Monday, July 25, 2011

The Hever Ending Story...

Good King Hal suffering a severe attack of the gall bladders during a particularly violent jousting tournament earlier this year.

I had a few days back in Somerset trying to dry out after the downpour at Hever the previous weekend. Someone had said we were going to get an Indian summer, I had no idea it would be a bloody monsoon. I had also noticed that I was in pain. Shortly after my show at the Somerton Festival earlier in July, I was aware of a certain uncomfortable pain in my side - sort of in the liver area. I was hoping, as most men do, that it would just go away and there would be no need to go and see something as terrifying as a Doctor. On the Monday after the previous Hever weekend I woke up at about 6am thinking that I had just been stabbed in the side. I had a sharp jabbing pain in my side running right the way round almost to my back. Classic signs of a gall bladder either packed full of stones, or just grumbling. Time to do something I should have done months ago - EAT HEALTHILY! It was time to go on to a fat free diet. Goodbye butter, cheese and anything else that might contain saturated fats, and welcome to dry bread, skimmed milk and water. Well, it's not as bad as that and I am actually quite enjoying the healthy eating option. Who knows, next time you see Henry VIII he might bear a striking resemblance to Twiggy, or Lily Cole.

Two days after the gall bladder shenanigans I was back at BBC Somerset for another appearance on Emma Britton's show. It was another good programme - our discussion topic was "Is suicide a selfish act?" - which seemed to get little reaction from the callers of Somerset. Our secondary topic was about should you have to pay to use your local civic amenity site (formerly known as a "DUMP"). The phones simply rang off the hook with outraged callers. Hey-ho. It was nice to see the lovely Emma again - such a good presenter. From the BBC Studio I drove up to Essex to spend a couple of days with Amanda and James in lush tropical Basildon. It was great to see my lovely son and he got such a glowing school report for his end of term - so, so proud of my little man. He has really pulled himself up by the bootlaces this year and shown everyone what he is capable of - we always knew he was a smart little cookie. Now the school can show the evidence as well. Nice one, Monkey!

Saturday it was time to drive back down to Hever Castle for another show with the Knights of Royal England. This time for a change I was to be Master of Ceremonies for the shows on both days. This was a daunting thought and was even more worrying when I sat and read the script that Jeremy had sent me from the jousting team. However, I have seen the show on so many occasions when compered by the brilliant Roland Bearne, so I simply went along with his style and chucked in a few jokes of my own. I was accompanied again by the delightful Michelle Coda as my Anne Boleyn. Both the Saturday and Sunday were a triumph for me - great shows, good turn outs and warm on Saturday and boiling on the Sunday. It was also nice to see my dear old friends Viv and John Rich at Hever on the Sunday! I drove back to Somerset on the Sunday evening a very tired, but happy King. I didn't even worry about the Doctor's appointment I had this morning about my gall bladder. But even that went OK - I am back next week for some blood tests. Probably to ascertain that I am actually a homo sapien and not some neanderthal left over, but I shall keep you posted. Hever again next weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday this time. Come and say hello!

Oh, by the way, the smashing picture above, taken at the jousting at Leeds Castle earlier this year is now on Flickr and is by Blindluckphotos who are brilliant! Check out their piccies!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy Hever After!

(left) Good King Hal and Anne Boleyn, having a searingly tender moment at Hever Castle whilst standing next to Wee Jimmie Kranky. In a tabard.

This has been a very hectic couple of weeks. We begin last Saturday when I did a "Walky Talky" visit to Barrington Court. It was a lovely day - bright and sunny, and not too hot. I spent an hour or so wandering round the delightful gardens of this lovely house, and then did another performance of my one man show "Henry's Horrid History" just as I had done at the Somerton Festival the previous evening. It was another great show - lots of laughs from a packed audience and a long ringing round of applause at the end. Lovely! From Barrington I headed straight up the M5, then over the Severn Bridge and into wild Welsh Wales and to my parent's house in Newcastle Emlyn. It was a big family get-together of both my sisters and their "other half's" (namely Ian and Julian) for my eldest sister, Susan's birthday on July 13th.

