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The Twisted Sister Blog

Oh man, she really is twisted….A blog about all that is Nia Jones…With a bit of theatre, film, Forteana, interviews & general musings….

“And I’m Joe to You”… In Conversation with Joe Greco..

33 years have passed since Joe Greco enthusiastically announced “And I’m Joe to You” from the Pink Windmill Kids  line up. Joe et al were catapulted back into the spotlight at the end of 2016, and with jovial pressure from PWK fans on social media they reformed for Comic Relief  2017.

Giving up performing, presenting and puppeteering in 2000, Joe works as a Video Editor and Cameraman, mainly in the corporate sector. He is married to performer and puppeteer Sheila Clark; the couple have twin daughters and live outside London.

Joe & I - Richmond, 2017

Being good friends, Joe and I decided to have a chat about his life as a child performer, his later career, struggles and what he hopes will come next..

What is your background? Are you from a theatrical family?

Born in London, Mum’s English and Dad’s from Italy,  the province of Salerno (south of Naples), he emigrated to Britain in the 1950s. My parents met on a London Underground train in the 1960s, I’m the youngest of 3. My family wasn’t theatrical at all, but my sister Mary began attending Corona Academy Stage School  from the age of 9.

So you followed your sister to Corona Academy at age 11? 

Yeah, I experienced some bullying because of my weight at primary school, my Mum was afraid the same could happen at high school. So Corona took me on, in truth, because I was Mary’s brother

What was your initial experience of stage school? 

It was fine actually, I settled down okay initially. It was a fee paying school, but when you started working, after you paid your fees and costs for tap shoes, books etc; you got back what was left, which I loved because I managed to buy myself a video camera. 

My parents didn’t pay any fees for me after the first term. Corona really was like walking into the 1940s, Dennis Waterman, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Francesca Annis were among the famous alumni and we were warned there was a reputation to protect.

When did you get the Rod Hull and Emu gig?

Within the first year! I got Emu’s Magical Easter Show (Look out for a very young Joe an co accompanying Dana) for the BBC.

You were very young to be working in such a professional environment?

Thinking about it now, yes, I was very young. Within reason, I do believe self-discipline and independence are great skills to learn early on in life. 

On the whole, stage school was great fun, but it was really hard work too, there was a lot of travelling and being away from home. 

I did a job for 6 weeks in Bury St Edmunds at age 11 – the major downside was I missed my family dreadfully, I was so homesick and anxious. We were reminded by Corona to “Stay quiet and be professional at all times“. That mantra, at times, could be very difficult to handle, but I wouldn’t change a moment of those stellar years.

Sadly, the magic of being a child performer dissipates quickly, we all thought we were the kids from Fame at Corona, but it’s all quite fleeting in reality.

You were going into adolescence in the spotlight, were there any pressures you faced?

I loved performing, but I started seeing myself on television and became increasingly self-conscious, anxious about my weight – plus a few of the other kids were making fun of me for being bigger. I know the teasing reflects more on the insecurities of those doing it, stage school is also a notorious breeding ground for competitiveness.

I was convinced I wouldn’t be in the next series of Emu if I didn’t lose weight, I told my Mum this was a fact,  it probably wasn’t true thinking back. Having a larger-than-life Italian Father and extended family, my home life had always revolved around food.

This is where my difficult relationship with food and anxiety really began, with Mum’s support I began to diet at 13, I was hungry quite often, but I was living the dream and wanted it to continue. I managed to slim down and was successful from then on.

After leaving school you did go on to star in Spin Off and Spatz as a young adult…. I recently watched the first episode of Spatz and you do look very thin, were you struggling with your body image then too?

Yeah, I was definitely struggling, from 18 to 20 years old, I was obsessive about my weight, swimming 60 lengths (about a mile), 3 times a week and not eating very much at all.

I remember Vas Blackwood (who played Dexter on Spatz) commenting something like “Well, you don’t eat anything anyway“, I just laughed and disagreed with him. I then watched myself on-screen and noticed I didn’t look very well, I was too thin.

Did you get any help?

Not professional help, my Mum and brother thankfully got me out of the rut, Alan (my brother) encouraged me to do weight training with him, learning about food as nourishment, helping me change my thought processes.

I’m dealing with my anxieties much better these days, I moderate my food and alcohol intake; go to the gym and I attend two dance classes a week with Roy Gayle (who was part of Hot Gossip back in the day).

