MCC v Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, Lord’s, 16 November 2017

I was delighted to be selected to represent the MCC again against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club. This was to be my third go in that fixture – click here to read about the previous go.

Even more delighted, because I saw that our captain, Josh Farrall, had picked me to partner Chris Stanton. I have known Chris for over 25 years – he was the first professional actor to perform one of my silly songs. In NewsRevue, spring 1992.

So I thought it was to be comedy doubles. Ideally with me writing the script and Chris doing all the work.

John Random, who directed that 1992 show, on learning that Chris and I had been reunited through this strange game, had expressed a desire to see real tennis. So I had the idea to invite John to watch Chris and me play in this match.

Initially John said yes to that idea, but the weekend before the match, he was selected for a Compare The Meerkat advert and had to pull out of the Lord’s tennis spectating role. It transpires that John has previous in the matter of phoney slavic accents and extremely dodgy fur:

Win a one-way ticket to the Gulag if you even think about markets-dot-com

In the end John’s inability to show up at Lord’s was probably just as well. For a start, that Trotsky beard would not have gone down well at The Grace Gate. Further, in any case, Chris Stanton was also a no show on the day – surely not another one summoned to perform with an anthropomorphic gang from the mongoose family?

So, captain my captain Josh Farrall partnered me in the first match. Sadly there are no photos from this match, but there is a stock photo of me playing in a previous match – that isn’t Josh watching me hit the ball all wrong.

A perfect shot of an ever so slightly imperfect shot – photo by Sidney Yankson

Exhausted by our endeavours, I nevertheless volunteered to relieve our captain from multiple duties by taking his slot in the later match he was scheduled to play.

This gave me the chance to partner Nick Evans, who is even more of a novice than me and against whom I was scheduled to play singles the next day, against a delightful Middlesex couple (including the MURTC team captain) who are also more novice than me, although not by much.

The whole fixture was great fun; a lot of people who hadn’t (or had only very occasionally) played matches before, plus a few regulars of old and the odd turncoat, as was the experience in the match against the HAC a few months ago.

It was a superb success as a social evening, with the traditional Lord’s curry going down a treat, washed down with some very jolly wines.

“What was the score?”, I hear the more competitive readers cry. Come on now, I’ve told you before, what happens on the MCC tennis court stays on the MCC tennis court.

I’ll just provide one picture-based clue:

Pears-Pairs-Bagels

Real tennis was the winner, along with conviviality.

Class Of ’92 Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 5 October 2017

Partly inspired by my chance encounter 18 months ago (and subsequent re-encounters) with Chris Stanton at the real tennis court at Lord’s

…partly inspired by the fact that many of us who gather for these Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners have been hanging around NewsRevue now for 25 years…

…John Random decided to theme this get together around the notion “Class of ’92”.

I didn’t realise that John had actually persuaded Chris Stanton to come along this time, which was a very pleasant surprise. Chris brought a couple of ringbinder files with scripts from his 1992 runs, including the late Spring run, directed by John Random, in which I (or rather, my material) made its NewsRevue debut:

Seeing those files, it made me realise what a challenging job it must be for performers to do NewsRevue. The sheer volume of scripts, the mixture of sketches and songs, the changes to the show every week…

…Chris showed me one running order, for example, in which there was an unbroken sequence of fourteen or fifteen pieces in which he appeared.

John Random brought along a photo album which had lots of photos of NewsRevue types…even one of me and Janie from our very early days together…most people in the room were represented by at least one photo.

Mark Keagan was there, as was Barry Grossman, Nick R Thomas, Colin Stutt and Gerry Goddin, the latter of whom produced a particularly fiendish version of his “quiz” game and tortured us with it at the end of the evening.

Prior to this evening, when chatting at Lord’s, Chris Stanton had been threatening to have a bonfire of his old scripts. Part of my purpose was to help John Random to rescue this treasure trove for posterity. But by the end of this evening, Chris explained that he did not want to part with his scripts and had no intention of destroying them.

