blazing white they would have blinded a pride of marauding lions looking for a quick lunch. ‘Such a talented guy, ain’t he Herm?’
She turned swiftly to he husband and hissed into his ear, searing and pointedly, like a nurse trying to clear a blockage of wax. ‘Buy it, Herm, I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it.!’
Herm turned to me. ‘My wife and friends here have been on a year long tour of great buildings, castles, cathedral, museums and art galleries. We’ve had a wonderful time.’ There was a mumble of agreement from the assembled cheese cakes. ‘Now occasionally theres’s bolt of lightening that can knock you off your feet. And my wife has been struck.’
His wife jabbed him in the ribs. ‘Shut up, Herm, get on with it. It’s time for drinks!’
“Okay, Chammy, keep your knickers on. $750 for your art work, sir?’ he was pointing to the guitar and washboard.
Gob smacked? Yep, I sure was. Anyway to cut my negotiations short (thrilling as they were) ending up with me getting £1500 and an invitation to New York to display my other ‘art‘ in a gallery Herm owned, I disembarked ( to cheers from the assembled cheesecakes) and made my way home.
The great cover up is now over, so back to reality in more ways than one. The disastrous Newcastle Station and wheelie bag adventure. So much to look forward to!
So much has happened in the last few weeks. Roger Walker has been a dynamo, he cobbled up a guitar for me using a couple of hub caps soldered together and a flattened exhaust pipe for the neck, using wire from a tatty old soiled mattress for the strings and a washboard for him and then he managed, after getting a wax impression, to make a key for the basement door into Brownlee’s grounds, then we went into the local town busking. We enjoyed ourselves. Did well. Made a few bob. Then out of the blue he announced ‘We’re off tonight.’ A mate of his, who drove a bread van, dropped us off at Dover and within no time we were on the ferry.
The sea was rough, we were like a cork in a washing machine, sick bowls were filled and emptied by pale faced stewards, a group of wild eyed nuns prayed desperately for a change in the weather or an early death, me, my head permanently in my bowl, the ferry creaking and groaning threatening to fall apart any second, while Roger sat calmly eating a bacon sandwich. I nicked his spare ginger wig, he’d told me while puking, and while he was busy searching for it, I nipped into his office and took our passports, he told me.
I sipped my Calvados, lifted my fork and pushed in a piece of ham and pineapple into my mouth, chomped away all the time salivating at the thought of a Full English breakfast. God, what am doing in this foreign land? I hate it. Can’t speak the language but Roger can, of course “I used to be a teacher.” People were scuttling past the cafe. It looked like rain. Lucky old Roger out of these soon to be teeming streets and gone to Paris to see an old friend who ran a British fish and chip bar. ‘Making a fortune’.
‘Complete, Monsieur Brooks?‘ Gaston, the cafe owner, who had let Roger and me have a room at the back of the cafe for a couple of our ‘musical evenings‘ at weekends, plus a few bob in our pockets and free ‘breakfasts’. Our musical repertoire includes mash ups of Rock Island Line, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavour on The Bedpost Overnight, Maggie May, Dancing Queen, the Engelbert Humperdinck songbook followed by Edith Piaf numbers (a bit of a strain on the vocal chords these), and of course a couple of my songs but naturally the punters don’t take any notice, too busy stuffing their faces with frog’s bits followed by Gaston’s speciality, ‘the world famous Horse Fritters’ and jabbering away nineteen to the dozen. I downed my coffee.‘Very nice, Gaston.’
‘When will Monsieur Walker be returning? You have to play tomorrow night.‘
I lifted my empty glass. ‘I’m sure he will. And can I have a refill?’
Gaston shuffled back into the cafe with my empty glass. He didn’t like minions like me having ‘seconds’. But he had leant me his lap top, hence this blog.
‘Monsieur Brooks, Monsieur Brooks!’ Gaston was running back out of the cafe. ‘Monsieur Walker is on the phone!’
‘Ray, I’m flying back to London tonight. Got a job.’ He’s got a job! ‘Remember Gordon Glow?’ Yeah, that little shit who was directing his musical version of ‘The Mousetrap’. ‘Well, he’s got a new musical of ‘Waiting for Godot’ it’s coming into the West End. He wants me to play Estragon. The lead! Big songs and dancing.’
‘Gordon Glow! How the hell did he get one of his crap musicals in the West End?’
He started to speak softly. ‘I have a confession to make, you know that I took the passports out of Ginger’s office. Well I got mine and I took Gordon Glows by mistake.’
So, that was it. What with Gordon Glows connection to the theatrical hierarchy, once he’d gone missing, excepting that he hadn’t just Roger’s mix up with the passports, they’d have had police all over Europe searching for him. So with all the publicity that engendered, some bastard West End producer snapped up Gordon Glows latest lash-up. A musical of Waiting for Godot! Hell’s bells!
Pass the sick bag.
ME AGAIN ??
Walking down a London street. An empty street. Except for one young man sitting on a wall staring at his mobile phone. My shoes, bought for £10 in an antique supermarket in Brighton not dissimilar in their effect as the 50’s Brothel Creepers, made no sound as I whispered towards the statue like youth. As I became parallel with him he looked up and at me. He must have had a radar app for his mobile so sharp was he.
‘Are you on telly?’
‘Yes.’ I replied.
“Why bother doing this? You’re not on telly. You haven’t been since 2006.”
Who said that?
Who are you?
“You. The sensible you, before you had delusions of grandeur.”
‘What have you been in?’ the young man said.
“Oh God, here we go again. Give him that tired old list.”
‘Fools and Horses.’
“What? You weren’t in that!”
Of course I wasn’t but he won’t know
‘Oh, yeah.’ he said, happily. ‘You were smashing, I loved you. You was Rodders, weren’t you.’
“That’s a lie and you know it. Stop pissing about. You’ve been writing on your blog for the thick end of three years and hardly anyone reads it. Most posts are trying to sell you Viagra. You’ve got to pack it in. It’s bad for you.”
“Yes, because nobody, nobody reads it! Now, let’s get you home, have some hot milk and bed.”
I want a coffee and a cigarette.
“No more smoking. It’s turning your brain inside out. Before you know it you’ll be talking to yourself.”
P.S. Ray has now been incarcerated at The Brownlee Care Home for Demented Actors in Kent.
I read a lot of books and reviews. I’m not saying that I read books constantly but I seem to get through a good few each year.
One of my mistakes recently has been buying hard back books from the Guardian Review magazine. This I suppose is the high end of the market, the so call posh books. My recent acquisitions have been Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (477 pages) and Michelle de Kretser’s Questions Of Travel (515 pages). These are very large books. The sort of books, I always read at night and if I fall asleep these tomes inevitably close up and because of the bewildering complication of the so called plots, it’s almost impossible to find my place. So I have to start again. Large books. Bruised knees.
Other books reviewed in that paper are Kafka: The Years of Insight and Kafka: The Decisive Years, Isaiah Berlin-Building: Letters 1960-75, Isaac and Isaiah, The Men Who Lost America, All The Birds, Singing, The Crumb Road, Ocean At The End of The Lane, The Times of Fading Light. All I’m sure (the titles might give you a hint) as unintelligible as Kate’s or Michelle’s. But the reviewer’s pick these incomprehensible books because it makes them look clever and write about the ‘structure.’, the ‘delicate creation of character.‘ etc, so us poor saps buy the books struggle through them, not understanding a word, end up with headaches and bruised knees.
They never review books written by Peter James. A good marketing ploy by him is always have the word Dead in the title. Why no reviews you might wonder? They are long, the last being 407 pages. Not quite as many as Atkinson’s or Kretser’s but quite close. So why don’t they review it?
The answer maybe that they’re are not obscure or obtuse, in fact they are very straightforward. But there is one inclusion that is irritating. The copper hero named Grace, has a wife who left him about ten years before. He’s looked for her, doesn’t know wether she’s dead or alive. But she’s popped up in all the books, lingering in the background but why? His books sell, according to the blurb on the cover 11,0000,000 copies. So what do I know?
In an independent bookshop, a lady said to me ‘You should read this book, if it’s made into a TV series the main character would be perfect for you.’ It was the first Dead book by James. Within a few pages I discover the hero is thirty seven years old, goes jogging, ex rugby player, tough and has the occasional fag. Me, book lady? Don’t be silly. Good way to shift a book or two. So, I kept buying them just in case the hero got older and if he did, then a great TV mogul might want to film them and I might have a chance. But like Peter Pan he never seems to grow up.
Why have I been writing about the Guardian? Well, there is one review in it that caught my eye (another lumpy title, I’m afraid) called Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business and by Lynda Obst. She’s 63 and her career in films seems to be over. In the past she helped to produce Taxi Driver and then among others she produced Sleepless in Seattle. In 1996, down in the dumps, she wrote a book called Hello, He Lied. The tenure of this book is ‘you never trust anyone about anything’.
That hits the spot. Trust....what a word. I’ve trusted publishers, P.R companies, plumbers, gardeners, accountants, actuaries, lawyers. Yes, I’ve been a fool. I never learn.
In about 1987 I got a chance to do a sit-com. The producer was called Marcus Plantin. After the recording of the first episode, we repair to the bar. Plantin come up to me, puts his hands on my shoulders, he was wearing Buddy Holly glasses with tape wrapped around one of the arms, then he says. ‘Ray, you’re a star. Every time we cut to you it’s money in the bank.’ That man, a few years later, wouldn’t even pick up the phone when I called him.
But however I try to avoid it, the G. R. draws me to it like a magnet. And there are some glorious nuggets to be found there. For instance one is The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink. As I’m sure you’re aware that your dear blogger has a penchant for the occasional small glass of sweet sherry, so he was delighted with a quote by Dorothy Parker who said “ I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Ah, I’ll drink to that.
I loathe that phrase ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’. It has been used in that pop world, I believe even in the well respected and revered corridors of the BBC, the much lauded Melvyn Bragg even called one of his Thursday morning forty five minute yawn shows, by the same name.
I’ve never stood on anyone’s shoulders. I’ve stood in dole queues, at bars, at football matches, bus stops, school gates, yes, I’m sure we’ve all done a lot of standing.
But being in this ‘glitzy’ world of show biz, all wonderful and frothy, I’ve stood in rooms and ‘breathed the same air‘ as a lot of legends (not stood on them).
In the ’60’s the streets of London seemed to be teeming with potential ‘legends’. Everyone was as thin as a pencil and girls wore skirts so short that imagination went up in smoke. Once Biba and the like opened, childhood went down the drain. And it’s continued at a pace ever since. In 1962, travelling by tube to rehearsals of a telly series called Taxi, starring Sid James and Bill Owen, I was accosted by a strange looking young man called Andrew Loog Oldham, who gave me his card, and said if I wanted to make a record to contact him.
I went to see see him, his office was crowded, I waited got bored and left. It reminded me of when Toni Meehan, the Shadow’s drummer, took me into the the Savile Row headquarters of the Beatles. It was teeming with people, all using the phones, smoking and generally pretending that they were a part of the great groups emporium. No doubt that these days they are very likely to be shuffling around on Zimmer frames or are six feet under.
But. I often think, if I’d put pen to paper on a contract in Oldham’s office and if I’d have known that a few months later that he’d been sharing a cab with John Lennon and asking him if he and Paul had got a song for a group that he wanted to promote. The song was I Wanne be Your Man which turned out to be the hit song that got the Stones Rolling. Missed out there.
If I had signed a contract with Oldham I could have been a pop star, had to have grown my hair very long and snarled my way through songs. In the Oldham style I would have to become a Mick Jagger clone. Would this moody me have ever been allowed to do Jackanory? Would Liam Gallagher have wanted my autograph if I hadn’t done Mr Benn?
The Stones got rid of Andrew Loog Oldham very early, I didn’t sign with him, they haven’t done too badly and nor have I.
But Mick’s still got his hair and I haven’t. Yes, I’d certainly swop my barren patch with his voluminous thatch.
WHO’S ED MILIBAND?
My mate Dave and me were in the pub discussing Ed Balls’ gobbledegook chat on Radio 4’s Today radio programme. The lady working behind the bar said. ‘Who’s Ed Balls?’
‘The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer’........‘Who?’
‘Have you heard of Ed Miliband?’.......‘Who?’
She has got two children (‘Ten minutes of fun.’), a car, which keeps breaking down and, because she’s pretty, plenty of the lads in the pub fix it for free, when it’s completely knackered her dad buys her another one. But it seems that she has no idea of what happens in the world around her.
My mother was born in 1914 and would be about the same age as the lady behind the bar by 1946. The big difference was that in my mother’s day people talked about politics. They had opinions.
Churchill (‘War Monger.’). Attlee (‘ Bloody Labour party. What can he do?’) Nye Bevan ( ‘National Health Service?’) Frank Cousins, President of the Transport Workers Union. (‘He’s back from Moscow. Got his orders.’ ‘He’s selling busts of himself at the Conference!’)
Yes, there were strikes back then but in a way that showed political thrust. But with no televisions, no computers, mobiles, washing machines, dish washers, central heating with nothing interesting on the radio and after a meagre meal of boiled potatoes and fritters (I’m laying it a bit thick here but there were food shortages.), adults would sit round the fire and talk. And politics would be one of the topics.
But do people talk these days? Even if they wanted to, social spaces are pervaded with musac. They, of course, grunt and mutter, play games on their smart phones, ‘converse’ on Twitter or Facebook.
Their world is full of noise and nobody can hear anything. There’s an opinionated, social network that wraps it’s tentacles around the globe but no one’s taking any notice.
There’s so much going on, that maybe nobody noticed that Ed Miliband (?) had fallen through the cracks.
Sunday the 26th of May: Sitting outside The Chancellors pub having a pint (or a ‘scoop‘ as one of my mother’s husbands always said.) with Paul Winter, who’s organised a Dr Who gathering in the Riverside Studios opposite. It’s a very sunny day!
Then Karen, who’s helping out on the day, comes over. She’s going to interview me during the Question and Answer session after the showing of Daleks Invasion of Earth in which I, an extremely young version of the slob sitting outside The Chancellors supping beer, appear.
Five minutes on, we go into the foyer of the Studio, where a table is laid out with piles of photo’s of the very young me in various productions including pictures of the perennial bowler hatted Mr Benn. I put dow a few copies of my autobiography ( ever hopeful ) on the table.
