Monday, 27 April 2009

Portrait by Spencer Murphy

They say a picture paints a thousand words, so I shall just post up the Portrait done by Spencer Murphy on the evening of Eccentric Awards at the Arts Club in London (April 1st). Thank you. [Click on the picture and get the full version in all its glory].

Now, I very rarely take a great picture, especially posed portraiture, but to say I am pleased with the results is an understatement. (I'm happy to say Spencer appears pleased with it too - anyone for a signed, limited edition, print???).

Just visit his splendid website.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Kensal Green Cemetery: a Photo-shoot - 1 (Adam Brown)

Thursday 23rd April was Saint George’s Day - patron Saint of England - and I was somewhat cheered to discover that nearly all the local florists and supermarkets had completely sold out of red roses (the symbol of St. George). Perhaps in times of recession there is a resurgence in displaying signs of national pride, especially in these times when we Brits have been pretty-much brainwashed to feel ashamed of celebrating our national day.

Anyway, I was looking for a red rose for a buttonhole. That evening I had been invited over to Kensal Green Cemetery (in North-West London), to turn up in my Victorian clothes for the preview of a photographic exhibition called Response - displaying the works of three students: Adam Brown, Hassan Cadinouche and Susan Martin; their responses to the cemetery itself.

So, just opposite Kensal Green tube station stood the Cemetery, a vast place going on for miles with huge, imposing iron gates for an entrance. And inside: acres and acres of wonderfully carved stone monuments and family vaults - a Goth would never want to leave!

And so to the Anglican Chapel: each of the three photographers had taken pics of different aspects of the cemetery and each were using a particular type of metallic printing process which completely escapes me but looked very effective.

After I’d had a jolly good walk round the exhibition, I got chatting to the Cemetery Chairman, Barry Smith, and then he just casually mentioned “would you like to visit the catacombs?”.

Within seconds we were descending into the vaults of the cemetery: tunnels and tunnels of arches and alcoves and more tunnels running endlessly into the semi-darkness. And. Looking around: floor-to-ceiling of compartments and grills and stone-sealed shelves - just like an Italian Cemetery - with coffins, over 2,500 of them (but with space for over 4,000). Hundreds of years of decaying wood and lead, of metal filagree grills and stone inscriptions mixed with various floral tributes (made of metal and plaster) preserved under glass domes.

Maybe it was the semi-darkness or the dampness down there or just witnessing the way the Victorians took Death seriously, but there was a wondrous feel of gothic decay all around. [Horror movie location scouts take note!… Saw VI ?].

Immediately I told Barry to fetch his camera (which he’d left upstairs) and we started taking a series of shots - these will take a while to get to me, but I shall post them up in a later blog. It was just as well the strip-lighting was working (although Barry and I later revisited the catacombs, this time in total darkness, just carrying a couple of paraffin lamps).

Later still, Adam Brown and I went underground again for some more portraitures, a few of which I’ve published here.

You’ve heard the term ‘darkly atmospheric’? That about sums up the Catacombs. Talk about Hidden London! Kensal Green Cemetery was a revelation. And to think I’ve lived in the capital nearly all my life and never even knew this subterranean place existed.

The Response exhibition carries on until Thursday 7th May.
The Cemetery is planning an Open Day on Saturday 4th July.

Here are a few useful links: [the Cemetery] [The 4th July Open Day] [Adam Brown]

All photos in this blog (5-8)taken by Adam Brown, Except: 1,2 & 4 (Cop. Con) and 3 (archways) by Hassan Cadinouche.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Broken Britain - 8: Maitland & Co., R.I.P.

I know this recession is hurting a lot of small businesses, but sometimes a closure will happen that you take personally.

And so it was yesterday, I was in London (getting a couple of silk waistcoats made up - but that’s another story for another day). Walking along Piccadilly I reached the top of Piccadilly Arcade and I just felt a strange hollow where something familiar should be. I turned and witnessed the stark, empty space where once stood the chemists Maitland & Co. (established 1849), next to the clothiers Budd & Co.