On the way home, my song “Coppers are Dressed as Hippies” popped into my head, as did the notion that I too have a ringbinder file at home with correspondence and one or two old running orders and programmes.

In the morning, I copied/wrote up “coppers” (click link here or above) and found a running order, programme and writers’ newsletter from Paula Tappenden’s summer run; the run that followed the John Random/Chris Stanton one.

In some ways, I thought, I had blooped by not bringing those artefacts to the evening. But in other ways, it seems more fitting that I use Ogblog as a medium, following up on the Class of ’92 evening, to circulate copies of my 1992 artefacts, shown below:

  • the programme for that Paula Tappenden run (late June through August 1992);
  • the running order from week four (late July 1992);
  • John Random’s unusually short writers’ newsletter w/e 31 July 1992…who was your visitor from Idaho, John? Do tell.

Postscript. In response to my request for details on the mystery visitor from Idaho, I received the following beautifully-crafted missive from John Random a week or so later:

…the friend from Idaho was my former flatmate Janet.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t spend the whole of 1986 simply writing down everything she ever said. Here was comedy gold, narrative gold right under my nose and I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

Without ever trying to be funny, without even KNOWING she was being funny, Janet contrived to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. This was chiefly because everyone she’d ever known was either barking mad or the victim of some cruel yet ludicrous twist of Fate.

I recall she had a pioneer ancestor who was run over by the very train that brought his family out West to join him. Apparently, he had started the celebrations a little too early and was a little too merry by the time the train pulled in.

Not that this should be taken as meaning she was catty or scabrous. On the contrary, she was a big motherly woman of the sort you might get if you crossed Jenni Murray with Claire Rayner.

Sadly, Janet’s not much of a writer, so I have very few letters of hers, and she seldom even e-mails. However, she recently broke a seven-year silence indicating that she might be coming over in a week or two. I do hope so.

In my grateful reply to John, I described Janet’s interruption to his newsletter writing that week as John’s “person from Porlock” moment.

My own offerings from that Paula Tappenden Week Four are all now up on Ogblog, btw, all clickable below:

If anyone wants a better quality copy of the artefacts, just message me and they can be whizzing your way in next to no time.

Ultimate Love and Happy Tories, Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 3 March 2017

NewsRevue’s 2004 Guinness World Record for being the World’s Longest Running Live Comedy Show – Gerry Goddin far left, Barry Grossman back left, a wide-eyed me front right

NewsRevue goes back all the way to 1979. When the show turned 25, in 2004, it was awarded the Guinness World Record for being the World’s Longest Running Live Comedy Show. I was there. I’d been there since 1992. This year my involvement with the show turns 25.

Those of us who wrote for the show in the 1990s still gather a few times a year for Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners.

Earlier this week, coincidentally, I played real tennis with Chris Stanton (another NewsRevue alum, in his case a performer) at Lord’s. Chris was reminiscing with me about the show, not least because he was rummaging through his old files and found many complete runs of scripts from “our era”, which he was planning to shred. I think John Random might rescue them for posterity.

Chris then gave me a pretty-much word perfect rendering of Brian Jordan’s wonderful Arthur Scargill song, to the tune of My Guy. As John Random later reminisced:

He may not be to everyone’s liking/But as a union leader, he’s striking.

Hearing about Brian Jordan reminded me of my first big hit; The Ultimate Love Song, which Brian made his own for a while and took to Edinburgh (my material’s debut there) in his show “Whoops Vicar Is That Your Dick?”  I am so proud to have had my Edinburgh debut in a show with that name.

After seeing Chris, I looked at my file and realised that The Ultimate Love Song turns 25 this week; I copyrighted it 29 February 1992…so perhaps it turns six-and-a-quarter. Anyway, it seemed right to mention it at the Ivan Shakespeare and I was badgered into giving a quick rendering, as much as I could remember.

I have now upped The Ultimate Love Song in its entirety – together with the tale of its early use – here’s the link again.

