Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Discussing Huhne and Pryce on BBC Radio Ulster

DESPITE being the catalyst which brought down Huhne and Pryce, I have great sympathy for their plight.

I talk about it here on BBC Radio Ulster on the Talkback show hosted by Wendy Austin.

The debate starts at 14mins 30secs.

Feel free to post your comments -

chris huhne and vicky pryce news of / sun rises for new dawn at news / my new pr role at talking2minds / committee pushes sun further to brink / tom watson confidential meetings / 60000 hits and tanks are on my cabbage / james murdoch and news international?spref=tw / personal security fears at news / our cartoonist alan ocain / rupert murdoch at leveson / todays events / rupert murdoch and tom crone / oxford union debate / corruption agenda to demonise news / biography

Neville Thurlbeck is the founder of TalentGB, an on-line variety theatre of showreels of artistes of every genre.

Twitter: @nthurlbeck

Monday, 11 March 2013

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce. The News of the World's part in their downfall

Note to Leveson lovers, Hacked Off and other such press censors – WARNING, graphic red-top tabloid content


Chris Huhne and Carina Trimingham

Vicky Pryce

SINCE I began burbling on Twitter about the News of the World’s involvement in bringing down Chris Huhne, many have emailed asking me to reveal how we did it.

It began in March 2009. I received a call from a young chap who claimed to have some pictures of the married Labour MP Nigel Griffiths in a compromising position with a woman in his office.

The pictures had been discovered by a work experience lad who had been seconded to Griffiths’ office and they showed the MP with the woman dressed in her underwear and black stockings.

We were on fairly safe ground as there was a strong public interest argument for running the story. Griffiths had carried out the tryst in his House of Commons office, thereby smashing the MPs’ code of conduct.

Worse still, he’d done it on Remembrance Day 2008, when the nation honoured its war dead.

I raced out to meet the lad. I say, “raced”, because he’d also contacted our features department and they too were on their way. It had been a tactic of News of the World editors since the 1950s to set the features and news departments at each other's throats. We dominated the Sunday market and with no outside competition, internal competition had been an editor's tactic for 60 years. So there was no chance of the editor calling features off. May the best man win.

On this day, my “competitor” was my colleague Dan Evans. As I sped through London traffic, I rang the contact and warned him a chap impersonating Dan Evans was en route. And that he should avoid him at all costs as he was in fact an imposter working for the Sunday Mirror who would steal his story and expose him in the paper. He had to switch off his phone and meet me at a totally different location.

With Dan stranded and his line of communication cut off, I gathered the pictures and took them back to the office. The key to running the story was to prove the tryst took place in his House of Commons office. I memorised the scene and headed off to Westminster where I was admitted by a contact.

It’s tricky getting access to an MPs office without an appointment. I lurked unseen outside for a few hours hoping to get a glimpse when the door opened (I always fancied I was rather good at “lurking unseen”). 

After a few hours, I needed to take the initiative before I was rumbled. I knocked on the door, Griffiths answered and I brushed him to one side and strode purposefully into his room. “Are you the janitor?” I barked. “Certainly not”, said the Prime Minister’s best friend. “Very sorry, Wrong room then,” I replied as I turned 360 degrees and took in the scene. It was identical to the picture. Same ornaments, same litter bin, same sofa, same mock Gothic arch over the doorway. I’d seen enough to satisfy the News International lawyer and headed off leaving Griffiths looking puzzled and a little flustered.

As I made through a corridor on my way out, a familiar face I hadn’t seen in more than two decades beamed and came towards me hand outstretched. After a quick catch-up, he finished with, “Take a look at Chris Huhne. He’s got a mistress. Don’t know who but look hard enough and you’ll find her”.

I suppose you’re now all thinking, ‘For goodness sake, why didn’t you just start this piece by saying you were walking through the Commons when someone tipped you off about Huhne?!’ Well, I thought I’d put it into context. Like so many of my stories, they all boiled down to simply being in the right place at the right time – like a lucky centre forward. And I like a good story!

Where to start with Huhne? He had a constituency home in Eastleigh so I put a watch on that. After a week, one Friday night, a woman who was clearly not his wife, arrived alone, lifted up a brick from the front door, took the key beneath it and let herself in.