Why did you quit performing?

It was my body issues and anxieties once again, I didn’t feel comfortable in front of a camera anymore. I still wanted to perform and realised that puppetry was a good way of performing and working with scripts, yet staying hidden. You’re utterly exhausted, aching all over after a day puppeteering, so after a while it becomes a strain physically.

Creatively, I get very itchy feet after a while; so I decided to train as a Video Editor when I was 30, and moved into camera work in 2012.  wp-image-1144050232

I always enjoyed the technical side of the arts, when I was at Corona, and away filming, a few of the others and myself would make short films, we had so much fun! I think we made a mini horror film at the hotel once. 


What did you feel when 
PWK went viral? 

Scared, I had always been really embarrassed about it all, and locked the memories away, hoping the PWK would never see the light of day. I found it really hard to watch, because of seeing myself younger and I would just cringe.

I soon realised how much genuine affection there is for the PWK and it is quite amusing. People tell me that the Pink Windmill is a huge part of their childhood too, so I got over myself pretty quickly and I don’t mind at all now. 

How did your family and friends react to the PWK reunion?

I did think to myself “What on earth are you thinking Joe?” But my wife Sheila and everybody close to me have been really kind and supportive.

My daughters are teenagers, so I think they were a little mortified to start off, seeing Dad being all cheesy, singing and dancing. But they are used to it all now, and they like how it cheers me up I think.

What do people tend to ask you about those days?

I am asked mainly what Rod Hull and Carol Lee Scott (Grotbags) were like to work with? Rod Hull was a nice man and Carol was a very sweet lady, it’s sad to think that both of them have now passed away (Rod died in 1999 and Carol in 2017)

In the current climate within the media, people seem to be fishing for some kind of sensational historical scoop about bad treatment, but I have nothing bad to say about my time as a child performer.. Luckily, I had a blast and most of the people I  worked with were great. 

The funniest thing I saw was in the studio, Carol (Grotbags) was standing a bit too close behind a flower container, it had a flip top, so when Rod and Emu popped up out of it, Carol sadly caught the full force of the lid to the face. It must have been painful because it brought a tear to her eye, I’ll never forget Rod’s biting instant retort, “That’s the best bit of acting I’ve seen you do”..

How did it feel when the PWK reunited?

It was strange, but we were soon back in our old dynamic. The parameters have changed but we are all the same characters from 1984 really. It was a special reunion, so nice to be in touch again, it’s like a long-lost family. Getting older has made me realise that the PWK is something that I’m really proud I was part of.

So what’s next for you?

I’ve decided to venture back into acting! It is a daunting prospect, but an exciting one. I need a new challenge, acting really is my first love, what makes me truly happy. I began to really miss performing about 5 years ago, but my anxieties have been holding me back.

I have realised, since PWK especially, life is short and I don’t have room for such negativity any longer, I have wasted so much time worrying about “whatifs“. I have received loads of encouragement from those closest and that means the world.  I knew something had to change and it’s time to be happier professionally.

I’m currently looking for representation (agent), I have been setting up my website, I’d be quite interested in trying some writing, film and stage work too.

You can follow Joe on Twitter & Facebook 

Joe’s Website 

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A Life’s Loves: The Star-dog Next Door..

The Star-dog Next Door..

When I was away in the beautiful Connecticut at the end of October beginning of November 2016, the next door neighbour had a gorgeous  Golden Labrador..I soon learned that the dog was called Hero.

Turns out, Hero was no ordinary pooch. Hero is highly trained and appears in several television shows, adverts and even movies, most recently Seth Macfarlane’s Ted. 

Never once did I hear Hero bark or growl; and the only time he took any real notice of me was when I was decorating the porch for Halloween night. He came up to me for a second, shook his tail, had nosey and sniff about my hands and then went back into the house. 

Every morning when I opened the side curtains, he was sat on the porch, surveying his estate. Like an utter goofy nutter I tried to call Hero’s name and make noises out of the bedroom window to get his attention, but to no avail. But, one morning I did a high pitched bird whistle and he finally glanced up…

The stoney cold look I got, as you can see from the picture, says it all…It says “I’m a star, talk to my agent will you lady”

The picture makes me laugh and smile every time I see it…I miss you Hero..

A Life’s Loves: The Unforgettable Fanny Cradock. ..

