Curiositwitty New Flashes!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Show 1. Rooms: 44-46, The Steering Commitee

Words by: Emma-Lee Moss

In this show we had Chris Donald, creator of V
iz, who brought in a number 45 Northeastern Railway bridge plate, the multi-talented Brian Eno, who brought in the Icelandic volcano Grimsvotn, and Dave Gorman, who is Dave Gorman, who brought the urge to press red buttons.

Chris Donald

Chris Donald came up with the idea for Viz in 1970 when he was ten years old. The first issue cost 20 pence and sold just 150 copies, but word of mouth meant that by 1991, sales had reached over one million, with Auberon Waugh comparing Chris and his co-creators to Jonathan Swift.
The original Viz offices were in Chris’s bedroom, a makeshift studio with overflowing bins and bits of scrunched-up paper on the floor. The mess was tolerated in the Donald household only because it was a secret. his parents knew nothing of the comic until Donald first appeared on a BBC2 ‘Yoof’ show. After a considerable increase in the popularity of the comic, Chris’s mum asked to see a copy. Chris made 27 alterations before he had the nerve to show it.

Chris got his inspiration for Viz characters from “watching people, in seedy pubs, on the streets, being sick,” a process that led to such animated greats as Fat Slags, Johnny Fartpants, Sid the Sexist and Buster Gonads. Over the years, Viz has also acted as a starting point for future comic talent, including Charlie Higson, who wrote a strip called Jellyhead, and Father Ted creator Arthur Matthews, who used the money earned from ‘How to Play Golf in the event of a nuclear war’ to buy his first typewriter. This provides a link with other panel guest Brian Eno, who once appeared on an episode of Father Ted, as Father Eno.

Brian Eno: "
The funniest thing about [the day we filmed Father Ted] is that they gave me all the priest garb to wear, and then there was a break in filming, so I went for a walk on the South Bank in my priests gear. There were two ladies sitting in a car, and gave me a very lascivious look, which I realise that ladies can do when they feel totally safe, so I gave them a very lascivious sign back. They were terrified."


Roger’s Profanisaurus started off as a free gift on the cover of the comic, but it’s grown into a best-seller that’s been through half a dozen different editions. Says Chris, “The Internet had just started and we ran it as a page on the web that people could contribute to, and all these rude words and definitions just kept growing and growing. It’s been quite a successful book, and it’s written by the readers.”

The title of the book was very nearly scrapped, after distributors thought that Viz readers would be too stupid to understand the word ‘profanity’. Chris argued that if they didn’t know what a profanity was, they wouldn’t know what a –saurus was either. They would think it was a book about dinosaurs. Chris won the argument, and too this date, no reader has complained about the lack of T-rex photographs. A dinosaur egg, by the way, is a noun described by the Profanisaurus as meaning ‘a stool produced, with some difficulty, after necking too much of the Nigerian lager.'

Here are some other favourite definitions:

Poomerang(n) a turd that returns from the u-bend at twice the velocity with which it was flushed
Nanna Kournikova (n) – a bird who appears to be fit from the back, but on turning round is revealed to be a pensioner
Oldest Toad in the Pond – (n) A particularly low, vociferous, grumbling fart, usually after eight pints of stout and a bar of bournville
Mum-ra – (n) the act of sneaking up behind your mother and shouting ‘RA’
Wanking Chariot(n) a single bed

Says Chris, “I haven’t edited the book for years, but I still use the lavatory ones a lot. I think it’s polite, when you’re in company, to say ‘I’m sitting on an elephant’. Or ‘I’ve got the turtle’s head, I’ve got to hurry off.’”

He also likes the localised definitions that have come on to take a new meaning, “In newcastle there’s this long coastal road that goes to the seaside, the B1058, and if you’re going to Whitley Bay you drive up the coast road very fast, and at the end of this road there’s a roundabout, so you slow down very dramatically and then you’re at the coast. This later became a euphemism for the climactic point of intercourse. That’s been in the book for 13 years so presumably there are people all over the country saying, ‘All right love, I’m approaching the Billy Mill Roundabout.’”


Viz is a high-profile modern media benchmark, so unsurprisingly it has attracted its share of celebrity admirers. It once secured exclusive rights to Johnny Vegas’ wedding for £5, and held a magazine launch where Lionel Blair, Harry Enfield, and an unidentified member of Deep Purple were in attendance. Admittedly, they had to pay these people to show up, and Harry Enfield left as soon as he’d pocketed his £250, but still, they were very famous.