A short time later, Huhne arrived and knocked on the door. The woman opened it and let him in. The pair stayed there the night. The following day, we watched as they attended various functions together. It was crucial to identify who she was. It might have been a relative, although their body language said not.

We decided to follow her to her London home and do an electoral roll check on who lived there. Following someone from Hampshire to London by car is not an easy feat and we lost her at traffic lights moments from her address.

Back to the drawing board. And back to the constituency address where I was joined by my colleague Derek Webb, a former police officer with the elite South East Regional Crime Squad and the most gifted of surveillance experts.

A few weeks later, she was back. Same drill as the last time. But on the journey, we somehow managed keep on her tail unseen to base her at her London flat. The electoral roll showed her to be Carina Trimingham, a Lib-Dem activist who was also on his Facebook site as she’d helped him campaign on his failed leadership bid.

An internet search also showed she’d had a gay civil marriage which had since ended.

The story was written. But the editor Colin Myler spiked it, judging Huhne was not famous enough.

Fast forward to May 2010. The election ushered in the coalition government and Huhne suddenly found himself Climate Secretary. If not at the very centre of government, certainly close to its heart. I lobbied hard to resurrect the story and Myler agreed we should look at it again.

Back to Eastleigh. And like a lucky centre forward, five minutes later, Ms Trimingham arrived. Quickly followed by Huhne. They stayed the night, leaving separately in the morning.

The following Sunday, the story ran on the front page of the News of the World. Huhne strolled into his Clapham home and told his wife Vicky their 26 year marriage was over and walked calmly off to the gym.

Distraught and confused and still in love with her husband, she set about plotting her revenge and reveal how Huhne had organised for her to take three speeding points on his behalf to escape a driving ban.

Isabel Oakeshott, the Sunday Times political editor, exposed the crime with a carefully crafted strategy of trust combined with clinical, journalistic efficiency.

So this is her story. I tip my hat to her.

But it’s odd to think all this unravelling and domino effect would never have happened if a nosy teenager in 2009 hadn’t picked up the phone to me.

* Neville Thurlbeck is the founder of TalentGB, an on-line directory of entertainers and their showreels.

TalentGB is a platform for artistes to display their showreels and take bookings free of charge - function bands, tribute bands, wedding bands,  jazz bands, swing bands, singers, musicians, magicians, comedians and much more.

Since our launch on April 12, 2013, we have gained a rapid nationwide following and TalentGB's web pages have been viewed 32,183  times by 12,469 visitors in 520 UK towns and cities.

And our viewing figures are growing by the week giving our acts greater exposure and more gigs.

To hire our happy band of troubadours or upload your YouTube video, sound clips, photos and booking details, just click here.

Follow us on Twitter @TheTalentGB

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Phil Cool: The final curtain for Britain’s finest stand-up chameleon

An exclusive dressing room chat with a comedy legend on his farewell tour

With Phil Cool

In 30 years of journalism, it’s been my great privilege to see some of the funniest men on the planet perform live.

I saw Norman Wisdom and Frankie Howerd at the peak of their powers. I watched Bob Hope bring the house down at the Royal Albert Hall. And I sat ringside at the dawn of Stephen Fry’s career with the Cambridge Footlights in 1982 when the thunderous applause propelled him from the Edinburgh Fringe into eternal stardom.

But none of these comic legends managed to get the needle on the laughometer to swing quite as far into the red zone of hilarity as Phil Cool. If his audience was an engine, it would be in danger of blowing a gasket.

Sitting in his dressing room, Phil, 64, is showing a few more wrinkles than when we saw him in his prime time TV pomp. But he’s still boyishly good looking, laid back and self-deprecating. And his extraordinary energy seemingly undiminished, despite major heart surgery two years ago.

He revealed why, after 37 years on the road, he is finally calling it a day with his latest UK tour - The Final Curtain Tour.

In his undisguised Chorley twang, he says: “I’m fed up with all the traffic on the roads. Even travelling as a passenger in a car drives me mad. It’s not that I’m not up to it. I was back up in front of an audience nine weeks after a quadruple by-pass.

“I’m fit and go to the gym two or three times a week and the heart is good.

“But it’s time to call it a day. I’ll be 65 this year so it will coincide with that landmark too.

“I’ve had a great time but I am getting a lot of enjoyment out of folk singing now. So I’ll continue to do that locally, near home.

“The problem is, comedy kills off anything else you might want to do. Once you are a comedian, no one will accept you as anything else.