People come up, I sign photos, some want have pictures taken of me with them, I oblige, then miracle of miracles, I sell THREE books. Bingo!
The film starts but Karen and I still sit at the table twiddling our thumbs. I’m tempted to shoot off to the pub for another ‘livener‘ but resist. Anyway we talk. She has worked in fitness clubs, does Panto’s in Norwich, used to have MGB, doesn’t drink or smoke, and me, who has never crossed the threshold of a fitness club and never intends to, listens to the whippet framed athlete in awe. In between the list of lifting weights and healthy diets, she asks me about the things I’ve done. Obviously needing to bone up for the Q and A session.
‘We need to go up to the cinema in a few minutes the film’ll be over soon.‘ she says. ‘There’s quite a few stairs to climb but there’s a lift you can use if.’ ...‘Don’t be daft.‘ I laugh.‘I’ll use the stairs too.’
She goes up three at a time, I manage just one. In the cinema, standing at the back, the film is coming to an end, Daleks tumbling down shafts and finally the Space ship blows up. The House lights come up, ‘I’ll go down first and introduce you.‘ She zooms down the stairs to the stage. ‘Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Ray Brooks.‘ Applause, applause.
I go down to the stage slowly, the stairs are steep, hoping that the applause will last until I arrive. It does. The Q and A starts. It’s rolling along quite well. I can’t help thinking back to my pub function room experiences, when there were never more than ten people present, they were a struggle. Here there are 200. Questions are asked about Big Deal, EastEnders, Cathy Come Home, Mr Benn etc.
Then Karen said, I think. ‘Say that famous line.‘ So I said. ‘Suddenly as if by magic...‘ The reaction was extraordinary, to my ears anyway. So I continued. ‘Maybe I should go round the country doing the shortest show in the world, just go on the stage and say “Suddenly as if... “ ‘ From the noise they made it seemed that they thought it was a good idea. Then I cut the 100th Anniversary cake for Peter Cushing. This was followed by the trailer for the the film, made by Kevin Davies, which included out takes. ‘You could see yourself dubbed into Spanish‘ he told me.
Later downstairs for more signings and photos taken plus I sold FIVE more books! Good old Dr Who.
Eventually I leave. In the taxi home, the driver suddenly turns round and says. ‘Your voice is very familiar. Aren’t you Mr Benn?’ That little man pops up again. Twice in one day? Could this be the Eureka moment?
I’ve done 4 Dr Who jamborees and 1 Carry On, they’ve all been well attended, the glitter dust of those titles worked.
Could the glitter dust of Mr Benn work for me? Could I go out and talk about Mr Benn?
Yes, a Mr Benn evening, show an episode or two, talk about the background, a few anecdotes, a couple of jokes and conclude with the hit song ‘Suddenly as if by Magic’.
It might work.
NEVER WORK WITH.......
Grace is born at eleven forty five on the 18th of April. I’m having a quick pint in The Sun, having been home to have a shower, shave and change of clothes, after three days and nights without a glimpse of a tap, shaving gear or even fresh socks. Tom, youngest son, had kindly taken Beau off my hands to allow my ablutions.
Beau is the two and half year brother of the newly arrived Grace. My job was to look after him while Anna and Will attended the hospital. Beau is a lovely boy but inevitably was missing his mum and dad, not having seen her for thirty six hours and him for twenty four.
I get back to Will’s house and Tom delivers Beau. It’s time for his afternoon nap. I take him to his room. He’s not happy. Get him in his bed. ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ he wails. ‘He’ll be here to wake you up.’ ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’ he goes again. ‘He’ll be here to wake you up.’ ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy!’ ‘You’ll see her later.’ ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy!’ ‘You’ll see her later.’
He stops crying suddenly almost as of a tap has been turned off. He looks older, strangely similar to a fearsome maths reacher at school. He stares seriously at me. ‘Dummy.’ he says. ‘Not mummy. Dummy.‘
Suitably admonished I take the Dummy (not Mummy) down from a shelf and stick it in his mouth.
Next day round to say welcome to the family, Miss Grace. Beau comes up to me. ‘Granddad.’ ‘Yes?’ He takes my hand and leads me to his room. He walks to the side of his bed and turns to me.
‘Dummy.’ he says and holds out his hand. ‘Dummy, granddad.’
He’s got my number and no mistake.
Never work with........
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE ?
‘I was the British spy who came out of the woodwork and told it as it really was’. A quote from an article by John Le Carre promoting his new novel A Delicate Truth. I’ve read a lot of Carre’s books but began to feel them stodgy and over long. I’ve always been interested in spies. I recently bought ‘Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West. Deception.’ by Edward Lucas. I’ve worked with Alec Guinness who played George Smiley in Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Why am I writing about these things? Well, something spooky has happened. Something that has never happened before.
My web site and my email address attracts a certain amount of traffic. Some appreciative and some asking for signed autographed photographs.
In the last week I’ve received ten requests from Russia. Why would Russians want signed EastEnders photos? Most peculiar.
Could my Le Carre reading, the purchasing of Deception by Edward Lucas and my tentative connection to Alec Guinness been lumped together and in a dusty office in the Kremlin someone has decided that I am showing an interest in Russian affairs and all the emails are coded messages trying to drag me in to the dark world of international espionage?
Surely, Pavel, Lev, Eveng, Karine, Ines, Rad Dmakin,Sergey, Smokotina, Mo Rduninceva and Orioskaja are just simple ordinary fans of EastEnders with no hidden agenda. At all my talks in function rooms in Brighton I never managed to garner a crowd of more than eight people. But here are ten Russians. Should I go there? Maybe that’s the market for me.
Ping! Another email from Russia has just arrived. Mykhaylo writes. ‘I’ve been collecting autographs of outstanding political, cultural and public figures. And I would prefer an authentic signature.’
Political! That’s not coded, that’s straight in your face. Authentic Signature! With all their know how they could probably lift the autograph off the EastEnders picture and secure it on the bottom of an agreement tying me to Russia for the rest of my life.
With my email page up, I notice another Russian message had arrived a month ago. And I’d sent on an EE picture and autograph! I break out in a cold sweat. I can visulise going up the escalator at Piccadilly Circus, feeling a needle in the back of my leg, being whipped away in ambulance, put on a private plane and flown to Moscow.
The phone rings. It’s my mate wanting me to go for a drink. I close the door of my office with it’s whirling Cossack dancers and slit eyed spies with hypodermic needles and go out into the real world.
The sun is shining. England is beautiful.
I had one valium before I left home on my way to an appointment to see my dentist Barry. Dentists and me have had a rocky past.
Here are three examples. My first was as a young child was with a dentist call Clutterbuck. A chilly name I’m sure you’ll agree. My mother and I climbed the stairs and in the surgery was a doctor and Mr Clutterbuck and beside the chair of torture was a gas canister. The doctor put a mask over my face and turned the gas tap on. I was terrified, only eight years old, it was like falling down a black hole. The next think I remember was waking up in bed. Apparently, still unconscious, I’d been carried down the stairs and taken home by taxi. I’d been asleep for two days.
My next ‘quack’, in the early sixties, was in Camden Town, who happened to be a great advocate of hypnosis. I only went because a filling had dropped out. He looked in my mouth. ‘Oh, oh, oh dear.’ Those words we all love to hear when muttered by a man in a white coat.
Now his hypnosis technique reared it’s ugly head. ‘You’re watching your favourite film.‘ airy fairy music was playing in the background. ‘You’re sitting in the Royal Circle and you’re very happy. Now relax, relax. You’re feeling sleepy.‘ I felt sorry for him, so I pretended to go into a trance. After all it was only one filling.
He filled seven teeth. Two months later I was ordered to attend a clinic in Victoria. My fillings were inspected. They thought the hypnotist was cheating the NHS.
The final example is the one that lead me to Barry, it was painful and expensive. I was two weeks away from starting a TV series called ‘Growing Pains.‘ My teeth are giving me gyp. A new dentist is recommended. ‘You need a Bridge.‘ he says. I’m whipped into Harley Street. Then wheeled into an operating theatre. ( it had to be rush, rush, you see.). I wake up and my throat feels like someone has rubbed barbwire inside it. I find out later, that once they got you under, they stick half a small ballon inside your mouth and drill and bash away like navies after a heavy drinking session. Then the Bridge is inserted to replace the three teeth that have been ripped out.
Six moths later, and £6000 later, the famous Bridge falls out. They stick it back in. But it falls out again. I give up and carry on with a gap.
I bump into an actress friend who has unbelievably gleaming teeth. ‘Where’d you get those?‘ I enquire. ‘Barry Gatoff.‘ she says. ‘He’s amazing.’
I go to Barry, show him the Bridge and tell him they cost me $6000. ‘Can you stick them back in?‘ He snorts. ‘They are rubbish. You should sue that dentist. I’ll give you a new one. £800.’
He did and they’ve stayed there for twenty years. Today, I have to see him for a wobbly crown. Very few of my teeth are ‘real’, you see. He fixes in a trice. Yes he is amazing.
I love Barry Gatoff.
A week or so ago, a neighbour, had asked me to read Mr Benn books at a local primary school. My first time in public since my abortive attempts to talk in function rooms in Brighton.
I was given a schedule. Four classes of 6-8 year olds, half an hour each and one senior class to talk about Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 . Apparently, the teacher of that class was a big Dr Who fan.
I get to the school, through security gates, at 9.30 and I’m given a cup of coffee. The first class looked extremely tired as if they’d been up most of the night watch Test Cricket on Sky and then had to do an early morning paper round. I hadn’t read the Mr Benn books for a long time and I was suprised how wordy they were. Not like Dickens but still hard to get your tongue round. I noticed, from time to time, a few seemed to lose concentration, maybe thinking about the 2.30 at Haydock. But whatever it it was, to drag them back I showed them the pictures. ‘See how big that dragon is compared to Mr Benn.’ It seemed to work. Interaction I think it’s called.
So the first half hour went by reasonably well. So off I went off to my next ‘gig’. There seemed to be more kids this time. One or two of them seemed to be interested in my black shoes (see my previous blog). Maybe a duo of designers. Who knows? Anyway, in my reading, I managed to truncate the ‘wordy’ words and sharped things up a bit. Sorry, Dave.
I move on to my third group. By this time I beginning to be aware that my throat is getting a bit sore. I read somewhere that Port is soothing for the throat. I stare at my minder, but my telepathic skills must have slipped down the toilet like my vocal chords.
On to number four. This lot are more sparky. One is particularly lively. A red haired boy with ants in his pants. I stop half way through and look at him. ‘Are you alright?’ ‘I’m hungry.’ he says. His teacher says. ‘It’s nearly lunchtime, Tarquin.’ So, I put my foot on the accelerator and speed through the story. The teacher then says. ‘Say ‘thank you’ to Mr Brooks. 1,2,3.’ They all scream ‘Thank you.’ and rush out towards the smell of over cooked sprouts and sausages.
I limp into the senior class. They’re larger kids. I’m not sure but I thought I spotted a couple of beards. The male teacher greets me like an old lost friend. ‘I love Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. Oh.’ whispers. ‘I couldn’t show them the film, they’ve only seem the trailer. But I’ve told them all about your career.’
‘What are Daleks like?’ I told them they were like dustbins, little men got inside and pushed them around like kiddies peddle cars. Silence. The a lone voice. ‘You killed Pauline Fowler, didn’t you?’ Then there was a deluge of wall to wall EastEnders questions. At last someone said. ‘If you had your life again would you still want be an actor?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. Then I asked therm what they would like to be when they grew up. A young boy wearing glasses piped up. ‘Either a barrister or a diplomat.’ There’s no answer to that is there?’
Next the neighbour said. ‘Would you mind signing some books?’ (Not mine I hasten to add) I sat down, with a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and signed 100 Mr Benn books. Mr McKee should be happy with these unexpected the royalties.
The teachers gave me a bottle of wine. Very nice of them. Then I went to the pub.
After my first pint, I realised something. I had really enjoyed my morning reading to the children. With all my attempts of going around function rooms of pubs in Brighton trying to garner interest in me talking (with a smattering of jokes) about my career and trying to sell a few books, I remembered something an old mate of mine Mike used to say to people when introducing me, “He’s a has been.”, I now realise he had a point. But, but, but, after that morning reading to kids, maybe that’s where my future is.
The other day, two of my grandchildren, Beau and Dylan both aged two, were shown a Youtube reading by Michael Rosen of one of his books. The loved it. That’s it I thought. I like children, they like me. Start by reading a Mr Benn book to open the door. Then do one of my own stories.
Yes, Youtube here I come. I hope.
THE BLACK SUIT
I went to Marks and bought a black suit, a new white shirt (seventeen and half collar!) and black tie for £160 to wear at Richard Briers funeral.
I road tested my dark overcoat (which I haven’t worn for two years), people looked at me, normally a scruffy anoraked individual now masquerading as a hit man from the Mafia. My black shoes were merely uncomfortable.
On the day of the funeral, Sadie and I caught the tube. People were looking at us with a mixture of sympathy or possibly derision, thinking that we were going a Johnny Cash jamboree.
The church was packed. Wall to wall actors. Their were readings by various luminaries. Then the vicar talked about Richard, who he knew well, in as much that Richard had been supportive of the many charities in the locality. He said. ‘I saw Richard a few months ago hurrying along the road. Where are you going?’ I said. ‘To the annual Actors service in town. I’m going to have to speak and I don’t believe in the bloody church.‘ The vicar turned to coffin, and said. ‘You’re going to have to now, Richard, aren’t you.‘ As we left, they played ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street.‘ By Louis Armstrong.
After, everyone was invited to a local pub, where there would be food and a free bar. Actors love free food and drinks. The pub was packed to the gunnels. I watched as sandwiches, chicken legs and slices of ham were shoved in pockets and bags. Of course, most actors are poor, the majority only get one or two jobs a year, so the chance of a few freebies are most welcome.
One old actor looked resplendent in a black cloak with his white hair cascading down from underneath a black homburg hat, stood there with a red wine clearly hoping that someone recognise him. Strangely, there were two actors there who I knew (I won’t mention their names), who, to my knowledge, didn’t know Richard. Could it be, that they had heard of the funeral and wriggled their way in for the free goodies? I’m sure Richard wouldn’t have minded.
A few days later, in my local, I was telling mate about the funeral service. ‘And I had to buy a black suit because I didn’t have anything suitable.’