Where was that window crammed with a cascade of odd and fragrant toiletries? Where was the wall of gigantic sponges (bigger than two fists) pressed up against the window? And that familiar huge unfolding Swiss-Army knife…?

All that remained was an empty space. And in the sad vacant window were just rows of empty glass shelving; an old shaving advert from the 1940s, a lonely shaving razor and a solitary large bottle of brilliantine priced at £5.50 (I stood there ogling that bottle like a child looking into a sweetshop).

That, and a simple hand-written note taped to the front door “…Maitland & Co….forced to cease trading…thank you to all our past customers…forward all enquiries to accountants Blah, Blah Blah…”.

Perhaps it was the suddenness of the closure. Perhaps it was that unexpected gap in the street fabric that I had passed so many times since my schoolboy days in the 1960s. It was just…’there’ - it always was. Perhaps we just took it for granted that it always would be there…. And where will I get my sponges now?

So be it. Maitland & Co. (Est. 1849), R.I.P. 2009

It’s not just a bit of history lost, a small part of my life has just crumbled away with it. Like I said, there are some closures you just take personally.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Broken Britain - 7:'s for your Own Good...

Want to be an investigative journalist?
Want to have an opinion?
Want to have Any kind of original thought left in your body?
Forget It!!! - From 1st April 2009, every telephone call you make, every email you send and every website you visit is being logged under new regulations.

And every government department, every local Council and even every quango can access this telephone and internet database. (What could they use it for?…to access everything from treason to fly-tipping, they tell us…and, perhaps, who‘s been tipping off a journalist on a local paper about the misdeeds of a local Councillor???).

FACT: Any database will eventually spill out to those who pay enough money or who have the right contacts. (And if you thought electronic communications are secure - you must be crazy).

I remember the day Tony Blair was elected P.M. in May 1997, I predicted to the optimistic youthful voters who put him in power: “Be warned - you are about to witness the nearest thing to a Stalinist regime this country have ever seen. It Will happen”. And, I think, the years have proved me right.

Insider whistle-blowers beware.

Here’s a Tip: if you want to be an investigative journalist, I suggest:
- pen and paper (i.e. snail-mail letters)
- a pay-as-you-go mobile phone with an unregistered SIM card bought with Cash (yep, just like drug-dealers and terrorists)
- and a motorcycle.

As if all this were not bad enough, the REAL threat will come once the police put all sorts of information - vehicle license plates’ movements [ANPR: Automatic Number-plate recognition], CCTV camera data, emails, phone calls, etc. - into a real-time system that anyone can access.

It WILL happen.

Mind you, once you DO have a juicy bit of information, new technology means it’s easier and quicker to get it out there to the rest of the world before they catch up with you!

So I guess, if investigative journalism IS under threat, maybe this is a new role for the Blogosphere.

Oh, and the Motorcycle? Bikes usually only have One number plate - on the Back.

But APNR cameras focus on a vehicle’s front plates!
- Handy to know.

A PostScript: I’ve just seen a TV ad where I can get any information on any car registration number. Just send the number in a text to 83600 and for a fee of £3 + standard network charge, the DVLA will send you details of your car (where it is, and - if it has been stolen - if it's been pulped). Big Brother or a useful government service? - you decide. I think it’s creepy

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Eccentric of the Year: Latest Developments - First Photo Session

Some interesting developments since the Eccentric of the Year Awards on the 1st - suddenly I find myself being ‘In Demand’: in the coming months I’ve been approached for two stills photo-shoots, a couple of film-makers who want to interview me + a personal appearance at an art Exhibition opening later nest week. I shall no doubt blog about them as they arise.

It’s all rather odd - again, since I’ve never considered myself to be an eccentric; I just live my life the way I live it and don’t care about others’ opinions. It does make me wonder if ‘Eccentricity’ has suddenly become flavour-of-the-month. I don’t mind, as long as they don’t approach things like (or try to turn me into) some kind of Victorian freak show.

The first photo-shoot was last Thursday (12th) at Rochester, near Chatham in Kent. A Norwegian student at the University College for the Creative Arts [I remember when it used to be called the West Surrey College of Art and Design at Farnham], Niko Lindgren, is putting together his portfolio: Black & White portraits of Historical Re-enactors and using one of the old plate-photos cameras.