“My 18-year-old son has just started a group and I’ve advised him to avoid comedy at all costs.

“Jasper Carrot was the same as me. He started off as a musician and adopted a funny routine and couldn’t go back.

“So I suppose I’m going back to my first love.

“But I’ll only do it locally, somewhere where I can go to after I’ve finished my tea!”

“Locally” for Phil is a farmhouse which he shares with second wife Bev in a picturesque village in Lancashire’s Trough of Bowland.

In the 1980s and early 90s, Phil was a prime time TV comic and performed at the London Palladium in front of Prince Charles and Diana.

Since then, he has been invisible on the small screen. The pressure of coming up with 30 minutes of new material week in week out meant he had to hire writers. Phil has always written his own material and felt his act was becoming diluted by writers who couldn’t quite get his style.

Frankie Howerd was lucky, He found Eric Sykes, who could write in the Howerd style, right down to every “Oh no, look here missus” and script in every comma, pause and supposed ad-lib.
Phil Cool was too mercurial, even for a craftsman like Sykes.

So for the past 20 years, he has been back touring the provinces, finely honing and distilling a two hour act of brilliance with several moments of undoubted comic genius.

He wouldn’t be the first comic to shrewdly eschew the few minutes of fame brought by the small or silver screen, which renders every piece of material instantly old hat. Max Miller was able to do the same slowly evolving routine to mass adulation in the theatres for 30 years. In fact, despite his legendary status, only a few minutes of him performing on screen exist. The same is true for other pre-war comics such as Frank Randle and Norman Evans.

This is the company in which Phil Cool belongs, with a dash of Rory Bremner, Jim Carrey and Lee Evans thrown in.

Phil’s routine is an avalanche of brilliantly observed impersonations in the style of the grotesque. His ability to contort his face into the shape of the person he is mimicking is startling, sometimes shocking. The funniest moment of the entire show, is an impersonation of Tony Blair, in which he says nothing at all while he transforms his face into several typical Blair expressions. 

Among the dozens of impersonations, are Prince Charles, Eric Morecambe, Rolf Harris, President George W Bush, President Clinton, President Obama, Terry Wogan, Gordon Brown, John Major, David Attenborough and a ventriloquist’s dummy which has to be seen to believed. There is Jack Nicholson morphing into Bugs Bunny. And an extraordinary John Lennon in which he appears to somehow miraculously rearrange his front teeth.

Coupled with Phil’s mimicry and extraordinary “faceology”, as he calls it, is the biting satire in his own home grown material. He is never content to show you a clever impersonation without an equally clever accompanying gag, leaving you wondering in a flash which to laugh at first – a rare and priceless comic talent.

The art of “faceology” started in 1961, when Phil was a 12-year-old schoolboy.

Phil explains: “I was sitting next to a boy called Woods and I turned to him and pulled my Quasimodo face. He got the shock of his life and shot back in his seat.

“The teacher wanted to know what the fuss was about and, as my real surname is Martin, he screamed: ‘It’s Martin sir!’

“He called us both out to the front of the class and demanded to know what all the fuss was about. When his back was turned to me, I looked at the class and pulled my Quasimodo face at them and they all broke out into laughter. When the teacher turned round to look at me, I had returned to deadpan and couldn’t work out what was happening. There class were in fits of laughter.

“That was the first time I realised I could be funny and hold an audience.”

Phil employs no script writers, preferring to write all his own material himself. He says: “I walk around the house talking to myself, inventing material as I go along. It’s my own act and the only thing I consult is the mirror. I do a lot of mirror consultation.

“I do introduce new characters. The ventriloquist’s dummy routine is popular now. But it will reach a tipping point when it suddenly stops being funny. You do find that happens with comedy routines.

“And I can’t do David Cameron. My wife said he reminds her of Basil Brush. I said, ‘that’s no good, I can’t do him either!’”

The Final Curtain Tour, which finishes on June 15. And if you plan just one family night out at the theatre this year and want guaranteed belly-laughs by the dozen, this is surely it. I had about 50.

For details of the show’s venues and dates see:

Phil’s forthcoming book, Phil Cool, Stand-up Chameleon, will also be announced soon on the same website.

Neville Thurlbeck is the founder of TalentGB, an on-line directory of showreels of artistes of every genre 

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