The comedy walking tour: hysterical not historical

Back in 1984 I was doing a show at the Edinburgh festival that did not require me to be on stage until 1.30am...

Back in 1984 I was doing a show at the Edinburgh festival that did not require me to be on stage until 1.30am. This was a dangerous proposition for a man with a large thirst and a full-length pancreas; I resolved to find something to distract me from the lure of the pubs.

So I started doing alternative tours of the Royal Mile, in which I led baffled American tourists along the High Street feeding them wildly inaccurate information and forcing them to hop along sections of the road. The shows went tolerably well, and on my day off I did a racier midnight version with a louche fringe audience. Later I dropped the daytime shows and just did the free night tour. One year I started it at 4am, which made it both the latest and the earliest show ever to appear at the festival.

By now the historical element had diminished and I would be paying audience members to climb on to an empty plinth, strip naked and sing Scotland the Brave; offering the squaddies guarding the castle a joint to slow march (yes, they usually did); getting residents on the Royal Mile to open their window and burst into song; staging kissing contests; introducing guest speakers such as Paul Merton, John Thompson, Hank Wangford and Miss Pink the fanny farter; quietening the audience to sneak up on a drunk enjoying a quiet piss against a wall; stopping by a shop displaying mannequins in tweed suits and introducing them as the Oxford Revue; leading everyone on to the back of an empty lorry; ending the show at Waverley station where I got on the first train to Galashiels. Oh, we had some laughs.

Looking back it seems a miracle that only once did someone end up in hospital (and he was out in six months). The police, however, became more and more interested in the event, and the last one I did in 2000 ended with the arrest of Heinrich, the Nietzschean German tourist, aka Simon Munnery, and, two hours later, myself. It seemed a good idea to have a rest from it.

Last Sunday I was reminded of these tours reading the brochure for “Bizarre Bath – The Comedy Walk”, which advertises “something hysterical rather than historical”. Then I remembered I’d done a version in Bath once, and been asked afterwards by local comic Noel Britten if he could use the idea. Now it has been running for several years. Britten puts on a delightful show and, though I was a bit miffed to see it described as the “brainchild of Noel Britten”, it enlivens dull Bath evenings. Attention all comics: why not put one on in your small town. Send me £100 for the kit.