After Loose Ends



I am on Radio 4’s Loose Ends today, a programme I have enjoyed doing since the late 80s. These days it is fronted by the splendid Clive Anderson, pre-recorded on Friday and goes out at 6.15 on Saturday, but back then it was live for an hour at 10am and was hosted by the unforgettable Ned Sherrin. This is a bit from my autobiography about the post-Loose End pleasure of those Saturday mornings…..



“After Ned’s closing topical quip he removed his headphones and rose from the table.


‘Thank you everyone. I am now going to the George pub round the corner. If anyone would like to join me I shall be buying the first round.’ And so, at 11am, we arrived for opening time at the pub, where Ned would buy his promised round, even if there were twenty members of a band supplementing the guests. Here, hair was let down, anecdotes unsuitable for broadcast were told and, occasionally, a liaison was made. The latest I ever left the George was 9 pm but the record was held by David Soul, who, by staying for twelve hours, completed the full day’s drinking session.


More usually, I would leave after a pint and unwind by walking through the West End. Great Portland Street to Oxford Street, where I duck away from the crowds down the avenue that takes you past the Palladium Stage Door, along Great Marlborough Street, right into Berwick Street with its sociable market stalls and So High Soho, a temple of femininity where, for comedy purposes, I sometimes buy funny costumes and copies of the Cunt Colouring Book.


Past the Raymond Revue Bar, left along London’s premier gay thoroughfare, Old Compton Street, to the Cambridge Theatre at Cambridge Circus and down alongside the National Portrait Gallery, siphoning off left before Trafalgar Square to Charing Cross Station, where I take Villiers Street to the river and cross the Hungerford footbridge to Waterloo. On the skyline to my left, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, ahead the Festival Hall and the National Theatre, beneath me the swirling grey waters of the Thames. To the right stand the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Every one of these names recalls stories and characters from my past. Oh London, multicoloured metropolis, the only world city in Europe, the town that bred me, my London, look at the big old capital on a Saturday lunchtime, greeting all the world, relaxed, glamorous, glinting with promise, pulsating with a billion possibilities.”


Lots of Gigs to be found here


Stage – Laugharne


The first ridiculous thing about it is its name. Laugharne starts with the word ‘laugh’ but is pronounced as one syllable, ‘Larn’, despite having an absurd 9 letters. I asked my audience in the Millennium Hall if they could think of another place that could match that. ‘Luton’, shouted one woman, failing on all counts.


Then there is its location; it sounds like it should be in Ireland but my train ticket took me to Swansea, then Carmarthen where I was picked up and driven the last fifteen miles to the village-sized town. It is situated beautifully on the estuary of the River Taf and, unless you are planning to drown yourself in the quicksands or your Satnav is badly awry, you do not pass through it on the way to anywhere else – ‘We never had evolution in Laugharne,’ explained one local.


If the name rings a bell that is because it was, for several years, home to Dylan Thomas and his family, and is thought to have been an inspiration for the fictional town of Llareggub, which the Welch poet describes in Under Milk Wood.

As a teenager I was obsessed with Thomas’ boozy lyricism so I was intrigued to hang out there


The meagre population is swollen frequently by visitors to the festivals that take place in Laugharne every year.  Which is how I found myself there 2 weekends ago as part of a series of events which referenced some anniversary of Thomas and included Keith Allen talking conspiracy theories with David Icke and Phil Jupitus DJ-ing in the local pub.


Like Llareggub (‘bugger all’ backwards – good gag Dylan) the town is full of colourful characters; in the space of about 2 hours I met a man who installs Richard Branson’s billiard tables on his island of Necker, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction who gave me a fag, Roy who sits in the same spot in the same pub every day from 10 til 5 and another wild-haired dude who claimed, quite plausibly, to be 700 years old.