Says Chris, “We were having a launch party, and our publishers said we needed to have some famous people there, so we took out an advert in Variety magazine. Prices ranged from £50 for bottom rung celebrities, to £5000 for a member of the Royal Family. Our publisher John Brown showed up to the party with a suitcase full of £50,000 and we did actually have to hand some of it out. Lot’s of people were trying it on that night, but we gave them £50 anyway. There was some guy from the Christians there, but he wasn’t the bald one, so we weren’t sure if he was telling the truth.”


Over the years Viz has racked up fewer complaints than you would think. However, Chris was once interviewed by the Anti-Terrorism Branch after a magazine top tip that discussed the best time to send bomb hoaxes, oops!

Other offended parties include Liverpool MP Louise Ellman, who attacked the strip Boy Scouse, in which lads won badges for Shop-liftin’, Avoidin’ d’ Bizzies, Multiple Identity Signin’ On and Gerrin’ a Fourteen-Year-Old Baird Preggas; sportswear firm Kappa, who objected to ‘Kappa Slappa’; and the UN, who stepped in to complain about the strip ‘Thieving Gypsy Bastards’.

The only time the magazine was ever issued with a writ was when a black bin bag full of scrap paper was thrown out of a window, forcing a passerby to jump out of the way and put out her back.

Chris has also been cautioned for trespassing on a disused railway line, by a plainclothes policeman dressed as a trainspotter.

Brian Eno

Brian Eno’s biographer once described writing his biography as ‘like packing a skyscraper into a suitcase’. He was originally famous for his role in Roxy Music, but has then worked as a producer for the likes of David Bowie, Talking Heads, James, and U2, and founded the genre of music called Ambient Music. He is an artist, a professor, a film-score composer and an author, and a supporter of various charities. He sits on the board of directors for a found called the Long Now, that aims to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years, and he has been a character both on Father Ted and in a Phillip K. Dick novel.
Eno was born Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno in 1948. Both his grandfather and father were postmen, but his father was also the drummer in a jazz trio, and his grandfather mended organs as a hobby in his house, which was a converted chapel. Over the course of his life grandfather Eno gradually transformed the whole house into a musical instrument, installing all the old organ pipes and fixing them up with ducts so that by the end, says Brian, “he could pretty much play the whole place.”

It was Eno’s uncle that got him into art, bringing him over to this house to look at paintings by Mondrian, whereby Eno decided painting was the ‘closest thing to magic there was.’ While a student at art school that he met Roxy Music saxophonist. Says Eno, “As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy, I joined Roxy Music, and as a result of that I have a career in music. If I’d walked ten yards further along the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now.” Eno says at the first Roxy Music rehearsal, he picked up a sythesiser, because “since nobody else knew how to use it, I pretended I did.”

Despite his modesty, you would think a man with Brian's name was destined to no normal life. Incidentally, while there are 88 Dave Gormans in the UK, there is only one Brian Eno.


Brian still does not view himself as a musician, saying ‘I play the recording studio,” however, he will concede that, “I can use instruments in the studio in such a way as to get them to sound as though I can play them properly.”
Coldplay have said that the only way they could get Eno to produce their next record is if they record it ‘in Syria’.

Generative Art

In 2006, Brian released a DVD-ROM of ’77 million Paintings’, which, played at its fastest speed, would take 9000 years to watch, and at its slowest, several million years. For the piece, a computer programme randomly shuffles layers of pictures to produce a continuum of constantly changing images, of which there are 77 million permutations. He is now looking into the next stage of the idea, which is Generative Music.

“A long time ago, I thought it would be so nice to make pieces of music that existed like paintings, that just stayed in one place for a very long time, that you entered and left as you felt like it. rather than something which has a beginning and a middle and an end, I wanted to make something that has a steady state, that existed for as long as the electricity lasted,” he says, “but I didn’t just want it to be a repeat, so I invented systems whereby the music constantly produced itself differently, and that’s Generative Music. It isn’t yet in the record shops.”

“I used to have to do it all with tape recorders, sitting them round the rooms and getting loops running and so on, and it was very complicated when it was hardware. Now it’s software and it’s easier; it is possible to imagine types of music that essentially are endless or at least have durations of several million years. The last one was a six million year piece.”

