Drawing: Jerry Seinfeld

Comic genius and car collector Jerry Seinfeld returned to London last week to perform four shows over two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. He is listed as the 12th Greatest Stand-up Comedian of All Time by Comedy Central with his ‘observational comedy’. A couple of examples to remind us of his brilliance, “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper” or “Make no mistake about why these babies are here-they are here to replace us.”
In collaboration with Larry David, he created and wrote the self-titled sitcom SEINFELD, in which he plays a fictional version of himself, a mild germaphobe and neat freak, minor celeb, stand-up comedian with his best friend George (Jason Alexander), friend and former girlfriend Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the neighbour across the hall, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), set in a Manhattan apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side.

SEINFELD ran for nine seasons from July 5, 1989 – May 14, 1998, collecting 41 major awards, including 10 Primetime Emmys and three Golden Globes. It is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms ever, and ranked the best TV show by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and TV Guide among others. The dialogue incorporated ‘Seinfeldian’ code words and recurring phrases, often referred to as ‘Seinlanguage’ that have become cemented in popular culture such as ‘Hello, Newman!’, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, ‘It’s not a lie if you believe it’….’Yada, yada, yada.’

Jerry also has an impressive collection of 150 cars, including 43 Porches, housed in a three-story, $1.4m Manhattan garage with it’s own dedicated fleet management team. Some of the vehicles appear in his talk show, COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE.
Jerry very kindly dedicated and signed my sketch for me at the Apollo.

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Drawing: Kenneth Lonergan

Autographed drawing of writer Kenneth Lonergan

American film director, screenwriter and playwright Kenneth Lonergan was in London recently, visiting Wyndham’s theatre where his play THE STARRY MESSENGER opened last month with Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern. The original 2009 off-Broadway production also featured Matthew and Kenneth’s wife, J.Smith-Cameron.
Kenneth’s playwriting prowess came to prominence in 1996 with THIS IS OUR YOUTH, followed by THE WAVERLY GALLERY three years later, earning him a Pulitzer Prize nomination and LOBBY HERO in 2002. All three plays collected Tony Award nominations for their respective revivals.

Kenneth’s most notable film work is YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016), both written and directed by him and both included Matthew in their cast. He received Academy Award Best Original Screenplay nominations the two films, collecting the Oscar for the later. He also won the BAFTA Award. David Fear, writing in Rolling Stone said that MANCHESTER proved Kenneth was “practically peerless in portraying loss as a living, breathing thing without resorting to the vocabulary of griefporn.” In 2002 he co-wrote Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), once again receiving Academy recognition with an Original Screenplay nomination.

It was great to meet Kenneth at Wyndham’s Theatre, where he kindly signed my drawing.

Drawing: Sidney Poitier

Autographed drawing of actor Sidney Poitier

I was super pleased to receive this back in the mail last week. Sidney Poitier, or should I say Sir Sidney is one of my all-time favourite people.

His parents were farmers on Cat Island in the central Bahamas, which was then a British colony. Sidney was born in Miami, Florida, while they were visiting to sell their produce. He was two months premature and not expected to live. But live he certainly did, celebrating his 92nd birthday this year.

In 1964 he became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as itinerant worker Homer Smith in LILIES OF THE FIELD. He also won a Golden Globe. It was his second Oscar nomination, having received recognition six years earlier for his portrayal of Noah Cullen in THE DEFIANT ONES, for which he won the BAFTA. His groundbreaking work continued in 1967 with three roles, Mark Thackeray in TO SIR, WITH LOVE, Dr. John Wade Prentice in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and Detective Virgil Tibbs in my personal favourite, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, that all dealt with issues of race and race relations.

Both the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and the British Academy presented him with an Honorary Oscar and a Fellowship respectively. Sidney has also directed nine films, including the box-office hit STIR CRAZY. Sir Sidney was knighted in 1974, and from 1997-2007 he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour.