‘Why did you bother to buy a black suit? Nobody wears black these days. Waste of money.’
I told him that I thought it was respectful.
‘You’re a bloody fool. You’ll never wear it again. Look.’ he continued. ‘Weddings, christenings, marriages..........’ On and on he went about dress sense, how times had changed, I was old fashioned and how I’d got to get into the modern world.
Bugger you, I thought, okay, when you die I’m going to wear swimming trunks and flippers. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
(Simon, I’m back. The machine’s been playing up)
SID AND MICHAEL.
Recently I’ve been asked to make contributions to two documentaries. The first was for Sid James.
Sid died in 1976 on stage at the Sunderland Empire, sitting on a couch chatting up a beautiful lady. I worked with him over a two year period from 1962. Twenty six TV shows called Taxi. He treated me like a son. People are always asking me what he was like. Yes, he was a wheeler dealer, a gambler and enjoyed drinking.
He arranged to get me my first car. ‘I reckon a Fiat 600 would be best to start with. I’ve got a mate over in Wandsworth. I’ll organise it.’ When it arrived I noticed that was a lot of rust underneath the bonnet. I told him. ‘Well, what do you expect it’s been sitting on a car lot for a couple of months.’
Then. ‘What date’s Sadie’s birthday?’ 8th of April. ‘I can get hold of a gold bracelet, from a mate of mine in Hatton Garden, with a medallion of St Paul’s on it. £80. I’ll get it engraved.‘ Yes, that was Sid. Incidentally, he never had to buy a car. He always had a top of the range Rover. He was very famous, good for them to have him driving one of their cars.
Everything about him was fun. I felt safe. He seemed to know everybody, jockeys, trainers and owners of horses. Always on the phone checking with them about their nags. Inside information. But winners were few and far between. It didn’t stop him though.
So it was easy doing the interview about him. I had such a smashing time with Sid. I was happy to do it.
The same company asked me to contribute to a documentary on Michael Crawford. Which was strange because this company usually only does programmes about dead celebs. The money would be handy, so I went along, but I was aware that I had to be careful because I didn’t like him, so I had to find the right approach. There’s no point in doing an interview slagging him off.
Of course, he’s well known, after all he’s spent his professional life falling through holes, being blown up, buildings falling on him, car crashes, hanging from skyscrapers, probably plane crashes and being eaten by sharks, anything he did wouldn’t have suprised me.
When I worked with him on a film called the Knack he was well known for being tricky. An example: one Friday morning filming in our location house in Shepherds Bush. The scene was two pages long and I had all of the dialogue. Michael was getting dressed after falling in a lake (natch).
The scene culminated with him, having got his socks on, he steps into a bowl of water which he had been avoiding during his getting dressed business. What a shock, ha ha.
It was an old type clapper board (Circa 1965) on which the ‘takes’ had to be chalked. We got to take five, when a message came up from downstairs that the producer had arrived. Panic, wasting all this film stock, so they changed the take back to 1. Eventually we finished the scene (take 18) and Donal Donnelly, also in the film, and I went to the pub for a couple of pints and sandwich. On the way back Michael comes puffing up. ‘Are you alright, Ray?‘ he says.
‘If you do what you did this morning again I'll bloody kill you.’
‘What did I do wrong.‘ all innocent.
‘I’ll bloody kill you.’
That Friday evening, the director Dick Lester (Hard Days Night, Help, The Three Musketeers etc) was flying to Paris. As he’s about to board the plane, he gets a phone call.
‘Dick, it’s Michael, Ray says he’s going to kill me.’
Monday morning, Dick wants to see me. ‘How dare you talk to Michael like that. He’s a real actor, you're not! He lives his part 24 hours a day, you just go home and live your own life.’
If I’d not been on that film for a couple of weeks, there was no doubt in my mind that he would have sacked me.
Anyway my plan for this interview was to paint Michael as a ‘shy person’. Finding it difficult to talk to people, always on the edge of conversations. To support the picture of Michael, I quoted a story about when he was about twelve he was singing in the Benjamin Britten opera called Turn of the Screw. The union rules are that young people can’t do six performance concurrently, so another young person has to do half the shows in a week. The other person who shared the week with Michael was David Hemmings. He had been a friend of mine and he was one who told me this story.
At the end of the show’s run Benjamin Britten told David that he had a very good voice and that he would pay for him to go Italy to train to be an opera singer. So I said, in the interview, how that would have destroyed most actors but Michael had fought back and had become stronger. Not bad, eh?
But Michael, I remember years later, when he was playing in Phantom, he used to be in his dressing room all day because he had nothing else to do. He had become a lonely man. No friends.
So, maybe my interpretation of his personalty wasn’t too wide of the mark. Yes, he was extremely ambitious but he ended up lonely. I suppose I felt sorry for him.
So, after the interview, I was outside waiting for a taxi that they’d ordered for me. The company used the same cab firm all the time.
It had been a strange hour or so talking about him and it seemed that everything that was said was in the past tense.
The taxi arrived, it was a right rust bucket and the driver looked like he driving the same cab since 1927 when he would have had someone walking in front of it waving a red flag..
‘What you been doing?‘ he said.
‘A documentary about Michael Crawford.’
‘I didn’t know he was dead.’
Michael Winner is dead.
In 1961 I was in, what I think, was his second film called Play It Cool starring a famous pop singer in those days Billy Fury. Desperately out of work, I was thrilled to be doing my first film. The added bonus was for me was that because Billy was doing a series of one night stands all over the country, I was asked (or summoned) to stand in for him for the screen testing of a couple of girls who were possible candidates for his leading lady. And for me it was great because this was the first time I’d ever been anywhere near a film camera.
Doing the film was great fun. Although during it there were certainly glimpses of Winner’s abrasive attitude around a film set. For instance, he always used a megaphone even in the studio. Roaring his instruction at the cast, the extras, even to the cameraman. He wasn’t popular. But he also had a sense of humour. On the last day of filming, we all decided that we would also equip ourselves with megaphones, tucked away until he screamed us, then we would raise ours and scream back at him. He thought it was very funny.
That screen test was the start for me. It was seen by a director who was looking for a young man to star in his film called Some People. That led to me doing Taxi with Sid James. Followed by Coronation Street, straight into The Knack and Cathy Come Home. Play it Cool gave me my first step on the ladder.
The years past and the stories of his high jinks abounded. In 1968 (c) I had a call to meet him at his house for an interview for a film that he was directing called A Chorus of Disapproval. He told me of his girl friend at the time who had chased a burglar down the street because he’d stolen Michael’s watch. ‘Stupid girl.‘ he said. ‘It was only a Rolex.‘ As I was leaving, he said ‘It’s great, isn’t Ray, we’re still here.‘ It was really good to talk to him again.
Further on I heard him on Desert Island Discs. He was asked who he’d worked with, and there amongst Orson Welles and Burt Lancaster he mentioned me!
Thanks, Michael, for showing me that ladder. I am eternally grateful, you crazy man.
Christmas is a time when you get cards from people who you don’t hear from ‘til they send you one the following year. But as those years roll on and on, it becomes increasingly difficult to read the handwriting. You don’t know who’s who anymore.
‘Who’s this one from?’...’I don’t know.’....‘It looks like Melvin? Do we know Melvin Bragg?’ ..‘Don’t be stupid!’. From the piles unreadable Christmas cards there appears a possible Vladimir Putin, Barak Obama and Che Guevara. We always seem to get one from Marlene Dietrich every year. She’ a right pest.
Pull out a supermarket trolly and quite often there is a shopping list left clipped on. Gawd, what a mess. Even the experts at Bletchley Park would be tearing their hair out trying to unravel shoppers gobbledegook. No wonder, more and more shoppers can be seen staring at their mobiles where presumably their list is clearly written. Hence the number of accidents at aisle junctions.
Of course, some signatures are clearer than others. One this year was from Jill and Dickie. We’ve know them both for a long time. The last time that we saw them was at a sad occasion for us and they very kindly asked us if we would like to go and stay with them. They’d moved out of London. We didn’t go. I’m sorry we didn’t take them up on it.
I first met Dickie and Jill in rep. in Ilfracombe in Devon. Dickie was the stage manger and Jill painted the sets. It was one of those summer seasons where the sun seemed to be shinning all the time.
One Sunday, during that summer season, the was a Charity concert in the variety theatre. Dickie I could both play guitars (?), so we rehearsed a song called ‘Dream’ by the Everly Brothers and went on that night and performed it.
When the summer season ended, we all came back to London and I stayed with them having no place of my own. Being out of work, Dickie and I decided to resurrect our ‘singing act’, find an agent and try and get some bookings on the Variety circuit. We only had the one song (Dream), so we built up the act where he was a drunken (!) stage manager and I was a pop singer. The reason, if you’re wondering, why we only had that one song was we couldn’t find any others that fitted our limited number of guitar chords (2 and a bit).
We audition and auditioned and finally, suprise, suprise, got a booking to appear at the Sunderland Empire, on the bill with Tommy Steel on his debut singing his hit song ‘Rock with the Caveman.’ We ere very excited. But then Dickie got an acting job and our singing act in Sunderland never happened.
Back to their Christmas card. ‘To Sadie and Ray love Jill. p.s. Dickie is in a Home.’
God, how depressing. My memories of him are legion. Some People the film we did together in 1962. The fun we had when he was in Big Deal. In Forest Gate, when we both out of work, he took up D.I.Y. Jill insisted that he put in central heating. I remember when he’d finished that the walls of their flat was criss crossed with pipes for their three or four radiators. He’d done it but he still got it in the neck from Jill. Now he’s in a Home.
Oh, how I wish that their card had been as illegible as the rest of them.
THE GUARDIAN WEEKEND.
The world is full of ‘How to do‘ books, articles and seminars. From breast feeding to pickling conkers, it’s a big industry. So off I go, £200 plus VAT light, to The Guardian Master Class: How to Self Publish.
A smattering of detail required: I have self published in the sense that I’ve had some of my books printed (the ones that I keep tripping over) but this event is I understand about e-book publishing.
There are about 150 people there, we’re all given name tags, which the majority proudly pin on as if they were gold medals from the Olympics but I don’t, I’ve never heard of the person printed on my tag. R.S. Broke. Great start.
We’re split up into groups of 25 or so. By jingo, they’re all so enthusiastic and all so keen to talk about their ‘books’. To be quite honest, the two days went by in a blur. I seemed to be assaulted from all sides by incomprehensible electronic technicalities and fresh faced, a lot bearded, corduroy wearing, dedicated scribblers with books they wanted to write about mathematics, great granddad’s First World War experiences, a book of Far Eastern poetry, photographs, children’s books, pop up and 3D, chick lits and few like me who just wanted to write sort of thrillers. When they all got going, talk about the Tower of Babel. But the overriding impression I got, was that they all believed that their book was going to be a million seller despite all our tutors, over the ten and half hours we were tutored, constantly reminding us that writing books won’t make us rich. Their childlike enthusiasm was bubbling over like knickerbockers in a high wind despite the facts that were laid before us i.e that 7 self published authors sold 1,000,000 copies of their e-books in 2011, 27 sold 250,000 and 165 sold 50,000. And the average price charged for these e-books? 99 pence. Q.E.D. Rich, rich, rich.
So what did I get out of these two days? Clear from the above not much. I learnt about sites that did e-books, that with e-books there are no numbered pages, the text has to be formatted (?) and words the same, paragraphs ( formatted into something else!) and if all this got too confusing, as if by magic, you could always go to, suprise, suprise, another expert pops up, namely A Professional Converter who would do it all for you.
Should I set myself up as an expert in gobbledegook, get 150 people together who shovel £30,000 into my pockets or get a P.C to get my new novel out there at 99 pence a throw?
It’s a no brainer really, I love playing around with words and as my new novel is about the gullible and their exploiters maybe my Guardian weekend wasn’t so much as waste of time after all.
A RAGGED MAN
I’ve never been able to tell how many people visit my site, then I realised in the last few months that the two minute film on my blog page has got a counter beside it. I’m now watching it daily, a bit like watching a taxi meter, and currently standing at 4,637, which on a meter would be a lot of money, running up at around 100+ per day.
The strange thing is that there are all those people logging in but I’m hardly selling any books. Made even worse by the fact that I’m in the middle of writing another novel, and if I can’t shift some of my current ones, there’ll be no room for the new ones.
I was catching a train from Paddington Station the other day. Standing outside having a cigarette before embarking, I noticed a ragged man wandering around. He had a very pleasant face and the shiniest shoes I’ve ever seen. I’ll call him Steve.
There were a lot of passengers, who having trained into London, were having a quick fag before going to work. Steve moved gracefully among the smokers like a ballet dancer, I was sure that I could hear the London Philharmonic playing joyously round the corner, each smoker he hovered in front of dropped his cigarette, half smoked, onto the pavement and Steve scooped it up. It was a pleasure to watch. When he’d covered everybody, two girls emerged from the station, one carrying a roll, the other a cup of tea, they approached Steve, who seemed to be expecting them. After he accepted their gifts, they handed over a packet of cigarettes. Steve was at one with his audience. He didn’t bow but he was certainly a very contented man. A master.
On Saturday December 1st and following day, I’m going to attend a Guardian Master Class about self publishing and how to maximise sales and whip up interest.
I wouldn’t be suprised if the lecturer was given by Smoking Steve. He definitely knows about how to ‘whip up interest’.
Clive Dunn died the other day, I never met him, but like millions of people I thought that I knew him. The power of television. He was ninety two.
His obituary, in The Times, mentioned Pam Cundell, who played Mrs Fox, she was also my mum in Big Deal. Another one of the regulars in Dad’s Army was Ian Lavender. He played the dear friend of Pauline Fowler in EastEnders. Later I married Pauline and about the same time Pam Cundell came into the show playing someone’s mum (not mine). Also into EE came Sophie Thompson, who Pam and I knew, is also the sister of Emma and daughter of Phyllida Law and Eric Thompson, of Magic Roundabout fame who was also a successful director in the theatre. He directed me in two plays, one being with Frances de la Tour.
In The Times, the same day I read about Clive Dunn, two pages further on was a review of a play at the National Theatre starring Francis called People by Alan Bennett.
In my room is a straw boater (it’s the one I’m wearing at the end of my short film on my blog), which I wore in On The Razzle when I was appearing at the N.T.