I spent a happy hour sitting in ‘the boathouse’, where Thomas lived and wrote from 1949 until his untimely death in new York in 1953, explored the large crumbling castle that gazes out towards the ocean and conducted the following conversation with a man in the graveyard where Dylan is buried.


Old lady: Good morning

Me: Good morning. Though, technically, that should be ‘good afternoon’.

Ol:  Really? What time is it?

Me:  Five o’clock.


The day after my show (very well thanks, since you ask) I rose at dawn and sat on a bench overlooking the broad watery sands and sky. I was immediately accosted by a woman with a clipboard doing a survey which posed the question, ‘how could your stay have been improved?’ My only thought was, ‘by not having to answer a questionnaire when I just want to enjoy the view.’


In the end I was pleased to be heading to London so I could find some peace and quiet at last. Festival season is upon us – make sure you get to at least one before the leaves start to fall.

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young


Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Arthur Smith Talacharn2014

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Arthur Smith Talacharn2014

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young

Photographs Copyright Emyr Young


Ask Dr Smith

(Orig published in Balance Magazine)


Your question answered.

This month a letter has flooded in to me from Mr Ralph Wilson….

“Dear Arthur,

My two greatest pleasures in life have been making money and drinking treacle. Alas, now I have type 2 diabetes I am barred from the treacle, so my question to you is, ‘how can I make money out of diabetes?’”

Dear Ralph,

There are many experts on diabetes and much has been written about the condition but no-one has really addressed this question. So let me be the first. I have 3 proposals:

  1. Open a restaurant.

I have mentioned this idea before and am amazed no-one has tried it (although the fact it would be illegal may have put some investors off). The unique selling point is that on arrival, diners are injected with a small amount of insulin – not enough to do them any harm but enough to ensure that whatever they eat is delicious in a way that, thus far, only a diabetic with low blood sugar can understand.

You will find that your customers will enjoy the thrill of the injection (to be administered by attractive staff dressed in sexy outfits) and shortly afterwards will feel so ravenous that you need make no effort in the kitchen. In fact you won’t need a chef – just some supplies from Morrisons – because, frankly, if you are feeling a bit hypo a cheese sandwich and a banana is a match for any madness dreamed up by Heston Bloomen-silly.

It would soon become the grooviest diner in town and, provided you place your profits off shore, you will have a big wodge to look forward to you when you are released from prison.

  1. Betting on blood sugar readings.

Come on, this is a brilliant idea. You get 6 people with diabetes in a small crowded room and, one after the other, test their blood sugar. The closer the punters are to predicting the result successfully, the more money they make. Also you could bet on a follow up reading after the person eats a bar of chocolate. Imagine the tension in the room during the moments before the reading lights up on a big screen and the cheering and groaning that would greet it. Top entertainment.

3.  Find a cure for it.

I am guessing, Ralph, that you are not a medical man and have no connection with the hard-working scientists who are trying to achieve this goal, but don’t fret – it is the PR that counts. Start a rumour on twitter that you have found a cure, send out a press release (the Express will definitely put it on the front page) then set up a website where you can buy the medicine that does the trick (a few old chopped up leaves). Make sure you have an actor in a bow tie with a stethoscope who endorses the stuff then you need only sit back and count the money.

Ralph, see you in the Cayman Islands and enjoy spring, Arthur


Arthur Smith, At Your Service – 2014 Tour & More – Over Here

Oh Hazel

Originally Published here:

Oh Hazel

By  on 24 February 2014

 About 20 minutes into Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) I speak a poem I have written that drastically shifts the mood of the show.

Tonbridge, Kent

Pulling up late
after the party,
they see her,
their neighbour,
standing in the street.

She is looking, she says,
for a lift to London.
She needs to get home.
‘Hazel,’ they tell her,
‘This is your home –
‘you live here, in this house.
London is 30 miles away.’

The door is open.
They take her in
and see she has packed a bag
(if a jumper and a packet of biscuits count as packing).

