My latest venture to arrest the career oblivion visited on me by lockdown is to create an audio version of my book, Eclipsed. The story of how my eldest son out-gunned my best efforts in show-business before his teenage years. He is Tom Holland, the actor best known nowadays as the latest incarnation of Spider-Man. And revisiting the book I am very attuned to the ongoing instances and quirks between father and son/s.
Over my career as a stand-up comedian, there are a number of comedy venues that have loomed large in my reckoning. The Comedy Store of course with its large crowd and its West End feel. Closing the late show at this famous basement which used to start at midnight is not for the feint hearted and I still bear the scars of PTSD. But another less heralded comedy venue is The Bearcat comedy club, tucked away in the leafy and salubrious streets of St. Margaret’s in Twickenham, just a decent conversion kick from the famous rugby ground. It’s an area of red trousers and black Labradors but the gig was more spit n sawdust housed in a back room of a pub called The Turks Head. No raked seats or chandeliers and only enough room for a few hundred people.
Back in the day, the Bearcat club ran on a Monday night and it terrorised many of the acts appearing and especially the fledgling fools trying to break through. On one occasion I recall being back stage with Mark Lemarr, in his heyday at the time and complaining bitterly at having to close the show. Harry Enfield famously used to vomit ahead of his slot.
No host or compere at the Bearcat to soak up any over exuberance, just the promoter introducing the lambs to a crowd who sensed fear and seemed to revel in the occasional slaughter. The great and the good of UK comedy played this unlikely venue and on-stage many will have questioned their career choice. More Bearpit than Bearcat but a terrific gig all-the-same and it still is. Running now on Saturdays, it is more civil these days and more in keeping with the millionaires who live in its catchment.
I began doing 5 minute unpaid, unannounced slots to prove my chops and from here I progressed to becoming part of the advertised bill, getting paid and eventually closing or topping the bill. And even then, I always took a gig at the Bearcat very seriously. One abiding memory is when I was still a young comic; I was booked on a particularly strong bill which included Phil Jupitus and a certain Eddie Izzard. And because of circumstances and Eddies frantic commitments, I was required to close the show. I recall being rigid with fear.
And here we are now, all these years later in 2021, I am still a comedian (of sorts) and still playing the Bearcat s but now a dad to four sons, three of whom have sprung the nest already with only my youngest, Patrick still at home. His school term completed in May because of the pandemic (don’t ask) and needing to fill his days, my wife Nikki, had an idea that he can join his brother, Harry who is editing a short film. It gets him out of the house albeit in front of yet another screen.
‘…Dom, if you could drop Paddy off at Twickenham Film Studios…’
I nod obediently. Twickenham film studios? Hmm…
I call Harry and he answers quietly which means he is either on the golf course or in the edit suite already. It’s the latter. I can sense that my call is not well-timed.
‘Harry, where’s Twickenham Studios?’
He tuts. ‘Google it.’
Fair enough, I suppose. Chastened, I do as suggested and I obtain the address. Traffic is light (lockdown) and I am making good progress. The Sat-Nav is working. All is well, until Harry phones.
‘Dad we’re breaking for lunch. Bring Paddy to a pub and I will take him to the edit afterwards.’
This is irksome because there are loads of pubs in Twickenham. Now, I’m going to need a new address and possibly a postcode.
‘What’s the name of the pub?’
I can hear Harry asking his editor the name of the pub.
‘The Turks Head.’
I won’t need an address after all and I smile. Immediately I recall the gig at this very same boozer. The first show I closed The Bearcat and following Eddie Izzard no less. I recall being stricken with nerves all day and ashen as I drove to the gig. In stark contrast now to my most agreeable recent drive to The Turks Head.
On the evening in question, the gig was rammed. Eddie now plays 15,000 seat arenas around the world and his last gigs on the circuit were always mobbed. Backstage, Mr Enfield’s sink was available to me should I need it as I hopped about, running over my lines and links. And I wonder how I would have reacted if someone could have visited me in my backstage alcove and foretold me that in 20 years or so, I would be dropping my 4th son off at this very pub to meet my 3rd son who is editing his second short film which stars my 1st son…
How would this have made me feel?
Proud I guess and relieved also that I would become a dad. But four sons, really? And intrigued as well. What do you mean starring? So my first son is an actor then?
And would this apparent good news have made me less nervous, knowing that everything will sort of work out?
Not a bit of it. The show is always all-encompassing and there is nothing quite as concentrating as stand-up comedy. At the time of a gig, there is nothing as important.
But it makes me smile also at how things have transpired for this old man and his offspring. The links, our similarities and our differences and how they all converge. And not forgetting their mum of course who orchestrates everything Chez Holland as readers of Eclipsed can attest.
The Bearcat Comedy Club is still run by Graeme and James – runs on Saturday evenings and is a great night out. Do check their website for shows and tickets.
Eclipsed the audio book is coming at some point and in some form – unclear exactly when, however. Bearcat with me.