May 4, 2016
As I sat watching the 2016 Snooker World Championship Final (congratulations to Mark Selby – and Leicester City Football Club – what a time to be a Leicesterunian!), I thought back to my first visit to the World Championships with my dad, Alec Hickson, in 1973 (when I was 10 and my dad was 43 and the final was the best of 75 frames, played out over five days: Ray Reardon beat Eddie Charlton 38-32). In 1973 the tournament was sponsored by Park Drive, and it took place at the City Exhibition Hall in Manchester.
It was a crazy affair. No one was told to turn off their mobile phone (possibly because they hadn’t been invented) and only a few frames of the final were televised. My dad took me along in the early days of the tournament, Round 1, when there were loads of tables on the go, separated by partitions, and you could wander freely from table to table, just hanging around and watching before moving on to wherever the most shouts were coming from. And if you wanted a player’s autograph you just went up and asked; not at the end of the match, not even at the end of a frame as the referee re-racked, but as a player sat glumly sipping a pint and sucking a Park Drive, whilst his opponent did all the work at the table. Here’s the autographs I got in 1973.
There’s Jackie Rea and Pat Houlihan (Pat won 9-2, but went on to lose 16-3 in the second round to Alex Higgins), Dennis Taylor and Cliff Thorburn (Thorburn won 9-8), John Dunning and David Taylor (Taylor – known as the Silver Fox many years before Phillip Schofield claimed the title – won 9-4), Jim Meadowcroft (who had a walkover since his opponent Kingsley Kennerley withdrew), Maurice Parkin and Warren Simpson (Simpson won 9-3), Bernard Bennett and David Greaves (Greaves won 9-8, before losing 16-1 to 59 year old Fred Davis), and Geoff Thompson and Graham Miles (Miles won 9-5). I collected autographs from 14 of the 16 players in the first round. The only ones I missed out on were Perrie Mans and Ron Gross. Maybe next year.
In 1974 the tournament was held at Belle Vue in Manchester. How lucky was I, at the ages of 10 and 11, to have the World Championship so close to home two years in a row! (In 1976 it went to Australia). More autograph pestering was in order.
And this time Perrie Mans was there. Also some of the big hitters; Fred Davis, Rex Williams, John Pulman, Eddie Charlton, John Spencer, Ray Reardon!
And, down at the bottom, another Charlton (not Eddie) was there as a spectator: Bobby Charlton!
But here, in close-up, is the star autograph:
“Best wishes & good luck, to Simon Hickson from Alex Higgins”.
I was only 11. I blew it really, my once in a lifetime meeting with The Hurricane. He took time to talk to me. I remember him asking my name, and then I remember him saying “Hickson, it’s a bit like Higgins isn’t it”. And all I said back was “No”.
Things changed once it moved to Sheffield. We’d still go, me and my dad. I’d race home from school, he’d race home from Trafford Park where he worked at GEC, and we’d do the drive over Snake Pass to The Crucible. But you couldn’t get to the players anymore. The Crucible wasn’t some vast exhibition centre where you could come and go. The Crucible was a Theatre! But still, in the earlier sessions, there was a partition, and two tables in action. My dad (phoning to book tickets? Or applying by post? or Pigeon? This is a long time before computers) would always try and get us seats that straddled the partition, giving us the chance to watch two matches at once.
A little aside on the business of getting tickets: My dad once went to see a round robin match; six players taking it in turn to play each other. He got tickets for a match featuring John Spencer (three times World Champion; 69,71, and the first to win at The Crucible in 1977). He phoned up for the tickets and was told to pick them up at an address in Radcliffe. He drove out to the address and found himself at John Spencer’s house.
As I got older I started to play snooker more, and by the time I was at university, between 1980 and 1983, I was on a snooker team captained by my dad; Potters ‘B’, named after Potters Snooker Club above the Rialto in Salford, and ‘B’ for not being the ‘A’ team. I was away at Manchester University, but I’d see my dad once a week for our match. My dad was a strict but fair captain; three losses in a row and you’d lose your place, until the next team member lost three in a row. I spent a lot of time on the bench.
Along with the Salford District Snooker League weekly games were the individual handicap tournaments and the doubles tournaments (in which I’d team up with my dad). In the 1982/83 season my dad made it to the semi-finals of the Individuals tournament, and for this he got a trophy. The trophies were presented at an end of season bash, where there’d be a bit of entertainment hosted by the unusually haired Mick Miller.
And the trophies would be presented by… well, this was a special year. A young lad turned up to present the trophies, same age as me. 21 years old, a year on from losing 15-16 to Alex Higgins in the 1982 World Championship semi-final.
Yes. Jimmy White.
Jimmy White with my dad.
This was May 1983. Three months later, in early August 1983, at the age of 54, my dad died of a heart attack.
If you can, please sponsor me. In memory of a snooker legend.
February 20, 2016
“Ask me I won’t say no, how could I?”
I’m having a deja vu moment. I’m pretty sure I used this Smiths line for a blog post before. Most probably about the same thing. But I’m not going to check, because it’s just right. Ask. Always ask. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
We asked Rufus Hound if he would be in Episode 2 of STRANGENESS in SPACE. He said yes. As did Peter Guinness. Oh, and Carol Cleveland. You can hear them in Episode Two, Featherheads, here. And at the risk of just too much repetition have I told you, it’s free, so what have you got to lose? (Ok, about 24 minutes of your time, but if you feel it wasn’t worth it I will refund you the cost).
Last weekend we launched Episode 3, Step Back in Time. We asked Alexei Sayle if he’d be in it. You can hear the Episode here.
We are now funding Episode 4. It is called Pet Shock Boys. Our main guest will play a character called The PuppyMaster. Any more news would spoil it. But who could we ask to play The PuppyMaster?
I’d had someone in mind from the beginning, and when Sophie said she’d once worked with him on a Big Finish Dr Who audio drama, we just had to ask.
We didn’t hold out much hope. It can take a while to get an answer from an agent; and we do need a bit of luck on our side… all our eps are crowdfunded, all of our guests are paid the same. It helps a hell of a lot if they want to do it. If, indeed, they would enjoy doing it.
