Alexei Sayle: My shameful need for a mighty boy

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Indy Lifestyle Online

THERE'S A programme coming soon to BBC4 about soul music, and a preview for it that I read quoted Eric Burdon, lead singer with The Animals, as saying that although he isn't black, he sees British miners of that time as "slaves". He adds that he was already comfortable with black faces because they were the faces of men after a day down the mine, their lips whitened by foam from the Guinness. Well, not really, Eric. His experiences with black-coloured miners' faces might have made him feel at ease in the midst of The Black and White Minstrel Show, or possibly at an Al Jolson-impersonators' convention, but has nothing to do with his relationship with people whose skin colour doesn't wash off or his ability to sing the blues.

I wonder whether all of us in the entertainment business - if we are allowed to get away with it - aren't prone to self-delusion of this or other kinds. When I toured as a stand-up comedian, my feet were always kept on the ground by the fact that ticket sales were sometimes a struggle and that a proportion of reviewers didn't like or didn't understand what I was doing. But there was one tour of Australia I did where, due to some accident of timing and fashion, the tickets sold out in minutes. The promoter put in extra dates all over the place and I was fêted on all the primetime TV shows - I was even on the 9 o'clock news! And all the reviews were uncritical raves.

I have to say that all this rather went to my head. I began to get the feeling that I was this huge star who needed to be treated and cosseted, and in the end this feeling expressed itself in vehicular form.

On the way to Australia, our plane had refuelled at Bangkok. I'd noticed on the Tarmac a striking little pick-up truck; it was about the size of a Fiesta or Metro but had a cute little open back with a chromed rail around the top. Once in Australia I saw a few more of these vehicles and learnt that they were called Suzuki Mighty Boys. They were made in Thailand, which has quite a large industry manufacturing small trucks based on A-sector hatchbacks. The Mighty Boy was a Suzuki Alto under the skin - and I wanted one.

Drunk on my own power, I demanded that the promoter, as a special bonus, buy me a second-hand Mighty Boy and ship it to the UK at his own expense. He managed to stall until the tour was over, but once I was back in Britain he did ring up to say he had found one painted in pink with a three-speed auto box, but it was called a Suzuki Mighty Girl. I angrily refused this and demanded the male version. The promoter never phoned again and pretty soon the grind of my life in the UK convinced me that I was not the sort of performer who made those kinds of demands, and I felt vaguely ashamed that I'd ever asked to be given a car.

I did see the promoter once more. The funeral of Michael Hutchence was shown live on Sky News and he was in the congregation. I happened to know one of the pallbearers - Andy Gill of the Gang of Four - and I did briefly think of ringing Andy's mobile and telling him to go over to the promoter and say, "Alexei Sayle says where's his Mighty Boy?" But I didn't.

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