Hilton Keen

Beth Porter describes Wherehouse La MaMa’s show The Hilton Keen Blow Your Chances Top of the Heap Golden Personality Show of the Week.

‘Then we had a piece called – I love the title – The Hilton Keen Blow Your Chances Top of the Heap Golden Personality Show of the Week. What we evolved was …because we were all at the time very disappointed by the way that British television – although it had some wonderful stuff, you know, I mean we’re talking about the That Was The Week That Was era – that it seemed to be too influenced by what was happening in America, especially in terms of the commercialisation of entertainment, and it wasn’t as blatant as reality television is today, like quiz show things, placing monetary value on knowledge, stuff like that. So we took it to a comic extreme and it was a very funny piece, it really was very funny, although it had some unbelievably shocking things in it…So it was a quiz show that was MC’d by Hilton Keen in a very glitzy kind of tuxedo and his lovely assistant who was nine months pregnant, because the actress was nine months pregnant.

That was Roy Martin and Jean Michaelson. We also had Neil [Hornick], and we played different parts in this thing, Pete [Peter Reid] and myself. So at one point Pete comes on as a drugs cop and is positive that he can root out hidden drugs amongst ‘the volunteer’ in the audience – that’s me – and because our methods of working had, you know, we had taken this physical approach from Tom’s [O’Horgan] workshops, we were very agile and nifty and into almost acrobatics – well, kind of simplistic acrobatics. So he does this search, but it turns into this acrobat routine, but he comes up with drugs; so that’s one of the things that gets big applause you know, and we had this sign for ‘Applause’…so the audience becomes the studio audience, so there’s a lot of participation there.

We had one ‘talent’ act with the Royal family… we had a saxophone playing corgi, and we had, a Prince, and the Queen…and that was just a sheer talent show that we had written, because we did play instruments and we did write music, so that was a musical break. And we had a ‘Memory Man’ who was put into an enclosed booth that he couldn’t escape from and he had to answer questions, and if he got them wrong he had gas poured in, so he got gassed if he got the stuff wrong, and the last question was, ‘How many Jews were killed in the Second World War?’ And he goes, ‘It must have been a lot, three hundred?’ And every time he gets it wrong he gets more gas until he dies in the booth.

And then we had ‘Mr and Mrs Wonderful’, that was Cindy [Oswin] and Neil… the culmination…this guy comes on every week…and if he gets it right, and I can’t remember what he has to get right, but he has to get something right…then he gets the option of which body part to have removed, and when he comes on, he’s been on for a couple of weeks, and he’s got no hand, got one arm and…he gets laid out on an operating table and he chooses the tongue, so we have performed live on stage for a year… a tongue extraction and it was…Oh! we had a ventriloquist act before that… and I was encased at that point in a low cut gown showing off…and the name of the character was Gloria Spare. Oh yeah, and then there was Dr Hilda Schilda done up like – I had suspenders and thigh high boots, and I administered electric shocks to Dave Webster as he …did something bad… I can’t remember what he did bad…But these were the acts you know… and as I said, culminated with the tongue extraction which really shut everybody up.

Well, Irving Wardle thought it was absolutely fantastic and he nominated me as the Most Promising Actress of the Year in The Times. I remember we played at The Place, a lot of the Festivals, we played at the Newcastle Festival and I’m sure at the Edinburgh Festival and on tour in Europe, and they loved it, people just loved it.’

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