Things were silent for a while. And then Clare (our producer) received a succinct email that said “he’s in”.
So. Episode Four, Pet Shock Boys, will guest star Paterson Joseph as The PuppyMaster.
If you’re thinking ‘I don’t think I know him’, well, I bet you do. He’s a great actor. Here is is in one of his more well-known comedy roles:
I was thrilled when Paterson said yes. The last thing I watched him in was The Leftovers, where he played ‘Holy’ Wayne. If you haven’t seen it, do track it down. It’s amazing and moving and manages to be that rare thing; groundbreaking TV.
Paterson in Episode 4 is incredibly exciting, and I’m still getting over the shock of the yes! Ask!
Now I’m going to ask you folks to help us get it made. If you’re as excited as me at having Paterson Joseph take part, please help us fund this episode. We aren’t crowdfunding through Kickstarter (as we did to get STRANGENESS in SPACE off the ground in the first place). We’re crowdfunding it through our own website. Please take a look at our ‘shop‘ and see if anything takes your fancy. We have some new items now too! Episode 1 will be available on CD, remastered by our sound maestro Dave Palser, and also with lots of extras including remixes of the songs, interviews, bloopers etc. (I put etc. because they are all to be confirmed; but I promise you, you won’t be disappointed). We also have a new T-shirt bearing the logo of our (fake) sponsors Thorleigh’s. Dave designed this, and it’s lovely. Thank you Dave.
And how did we get Dave to do these great sound designs, to make our logos, to help us way beyond we could have expected?
December 18, 2015
Ok, yesterday I did my yearly round-up of the Top Ten comedy DVDs, according to Amazon. Some of you have complained. Some of you don’t like this comedian, or that comedian. Well guess what you lot! Me neither! Some I like, some I don’t. I don’t get to choose the Top Ten. I guess sales do, or something.
Did any of you notice that all the Top Ten are male? And 9 out of 10 are white? And the only comedian who isn’t white is described as “dangerous”? Like I say, I don’t pick. I just watch and-
Oh no! The Top ten has changed today! How’d that happen? It’s a minor change; Bailey’s out, Mack’s in.
For the sake of this poll coming up, I am going to use the Top Ten from yesterday. Now remember! this is very important! You are NOT voting for who you think is the funniest. There are two polls: the first one is for the best cover, the second one is for the worst cover. Got it?
Here’s an example. You can’t stand McIntyre (not necessarily you, but someone on Twitter did express annoyance that he was in here), but you do love his cover… then you must vote for him. THESE ARE THE RULES! Please stick to them.
Ok, here goes:
Oh no! First a quick reminder. Here they are:
And now the opposite. Which do you think is the worst?
December 17, 2015
It’s that time again. Christmas-time. And Here I am with the annual round-up of Top Ten Comedy DVDs, helping you make those difficult Christmas present choices.
This is how it works: The Top Ten is taken from today’s Amazon Stand-Up comedy recommendations. I’ve not watched any of them. I don’t read anything about them (not even the Amazon blurb). I look at the covers and come to unfair conclusions. I’ll say the same as last year: “Yes, I am judging a comedy DVD by its cover.”
Here goes, counting down from ten to one.
10: Henning Wehn
It looks like we’re off to a good start. Henning is “a superb social commentator” with “great likeability”…. Woaaaaahhhh! Hold your horses! He’s only gone and said that about himself! Where’s the quotes from The Sun, or the guardian, or anyone else. Ah! There is a quote from Everybody Else! He’s “that German bloke”.
There’s a clue to his Germanness (Germanity? Germanicity?) in the title Eins, Zwei, DIY. And we can also tell that this is a DVD of his live show from the use of the word “Live”. As far as titles go, I like puns, and this made me laugh. But then I laughed a little less when I remembered a similar comedic use of the 123 thing from a German zombie film a few years back.
Still, it’s a good start to our Top Ten. And Henning looks like Frank Skinner in a never-made Ronnie Barker shop sitcom called Spanner’s Manor, where Frank/Ronnie/Henning would have played Sam Spanner, a DIY shop owner who’s a private dick on the side.
Henning’s DVD is a 15 certificate, shown twice (once in blue, once in red) making it suitable for 30 year olds. It is available on Amazon for £10.
9: Dylan Moran
There’s going to be a pattern here with the certificates. Why they have to do it twice is anyone’s guess. Globalisation or something.
Anyway, this is Dylan Moran. Live. It’s called Off the Hook. No one knows why. Here’s some suggestions: Dylan has been let ‘off the hook’ by someone… a family member? The police?; the DVD has a fishing theme; it’s a bit like Off the Pegg– a not-yet-made one joke-fits-all fest by funnyman Simon Pegg; It’s a DVD of jokes stolen from New Order funnyman Peter Hook; it has no meaning.
Dominic Cavendish, from The Telegraph, says: “This show makes the world seem a better place”. It may well be deliberate but I have no idea what that means. He does give it four stars though, and that is good.
Unidentified writers from the guardian, The Times, and the Evening Standard also give the show four stars. One must assume that, unlike the brazenly out there Dominic Cavendish, these other writers are spies.
Nevertheless, it gives the DVD a total of 16 stars. That means it is good and funny. You can get it at Amazon for £10.
8: Alan Carr
15 + 15. This is Yap, Yap, Yap! Live. It is described by Guardian (not the guardian, so really, it could be anyone!) as “Hooting jabberfest”. (What in hell’s name has happened to the definite and indefinite articles here? Have they gone on holiday for Christmas?)
Anyway, let’s get to the point. Dogs yap, owls hoot. I’m guessing Alan is an animal impersonator. Available for £9.79.
7: Chris Ramsey
15 x 2. Lots of info here. It’s Live. And you get a full-length bonus show thrown in too. It’s All Growed Up, which means… it’s not… ’cause it’s said in baby talk. And Chris is holding a microphone made out of Lego (I wonder if he had to buy it, like Ai Weiwei?) It’s “Stand-Up gold” too (from the proper the guardian). So, everything’s looking good for this one, except…
“Frighteningly talented… tearing up every stage he lands on.” GQ
This is really worrying. Why does he land on stages? Has he only ever performed in Miss Saigon? Is he an alien? And then why on earth would he tear them up? Has he a Hulk complex?
