BUSHELL ON THE BLOG


July 22. I've been promising to give Bev Elliott eight inches of fun for decades, and finally I've managed it. Here is the punk queen of Soho earlier this morning with my latest book, Riff-Raff Rebels & Rock Gods, which covers the golden years of the late 70s and early 80s...

Garry Bushell

July 21. I've just seen Jo Brand on TV claiming that I started giving her bad reviews after she slagged off Margaret Thatcher. There is no truth in this whatsoever. I gave her bad reviews because her material was weak, and that's it. When she did something great - as she did much later with Getting On - I praised it. Besides, if I'd turned against every 80s comedian who'd had a pop at Maggie, I wouldn't have had a good word for anyone. Yet I remember writing positive reviews of a whole swathe of what were then called 'alternative comedians', including Rob Newman, Alexei Sayle, Jerry Sadowitz, Vic and Bob and the great Lee Evans. I interviewed Rob and Lee back in the nineties, not to mention Harry Hill, Al Murray, and Paul O'Grady who could hardly be described as a right winger. The only real criteria with comedians is: are they funny. Jo's three jokes ran out of steam pretty quickly.

July 20. I recorded a Rebellion-themed special edition of my The Hungry & The Hunted podcast today, with studio guests The Pukes. The mostly-female punk ukulele-pluckers have risen from enthusiastic amateur strumming in dark London pubs to become festival stalwarts. Strangely they took umbrage to my suggestion that ukuleles and punk rock go together “like strawberries and vindaloo...”; can’t think why. The pod comes with brand new songs from the Old Firm Casuals and The Boys, the new single from Louise Distras, and quality tracks from Operation Two Fold, Infa-Riot, Madball, Section 60, Speakeasy and the Skoisters. Of course no show would be complete without a snatch of Pauline Black, and a side order of Gonads…it should be up by the weekend.

July 18. It seems likely that pro-Russian separatists are behind the barbaric shooting down of Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, and the horrific murder of 298 passengers and crew, including at least eighty children. Compare and contrast Obama’s lame response to how Reagan reacted when the Soviets shot down a Korean plane in 1983. Ronnie rightly called it “a crime against humanity” that “must never be forgotten.” The official Kremlin line, of blaming Kiev, won’t hold. Russia must be told to co-operate with a full international inquiry or become a pariah state, ostracised from the rest of the world and facing the toughest possible sanctions. Putin should hand over the people who fired the missile, compensate the families of the victims and help find a peaceful solution to the mess he and the EU have made of the Ukraine. We also need to establish why civilian planes were flying over a war zone. If the answer is just to save money on fuel, heads must surely roll.

July 16. When I heard that Michael Gove had been made Chief Whip, I assumed the education minister had been allowed to bring corporal punishment back into our schools. Instead Gove, the one Cabinet minister who actually believed in something, was demoted as part of Cameron’s cosmetic make-over to make the Tories look more electable. It’s all PR of course. Those new women ministers aren’t strutting the Downing Street catwalk because they are the best available talent but because the resulting pictures are an effective publicity stunt. Eurosceptic Phil Hammond has been made Foreign Secretary to create the illusion that Cameron intends to ‘get tough’ with the EU. And Gove has been shafted because his education reforms produced so much rage from the teachers’ union that he was deemed to have become toxic to the wider public…even if he was right. Cameron would rather go to the country on a platform of teeth and tits than an ounce of solid backbone.

July 14. Here as promised are a few words about Dave Legeno... Dave, who died recently in California, is best-known as the fearsome Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, but the demons and death-eaters of the movie are nothing compared to the monsters Legeno took on in real life. As a Cage Rage fighter, he faced and defeated some of the sport’s toughest men including the Dan “The Beast” Severn and street-fighting legend Kimo Leopoldo. Kimo was his fourth ever fight, and he was the 500-1 outsider. The heavily tattooed US mixed martial arts expert looked like an LA gang member. “He was world class and had a black belt in ju-jitsu,” Dave told me. “While I had lost my first three bouts... He was a seriously dangerous individual. Even my corner man wished that I wasn’t fighting him. I just forgot how dangerous he could be and thought about how dangerous I could be.” Legeno battered his veteran opponent in three minutes and 21 seconds of the relentlessly unforgiving first round. “I kneed him early on – my only worry was that I’d broken my knee on his face. I did shatter his nose. My heart was pounding, my blood was racing. This was forty seconds in to the fight and I realised I was beating him. I didn’t stop; I just kept on going at him. And then I got him in a guillotine choke... ” With Dave’s arms locked around his neck, Kimo lost consciousness. When he came to, he couldn’t get up for ten minutes.

