I’m about to start another stand-up tour, which means, amongst other things, I’ll do interviews on local radio where I’ll be asked “So Mark, are you looking forward to coming to Hull?” What are you supposed to say to that? Do you say “Oh yes, I’ve always loved the Hull audiences, it’s as if the proximity to a huge bridge makes people extra jolly and receptive to fun”?
But equally you can’t say “Not particularly. I mean, Hull is hardly Ipswich is it?”
So before each interview I’ll think of Bewdley. It’s a little town in Worcestershire I’d hardly heard of, with quaint bridges and ducks and a sweet shop full of huge jars like in 1934 and a one-way system far too elaborate for what they need. I had a curry there, during which the waiter and a man who’d come to collect his take-away discussed the size of bait they use for fishing in the River Severn, which has never happened during any curry I’ve had in any other town.
I discovered two sides to its history, before doing a show at their festival. Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister in the twenties and thirties was from there, and it has a safari park, which was in the national news a few years ago because the baboons escaped.
The show was in a hall at the main hotel in the town, and I was introduced by a delightfully over-organised woman who was on the parish festival committee, with a series of questions involving whether I needed sandwiches, soap, juice, a flannel, and several other items that I didn’t catch but may well have been a cushion, a palm tree, a skeleton and one of the statues from Easter Island. “No, I’m fine thanks, no I’m fine honestly”, I kept saying, but it would have been easier for us both if I’d said “Alright then, yes, I will have an unexploded doodlebug.”
Although I’ve never listened to it, I expect she’s a character in The Archers.
At the start of the show she introduced me, by insisting the audience sit in their designated seats, as it was full up so “You – yes YOU, sit down here, no NOT there, HERE. HERE. Can’t you see, HERE, what’s the matter with you?”
At one point during the first half I mentioned their connection with Stanley Baldwin, something like “He was the son of an industrialist, and as a young man was given two hundred thousand pounds, and went on to become Prime Minister during the General Strike. Isn’t it astonishing to think that back then it was acceptable for a Tory rolling in unearned wealth to run the country, by taking things off the poor while the rich got even richer. You couldn’t imagine such a thing now could you?”
It got a bigger laugh than I expected, a bit of a supplementary ‘Oo my word how cheeky’, as if for Bewdley this was the equivalent of a band smashing up their instruments or NWA forcing the audience to sing Fuck da Police, the sort of thing more likely to take place in an urban ghetto such as Worcester.
During the interval my helpful hostess giggled to me that the reason the Stanley Baldwin joke had provoked a reaction was the local Conservative MP was sat in the front row. Everyone apart from me was aware of this, and now I knew this I wasn’t sure whether to find it hilarious that he’d been forced to hear everyone laughing, or appalled that I’d reached a point in my life where the front row of my audience could include a Conservative MP. I don’t suppose Malcolm X was ever told “It should be a good night tonight as Harold Macmillan’s in, Mister X.”
In the second half I mentioned the safari park and the escaping baboons. “Is it true?” I asked, “That they really escaped?” The whole crowd shouted that it was true, and several people were eager to add details.
“What happened to the baboons?” I said. And with not a moment’s pause, as if it was scripted and rehearsed and we performed this every night, someone shouted “One of them was elected as the local MP.”
They collectively roared, except, I suppose, for the local MP, and it was brilliant because as well as funny it was unique. It could only make sense at that point, in that place, in Bewdley.
So I hope this second tour of my ‘In Town’ show, of talking about the quirky bits of bollocks that makes everywhere individual, and trying, if I can, to make some of the show about the town I’m in, will be fun to do. Because each night will be unique, depending on where I am. Whether it will be any good or not I’ve no idea, but it means I’m looking forward to going to Hull.
The details, incidentally, are here, but I shan’t be offended if you don’t come to all the shows. http://marksteelinfo.com/