It all went very smoothly. Niko met me at Chatham station (there’s an element of the dandy about him, so we recognised each other instantly) and we walked up the hill to the nearby College. Inside the large studio we started going through what items he wanted me to wear - I brought along a choice of various items: frock coats, waistcoats, stiff collar styles, cravats and pins, monocles/pince-nez, that sort of thing.

Various items selected, he just set about snapping away (me against a white background) for about an hour, with a change of outfit mid-way. After each shot he pulled out another completed plate (later I saw the size of the negatives, each one was about 4” x 3”, very high-resolution I suspect).

There was a general feeling of mutual respect between Niko and myself. He said that if Norway had its own group of Victorian Re-enactors he would join them, but sadly they don’t. I told him “well maybe you should start one”.

I must admit, I had initially approached the session with just a little apprehension as Niko had asked me to also “bring along something modern” to be photographed with “as an experiment”. I decided on a mobile phone, reasoning that the Victorians - being at the then cutting-edge of industrial development, might have so easily invented the cellphone, or even the internet, given time.

In fact, out of the whole 20-or-so shots in the session, only three of them featured the phone. Indeed, the whole experience was remarkably relaxed and over all too soon. Afterwards, we wandered through the cobbled streets of Rochester looking for a coffee and at the antiques shops. Niko has his eye on a vintage manual typewriter in the window of a local charity shop.

What caught my eye, dominating the window of one antiques shop was a glorious vintage Sousaphone in beautiful condition, beaming gold in its magnificence. It had no price on it, but at least it did Not have a ‘Not for Sale’ tag attached. I Must contact Jana of the BHS (Bratislava Hot Serenaders) and see if one of her band might be interested in it.

The first results of the photo-shoot may not be ready for a few weeks yet (half-term); also, in order to transfer these huge analogue negatives into some kind of digitised format for computer transfer, Niko will have to use a high-resolution machine which, thankfully, the University has.

I still want a set of prints on photographic paper for myself, though! So let's see how things develop (Ha! - photographer's joke, there).

Have to go now, Gossip Girl is just starting - xoxo

Saturday, 11 April 2009

So: Who IS Henry de Winter? - the quest continues

Ever since Jana Dekankova, the singer with the Bratislava Hot Serenaders contacted me from Slovakia, I’ve switched into “research” mode and decided to try to find out more about their occasional singer, Henry de Winter - or, to give him his Full title: Henry de Winter aus Berlin.

According to Wikipedia he was born in 1959 (24th September), lives in the Steglitz district of Berlin and has his own solo career too, releasing three albums to date:

And then by sheer accident, I happened to be trawling one of the blogs of some friends of mine who mentioned they happened to share a train journey with Henry and Bobby (his new dog) in January this year. Here is their entry:

“For the first half of the ride to Stuttgart, we were in a 6 person compartment that we had all to ourselves....then we were "graced" with the presence of Henry De Winter and his dog Bobby the rest of the way. He was truly one of the nicest guys ever! But even better he was seriously the most unique person that we have met on all of our travels. He is a 20's and 30's singer from Berlin and as he told us in his own words "he lives in the era". AKA he dresses the part everyday! Three piece tweed suit with knickers, wool overcoat, plaid flat hat and best of all a real carnation sticking out of his lapel. And when he took off his jacket, he removed the carnation and attached it to his shirt so that we was wearing it the entire time. He told us some fun stories, while Bobby slept on the floor of our compartment the entire time. It was SUCH a trip but so funny. The picture that we got is a little dark as we were trying to be incognito!!”

And here are the pictures they took.

Finally, another picture I found of him and Bobby that dates from August 2007.

He is Definitely the sort of chap we should get in contact with (but his website - - seems to be permanently ‘Under Construction’ and I’m still waiting for a reply).

