Welsh Factor

The highlight of last week for me was being invited to judge the best talent show in Wales, held at the Diplomat Hotel Llanelli.

Here we witnessed acts of various ages and experience with a passion to perform. For me it was pure joy to see some future professional performers at the grass roots of the business.

At last we have an organisation that find, develop and support talent in a safe environment. This is a recipe for success and deserves so much more recognition and awareness.

The Welsh Factor Academy was set up in February 2010 by Anna Marie Thomas from Neath, who gained her experience and good grounding in the family entertainment business.

When youngsters are encouraged to perform this way they learn valuable life skills, grow in confidence and build strong relationships which will serve them well as they go through life, a positive contribution to society as a whole.

For the future of Welsh talent to remain safe we must all encourage and support it, which means turning off the TV and venturing out to the clubs and theatres. Try it, embrace it and share they joy that is live entertainment.

Good Day

How do you have a good day with a head full of bad thoughts?

It’s been claimed that the anti­-depressant drug Prozac can make men infertile. But at least you won’t get depressed about it.

With demands of work, family and just generally living, each and every one of us walk around feeling negativity and doubt in one form or another. It has become a way of life which is unfortunate.

Part of the problem, I truly believe, is that we do things that we don’t like and spend too much time with people that drain us of positive energy and happiness.

If you are around positive, uplifting people, they will make you feel good, in turn, you can pass it on. Bit like a Cwtsh really.

Have you ever noticed that the people that are mostly happy, uplifting and fun to be around are the ones that look forwards, not back. Interesting, don’t you think?

When people come to our shows we have one single aim, which is to ensure that everyone forgets their problems for a few hours and walks out smiling and feeling happy.

I bet you didn’t know that.

TV Repeats

Earlier this week I had a weird moment when I experienced a feeling of déjà vu and a premonition at exactly the same time. Luckily, I wasn’t driving my car at the time.

I was driving a mini-bus of OAPs to a day centre. I felt a little groggy, but I was stopped from passing-out when an old gentleman sat in the back shouted “Pull over”, so I did. I turned to ask him why he wanted me to stop and he said “I didn’t. I suddenly remembered I forgot my pullover!”

The past and the future merging together is a trend in television these days with many old TV series being dusted-off, re-made and updated.

We already have several new versions of old shows in the schedules, the most recent of which is “Sunday Night At The Palladium”. Not, as it was known when it ran through the 1950s and 60s, “Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

The sponsors of the programme, a bathroom company, refer to the series by its original title, indicating a lack of communication between them and the producers. Maybe the bath was running, so they didn’t quite hear them…

Several classic children’s programmes are returning, some being brought back from decades ago.

In 2015, look out for new versions  of “Clangers”, narrated by Michael Palin; “The Wombles”; “Dangermouse”; “Thunderbirds”; and.(Heaven help us)”Teletubbies”!

I thought they’d never gone away, but apparently the last episode was made in 2001.

Hopefully, they’ve got over their terrible accident when La La got a bit Dipsy, fell over the Po and landed on his Tinky Winky.

Among the old shows being revamped for Saturday nights is “Name That Tune.” Not to be confused with “X Factor” which is sometimes referred to as “Name That One In Tune!”

Another popular show returning is “Stars In Their Eyes”, originally hosted by Leslie Crowther before Matthew Kelly took over. And who have ITV decided should step into their shoes? None other than Harry Hill!

No, I couldn’t believe it when I first read it, either.

The big-collared one has never come across as someone who’s comfortable inter-acting with the public, but ITV must be cock-a-hoop that they signed him up after the ‘success’ of “ The Harry Hill Movie” which emptied cinemas everywhere. When I went to see it, the projectionist asked for his money back.

Not forgetting, though many people have tried, “I Can’t Sing” the musical he co-wrote which ran at the Palladium (the one in London!) for just two months. Apparently it made the Spice Girls musical “Viva Forever!” look like “Les Miserables”.

We’ll have to wait to see what stars get impersonated in the new series, but I don’t think they’ll ever top the classic moment when an accountant from Milton Keynes said “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Glenn Miller”, went through the doors into the smoke….and was never seen again!

You know what they say: sometimes, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!

Gone but not forgoten

I’ve got no axe to grind this week. I had to send it to the ironmongers to be sharpened following a dispute with my next door neighbour. I can’t give you any details at this stage, but he’s expected to make a full recovery and he will be able to play the piano when he comes out of hospital. Which is odd, because he couldn’t before he went in…

No, this week I’ve got a question to ask.

Is God starting his own all-star repertory company to take on an endless tour of the Heavens? Because they’re going down like ninepins. Shuffling off this mortal coil to join the choir invisible…in their droves.