Round and round it goes (sorry, Eric.) and all in the space of half an hour.
I put my boater on, close my eyes, and try and find other connections. Like my magic paint brush, my hat might take me anywhere.
WATCHING PAINT DRY
There’s been a leak from the roof coming into our Brighton flat and the flat below has had a cascade of water coming through a light fitting. The roofers arrive and fix the leak.
There are black streaks down a section of the wall. I buy a pot of paint. Now, I’m more of a Picasso than a Barry Bucknell (Christmas crackers I’m showing my age), hence my painting efforts were a bit slap dash.
I now sit and watch it to see is if the is any disparity between the newly painted section and the unpainted section. As it begins to dry I can see a smudge down the wall where the new paint has been applied.
I’ve never been a DIY man. ‘But you’ve got to try, people have said to me. Say, I screw it up, I reply to these unpleasant show offs, it’ll be a waste of time. You’re just lazy, they always say.’
Lazy I may be but the proof of the pudding is there on the wall for all to see. What a cock up.
In this bleak mood, I search for the VHS of a sitcom that I did called Running Wild, which was another of my cock ups.
I put it into the machine. The plinky plonky title music starts and my heart sinks lower than the ‘painting’ me. Then the ‘acting’ begins.
My memories of this disaster are legion. Ninety page scripts, rehearsed in the mornings between Monday to Friday and recorded on the Sunday in front of an audience, bused in, having written in for tickets hoping to see a Bruce Forsyth or a Little and Large show, and they get lumbered with me. The unrest among the grannies was palpable.
The ‘warm up‘ man was a bright blue suited bloke, who told jokes at machine gun speed about marriage, mother-in-laws and mammaries. The audience was in it’s element, all thoughts of Forsyth or Little and Large forgotten, they were wetting themselves with happiness.
The ‘acting‘ starts. All the lights in the studio are blazing down and we’re all made up like Danny la Rue in panto, rushing around, pulling faces, waving arms (tic tacks on speed), the audience as silent as the grave, dialogue so fast it’s indecipherable, panic appearing in our eyes as we struggle to keep up with ourselves and then it’s over. I remember us all running out of the studio, hiding away, until the grannies who we assumed were going to lynch us, had left. Shit.
I went to bed throughly depressed. The painted wall and the VHS drifting in and out of my dreams.
Next morning I attacked the wall once again with my paintbrush. Determined to get it right. Then an hour or so later, Bingo, it was perfect.
I looked at the VHS laying on the floor and wondered whether I could change Running Wild with my paintbrush into something Bingo and perfect.
Unlikely but it’s nice to dream.
A WEEK IN OCTOBER
I had a call from my agent about a TV show called Starlings. Would I go and see them on Monday October the 15th at Red Cow Productions, 33, Foley Street. Now on the Wednesday of that week I’m going to the launch of Barry Cryer and his son Bob’s book called Mrs Hudson’d Diary about Dr Watson and Sherlock’s landlady, at the function room of a pub called the Yorkshire Grey but I’m not sure where it is. As luck would have it, on my walk up from Oxford Circus tube, angling towards Foley Street, I find the pub. As I’m a little early for my appointment, I slip in for a pint. While there I check through the three pages of script that my agent e-mailed me, which had also included a note from the casting director. ‘please ask your client to prepare the scene with a Northern accent, preferably Derbyshire.‘ Well, I was in Coronation Street in 1963, so I figured I could pull it off.
I arrive at 33 and have to wait. Eventually, I’m taken up two flights of stairs and shown into a room where in the corner is looming a video camera. These bloody things always seem to feature whenever, in the last few years, I’ve had to ‘audition.’
A small anecdote here: two years ago, on a dark winter afternoon, I was summoned to a titchy room upstairs of a quaint little house in Goodwin’s Court. Again there’s the dreaded camera. I hadn’t got the script on this occasion. My Email machine was up the creek. ‘You’re an American.‘ a butch woman said. ‘You’re in prison and your grandson comes to see you.‘ I made the mistake of asking, what seemed to me to be reasonable question. ‘Why am I in prison?‘ ‘The plots a secret.‘ Rosa Clegg muttered darkly. ‘Hold this in front of your chest.‘ It was a card with my name and my agent’s phone number written on it. The director was in Paris. Probably because he’d be arrested if he came into Britain for writing such a shitty script. I read it then left. My agent phoned the next day ‘They want to see you again. Want you to broaden the American accent.‘ You can imagine I was quite excited, actors will do any kind of tosh if they get paid.
So I went back. I was early, so I went to The Salisbury for a couple of beers. I’d been practicing my accent so I was fairly confident. Once in the room, no board this time, I ripped into the scene. The hairy one spoke. ‘Can we try it with the American accent now?‘ Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Back to Foley Street. No board to day. But...‘Will you say your name into the camera.‘ There’s a young man beside the camera reading the other lines in the scene. He sounds as bored as an actor who’s been in The Mousetrap for twenty years. Hardly inspiring. I do it and leave. My accent had veered wildly between Land’s End and somewhere up the M.6. No chance.
Tuesday 16th: back in Little Old Lady Land. Very frail, had to take her to hospital, wait and return her home. She was very sweet and smiley but couldn’t speak hardly a word of English. But she chattered on and on in this mysterious tongue. During the journey I nodded and smiled back. She seemed very happy. As we pulled into the hospital and I’d switched off the engine, I asked her, very, very slowly how long she’d lived in this country. ‘Fifty one years.‘ she sort of said. Maybe she just didn’t get out much.
Wednesday 17th Bob and Barry’s launch of Mrs Hudson’s Diary in the Yorkshire Gray. 7.30 due to start and I climb the stairs to the function room at 7.20. The place is packed to the gunnels. I couldn’t see Baz or Bob, they’ve got a lot of tall friends. It had obviously started early, I could hear mutterings from somewhere a long way away. Then I heard Baz, he’s got a loud voice. ‘Now, the parrot joke. I’m sure you’ve all heard it. If you have you’re welcome to join in the punch line.‘ Yes, I’d heard from him at least three times. The punch line arrives and everybody, yes, everybody calls out, ‘Nice to see you, Keith!‘ Then everybody laughs. Everybody loves old favourites.
Now we mingle, there certainly a lot of glitter about. Outside having a cigarette, Baz turns up puffing. Gives me a hug. ‘Thanks for coming, mate.‘ Told him that I couldn’t hear the proceedings. ‘The mikes weren’t working we had move the oldies up to the front. If you’d have come earlier I’m sure we could have found a place for you.’ No thanks, I don’t want to stand at the front listening to conversations about flu jabs, I’d rather get myself an ear trumpet.
Thursday 18th: go and have a few drinks with my VO agent Maxine. We go back a long way and we spend a lot of the time talking about the old days between sips and sandwiches. As I’m leaving I say. ‘Max, please try and get me some more voice work.‘ She smiles sweetly. ‘Of course I will.’
I know she will but deep in my heart I know it’ll be like flogging a dead horse.
Friday 19th: I jump in with both feet and sign up to a Guardian Masterclass. Two days lectures in December on Self Publishing and how to maximise the opportunities out there in Electric Land. There’s got to be something out there that I haven’t tried.
It’s certainly been an interesting week, a bit of a dip on Monday, and all in all I enjoyed it. If only I’d got my Derbyshire accent right it would been a perfect week. Hey Ho.
No birds defecating in the last few days. Now the angel’s are pouring watering down on me and the birds must be under their umbrellas. Having had a haircut, when I say that word it doesn’t really apply to my barnet, mine is just a few fragmented strands never longer than two inches, anyway this day these wisps were getting on my nerves, so I decide to have a few cut off. I spot a barbers called Reds. Pop in, the barber doesn’t speak fluent English, so I settle in the chair, gown placed around me, I say ‘Just a trim, please.‘ I take my glasses off, difficult to clip the hairs around the ears with them on. So snip, snip he goes. There’s none of the usual barbers chat about the weather or might I want ‘something for the weekend‘ wink, wink, no this man is not one for the chitter chatter. Finally, he finishes, waves a looking glass around my head, I slip my glasses on to have a view. Well, what a sight! He clipped me all over within an eighth of an inch of my life. My head looks like a billiard ball with couple of flecks over it. I offer him a tenner. ‘No, no.‘ he says ‘Old men...eight pounds.’ The ‘old man’ leaves feeling like a right banana.
Anyway with this new haircut, here I am in what seems to be a thunderstorm, clothes wet through but the head, well, with nothing on it to retain the water, it’s just running away like the perfect drainage system, I run into a small pub (any port in a storm). This tiny frontage opens up into a beautiful establishment, friendly staff, perfect beer and a garden with nooks and crannies to shelter from the emptying clouds. I settle in, roll a fag and watch the rain teeming down. It’s not the Old Holborn that I’m ingesting or the ale but being an old dreamer, I started imaging people who’d I’d like sitting with me round the table. Who could they be? Not that was lonely just nice to have a little chat now and again.
Here I am watching the rain bounce off the empty tables when.....as if by magic...Ping!i It’s Tom, my son. I’ve sold another book! Now I’m feeling extremely chipper, I’m not going to dance in the rain but I do feel like celebrating.
I start by wondering who had just ordered my book. Wouldn’t it be splendid if that person had just walked into this pub and joined me for a drink. Then...Ping! I’ve sold another one! Now the old imagination is in overdrive. How about if this new one popped into the pub for a scoop. Now the brain box is going stratospheric. Let’s have all the recent purchasers here.
‘I’m Sean Davis.’ ‘John Platt, how d’you do.’ ‘Hello, Ray, I’m Ann Wilson.’ ‘Barry Cooper, a newcomer.’ and here’s the latest Johnny Main!
Of course I’m dreaming, they couldn’t just appear more’s the pity. But I now realize, that replacing my out of seasoned birds, are my lucky raindrops.
So I step out into the lucky rain waiting for more Pings. But all that happens is that my beer gets watery and my fag goes out. Oh, well, it was worth a try. Mustn’t be greedy.
LITTLE OLD LADY LAND
During my enforced retirement (dodgy agents also the world’s moved on and I’ve been left behind) I do some community driving. This entails transporting people to doctors, hospitals, hairdressers, chiropodists, church, dentists etc. They are mainly little old ladies, no little old men seem to survive.
Some of LOL’s can be stroppy. ‘You’re going the wrong way.‘ a whiskered chin wobbles in anger.
‘I don’t think so.‘ the beer gut replies calmly.
‘I didn’t go this way last time!’
I conjured briefly with the thought of dropping her off at the next bus stop but ‘kind‘ people like me wouldn’t do such a thing. Apart from anything else the pubs were opening soon and I didn’t want to hang around.
Very, very occasionally it can be stressful. Last year I had an early morning pickup to be followed smartly by another LOL to be taken to hospital. For my first one I arrived at the allotted time, 8.30, and rang the bell. There was no answer. Sometimes they can be a doddery coming down the stairs or getting themselves together. So I waited for a few minutes and rang again. But nothing happened. I had her phone number, maybe she’d forgotten about her appointment, so I called. But nobody answered. I was getting worried now. Had she had an accident, fallen or a heart attack? There was no point in phoning the office that deals with the pick ups because they didn’t start until 10.00. I went to the houses on either side to see if they knew anything about their neighbour. But they didn’t. I phoned the office again and left a message explaining that I had to go and get my next one. Which I did. When I’d finished, my phone rang. It was the office.
‘She was waiting for you. Did you go to the right address?’
‘Yes, number 101.’
‘No, it’s 181.’
‘I was told 101.‘ This was getting silly.
‘Oh, I’ll tell you what must have happened. Dorothy who booked you has got terrible writing, looking at it now it does look like 101. But don’t worry I managed to get her another appointment for next week. Would you mind taking her?’
Yes, there ups and downs being a community driver. But today was definitely an up.
This is the time of the year for flu jabs. I had three to take to the doctors this morning. What a joy!
One element that lifts the spirits is when you are trying to get them into the car, especially into the rear seats where Beau’s baby seat is positioned (I should have taken it out but I find these things so complicated I abandoned the idea) being slightly rotund, holding their sticks, making sure they don’t bang their heads as they ease themselves into position, there are cars waiting to pass when the operation is over. There is no anxiety or even a trace of anger on the faces of the drivers. I smile at them as I close the door and they smile back. It seems to me that if you always had a rotund old lady with a stick on your arm you could get away with murder.
‘It’s a beautiful day.‘ says the lady in the passenger seat.‘Let’s go to the seaside. How about Brighton? I haven’t been there since I was five, I’d like to see the Royal Pavilion again.’
No, I didn’t take them to the seaside but they seemed quite happy when I told that I would send them a postcard when I next went there. Maybe even a stick of rock.
I’m in the middle of reading Norman Mailer’s biography of Marilyn Monroe. It’s now clear that I now know more about Mailer than Monroe. It appears that Mailer is following her, stalking her even, watching her every move even to the most intimate, spying on her, waiting to take her over. He’s actually in the book. It’s a chilling read.
The point is that, if this was a documentary on film, would it have the same impact? I don’t think so. It would open too much, seeing locations, photographs, the voice over using Mailer’s words (edited, of course.) but nothing like sitting, quietly, with the book in your hands when you feel almost as if you are following him following her. Staring into the book, you are drawn in, have to concentrate, in other words use your imagination.
Years away from the above, even before my time, also before Sky Sports or before the BBC broadcast football on TV, there were commentaries on BBC radio. The Radio Times of the day would print a football pitch with numbered grids indicating the various areas. Then the commentator would say during the match ‘Mathews is in area 10, coming towards him is Lawyer from 8, Matthews rounds him and is entering zone 6.‘ etc. The listener could visualize what was happening. But within a couple of years, the grid system was dropped and then all that was used was the naked commentary. People were using their imagination.
Before television, radio was big. A story Sid James told me was when Hancock’s Half Hour was broadcast on radio ‘The pubs were empty, everyone was listening to it at home.‘ Everyone could visulise Railway Cuttings in East Cheam, the front room, the gas fire, the rain on the window on boring Sundays, Hattie Jaques, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams, grumpy old Sid and Pompous Hancock, chatting away and getting nowhere.Yes. people loved being there with them. With television, Hattie went, so did Bill and Kenny, Sid stayed but even in the end so did he and the show finally died. The magic of the radio where you could see them in your head had died.