The Unforgettable Fanny Cradock

I began collecting television cook Fanny Cradock memorabilia in 2006..Seeing her in action on a documentary,something inside me clicked that this woman really was a trailblazer. ..

As much of a cross-eyed painted horror she was, cruel of tongue and aloof-acidic – one thing Fanny Cradock did was broaden the culinary horizons and tastebuds of the UK television viewing public post WW2..

She also realised that the housewife’s duties were nothing more than slave labour, and thought up wonderful shortcuts and labour saving tips in cooking (resisting the temptation to give ’em whatfor with a rolling pin)..But she was by no means a Women’s Lib..As she put it she wasn’t that much of “A clot”…

For all her life transgressions, and she was actually a bigamist for many years, her only regret was never becoming Dame Cradock. ..Her beloved Johnnie died in 1987 and she died, very much alone in a nursing home in 1994, she had alienated everyone close to her by the end of her life.

As I’ve collected her various and quite frankly, illustrious catalogue of publications,including a fiction series of books called Castle Rising..I have become very much aware of her sheer talent and she truly was a one off..And I will carry on collecting.

It’s bright blue eyeshadow and piped green mashed potato for me, all the way…Television cookery wouldn’t be what it is today without Fanny’s influence..I salute you FC!

Here’s a Mrs Cradock recipe for you….You may want to give it a go in the forthcoming….

Gâteau l’ambassadeur (ambassador’s cake)

Ingredients

125g/4oz chocolate chips or cooking chocolate (couverture)

100g/3½oz sifted icing sugar

3 tbsp double cream

2 separated eggs

55g/2oz peeled grapes

3 tbsp cooking kirsch

2 tbsp water

100g/3½oz best unsalted butter

100g/3½oz crumbled petit beurre biscuits

Method

Place the biscuits in a small bowl, add the kirsch and leave to infuse.

Place the water and chocolate in a small thick pan and dissolve over a low heat. Stir well until quite smooth, then remove from the heat.

Cut the butter into small flakes and stir into the chocolate until completely dissolved.

Add the egg yolks and beat until the mixture is smooth again.

Stir in the sugar, blend thoroughly, add the stiffly whipped egg whites and beat them in until mixed thoroughly.

Add the soaked biscuits and grapes.

Finally add the cream.

Turn into a 13cm/5in diameter, oiled sliding-based cake tin, being careful to line the base with a fitting circle of oiled greaseproof paper.

Refrigerate until set, turn out, remove paper and garnish.

THEATRE REVIEW: Vice Versa (or The Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands Of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey)- Swan Theatre -The RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon

Writer:  Philip Porter   /    Director: Janice Honeyman

Cast: Sophia Nomvete, Ellie Beaven, Felix Hayes, Kim Hartman, Nicholas Day, Bally Gill, Laura Kirman, Steven Kynman, Geoffrey Lumb , Byron Mondahl, Esther Niles, Harriet Slater, Katherine Toy, Jon Trenchard and Johnson Willis.

* Images by Pete Le May, RSC

“Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg!”

My first trip to Stratford- upon- Avon, sounds totally insane, but having visited The Globe to see ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’  years ago I thought it was time to complete my Shakespeare pilgrimage. I was rather glad that it wasn’t a Shakespeare play I was seeing,  as I’m not really a follower of the obvious.

Circumstances lead me to see Vice Versa (or The Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands Of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey) by Philip Porter – a new Ancient Rome- inspired comedy ruckus, affectionately lifted from the Roman playwright, Plautus. The plot thus:  ” A wily servant and a pair of wronged young lovers who team up to bamboozle a pompous general. Dodgy disguises, comic capers and a talking monkey create pandemonium as the tricksters try to save the girl, free the servant and live to tell the tale.”

Seeing the show in preview, it is highly likely that everything will be snipped and tightened as their run, till September 9th, goes forward. I did feel the running time of over 2 hours was a little too long, but by no means did this reduce any of my enjoyment.

A simple, decorative Italian-style Colin Richmond set interspersed with energetic and thunderous musical numbers by Sam Kenyon, the band dressed as sweet little monkeys, the scene was well and truly set.

Hamlet’s Polonius did say “Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light” – Well, Shakespeare doesn’t always have to get it right, right? This was very light, frothy, fun and didn’t need much analysis or over thinking. I have always seen plenty of room for all kinds of mediums and genres within the RSC, this attitude reflects much more on the unpolished world the Bard knew himself. – Of course, this is my considered opinion.