I’m talking about famous performers.

Consider this list of recently deceased stars and tell me you remember a year when so many who deserved to be called ‘stars’ left us…

Lauren Bacall,  James Garner,  Bob Hoskins,  Roger Lloyd-Pack,  Rik Mayall,  Kate O’ Mara,  Joan Rivers,  Mickey Rooney,  Elaine Stritch,  Shirley Temple,  Robin Williams, and we’ve recently lost two giants of the British film industry – Sir Richard Attenborough and Sir Donald Sinden.

They maintained their careers for more than 60 years and made their mark in many different areas of the business.

Sir Donald’s plummy, unmistakeable voice will be familiar to those who love TV sitcoms, from “Two’s A Crowd” to “Never The Twain”, while theatre lovers will know he was an outstanding Shakespearian actor and master of Restoration comedy.

One of the many tributes to him was from someone who met him at a village fete last year. He said, “He spent the afternoon happily talking to everyone who came up to him – with a glass of red in his hand the entire time!”

‘Dickie’ Attenborough played a wide variety of characters, from the strongly principled family man who was sent to Coventry by his fellow factory workers in “The Angry Silence” to the evil murderer Christie in “Ten Rillington Place”. And, of course, he was a accomplished director. “Gandhi” and “Chaplin” were just two of his successes.

When you compare them to the army of easily replaceable soap ‘stars’ who appear nightly on our TV screens – many of whom are never heard of again after they take their final taxi ride out of the Square or the Street – it beggars belief they’re in the same occupation as Donald and Dickie.

Then, last week, that gentle giant Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” passed away. People who met him at autograph and memorabilia fairs report that he was a warm funny man who patiently talked to everyone who stopped by for a chat and a ‘photo.

I know some of the names I’ve mentioned were of a venerable age and mortality affects famous people as well as the rest of us. But in respect of many of them, the saying ‘We shall not see their like again’ has never been truer.

So next time you see a famous old actor, actress or comedian on TV, don’t say “Oh no, not him/her again! I didn’t know they were still alive! ” because by the time you’ve said it, there’s a good chance they won’t be!

SEX FOR SALE

SEX FOR SALE!  (Do not read if easily offended).

Yes, I thought that might attract your attention. And unlike a lot of advertising that uses sexual imagery and the hint of a promise of amazing, guilt-free sex to reel-in gullible consumers, this blog will not leave you unsatisfied or frustrated. Hopefully you’ll find it highly pleasurable – purely in a comedic way of course. I do have my standards after all. Okay, I might have no idea where I left them –  probably at the back of the garage behind a stack of old paint tins under a greasy tarpaulin. But believe me, they’re around somewhere.

This time my blog will be exploring the world’s oldest profession, which is not, as I used to think, the life assurance industry. No, it turns out that’s the third oldest profession after Ark building. The world’s oldest profession is and always will be…prostitution, which is defined as “The practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment “. Substitute three words (a marriage certificate) for one word (payment) and we’re into a whole new ball game – no sexual pun intended.

Just ponder on that for a moment. I don’t go to church or chapel on Sunday anymore myself (I’m a five-dayAdventist – I don’t go anywhere at weekends) but when I did attend chapel we were always told that sex before marriage is wrong. Is a sin. Is punishable by Hellfire and Damnation etc. Which, of course, stirred the vivid imaginations of us adolescents and created much more of an interest in it than if it had never been mentioned.

But, we were also told that if we got married, then sex would be absolutely fine. Well maybe it wasn’t ‘fine’ in the first few weeks, because we didn’t really know what we were doing. It was more a case of it being clumsy and awkward…but bloody good fun nevertheless.

It felt like we were being told….“Hey you two! Got a marriage certificate? Then go ahead. Have sex as often as you like. Feel free to bonk your brains out. Because you stood up in church or in front of a registrar and, watched by friends and family, admitted in veiled terms, ‘I want to marry this person so we can engage in carnal pleasures without fear of being thrown into the deepest pit in Hades!’ ”.

Let’s not be coy, stripped of all the vows, the pomp, the hymns, the champagne and wedding cake cut into miniscule slices so there’d be enough to hand around to 200 guests, that’s what it was all about.  You got married, sex was yours to enjoy. A prostitute doesn’t need a certificate to let you enjoy sex. Just your cash.

Being a man of the world – and various parts of Powys – I realise that prostitution might be regarded as a pretty heavy subject by some of you, so let me lighten things a little with a story to tickle your funny bone…and any other part of your anatomy you fancy being tickled. See. We’re already ankle deep in mucky innuendo.