Here is a link to Ben Murphy’s rendering of The Ultimate Love Song from 1993.

Mark Keagan was at the Ivan Shakespeare dinner; he’s one of the more regular attendees. He mentioned that his father-in-law and former home secretary, David Waddington, sadly passed away last week. Which reminded me that I did once write a song with a verse about Waddington; again nearly 25 years ago. We all (Mark included) agreed that the song might come in handy for him over the coming weeks…well you never know…so I have upped that one too. Happy Tories it is called – also about Maggie Thatcher and Chris Patten – click here.

Below is a picture of John Random and Mark Keagan from the previous Ivan Shakespeare dinner.

Mark was awarded the 2016 trophy, but should he have been? Rumour has it that John might have been handed the wrong envelope…

Gerry Goddin and John both produced quizzes. Gerry’s was infernal as usual; I did well at first but tailed off at the end, letting Barry Grossman take the honours at the line. John’s was suitably silly and superficial for my mood – a small collection of “shock and awe” pun headlines to unfathom. Perhaps naturally, I won that quiz.

As always it was good to see the gang – a slightly depleted gathering this time but at least when that happens you get a chance to have a proper chat with everyone.

Pickled Herring Of The Year Competition and Other Delights, 12 October 2016

Not all that many people are familiar with the Pickled Herring Of The Year competition. But if you are part of the wider cousin-hood of my mother’s family, in particular the Briegal branch, then you probably know all about it.

Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo
Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo

For more years than I can remember, Jacquie Briegal has hosted a fast-breaking dinner at the end of Yom Kippur. Breaking the fast, for most of us who attend, has become a nominal term for the family gathering, as hardly any of us now participate in the fast itself. But that is no reason to abstain from a jolly family gathering and feast for theoretical “fast-breaking”.

I worked in the morning and into the afternoon, but had taken the opportunity to arrange some real tennis late afternoon, with a view to using Shanks’s pony to get from Lord’s to Jacquie’s place in Swiss Cottage.

A couple of days prior to my real tennis game I was asked if I could stay on an extra hour. As I have reported before, click here, this quite often happens in the Lord’s real tennis fraternity. As it happened, I realised that I could do that and still get to Jacquie’s in reasonable time. What I didn’t realise (or at least didn’t think about) was quite how much two tough singles matches on the trot would take out of me.

First up was my old friend from NewsRevue, Chris Stanton. I have mentioned running into Chris at the Lord’s real tennis courts before, click here, but I had not played him before today. A tough gig for me, even with the handicap adjustment, which we both thought a little understated. Still, it was good to chat with Chris again before we started, remembering NewsRevue friends, songs and sketches gone by. Then after Chris, another gentleman I hadn’t played before, with vast real tennis experience and a less than generous handicap adjustment to compensate; I somehow got a draw out of the second match.

Suffice it to say that I started my two hours on the real tennis court feeling like a leaping salmon and ended it feeling like a pickled herring…

…which segues us nicely and effortlessly (well, actually the walk from St John’s Wood to Swiss Cottage felt far from effortless that evening) to the Pickled Herring Of The Year Contest. I neglected to mention above; part of the family tradition of breaking the fast at Jacquie’s place is for the meal to begin with a veritable smörgåsbord of starters, focused around varieties of smoked and preserved fishes, primarily various types of pickled herring.

My (self-appointed) role in this herring-fest is to judge the Pickled Herring Of The Year. The rules are pretty straightforward:

  • I alone decide the results – attempts to influence my decisions meet short shrift in this competition. That might sound a bit dictatorial – it is meant to;
  • Only the actual chunks of pickled herring varieties are eligible for the competition. Smoked salmon and gravadlax (ever-present) need not apply;
  • Nor does Jacquie’s delightful chopped herring qualify for the contest, although Jacquie did once get a lifetime achievement award for the chopped herring – the equivalent of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature – controversial but undoubtedly both are achievements worthy of the highest possible praise.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie received her lifetime achievement award; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie was garlanded with her lifetime achievement award for chopped herring; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.