The order of Roman day is, as per usual, slavery, sex, dirt, satire and, bums, breasts, bodily functions, and Phil Porter makes no bones or apologies about this frivolous fact. It collapses in the vein of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Up Pompei, mixed in with the double entendre disease of the Carry On series films. Why not borrow and infuse genius from past greats? Who knows what you may see..

Heavy on song and dance physicality, buffoonery, slapstick, the modern implantation of Trump references (Who doesn’t include this delicious swipe at irony in everything these days) and primitive-modern props make this play sublime and ridiculous all in its own sphere.

Vice Versa never fell short of exaggeration or perspiration..I have to admire the high energy of the ensemble, this fast-paced physical romp must be highly grueling and demanding for the actors, adding in the token lights and the numerous performance enhancing bells and whistles. More than half were caked in mud make- up, raggedy clothes, straw-like wigs and gnarly infection- filled prosthetic teeth and facial adornments. I loved the clothes, it was a true raid on the proverbial dressing up box.

Everyone pulled their performance weight and I felt nothing but great affection and warmth, it cannot be denied how much love and dedication has gone into this production. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Felix Hayes as pompous Braggadocio, he had me chuckling the most. Even though he was vile, you could see why he charmed so many.Jon Trenchard was super cute as the errant monkey, dotting in and out of the audience.

I’m sure many highbrow-ers will attempt to scoff at this seemingly vacuous little piece of theatre, but in the current climate, more than ever, we all need to lose ourselves in the absurd to save a degree of sanity, we should be thanking them.

You will truly be enchanted, believe me, would little me try to trick you? 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bluebird Review – South London Theatre, Stanley Halls, South Norwood

Written by – Simon Stephens

Directed by- Siobhán Campbell

Photographs – © Káit Feeney


(Another difficult review for me to write, I’ve been a member of SLT since 2011 and some personal friends were involved with this production.) 

I was looking forward to seeing this production, I had visited two rehearsals before I left for America, and the only time I have cried during a play rehearsal, even knowing the play well (Thanks Cal&Mark). 


A simple premise – over one evening, the principle character, London minicab driver, Jimmy encounters a cast of characters from A to Z -with some ‘fares’ regaling him with their life stories.

But Jimmy’s own existence and actions are driven by a much darker catalyst; Mark Slaughter playing the part of Jimmy had the most demanding role of the ensemble, never a moment of rest between scenes and some very emotionally charged dialogue. 

His ability to mime the “careful” driving with the “listening” was quite a skill. Speaking to Mark post show he said.. ” It’s not act three so much as the driving scenes in the first two acts; all that concentration,reacting and listening! I won’t be listening to ANYBODY next week! “

Mark’s portrayal of Jimmy drew you in, an attractive, highly clever, intelligent man with a subtle-yet-haunting melancholy. But why is a man like this just driving a mini cab? Jimmy really is existing, not living, he is waiting to die, passing the time, and of course, it is complicated. 

Why he lives this way becomes more apparent as the play goes on, but Jimmy never loses his tenderness, warmth or wit towards his array of passengers – at times becoming counsel and a friend in-some-form.

A testament to the talents of writer Simon Stephens, whose writing style I’ve always admired, but even more to the wonderful direction of Siobhán Campbell, a directing style that is very organic. An essential approach for a script such as this one, it needs to breathe, as the narrative lives for one night, in real time. 

Louie Chapman, Charlotte Benstead, Jeanette Hoile and Malcolm Woodman provided some peppered cameo-style performances, these were essential relief to the hard hitting revelations of each more complex encounter.

All performances were very moving and stellar; Fiona Daffern as the troubled yet personable prostitute Angela was subtle, charming, not overplaying her sexuality or the purpose of her King’s Cross loitering. Bryon Fear made his 2nd return to the stage after a fifteen year gap as Richard, a disillusioned Scottish London Underground worker – a performance to be very proud of. 

Owen Chidlaw as the merrily drunk-buffoon Guvnor provided some manic yet comic relief. Kim Goldsmith as the down-on-life teacher Janine was gentle, broken yet defiant. John Watson was truly menacing as the Jack Daniels swigging volatile, ex Combat 18 member Billy and lastly Rob Hatch as reflective bouncer Andy, softened his hard-man demeanour as the kindred dialogue played out. 