Oh Hazel,
It is 35 years since you left London
to live, as you liked to say, ‘in the shires’.

But there she still is
that grammar school girl
from Camberwell Green
kissing sailors and dancing
In Trafalgar Square.
It is VE day
and the rest of the century
Is yours.

Hazel Smith is my mother and the incident above was described to me by her neighbours, Paul and Lucy. When I started writing this Leonard Cohen show I had not intended to talk about her but I came to realise that one of my themes was loss and that my ma was struggling with her own losses.

Hazel bravely entered widowhood 10 years ago and did her best to embrace living alone for the first time in her life (she resisted moving in with us), but I knew how much she missed my father. Over several years she began to lose some of the things that had sustained and defined her – she stopped doing the garden, reading novels, making cakes, sending cards and letters. She began to repeat herself and mislay things and she began to drink alcohol in alarming quantities.

arthur-smith© Steve Ullathorne

I was uncertain at first about discussing her decline into dementia publicly – was it disrespectful? Too personal or too sad for what was essentially a comic enterprise? My brothers encouraged me and I did a try out in front of a small audience. I found that the sections in the show about Hazel affected the audience; afterwards several of them shared stories of their own parents and grandparents.

I won’t tell you any more about Hazel – you will have to come to the show for that – but, suffice it to say, she is now in a care home and her situation is miles better than it was last year; in some ways she is happier than she has been for years even though her short term memory is no more. My brothers and I visit her often and are always impressed by how diligent and understanding the carers are.

People say ‘live in the moment’ and I see that you can do this very easily if you can’t remember the last moment and have no idea what the next will be. On a recent visit Hazel and I watched the news headlines on TV together – famine and flooding. I remarked, “What a terrible world we live in”

“Yes,” said my mother, “I would hate it.” We laughed long and loud together.

  • Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) The Extended Remix at the UK Jewish Comedy Festival – Thurs 3rd Dec – Tickets & Info

Strange Gigs





Picture from:

Picture from:

With Boycott & Aggers

No doubt we all consider other lives we might have led. What if I had accepted that offer to train as a teacher when I was 24 and appeared to have few other prospects? Maybe I would now be a head teacher in, say, South Yorkshire with a wife who is a nurse and a regular part in the village panto?

Whatever other job I might have done I doubt it would be as varied and faintly ridiculous as the one that is being a comedian. As evidence of this let me list 5 of the gigs I did in the January that has recently floated off down the swollen river.

January 19.   Arthur Smith’s walking tour of Soho. I meet my audience in Soho gardens and take them off round the thronging streets where they pass a man in a tree, a couple snogging vigorously at every street corner they pass, a chorus line singing ‘Happy days’, a man dressed as a banana and, er, Paul Merton. I had planned the first 2 of these but the others have arisen by chance. Back in the gardens I signify the end of the walk by dancing dervishly in my new silver onesie.

Jan 22nd.       I have agreed to do a ten minute spot at the Comedy Cafe in London for an audience of French people. Thus I must deliver my set en francais. As it turns out  je me debrouille.

 Jan 23rd.      A late booking this, but one that intrigues. I journey to Birmingham Symphony Hall to join Sir Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew to talk about cricket and the disastrous Ashes tour that is just dwindling to a dismal halt. I try out a few shots in front of Sir Geoffrey who is suitably unimpressed…..

Jan 24th        MC-ing a comedy night in my local school (Ravenstone Primary School) for the parents, many of whom I have passed in Balham as they hurry to collect their kids. Tonight, however, they are all pissed and extremely aimiable. They make a great crowd and me and the other 2 comics (Ivo Graham and Jo Caulfield) all have a brilliant gig. It is nice to have a 2-minute walk home after too.

Jan 26th      Compering the NATYs – the New Act of the Year Awards in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. This is the oldest and most respected of the New Act competitions and the list of its finalists contains many names of comics who have since become famous. There is a superbly wide selection of styles but most of the audience agree with the judges’ choice for the coveted title, ‘Top of the Bill’ (the word ‘winner’ seems to have banned), Alasdair Beckett-King, a suave stand up with some killer lines.