We were a relatively small group this year; Jacquie and Hils of course. Josh (Jacquie’s grandson, Hils’s nephew), cousin Jane and her daughter Ruth, cousin Michael (always the last to arrive as he does actually go to shule and fast), plus me and Janie.

Hils and Janie - again not from a herring-fest occasion - thanks to Joy for the photo.
Hils and Janie – again not from a herring-fest occasion – thanks to our neighbour Joy for the photo.

Jacquie does not adjust the quantity of food served for the number of people who happen to be attending that year, so there were easily as many varieties of herring up for the award as usual (six) and huge quantities of other food. I haven’t even mentioned the main courses, including place goujons, salmon fishcakes, gefilte fish balls…nor the enormous variety of salads, breads, other accompaniments, several varieties of honey cake, other sweetmeats…

…I’m sure you get the picture…

…I’m equally sure that you, dear reader, now rapidly want to know the results of this year’s competition so you can stop reading and go off to eat something – your mouth is no doubt watering by now.

Bronze herring 2016 – wine pickled herring;

Silver herring 2016 – schmaltz herring;

Gold herring 2016 – sweet pickled herring.

Unusual for the sweet to win, but this year one of the sweeter herrings was perfectly balanced in the combination of sweetness and sourness; it also had a superb texture, a little like the schmaltz herring texture that quite often wins.

 

A Miscellaneous, Mostly Middlesex, Day At Lord’s, 7 April 2016

I’m using some of my own time to help Middlesex CCC with its strategic planning. Richard Goatley, the new Chief Executive thought that AGM day would be a good opportunity to see lots of people, so I blocked out the whole day for Lord’s, starting there at 9:30, after clearing my e-mails and going to the gym.

I could describe the detailed conversations that morning with the MCC and ECB, but they are probably covered by the “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. (Unless you, dear reader, are Richard Goatley himself, in which case you wouldn’t need to read it here because you already have notes.)

After a pleasant lunch in The Lord’s Tavern, which Richard spent mostly signing forms for Dawid Malan, we met with Martin Hadland. Martin is doing a closely related piece of work around membership satisfaction and finding ways to boost membership. We went through the results of a members survey and discussed his impending focus groups with members. It all looks very well done so far and promises interesting ideas for improving the membership propositions.

I then had a pesky 90 minutes or so interval before the AGM. I had been expecting that interval, so had brought some reading matter with me. I went to the real tennis dedans viewing gallery. I shall eventually write up my new experience of learning to play real tennis. Suffice it to say here that I thought that I’d both get some reading done and also get my head into the game a little more.

I watched some very good players locked into a tight match. Then, just before 17:00, in walks a familiar face; Chris Stanton. He was in John Random’s Spring 1992 NewsRevue cast and was the lead performer on the first songs of mine that were ever performed there, two of which I have today blogged in honour of the chance encounter:

Chris and I had a very pleasant but brief chat, as his opponent turned up shortly after. I watched Chris play for a while, then left the viewing gallery to whizz through my e-mails before going to the meeting. Strangely, John Random had e-mailed one of his “Where Are They Now” messages to his NewsRevue alumni circle earlier in the day (Sarah Moyle spotted on the TV), so I e-mailed back to let everyone know that I had just seen Chris Stanton face-to-face!

Doubly ironic happenings, as real tennis is such a weird game, the rules could easily have emanated from a John Random sketch describing a fictitious game of John’s imagining. Richard Goatley doesn’t even believe that the game exists, despite the proximity of the Lord’s real tennis court to Richard’s office – like, next door!

I subsequently received the following missive from Random:

What a great idea. Real tennis is presumably the one where you don’t use the same prescriptions as Maria Sharapova.

 

My reply:

Absolutely not the same meds as Maria – she took Meldonium.  The performance enhancing drug of choice for real tennis is Sanatogen.

