(from Wikipedia) James Keith O’Neill Edwards, DFC (23 March 1920 – 7 July 1988) was an English comedy writer and actor on radio and television, best known as Pa Glum in Take It From Here and as headmaster “Professor” James Edwards in Whack-O!
reflections on nearly interviewing Jimmy Edwards, Radio/TV star
by colin talbot
I used to work for TV Week and my job was to interview pop stars and TV stars and film stars who might wander though Melbourne.
This week, sometime in 1969, it was Jimmy Edwards, the English comedian who was set for a season at the Chevron Hotel, just near where I had thrown rocks at the some demonstration. Maybe the American Embassy, maybe something about Apartheid. There were so many demos back then. Anyway that’s where I met up with him. I was a fan of Jimmy Edwards. Not in a special way, just like I was a fan of Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan or Warren Mitchell or any of the English funny TV people. Actually Mr Edwards was probably a bit down the list but I still appreciated his work. So late one weekday morning as arranged I turned up at the Chevron and was directed to his room, somewhere in the hotel, I forget where. Let’s say 3rd floor.
Jimmy Edwards met me at the door wearing a herringbone check suit three-piece. Perhaps I’m just picturing him in some British sitcom wearing that garb but no, I’m pretty sure he was dressed so. Of course his most famous facial characteristic was his waxed fly-boy moustache, the Oil-Can Harry type, not that I make any connection here but the visual one…He invited me in, I introduced myself as a reporter for the TV magazine and found a seat. I don’t remember much of the interview, I did eventually write it up for the magazine and it’s probably somewhere in the archives. I sure don’t have a copy as I stopped clipping my stories out and pasting them in a scrap book when I was kicked out of the Adelaide News for not being a very good cadet journalist and I was sent to a newspaper in Alice Springs. That’s a nightmare for another day. I resigned every week for three months until I finally managed to really resign and I caught the ‘milk train’ version of the Ghan out of The Alice – a three-day trip through nothing until we got to Port Augusta…The Gutter. I hitch-hiked to Adelaide and when I went into The News building I was told to never enter a News Ltd building again in my life.
I spent a few months working in other areas of various Circles of Hell and realised finally how fabulous being a journalist really was. It wasn’t work, it was fun. It wasn’t Hell, like the rest of the world was. I had to get back into it. So I wrote to Melbourne and eventually managed to fib my way into the newspaper world again. I took a position at the Melbourne Herald-Sun Building working for the ‘Tasmanian Bureau’ where my job was to select items that came off the teleprinters (there were three of them I think, a now out of date system of information transfer) and feeding them into the one teleprinter that went to the three Tasmanian dailies, as existed back in 1968. The Hobart Mercury, The Launceston Examiner and the Burnie Advocate. I think they still exist but I haven’t been to Burnie since I scored a free trip on a vessel called The Australian Trader when I worked the Shipping News at The Australian newspaper in 1969. There I met a radio programmer who scratched out any track on an album with was heading towards rock&roll, so it wasn’t really my kind of town.
In my job in the Herald building, I had to select the most pertinent stories of the incoming and onsend. Like, if Mick Jagger’s girlfriend overdosed, or if China declared war on Vietnam, I decided which is the article to send first, (the rock&roll article of course) which article should be longer (the rock&roll article of course), and which should be cut down a bit (any article which was not about rock&roll). And so on.
So I can’t remember what I wrote about the day I interviewed Jimmy Edwards. But I do remember I was in an odd mood and I decided to work on my memory, regarding ‘fact retention’. Like, what was said and by whom, who looked like what and so on.
I was sitting there with a famous person. Jimmy Edwards. He’d been on radio and TV. He was very rotund, just like he looked on TV and he wasn’t all that tall. So I began asking Jimmy about the show he was to do and he looked at me and said,
‘Don’t you have a notebook?’
‘I didn’t bring one, no.’
‘Did you leave it in the taxi?’
‘Did you forget it, did you leave it at the office?’ There was a sort of desperate edge creeping into his voice.
‘No, I’ve decided to write my interviews from memory, I’ve trained my memory. Well, I’m training my memory.’
Why I didn’t want to say that this was my first go at memory training, well that was because I thought it might disturb Jimmy, he might wonder if I’d remember what he said exactly because I hadn’t had much practice, any practice, at memory retention. Or I Imagine he might have wondered if I’d report properly any sense at all of what he’d said.
‘Are you serious, man?’
Which was a peculiar thing for a comedian to ask I thought.
‘This way I can concentrate more on what you say and the question rather than writing things down and breaking the mood.’
‘What mood? You’re sitting there without a notebook’
‘So now it’s more like two people just having a conversation, not an interview.’
‘But it is an interview. Or it’s supposed to be an interview! God man.’
I thought this method would relax you, don’t worry, I have a very good memory. I’m a writer. The other way I’m just a note-taker. I feel more like a writer.’
‘And I feel more like an idiot.’
‘No, it’s a proper interview.’
He looked at me and it was as if he was shaking his head. But thinking back it was more a sort of controlled despair. He could see the situation could not improve, he might as well make the most of it.
‘Oh…fuck it!’ (I think he said ‘fuck it.’) ‘Do you want a drink? We may as well have a drink.’ He got up from the sofa and went to a sort of kitchenette area (I guess) and then turned to get my decision on his offer.
‘It’s not mid-day yet.’
‘Well I’m having one. I’ve got whisky. And whisky.’ He reached for two glasses, looked across.
‘Okay I’ll have a whisky. Thanks, thanks very much.
‘Don’t mention it, It’s my pleasure. We may as well get drunk.’
And we did.
When I got back to the office I was quite pissed and couldn’t remember much of the day except that I had not taken a notebook to the interview. I wrote some notes in my notebook and was too drunk to type out the story and no idea what I would or could say, so I put the writing of the Jimmy Edwards interview off until the next day. The editor called out and asked about the article. I was standing on my desk talking to the typist girls.
‘You’re pissed, Talbot. Aren’t you?’ He laughed. ‘About time you had a drink.’
‘It was whisky,’ I said. ‘I haven’t had that before.’
‘I dunno. I thought it was just all whisky.’
‘No my son, there’s whisky and there’s whisky. I expect you had whisky.’
‘Aye, I said. ‘I did.’ (When I was pissed a bit of Scottish language came out)
I remember deciding that I would take a notebook to interviews from now on because it was too much of a shock to the talent. I would just make out I was writing down quotes by scribbling any old bullshit and that would stop them worrying. So that’s what I did.
Oh, except when I interviewed Roy Orbison at the Southern Cross. That didn’t really go as planned. Something about the dark glasses he wore indoors.