It was so nice being together as a family again and we spent the week having laughs, and probably eating and drinking a bit too much. We had a fabulous meal on the Tuesday at the Daffodil Inn at Penriwllan where my old friend Carole Davey (now Carole Evans!) from Skandia now works - though not for much longer as she is leaving as of this weekend (Stay in touch, Carole!). Before too long it was the last night, and we had a final blow out meal cooked by my sister, Cathy - fish pie for the majority of people there, but for me (who doesn't really like fish) a quite stunning home made burrito. Delicious!

On the Thursday I drove back to Essex to spend a couple of days with my precious lovely son, James. It was lovely to see him and he is growing so fast. On the Friday I was back to being Henry again at a new school for me. Arthur Bugler Junior School has a wonderful name and is based in Stanford-le-Hope near Basildon. It is a delightful school with some brilliant kids there, great fun and lots of laughs. The teachers were a delight as well and made me most welcome. The morning session was a cracker - it just seemed to whizz past at a staggering rate of knots. After lunch it was back in the hall and the noise just got louder and louder, until we reached an absolute crescendo with a brilliant jousting tournament. This culminated in a win for the Gentlemen in a very closely fought finale. This makes, what I think will be the final score for this year as:


Well done, Ladies. A very commendable win for the second year running.

Saturday morning I was down to Hever Castle near Edenbridge in Kent for a jousting tournament with Jeremy Richardson's Knights of Royal England team that I had worked with before at Leeds Castle. I had had one bit of trouble at the beginning as the original lady who was to work with me at Hever as Anne Boleyn sadly couldn't make it, so I ended up phoning round loads of friends trying to see if anyone was free at very short notice to don a Tudor dress and be my wife for the weekend! Unsurprisingly there were very few takers! However, I phoned my dear old friend Michelle Coda to see if she knew anyone, but she didn't, but eventually after some cajoling from me she agreed to come down to Hever and be Anne for me! And she looked brilliant as you can see from the picture above. It was good to see the Jousters again and everyone at Hever made us very welcome. On the first day there was no Roland as master of ceremonies, but Jeremy had brought along a new man for his first appearance. He did very well for a first show, but struggled to remember all the characters names, bless him. The weather was a bit rotten when we first arrived, but cheered up a little in the afternoon. We only had a small crowd for the show with people obviously put off by the bad weather. However, if we thought that the weather was a bit pants on the Saturday it was nothing compared to Sunday. It was like a monsoon and Michelle and I got absolutely soaked during the afternoon show. Michelle's seriously cute daughter Vicky came along on both days and played our "lady in waiting" dressed in a tabard! It was a great couple of days and I am delighted to say Michelle and I will be back at Hever Castle again next weekend for two days more of jousting. I have promised Michelle the weather will be better, and she has my full permission to beat me senseless with a stale French baguette if it isn't. I'd better keep an eye on the long range weather forecast, and ensure all French baguettes near Hever Castle are fresh.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Somerton Summer Arts Festival 2011

Good King Hal warming up his vocal chords with a few drinky-poos before his latest show. How to make a Good King Hal cocktail: Take one pint of Adnams Broadside, drink it, repeat until floor leaps up and hits you on the head.

For the past few years, quite often when I have happened to drive through the pretty town of Somerton I have noticed signs up declaring that their "Summer Arts Festival" was either, "coming soon" or "was a great success". I have always fancied the idea of appearing at various festivals during the summer, so last autumn I contacted the organisers and offered my services as Henry. They got back in contact and after some discussions it was decided I would do my one man show of "Henry's Horrid History" as part of the Summer Festival 2011. Last night was THE night! The show started at 7.30pm but it was requested that I be at the venue (The Parish Hall) by 6pm. I arrived on time and was even lucky enough to find a parking space right by the front door. The Parish Hall is a nice venue and, at a push, you could probably squeeze about 100 people in, but that would make for a very intimate atmosphere to say the least. For my show they were limiting the amount of seating to 60 people. As it was over 70 tickets were sold and more seating was needed.