As a novice, I am sometimes asked to play with some of the more senior members – one pair I was up against when learning doubles had a combined age of around 178 and they are determined to still be playing next year as the world’s first ever nonagenarian tennis pair. Their secret simply has to be Sanatogen.

Next stop, the AGM. The formal part is covered by the aforementioned “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. Believe me, the substance of a Middlesex AGM is not worth dying for, nor even worth the effort to attend were it not for the subsequent elements to the evening.

Suffice it to say that new Chair, Mike O’Farrell, while not as funny as outgoing Chair, Ian Lovett, ran a tight ship for the AGM, getting through the meeting with all business thoroughly covered and in record time. One type of gem replacing another type of gem in the chair; that’s my view.

The AGM is always followed by a very interesting pre-season forum; this year Angus Fraser, Dawid Malan and Richard Scott joined Richard Goatley on the panel for a very interesting discussion about cricket. Apparently Middlesex is a cricket club. I wish I’d realised that when I started work on the Middlesex strategy. Oh well.

Then a very enjoyable party for those members willing to stump up an ayrton for wine, cheese and a convivial opportunity to catch up with friends, grandees and friendly grandees. After the party, the conviviality was set to continue in the Tavern. Tired, I attempted to make my apologies, keen not to become both tired AND emotional. I explained that the metaphorical umpire’s finger had been raised, so I had no option but to go. It is very hard for cricket lovers to object to you going, when you put it like that.

A fruitful day, a lovely chance encounter and a most enjoyable evening.

 

You Can’t Hurry Trusts, NewsRevue Lyric, 7 May 1992

Buoyed by my early success with California Here I Go, I wrote quite a lot of songs during John Random’s Spring 1992 run.

Eventually I’ll upload the others; those performed and those not. Actually I’m not sure which John used and which he didn’t; I think he was (rightly) quite selective with those earlier efforts. But I do recall that John used this one about NHS Trusts; indeed it was revived, updated and used quite a lot for at least a couple of years – one of my better and more successful ones.

Virginia/Gini refers to Virginia Bottomley, the much-maligned Secretary of State for Health at that time.

I especially remember Chris Stanton starring in this number, as the lead singer/unfortunate old codger who was suffering while the NHS tried to transform into trusts. John Random will doubtless remember more about it, including the names of the other cast members from that run. I’m guessing Ian Angus Wilkie

My WP file is dated 4 May 1992 and I am pretty sure that my version was first performed that Thursday, 7 May 1992.

♬ YOU CAN’T HURRY TRUSTS ♬

(To the tune of “You Can’t Hurry Love”)

 

VERSE 1

I need drugs, drugs, to ease my pains, I need some treatment, NHS explains;

 

CHORUS 1

{Virginia says}You can’t hurry trusts {No} you’ll just have to wait;

{She says}List’ll get shorter, numbers doctored by the state.

You can’t hurry trusts {No} you’ll just have to wait;

{You gotta}Pop pills for a while, that way you will be sedate.

 

VERSE 2

But how many more months must I pine,

Before they find a bed in which to mend my spine?

Right now the only thing that keeps me hanging on,

Is the pethidine and this mogadon.

 

CHORUS 2

{But Virginia always says}

You can’t hurry trusts {No} you’ll just have to wait;

{She says} While we raise finance, operations will be late.

How long must I wait, how much more can I take?

Before all ‘dis traction, will cause my poor back to break.  {You must wait}

 

VERSE 3

NHS trusts, don’t come easy,

So they keep debating, pontificating,

While Gini argues, what trusts ought to provide,

The NHS shoots off down the slide.

But I keep hoping, {Oooooh} that one fine day,

( {The hospital’ tell me}, I can stay.})

 

CHORUS 3

{But Gini says}You can’t hurry trusts {No} you’ll just have to wait;

{Why?}We must hire accountants, and a huge inspectorate.