It was also a joy to see veteran SLT-er John Lyne portray grieving Robert, (for once Ricky Gervais wasn’t hogging him! )  A stunningly poignant and heartfelt exchange. 

The third act featured Jimmy’s estranged wife Claire, played by Caroline Beckett, the scenes between Jimmy and Claire are heart breaking, the revelations jabbing at your heartstrings. I felt compelled to storm the stage, grab them both and cuddle them tightly.

As sad as their dialogue becomes, what remained endearing about Cal and Mark’s portrayal was that you could really understand why these characters fell in love and married, reverting back to their husband and wife roles in an instant with conflict. I loved their scenes. 

Every actor in this ensemble made their exchanges work with the perfect amount of heart and realism. Every gesture and reaction justified.

The stage set up was basic, the lights and sounds minimal. Performed in a ‘promenade’ style, which I personally loved (the audience stands, and moves around to where the next scene takes place) but this was quite a change for some audience members to handle, chairs were provided for those unable to stand for a long period, but creaking floorboards and restless legs became a slight issue over hearing the dialogue properly, and sadly I heard some low grumbles of flagging legs and bad backs. 

But Bluebird really is, what I call, an onion play, peeling away layer after layer to reveal a fundamental core. This format leaves plenty of room for the exploration of pain, loss, tragedy, optimism, heart, kindness and mirth. These really are the things that make us all human, within Bluebird it’s all contained in the microcosm of a minicab. 

Quite the minicab ride, one that chokes you up, consoles you; makes you giggle, but also surprises you. 

A pure pleasure. I loved it.

Jesus Christ Superstar Review – South London Theatre, Stanley Halls

Director – Bryon Fear

A difficult review for me to write, as a member of South London Theatre since 2011; and some of the performers and creatives being my personal friends.

If every tongue was still the noise would still continue…

There had been so much love for this production floating around, so I was very excited at the prospect of finally seeing it on the 27th of August, I was lucky enough to see it on the last night, and yes, the hype was to be believed.

The castings couldn’t have been more perfect, everyone pulled their weight vocally. Alley Bilodeau gave a stunning and soothing portrayal Mary Magdalene, Marcus Reeves gave quiet power and malice as Herod. Richard Canal, Adam Crook, Jason Salmon and James Griffin took sinister to a whole new level as Caiaphas, Annas and co, bordering on the comical, but never once becoming caricatures.

All the vocal transitions were seamless, every emotion oozed through the cast’s tone and performance, far from over the top, sugary or too showy..The violent scenes were just enough, and at times very difficult to stomach, especially as I was sat quite close to the stage. More importantly it helped me remember that Jesus Christ, if he ever existed, really was just a man, a human being of blood and bone, making what happened to him utterly horrific.

Jesus Christ was played by American Sean Mullaney, very much the Christian biblical textbook represention of Christ, a perfect look, hair and build. He had all the vocal variation for a soulful Jesus, and one thing I admired greatly was his ability to keep a neutral singing voice,matching his fellow performers, not once did he sound American.

With Jesus Christ Superstar being a rock opera , there is a tendency for the Messiah and co to go all out heavy metal hysterical and screechy; but Sean maintained a soft and understated yet solid portrayal of a man in turmoil, coming to the end of his life. 


Much the same sentiments go for Judas…Though I have always battled with the fact that Judas is so hated in the Christian religion.If it was God’s plan for Judas to fulfil his role in betraying Christ, allowing for the spilling of Jesus’s blood, which in turn allowed for the washing away of mankind’s sins, isn’t it madness to vilify him…? But that’s enough of my Humanist debating fodder..


Dan Goad’s portrayal of the insecure tortured disciple was heart breaking,in as much turmoil as his leader, facing a painful demise, Dan was wonderful at blending in, subtly unsure where he fitted in his collective, Judas’s peripheral loitering spoke volumes. 


Chaz Doyle as Simon Zealotes was a pure delight to watch and hear, bouncing around gleefully yet with a strong conviction, Mat Hill’s Peter was also a joy, gentle and vunerable. Along with the remaining disciples, the mob came together well throughout joyous scenes and mournfully through the more harrowing ones, nothing seemed contrived just organic and justified.

Now to the most difficult scenes of the whole show, Jesus’s trail, 39 lashes and crucifixion. A special tip of the topper goes to Wesley Lloyd who played Pontius Pilate, a part he played with brilliance, getting the intellectual Roman placed in a difficult situation spot on, not once raising his voice, maintaining a cool politician-esque stance throughout. 