And how is he managing to lean on a blue sticker that isn’t a sticker at all but they’ve still gone and made it curl up at the edges to try and fool us into thinking it is a sticker after all?
Putting aside these worries and doubts, Chris’ video takes us back up to the £10 mark.
6: Bill Bailey
It’s a first this year! A 12 certificate DVD. 12 + 12 = 24. Fun for (most of) all the family!
You know where you are with this one. “Sublime hilarity” and “Blissfully funny”… from proper papers. And then there’s jokes on top! The big joke is the plug pun (it made me laugh). The smaller joke is the “high voltage comedy” bit. And the surreal joke is the tick showing that the DVD is “approved by most goverments” (I’m guessing that the missing ‘n’ is a joke I am missing out on, rather than a spelling mistake).
5: Paul Chowdhry
Man, this one gives me the heebiegeebies!
Seriously, what gives? “Imperiously on top of his game”? Is that good? From the Mail on Sunday too? maybe it’s a spoof. Five stars though. and another five from the Daily Mirror to show that he’s cool on the left too. No quote from them, but the stars are adding up. Ten stars so far.
But then Eastern Eye lets Paul down. No stars and “Dangerous comic genius”. Dangerous? What!? Surely a comedian to be avoided?
Imperious? Dangerous? Genius? Is he after a part in the next Bond film?
But, ever fond of the cheaper stuff, PC’s World is funny.
As a little aside; when me and Trev worked on Going Live! and Live & Kicking our producer, David Mercer, was responsible for deciding if our content was acceptable/broadcastable. At times, he could be harsh on us (or so we thought), and so, in the face of BBC right-on thinking, we would always sing the same song at him. And it went like this; “Where in the world? David Mercer’s PC World”. That’s all. Not even funny. It just stuck. But if you ever meet him, do sing it to/at him.
4: Michael McIntyre
You knew he’d turn up. What would the Top Ten be without him? If anything, it’s scandalous he hasn’t made the Top Three!
No newspaper quotes here, because he doesn’t need them. “The record-breaking comedian returns with his brand new show!” A brand new show! It’s a shame they don’t tell us what record(s) he has broken. I’m going to plump for World’s Greatest Curtain Peeper.
It’s Live at The 02 Arena (does it have red curtains?) It’s called Happy and Glorious but where’s the trademark McIntyre smile? If anything, he’s looking sneaky. As if he’s about to rob the 02. With a prosthetic hand.
3: Dara O Briain
Here’s Dara O Briain spoofing a Phrenology Head, looking a little like the third of the Three Wise Monkeys. “Devilishly sharp” says Metro. What’s devilishly sharp? Dara? The scalpel that separates the sections of the brain? A Kitchen Devil knife?
Look closely and you’ll see what to expect: audience chat, highbrow, lowbrow, Gloria Estefan, Not bumping into things. Oh, and a formula I don’t understand, and gags! Gags! Right by his left eye.
2: John Bishop
Possibly the most understandable cover amongst the lot. John Bishop. Live. At The Royal Albert Hall. “Britain’s top comic”, the Daily Mirror.
But hang on… Supersonic Live? Supersonic? As in Syd Little? I guess this is John’s tribute to Cyril Mead, the Little half of Little and Large, always referred to by Edward McGinnis, the Large half of Little and Large, as Supersonic. It’s a nice touch. And always welcome to see the new wave of comedy acknowledge the old wave. Or whatever.
Nice arrows. 30 year olds. £7.99! Cheapest so far! (unless you price Bill Bailey’s per disc).
And so to Number One. The Top DVD on Amazon today! Beating “Britain’s Top Comic”! Who can it be?
1: Kevin Bridges
It’s Kevin Bridges! “Kevin Bridges might just become the best stand-up comedian in the land” says The Times. That’s … ummm… treading carefully. Might just become!? “Kevin Bridges might just become the best replacement Letter I on the cover of his DVD in the land”. Me.
Perhaps comedians just like to have a laugh with the newspaper quotes. Or perhaps Kevin can’t bring himself to do the usual cheeky trick; the one where you go – “Kevin Bridges… the best stand-up comedian in the land”.
It’s A Whole Different Story… Live 2015 . There’s also one of those stickers that aren’t stickers (though at least this one isn’t fake peeling) stating that the DVD “also includes Kevin’s set from BBC1’s Live at The Referendum”. Like Live at The Apollo I guess, but I have no idea where The Referendum is. It might be in Scotland.
Come back tomorrow and we’ll do some polling. Have your say. Which are the best covers, which the worst. Voting commences tomorrow.
November 29, 2015
It’s Something Sunday isn’t it. Yeah, it is. Something Sunday. Comes two days after Black Friday and the day after Shrug Saturday.
Something Sunday. The day before Cyber Monday. Two days before Tired Tuesday. Followed by What Wednesday, then Green Thursday, and then, a full week on from Black Friday, we have Just Friday, when all the magistrates use No Win No Fee claim forms as auxiliary toilet paper. Next Saturday is Next Saturday, when all branches of Next offer Same day Delivery, tomorrow. And then, we come full circle to the following Sunday which, at the moment, is flirting with calling itself Sallow Sunday; a day where all yellow gifts that have been left in sun-bleached windows over the summer will be sold off at bargain prices to the first customers who skin-tones match the product.
It’s difficult keeping up isn’t it? Do you remember the good old days when days just had a number, or a one-word name? Monday the 12th, or Wednesday the 29th… and so on. Do you remember? Think back. Do you remember when there was that Monday in your childhood that was just a Monday, any old bog-standard Monday, but what a great Monday it was? We all loved that Monday. I think it was Monday 16th July, 1979. What a Monday! Glorious. A Monday. With a number. 16.
The good old days.