In fact, SO many people have contacted me asking where and when we can see the BHS perform, it’s best I put a link to their website (the English translation):

We HAVE to do something to see this group and Henry: either we get them together in the UK for a tour or we hire a charabanc and visit Slovakia, picking up Henry in Berlin first! Let’s think about it…

Friday, 10 April 2009

Bratislava Hot Serenaders: Cotton Club Stomp (Live)

A holiday treat: another performance from the BHS, this one featuring a spiffing trumpet solo from Juraj Bartos.

I was so thrilled the other day to discover in my facebook inbox a communique from one of the members of the BHS (Jana Dekankova, one of the singers). Her English is awfully good and puts us Brits to shame.

She said that the first song I posted up (Herr Ober, zwei Mocca - with Henry De Winter aus Berlin) dates from about 1998, and that Henry’s dog in the clip has now sadly passed on, but that he has a new dog (Bobby) as you can see in the picture below...

Apparently the BHS visit the UK shores about once every two years for the Whitby Jazz Festival and they hope to be invited back in 2010.

She said it was OK to post up their films so I shall be adding them from time to time. And, I should add that trumpeter - and, I gather, main arranger - Juraj Bartos is also now on my facebook friends list.


STOP PRESS: WANTED! The BHS are looking for a souzaphone - one with a deep-rounded vintage tone to it and, of course, in great condition [I've already passed on the details of the one in the Rochester antiques shop, above]. Everyone, keep your eyes peeled and start looking...

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Great British Eccentric of the Year 2009 Awards

Wednesday, April 1st - and so to The Great British Eccentric of the Year 2009 Awards ceremony. (Yes, I know it’s All Fools’ Day but this was a serious event).

For the full coverage of the event, visit:

Anyway, for any of you who have been following this splendid nonsense, there were four of us in the final running. At the close of voting, things stood at:
- Rob Lowe - 499 votes (36%) - he’s just written a book about Eccentrics [he’s on the left]
- Ray Frensham (myself) - 396 votes (28%)
- Colin Shaddick - 314 votes (22%) - a humorous Poet from Devon [he’s the tall one in the red bow tie] is his website.
- Captain Beany - 167 votes (12%) - he sits in baths of beans for Charity… you really should have heard of him by now! He’s the, well, bean-coloured one. []

…but remember: this is the Eccentric Club! [] and we were told on the final day of voting that we each had to do a 15-minute presentation to the Club and the Committee’s decision would be final.

The event was to be held at the Arts Club in Dover Street (just off Piccadilly), starting at And, bearing in mind the expected Anarchist-type casual rioting that was being reported in London on that day, I decided to go into town early (at about 4pm) and to “dress-down“ a little - well, for ME it was dressing-down. You’ll have to judge for yourself by the pictures whether I was successful or not.

The only other concession I made to these splendid protestors was to bring along my chosen silk top hat in its carrying box, rather than wear it and risk having it stolen from my own head. (I know, I have three silk toppers but I am deeply emotionally attached to each of them). For the record, the one I chose to wear for this occasion was the one know as the Boche 7.

Interestingly enough, none of us travellers into London (even the band, who came from Manchester) encountered any problems whatsoever. Indeed, the tube route I took (cleverly missing any ‘hot-spots’) were full of Underground Policemen. I felt very safe indeed.

So, at 4.30pm I’d booked into Truefitt & Hill [] in St. James’s for my regular moustache trim and shaping (with the aid of wax the ends are starting to curl up rather well now) - I’d already had my nails buffed and manicured to perfection earlier that morning locally by Trace, my Essex concubine.

After T&H I stopped off for a cappuccino (double shot - how eccentric!) at the Café Nero while I waited for fellow contender Colin Shaddick and his wife to turn up from Devon.

We both agreed on how we both regarded this whole bizarre contest as a bit of Fun and so it really didn’t matter who won (and neither of us had this kind of: ‘I HAVE to win this at all costs’-focussed determination that, say, another contestant might have). Colin and I got on famously well, perhaps because we were both so laid-back about it. We plan to meet up again next time he makes a royal visit to the smoke.

We were a little worried about the presentations though. We were both stuck. I suggested he do some of his presentation in verse (which he later did) and I thought I would just “busk it” (or “wing it” as some say).