The actor, who was fifty when he lost his life, had been a pro-wrestler, but none of his bouts had prepared him for the bloody full-on fury of Cage fighting. His first match had been against Alan Murdoch. “I’d given him a real beating and was amazed he was still standing,” Dave recalled. “Then he got me in a submission hold and the ref stopped the fight – ‘to save me from myself,’ he said. These men were different class. They could take punches that would fell an elephant.”

Legeno started cage-fighting in 2005, aged 42 - just to prove that he still had it in him. Back then, he stood out more for his theatrical ring entrances than his pugilistic prowess: “I’d gone straight in at the top-flight international level. My second fight was against a Japanese guy who’d had seventy bouts.” After his third loss, he realised he’d have to take it more seriously and relocated to the US for intensive training. His dedication paid off. Dave, six foot three, smashed Kimo and then took on ex-UFC Champion of Champions Dan Severn – his toughest ever opponent. That brawl went fifteen ferocious minutes over three intense five minute rounds. Legeno – fighting as ‘Death Wish’ - won by unanimous decision. He built up a loyal following including his own acting idol Steven Berkoff, who raved about him in The Spectator magazine; and went on to face and beat Alan Murdoch in a decisive rematch. But when he signed to play savage werewolf Fenrir Greyback for three Harry Potter movies, production company Heyday insisted that he stay out of the cage for the duration of the filming.

“I understand why they made me stop,” Dave told me. “When I was making Rise Of The Footsoldier I fought and won a bout on a Saturday night and turned up on Monday with a black eye for filming. That wasn’t too bad in a film about hooligans and gangsters but it have wouldn’t played too well in a family-orientated fantasy.”

Dave Legeno’s film career started with Snatch in 2000. He went on to appear in 44 Inch Chest (with Ray Winstone), Centurion (with Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) and Command Performance (with Dolph Lundgren). As well as his three Harry Potter movies, Dave also popped up as Tudor, the sneering heavy who threatened poor old Nana Moon in EastEnders, a brutal assassin in ITV’s The Fixer, and John Lennon’s chauffeur, Les in Lennon Naked with Christopher Ecclestone. Less praiseworthy was his role as a he-man with the ability to ‘cure’ lesbians in a comedy sketch disgracefully filmed in my front room. Born the son of a black cab driver in Marylebone, Legeno grew up in leafy Buckinghamshire, becoming a skinhead and leaving school at 16 to work on demolition and building sites. At 19 he took off for North America and spent eight years roaming through the US, Canada and Mexico working in bars as a doorman singing in bands and picking up money in unlicensed fights. Working in the evenings left him free to study drama in the day. He returned to England in 1990, again working as a bouncer  and debt collector in London and then, after being shot at one time too many, Dave became a pro wrestler training at the East End’s famous Peacock gym alongside Lennox Lewis. He was first drawn to acting by reading Shakespeare, but it was the Berkoff play West that really hooked him. “I read it before I was old enough to have been in a fight or to have fallen in love,” he told me. “But the writing inspired me. I knew one day I’d be old enough to feel the things he wrote about.” He was offered a role with Berkoff in a stage production of On The Waterfront but it clashed with training. Instead the legendary director came and watched the fight. “That was like all the elements of my life were slotting in to place – my love of literature and theatre had come together with my love of testosterone-fuelled clashes. I had to win that day because in Cage fighting what scares you most is not getting a black eye or a broken nose; it’s looking bad in front of people you care about.”

In the US, Dave trained with the American actor Don Frye, who he called “the toughest man I know; he had both of his ankles broken by Ken Shamrock but carried on and won the fight. Incredible.”