Doris, a lady of the night, is walking down a Soho side street when she sees her colleague Wendy standing in a doorway looking very tired. Doris says to Wendy “How’s business?” and Wendy says “Doris, love, it’s been non-stop. I’ve been up and down these stairs all night!”. To which Doris says…“Oh, your poor feet!”

Which reminds me, years ago I bumped into a prostitute in Swansea at three in the morning. She said “I’ve had a quiet night and I’m ready to go home. I normally charge a hundred quid, but I’ll do anything you like for fifty pounds, if you can describe it in three words!”.

So I said “Paint…my…house!”

You might think I write my blogs very quickly at one sitting and just put down the first thoughts that come into my head as I stare at the laptop. But you’d be wrong. Because if I did that, every blog would start with “I must remember to scrape that piece of corned beef pie off the screen” .

The fact is, I spend many hours and weeks of research on my blogs. And never more so than for this particular subject. Unselfishly I have, on behalf of my readers and certainly not for my own personal titillation, delved deep into the world of prostitution and met ladies who ply their trade (and I don’t mean corned beef ply) in person, face to face and on the internet. The things I do for you lot!

My research revealed something shocking. The sex industry is huge. And aside from prostitution and porn I include advertising in this category because advertisers and the companies they make the ads for, know that anything to do with sex has an interest, commercial value and an enormous following.

In fact there’s an enormous woman following me around at the moment.  Everywhere I go, she’s there.  And it’s scary. I’d take out a restraining order on her, but she’s so bloody huge they can’t find one big enough to restrain her. You may say I’m being ‘fattist’ but if she stood next to me, you’d see that she was definitely the fattest.

Industry and marketing experts have known that sexual imagery helps to sell products for many years and use it to their advantage.

I don’t know if this still happens in the motor industry, because it does seem rather sexist in 2014, but there was a time when, as every brand new model of car manufactured by Ford, Vauxhall, Massey Ferguson etc, was unveiled to the press and public, as the curtains drew back, there would always be a minimum of two scantily clad girls draped over the bonnet. These cars were so shiny, so highly waxed and polished, gleaming under the lights and in the glow of photographer’s flash bulbs, there was always a danger the girls would slide off and crash to the floor in an ungainly manner.  But they never did. Maybe their bikini bottoms were Velcro’d to the metal?

Which brings me back to prostitution. Not as a personal lifestyle choice. As a blog subject.

Brace yourselves. Prostitution has always been around and always will be as we have clearly seen that where there is a demand there will always be a supply.

To get to the source of this information and in order for me to get a feel of the subject, first hand, I was advised by a very good friend to interview the people at the sharp end of this industry. This wasn’t easy, I felt uncomfortable and at times a little bit frightened. However, being a stand up comedian I get frightened most nights, so with that in mind I took on the challenge.

I wouldn’t say that this has been my biggest challenge to date, but it’s up there in the top ten. The ladies, and sometimes men, at the sharp end are often just like you and me.  They have bills to pay, need somewhere to rest their heads at night and have a cousin in Northampton called Kenny who is in the middle of a trans-gender procedure.

Or is that just me?

They do what they do for various reasons. Some do it to fund their lifestyle, some for commercial reasons to survive and a small minority do it because they’re highly sexed and enjoy it.  They make up less than 10% though, which means the chances of a client having sex with a prostitute who is enjoying it as much as he is, are about as thin as the contraceptive she will demand he wears before attempting lift off.

Unfortunately, it is also true that some have been forced into the trade, and over time it has become a necessary but bleak, joyless way of life.

No doubt there are very dark sides to this industry. With some very long lasting issues and challenges for the people involved. We don’t have time to go into all that now, but if you watch the news or read the ‘papers you’ll be aware of people trafficking, a large portion of which involves bringing foreign girls here and setting them up as prostitutes. A sad, terrible state of affairs which I hope will be eradicated, given time.

I was surprised to learn (call me naive) that these workers don’t only provide a service for young, drunk men, following a night out with the lads, but often for lonely middle-aged men including the disabled.  Many ladies of the night (this euphemism also refers to those who start work at the same time the Ken Bruce show begins on Radio Two) offer a valuable service to society and can put forward a convincing case.

There are also some who think that the service should be provided by the NHS in some cases. Especially some disabled or physically challenged individuals.

I was also surprised to learn that many of the sex workers have families and partners and when not working, lead normal lives. In some instances there is acceptance and approval by partners.  I’m not sure how that would work in reality.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

 “Come in, dear. Make yourself comfortable and stand-up for a while”

Clearly sex has commercial value and draws attention, curiosity and traffic. This is something that can’t be argued. Let’s face it, you know I’m right about this.