The Long Now

The Long Now foundation was founded 13 years ago by Brian and his friends. The group are dedicated to the problem that, as he puts it, “as we become more powerful as human beings, our horizons get shorter.”

The foundation is currently working on projects to extend the boundaries of our horizons, such as the Clock of the Long Now, a timepiece that will operate with minimum human intervention for ten millennia. It will be constructed of durable and value-less materials, in the hope that it will not be looted or destroyed by future generations. One imagines that Eno will be on hand to protect it anyway, like the charming fellow with whom Indiana Jones rescues the holy grail. Another Long Now project is the Rossetta project, which hopes to preserve all extinct or close-to-extinct languges by inscribing samples of them onto discs of nickel alloy.

Says Eno, “Businesses now think to the next shareholders meeting, and governments to the next election, if your’e lucky. To the next opinion poll more likely. Everyone who should be making big long-term decisions is thinking in increasingly short terms, so we wanted to dignify long-term thinking, taking a frame of ten thousand years, and try and trying ten-thousand years ahead.”

And where will his Generative Music piece be by the time this time scale is up?
“We won’t even be past the intro.”

The Long Now was founded in 01996, and you can’t find out more from, which is, in contrast, a rather short web address.

Marcel Duchamp

Alongside his many, many distinctions, Brian has the honour of having been the only person (presumably) to have pissed in Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, or Font, which was recently voted the most influential piece of art of the 20th century.
“At the time there was a lot of talk in the artwork about this word ‘commodification’, which was kind of a buzzword at the time,” says Brian, “so I though re-commode-ification was what was needed.”
He managed to sneak his urine onto the sculpture using a mechanism very similar to a chemistry lab pipette. “[The piece] was behind two sheets of very thick plate glass,” he says, “but there was a very narrow gap between the two sheets, which was just big enough to get a piece of nylon tube through.”
“I then delivered a talk about it that evening at the Museum of Modern Art, and all the trustees of the museum were in the front row. They all laughed at first, but when I described with diagrams how it was done, they all started to look very serious.”
“Usually when someone urinates on a piece of art,” says Sean, “You’re assuming they don’t like it.”
“Ah,” says Brian, “but in this case it was a urinal.”

Another notable case of art vandalism is this, taken from website the
“John Lennon once damaged a valuable Henri Matisse painting by using it as an ash tray during a wild party at the Playboy mansion in 1974, Hugh Hefner claims. The French artist's works have sold for up to $15 million at auction, but amazingly Hefner forgave the former Beatle for stubbing out his cigarette on the priceless painting - because Lennon was one of his heroes. The 80-year-old says, "He was separated briefly from his wife and was in a very bad mood. He was drinking a great deal. He misbehaved a little bit and a couple of my friends took exception to it. He put a cigarette out on a Matisse and one of my friends was going to kick his butt, but he'd been drinking. He was under tremendous pressure.”
There are no sources to ascertain whether the Matisse, or the Duchamp have gone up in value since being tampered with by rock & roll royalty.

Mistaken Identities:

To avoid attention, Eno has been known to tell people that he is a patents attorney. This led to an unfortunate circumstance on a plane, when the lady who had asked his profession replied, “I’m a patents attorney too!” He then spent an uncomfortable few hours trying to dance around the reason he didn’t want to talk about his job.

Dave Gorman says, “On pain of death do you reveal to a taxi driver that you’re a comedian,” having once been told, “I don’t mind the racism, and the sexism, it’s the bad language I don’t like.”

Chris Donald has a watertight alias, “I did a very useful apprenticeship for the DHSS, I worked for the overseas branch of the Department of Health and Social Security,” he says, “so I tell people I’m a clerical officer in the DHSS. If they go any further than that I say I deal with the National Insurance contributions of people who are working abroad in non-reciprocal countries such as the USA and the United Arab Emirates – people who’s national Insurance numbers end in 43-44-42 C & D.

On revealing this, Chris finds out on that that Sean Locke has also been a clerical officer for the DHSS. He says, “I lasted six months, and I quit because it turned me into an alcoholic. I worked in the one above the Arnsdale centre in Wandsworth, opposite the Youngs Brewery, and it got to the point when I realised having five pints at lunch time meant I wasn’t getting as far in my career as I wanted.”