And then came Saturday. Saturday 21st 1979. What an awful day. Mondays were never the same after that were they? Bob Geldof and his bloody pop song. Released on the 21st; completely buggering up the 23rd. So he didn’t like Mondays? He could have kept it to himself. But no, too late, he’d opened the floodgates. Blue Monday was next and the world was never the same.
And now here we are, on Something Sunday.
Let’s try and make the most of Something Sunday. Let’s try and make something positive out of the hell Geldof unleashed.
Let’s make Something Sunday something special. Let’s make it Strangeness Sunday.
Have I told you about STRANGENESS in SPACE?
(I know. I can hear you; “so that was his plan all along. To start off with some nonsense, some improvised rubbish, and then to slowly suck us all in only to bang on about his new thing.”
Yes. It was my plan. Sorry. Sorry Sunday.)
If you haven’t heard about STRANGENESS in SPACE, it’s a new audio sci-fi comedy me and Trev have done (done as in written, acted in etc) along with Sophie Aldred (Ace to Sylvester McCoy’s Dr Who). We’ve also had the most amazing special guests involved, including Doon Mackichan and Rufus Hound.
We’ve now written Episode 3, and the writing for Episode 4 is underway. We also have a great new special guest for Episode 3. Only the comedy legend that is Alexei Sayle! This is so exciting for us. It’s just amazing to be able to ask some of our favourite funny people and for them to actually say yes.
And the great thing is, because this project is crowd-funded, we have no suits hovering over us, telling us we can’t do this, we must do that. We are lucky enough to be able to do exactly as we want. And if we want Alexei Sayle in it, we ask and cross our fingers. And the great man said yes.
Crowd-funding made this happen. You all made this happen. It’s a great thing, and we’re all in it together. Tell me why, I do like crowd-funding.
But (oh, I know, there’s always a big but)…
We crowd-funded Eps 1 and 2 through Kickstarter. We went beyond our intended target enabling us to fund not one, but two episodes. But now we are on to Episodes 3 and 4 we need to raise the money ourselves and crowd-fund through our own website.
We’re getting there, but the sooner we can hit our target the sooner we can get our great cast back into the studio to record the next two episodes.
If you’ve enjoyed listening to STRANGENESS in SPACE please do take a look at our ‘shop’. We’ve lots of things in there costing from just a few pounds to… well… a few more. Anything bought in the shop goes straight towards our goal to fund the next episodes; to pay all the people who are working so hard on our behalf to get this made; our Production Team, our cast, all those helping behind the scenes. All these great people are working long and hard hours, and often for ridiculously favourable ‘mates rates’. I promise you, everything we spend is up there on that audio “screen”.
Here’s some of my favourites from the shop:
This is our first set of STRANGENESS in SPACE badges. You can get the set for £6 including Postage and Packing (posted and packed by me or Clare, with a handwritten note too).
We liked these so much we had a second set made too… a little more in the know for ‘Mirthlings’ who’ve listened to the first two episodes.
We’ve also got T-shirts, Beanie hats, Bags for Life. You can find our shop by clicking on this link.
Christmas is coming soon too. We have our own STRANGENESS “Merry Spacemas”card in the shop. It’s signed by me, Trev, Sophie, and Clare. It can be dedicated to whoever you choose. And we can post it to them for you, or we can post it to you.
If you fancy helping us get the next episodes made but you don’t necessarily want us to post you anything, why not consider sponsoring a page of our script. Each page can be ‘commissioned’ by you. It will have your name at the top of the page for all the cast to see and we will also email you the script once it is released. This is limited to the number of pages in the script, and at the mo we have 11 left. You can be one of our page commissioners for £20 and you can do that by clicking on this link.
Ok. Enough I think. Enough trying to flog you stuff for today. Enough Something Sunday. You came here for a bit of fun, I reeled you in, and then I gave you the hard sell.
But… if you can help, please do. We are having so much fun getting STRANGENESS in SPACE made, and we can’t wait to be getting on with the next two episodes.
Happy Sunday everyone. And remember, tomorrow is Monday. Just Monday. But do watch out for the Cybermen.
November 9, 2015
Some of you may be aware of STRANGENESS in SPACE, the new audio sci-fi comedy drama we’ve made with Sophie Aldred (Ace in Dr Who). If I’ve been a little bit neglectful of my own blog here, the poor old Mummified Fox, it’s because I’ve been putting all that good stuff that some folk call content into another area: The STRANGENESS in SPACE WormHole!
The WormHole is a members only area giving those who join up Access All Areas passes to all that is STRANGENESS. So far there’s over 70 posts of photos, stories, interviews, and videos. Membership is for… well, a long time. We’ve never really pinned that down. Somewhere between a Year and Life… more likely falling towards the Life end (it’s not like we’re internet librarians with stamps and stuff).
Now here’s the thing. Normally Membership is £20. But this week is WormHole Week, and we’re making Membership only £5 for the first 100 to sign up. So, if you fancy it, please spend a fiver to gain access to some really funny stuff. And if you do, that money will go directly to funding the next Episodes of STRANGENESS. If you’ve not listened yet, please do. It’s free, and we have two completed episodes featuring me and Trev, Sophie, Doon Mackichan, Barnaby Edwards, David Annen, Sarah Madigan. And also special guests like Carol Cleveland, Peter Guinness, and Rufus Hound!
You can hear Episodes 1 and 2 here. They are FREE! Please take a listen. If you like them, that’s lovely. And if you’d like to hear more, please help us. Please take a look at our shop. It’s our own version of crowdfunding. We’ve got the cut-price WormHole membership, and we’ve also got badges, hats, bags, and scripts and all sorts of ways you can help us get these crazy episodes made.
Here’s a one minute version of a video in the WormHole. It’s when Rufus met Sophie.All improvised, with none of us having any idea what could happen. It’s funny. Very funny. And the full version is four times as long and even funnier… with some rude words. Easily worth a fiver. I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, please spread the word and help us hit our target.