Speaking to Wesley about his portrayal; he shared with me the quote Marlon Brando gave about playing Mafia Godfather Don Corleone. Wesley explained that Brando’s quote inspired his approach to the part of Pilate – “He’s a powerful person. Powerful people don’t have to shout.”

The crucifixion was extremely moving, I was touched by the sight ahead of me, Jesus hanging in mid air, alone centre stage, on an invisible cross for at least five minutes.What more can you convey? 

An optical illusion of epic and exhausting proportions.. Beads of sweat poured from Sean Mullaney’s head and body, remaining there, by all accounts was extremely painful and required a great deal of control. This proves the level of dedication this company gave to this production, a dedication that the audience aren’t likely forget.


The only technical hitch apparent on the night was the occasional cutting out of the radio mics. This was due to the extreme humidity of the venue, the perils of a summer production. But this hitch in no way hampered the sheer joy of experiencing this production, I am so proud to say I was there to bear witness to this spectacle.

Post show I heard the director remarking to performer Dan Goad (Judas) that the performance was “their best of the week “.


It was evident that on and off stage there was an abundance of warmth and love poured into this show, the creative direction by Bryon Fear was superb, the choreography by Anna Callender utterly charming, and the musical direction by Gerard Johnson + band was right on the money.


The sartorial offerings were classical with modern twists, the set design and lighting simple yet profound.The only indulgent prop was a flashing disco cross for the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ number, Judas rocking out in a modern day suit with backing girls adorned in black..On a personal note, I have always imagined Judas in a silver catsuit?…Must be just me then… 

Simply put, it touched my heart, I’m just gutted I wasn’t part of it!…

In productions like this one you really do reap what you sew, every ingredient was right to create a magical experience, it doesn’t get much better than that. But surely there has to be the force of luck at play, and perhaps even a divine one? We shall forever ponder…

Photos by kind permission of © Gaz de Vere – All Rights Reserved.

Production poster designed by © Bryon Fear

The Tortured Life and Unfortunate Death of the Lobster Boy

One of the best known circus and carnival performers of the 20th century was Grady Stiles, aka Lobster Boy. 

Born in 1937, a sixth generation Ectrodactyly (also known as Crab or Lobster Claw Syndrome) sufferer, a rare condition where the legs shorten and the hands or feet, (or both) fuse producing malformed claw-like digits.

In an ever changing, prejudice society; there weren’t many career options for those born with a condition such as EctrodactylyFrom his first cry, Grady Franklin Stiles Jr’s life was destined to grace America’s carny grounds and side shows. The Stiles family were considered outcasts since their ancestor William Stiles was born 1805. So their only option was to use what they were born with to earn a crust.

Grady’s father made him a part of his travelling carnival act at the age of six; branding him “Lobster Boy”. It is unclear what the Stiles family did in their act, but Grady’s image as an angelic little-clawed charmer was always a crowd pleaser. 

But life was far from angelic for him, due to the deformities he couldn’t walk, often using a wheelchair in public situations; but he could crawl around very efficiently; with speed. 

The condition did not stop him from marrying three times (twice to Maria Teresa Herzog and once to Barbara Browning) and fathering four children, two of whom, Grady III and Cathy, were also afflicted with Ectrodactyly. 

Settling in Gibsonton, Florida, aplace where many of the side show performers resided for the winter season, Stiles and his two children began touring together as the’Lobster Family’.

A far from an idyllic, carefree nomadic lifestyle, Grady was notorious for his cantankerous demeanour. 

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His upperbody became more bulky and muscular as he got older, incredible strength in his arms and torso meant Grady was able to handle himself and daily tasks as well as any man.

At home he was a tyrant, battling chronic alcoholism; he was moody, unpredictable and violent, especially towards those closest to him. 

His wife Mary claimed that she and the children were subjected to vicious, cruel mental and physical abuse, one incident involved him holding a kitchen  knife to Mary’s neck, she also claimed he, at times, sexually abused her. 

Grady was infamous amongst the barns for being an argumentative, racist hothead bully, he would swiftly head butt, pinch or strangle anyone who crossed or challenged him.

In 1978, on the eve of his eldest daughter Donna’s wedding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Grady, in a rage, murdered her fiancé Jack Layne, as he did not approve of their union. He confessed candidly to killing Layne  and was convicted at trail of third degree murder. 

