THE WORLDS MOST COWARDLY GIG PULL
The world's most cowardly gig pull was performed by Mike French (b 4th May 1973, Christchurch, New Zealand) an established comedy circuit act with a notorious history of cancelling gigs through "illness" and "personal problems" The truth was usually more simple than that (He was often offered £10 more to perform at different clubs on the night of the gig).
Completely self-managed as every agent in the comedy industry refused to represent him, French was booked to play
The Laughter King Comedy Club in Grantham on 23rd December 2001. French, a circuit name and a regular on TV shows such as "Never mind the buzzcocks" and "Have I got news for you" certainly was a 'draw' and swelled the crowd size. The 300-strong crowd had each paid £25 each for a three course meal and to see "Mike French Live ", the sleepy Lincolnshire town has seldom seen such a big name in comedy perform there since Dustin Gee in 1978, past residents of Grantham included Beverley Allitt and Margaret Thatcher - so they could clearly do with a laugh. Having been booked for the show since Novermber 2000, French's gig was the talk of Grantham for the twelve months leading up to the night and had sold out in May of that year.
On finalising details with the promoter, John Booth, French agreed to arrive in Grantham early evening for a sound check, but called Booth at 5pm to say that he had missed the train and woud arrive in Grantham at 8.30. In the meantime, the large crowd of "works do's" and had taken their seats in the eaterie and were at the bread-rolls and "rapport-build with the people who work in a different department to me who I can't be arsed to talk to all year round" stage.
At 8:45 pm, Booth was starting to sweat profusely as he had despatched a glass collector to the railway station to collect French who was'nt on the train from Euston. Calls to French rang out for five rings before switching over to voicemail. French had 78 missed calls on his mobile in the next twenty minutes. Further calls just diverted straight to voicemail, indicating that French was either travelling through an area of poor signal, or more alarmingly, had switched his phone off.
The capacity crowd were now at the Christmas pudding and
"let's move to the next table as there is someone there I get on with and would like to chat to, rather than Sweaty Eric from Accounts who is sitting next to me and I have to have a mind-numbing conversation about purchase ledgers" stage. French was due onstage at 10:00 for a 75 minute set and was still nowhere to be seen. Booth, with a history of Angina had now un-done his bow-tie and was drinking large amounts of Glenfiddich in the dressing room. He was met with a negative response from the eager and semi-intoxicated crowd when he walked onto the stage at 9:45 pm to untruthfully say that French was "on his way".
On arriving back to the dressing room area, Booth heard his phone beep with a text message alert, it was from French. An excited Booth was eager to read it as it was his first communication from French since 5pm that day.
The message from French said "SORRY CANT MAKE IT M8, I HAVE A HEADACHE, HAVE A GOOD UN : - ) "
When Booth frantically tried to phone French back, he was met with the message "THE PHONE MAY BE SWITCHED OFF, PLEASE TRY LATER". French had purposely deactivated his voicemail facility to avoid communication from Booth.
By this time the crowd outside were chanting French's name along with stamping their feet on the wooden floors and banging cutlery on the tables, they had paid good money to see French as this was their annual night out - and they wanted to be entertained. Booth sheepishly walked to the microphone and reluctantly told the eager crowd that French was unable to make it. This resulted in a barrage of physical and verbal abuse, twenty-eight fish knives, fourteen cake slices, two empty bottles of champagne and a tin opener from a Christmas cracker flew through the air towards the stage
hitting Booth. A local warehouseman, Harry Green (b 17th March 1961, Grantham, Lincs) mounted the stage and subsequently headbutted Booth after requesting his money back. Booth needed first aid treatment and an overnight stay for Head injuries and concussion in Grantham Royal Infirmiary, there were 123 arrests thereater when the drunken crowd started fighting each other and all police annual leave in Grantham was cancelled over Christmas as irate officers were brought in over the holidays to deal with the biggest mass arrest for affray, actual bodily harm, grevious bodily arm, wounding with intent and attempted murder that Grantham had ever seen.
Booth's career as Comedy Promoter was short-lived, his house on Kesteven Road, Grantham was spraypainted with the words
"C**t", "knob" and "wankshaft" over the next six months - his friends of many years completely ignored him in the street, every shop, supermarket and public house in Grantham refused to serve him which often resulted in him making a forty mile round trip each day to buy a newspaper from a neighbouring town.
The Grantham episode has certainly done nothing to ruin French's career. He activated his voicemail again three days later but from then on refused to answer a call on his mobile with a "witheld number".
"Comedy....it's not all about making people laugh".
Ian McDiarmid 1957-2009