Once upon a time I was an habitué at the Edinburgh Fringe, and used to lounge around in bars treating comedians on equal terms, ie buying them all the drink they wanted. There was a certain hierarchy among the comedians, though, and I well remember overhearing at the Pleasance one young-up-and-coming performer say to another, with awe, that he had recently been granted a chat with Frank Skinner.
"The great Frank Skinner, eh?" said the other, duly impressed. "And what did he say to you?"
"He gave me a bit of advice," said the first. "He said, 'Listen kid, you're on the way up in the comedy field and you're still learning, so here's a tip from one who knows. When you get your first BMW, for God's sake make sure it's a manual, not an automatic...' "
Roars of laughter.
I remember another comedian at another bar expressing the unconventional though persuasive thought that getting the Perrier Award not only didn't do you much good but was actually harmful for your career.
"Hardly any of the really top guys has ever won it," he said. "And lots of people who did get it are now completely forgotten. Like, for instance...."
He screwed up his face.
"You see ? I can't even remember his name. That proves it."
He had a point. There were some doughty performers in Edinburgh who never even got near the Perrier. The year I was a Perrier judge, the best performer I saw was Jerry Sadowitz, and he didn't even make the short list because he despised the whole Perrier Award set-up and wouldn't let them have complimentary tickets to his show. The man who won it that year was Ben Keaton, who did a beautifully judged show about an Irish childhood [was he the first of the wave of Irish comic talent about to gently engulf us ?], but perhaps because he was always more of an actor than a comedian I haven't heard much of him since in the comedy field.
Another man I always liked a lot but who never seemed to get near the Perrier was Malcolm Hardee. At his best he was great but he was a bit erratic as a comedian, ie inclined to be drunk. He was also a bit of an entrepreneur, and one year he flew up from London an impressionist who, with the addition of a false birthmark, was the spitting image of Gorbachev. That was the year of Gorbachev and perestroika, whatever year that was, and Malcolm Hardee found this bloke a venue and a time slot, and put him on to do an act.
Oddly enough, it wasn't really a political or even a comic act. It was more of a rock 'n' roll act. The false Gorbachev may have looked uncannily like the Russian leader, but mostly what he did during his stint on stage was, as I remember, full-blooded rock 'n' roll singing in a Russian accent. But Malcolm Hardee told me there was a reason for this. "When I first knew this bloke," he said, "it was some years ago when he had all his hair and he was, believe me, the splitting image of Elvis. So he did an Elvis act. Now most of his hair has gone and for some weird reason he has turned into a Gorbachev look-alike. Well, don't waste a Gorbachev look-alike, is what I say, even if most of his best repertoire comes from rock 'n' roll..."
The reason I mention all this now is that I had a blinding moment of insight the other day and realised that the new leader of the Tory party, the modern Moses who is destined to lead them into the wilderness for 40 years, Iain Duncan Smith himself, is also the spitting image of Gorbachev. Go on, have a look at his photograph. Then mentally put a splash of raspberry jam high up on his forehead. Remind you of anyone? Yes, it's old Gorby himself! The merry impressionists on "Dead Ringers" have been trying to impress us that Duncan Smith is actually Hague in disguise, but that's only because they've got a man who does a very good William Hague imitation, and they are loath to waste it.
No, Duncan Smith IS Gorbachev, without the birthmark [and, of course, without the experience of running a big country]. And what that means, I suppose, is that out there somewhere is a man who used to look like Elvis and then used to look like Gorbachev and who could now do a brilliant Duncan Smith. If anyone wanted a brilliant Duncan Smith imitation. Singing rock 'n' roll...
One additional thought. Does it also mean that if the real Elvis Presley had lived, he too would by now look like Iain Duncan Smith?
It hardly bears thinking about.