Alexe Sayle Column

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Alexe Sayle

I know I have mentioned before that I embark on my first stand- up comedy tour since 1985 in about three weeks' time - frankly, I'm finding it hard to think of anything else.

At breakfast I'll point wildly at the toast and say: "Toast and jam - is there a routine in that?"

I've followed my cat Tiger around the house begging her to tell me a joke. I hear my wife laugh at something a friend has said on the telephone, I rush into the room demanding that she tells me what's so funny.

Yes, I have to admit I'm finding it a bit difficult to write the required huge amount of new material. Partly this is because many of the targets that I used to be alone and unique in slagging off have now become part of the mainstream of comedy subject matter.

For example, in the early days of the Comedy Store club, when I used to perform vicious routines about the Royal Family there was a genuine frisson of horror that I should be so daringly attacking these previously untouchable icons, but now even the most end-of-the-pier, summer-season of comedians does routines about the despotic goings-on of the royals.

Tom O'Connor, for example, used to close his act by singing a Jim Reeves medley, but instead he now does the Sex Pistols' "The Queen, she ain't no human being".

The latter years of this Tory administration have led to such a leftwards shift in the nation's political centre that Ray Allen, the ventriloquist, has dropped his drunken upper-class dummy Lord Charles, replacing it with an act featuring his new dummy of Nelson Mandela.

Indeed, even Jim Davidson now does 25 minutes of his club act on amusing inconsistencies in Trotskyist doctrine between the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party. This used to be comedic ground that I had pretty much to myself, but no longer.

Fortunately for me as a writer, some things never change. Unemployment, for instance. Since I've been in the entertainment business, despite government statistical jiggery-pokery massaging the numbers, there has been around five million people out of work in this country, and as long as there is a Conservative government there always will be.

The reason for this state of affairs is that industrial peace in Britain has been achieved not, as in Germany and Japan, by giving the workers a sense that they are a vital part of the enterprise they are employed in, but instead by each employee knowing that if they get uppity there are about 10,000 eager applicants ready to take their jobs.

I don't know if you remember, but in 1991 unemployment dropped by a few hundred thousand and immediately everybody reverted to 1979 - Ford went on strike, there were pickets outside train stations, flares were back in fashion again and Sweet were back at the top of the charts. As soon as the jobless total went up the next month, everyone became docile again.

This situation will not be allowed to arise again. The Government has learnt its lesson and the total will stay up.

When I entered the world of work, in the late Sixties, the situation could not have been more dissimilar. There was full employment, wages were pretty good, and there were wonderful health and transport systems.

Did that mean that we, the proletariat, conscientiously settled down to do the jobs we were being paid to do? Did we stinkety bollocks, as our Canadian friends would say.

For a start, as I remember we would change jobs just about daily. If the office wallpaper clashed with your jacket, you'd quit your job. If your boss looked at you funny, you'd hand in your notice, and you'd strike at the drop of a Biba hat.

My mate, who was a bus driver then, can remember Shepherd's Bush garage walking out en masse because there was no white toast in the canteen.

And if you did stay in one place of employment for a while, the reason was usually that you were on the fiddle to such a massive degree that you didn't want to leave.

I had a mate who worked in a bacon factory and he stole more bacon than he knew what to do with. He had his floor carpeted in bacon and a couch made out of bacon.

At about the same time, though, I was faced with a difficult dilemma. I worked as a sweeper-up at a Lucas CAV factory in Finchley. They made huge fuel pumps, far too big to steal, and there was nothing else around worth having. Yet I felt it a matter of principle to nick something, so in the end I started collecting the fluff that I brushed up from underneath the presses and began smuggling it out past the security guards, hidden in the lining of my coat.

Pretty soon I had a house full of fluff, but I felt honour had been satisfied.

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