Comedy: Disorder of the Bath: Noel Britten's night tours are not so much heritage trails as walking gameshows. Dominic Cavendish takes a late Bath

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The Independent Culture
Let's get this clear from the start. There are no facts, no figures and no history on my tour. Anyone who has come along for educational reasons should leave now.' The 150-strong crowd gathered outside the Huntsman Inn in Bath town centre breathes a unanimous sigh of silent thanks to Noel Britten. The last thing people want on a Saturday evening is intellectual stimulation and Bath, for all its imposing Georgian heritage, still attracts tourists in search of mindless relaxation. Noel Britten, inventor and host of the Bizarre Bath comedy walk, knows that.

'I had a premonition this morning. I got up, changed the sheet, went back to bed and had another one.' From the moment his gaggle of mild-mannered tourists and locals set off down the city's backstreets, Britten's banter goes on autopilot. More an imitation television quiz show personality let loose outdoors than a conventional stand-up, flamboyant in purple jacket and polka-dot tie, he delivers his gags standing on a crate and clutching a pair of purple balloons.

No sooner has he collected the money than he gives a girl the chance to win back her outlay (all pounds 3 of it) by copying everything he does with a glass of water. She loses. Later on, by the Abbey, he divides the crowd into three, according to their star signs, and in a moment of pure Bob Monkhouse asks each group to 'pick the right key to the padlock and win pounds 100'. No one does.

Although the tour remains tightly controlled, there lurks the suspicion that things could start getting out of hand. Standing blindfold at 'the intersection of three ley lines', Britten has already persuaded the entire crowd to crouch down, wave their hands and shout out the evening's catchphrase: 'bizarrrrre'.

A handful of residents, outside whose property Britten nightly lingers, are not amused. Apart from reading out various plaques word for word, his only nod to the architectural interest of the town is a running gag about the bricked-up portico of the supposed house of the Pump Room's designer, John Palmer, in North Parade. Pointing at the brickwork he jests, 'the interior design is lovely, unfortunately his exterior design sense was not so good'.

After two and a half years of the tour, the house's occupant became distinctly irate. 'There have been some awkward moments,' Britten, who does street-acts by day, admits. He has raised 250 signatures to save the walk this month. 'He tipped a bag of rubbish over the crowd once and another time produced a banner saying 'This is our home, please go away'. But it has all been resolved now.'

Britten, 30, refuses to concede a further charge of recycling the same material, claiming that every other tour guide is equally culpable. 'What they were really complaining about was people laughing.' Perhaps, but by the last half of the tour, when Britten puts a chained-up toy bunny rabbit inside a plastic bag and throws it into the Avon remarking, 'it almost makes him look like a Tory MP', he just gets a quiet titter.

But there is no time to register this before we are whisked off down another street. And as darkness finally falls with the crowd-pleasing German-tourist mock-guillotine act, Britten receives a generous round of applause. It seems you don't need either spa water or a fresh joke to have a good time in Bath, you just have to be there. Bizarre.

Tour 8pm, nightly, outside Huntsman Inn (info: 0225 335124)

(Photograph omitted)

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