Jan 28th    Lunchtime finds me in the downstairs bar at the Prince of Wales theatre where I do a turn to kick off the Critic’s Circle Theatre Awards. There are some distinguished actors and all the number one critics who nod sagely when I say that being a theatre critic these days is like having Kim Jong-Un as your nephew.


So that was January. In February my itinerary is more predictable – I am doing Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Two) at the Soho theatre from Feb 16th for 2 weeks and, although that Yorkshire panto would no doubt have been fun, I am pleased to be a stand up comic with all its ludicrous adventures. Not too long to the bluebells now….


Nightingale Café January 18, 2014


Nightingale Café January 18, 2014


Maybe I should go inside

With all the others

I am the only one outside

And I am cold


The street is shiny wet

Two joggers overtake an old lady

The waitress delivers my porridge

It is too hot and I am too cold

Maybe I should go inside


And then it appears

Above the bus stop

Arcing the sky

The matchless miracle

A rainbow

I watch it for the duration of its life

At which point the porridge and I

Are at our perfect temperatures


As I eat the oats

I read an article about

A woman who caught a falling baby


And I think

Well this day

This Saturday

Has started superbly

Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014 


I am a stand up

I am a stand up (from my autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax)



I am a stand-up comic. Even now, after a couple of thousand gigs, making this statement gives me a bristle of pride and a bump of self-importance. ‘That must be the hardest job in the world,’ people say routinely to stand-ups. It is not of course, but it is the most singular job in show business and, in some ways, the most glamorous. The stand-up comedian is a solitary warrior, ignoring the theatre’s fourth wall in a direct Brechtian assault on his (or her) audience, the one performer whose success or failure is determined instantly and audibly. He does not sit down in timid informality, he stands up, like you stand up against bullies or for your rights. He has come to banish cant, bullshit, hypocrisy and the straight face. He does not hide behind costumes, music, cameras, props or masks, he relies on no-one but himself, he is not edited or enhanced after the event, he strides onto the middle of the stage and addresses the crowd, like a politician with no party on his back, like a preacher without God, a gladiator come to slay a roomful of lions and Christians. He ‘kills’, he ‘rips the room apart,’ he ‘storms it’ and the world applauds at his feet. I am a stand-up comic. Who would not be proud to be able to stand up and say that?


But when he fails, when no laughs come, when he ‘dies’, ‘goes down the toilet,’ why then he is an arse and he must get the first train out of town. The stand-up is a con artist who will dance to any tune that gets him a gig and pander to any prejudice that keeps him in the spotlight. He distributes prejudice with a smile, disseminates the lie that laughter redeems or that it is, as Nietzsche said, ‘the one true metaphysical consolation,’ when really it is a way of hiding from the serious business of life – the tragedy of existence.


The first time I tried stand-up I died. I also went down the pan at gigs numbers five, twelve, thirty-seven and so on, until just two weeks ago when, in a large, bland businessmen’s hotel near Derby, my quips left a roomful of car salesmen indifferent to the point of belligerence. To add to my shame, the shape of the room meant that after my public humiliation, when every part of me screamed to get out quick, I had to skirt around the edge of my former audience to reach the exit. They turned in their seats to consider me. Every comic knows this walk of shame. You try to avoid eye contact with anyone. You know what they are thinking; they are thinking you are a useless, unfunny cunt. They are wondering how much you’ve been paid for pissing them off  and how the hell you ever persuaded someone to book you. Like the golden-duck batsman’s long walk back to the pavilion, or the defendant’s grim passage from the dock to the cells, the cry of `take him down` pounding in his ears, it is a head-down procession of despair.

In stand up comedy when you die you are a zero but when you kill you are, briefly, immortal.