When he wasn’t acting or training, former bar-owner Legeno fronts his own rock band – “I don’t like dance music,” he growled. Between takes on the Potter film set he would get out his guitar and jam with Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton in his trailer. He had been joined on stage by the likes of Mickey Goldtooth and Rob Spragg from the Alabama 3. His debut album ‘Mean Streets’ is “a rare collector’s item,” he would say straight-faced, adding: “found only in my Dad’s garage.”

The big man was always tight-lipped about his personal life. “It’s a mess,” he would laugh. But he does have a grown up daughter called Wendy. “I used to read her the Harry Potter books when she was young, and so now she’s a beautiful woman it was wonderful to be able to take her to the premiere. We were lucky enough to be picked up in Surrey in a limo and walk up the red carpet together. I introduced her to all the stars and they were so polite. They’re great kids, really positive and incredibly well-adjusted.”

Wendy’s mum had been diagnosed as a chronic schizophrenic with paranoid psychosis. Dave’s romantic relationship with her had been brief, but he cared for her for years. Inside that big body was a big heart to match. He was a good man, and a loyal friend, deadly serious about his acting. Dave kept himself fit, and always pushed himself to the limits – it looks like that was how he came to be hiking in the hellish temperatures of California’s Death Valley this month. I’m still shocked by his loss; my thoughts are with his family.

STOP PRESS. So sorry to hear that my friend Dave Legeno has died. Dave who found fame as Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, had been hiking in Death Valley in California. The former cage-fighter was a bright articulate focused guy who took his acting extremely seriously - and he’d set his heart on playing my undercover detective character Harry Tyler in the long planned film adaptation of The Face. He was a fine man, a gentleman taken too soon. I’ll write a proper tribute in a day or two. In the meantime, my thoughts are with his daughter, Wendy.

July 11. The SWP have taken some stick today – and rightly – for their sick jokes about that poor teenager who got mauled to death by a 39-stone polar bear. Horatio Chapple’s crime was to have been a pupil at Eton College. ‘Now we have another reason to save the polar bear,’ chortled the Socialist Worker. Because all these posh public school kids must all be put up against the wall and shot, right? Except hang on, when I trained at the Socialist Worker it was edited by Paul Foot, the brilliant campaigning reporter who was educated at... Ludgrove prep school and Shrewbury public school. George Orwell, another genuinely great socialist, was educated at... Eton College. How many other SWP Central Committee members had a public school education? I’m pretty sure Paul Holborrow did. Alex Callinicos, the party’s leading intellectual, went to a private Catholic college in Zimbabwe. His mother was the daughter of the very gorblimey Lord Acton. David Renton, a barrister, and until recently a prominent member of the SWP is another old Etonian who studied history at Oxford. Maybe they should all be rounded up and fed to hungry polar bears too... this tradition of the posh revolutionary goes all the way back to the founder of Britain’s first Socialist party, the Democratic Federation (which later became the Social Democratic Federation). He was Henry Hyndman, another old Etonian, barrister and Oxford graduate. According to Caroline Benn: ‘Hyndman’s approach to audiences was to speak in the tall silk hat and frock coat of the upper-class gentleman he was, thanking his working-class audience for supporting him and his kind, and belittling them for their gullibility in accepting the yoke of capitalism. Even Hyndman’s most loyal supporters always had a ‘chill sinking of heart’ at his stockbroker appearance and continual harping on his 'upper-class origins...' His habit of breaking into Latin in the middle of his speeches didn't help, either. Che Guevara came from an upper class family, Lenin and Trotsky’s folks were well-to-do, Mao’s dad was a wealthy farmer, Engels’s Dad was minted, Castro went to boarding school and private school... and of course diplomat’s son Joe Strummer went to great lengths to keep his City Of London Freemen’s boarding school education under wraps. So many leading Marxists come from privileged backgrounds you might conclude that their ideology is essentially bourgeois. It certainly rarely chimes with working class opinion or indeed working class interests. What kind of people think teenagers should be killed because of who their parents are anyway? The same sort of people who assure us that heaven on earth is possible, as long as we’re prepared to give all power to the state and kill a few more million along the way... and they wonder why we’re cynical.

