THE MOST RIGGED COMPETITION EVER
The world's most rigged comedy competition was
"Stand Up Staffordshire" - a contest for both new and established comedians held at the Tamworth Assembly Rooms on 15th June 2003.
Funded by the Arts and Recreation department of Staffordshire County Council, the competion was eventually won by Mayoress Brenda Tunnicliffe (born 31st January 1939,
Fazeley, Nr Tamworth Staffordshire). The night, which was compered by Tunnicliffe's husband, Lt Colonel Mayor George
Tunnicliffe M.A (Ret'd) (born 3rd November 1928 Maidenhead, Berkshire) involved some of the finest comedians from the Comedy circuit. Competing with Tunnicliffe that night were ten other comedians: Daniel Kitson, Adam Hills, Reginald D.Hunter, Ross Noble, Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and Spikey Mike.
Much to the dismay of the audience who wanted to be involved in the decision and result, George Tunnicliffe recruited a network of his friends and colleagues on the judging panel: These included the Tunnicliffe's son - Nigel, Brenda's tennis partner Audrey Shuttleworth, Local magistrate Henry Wootton, Stafforshire Police Commander Charles Booth, Local businessman and freemason Joseph Wright, The editor of the Tamworth Herald and Tunnicliffe's next door neighbour Colin Davies and local celebrity Jas Mann (lead singer of 1990's space rockers Babylon Zoo). Mann that week had applied for an interest-free, council funded business development grant to Mayor Tunnicliffe to open a new recording studio in Tamworth.
When arriving at the venue, the comedians were refused entrance to the dressing room, that was reserved for the judges and their immediate family - the comics had to use the stock room (apart from Brenda Tunnicliffe who was allowed in the dressing room as she was 'family' to one of the judges). This left the other comedians in a poorly-lit, unheated, 10 x 8 stock cupboard rehearsing their routine whilst sitting on unopened crates of Indian tonic water. When the running order was drawn Tunnicliffe was lucky to draw the 5th spot (First on after the beer break).
Because of the high turnover of acts that night - every act was limited to five minutes of stagetime. Therefore the Bantermeisters such as Noble and Kitson opted for the straight chat-free stand up with maximum gags. Kitson, Noble, Carrott, Hunter and Hills certainly gived the crowd what they wanted in the first half - It was very much "all to play for" - the crowds rapturous laughter and applause could be heard in neighbouring towns, villages and even down the local coal mine. The local police were called twice and told the venue to 'keep the noise down' - such laughter hadn't been heard in years in Tamworth ever since the "To the Manor Born" christmas special was shown in December 1983.
During the interval, the judges disqualified Kitson for overunning by 0.8 seconds and in the second half, Mayor Tunnicliffe introduced his wife, using and air of nepotism by saying "the finest comedy discovery in the last fifty years" - Brenda Tunnicliffe then walked on stage with a book of "100 Great pub jokes" in her hand. Over the next hour she read 28 Englishman, Irishman and Scotsmen jokes and seventy three one liners. The audience were not impressed by the lack of original material and both booed her and slow handclapped off her to remove her from the stage. Luckily for Tunnicliffe this didn't knock her confidence as the audiences negative vibes was drowned out by the delighted laughter and applause from all seven judges seated at the rear of the stage and the 187 guests who were sandwiched into the dressing room, listening to Tunnicliffes routine on a tannoy. When she left the stage 62 minutes later she was told that she would'nt be disqualified as "the judges were so impressed with her style of humour that they simply couldn't disqualify her....". When Kitson's agent questioned with Tunnicliffes son that he was disqualified because of overunning and his mother hadn't Nigel Tunnicliffe lamely replied: "erm....Oh whatever"
The remaining acts of Pryor, Connolly, Martin, Williams and Spikey all performed mindblowing sets based around Saturday Night Live classic material, Catholic upbringings, Being arrested by the police and Hazard Lights on cars. They all stuck to their allotted time of five minutes and after the comedians had all performed, the bar opened and Mayor Tunnicliffe would say that the new comedian would be crowned in fifteen minutes.
When the audience took their place back in the auditorium, Mayor Tunnicliffe asked the geriatric drummer to prepare a drum role to build tension and excitement whilst he opened the gold envelope with the "Tamworth Comedian of the Year 2004" - all the comedians bar Kitson were invited onto the stage with the judges. "And the winner is...............Brenda
Tunnicliffe!!!!". On this announcement a sea of concert theatre programmes were thrown towards the stage in disgust and every single audience member exited the theatre shouting "FUCKING FIX", "CROOK" and "SHE WAS SHIT" at Mayor Tunnicliffe. The newly crowned comedy god was'nt worried as she ignored the other acts and then retired to the dressing room where "BRENDA TUNNICLIFFE - COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR 2003" was painted by a local artist three weeks before on the main wall. It was a very affluent prize and she was lucky to win the Lord Mayors £500k fishing lodge where she and her husband was already living, freedom to the Town of Tamworth, and an unitemised, unmonitored and unaudited expense account at Staffordshire County Council for the next thirty years. A local artist designed a 200k scuptor of Brenda reading from a jokebook which can be seen displayed in a fountain in the Town Sqaure.
Tunnicliffe was lucky in that she had only performed at two comedy nights in her career and she had a 100% success rate. She previously triumphed at Stand Up Berkshire Competition at The Berni Inn, Reading in 1977 - beating Eric Morecambe, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Williams, Bob Monkhouse, Frankie Howerd, Benny Hill and Groucho Marx - claiming the £250 prize, a lifetimes supply of Watneys Red Barrell and a brand new Triumph TR7.
She maintained this record until January 2004 when she was knocked out of the first round of the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competition at Liberties Bar, Camden Town- being booed off stage after twenty-eight seconds. Everyone in the venue laughed at her humiliation and on her walk back to the tube station, she was approached by several homeless people on Camden High Street. Every one of them offered her money so she could pop to Waterstones and buy that Greg Dean book.
"Comedy....it's not all about making people laugh".
Ian McDiarmid 1957-2009