Mostly, though, it’s somewhere in the middle.


Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014


Just before Christmas

Just before Christmas, as the gales and the sirens blew wildly outside, I heard the sad news of the death of comedy’s number one mover-and-shaker, Addison Creswell. Ruthless, abrasive and extravagant, Addison was beloved by (most of) those who knew and worked with him and he engendered almost as many outlandish stories as his old mucker/rival, Malcolm Hardee.

Yes, he was an arch capitalist with a taste for cigars and smart members clubs but I met him first when he was organizing benefits for the miners during the strike of 1984. He was only in his early twenties then but his character was already fully formed – the gushing energy, the East End gangster persona, the designer suits, the head-locks…..

Addison had an acute eye for new talent and how best to promote it. He offered his clients total loyalty but demanded they take his advice on what to wear, which gigs to do, which parties to attend and the best people to schmooze at them. If you had become a comic in order to get rich and famous (and, as far as Addison was concerned, you surely must have) and you had the talent then he was the man who could make it happen. And he was right. You need only Google the list of comedians he represented to see what a crucial role he played in the growth of comedy in the last 30 years

Most comedy agents and TV producers are not extravert; they stand back and make it possible for the big, show-off comedian to shine. Not Addison, who, despite having no desire himself to caper in the limelight, was more charismatic than many of his acts. You did not forget encounters with Mister Cresswell…..

I used to see him in my Soho days , gleaming and glinting in the Groucho club or hustling in the Atlantic bar near Piccadilly Circus. He was always warmly welcoming and would soon be recounting his latest adventures with producers, commissioning editors, lawyers, PR girls and film stars. His speech, delivered in a sort of cockney geezer twang that belied his middle class upbringing, was exhilarating but exhausting; he didn’t talk to you, he beat you up with words and gesticulations.

Every sentence contained words which would be banned on Radio 4 and was accompanied by a repertoire of shrugs, cuts in the air, indignant waves and punches. The features on his face leapt around such that several expressions passed across it every second. Yet he delivered all his speech from one side of the mouth, – the other side clamped shut as though appalled at what its partner was up to. The overall effect was to lend everything he said an air of drama and breathless significance.

Addison was popular with media moguls because he possessed a kind of street-wise glamour that they envied. Even those who found him repellent detected occasional flashes of self-parody that redeemed him and made possible all the deals he cut.

There are those who might suggest that Addison coarsened comedy, making it all about money and status, that he lacked any finer artistic instincts and undermined the comedians who were not in his stable, but I knew him from the off and I can tell you we are saying goodbye to a man with a huge vigorous spirit, a bloke who gripped life by the throat and delighted his friends, a man who added to the gaiety of the nation, a man whose life and work will be remembered and celebrated for a while to come. Seeya Addison.


Advice to Mr Jethro Bumpkin-Yokel

The Naked Rambler

Last summer in a beautiful pub in Devon the barman was telling me how much he loved this picturesque village in which he was born.

“But you’re only young,’ I remarked, “don’t you ever long for the bright lights of the city?”

He looked at me aghast, “I’ve been to Crediton,” he said, “ It’s too fast for me there…”

Some country folk do not see the need ever to leave their environs, and good for them, but for those who do, here is my guide on how to live and disport yourself in the city….

– Be aware there are a lot of us living in close proximity in a large conurbation and our needs are various. Life is better for everyone if you treat your neighbours with suspicion and mistrust. Try not to talk to them or have any idea who they are – they’re probably Mormons or crackheads. In fact avoid eye contact with everyone except your optician.

– If you are in a queue in a shop and the person ahead of you starts chatting to the shop assistant, huff loudly, saying, “I’m sorry, is this a shop or a dinner party?’

