An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.

As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…

…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.

Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:

A. A monkey burp.

Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?

A. Mrs Sippi

Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?

But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:

Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?

A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.

Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.

Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.

Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.

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.

A Rare Latterday Visit To NewsRevue, For A Very Good Reason, 29 October 2015

A message from our fellow NewsRevue writing alumnus Colin Stutt to our informal “Ivan Shakespeare” group on 22 October:

In years to come, wise old newsrevue historians will ask the trivia question – which writer once saw one of his sketches performed by his own son in the show?

Answer: MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!   My son and heir Alex is in the current show, which runs up to Sunday 22nd November.  And it’s a good’un too.  So that seems to me like a good reason for us all to get writing again and to think about going along to the show.  Thursday 12th November (9.30) looks like a possible day – if anyone would like to come along, please let me know.

I had already committed to the Tate Modern with Janie for that 12 November date, but an exchange of e-mails with Colin revealed that I was not the only friend of his who wanted to see the show with him, but not on 12 November.

So, a small group of us, including Colin, Mark Keagan and a friend of Colin’s named Vanessa together with a couple of her friends wined and dined at The Bridge House before watching NewsRevue, a couple of weeks before the larger group’s outing.

As coincidence would have it, Alexander Stutt is not only an emerging Newsrevue performer but also an Alleyn’s School alumnus; solid cv, that.

To my relief, Alexander (and indeed the whole show) was very good, so I was able to heap genuine praise upon Colin and (briefly) Alexander, before retracing my steps from years gone by, walking home using that oft-used route.