Yes, indeed, super, super pleased he signed and returned my drawing.

Drawing: Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

Autographed drawing of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

When Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian crime film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was first released in NewZealand nearly fifty years ago, the Censor gave it an R20 classification, resulting in public protests, which subsequently resulted in a lower rating a few years later. As a high school student at the time, it was considered the ultimate bragging right, amongst pubescent teenage boys to be able to successfully enter the cinema, acquire a ticket, (usually via an older sibling) stay for the duration without underage detection and emerge triumphant at its conclusion. I did not claim such bragging rights, instead enjoying the ritual vicariously through the few that achieved such status.

Based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name, its central theme is behaviourism, specifically youth subcultures and juvenile delinquency, which was on the rise in Britain during the early sixties. It questions the definition of ‘goodness’ and the use of aversion therapy to stop immoral behaviour.

The story is set in ‘near-future’ London. The central character is Alex played by Malcolm McDowell, who leads his band of ‘droogs’. They hang out at Korova milk bar, embarking on ‘a little ultraviolence’ while warbling ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ After he is jailed and subjected to behaviour modification therapy, Alex is released back into society, only to become prey at the hands of his former victims. Considered a cult classic now, the 1971 film went on to collect four Oscar and seven BAFTA nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Malcolm was nominated in the Best Actor categories at the Golden Globe, National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Awards.

As part of the Stanley Kubrick Season at the British Film Institute for the past two months, Malcolm McDowell made a guest appearance, participating in a Q&A after the initial screening of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, where he signed for me.

Drawing: Dara O Briain

Autographed drawing of comedian Dara O'Briain

One of the most recognisable faces on British TV is Irish funnyman Dara O Briain, although the London-based comic and presenter says he’s only recognised once a day. Described as one of the most charismatic, intelligent, fast-talking and downright funny performers working today, ‘Britain’s favourite Irishman’, who studied maths and theoretical physics at Dublin’s University College was voted the 16th greatest stand-up comic on Chanel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups.

On stage he has the ‘aristocratic bearing of someone esteemed in almost every household in the land,’ according to Guardian reviewer Brian Logan. The ‘craic dealer’ is a regular fixture on the telly, hosting the hugely popular MOCK THE WEEK, plus STARGAZING LIVE, ROBOTWARS, GO8BIT and THE APPRENTICE: YOU’RE FIRED! among others. He is also a frequent guest on QI and LIVE AT THE APOLLO, reminding us that ‘nostalgia is heroin for old people’ and ‘stop taking it literally – it’s only the Bible, it’s not gospel!’ His favourite word is ‘defenestration’, which is a form of political assassination where people are thrown out of a window. His most overused one is ‘fuck’, which he justifies -“it’s a solid word,” When asked what extinct thing he would bring back, he said, the fountain pen. Write so!

It was great to finally meet Dara earlier this year when he signed my sketch at the London Palladium stage door in February when he arrived for the 100 HEARTS NIGHT OF COMEDY charity evening.

Drawing: Sally Field, Bill Pullman and Jenna Coleman

Autographed drawing of actor Bill Pullman Autographed drawing of actor Jenna Coleman Autographed drawing of actor Sally Field

Jeremy Herrin’s revival of Arthur Miller’s early classic ALL MY SONS opened last month at the Old Vic theatre to critical acclaim. Amongst the stellar cast are three well known names, all making their London stage debuts. Double Oscar winner Sally Field is joined by Bill Pullman and Jenna Coleman.

Bill’s long stage career includes his role as Martin in Edward Albee’s THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? at New York’s John Golden Theatre in 2002, alongside Mercedes Ruehl as Stevie. When the cast changed later that year, Bill Irwin replaced Bill, and Sally took over as Stevie in her Broadway debut. Jenna is making her first professional appearance in the West End after a number of high profile TV roles, including Clara Oswald in DOCTOR WHO and the Queen Victoria in the biographical drama VICTORIA.