I can remember Peter Borough and his doll Archie Andrews in Educating Archie (Hancock started his radio career on that show as did many others.) Now remember this is radio and Peter Borough was a ventriloquist. A vent on radio! When he went touring in music hall, he was terrible, apart from the fact that Archie, on radio, seemed like a real boy, now you see that he’s made of wood, red cheeks and mouth that clicked as it opened and closed, but worst of all Borough was a terrible vent...his mouth moved when Archie was talking. Sort of spoiled the illusion. There was even at one time a radio Magician. Really. When he went touring live he made an elephant disappear, I saw this, a slatted screen behind which seemed to be an elephant, he said a few magic words, waved his arms about and there was a click, which I heard and I’m sure did the rest of the audience, and Bingo! the elephant disappeared. Yes, the slats had closed. No elephant. Mr Magician never toured again. All about imagination again.
Music: we all listen to that, don’t we? Listen being the operative word. Watch kids on trains, plugged into their machines, eyes closed, listening...and concentrating. Oblivious of what’s going on around them.
I listen to Mailer’s voice, he’s there in my head. Not always pleasant but this muscular writer is opening his inner most feelings.
That’s what a book is, it’s you and the writer, like the kid on the train with his music, you immerse yourself.
Imagination and concentration brings it’s rewards. Try it.
A SUPRISE PACKAGE
Yesterday a bird shat on my shoulder, six inches to the right it would have sploshed on my face and I’d certainly have been a shoe-in if they remade The Black and White Minstrel Show.
‘A bird defecated on me.’
‘That’s what they say. I suppose a bird pooing on you is about as likely as getting a lucky break. So bird’s do do’s must be like gold dust.’
Ping! My Email went. I’ve sold two more books! (thanks Ann Wilson). Lucky? Coincidence?
It got me thinking, maybe I should spend my time searching for incontinent birds and then I could be chasing J K Rowling up the book charts challenging her for the Number One spot for Christmas.
Tweet, tweet. Splosh.
YOU'VE GOTTA PICK A POCKET OR TWO
Music is apparently is easy to download for nothing. If not free it can be nicked. There’s certainly less money to made from music these days.
A long time ago we had an old babysitter called Ivy. It was at the time when Clive Dunn (Dad’s Army) had a Number one hit with a song called ‘Granddad.’. Ivy bought a copy.
‘But you haven’t got a record player, Ivy.’
‘I know but I just wanted to buy the record.’
Mad? Well, you can bet your bottom dollar that most of the bands today would love a few Ivy’s around to buy their records.
I watched an old video that I’d recorded, it was a documentary on the great old comedian called Max Miller. In it was a songwriter called Maurice telling us that it was a tough time back then.
‘I used to to use a Milk Bar in Charring Cross Road.‘ he said. ‘There was a waitress in there called Mary. And I came up with the idea of a song called Mary from the Dairy. I rushed home and finished it. Max was appearing at the Chelsea Palace. I went over to see him. Max, I said, I’ve got the perfect number for you. I played it. Yea, it’s nice, Maurice, I’ll give you a fiver for it. Naturally I took the money. Ruby and me had a good dinner that night.’
So, here you are Max bought his signature tune, which he used for years, for a fiver.
I understand that Procul Harum sold the rights of ‘A Whiter Sade of Pale.‘ when they were touring, way down the bill, to Lonnie Donnigan. Anyway that’s what I heard.
Max Bygraves died this week. He bought the rights of ‘Oliver.‘ from Lionel Bart for £10,000. It’s almost impossible to calculate how much Max would have earned from that musical. The stage productions all over the world, the film and the recordings by hundreds of singers, the money must have been rolling in.
Well, Lionel Bart kept going but never having the success of Oliver. Many years later, bit ill, not earning any money and living in a flat above a shop, Lionel is feeling the pinch.
Out of the blue Cameron Mackintosh is going to put Oliver on at The Palladium. Now Cameron is seeped in the business, knows all the stories and natch knows that Bart sold the rights of Oliver to Bygraves and also knows that poor old Lionel is on his uppers. So, what does Mr Cameron do? Yes, he gives Lionel a percentage of the gross takings!
Now Cameron Mackintosh is a Knight. If I had any influence with the Catholic Church,
I’d drop the Pope a line and see if he’d make him a Saint.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.
‘They’re weighing and measuring all the animals at London Zoo today.‘ I know it’s old news now but when I heard it on Radio 4 the other day it made me laugh. A spokesman for the Zoo said. ‘It’s about checking their health but with the Flamingos it’s particularly important because that’s the only way we can tell which is female and which is male.’ Then he said. ‘The Giraffes are very difficult to measure though. They get upset at keepers on ladders with tape measures.’
A couple of weeks ago son Tom borrowed my car to take his children and his wife Anna down to Cornwall to see her parents, his car being unreliable. This necessitated taking Beau’s child seat out, which I need because I take him out on Fridays (too much information, I hear you all (?) screaming, don’t get into telling us what you had for breakfast, for crying out loud. Alright, shut up and let me get on with the story). Anyway then Tom installs his kid’s seats in. Apparently they prefer their own. Crazy but they do.
When he gets back from Cornwall he tries to reinstall Beau’s seat but he can’t. Too tricky. I can’t. Too old.
These seats are mad, straps everywhere, the instructions are unintelligible, everything is black (great idea when kids are sick at the drop of a hat), in fact you have to be a contortionist even to get to first base. The whole thing is a monkey puzzle. The designers of these things should be shot.
‘How heavy is Beau?‘ Tom says suddenly.
‘I don’t know. But he’s bloody chunky.’
‘Is he over 9 kilograms? If he is then this seat might be against the law. I could be too small.’
Bloody hell. It’s outrageous, how dare Mothercare not have weighing machines when dishing out baby seats? I could get banged up then who would look after Beau on Fridays? Mothercare? Don’t be daft.
It looks like I’m going have to take Beau to London Zoo, if they can weigh stick insects and elephants I’m sure they can fit him in.
A train to Nice to stay overnight at the Negresco courtesy of our son Will. It’s a 5 star hotel, our room, with balcony overlooking the beach and the beautiful people, has a gold (painted) bath, toilet, wash basin and bidet. Our dinner was cooked by a Two Star Michelin chef, his special menu, was the best meal that Sadie, Will and I had had in our lives. Bingo!
Next day a hire car to Nice airport to pick up Anna, two year old Beau and fourteen year old Joe, then make our way to our holiday flat in Bonne Terrasse.
The French are extraordinary people. They eat well, drink wine by the gallon and lay on the beach all day. They’re all browner that any furniture that you’ll ever see on Bargain Hunt yet they lay on the sand roasting themselves silly. Some standing around naked chatting, their Willy Wonkers dangling, ladies lounging legs akimbo all over the place, while us timid Brits not knowing where to look, whistling tunelessly, have to walk amongst them.
But by Jingo the nights were hot and by the time that we’d managed to get some mosquito repellant, the invisible assassins had sucked us almost bloodless. They assaulted my face so seriously one night that my cheeks looked like I had two over ripe plumbs welded onto them. It did strike me one night, whilst attempting to fend off these invisible invaders, that it could be the reason that the French brown up so much, with leathery skin the merciless mosquitoes would probably blunt their vicious proboscises.
With the repellant now on board the nights were restful, uninterrupted and the sun continued to shine during the day.
On one occasion we went to Cap Ferrat and on the quay side there was a ceremony to mark the day when the town was liberated by the American, British and free French forces from the German occupation in 1944. It was very moving, the flags were run up masts, there were speeches and National Anthems were played. After it was over, I noticed a very old man, suited, walking with a stick and medals pined on his jacket. A man who probably was there in 1944. Very humbling.
The days rolled sweetly on but one thing became clearer and clearer. Here we were trying to help two year old Beau to count and string a couple of words together and there was Joe (15 years old) merely grunting at almost anything that was said to him. So teach them to speak then a few years later they don’t seem to able to. Silly.
But in fairness to Joe, during the evenings when we were playing cards he never stopped laughing. Very happy to see his granddad dealing three hands when four of us were playing, dropping cards on the floor or setting fire to his nasal hairs with a fag in his mouth. That’s what grandparents are for after all.
We all had a wonderful time. And if I won the Euro Millions I’d send all (?) of my faithful readers to the Negresco for a night.
Woke early, the Black Dog had slipped under bedroom door again. It’s getting a habit. Having to take the ailing Bonnie to the vets this morning. Poor little thing, well, poor Emma’s cat, Bonnie’s older than me.....if only she could tell me how she’s feeling. The vet found something disturbing in her stomach, something doubtful. The end is neigh, I think. But we’ll give her a lot of T.l.C...lots of good food and take her back next week.
Heard on the radio this morning that Maeve Binchy had died. I’d never read any of her books. But one of the pundits said, that ‘she wrote as if she was talking to one person, a conversation, nothing flowery everything simple’. Wow. See, what I’ve been reading, in fact recently finished, is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. She sucked me in early with Beyond Black, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So out comes Wolf Hall, lauded to the skies, all the critics screaming about it. I get it. Force my way through it. And, to be quite honest, I was glad when it was over. I felt in a small way I was also a bit educated re Henry V111 and Cromwell. So out comes Mantel’s follow up Bring Up The Bodies. Again all the posh papers are jumping up and down..‘Get it. Get it. Get it.’ they cried. So, I did. Hilary is losing her allure. No Maeve Binchy writing, these stretched out sentences that seem to go on forever and when finally you get to the end you think ‘What was all that about?’ I will finish it...eventually.
There are two kinds of novels, in my opinion. The posh ones like Mantel, that Melvyn Bragg and all is Hampstead friends sit around dinner table quaffing champers and talking about ‘deeper meanings’ and others like Peter James, who’s Detective Superintendent Grace novels (someone said I could play Grace if it ever was televised. That’s when I bought one but unfortunately Grace turned out to be 37 and dedicated jogger. No chance), are very easy uncomplicated reads.
I gave my novel Echoes to few friends, my two sons and my wife. Now as far as I know my wife is the only one who’s read it. Her opinion? Complicated. Mantel or James? I always thought I was much nearer to James but without the dead bodies all over the place.
I take Echoes down to the pub to give it a read. Black dog isn’t far behind. I get myself a beer and a bowl of water for him. I always try to placate him, you see. I settle down outside with the book.
‘Mr Brooks?’ It’s a policeman. ‘Mr Ray Brooks?’
I smile. Innocently.
‘I loved Big Deal, Mr Benn and all the things you did in the ’60’s I don’t know about EastEnders, though.’
He’s my kind of man even though he’s a copper.
‘Can I sit down for a minute. Been on my feet for hours?’
The Black Dog shoots off.
‘What are you doing now? I haven’t seen you on the box for a long time.’
I go through the sob story. ‘I’m writing now.’ I say. I show him the book. He reads the blurb, flicks through the pages.
‘Better be off.’ he says. ‘Can I possibly have your autograph?’
He offers me his policeman’s pen.
I sign the book and give it to him. He gives me his pen. ‘Keep it, please.’ and goes.
I go home. The un strangled Oliver Butt, Barclays business manager phones. He rattles on, in his normal fashion, but as I’ve had a few run in’s with him in the last few weeks, I manage to pick out the occasional word or two. The gist of seems to be that they have scrubbed the 29.500% interest on my £3.00 overdraft. Hooray! He dictates a email that I have to send, very meaningless to me, something about joining ‘i- sure.’ I think that’s what it was. Anyway I send it.
Settling down to watch the Olympics and writing a few notes with my new policemen pen, suddenly the phone rings. It’s Barclays. ‘Hi, my name’s Darren, Oliver phoned.’ he chirps. ‘ThethingisOlivertalkedaboutyourcurrentaccountwecanofferaninstantaccessaccountodonepointthreepercent.’ ‘WHAT?’ I scream. He’s obviously is a master at the demented typewriter scatter gun delivery that all telephone Barclays men need. He takes a deep breath and says again. ‘ThethingisOlivertalkedaboutyourcurrentaccountwecanofferaninstantaccessaccountodonepointthreepercent.’ I wait for the dust to settle. I picked up one phrase. ‘Did you say 1.3 %?’ ‘Yes.’ he says.
‘I could get more out of putting the money on Black at the roulette table.’ ‘Oh.’ he says.
‘Sowhydon’tyoufuckofyouslipperyBarclayscreep.’ I aped. And then he disappeared never to return.
I realised I was holding my new pen. Like a wand I’d waved it, the magic policeman’s pen. Darren had gone, the Dog had gone, maybe my debt to Barclays had gone.
The end of another Brooks‘ day. ZZzzzzzzzzz
BRIGHTON FRIDAY 27TH JULY.
The flat was being used by my daughter-in- law Anna for a girl’s getaway. So my day on the 27th meant that if I was going to attend the beach extravaganza Big Screen showing of the Olympic Opening, which was going to finish late, I’d have to stay in a hotel. The real reason for attending was to beard Bill Murray, my PR man, about his promise of my potential involvement in a Book Festival to held in Brighton in January, which could be useful.
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived but they stored my bag. I sloped of a for a beer. Then I moved off to another watering hole. There I bumped in to Rosie, a retired inn keeper and friend of Dec and Karl’s, sitting outside having a cigarette. I joined her. She seems to know more about EastEnders, the coming and goings, who’s not there now but will be back soon. I listened intently hoping that she might have heard something about me coming back from the dead (I could do with the money and , of course, the artistic challenge.) but there wasn’t a sausage. I bid her farewell and slipped off to another pub and watched people wandering around wearing inappropriate shorts and screeching loudly.
My room was now ready, which I finally found. Those annoying lifts with those tinny female voices telling you. ‘The door’s are opening.’, ‘The door’s are closing’. Not a bad room, a tiny telly which worked and drawer that seemed to have a mind of it’s own. It was open, I closed it, then of it’s own accord, slid open again. There was nothing in it, no Bible or reading matter of any kind. It was 2.30 and hotel rooms are boring I decided to go out again.
There was a lot of time to kill. The Beach Bonanza didn’t kick off ‘til around 7.00, so I decide to have another scoop. I kept thinking I might bump into Anna and her pals but I suppose they’d got other fish to fry. Eventually, in desperation, I decided to go to the casino.
‘Your membership cards out of date. I’ll have to give you a new one.’ I haven’t been there for years. ‘Do you want to keep the old one for old times sake?’ Is the woman nuts? All that losing with my dear departed old copper friend Mike Dolling.