October 24, 2015
My mum has just celebrated her 80th birthday. Part of the celebrations included a party for friends and family, some of whom, sadly, couldn’t make it. On of those was my Godfather, my ‘Uncle’ Cyril, who is 95 and, as much as he would have loved to come, is wheelchair-bound and the journey would have just been too much for him.
His daughter, Margaret, sent this lovely picture of them all celebrating his 95th birthday.
Margaret also sent me a copy of a piece written by my Uncle Cyril a short while back. He was in the Royal Engineers (the sappers) during the war, and below is his account of his time as a sapper. It is a beautifully clear, vivid, and moving tale and I am very grateful to Cyril and Margaret for allowing me to reproduce it here. I hope you enjoy it.
A SAPPER GOES TO WAR
In 1942 I was stationed in Tullibody, Clackmananshire, Scotland. In August we commenced a programme of intensive training, being called out in the night to go on a forced route march, building bridges at double time and everything else that sappers do. At the same time we were packing stores and writing on the boxes “Not wanted on Voyage”. “Hello” we thought, “are we going abroad?” Nobody knew anything, not even the friends of the friends that worked in Company Office where all our inside information came from.
The next rumour was everybody to have seven days home leave and all leave to be finished before the second week in October. I was one of the last to go on leave and on the last day of my leave I said to my parents “Mum, Dad, I am going overseas”. My Dad said “I know that lad”. Of course he knew, he was an old soldier and recognised the signs, the sudden leave, the insignias on my arms, the things I was saying. Sure enough all leave finished before the second week in October and then for security reasons we were confined to billets; no telephone calls or posting of letters.
The 26th October the order “All kit to be packed and stacked outside Company Office before 12 noon”. This is it, we are going abroad but where to doesn’t anybody know? That night, after dark, we marched down to the railway station where we boarded a train with dim lights and drawn blinds. After an hour or so of travel, we arrived at Gourock on the Clyde. A railway porter told me that there were lots of ships anchored out there and that Americans had been boarding them all day. It was that dark I couldn’t see a thing. We boarded a boat at a small jetty and were ferried out into the black Clyde. We came up against a huge wall of black steel with a little door in the side and a ladder running down to the water, a troop ship to be sure. Then a voice “up the ladder lads as quick as you can, chop chop”. It was easy up the ladder, just like going upstairs, a hand rail on each side, no problem. Down a dimly lit corridor, down a staircase into a brightly lit deck with rows of hammocks hanging from the ceiling. Another voice “choose yourself a hammock lads and keep it for the remainder of the voyage”. I chose one at the far side of the deck up against the bulkhead.
That morning, the 27th October, I went on deck and was awestruck. I was on a cruise liner named the SS Cathy belonging to the South Africa Line. She had been converted to a troop ship and was the biggest ship I had ever seen. She was huge.
After a couple of days at sea, I worked out that my hammock was just below the water line and I thought that if a torpedo was to strike the ship, it would hit right where I was sleeping. I need not have worried though because escorting that convoy of 33 ships was 51 warships of the Royal Navy. More than one warship per merchantman. What U-Boat would dare to attack such a formidable ring of steel?
As an ex-Scout, it wasn’t difficult for me to work out in which direction we were heading. SW America. Why? Two days sailing from America we were joined with an American convoy of troopships and their equipment and did an about turn and headed west towards Europe, definitely Second Front, I assumed.
There was a brass plaque on the bulkhead and the wording read “Four times round this deck equals a quarter of a mile”. We shared the deck with a Battalion of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and every day they marched round and round that deck to the skirl of the pipes. I maintain that those Highlanders marched all the way to North Africa.
After 10 days at sea we were assembled on deck to be told where we were heading. North Africa, capture Algiers, Tunis, deny Rommel supply ports and take the pressure off Malta. We were ecstatic!
Early morning 10th November, after 15 days at sea, we were cruising up the Mediterranean when there was a shout. “Hey look there’s Algiers.” Very slowly the ship began to tip to starboard. “My God we are going to capsize.” 5000 troops tried to get to the rails to look at Algiers. The Captain on the bridge shouted through the ship’s speaker system “you men down there get to the other side of the ship”. Some idiot shouted an obscenity to him and everybody laughed, so the Captain sounded the air raid alarm, which meant everybody below decks. As the troops dispersed below decks the ship slowly righted herself. I breathed a big sigh of relief!
The Yanks landed at Oran, the British at Algiers, except our ship. We sailed through the night to a small town named Bougie, off Bougie Bay. Here we came within range of the Luftwaffe based in Sicily, who soon gave us their unwelcome attention. The Infantry were the first to go ashore and as we waited our turn to be called forward, we could hear the bombs dropping around the ship and the ships Bofor Gun pounding away on the stern.
I left the Cathy as I boarded her, through the little door in the side, down the ladder into a ship’s lifeboat and away to the shore. I heard a terrific explosion and looked back to see the Cathy enveloped in a big cloud of black smoke. She had received a direct hit which blew off the stern. How many were killed, I never knew. When I got to the shore, I looked for the Cathy. She had settled on the seabed with just her funnel and part of her superstructure sticking out of the water. All our kit went down with her. All we possessed was our equipment, weapons and a blanket.
After a day and night guarding an unused airfield, our transport arrived from Algiers and we began our advance to Tunis. At this time, the Germans were pouring troops into Tunis and advancing towards us. We met up in the extreme end of the Atlas Mountains, where both sides dug in and harassed each other. We made camp about 2 miles behind the Infantry and after a couple of days, it rained. We had no shelter, no buildings, no trees, no walls, nothing but cactus bush. At night we put our ground sheets on the ground for a bed and covered ourselves with the blanket. Sleep was impossible. This went on for several days with no chance of drying ones blanket. What misery.
After 2 weeks we received 2 man bivouacs. What luxury to crawl into a bivvy wet through and then put on wet clobber in the morning!
At this time, the enemy was entrenched on a high hill overlooking our positions. He could see every move we made; that is if we dared to move because any movement invited a hail of fire. At the foot of this hill ran a Wadi that snaked along the valley just like a World War 1 trench. One morning at dawn, a battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment attacked this hill. Supporting the West Kents was my platoon of Sappers. Our primary task was to neutralise any minefields. So far we had not encountered any, so we split up into pairs to do individual searches. I must mention it was raining heavens hard. We were soaked and slipped and slithered all over the place with the mud.