“There were temptations like the 5 pints at lunch time,” says Chris, “it was a regular part and parcel of working there, as it’s not the most stimulating work. Where you on the contributions side or the benefits side?”


“Yes, the benefits side is the rough end.”

FUN FACT: In the six months that he was a clerical officer for the DHSS, Sean used up his entire year’s worth of sick leave, taking 21 days off in twelve weeks.


Dave Gorman was born in 1971 in Staffordshire, and first came to public attention when he undertook a Quixotic attempt to find as many other Dave Gormans as he could in the world. He has since had himself a Googlewhack adventure, made a documentary in which he attempted to avoid chainstores in America, and lived his life according to the advice of newspaper horoscopes. He also has his own BBC2 show in Genius, where members of the public pitch their ideas to a celebrity guest ‘genius’. The guest then decides whether or not the idea is clever enough to maek them out as a genius. Contestants compete for the honour of the fabled Genius Trophy.
In June of this year Dave is doing a bike ride from London to Brighton for the British Heart Foundation, and in August, he is touring his show ‘Sit down, pedal, pedal, stop and stand up’ on a bike. He will be travelling by bike to the southernmost, easternmost, westernmost and northernmost points on the mainland, playing a gig a night along the way. He says, “interesting fact for you: Britain isn’t quite so vertically aligned as we think. It tilts. Edinburgh is further west than Cardiff. Who knew? I know I didn’t, but I found out when I started trying to find the westernmost part of mainland Britain. Turns out it’s in the Highlands.”


In 2002, Dave followed the newspaper horoscopes to the letter to see if they would improve his life. He says that it worked on paper but not in a real sense.
“I have a twin brother, who acted as the control experiment,” he says, “and he spent the 30 days ignoring his horoscopes while I rigourously obeyed mine. At the end of the experiment we measured health, wealth and happiness with the help of an audience and an agony aunt. Because I won a lot of money on the final day, it showed that astrology had won. But if we’d had a 29 day experiment, it would have tanked.”

The good result came from a horoscope that told him to travel a long distance, and a chart that told him which days were good days to gamble. He then placed money on people with the same birthday as him, reasoning that if it was a good day for him to gamble, it would be good for them also, and by this token managed to win a lot of money on a top-scoring footballer and Ian Woosam.
The latter bet, being in Dubai where you can’t gamble, was phoned in to England via Mother Gorman.
However, both Dave and Brian Eno are highly suspicious if not downright dismissive of astrology. Gorman citing an astrologer who told him not to bother with the newspaper ones, despite having a newspaper column himself.

Genius Ideas

Other than Tetris: the Movie, which is mentioned in the programme, great Genius ideas include multi-storey bungalows, Bring Your Uncle to Work Day, and the mp3 microwave, which is of particular interest to Brian.
These play a piece of music as long as it takes to cook your food. Says Dave, “Surely there’s going to be a meal that takes 3 minutes and 23 seconds to cook, and instead of the usual ‘mmmm….ding!’ that usually happens, it would find a piece of music from your mp3 player, and play it to you while you wait.”
“I’d be very interested in that,” says Brian.
“The million year stew,” says Sean.
Evil Genius ideas have included marking your postcode with UV pen on unsold goods at department stores, and reporting them stolen some months later.

Where are all the Dave Gormans?

In the year that Dave was looking for the Dave Gormans, there were 144 Dave Gormans on the UK electoral roll. There are now 88, which means that 56 have disappeared.
NB Dave met 53 Dave Gorman’s on his initial journey. You do the maths.

There are 33 Chris Donald’s on the electoral register, but the only other Chris Donaldses that Chris is aware of are an American Footballer, and “a man who, unfortunately, had sex with his car”.
The man, a mechanic, was exposed by a tabloid newspaper of having had sex with his car. He gave an interview to the Sun, in which he admitted, “Some men like boobs and bums, but I much prefer curvy bodywork.”

Peter Cook

You will learn along the course of this series that all roads lead to Peter Cook. This is a fact that uncovered itself as we recorded the episodes, so we won’t spoil it for you. Here is a little piece of the picture so you can start your own One degrees of Separation: Peter Cook Chart.
Chris was once taken to a party at Peter Cook’s house where he met a lot of celebrities, which led to his publisher requesting more celebrities at the next Viz launch.

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