Yes, it everything’s changed. No dress code anymore. They all look as they’re about to go on the beach. These oiks throwing money on the table. ’17 and the neighbours by five. Ten on the nose black, fifteen third column.‘..... ’23 and the neighbours by two.‘ ‘Ten split 17 and 20.’ on and on it goes and there just by the wheel is a little old man, grey haired, shirt and tie just as it used to be in the old days, putting a couple of chips here and there very quietly. Stacked in front of him are three piles of blue chips but, more importantly, seven pink chips, these are worth £100. Well done, old feller.
Having lost I go to the bar and order a glass of wine and ham and mustard sandwich. I’m hungry. Back to the hotel, thinking about my stomach and later on in the evening. ‘Do you have room service?’..‘Kitchen closes at 9.30.’ Knowing that I won’t be back ‘til late I’ll have to make plans.
After an hours shut eye, I go for another wander. A hamburger and a beer. Feel a bit queasy. The beach area where the big screen is packed. Bill’d said 7.00 it’s now 7.45. I join the queue. It’s like queuing outside Harrods for the January sale, shuffle, shuffle, stop, shuffle, stop, stop. Decide to go back and watch it in my room.
A quick wine at the Ship. The room’s cools, sensibly I’d left the window open. Flop on the bed and watch. I scour the room for smoke alarms, they’re everywhere. Don’t they trust people?
Through half closed eyes I watch Kenneth Branagh, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel in his stove piped hat puffing on a giant cigar, the smoke belching out of sky scraper chimneys, now I drift off into a world Old Holborn roll ups growing on trees.......then, I wake up ! What the fk was that noise? It’s 3.00 in the morning! The TV is still on, I switch it off. The noise is coming from outside.
My window faces the street, two floors below there is a night club. The streets are awash with roaring youngsters, drinks in hand, changing the world, deciding who to put in number 10 and smoking! Oh, how I wish that I was young and was there amongst them but no, I’m an old man and I’ve got to sleep.
Breakfast is at 8.00. I get an orange juice and a coffee, now for some food. I’m very hungry. Lifting the lids on breakfast buffets is a lottery. And as I didn’t win the Euro Millions last night I wasn’t feeling very lucky. As Humphrey Lyttetlton said ‘How can they fuck up prunes?‘ well in this case they fucked up sausages, bacon, scrabbled eggs and fried bread.
I wandered back along the seafront to get my car. Deciding to sit on a bench, watching two swimmers, I pondered on Rosie and her knowledge about EastEnders, there was no doubt that I was not going to get a comeback, so what else was on offer? The lift voices, those ladies of ‘Lift closing‘ fame. Why couldn’t I do that!? ‘Suddenly as if by magic.’ (a la Mr Benn) ‘the doors are closing’. Well, that could be a winner, surely. And with the possibility of repeats !
Shhhh don’t tell Stephen Fry.....It’s my idea.
A few months ago I set up a business account to have a clear picture of my books sales and the money accrued. Tax wise and all that stuff. A bit flash you might think but I thought that I’d keep everything tidy. As readers of this blog will realize that sales have hardly been global. To put it in a nutshell actually it’s been a bit pathetic.
So I decided to close down this business account. Easy? Oh no. Did you know that Barclays have different kind of banks? There are ones that deal Personal accounts and others that deal business accounts. Where I live they all seem to be personal ones. To set up this new one, I had to travel by various tube trains to somewhere out in East london. Not wanting to leg it back over there to simply shut it down, I spoke to a local bank and after a load of furrowed brows they gave the email address of my man Oliver Butt and his address. After an abortive attempt at the dreaded email I decided to write the the said Mr Butt. Which I have just done.
This morning I read in the paper about Jerry del Missier, the chief operating officer, who exited Barclays on July 3rd, after ordering the submission of false information during the Libor interest rigging scandal. He has negotiated a severance deal with Marcus Agius, his chairman. The sum ( a very reasonable one, you might think) of £8.75 million.
Why am I telling you this? Well, you remember my business account stuff, Today I received a letter about this crazy, dormant account from Barclays Business. Apparently I am £3.35 overdrawn. How I don’t know, I haven’t been sent a cheque book or a paying in book, I haven’t used the f...ing thing at all. Anyway, as I have no overdraft agreement, they want to charge me interest on this piffling overdraft. Wait for it....29. 500 %. How much!
Now I know how Barclays can afford to send dear old Jerry del Messier of with his wallet stuffed with £8.75 million, yes, it’s all the little mugs like me who are being ripped off.
I’m not going to let them have £98.825, I’m going to find Oliver Butt and strangle him.
29.500% ? Bugger Barclays.
A BRIEF ENCOUNTER
A sunny day. Wandering around and in a good mood. Everyone seems to smiling.
Coming towards me is a woman. Not young, not old, somewhere in between but who can tell these days with all this Botox and Detox business.
I notice on her right leg, or was it the left, a section of bandage about the size of a Bingo card, criss crossed, like a pirate’s flag, with two strips of sticking plaster.
I smile, sympathetically. ‘Oh dear.‘ I say. ‘What happened to your leg?’
‘What happened to my leg?‘ she says. ‘Why don’t you mind your own business.’
I tell my mate Dave about this incident. ‘Well, it could have been a syphilitic ulcer. No wonder she told you to mind your own business.’
A syphilitic ulcer! Why didn’t I think of that? Dave’s certainly got his finger on the pulse.
I’ll keep my mouth shut in future.
Dinner With Friends
Brighton Tuesday. Went to The Old Ship Hotel to meet Barry Cryer and his wife Terry. Outside there was an ambulance. Whoops.
I went inside and, to my relief, Barry and Terry were sitting having a drink talking to a lady. I rolled over, the lady left, and I had had a beer. I mentioned the ambulance.
‘Yeah.’ said Barry. ‘A coach of old folks turned up a couple of hours ago, that’s the third ambulance that’s been here in the last half an hour.’
As if on cue, an old lady was wheeled through the bar attended by a couple of paramedics wrapped up to her chin by a blanket. She was smiling at the silent drinkers. She looked like the old Queen Mother on her way to Ascot.
‘I think we’d better get out of here.‘ Barry says. ‘Before they call an ambulance for us. It seems to be catching.’
We went to a pub round the corner. Sitting outside, smoking and drinking happily, a man comes over.
‘Barry Cryer!‘ he’s all overcome. ‘What a thrill to meet you.’
I smile but the bloke’s only got eyes for the great Baz.
Barry does all the glad handing, signing pieces of paper, turning down the offer of a drink (he doesn’t want to get lumbered, you see) and finally the man leaves on cloud nine.
Barry launched into a story about Ronnie Corbett when he was working at Danny La Rue’s Club.
‘It was when Laurence Oliver was having a great success playing Othello. Ronnie decided he was going to black up and do a ‘cod’ version of Olivier’s Othello at the club. Suddenly Ronnie gets a phone call from Olivier. “Will you and your wife come out to dinner on Sunday with Vivienne and me?” Ronnie’s all of a wobble, he’s never met the great actor. “Maybe you and I could have a quick drink at the pub round corner from the restaurant before we meet up with the ladies.” Ronnie was worried that he was going to get a bollocking for his temerity for sending up the great man.’
‘They do go to the pub.‘ Barry continues. ‘Olivier is charming. Ronnie is thrilled. Then a man comes over to their table. “Shift your arse, mate.” he says to Oliver. ‘I want to have a word with Ronnie. I’m a great fan.” The bloke chunters on and then finally leaves. Ronnie is embarrassed. “Sorry about all that.” Ronnie says apologetically. The great man smiles and says. ‘Well, we all know our place.”
I think Barry told that story to make me feel better about when the man came up to talk to him.
We get to the restaurant, they really are smashing company. Bob, Barry’s son, when he was compering Barry and Terry’s Golden wedding anniversary do said. ‘Dad’s great asset is that he manages to recycle fifty year old jokes and get away with it..‘ Laugh, laugh, laugh from the assembled family and friends. But what he does is very clever, like they say about plots, there are only 6, it’s just how you juggle them about. The same with jokes, the patterns are generally the same, it’s just how you juggle them. And Barry’s a great juggler.
He starts talking about the Edinburgh Festival, he goes there most years, and a young comedian there for the first time. ‘He was good. But the three performance that he was booked for...nobody turned up. No one. But he didn’t seemed depressed. Put it down to experience I suppose.’
Maybe this was an oblique reference to my sparsely attended pub chats.
We go outside for a fag. There’s a busker strumming away to the people sitting outside a pub drinking. As the art of conversation seems to to be dwindling by the minute, he appears to have their attention. Eventually he goes round with the hat, there’s the clinking of loose change being dropped into it, and eventually he comes up to where Barry and I are sitting.
‘Hello, Ray.‘ he says. ‘I’m Seth, nice to see you again.‘ Barry’s like Olivier is ignored without the ‘move you’re arse, mate, I’m talking to Ray.‘ business.
As Seth moves back to his microphone, I notice that he’s clutching a few CDs. I wonder if anyone’s bought any.
A bit like me, I thought, except I hire rooms hoping people are going to miraculously appear, listen to me talk and then buy some books but Seth goes out and finds his audience.
Maybe I’m doing things wrong, should I go out and busk with my guitar, my three chords, black up (a la Ronnie) and do a Rap version of my books?
Just a thought. What do you think, Barry? You're the juggler.
My Dave and me were sitting outside out local cogitating. We got round to talking about grandchildren, he and Sandy have two, Sadie and I have four. Their two are girls, about five or six years old, reading, Twittering, bungie jumping and still driving Dave a tidge mad. Ours. apart from Joe who is coming up sixteen, are all three or under.
Our conversation settled on getting tired as we got older, Dave’s 74 and I’m 73.
‘And the kids can wear me out.‘ he says. I agree. ‘Buzzing around, climbing, wants to go here and there. And when I want to take them home, they put their foot down. Bloody difficult.’
This got me to thinking about my dad. If anyone out there has read my autobiography they’ll know that I didn’t know whether he was my dad or not. But I do know that he was old and he didn’t do anything physically with me, playgrounds etc.
There was another younger man around. A German who had worked here before the war. Once the war had started all Germans who were domiciled in our country were offered two opportunities either to stay in an ‘open‘ prison or to work on a farm. This is how understood it anyway.
George Kauter (I don’t know how to spell his surname) was a ‘good friend‘ of my mum. I didn’t know how ‘good‘ he was but latterly have assumed that he was very.
George took me everywhere, horses on the farm, trotting around with him holding me on. Actually, I fell off and didn’t get on a horse again until I had to in ‘The Avengers’. A dog of his friend bit me on the lip and I had to rushed of to get a tetanus injection at a local hospital. But it wasn’t all drama. He’d take me out on his bike with a cushion strapped on the cross bar. Once I was sitting on his shoulders and he said......
.......‘I’ll close my eyes, Raymond, and you pull my ears when you want me to go left or right, pull them both when you want me stop.’
We were by Hove Park when this exciting journey started with me being in control of my ‘human‘ vehicle.
I got us home in one piece. Although, I realize now that he would hardly have left a little boy to guide a blind man across main roads. But this little boy at the time believed that he had done so
A young man, you see George. My ‘dad‘ old, me and Dave also old.
A young man’s game. But, on the other hand, when they grow up they’ll be able to wheel us down to the pub, buy us a half, take us back for a kip, change our nappies and put us to bed.
Last week in Brighton: on Wednesday I had an interview at Sussex Radio and on Friday I had my ‘Evening With..’ event at the Brighton Conference centre.
In January I finally got my self published novel ‘Echoes’ in my hands. I planned to go around function rooms in pubs talking and trying to sell a few copies. I approached the Brighton Evening Argus for a bit of publicity but I hit a brick wall. I was rather hopeful of getting an interview on Brighton Radio because I had been on a couple of times before when I was promoting my autobiography and then when Barbara was leaving EastEnders,
I phoned Danny Pike the presenter. ‘I’ll have to talk to talk to the producers. They make all the decisions.’ I waited and waited...nothing. I called him again. No reply. Eventually I gave up.
So what was I doing outside the the radio station in Queens Road last Wednesday? Did they change their minds? If so why? Well I hired Murray Media, and head man Bill Murray, the Sammy Glick of PR, who wears his shoes out from the inside, must have threatened to wring the necks of the top dogs or commit arson because now he’s got me in.
I had an email from a person at Murray Media. ‘Don’t forget to mention you’ Evening With..’ on Friday and say that if anyone comes along they’d be welcome.’ This was very peculiar because Bill had told me that it was by invitation only and that he was expecting 60 guests. I phoned him ‘I’ve only managed to get 6 people to come along but we might be able to bump it up to 12.’ Bloody hell!
A lady took me through to the studio. ‘We’ve been talking about funerals on the show this morning and we’ve had a lot of response. Have you planned your funeral yet?’ I know I look ancient but I’m not on way out just yet.
Danny Pike, bright voiced and charming, welcomes me. The interview goes swimmingly (no mention of funerals), I managed to get all the ‘important’ information in.
‘Bye.’ they all said as I was leaving ‘See you very soon.’ I took that with a pinch of salt.
Friday arrives, Bill had suggested that I take 200 hundred books along ( the equivalent of one and half large trees) but bearing in mind the severe reduction in attendees, I decided on taking 28, which even I thought was optimistic.
I got there at 6.30. There was a girl behind the bar whose job was serving drinks (which I was paying for) and a doorman to stop marauders (who also I was paying for). The three of waited for people to arrive bearing in mind that it was supposed to start at 7.00.
Eventually two people arrived. A lady (Laura?), who told me she’d met me on a train and outside a pub and her husband (Dougie), who’d been to my wife Sadie’s coffee bar in the 60’s and told me that he’d met me and my old mate Mike in casinos. Then two girls turned up and finally my old mucker Gary (‘the M.25 was murder’) and his wife. Also there two Murray media employees (who I was also paying for) hanging around. A quick calculation told me that Bill had managed to get 4 along. Oh, lord.
One of the staff had given me a microphone hardly necessary under the circumstance. We settled down in a cosy group, it was like Christmas around a log fire or reading children a bedtime story but in reality it was slightly embarrassing. But I eased myself in to it, there was a smattering of laughter and the occasional confusion as I talked about dead comics. Eventually Bill turned up looking flustered and pulled up a chair.
