Another string to your bow is
that you've done stand-up comedy, something that probably not many
Avengers or Doomwatch fans are aware of! How did you get
into that area of showbusiness?
"Well, it was fairly early in my
career. I'd done some television and was quite well known, but I'd
always wanted to be in a position where I could do it on my own – and
apart from doing solo stage shows, I thought I'd like to have a go at
comedy. So I worked out an act that would run about ten minutes, with
various jokes and sections where I'd go from this subject to that
subject to another – and my friend Arthur White and I went off to The
Deuragon Arms in Hackney. It was a well-known pub and Lenny Bruce had
compered there. They had open nights where anyone could get up and
have a go. I took a look and there was a comic on stage, dying a
death. I went straight to the loos and threw up! I came back and said
to Arthur that I thought I was really getting the feel of it now, and
that when we came back next time, I'd do it. Arthur took me to one
side and told me that I was on next! So the compere says, 'Ladies and
gentlemen! You've seen him here many times before…' – you lying…, I
thought… 'Charlie Barnett, the Cockney Comic!' So I'm up there, and I
get going… I've got a pint in one hand and a cigar in the other. I'm
doing my routine and I'm getting lots of laughs and lots of applause.
I was thinking that this was a bit of alright and suddenly I noticed
Arthur at the back, waving madly at me. I'm a bit confused now. I
didn't think I was doing that badly. I thought I was going down well.
Anyway, I brought it to an end, got a nice round of applause and went
off to see Arthur. 'What did I do?' I asked. 'Forty minutes!!!' he
replied, exasperated. I had been up there for forty minutes. The ten
minute act I'd worked out in my front room had greatly expanded, what
with the punters coming in with their lines, and so on and I just
hadn't noticed. There had been other acts waiting to go on, too! I did
a lot more in the pubs, got noticed and then I was booked to do Sunday
night stage shows and I ended up working with Dorothy Squires at the
London Palladium a couple of times. I also did a little tour with The
Rolling Stones. I just loved it. There were no lines to learn as such
doing stand-up – you've got them in your mind. You know where you're
going. If the audience says something, you follow that hare and then
something follows from that."
Are there ways of learning the
craft of stand-up or is it a case of finding your own way?
"Like we've said about acting – if
you can do it, you can do it. It ain't clever. If you've got that gift
– and it is a gift – you can do it. You can't learn to be a stand-up.
You can watch people, but you have to have the gift. Geniuses like
Paul Merton and Ken Dodd have it. Actually Ken Dodd… The greatest
moment in my theatrical life! I went to see Ken with a friend of mine,
Ross Taylor, who wrote Charlie Girl. He did lots and lots of
work and was very well known. Now, I'd seen in Ken in shows and even
tried to nick his material… only you can't nick his material because
it's so 'him'. It doesn't really work for anyone else. Well, we went
round to the dressing room, and Doddy's there. Ross introduced me and
before he'd even finished speaking, Doddy called me over. 'Simon!' he
said. 'Yes?' I replied. 'Call me Doddy and come over here. Do you mind
if I have my photograph taken with you?' – now how do you top that in
anything you do in the business? What a lovely man. That just blew my
mind – the fact that he actually knew me. You don't think about that,
do you? 'Do you mind if…!' I thought, I'd have paid you for this!"
"Another great moment… I was doing
a tour and was at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, and had the number one dressing
room. When I was in the Army – I was in the Intelligence Corps – I
used to go there and I saw some of great actors there. I'd seen Paul
Schofield and John Gielgud, and they had had that dressing room. It's
got its own loo, you know, a wooden seat loo – and I went in there one
night and thought, this is where Gielgud and Schofield sat! Another
magic moment – a picture with Doddy and a dump where the they had sat!
That's it, isn't it? Follow that with the sea lions!"
Here To Read Part Six: Looking Back
Back to Top
and Alys Hayes, 2009