July 6. My hour-long podcast chat with Roy ‘Mr Symarip’ Ellis is up and running here.

Quick update. Alan Johnson is being urged to run as a stalking horse to depose electoral liability Ed Miliband. Labour certainly need to get shot of Dead Ed, who seems more out of his depth than Warwick Davis in the Marina Trench, and former postman Johnson is one of their most down-to-earth, likeable and recognisably human MPs. He was an original Mod too. Unfortunately by his own admission Alan lacks the drive to be PM. In his diaries, Chris Mullin quotes Alan Milburn as saying that Johnson was ‘a nice guy who recognises his own limitations. People assume he has hidden depths but he doesn’t’. Johnson responded: “‘I think that’s quite fair, actually. I did know my limitations. You have to know what you’re good at and you have to know if you’re biting off more than you can chew.” His judgement is pretty whacked too. Not only did Al consider himself in tune with Communist Party thinking years after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia opened most Marxist eyes to the grim reality of the Soviet empire, but also when he was in office he voted strongly for the Iraq War and very strongly against calls for an investigation into it. Alan voted for more EU integration and against a referendum on EU membership. His heart might be in the right place, but his head frequently isn’t. By running against Miliband, Johnson’s backers hope he would flush out more substantial contenders for the leadership role, of whom the favourite I’d imagine would be Yvette Cooper – or Mrs. Balls as she never calls herself. Expenses-fiddler Cooper would certainly make a better leader than Ed, but a quick look at her voting record suggests she’d do little to make Labour more representative of popular opinion. According to husband Ed Balls she is also a bit “last minute dotcom” and does no housework, which should swing the Loose Women brigade of goons behind her, if not Godfrey Bloom, but what does it say about her judgement that she married old Balls-Up in the first place? My favourite Labour MP, if you’re asking, is Kate Hoey who wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and voted against government policy on Iraq, ID cards, extended detention without trial, university tuition and top-up fees. Naturally she isn’t in the running.

Last year I suggested that the showbiz paedophile scandal went all the way up into the Establishment. This week it has emerged that a dossier detailing allegations of a 1980s Westminster child abuse network is one of more than a hundred potentially relevant Home Office files that have mysteriously been lost or destroyed. The dossier was given to Leon Brittan back when he was Home Secretary by the campaigning Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens; Brittan appears to have mislaid it. It stinks of a cover-up. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk – who helped remind us of Cyril Smith’s charmed life of perversion - probably understates the truth when he comments: “The public view will be that there is something fishy going on. The public will understandably think these documents have gone missing because it helps protect the names of those identified in them. That is the conclusion that many will come to, and who could blame them.”

Years ago I employed Andy Coulson on the Bizarre column which he went on to edit very well. He was hard-working, bright, diligent and ambitious. He was also great company. I don’t condone phone hacking – according to an old friend at News UK my mobile was hacked too - but I’m sorry that Andy has been made the fall-guy for something that was practised by many newspaper groups, including the sanctimonious Guardian. The biggest creep in this whole affair is our Prime Minister who employed Andy as his Director of Communications, and has now shafted him with indecent haste. I’d have had more respect for Cameron if he’d condemned the crime but stood by the man.

Is Hillary Clinton the “most famous woman in the world”, as Radio 4 claimed this week? More famous than the Queen, Lady Gaga, Beyonce Knowles or Oprah? Hmm. She certainly seems to be the BBC’s choice for next US President. But what is she actually famous for? We’ve seen plenty of pictures of Hills on foreign junkets but could any of us name a single overseas situation she has improved? Hillary was one of the idiot warmongers likening Putin to Hitler a few months back. Could Jackie Mason be right when he observed: “Hillary Clinton says she's the most qualified because she was married to a President for eight years. Now let me ask you, if a brain surgeon quit his job, would everyone in the operating room say, ‘Wait, let's get his wife’?”

An Evening with Garry Bushell is now available for booking; for details contact rob@knockoutcomedy.co.uk

 

Previously...