– Never turn up anywhere unannounced. Even if you have just been mugged – and you probably have – directly outside a friend’s house, do not knock on their door without first ringing to make an appointment

When on public transport be vigilant and tense. If anyone tries to engage you in conversation on a bus they are self-evidently insane and should be immediately reported to the Police. Nevertheless, during the rush hour you should be prepared to have intimate physical encounters with several strangers of any of the various sexes. In the country this is known as a swingers party, in the city it is called commuting.

– If, when waiting for a train or tube, there is an announcement that someone has thrown themselves on the line, under NO circumstance show any sympathy for them. Rather, grumble and complain about how selfish they are for making you late.

– Remember that, in the city, right-of-way on the pavement and road belongs to those who are most proficient at trampling, elbowing and punching their way to the front.

– Always be on your iPhone everywhere you go, even if there is no-one on the other end; you never know when you may turn a corner to be confronted by a dangerously enthusiastic young woman with a badge or a clipboard asking for money.

– Never show any surprise when it is announced your sandwich and take-out coffee cost £12.50.

– Be proud that you live in a place that has theatres, cinemas, art galleries and concert halls. However, never go to any of them. Choose rather to get home from work, heat a microwave dinner from Iceland and sit watching old box sets of the Sopranos til bedtime. Only go out on Saturdays when you should congregate in the centre of town before embarking on a strenuous bout of binge–drinking. Stagger drunkenly around the streets after closing time, perhaps dressed as Superman, and punch anyone you don’t like the look of – which will be everyone. After your night in the cells, relax on Sunday night watching yourself in a T.V documentary about binge-drinking in city centres.

After 10 years or so you will have qualified as a city-dweller. If you spot a confused country person blundering around in the face of all this colour and speed, speak to them calmly, point them in the wrong direction, then run off up a side street and have a bloody good snigger.
Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014 –


Adventures en route to Leonard (1)





In February 2014 Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) is playing at the Soho theatre (see link below). This is episode 1 of my account of the show’s birth….

What is it about? What songs will I sing? How will I sing them? What will I say? How will I say it? What the fuck is it about?

It is January 2013 and for 5 days John and I have been locked away with these questions and each other in a Travelodge in Eastbourne…..

Before Christmas I had told my loyal producer Rupert that, yes, there would be a follow-up to the Leonard Cohen show I performed 14 years ago and it would be ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

I co-wrote that first show with John Dowie (who also directed) and was accompanied onstage by guitarist/comedian/superstar Ronnie Golden. Having now resolved a return to Len’s oeuvre, I asked them both to help me; Ronnie declined but John, after some nagging, agreed and suggested we start with a long, intense, creative session somewhere with no distractions.

Which is why we are in the Travelodge. For nearly a week we have been here making notes and discussing what the thing might be. What is it about? What songs will I sing? How will I sing them? What will I say? How will I say it? What the fuck is it about?

We have tried very hard, as a dozen pages of thoughts and ideas testify, but in truth we are nowhere near finding a path through it all. It is the coldest Eastbourne has been for years. In a pause between debates I stand by the window in John’s room and watch the sea fighting with the snow on the beach.

There are no two people in the world who could endure this intimate incarceration without clashing and, by now, John and I are predictably sick of each other. We take a break and I decide to go for a walk along the frozen cliffs outside town.

Other questions are now presenting themselves: Is this show a good idea? Why do it at all? What else can I do instead? What’s happened to me? Have I lost it? I am beginning to feel (correctly as it turns out) that John is losing patience and will soon pull out of the project. The snow turns to rain; I stop and look out to sea. This is grim. Then I realize that I am on Beachy Head. I laugh into the bitterness….

From Last Year’s Man by Leonard Cohen…..


The rain falls down on last year’s man,

An hour has gone by

And he has not moved his hand.

But everything will happen if he only gives the word;

The lovers will rise up

And the mountains touch the ground.

But the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend

And all the rain falls down amen

On the works of last year’s man.


(to be continued)


Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too)  Soho Theatre, London – 16th Feb to 2nd March 2014 –