And then it was all over. I sold three books and signed two for the quiet girls (I didn’t get any money from them. Gawd know what happened to that). At 9.00 I left shattered and disappointed.
I sent a txt to Bill next day. ‘Last night was a disaster. We must talk next week.‘ He replied. ‘I agree. Feel gutted.‘ How gutted I wonder?
Well that seems to be the end of my adventure into talking to people. Nobody comes. Apart from dear old Gary and his wife. So what am I going to now?
Today I’m going to contribute to a TV documentary about Sid James, who I worked with in 63-64 on a series called Taxi.
Submitted by Ray on 18/06/2012
Bonnie, the cat we inherited from our daughter Emma, hasn't been well. In human years she is 84, which is a great age by any standards, but she hasn't been eating.
We took her to the vet. I think I should mention here that we don't have any pet insurance for her, we can't get it because she's so old, anyway the vet put her on all sorts of medication. My wife Sadie emptied her purse and I had to help her to the car. It had cost an arm and a leg.
These visits continued, which now included overnight stays, being put on a drip but still her eating habits were very spasmodic. She is very ill. Poor sausage.
Brian, a local, has a very severe pain in his leg. He's had every kind of test but the doctors still don't know what's causing it.
Brian and Bonnie. Brian can talk, Bonnie can't. He can tell them that he feels like shit. She can't ,so how do the vets know what's going on her head. They can feel her tummy, yes she might squeak but how do they what kind of squeak it is....pain or 'do it again I'm enjoying it.'
I saw a documentary on euthanasia and watched a sick old man drinking the 'death drink'. It was very disturbing. His coughing, protesting as they kept that glass to his lips was horrible. He was fighting for his life which must be natural when you're facing oblivion. But eventually he went.
So Bonnie, what do we do? Is her state of health intolerable for her? Does she want to go? If she does how can we possibly know? So what do we do? It's a big responsibility.
I suppose Sadie will have to keep emptying her purse until Bonnie opens her mouth and says 'I'd like to go.'
Why does stale bread toast quicker than fresh bread?
Why do ink jets seem to run out the minute they're inserted?
Why do the HM Revenue & Customs keep sending me letters demanding a £100 overdue penalty payment for late tax returns when they have been contacted on numerous occasions and have agreed that everything is tickerty boo? Have they got a mad computer there that keeps spewing out demands willy nilly?
Anthony Newley recorded a song called 'Why?' Why do I tell you this? Anthony Newley was EastEnders ten or so years ago and when I arrived in 2005, I asked long standing members of the cast what he was like (me being a great fan of his).
'Who?' they all said. I'm not going loopy. I checked he WAS in EE! But they didn't know who he was.
How terrible is that? You might well ask why they didn't know.
I've got a theory but I'm too polite to write it here. You might have your own ideas.
They didn't know who Anthony Newley was. Pathetic.
Here we go
Submitted by Ray on 01/06/2012
At last I managed to get in black and white again. I don't know yet whether I'm doing the Brighton Conference Centre on the 29th yet but I had a chat with son Tom today.
It boils down to that there is a limit to to me talking about my life and hoping to sell a few books. Occasionally yes, but his point was that I have done so many shows over the last fifty years it would be logical that people might be interested in specifics i.e particular subjects like Mr Benn, Big Deal, Carry On's, Doctor Who or more remote stuff like The Knack or Cathy Come Home.
It's tricky getting people to attend. Maybe I was deluding myself that people would be interested in me. Why would they? It's the stuff that I've done not an old fart rabbiting on.
Now I've got that off my chest, next time I hope to be more cheerful.
Submitted by Ray on 02/05/2012
I've been fiddling around trying to get to grips with this new site and now it's all come out this colour. It's all crazy.
Anyway I've given myself a pat on the back because I've made a minor breakthrough. Recently I had an email, from a now seemingly defunct email address, sent by a man called Greg Smith who represents the British Music Archive. He wrote..'Would you let me know what other music Ray Brooks has written because I've just heard him singing a song of his called Pictures and it is a beautiful song.'.
How about that! Inspired by Mr Smith's compliment, I went out and bought an ION LP2CD machine. Well, I have written more songs, in fact I had an LP produced, with me singing, in 1968. With this machine, hence the pat on the back that I gave myself, I have managed to record from the original vinyl LP to a CD adding on at the end the 'beautiful song' Pictures.
All I've got to be able to do now is to turn these blogs into black and white.
Toothpicks and Tickets
Submitted by Ray on Thu, 12/04/2012 - 12:05pm
I got trains to Derby and Nottingham last week for the Cathy showings. I booked tickets to both destinations and also took the precaution of booking seats for both journeys, this meant, for some strange reason, that I was given eight tickets which is a fair wedge of cardboard.
Always, there seems to be an inspector checking tickets at some point during the journey. Mine, like a pack of cards, takes a couple of minutes to find out which is which.
'Have you got your Rail Card, sir?' More searching through my wallet and eventually I find it scrunched up between my driving licence, various casino cards, my AA card and my Equity card. Fellow passengers are looking at me as if I'm some petty crook. Hot and flustered I hand it over. The Rail Card allows you to get a third off the ticket price but to get one you have to be very old like me (73 next week). As he leaves, I get a warm feeling of happiness coming over me. Of course, he wanted to see my Rail Card because he thought I was too young to have one. (SpecSavers?)
At Nottingham it's raining stair rods. I haven't booked a hotel, my book bag is weighing a ton.
I stagger into a pub.'£3.00, mate.' Nice beer. A big Irishman comes in and goes behind the bar. He and the other barman are in deep conversation.
'Sorry, sir.' the Irishman says to me plonking 50 pence on the bar and points to other barman.'He's new. He doesn't know the prices.
Sorry.'Sorry?! I had another pint.
The hotel was.....well, a hotel. I spent the afternoon watching Nottingham disappearing under the incessant downpour. Finally I left for The Broadway Cinema for my Question and Answer session after the Cathy showing.
There were ninety people in attendance, which is unusual for me as my average audience is about seven. They looked a middle class bunch with serious expressions.
'I've got two married daughters.' says one. 'All of them working and living in rented accommodation. The prices are so high. How are they ever going to afford to buy a house?'
How can I be expected to answer a question like that? I'm not the Minister of Housing!
''I suggest.' says a Germaine Greer look-a-like, her giant bosoms threatening to burst out of her jumper. 'That we all halve the prices of our houses to give other people a chance.
'There's a rumble of agreement from the audience.
I proceed to put my foot in it. 'Well, say you retire and you don't have much of pension. Your house is reduced to say £150,000 and you want to move to a smaller place, well your capital would be severly reduced so how could you afford to........' There were murmurings from the natives.
'You don't know what you're talking about!' Greer bellowed. She looked as if she was about to rush down the stairs and pin me to the wall.
'I think we should discuss Cathy.' Jamie, the charity organiser, sitting next to me on the stage, said trying to calm the situation down. Bless him.
The evening went by in a blur. Damaged and bloodied I went back to me hotel room, the bed with it's chip board mattress and plastic pillows and tried to sleep. I dreamt of Jeremy Paxman interviewing Germaine Greer, who suddenly got very angry and strangled him.Exhausted I go down to breakfast. Buffet style, everything is laying there under lights in dishes. Greasy eggs, rows of over cooked sausages, boiled tomatoes, piles of baked beans and a mountain of bacon that seems to have slid amongst the mushrooms giving them a browny pinky hue. Coffee and tea you have to make yourself. And, of course, the dreadful toast making machine. The bread disappears into the dark recesses of the trundling machine and finally reappears still as white as the driven snow. You repeat the process and when it arrives back it's burnt to buggery.
I finish breakfast and feel a stray sliver of bacon lodged between my teeth.
'Have you got a toothpick?'
'A toothpick or a cocktail stick, that would do.'
'No, we don't have them.'
No toothpicks in Nottingham, Derby or Manchester. Does London have the monopoly of those joyous prodders? But help was at hand. My railway ticket scooped out the offending bacon bit a treat. Good old British Rail.
Those of you interested might like to know that I managed to sell a couple of books, so the whole operation wasn't a complete waste of time.
A Busy Week.
Submitted by Ray on Sat, 31/03/2012 - 10:27am
Well, tomorrow I train up to Derby, dragging my book bag, to see Cathy Come Home on the big screen at the Derby Quad at 6.00, followed by a radio interview (a bit like shutting the stable door after etc.) then a Q&A session with the audience.
Travel back on Monday.
Tuesday to Brighton to meet my PA man Bill Murray who's going to show me around The Brighton Conference Centre, which now has bite sized areas, with a view to using one for one of my Evenings. I hope to have a chat with him afterwards about how to shake the local media out of their self induced torpor. I trust that he'll have some answers.
Wednesday I train to Nottingham, dragging my book bag, to see Cathy at the Nottingham Broadway at 6.00 followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Back on Thursday.
Now the big question is.....will my book bag be any lighter by Friday?
I will report.
Submitted by Ray on Sun, 25/03/2012 - 10:08am
In 1966 Carole White and I were playing husband and wife in Cathy Come Home. When it was first shown it's impact was extraordinary.
Questions were asked in the House, Carole and I were invited to go on the Board of Shelter, somebody threatened to 'knock my block off' for walking out on my 'wife' and Max Bygraves, a famous comedian phoned (I didn't know him) and said 'he was so moved watching Cathy. Really very moved, Ray. Er....do you sing?' Sort of. 'Well, I've written a little song 'Cathy come home, oh, Cathy come home'. Do you like it? We'll make a fortune.' So moved?
I got to thinking about those days. When we were filming around Camden Town searching for somewhere to live, the adverts in newsagents windows were shocking. 'No blacks, no children and no pets.' We secretly filmed at some of these places. Cathy, with a big bun in the oven, and scruffy me. 'Oh God, you poor, things.' An irish lady who answered the door said. 'I wish i could help you but the landlord would kill me.' He probably would have done.
When I was on the Dole (unemployment benefit) in the early 60's I got £2. 10 a week and our rent was £4.10. These days I can't imagine the disparity, that gap between benefits and rents.
The reason that I'm writing about Cathy is that next Sunday I'm going up to Derby to be part of a Homeless Appeal. Countrywide they are showing, at various locations, films about homelessness including Cathy to encourage awareness of the situation.
People tend to jump on the Cathy bandwagon and not just famous comedians and their songs. The illustrious BBC also joined in. 'The modern day Cathy Come Home!' The headlines roared a couple of years ago. And what was it? A remaking yes, but what kind of remake? A TV film about a city loss adjuster who falls on hard time and has to sell his house. Oh, yes, very cutting edge! But hang it on the Cathy hook that'll get people watching. Did they? Nope. People are (sometimes) sensible.
Anyway next Sunday to Derby. The last time I traveled on The Lord's Day to Sheffield for a Doctor Who shindig, the journey took four and half hours. I think they employ incontinent train drivers at the weekends because they stop constantly and passengers never seem to get on or off but I frequently glimpsed distressed train drivers rushing to relieve themselves behind the nearest tree.
'Why don't you drive, dad?' Tom says.
'It'll be quicker.'
Oh, yeah. 'Old actor in old car mash up on Motorway'
I think I'll take the risk of a B.R. BLT and a sore bum.
Three Women and Beer
Submitted by Ray on Mon, 12/03/2012
Women have always played an important part in my life but not so much lately. There is, of course, my wife, two daughter-in-laws and little Maisy, our granddaughter, who isn't quite big enough to have any influence.....yet! My mother has gone as have all my aunts except Aunt Muriel, who I gave my autobiography to a couple of years ago, and she hasn't talked to me since. I have to say that there are a couple of chapters about her so maybe she took exception to my remarks.
Last Wednesday (6th of March) was my evenings talk at The Plough in Rottingdene. During the day I wandered around the town limiting my beer intake to a couple of pints.
At 6.50 I took a taxi to Rottingdene arriving at 7.00. Kick off time was 7.30 so I had time to kill. Had a nice pint in the Victoria and then made my way to The Plough.
Dec and Karl are sitting at the window. 'Beer?'..'Thanks.' Number 4.
Mickey comes over. Nice to meet him after all this time. 'Remember Maureen? Over at Whitehawk?' No. 'She lent you her bed.'
'Let's make a start. Want to take a beer up?' 'Thanks." Beer number 4.
I start talking. A man comes up the stairs. 'Do you want me to start again.' I smile sweetly. He grunts and sits down. I continue.
It's going quite well. Then the man stands up and goes down the stairs. 'Bored?' He grunts and disappears.
The chat ends. Questions. 'Another beer?' Beer number 6. I sign some books. Mickey buys a couple. Thanks.
'Another beer' 'Thanks. Beer number 7.
A Jacqui de Root comes over. Women number 2. She's been a member of the Women's Institute. 'They'd love it if you talked to them.' She tells of a celebrity who gave a talk to 2000 members. 'You're tons better than him.'
A whole new world begins to open up! Women number 2 is ticking all the boxes. Her enthusiasm is lifting my spirits no end.
'Another beer?' beer number 7?
Now downstairs to the pub. My book bag is very much lighter. Very gratifying.
Chat, chat, chat. 'Another beer?' 'Please.' I say happily. Number 8-9? Who cares?
Eventually, after a couple for the road, I take a taxi home. A quick snack and then to bed.
Where's women number 3? I hear you asking Well, she turns up few days later.
Reading a newspaper, I come across an interview with a Freida Pinto. Who? Yes, that's what I thought. Well, apparently, she was in Slumdog Millionaire.The title of this interview was.....'I'm constantly worried about what film I'm going to do next.'
I laughed so much I nearly fell out of bed. (Not Maureen's, Mickey!) What arrogance, what conceit, doesn't this Freida realise that the acting world is like trying to climb Everest in carpet slippers. In a couple of years time her main worry is how she's going to pay the bloody rent!
Anyway, there are the three women.Mickey's mysterious Maureen, the cocky Freida and the jewel in the crown, the potentially fantastic Jacqui de Root.
The beer you know about.
Submitted by Ray on Sun, 04/03/2012
A Friday lunchtime drink: A normal smattering of punters. The landlady approaches me.
'There was a man came in yesterday just after you left. A bit odd looking. Had a drink then he took a bowler hat out of his bag and put it on. Asked a member of the bar staff to take a picture of him.'
A man, a bowler hat?
'Then he said that he was Mr Benn.'