And so we turned up, down into the bowels of 40 Dover Street to meet the various organisers of the Eccentric Club (Jean-Francois Dor, Imants von Wenden and Emmanuel Ray, amongst others - they are all on

Suddenly I noticed we were being filmed (for Belfast TV, if I recall the Release form that I signed later while half-drunk), so we all squeezed in a quick interview with them.

And then on to have our photos taken by a snapper…..Well!…[I felt like Tony Hancock in his radio episode “The Publicity Photograph” when he walks into Kenneth Williams’ portraiture studio and tells him to “snap away”, and Williams replies “Snaps? … SNAPS???…. I Paint with Light!”.

I’m glad I took the chap’s business card. I checked out his website next morning: [] - Bugger me, he’s good. He later said to me that he is putting together a travelling photo exhibition and would I mind if he included a shot or two of me in it (and maybe interview me later, possibly on camera, etc etc.)?

Would I mind? I tell you, having seen Spencer’s work and who he’s…er…’snapped’ I’d claw peoples’ eyes out to be part of his portfolio! (At least I managed to get a test Polaroid off him of one of the shots he took that night - I shall have to find a way to scan it in).

Music for the evening was supplied by the excellent Dr. Butler,

[ ] - the guitarist did not mind me drooling over his Martin Dreadnought guitar. Little did he realise I would have mugged him for it. It brought tears to my eyes (I once owned a vintage Martin 00028 and miss her terribly).

Rob Lowe - not the actor, you will note - did his presentation first and started creating his own tea party whilst publicising his recently-published book on eccentrics.

Then it was my turn.

I always said to the organisers that I have never really considered myself to be an eccentric - an Individualist, yes - but I would accept the initial nomination as I consider the mere act of ominating me to be an actof supreme eccentricity in the first place!

I just blathered on about my early days in TV working with the genius of Malcolm Gerrie on “The Tube” in the 1980s (it turned out one of attendant film crew had worked with Malcolm too and agreed with me, what a splendid man he is).

I also slipped in a neat plug for my own book [Teach Yourself Screenwriting…a best-seller since 1995, the 3rd Expanded/Updated edition just in the shops….Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton / US: McGraw-Hill… some foreign translation Rights still available!]

I briefly skimmed over my lifestyle philosophy, Constructive Apathy (see a recent blog here) and just groped my way through the proceedings and Q&A, tossing here a joke, there a wisecrack…

I did give a Special Thanks to my harem of Swedish Schoolboy lovers in Linkoping (the Fifth largest city in Sweden, they tell me) who voted for me solidly and have followed the proceedings from their Facebook eyrie. They adore me and I love them all.

I was really starting to get up a head of steam considering it was all completely improvised. And then I got the ‘wind-it-up’ motions from the back of the room (it’s a technical TV hand-sign, darlings).

Then Colin took ownership the stage and did some of his humorous verses (you should’ve brought your Uke, Col). I recommend his website:

Finally, on stage came (the semi-legendary) whirlwind known as Captain Beany. As soon as he started “I don’t come from this planet. I was beaned down from the planet Beanus…” and the puns just didn’t stop. The guy was brilliantly entertaining and a marketing phenomenon. Colin and I agreed: the guy wiped the floor with us all; and if he did Not win it, there was no justice.

The Committee went away to deliberate, long and hard. Eventually they announced:
1st - Captain Beany
2nd - Rob Lowe
3rd - Colin Shaddick

And I was awarded the “Special Award” (seems it was neck-and-neck for as while between myself and the good Captain).

But Colin, his wife and I came away from the evening having had a great fun time and met the very pleasant organisers and all agreed we should visit the Arts Club premises and the Eccentric Club again sometime.

(And it’s all very well our friends on Facebook saying to me or Colin “you was robbed”, you really had to be there to be swept up in the Beany frenzy. And besides, if the guy manages to raise thousands for charities by sitting in baths of baked beans, who am I to criticise him?).

[All Photos taken by David Straker, except Nos. 3,4 & 8 by Linda Shaddick]