Our Own Worst Enemies?

Picture by the Four Wheeled Legend.

I got a bad review for a corporate comedy gig I did. And I mean a really bad, one-star review.

Fair enough. These things happen. The lady was quite right in one thing she wrote: I did misjudge the audience — and to be fair to me, I had questioned her for booking me in the first place because I didn’t think my act was appropriate. I should have held to my guns, declined and walked away. So, my bad.

That’s not what this blog is about. What it is about is the one line that I spoke that offended her and which prompted her to complain. The line was this: “I do not want to suck your cock, Mr. Daniels.” It was a closing line on a true story I was telling about what life was like as a woman in the media in the early 1980s. I’ll grant you, it wasn’t funny, but it was relevant.

I was an assistant producer on BBC Pebble Mill at One at the time and the late Paul Daniels, was a guest on the show. Afterwards, two of the female researchers came to me to ask me if I would ask him to stop some behaviour towards them, which they found threatening and unpleasant. It was sexual talk, of course. That was very common back then.

I was scared to do it, but it was the least I could do — defend my staff. So I went into the Green Room and politely asked Mr. Daniels not to speak to the younger women in sexual terms as it was upsetting them.

In response, he caught hold of my arm, pulling me off balance so that I fell onto the sofa. Then he put both hands on the back of my head and pushed my face down into his crotch.

His wife, who was sitting next to him, laughed as loudly as he did.

It was horrible. The only thing I could think to do was to say, loudly, the words I did: “I do not want to suck your cock, Mr Daniels!”

It worked. He dropped me like a hot potato. I fell on the floor, got up and walked away, shaking. Saying that, out loud, had been a big thing for me. It was important.

Later that day, I was called into the boss’s office and he read me the riot act for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘insulting a guest.’ What the guest had done to me was completely disregarded as unimportant.

Now, I’m not in the business of naming and shaming. The guy is dead; for all I know, the boss may also be — it was a long time ago — and the world is very different now. But the lady who posted that review on line did name him so it’s already out there. I told the story at that corporate event in context during a set all about my relationship with the famed anti-pornography campaigner, Mary Whitehouse. As her name and mine were so similar, a lot of confusion occurred, most of it (in retrospect) very funny.

My point here is twofold: firstly that the magician’s wife thought that what what her husband was doing — frightening women, sexually — was hysterically funny and secondly that the woman now, who complained about my set, would choose to criticise the words that another woman used to stand up for herself in the face of harassment. Sometimes, I truly think that we women are our own worst enemies.

I wouldn’t have minded if she had said “I didn’t find her act funny” or simply “she misjudged her audience.” Both would be true, even if the first was subjective. But to call me out publicly for telling how I defended myself (and the other girls) from sexual assault and criticise that? I don’t think so.

And, frankly, it’s just as scary to write this, today, as it was to say that to Paul Daniels all those years ago.