I and another Sapper were detailed to reconnoitre as far as possible along the top of the Wadi, which we proceeded to do. We hadn’t gone very far when the enemy started to bombard us with his trench mortars. As these bombs came sailing through the air, they made a terrifying screaming noise, that put the fear of death in you and they were exploding the whole length of the Wadi. Without hesitation, my friend and I jumped down into the Wadi and crouched down with our backs to the bank, silently praying that we would not be hit. In an attempt to calm our nerves we each lit a cigarette. Whilst puffing at my cig’., I contemplated my position. I thought, I’m wet, cold, hungry, tired and more than a little afraid and a long way from home. I couldn’t be more miserable. As these thoughts were passing through my head, my mate gave me a gentle nudge and calmly said “don’t look now but there’s a German down that Wadi watching us”. Without looking up I said “ignore him, he’ll go away”. After a slight pause he said “Cyril I’m serious. There’s a German down that Wadi watching us”. This time I looked up and about 5 yards away the Wadi bent to the left. Stood in the bend was a German and with his big steel helmet and his long grey coat he looked about ten feet tall and the rain was just streaming off his helmet, as it was off mine. My mate didn’t have to spell it out that he expected me to deal with the situation! So I got up clutching my rifle in both hands and walked right up to him. I said “now then Fritz, what’s your game?” He just looked at me and pointed around the corner. I looked round the corner and saw several of our stretcher bearers doing what I was doing, sheltering from the mortar fire. They told me that the German was a prisoner and had volunteered to help bring in the wounded, which I considered was very brave when he could have gone back down the line to safety.
Several days later we were told to pack up everything, as we were moving out. We moved out after dark and travelled for about twenty miles under cover of darkness to a small town named Beja. We dumped our kit in a building that resembled a committee room and re-boarded our trucks. After half an hours travelling, we arrived at a quarry where we loaded the trucks with stone. We were going road-making for the Artillery. After another half hour, the truck stopped just as dawn was breaking. There were eight of us on top of the stones, all sleeping or dozing. Next our Corporal banged on one side of the truck and shouted “everybody out”. No-one moved, we were too sleepy. Something urged me to get out of the truck, which I did. I went around to the front to speak to the driver, who said “how are you Cyril?” I replied “very tired”. I then stood in front of the engine, placed my arm on the radiator and rested my head on my arm. Instantly, I felt a blow on my head that I can only describe as being hit with a sledgehammer. I awoke and found I was lying in the road. “What am I doing here? I don’t remember going to sleep in the road”. I slowly got to my knees, looked around and saw that the truck was a smoking ruin with stone and bodies lying all around it. The driver was slumped over the steering wheel dead. Five of my friends were dead too. So badly injured they were unrecognisable. ”What has happened?” I asked myself. “It wasn’t a bomb. I didn’t hear any aircraft. It wasn’t a shell because I don’t think we are quite in the battle area. What was it?”
We had an anti-tank mine shaped just like a small cigar box, powerful enough to blow the track off a tank. We carried six of these mines strapped to a board (ready-primed) at the back of the truck cab. We assumed that somebody had accidently banged one, consequently detonating the rest. What made me get out of the truck, walk around to the protection of the engine and rest my head on my arm so that my steel helmet took the full force of the blast? Only one answer. The Good Lord was watching over me. I found that I was completely deaf and dizzy. I went by ambulance, along with the two injured (one of whom was my best friend) to the advanced dressing station, where a medical officer diagnosed ruptured eardrums, concussion and lacerations. He informed me that I had to go to hospital, which I wasn’t happy about. I didn‘t think I was that bad but he explained that I could suffer secondary shock, which could be nasty and my ears could become infected. With that he slapped a “wacking” big piece of sticking plaster over each ear. Now I was deaf!
The medics lay my friend Colin McCloud on a makeshift table, where the officer took one look at him and said “my God, where do I start?” Poor Colin was just a pulp of bloody flesh. It was horrible. The officer just covered him with a blanket and had a look at my other friend, who was no better. The three of us were placed in an ambulance and whisked off to the Casualty Clearing Station, where we spent the night. The next morning the Chaplain informed me that Colin had died. This upset me greatly, in fact to the point of tears. Reg died some time later. Through the grace of God I was the only survivor of that terrible explosion.
After breakfast I, along with eleven other walking wounded, travelled 200 miles in an ambulance to hospital in Algeria. The hospital was a series of marquees set up as wards. I was examined by a medical officer, who asked what was my problem? I said “I can’t hear sir”. He replied “I should think not with this stuck on your ears” and promptly ripped off the plasters. I thought he had ripped off my ears! After examination, he told me that there was no cure for perforated eardrums. They must be kept dry and clean and they would be self-healing. Also, I should be sent back to Algiers for recuperation but if I wanted, I could stay at the hospital for three days and then re-join my unit. Re-joining my unit was music to my poor ears, so I opted for that. His reply “good man – I wish they were all like you”.
Whilst in the hospital I made friends with an American Corporal who was in the Engineer Regiment, so we had a lot in common. Six months after meeting this Corporal I was in Sicily patrolling down a country lane along with several other Sappers, when we spotted a group of soldiers coming towards us. Germans we assumed. We decided to ambush them and took up positions behind trees and in the ditches. As they drew near we could see that they were Yanks and leading them was my friend from hospital. There were handshakes all round.
