William Donaldson's Week: Frankie goes to Fulham Road

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The Independent Online
YOU'RE a reckless lot, I must say. Two weeks ago, and keen to have a proposal with Methuen before my competitors, Frankie Fraser and old Mrs Matthews, could upstage me with an approach to Random House, I asked you to submit entries for my book, How To Tell If Your Children Aren't On Drugs. And, in case of retribution later, I advised you to withhold your names and addresses - not because you might get a clump from my pal Frankie, but because old Mrs Matthews might come after you with her shillelagh.

More concerned for your safety than you are yourselves, I'll not divulge that of the many excellent suggestions, the best so far have come from a Mr Richard Ingrams of 26 Charlotte Street, London W1.

Here's a sample.

'At 14 they look like Max Hastings, at 24 Charles Moore, at 34 Virginia Bottomley and at 44 Dominic Lawson.'

'Shopping at Safeway, they walk straight past the 'tastes' counter, buy an Evian bottle, drink the water and then recycle the bottle. They think turkey foil is for wrapping turkeys in, that Biros are for writing with, and they can make a Bic lighter last for a week.'

'They watch The Man From Auntie and miss repeats of Bilko.'

Never mind that. What I wanted to say this week was that while the Frankie Fraser Debt Collection Agency is a triumph, I've had an even better idea - a return to the live theatre, or, more accurately, another attempt to revive pub entertainment.

My last outing as a theatrical producer was Nights at the Comedy in 1964. Without the knowledge of its owner, I converted the Comedy into a pub, serving drinks on stage and booking a variety of acts, including the incomparable Jimmy James, Mrs Shufflewick, Princess Juanita from Streatham and her snakes, and a mad old tart who sang 'The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery'.

Alas, the planning wasn't as good as it might have been. I put the seals on first, the upshot being that the stage thereafter was as slippery as an ice rink. The ingenue, on next, skated clean into the stalls, and then Mrs Shufflewick got drunk and did a derisive commentary during Princess Juanita's snake act.

'Don't put your snakes on the stage, Mrs Worthington,' said Mrs Shufflewick, causing the Princess to walk off in a huff.

More seriously, there was some unpleasantness between Norman 'The Nightmare' Norris and a slip of a girl from Woking.

Mr Norris was a 22-stone bouncer for my friend Joe Wilkins, who had an unusual way of acquiring clubs. 'I'd like a word with your partner,' Joe would say. 'I don't have a partner,' the surprised club-owner would reply. 'Yes you do,' Joe would say. 'Meet Norman 'The Nightmare' Norris.'

Be that as it may, my idea was that a member of the audience would get pounds 5 if they could go three rounds with Mr Norris.

On the first night, this slip of a girl from Woking, who, unbeknown to us, had a black belt in judo, accepted the challenge. Mr Norris threw her head-first into the orchestra pit, spearing the kettledrum and thereafter causing the mad old tart's rendition of 'The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery' to lack a rhythmic underthump. The police were called and the show was closed.

I've been keen, naturally, to revive it ever since, so last week I had a word with the landlord of The Goat In Boots in the Fulham Road.

'I'd like to speak to you about the entertainment in your upstairs room,' I said.

'I don't have entertainment in my upstairs room,' he said. 'Bog off out of it.'

'In that case,' I said, 'I'd like a word with your partner.'

'I don't have a partner,' he said.

'Yes you do,' I said. 'Meet my pal, Mr Frankie Fraser.'

'My upstairs room will be available from Monday,' the landlord said. 'Name your terms.'

An Evening with Frankie Fraser opens in a fortnight, tickets available at the door. Alas, Jimmy James and Mrs Shufflewick are no longer with us, and I've lost touch, I don't know why, with Princess Juanita from Streatham and her snakes, but the evening will be a cracker for all that.

The show will open with Mr Fraser's girlfriend, the lovely Marilyn, singing 'Send In The Clowns'; Mr Fraser will then answer questions from the audience ('Let Frankie solve your problem'); darts will be thrown at cardboard mock-ups of famously bent policemen, insolent prison governors, the half-wit who calls himself the Home Secretary and Sir Ivan Lawrence QC; Frankie will sing 'I Did It My Way' and then . . .

Excuse me. The second post has just arrived with some more entries for How To Tell If Your Children Aren't On Drugs from the reckless Mr Ingrams of 26 Charlotte Street, London W1.

'At 23, they lose their virginity with a transvestite in the Place Pigalle, tell her their golf handicap, talk about their mother, suffer premature ejaculation, catch NSU and don't have sex again for five years.'

'A 26, they introduce you to their first girlfriend, a student nurse with sensible legs who says: 'If we do it now we won't have to do it later,' and, afterwards, 'Better now?'.'

'They announce that Americans have no sense of irony, put comic announcements on their answering machines, and, next to a photograph of Fiona and the twins, humorous notices on their desks at the office: 'You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps]'.'

'They fantasise about their secretary, try to kiss her, and end up at a Chelsea escort agency, where they are rolled by a razor-faced hooker who steals their cufflinks.'

I wouldn't be in Mr Ingrams's shoes if my pal Frankie and Mrs Matthews read this column. Meanwhile, see you at The Goat In Boots.