Having cirrhosis of the liver from his heavy drinking and emphysema caused by smoking over 60 cigarettes a day, he played up his disability and ailments in order to gain a ‘sympathy verdict’. 

Eventually he was sentenced to fifteen years probation; as not one institution was suitable to accommodate a prisoner with Grady Stiles’s needs.

Soon after easing up on his drinking habits his abusive behaviour towards his family  began to escalate, his long suffering wife couldn’t take the situation  any longer.  

After a particularly violent encounter with his wife, on the evening of November 29th, 1992 Stiles was watching television in his family’s trailer home when he was murdered in cold blood, shot three times in the head by a man named Christopher Wyant.

The official version of what happened is thus…  

17-year-old sideshow performer Chris Wyant, who was the Stiles’s neighbour, with criminal gang  connections, was paid $1500 to kill Grady by his wife Maria, and her son (from a previous marriage) Harry Glenn Newman Jr. Wyant, Maria and Newman went on trail for the murder  of Grady Stiles and were  convicted, Wyant of second degree murder, sentenced to 27 years, Maria for conspiracy to commit murder, 12 years and Newman was given a life sentence for hiring Wyant to commit the crime.

But, Grady Stiles III has a very different account of his father’s murder. He says his mother and father were fighting worse than usual, his mother yelled “Something needs to be done!” or words to that effect. Newman overheard these words and misinterpreted them, he went next door and repeated them to Wyant, Wyant then killed Grady. Maria maintained that she only did what she had to, in fear of her life, for the sake of her family. 

Interestingly, the term Ectrodactyly translates from the Greek as “monsterous fingers” and one thing is certain, Grady Stiles Jr.’s life and death played out very much like a Greek tragedy. 

So disliked was Stiles locally that no one wished to be a pallbearer at his funeral, it is  believed that he was laid to rest next to his parents Grady and Edna at the Showman Rest Cemetery in Tampa, Florida; even though his name does not appear on the headstone. 

The Stiles descendants reside in Gibsonton, Florida to this day and traces of Ectrodactyly is still in their bloodline,quite a tragic legacy.

My Real Phantom of the Opera: The Cockpit Theatre London

Today’s spooky tale comes from theatre lighting designer Douglas Kuhrt about the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone in London.

I wanted to share with you a spooky encounter I experienced in London many years ago. I have never really believed in the paranormal or anything of that nature, and I have worked in many theatres and venues in the West End and on Broadway during my career.

One day I was busy setting up props backstage at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone; between the two dressing rooms is a staircase that goes directly under the stage area.

All the lights were out down those stairs but I suddenly heard a noise, like something very heavy being dragged laboriously along the floor. As far as I knew I was all alone so I was quite startled, after a few seconds I nervously called down “Who’s there?!” The noise abruptly stopped and then an eerie cold chill went right through me.

Afterwards I saw the theatre’s security guard and told him what had just happened to me, he calmly said, “Oh that’s just our ghost, he’s a piano tuner, he got crushed to death under the stage years ago…. He’s alright if you just say hello to him.”, the security guard also went on to tell me that many people working at The Cockpit Theatre  had doors mysteriously shut on them in the past too.

Not sure if the bloke was winding me up, but from then on I always said “Hello” to the phantom piano tuner, and I never did hear that noise again. The experience isn’t something I have ever been able to fully explain, though I must admit I haven’t felt such a strange and unusual presence while working in a theatre since.


Find out more about Douglas Kuhrt’s work at http://www.douglaskuhrt.com

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 Originally published on The Spooky Isles

The Rainbow Connection: 1970s Cinema

(This article first appeared in Issue 10 of New Empress Magazine, 2013. A bi-monthly film magazine which thematically celebrated the eclectic world of cinema. It was founded and produced by Helen Cox and ran between 2010 and 2015. )

Society in the UK and in the USA suffered greatly at the hands of political and social change in the 1970s. The social-interactional relationships changed by the 1960s sexual revolution and available birth control increased divorce rates; single parent households and the permissive society became more conspicuous.

The ‘flower power’ culture started in the mid-1960s came to its peaked and stayed until the end of the decade, feminism and the movement became increasingly prominent.

In the UK, inflation ran into double figures and a series of strikes gave society the three-day working week. British cinema at the time is sadly remembered more for Robin Askwith’s vibrating backside than evocative narratives, the mainstream film industry didn’t thrive like its American counterpart due to the fact that the Conservative government in power decided to snip film industry state funding and Hollywood’s investment had begun to dwindle.