'He said that he owned the rights to the series. Then he asked where you were. He said he knew you.'
A man with a bowler hat said that he knew me?
I found the member of staff who had taken the photo. 'Did he tell you his name?' She's Australian, she couldn't remember.
Could this be a Mr Benn fan who'd lost his marbles? Knew me? Bill Owen told me once that a bloke came up to him and said 'Hello, Bill.'
'Do I know you?' Bill asked politely.
'Of course you do. I've watched you on television.'
Could it be one of those? Or.....could it be a Mr Benn stalker?
Then a thought struck me (maybe I've got too much imagination.) Goldfinger....a bowler hat...ODDJOB!!
A Rainy Night
Submitted by Ray on Sun, 26/02/2012
Wednesday 22nd. A heavy bag ( 5 autobiographies and 5 novels= half a tree i.e heavy) but travelling in a taxi. Arrive near Rock Lane early. What hair I have left is getting wet so have to get some shelter. I can't go to Brighton Rocks yet, ah there's a pub across the road.
On entering there were just three people but most surprising was a drum kit, a couple of chairs and a music stand situated just by the window. I order a pint, have a sip, but the incessant pitter pater of the rain on the window drives me and my suddenly bursting bladder to the loo.
Returning, I find that a man is sitting at the bar with my pint in front of him.
'Excuse me.' I say retrieving my beer.
'Oh, sorry, I haven't touched it, I wasn't sure if it was mine or not.'
He's an old man ( not as old as me, of course. In fact i haven't seen anybody as old as me all day).
'Is there a band playing here tonight?' I say to be polite but a bit nervous that I might have some competition with my talk just across the road in Brighton Rocks.
'Yes, I'm the saxophonist. This is me.' he says handing me a sheet of paper.
It turns out that he is the son of Ken Mackintosh the a band leader of the 40's. 'I'm a session musician, back to America next week for work.'
Reading his credits it seems that he's played for some amazing people, Tom Jones, Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield, Buddy Greco and dozens of others. 'My wife's my agent, she's shit hot.'
She must be booking him into this empty pub.
Eventually, I make my way over to Brighton Rocks. It's even emptier than saxophonist's pub.
I waited and waited. Every time the door opened I smiled hopefully but there was no response.
My mate Dave Collie sent me a text. 'Listen mate-at least you're making the effort-I'm watching Midfuckingsummerfuckingmurders'
As the time creaked on, I was beginning to wish that I was watching that GREAT programme.
Eventually at 7.45 I took my pint and sat outside. I didn't care anymore about keeping my hair dry for my audience who obviously had better things to do (Midfuckingsummerfuckingmurders I suppose.)
A woman came out of the pub, walked past me, then did a double take. 'Aren't you...?'. I nodded happily.
'What are you doing here?' she said. I told her.
"I wish I'd have known, my mum and I would have loved to come and listen to you.' I pointed to the poster in the window.
'Oh, I didn't see that.'
Making my way home, no taxi in sight, my damp bag of books even heavier now, I pondered on my bleak night.
'I wish I'd have known.' she's said. But how do you get people to know?
Across the road, I could see Ken Mackintosh's son blowing his saxophone. There were only three people watching, one was doing a crossword.
As I splashed down the street I realised that even musicians have a hard time but certainly not as hard as damp actors.
Maybe I'll have to learn the saxophone before my next gig at the Plough on the 6th. Three people are better than none.
Submitted by Ray on Sun, 12/02/2012
Well, I've booked two spots for my "Evenings with...". The Plough at Rottingdene, on March 6th, with Dec and Karl pulling out all the stops. 'Eight posters to put around the village that should get the punters in!" all done with an Irish accent.
But the first 'Evening" is in Brighton Rocks in Rock Place, on the 22nd of Feb. I don't know the pub well and will two posters on site get some 'punters' in? Am I hoping for too much? Will this relic from the days of black and white films have the clout to create any interest?
The local Radio station have shown no interest in helping out and The Argus has never heard of me.
On my first outing at The Farm Tavern, i started off by taking a photo of the assembled audience which I will eventually put on my web site.
My next photo at Brighton Rocks could well turn out to be a snap of an empty room.
Submitted by Ray on Mon, 30/01/2012
Sheffield on Sunday 22nd: a five hour journey to the fair city. A BLT on the train, brown bread that tasted like cardboard. A taxi to the Galaxy 4. A large queue outside. Cameras were raised and I fled through the door. Everybody running the shop were very pleasant. A cup of tea and a fag outside the back door. Then to business.
A table littered with photos. There was Mark and me at the signing. Mark had been in Doctor Who for a year and half and as the people coming in were avid fans of the show, Mark was the main focus.
I had plenty of time for nipping out for cups of tea. I'd dragged books up with me but nobody was interested. Finally at around 3.30 it was dribbling to a conclusion and a little old lady came up and asked for my autograph (she wanted 1 photo from me and 3 from Mark, fair enough.)
She was shivering. "I'm always cold." she said. "I live at the top of a high rise and it sways in the wind, I hate it there." But she had spent £40 on photos, surely the money could have been spent more wisely? My mate Dave said. "We all spend money on stupid things, if those pictures gave her pleasure, why not?"
I suppose so but it all seems crazy to me.
Wednesday 25th, my debut at The Farm pub. I was nervous natch, standing around in a small space, talking and people only a few yards away.
On the whole it went quite well. The 9 people who were there seemed happy. I was happy when it was all over. I did manage to sell a couple of books!
It's a strange situation, although 6 of the9 people there I vaguely knew, me pontificating about myself and other bits and pieces is not really in my nature. And why would people really be interested? These people were there because my mate Jon had asked them. So was I really testing myself? They were hardly likely to start shouting and telling me that I was boring, were they?
But the one positive part was that I was brave enough, even thought they were a friendly lot, to stand there and talk.
Now, having done that, and while I'm still in the mood, I've got to do it again.
Another friend Dec, who manages the Plough at Rottingdean, has said I could use his function room but he's off on holiday and as I could rely on him to rustle up a few punters, that one's out of the window for time being.
So, the other three potential pubs, are tricky situations. No friendly faces to help me out. Would a poster get some 'bums on seats'? Are some strangers likely to pay £1.50 to listen to someone that they might not have heard of rattling on about Arthur Askey, Max Miller and Mr Benn?
Decisions, decisions......Well, by the beginning on next week I'm going to have to make one.
Wish me luck!
Shaking All Over
Submitted by Ray on Sat, 14/01/2012
A week tomorrow it all starts.
Sunday the 22nd I travel to Sheffield for CD signings etc.
Then Wednesday the 25th it's the big one. My legs are shaking and the butterflies are gathering because at 7.30 on that date is my debut of "An Evening With...."
It's not quite like being thrown into the lion's den because most people have been invited and have heard of me. But like an old dust bucket going for an M.O.T, I can almost hear the sound of the wheels coming off.
If I stay in one piece, then I go out into very dangerous territory.....strange pubs peopled by strangers.
The Jelly Man
A Christmas Tip
Submitted by Ray on Fri, 23/12/2011
Shopping tomorrow? A last present to buy for someone who slipped through your Christmas net? High Streets are always busy on Christmas Eve, aren't they? To make your journey along these streets that are a seething mass of shoppers, here's my tip.
Walk behind two fat people or a mother with a pram, stay there and your path will always be clear. Nobody wants to bump into these people do they? Mowed down by a pram or two ten ton wobblers.
Anyway I thought I'd share my recently acquired knowledge with you.
Happy Christmas and a smashing New Year.
Money, money, money.
Submitted by Ray on Sat, 03/12/2011
Is anybody there?
I may have mentioned it but late October I was at the Excel at The Victoria Docks promoting my CD. Next month, on Sunday the 22nd, I will be at the Galaxy Four in Sheffield between 1.00 and 3pm doing the same thing.
Now, there is a difference between these two events. No, not just the location or the year, no, no, no. Give up? Of course you do. Here it is: at the Excel they (Dexter of Phantom Films the organiser) charged £15 for a signed photograph with me getting 50% but at the Galaxy, he's only charging £10.
Has my stock fallen through the floor in three months? Mind you, if I'd had Dexter on my side when I was signing thousands of EastEnders cards, I'd be a millionaire!
Of course, £15 or even £10 for a scruffy signature is stupid. Mind you, I made exactly £1,146 from the sales of my autobiography where as I received £246 for my percentage for my autographs. There's something wrong there.
Two years to write the book and about three hours signing pictures!
A bitchy actor turned up at my table at The Excel. '£15 for an autograph!' he screeched.
'Yeah, not my idea.'
'Well, I've heard.' he whispered. 'That David Tennant is charging £45!'
The world has gone mad.
Into the ozone
Submitted by Ray on Sat, 19/11/2011
At the end of last week I set about writing a blog about my experiences in the Excel complex near the Victoria Dock to promote my CD of my autobiography. The wit was flowing from my fingertips. I was describing the maniacs dressed as robots, spiders, Batmen, nurses, cowboys and Indians, there were thousands of these people mincing around, me, at my table, looking mournful, round the corner was a wrestling match going on, across the way was a robot wars arena and booming from another part of this vast space was a cat walk where contestants were attempting to become the next super model. A man was standing at my table looking at the array of photographs on display. He points at a picture of me pouring a drink for Charles Hawtrey.
'Where's the elephant?'
Woken from my dreams of having a pint later. 'Eh?'
'Isn't that Carry On up The Jungle?'
At about this point in my hilarious take on the Excel chaos....I pressed a button (by mistake) and everything was wiped.
A few years ago I was happy with a biro and a sheet of paper now it's blogging, tweeting, face booking, skyping and chapters missing from my autobiography. The world's gone mad.
But out of all this my novel is about (!) to be printed AND, having flicked through the CD of my autobiography, I made a discovery.
The last three lines on disc 3 are fantastic!
I urge you to buy this CD because those lines are the best I've ever written, they'll lift your spirits, make you laugh and they sum up my attitude to the whole shebang.
The Big Month Bugger Up
Submitted by Ray on Sat, 22/10/2011
Me Vs The Publisher. I retire hurt. Battered by the bills. As I said in my email to the solicitor 'I'm throwing away the Paracetamol and going for a long walk.' I would have won but they are obdurate tykes and my pockets aren't deep enough.
Next the printer, who was going to supply my novel, has gone into liquidation.
My literary career is costing me a lot of money.
A slight glimmer was the meeting with Mike Leigh, not the Mike Leigh, the film director, as I soon discovered. There's me looking for a little fat man with a white beard and a smart shiny suited man turns up. No beard and as thin as a pencil. A very nice bloke, who seems willing to take me on. One strange thing that he wanted me to find out from my old agent is 'Have you got a reputation for being difficult?'
Walking yesterday in the park with my grandson Beau, this bloke hails me. 'Hullo, Ray, I'm Gary I produced 'A Question of Sport' when you appeared in it in the 80's.'You could have knocked me down with a feather.
He asked me what I was doing. I didn't go into detail.Apparently, he left the BBC and went to work for Sky. Then was made redundant. He's been unemployed for 18 months.'I write off for jobs every week and nobody even replies.'
Poor bugger. And there's me worrying about my shitty month.
I'm going to stop all this navel gazing and find someone else to print the book.
Oh, and next Sunday the 30th I'm out to the Excel Complex near the Victoria Docks from 10.30 to launch the CD of my autobiography.
That's something I'm looking forward to.
A Big Month
Submitted by Ray on Sun, 16/10/2011
Next week: a little old lady to hospital on Tuesday: Wednesday a V.O. : Thursday meeting Mike Leigh to see if his agency will take me on to try and save my wobbling career.
My novel is with the printer and I'm sweating on getting them delivered before the end of this month.
Talk to my solicitor early this week about the next move in 'me vs the publisher'.
Finally, talk to the pubs in Brighton to establish dates and try to gather some people in to have a chat.
Also I've got to work hard on what I'm going to talk about !
The Clock's Running
Submitted by Ray on Thu, 29/09/2011
I had a letter the other day from my solicitor. It was about my dispute with the publishers and the phrase he used was 'the clock's still running' which I suppose is short hand for saying my bill is racking up by the minute.
Stanley Baker, the actor, didn't like to lose. Forty years ago, flying back from Hong Kong, I got into a poker game with him. He always played no pot limit. I didn't know what was going on, just filling in the time on a long flight.
People in the game were falling out like flies, because when the pot got tasty, no matter what cards he had, he'd glance around the table see what money they's got and he'd get out his wallet in stick in a few hundred, which he knew they couldn't match and wipe them out.
I was £79 up and I needed to go to the loo, bumped into the director of the film.
'What are you doing?'
'Playing poker with Stanley.'
'You bloody fool, he'll skin you. Sit down and pretend to be asleep.'
I did. I kept my eyes closed for the remainder of the flight but I could hear the Welsh giant moaning 'Where's that bloody boy!'
Stanley never forgot that I'd walked away winning. All through the picture he talked about it. Even, many years later, I met him in town, he still hadn't forgotten.
He was earning fortunes but it niggled him that I'd done him out of £79.
Now the old clock's running for my novel. At the end of October I'm on the the road promoting the CD of my autobiography and I need copies of my novel to sell at the same time.
Submitted by Ray on Tue, 09/08/2011
Dear Reader, I'm back blogging after a couple of months.
A lot seems to have happened since my last effort.
I had lunch on June 14th with the publisher of my autobiography to discuss the in's and out's of why two chapters were missing from the printed version, which I believe I've mentioned to you before.
'You signed off the proof copy.'
'Did I? I don't remember.'
'I have the document that you signed.Do you want me to send you a copy of it or shall i send it to The Society of Authors?'
'Send it to me, please.'
That is the crux of the matter. Nothing has been sent. I phoned them to remind them of the promise. Then I receive a letter from them.
'I cannot see why (we should send you the document) when we went over everything during our lunch meeting.'
I politely replied again requesting a sight of the now elusive document. This was three weeks ago. Two months after the initial meeting.
I put money towards the publishing. They, they tell me, have been in the publishing business for 30 years and I would have assumed that they should have taken care of my book through all it's stages. They have let me down and I believe that they should return some or all of my investment.
I'm now contacting a solicitor for advice. I will keep you informed.
On the positive side I have got the rights of my book back. I have completed a recording of a CD version of my book. Three dates have been planned in October and November to promote it.
My novel is a squeak from being finished.