Considered the play that made his name, Arthur Miller wrote ALL MY SONS in 1947, inspired by real-life events at an Ohio engineering firm who conspired to supply defected aircraft engines during the World War II.

Sally, fresh from her Tony-nominated appearance on Broadway last year in Tennessee William’s THE GLASS MENAGERIE, plays Kate Keller, trying to hold her family together, while refusing to accept the death of her pilot son, Larry who has been missing-in-action for the past three years. Bill is her husband Joe, exonerated after being charged for knowingly supplying the military with damaged aircraft engine cylinder heads, causing the death of 21 pilots and Jenna plays Annie, the late pilot’s sweetheart.

I was fortunate to meet all three early on in rehearsals at the Old Vic, where they kindly signed their respective sketches for me.

Drawing: Rita Moreno

Autographed drawing of actress Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverio Marcano 87 years ago in Humacao, Puerto Rico. In a career that has spanned seventy years, she is one of only fifteen artists to complete the EGOT; winning all four of America’s competitive entertainment awards, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, honouring achievements in television, recording, film and theatre, often referred to as the ‘grand slam’ of American show business. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

Rita has won two Emmy Awards, the first in 1977 for her appearance on an episode of THE MUPPET SHOW, and her second, the following year for her guest role on THE ROCKFORD FILES. Her Grammy was for THE ELECTRIC COMPANY Album in 1972. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita in the film adaption of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking Broadway musical WEST SIDE STORY and a Tony for Best Featured Actress as Googie Gomez in THE RITZ at the Longacre Theatre in 1975.

I sent this sketch of Rita to her home in California a few weeks ago, and it came back signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Nigel Slater

Autographed drawing of Chef Nigel Slater

I finally got to meet another culinary hero of mine last week. Nigel Slater was at The Other Palace theatre for the West End premiere of the sage adaption of TOAST, the comedy-drama, based on his best-selling , award-winning autobiography ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.’ The extraordinary story of a childhood revealed through food was also made into a successful film, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in 2010.

One of Britain’s foremost gastronomic writers, Nigel is famous for his stripped-back recipes, which show how easy it is to make delicious meals from just a few high-quality ingredients. The play was commissioned in 2018 by The Lowry in Manchester, where it had a sell-out run at the Week 53 Festival. Written by Henry Filoux-Bennett, the production moved to the Edinburgh Fringe, embarking on a UK National tour, before its London transfer.

I met Nigel at the theatre, where he very kindly signed my sketch, before the press night performance. I’ve always admired Nigel’s handwriting, which features in many of his TV shows, so was able to satisfy both culinary and calligraphic obsessions. I later discovered, not only was it his birthday, (one day before mine) but we are the same age, so a belated many happy returns.

Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.

Drawing: Dave Myers and Si King aka the Hairy Bikers

Autographed drawing of Si King and Dave Myers The Hairy Bikers

My ritual Sunday diet of TV cuisine shows always includes an ample helping of the UK’s most popular cooking duo, Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. The exuberant, down-to-earth chefs have had a string of hit television shows over the past twenty years, involving a mixture of cooking and travelogue, creating their own fresh take on culinary classics.

They have now taken to the road on a nationwide tour. AN EVENING WITH THE HAIRY BIKERS is described as an “epic night of cooking and conversation’. The pair rocked up to the iconic London Palladium on Saturday for their only gig in the capital. Luckily I noticed them from my vantage point across the road where I was watching a Six Nations rugby match and partaking of the local hospitality. I quickly raced across to catch them.

After eventually sorting a car park outside the stage door and posing for the obligatory selfies with a few passers-by I asked them to sign my sketch. “Is that a kiwi accent?” asked Si. “Guilty,” I said. That’s why I often put a little stick-note on the drawing ‘To Mark’ to avoid getting ‘Mack’ or ‘Mike’ or some other deviation. But he was conversant with the Antipodean tongue and inscribed correctly.