Sex comedies like the tongue in cheek Confessions of a “………” were churned out; as well as film spin-offs of the television sitcoms like Please Sir! , On the Buses and Steptoe and Son; franchises like the Doctor… and the last days of the Carry On series made enough revenue to keep industry heads above water.

In the USA, the Vietnam War was still raging on into the decade, creating the perfect platform, in later years for harsh Vietnam-themed epics like The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979). The space- race was in full swing so Sci-fi inspired movies became a more sophisticated genre giving us Silent Running (1972) Solaris (1972) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the classic Alien (1979)

The 1970s saw The White House shaken to its core; The Watergate Scandal uncovered unimaginable abuses of power, corruption and eventually forced the fall from grace and resignation of President Richard Nixon. A blanket malaise of mistrust and disillusioned political rot began to set in for ordinary Americans.

Political thrillers like The Day of The Jackal (1973), The Parallax View (1974) and Nashville (1975) tackled the very things rife in real congress. A vote of government no confidence resulted in a much bleaker strain of narrative, creating young protagonists unable to bounce back from struggles immediately because of bad decisions; the aesthetically significant One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Five Easy Pieces (1971), Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976) are the epitome of those films dedicated to individual complicated characters; the lively yet dark Saturday Night Fever (1977) slots in along the same vein.

Musical adaptations made regular appearances throughout the 1970s; Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Cabaret (1972) and Grease (1978) were a balance to the more gritty edges of the social underbelly in The French Connection (1971), The Hot Rock (1972) and The Godfather (1972-74) which made film history, winning 9 academy awards, 6 of those were for the sequel, a film industry first. Offbeat comedy was dominated by parody, most memorably Young Frankenstein (1974) and Blazing Saddles (1974).

The decade was big into disaster movies too, the most famous being The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974).

More reflective of the imagined plummeting moral climate was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut Play Misty for Me (1971), a thrilling yet cautionary tale about the perils of one-night stands with unstable women. Dark and daring subject matters in films like The Stepford Wives (1975), Chinatown (1974), Marathon Man (1976) and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) really lay down the mettle foundations for pushing cinematic boundaries.

European cinema was also finding its feet, most notably the Swedish Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972) was the ultimate heart-wrencher, a stark portrayal of a group of women caring for their dying sister. France’s La Maman et la Putain (1973) directed by Jean Eustache and Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) brought the French New Wave film makers genre to the forefront of mainstream cinema. The Asian martial arts genre phenomenon also reached the peak of its popularity due to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973).

The Yankee “Me decade” was also rapidly dawning, in a 1976 issue of New York magazine novelist Tom Wolfe coined the phrase to aptly pigeonhole the self-awareness preoccupation of the age. This is where Woody Allen’s made his trademark with neurotic offerings Play It Again, Sam (1972), The Front (1976) and Annie Hall (1977).

Americans were now more self-absorbed, passive, turning to gurus and therapists for guidance and contentment. Political activism was a thing of the past, making way for psychological analysis, primal screaming and self-medicating.

The horror and supernatural genre picked up great pace at the cinema with enduring shockers like The Wicker Man & Don’t Look Now (1973), Black Christmas (1974), The Omen (1976), Martin (1977), Halloween (1978) and Dawn of The Dead (1978) 

Throughout the seventies film experienced plenty of pitfalls in regards to controversy. Mary Whitehouse and the ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ brigade spouted religious rhetoric about the collapse of society and believed that common decency was compromised due to the sexually depraved contents of films like Performance (1970) Deep Throat (1972) and Last Tango in Paris (1972).

Violence and murder in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Last House on the Left (1972), Straw Dogs (1971), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) would lead us straight to kill each other. Blasphemy and corruptive themes involving religion offended the god-fearing masses resulting in the films being banned and protest outside cinemas showing The Devils (1971) The Exorcist (1973) and The Life of Brian (1979) thus creating a frenzy that only made the films’ appeal a greater forbidden fruit.

The seventies really was the decade of the big comeback for celluloid, after decreasing cinema attendance caused by the growth of television sets in suburban dwellings, blockbuster movies such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) mixed with the new technologies of Dolby Sound and Panavision brought cinema-goes back to the theatres in droves; siring the Hollywood machine we know today, making the 1970s one of the most influential eras in film history.

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