The day of my discharge from hospital, I was sent to a transit camp. It was a prison camp as far as I was concerned. I was placed in a bell tent along with several strangers and I did not like that. The next morning I was sat on the ground eating my breakfast when a driver in the Service Corps approached me. He was a sight for sore eyes. He was wearing the Battle Axe on his arms. At last a friend. He asked me how long I had been in the camp. When I said “yesterday” he said that he had been there for three days and that we could be there for two weeks. That to me was a death sentence. He asked me if I would go with him to the Camp Commandant for permission to make our own way back to our Division. I agreed. The Commandant was a Major in the Royal Artillery. My new friend was the spokesman. “Please sir, can we have permission to make our own way back to our units?” “And where is your unit?” he asked of me. “Beja Sir” I said. “And what if your unit is not there?” he said. “Then Sir I’ll find it”. He knew that we didn’t know for sure where our units were but he did know that we were genuine and not potential deserters. He gave us a chit to take to the cookhouse for rations for one meal and then report back to him, which we did in double time! He gave us our discharge papers and said “off you go and good luck to both of you”. We went to the main road and headed east for Tunisia. Shortly an Army vehicle approached from behind. He was going to the railway station. What luck, we clambered aboard. A train in the station! Where is it going? I don’t believe it. Beja. LOOK OUT YOU FILTHY HUN – WOGGIE IS ON HIS WAY BACK!!!
We arrived at Beja just before nightfall. No sign of my unit or of the Division. Where are they? We saw a couple of soldiers on sentry duty outside what looked like a town hall. We asked for the Sergeant Major. He said “what is it about you Battle Axe men that you want to get back into the war”. “You are not the first to come here.” He asked when did we last eat? “Midday” we told him. He sent us to the cookhouse for a meal. Whilst eating he came and told us that a truck from our Division would collect us about 23.00.
We travelled through the night in the back of a 15cwt pickup to our Divisional Headquarters. At 06.00 my unit ration truck took me back to my platoon. Home at last. I never again saw my Service Corps friend. I pray that he survived.
ARMY NUMBER: 2094000
April 25, 2015
What a journey this has been! And we’re still Earthbound! (Hmmm… just confused myself there; Earthbound as in bound to the Earth not bound for Earth… tricky… reboot:
What a journey this has been! And we haven’t even left yet. Earth, that is. Snappy!
For those who know what I’m on about, you know. For those who don’t, it’s Strangeness in Space; a new adventure, a Space podcast, an audio comedy; devised, conceived, by four of us – Me, Trev, Sophie, and Clare.
The journey started about a year ago when we decided we wanted to do something together. Now, nearly a year on, we are reaching the end of our Kickstarter campaign.
Ooh! Kickstarter! I say that so casually, that Kickstarter campaign thing. A year ago I would have thought crowdfunding was (insert your own witty line here). A year ago I would have thought a ‘perk’ was (ditto). A year ago I would have… (finish this of yourself. And remember the rule of three! Then feel free to break it).
Anyway. My point. It’s a new thing and we’ve done it! We’ve succeeded! I would say just the four of us, but it’s been a team of seven. Maybe eight or nine. I don’t think ten. (And you others know who you are and you know just how grateful we are). And beyond that, the 550+ backers who are bold enough to come into Space with us. Without you, our backers, this wouldn’t have worked. With Kickstarter it is all or nothing; if you don’t raise the money you don’t get any of it.
BUT WE DID IT! A BIG BIG HOORAY!
AND WE HAVE PETER GUINNESS IN IT! BARNABY EDWARDS! SARAH MADIGAN! DOON MACKICHAN! CAROL CLEVELAND! DAVID ANNEN! RUFUS HOUND!
We’re a small team and we’re doing pretty much everything ourselves. When you get your perk the chances are I’ll have put the badges in the envelope. The chances are Sophie will have put the stamp on. The chances are Trev will have walked to the Post Office. And the chances are Clare will do the other 549. (See? I’ve already overruled the rule of three with a rule of four; that’s the problem with a quartet).
And now, with just over a day to go, I am pleading with all of you who have come on this journey with us, to pester your friends, pester your family; anyone you think would like to join us on this adventure… LET THEM KNOW THERE’S ONLY 26 HOURS TO GO!
Here’s the thing. We’ve reached our target, and we WILL get Episode 1 made. But Episode 2 is waiting and it’s ready to go! But we didn’t dare, we didn’t know… it’s a new adventure and we couldn’t have dreamed we could reach the funding for Two Episodes. But now I do believe we can.
To all who have backed us, spread the word! If you’re on Twitter, please retweet. If your on Facebook, please… refacebook? If you’re on the phone, please just casually slip it into the conversation.
Heck, Strangeness in Space isn’t a religion, but it’s as good as. And, occasionally, funnier. Spread the word!
This is where I picture some of our team putting their heads in their hands, thinking “this blog post was going so well, why did he have to-
Ok, ignore that last bit. Let me start again. Strangeness in Space isn’t butter, but it’s as good as. Spread the word!
£4 gets you a chance to hear the first Episode before it is made available to the public. And you get your name in our Roll of Honour.
£10 gets you an emailed script. £20 for a T-shirt.
There’s just under 20 different perks to pick from, suiting all pockets (what a weird phrase that is!) If you haven’t a clue what I’m on about with perks, just take a look at our Kickstarter page and scroll down the list of perks on the right hand side. You can find our page by clicking here.
26 hours to go! Our current backer are called Mirthlings (because the strange planet we visit is called Planet Mirth). calling all Mirthlings! Send the message out.
Let us recruit new Mirthlings! (sounds sinister)
Let us be like an army (but without guns and things… or people barking orders at us!)
Let us form a cult (Not a sinister one, like Scientology or The Moonies)
This blog post is going wrong.
Let us be Strangeness.
April 12, 2015
Ok, here’s today’s mission, should you choose to accept it:
Strangeness in Space is well under way. At this moment we have £13113 of our £15000 target! That’s amazing, and we are well on our way to getting the first episode made. But (and sorry to keep pestering) we won’t stop there because another £7000 will get the second episode made too!
A lot of you reading this will already have backed us. And a huge thank you to you all! (If you haven’t, and you want to, just click here). But today’s mission is simpler, easier, less taxing on the pocket. I am just determined to get a retweet from Richard Branson.
Let me explain:
Ok. Retweeting. It’s a Twitter thing. Some people are Twitter, some are Facebook. Facebook people don’t get Twitter, Twitter people don’t get Facebook. People who get neither are people with lives, and people who get both are people with no lives. Most of us fall in the middle. I’m a Twitter person. (We do have a FB page too, and I do go there; I just don’t know how it works).