The show itself was a great success, the audience laughed and enjoyed all the necessary silly bits, and also enjoyed the slightly more serious historical bits. At the end of the show I got a large and generous round of applause, and then I waited by the front door and thanked everyone who had attended as they left. I also posed for a few photos. I was thanked by all the hard working staff of the festival committee, was given a cheque for my performance and was then on my way home. I stopped for fish and chips en route, which were very welcome as I had not eaten since lunchtime and it was now nearly 9.30pm. So the Somerton Summer Arts Festival was a big success for me, and this was just the opening night. The festival continues for another couple of weeks with lots of diverse and different acts and events to tickle your fancy. Have a look at their website on line and if you're in the area go and see something mind blowing. Including one tribute band called "Two Beatles". Yep, you got it. Two blokes who couldn't find two other blokes, decided that backing discs and a big dollop of imagination would be enough to get them through a Beatles tribute concert without anyone asking too many searching questions about their lack of personnel. Of course if they were going to be totally honest they should impersonate the two remaining Beatles - Paul and Ringo. But an evening of just drumming and bass playing to the tunes of "Octopus's Garden" and "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" would be enough to make any true music lover want to chew their own foot off.

Henry's Horrid History is on again today at Barrington Court near Ilminster. Come and say hello!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Green Rock Junior, Walsall

King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Typical. You wait for one famous historical monarch for days on end, then two turn up at once. Tut.

Early nights. I don't like them. Not on my own, anyway... But then I don't always go to bed alone, no some nights I have Judie Tzuke with me, or Kate Bush. Last night I had all of Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with me, which would have been a little crowded if they hadn't been on my Walkman. Just don't tell the News of the World or they'll do a shock expose about the King's nocturnal habits. Well, they would do if Rupert "Cover My Back!" Murdoch hadn't sacrificed an entire newspaper to keep Rebekah Brooks in a position so that she shields him and his repulsive son (for now) from being forced to fall on their own swords. But we can live in hope...

Anyway "why the early night?" I hear you ask. It was for an early start to get up to Walsall in the midlands for a first ever visit to Green Rock Junior. I set my alarm for 4am and then did my usual trick of putting my alarm clock the other side of the room so that when it did go off, I had to get up to turn it off. Well I would have done if I had ever actually managed to get to sleep in the first place. My brain decided it was time to start questioning why I was going to sleep so early, what would happen if I slept through the alarm and such things, until my mind was a whirling maelstrom of thoughts, ideas and panics. I lay in the dark urging myself to fall asleep, but to no avail. I even tried the coma chair, but for once it failed me. I probably managed a total of about an hours sleep, but by 2.30am I was furious and ready to give up. So I had a shower and a shave and got dressed. By 3am I was ready, and so thought what the hell, let's go. It was a wonderfully easy drive at that time of the morning and I was soon in Walsall. I won't lie. It isn't the prettiest town on Earth. In fact it probably wouldn't be the prettiest town on Mars either. By 5.30am I had found the school, so I settled myself down in the car, set my alarm for 7.30am and finally, thankfully fell asleep.

The school was a delight - it appeared huge but apparently only had a roll of about 250 children. I was very warmly welcomed by the lovely teachers. It was great - the children were hilarious, very fizzy and full of energy, plus they all absolutely adored the Tudor period. We had lots of fun and laughter with everyone joining in. Lunch was delicious - cottage pie, one of my all time favourites! The afternoon session was incredibly loud and the jousting was a pulsating tournament that culminated with ANOTHER win for the gents! Two on the trot now - but have they left it too late. Our score is now:


I am next appearing tonight (Friday) at the Somerton Summer Arts Festival at the Parish Hall doing my Henry's Horrid History Show. Come along if you're in the area. On Saturday I am back at Barrington Court for a walkabout and another performance of Henry's Horrid History at my favourite National Trust property! Next school visit is next Friday at Arthur Bugler School in Southend in Essex.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Edinburgh 1987 and a Lovely Wedding...