You can’t hurry trusts {No} you’ll just have to wait;

{We promise}You’ll have a bed soon, autumn nineteen ninety eight.

{So just wait!!!!!!!!!!!}

Click here or below for a link to a YouTube of the original Supremes hit recording of You Can’t Hurry Love, with the lyrics thrown in.

 

California Here I Go, NewsRevue Lyric, 23 April 1992

The very helpful and encouraging Spitting Image people (especially Bill Dare and Giles Pilbrow) eventually encouraged me to contact NewsRevue, primarily because my songs tended to be very topical, whereas Spitting Image tended not to do topical musical numbers. I was not only encouraged but also rather chuffed to see a W2 address for the Canal Cafe Theatre. Within walking distance seemed convenient enough for me.

At NewsRevue my correspondence found a welcoming John Random inviting me to a writers’ meeting on 2 April 1992, which will be the day I first met several “friends of decades” and the first time saw NewsRevue. A young Jacquie Somerville was directing that run, much to the chagrin of the regular writers, as she was primarily using material from her own troupe, which I believe included Reece Shearsmith, together with material written by her pal Andrew Whelan. But John told me at that writers’ meeting that he was due to take over as director of the next run shortly.

I hope to write up that early journey from juvenilia towards NewsRevue via Spitting Image more fully at some stage; there is quite a fat file of my correspondence and early efforts.

On the morning of 21 April 1992, the radio news was full of the Robert Alton Harris (no relation) execution/stay of execution saga in California. The old Al Jolson song “California Here I Come” popped into my head. The following lyrics almost wrote themselves.

There was no YouTube or e-mail with attachments in those days. I must have spooled a copy of the Jolson verse/chorus from my trusty reel-to-reel onto a cassette. The WP file of the lyrics is time stamped 08:12.  I think I heard the news that execution had been stayed on the Today programme shortly after 8:00 (just after midnight California time), so I concluded the lyric with a stay of execution and dropped a package off by hand at the Canal Cafe Theatre on my way to work.

These days I can link you through to a trusty YouTube of Al Jolson singing California Here I Come – click here or below.

…and a link to the original lyrics of the song – here.

By the time I got home from work that day, Robert Alton Harris had been executed. I wasn’t sure what that existential change to the ending would do for the fate of my topical song, but of course in the hands of seasoned topical satirists like John Random and Chris Stanton, such last minute tweaks are merely par for the course.

So, when I went to the writers meeting on 23 April, I was thrilled to see my little song on the running order for that week’s show. I was even more thrilled to see my song performed.  It turned out, of course, to be the first of many.

I seem to recall a slightly gruesome yet somehow amusing “snuffed” head gesture by Chris Stanton to conclude the song appropriately, despite the lyric. I cannot remember who else was in that cast; John Random will no doubt remember; he remembers most everything. Ian Angus Wilkie I think… But enough of my 2016 waffle, here is the full extract of the lyrics of my debut NewsRevue song from 1992:

♬ CALIFORNIA HERE I GO ♬

(To the tune of “California Here I Come” – but strictly no blackface when  performing this please)

 

INTRO

When the calls for death start growing,

And guillotines are starting to fall;

That’s when I am westward going,

To the place that kills ’em best of all.

California, I’ve been blue,

I’ve not seen death since ’62;

I can’t wait ’till blood starts flowing,

Even now I’m starting to call:

 

CHORUS 1

California here I go,

See the Nightmare on Death Row;

Where killing, is thrilling, oohh what a gas,

San Quentin, is rentin’, programmes, seats and opera glass.

 

The show’s soon startin’, don’t be late,

Watch the bad guy meet his fate,

In a snuff movie by the State,

California here I go.

 

CHORUS 2 (More slowly – different singer?)

California, here I go – yeh,

Back and forth along death row;

You oughta, try slaughter by electric chair,

Say hello to gallows, gassing folks is not quite fair.

 

The execution will be late,

It’s been stayed, you’ll have to wait,

For murder sanctioned by the State,

California, here I go.