I undertook this exercise in order to get your attention and to drive traffic to this site and it’s the reason that you’re on my web site reading this blog.

Admit it, I’m right aren’t I?  This exercise has worked.

One final, pithy comment on prostitution that I remember hearing a wise old Jewish guy explain on the radio, years ago.

Prostitution is the perfect business model. Just consider how it works. You’ve got it. You sell it. You’ve still got it!”

Thank you for reading and please share.

ROBIN WILLIAMS

Regular readers may recall that a fortnight ago this column put the spotlight on mental health and depression, with a particular focus on the fact that comedians are particularly vulnerable to mental fragility.

There was nothing particularly topical about what I had to say, but it seems that recent events have now put it all in even clearer perspective.

ROBIN WILLIAMS 1951 -2014

With so many parts of the word in crisis, why should the death of an entertainer affect so many of us?

Perhaps because during his 40-year career Robin Williams’ performances  helped us forget the cruel world we live in.

Apart his many hit films, he was a sensational stand-up comedian.

In the early ‘80s he topped the bill on a Prince’s Trust Charity Performance, fresh from his TV series “Mork and Mindy” – the television platform which provided his springboard here in the UK.

He struggled at first, sweating and looking panicky. But, once the audience had tuned in to his manic, stream-of-consciousness delivery, it was BOOM!

He got his first huge laugh and was off and running, improvising and riffing like a veteran jazz musician.

He was also a terrific actor in straight roles – playing memorably sinister characters in both “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia” –  and his voice performance as the animated Genie in “Aladdin” has entertained generations.

And now he’s gone.

Looking at his career and his genius ability to create laughter, it’s almost impossible to believe that he suffered from terrible depression.

But there is a small clue in his own description of comedy:

“Comedy is acting-out optimism”.

Death

There’s an old man, 95, lying in his bed, dying. His family surround him, all of them hushed, respectful and tearful.

Suddenly, the old man opens his eyes, sniffs the air and says, in a dry, croaking voice, “Is that a baked ham I can smell?“

His wife, who is sat by the bed holding his hand, says, “Yes, darling. I put it in the oven a little while ago.”

He gently squeezes her hand, looks into her moistened eyes and says “I’m not long for this world, but that ham smells so delicious that my last wish is to enjoy a slice of it between two pieces of warm, crusty bread.”

His wife replies, “I’m sorry, ‘cariad’, that’s just not possible. It’s for the funeral!”

That’s an amusing story. But perhaps some of you think it’s in bad taste.

Which raises the question: Should D.E.A.T.H. be a taboo subject in comedy?

It would seem not, because hundreds of sitcoms, plays, farces and comedy films have been written about D.E.A.T.H.

Their plots may involve bodies that inconveniently appear and disappear (remember that Fawlty Towers episode?); funerals; greedy people planning to bump off their partners or elderly relatives for their fortunes . . . and so on.

They amuse and no one takes offence. Not that it gives carte blanche to everyone in the comedy business to make crass, badly-judged jokes about the Holocaust, famine, airplane crashes and natural disasters that claim thousands of lives.

But some comedians Tweet, write and perform jokes, about these appalling things while they’re still part of ‘The Zeitgeist’, knowing that Twitter readers and audiences will laugh.

This is, of course, known in the business as their ‘Get out of jail’ card.

I’m not making any judgement here – just observing.

Comedian are said to have ‘died’ when their jokes fall flat. Perhaps the audience didn’t take to them or that night they weren’t on the top of their game. Whatever the cause, to spend even five minutes on a stage, desperately trying to wring laughter out of a stony-faced audience can be soul-destroying.

You do ‘die’ a little inside for the rest of the evening.

But the next night could be entirely different and you’ll have the entire room rocking with laughter.

That’s comedy for you.

When a well-known comedy actor or comedian passes away, it seems to affect us more than when a ‘straight’ actor passes on, because we hold funny men and women in real affection and recall the times we’ve laughed at their performances.

I’m talking about the greats like Eric and Ernie, Benny Hill, Ronnie Barker, Eric Sykes, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Les Dawson, Bob Monkhouse, Tommy Cooper and Richard Briers.

And just a few days ago came the shocking news that comedy genius Robin Williams had died, apparently by his own hand, as a result of severe depression. It is something I still find difficult to comprehend.

Today, stand-up comedy can be far stronger and crueller than the silly, often whimsical material of previous decades, which the public at the time had found endearing. When the big comedy names of today pass on, will they be mourned in the same way as previous generations of comedians who possessed warmth and geniality?