Anyway, the Mission. Before it self-destructs.
Years ago, when we did Live and Kicking on Saturday mornings on BBC1 we did a sketch where we came up with a spoof product called “Branson Pickle”, and we thought “wouldn’t it be great if we got Richard Branson to do a voiceover for it?” Well, if you don’t ask… (see my past blog post).
Our producers got in touch with Richard’s producers (or whatever he has) and they said “Sure!” So, one Friday, during rehearsal, we went up to the sound room (sorry, I don’t know the technical terms) and we called Richard Branson so he could do his voiceover “down the line” (technical speak – I believe – for over the phone). It only turns out that he’s at his private island, somewhere off the coast of Saundersfoot!* And he’s playing tennis! With Obama!**
So, we are interrupting his tennis game! And he comes on the line and he does the voiceover for us! Thank you Richard.
And now, years later, I am pestering him again. Just for a retweet. See, he’s got over 5 million followers (it’s a Twitter thing, nothing sinister) and if his 5 million saw our Strangeness in Space kickstarter thing I reckon it could bring in a bob or two. And! We are off into SPACE! That’s Richard’s kind of thing.
So… The Mission. Help me out. Let’s get a retweet from him. If you get him to retweet our Kickstarter link we’ll give you a prize of some kind. Don’t know what yet. Something or other. What!? Stop asking! It’s just- you should be doing this for the love of it! Not for some damned reward!
Here’s a Space related pop song to allow us all to calm down a little.
* His private island is not off the coast of Wales. I am not allowed to divulge it’s actual location. it is is a well-guarded secret.
** Ted Obama
Everything else is true.
April 6, 2015
It’s one of the great pop songs. And since hearing it, it’s one I’ve always tried to take to heart. Yes, shyness is nice and (more often than not) the antonym is hideous. So, it’s always worth an ask. “Ask me, I won’t say no, how could I?”
Years back, last century, when I worked with Trev Neal on Saturday morning TV, we’d get to perform daft sketches with the stars of the day (Big Fun, Craig Machlachlanchlachlan, Nathan from Brother Beyond) and sometimes the stars of many days (Kylie, Cher, Mel Brooks). When it came to the Christmas and New Year shows there was always an attempt by our boss, Chris Bellinger, to up the ante, to aim high, to get the big guns in. And we would always ask for the top bananas. Year after year, for ten years, we’d hand in our wish list. Always the same names. And always, at the top of our list, the same two. We never did get Eddie Murphy or Gorbachev. But the point is, ASK! Always ask.
During one series of Live and Kicking we had a weekly feature called Every Loony Wins*. It was a daft phone-in quiz and we had a band as part of it, all played by kids from the audience. The leader of the band was called Des Tindeby (The Des Tindeby Band). And during their musical performance (miming to the very real Spike Jones and his City Slickers) a character would jump on stage (again one of the kids) as The Lone Yodeller (a Lone Ranger type, in a mask, yodelling like a loony). And each week we would end the segment by looking into the camera and saying; “Just who is the Lone Yodeller?”
When we reached the end of the thirty week run it was time for us to reveal just who was the Lone Yodeller. The obvious way to do this was for it to be one of the guests of the week. The only problem was (me and Trev being a picky pair) none of the guests were up to the task. (Anyone remember Little Danny Mangrove? or Nu Boxxx? Or Jennifer Bush?** No, I thought not.) And so we went to Chris… and we asked… we begged… please, please, can we get another guest. One worthy of the title of The Lone Yodeller? Chris wanted it to be Little Danny Mangrove. Little Danny, who was actually 6’2″, had just won Pop Zinger on ITV and his record company, BIGPUSH, were desperate for him to be the Lone Yodeller. They’d even recorded a special yodelling version of his current hit, A Pocketful of Promises, for him to mime to. We couldn’t have it though. We insisted; the Lone Yodeller had to be a bigger name. And then we asked Chris this; “if we can get a big name to play along will you let them be the Lone Yodeller?” This, of course, depended on who the big name was. We said to Chris; “if we can get Jonathan Ross to be the Lone Yodeller will you let him do it?” And Chris said yes.
Just one snag. We didn’t know Jonathan Ross. Not really. He’d been a guest before on the programme, but it’s not like we played tennis with him or anything. It’s not like we’d been to his house, or had his telephone number. All we had, on our side, was the ability to ASK.
It’s time to get to the races now so… we asked… we found a phone number for his production company and we asked… and they said “we’ll ask”… and we waited. And he said YES!
Jonathan turned up on the Saturday morning, played the Lone Yodeller and also brought along a friend of his who went on to declare “No! I’m the Lone Yodeller!” Our second Lone Yodeller wore a shoe hat, made from two shoes and a coat hanger. That was was Vic Reeves.
We’ve been asking again recently. We are working on a new thing. A Sci-Fi audio comedy adventure with me, Trev, and Sophie Aldred. Some of you reading this will already know about Strangeness in Space. ***
And we’ve been asking people to help us out with it. We’ve given up on Eddie Murphy and Gorbachev, but we have asked two top people who have only gone ahead and said YES!
YES! Doon Mackichan has said yes to being our narrator, Bounty Flightingale.
YES! Rufus Hound has said yes to being Atrocious Knocious, an alien hoverbiker who’s never even heard of Evel knievel!
All from asking.
* based on Nick Berry’s hit Every Loser Wins. We had a minor battle with some BBC bigwigs to get them to accept the use of the word Loony. I’d grown up with it, reading the works of Spike Milligan. It was accepted in the end when dictionary definitions, on the whole, gave the word two meanings; one meaning (and our one) was silly, the other mad.
** Ok, I’ve made all these acts up. And the ongoing business with Little Danny Mangrove. Other than that, this story is true.
*** A final ask. Please help us get this made. We’ve loads of perks available if you join us: T-shirts, badges, scripts, signed photos and artwork, etc. We’re not far off our target now, but the more money we raise, the more episodes we can make. You can back us here.