Good King Hal, suddenly remembering he left the spare key for the castle at the BACK door, and not under the portcullis. What a twit.

Let me take you back, if I may, to August 1987. I am 20 years old and have just written and produced a show which is going to open at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on the 16th August. It was a tremendously exciting time in my life, when everything seemed possible and my dreams, such as they were, were not sullied by the disappointments of age or clouded by experience of rejection. I wrote the show with my friend Steve Newman and we were quite genuinely convinced we were going to go to Edinburgh, make vast sums of money, become famous, get given our own BBC TV comedy series and then probably end up on "Whoops Vicar, My Kilts Exploded" or some such other daytime "entertainment" show. Looking back now, nearly 24 years since that time I can't believe we were so naive. Our show called, brilliantly originally "The Revue" quite naturally bombed. When you go to do the Fringe you need something to grab people's attention, whether it be something they already know, or something to intrigue them. Having a show simply called "The Revue" is not going to be noticed by anyone. When you do the Festival Fringe, unless you are someone staggeringly famous already, you share your venue with countless other shows, and we were no exception. On before us each night was a show called "The Ballad of Halo Jones" based on the 2000AD comic strip of the same name. Each and every night they were packed out, purely because people knew the name. We went to see the show one evening. It was total crap. BUT, and let's face it folks, it's a BIG BUT, the show may have been total crap, but they had bums on seats and were making money. We'd come on at 10pm to do our show and there's three drunk students, two deaf old ladies and a small Cairn Terrier called Ernie. If we were lucky. And they never charged for the dog. But I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, possibly the best two weeks of my entire life. I was 20 and I was doing comedy, in Edinburgh, with some very groovy people and I was drinking too much, sitting up all night and it felt really bloody good! And the main reason for all these reminiscences flooding back now, is that from dear old Ebay the other day, I managed to purchase for the princely sum of 99p an original copy of the "Edinburgh Fringe Festival Programme 1987". It was fun flicking through it seeing all the names that at the time were struggling but are now TV stars. I had great difficulty in finding our show, but then, under the banner of the Theatre we were working in (Theatreworks, based at St Paul's & St George's Church Hall in York Place) was our listing. Now, when you place your advert in the programme you have only I think a maximum of 15 words for your placement, so it has to reach out, smash potential ticket purchasers between the eyes and drag them bleeding into the hall by their thousands. So what did Steve and I come up with? I had long forgotten, but there in slightly faded black and white in the Fringe Programme the stark reality of our folly glared out at me. It read: "Busty Norseman, Stig Volvo, has totally surrounded Edinburgh. Seeks medical advice." And we wondered why no one was coming to see us? I'd love to have another bash at Edinburgh, take my Henry's Horrid History Show up there sometime. Who knows, maybe next year...

Back to now, I was asked some time ago by a lovely couple called Corinne and David to be master of ceremonies at their wedding reception at Dillington House near Ilminster. I was delighted to oblige and last Saturday the day came. The weather could honestly not have been better, bright and sunny, but not too hot with a slight breeze to help Corinne looked stunning in her dress and David and all his ushers and male family members looked very dashing dressed in fine kilts and waistcoats. It was a magical day with a super mixture of the two families, one from Somerset and the other from Ballymena in Northern Ireland. I was on duty so to speak from about 12 noon to 7pm, and can honestly say it was one of the nicest weddings I have been to anyway, and was fun to work at!

Next Henry appearance is on Thursday this week at Green Rock School in Walsall, followed by my appearance at the Somerton Summer Arts Festival on the Friday evening. I am then at Barrington Court on Saturday for another outing of the Henry's Horrid History Show.