Well, we had an insight into this when Rik Mayall, the first of the ‘alternatives’ who changed the face of comedy in the ‘80s, suddenly died in June.

I wasn’t a huge fan, but when anyone dies before their time, it’s always sad, especially for his family. Many of his friends said he was a smashing, loyal fellow.

However, it was noticeable that several ‘irreverent’ tributes paid to him by his comedy contemporaries contained four-letter words.

That didn’t happen when Eric Morecambe died. Tributes were heartfelt and eloquent.

There is an upside to D.E.A.T.H. – and you don’t have to be an undertaker or florist to appreciate it.

We humans are quite robust. We may take an emotional battering and be inconsolable in our grief for a parent, grandparent, partner, relative or good friend who’s passed. But gradually, our minds and bodies somehow manage to recover so that we can carry on. It’s quite astounding how that happens.

We’ve been through the mill, survived one of life’s great traumas and it’s strengthened our character so we’re ready to take on the next big problem that bunch of bullies ‘The Fates’ have in store for us.

Having a sense of humour and being able to enjoy a joke and a laugh can be therapeutic in times of grief. There’s scientific evidence to prove it – not that many scientists are a barrel of laughs.

So remember the words of that great Irish philosopher Jimmy Cricket: –

“Live every day as if it’s your last – and one day you’ll be right!”

Secret Dinners

Secret dinners:

Last week I found myself being the guest after dinner speaker at a very secret men only event. It was so secret that I’m unable to say anymore about it.

Yes, they have men only functions in this day and age, and there was me thinking that times had changed.

Over the years I have also found myself speaking at a ladies only function but those events are rare. Having said that, I have very fond memories of such occasions.

More so than the men only events. Yes, what I’m saying is that the ladies are more fun to entertain than the men and I speak from experience.

Women have been known to laugh harder, louder and longer.

Often women have a better sense of humour and are more willing to let go and engage in the moment, which as far as I am concerned is ideal and a delight.

If I have upset any men with my comments here. Good…

NATO IN WALES

NEWPORT’S NATO HELL(O)

Imagine the scene at NATO HQ in Brussels last year.  Around the table sit the great and the good (plus one or two rogues) with their laptops open in front of them, looking at maps of various NATO countries as they decide where the 2014 NATO Conference should be held.

London?  In September? Could be raining and still full of late-summer tourists.

Paris? Too many French people and not far enough away from HQ to claim those lovely travel expenses.

Rome? Wa-hey! All that pasta, wine and La Dolce Vita? Nope. Nowhere secure enough, since The Pope refuses to move out of the Vatican into a B & B for the duration.

Then! A Eureka moment! Many of the assembled group are golf fans and remember the 2010 Ryder Cup was held in a luxury hotel somewhere in Wales.

What was it called?“The Kilted Manhole”? Look it up. The building was surrounded by golf links so there’s plenty of space to park tanks, jeeps, helicopters, missiles, police cars, riot vehicles…and a burger van.  Plus, we can get 18 holes in before breakfast. Book it, boys!

And so it came to pass that the 2014 NATO conference was held at the Celtic Manor Hotel, Newport.

Around here we felt little of its impact, although I did hear The Obamas were chauffered down to Swansea Market and bought five quids worth of cockles and a dozen Welsh cakes.  But during the conference and for a week before, with 9,500 extra coppers on duty, it seems Newport resembled a Police State.  If you’ve visited Newport recently you might think that’s a much better state than it’s usually in, but I have friends there and wouldn’t like to upset them. So if they’re reading this, they’d better stop now.

A group of anti-Nato protesters set up a peace camp in Tredegar Park and it didn’t take long for nearby residents to complain about the noise.  You can only listen to “Kumbaya” sung badly by ageing hippies, accompanied by a battered three-string guitar, seventeen times before dialling 999.  A music historian recently discovered a second verse of “Kumbaya”. I’ll update you when I find out more.

There were protest marches through the city. But Newport’s been there for hundreds of years, so there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Many were protesting because they didn’t like NATO. Apart from one confused bloke who didn’t like Dorothy’s dog in “The Wizard Of Oz”.

Fourteen miles of fencing were placed around the hotel. But the delegates still managed to get out. In fact they went to Cardiff, where the castle was surrounded by more fencing. Did anyone responsible for conference security realise that a castle is a secure fortress with high walls, designed to keep out invaders?  Putting a ten-foot fence around it seems as pointless as making a bread sandwich.

I’m not saying it’s the next NATO conference location, but yesterday, several men in dark suits, with military buzz-cuts and a bad attitude, were seen wandering around Tregaron