The Freewheeling John Dowie

By John Dowie

A memoir about cycling and stand-up comedy

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Another story (not in the book)


It’s 1979. I’m in a toilet in Clapham Junction, looking at a wall on which various people have scrawled the names of various groups: The Jam, The Clash, The Pretenders, and so on. Amongst the list of names someone has written, “The Police (the band)”.

About a year before this, I’d done three tours as the “special guest” of Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, a comedy-rock band from Manchester. On the final tour, the opening act was the Police (the band). They were appearing on the tour, it became obvious later, to work on their act (away from London and the music press) before releasing their first album.

The act that the Police performed wasn’t much different from the act they would be performing in huge venues only a few months later. And it was an act that I followed every night.

I was able to do this not because I was better than the Police – or good even – but because the rock and roll audience is, basically, thick. And what a thick audience thinks (if it thinks at all) is this: the opening act isn’t as good as the second act; the second act isn’t as good as the headlining act; and the headlining act is the best act of all. Even if, as Marc Bolan once said, a cat with no ears would know better.

Not long after that, the Police become one of the biggest bands on the planet and there wasn’t a comedy act in the world that could appear on a stage anywhere near them. As Tommy Cooper’s nephew will confirm.

“How great it would be,” the Police enthused, having discovered that Tommy Cooper’s nephew was a part of their ever-increasing entourage, “If we could persuade Tommy Cooper to perform before our upcoming appearance at the Superbowl in Milton Keynes.”

Phone calls were made, deals were done, and Tommy Cooper agreed to appear. Approximately 30,000 people were in Milton Keynes to watch the Police perform that night, and not one of those 30,000 people wanted to watch Tommy Cooper.

The booing began before he set foot on stage. And then it got worse. After five agonizing minutes his ashen-faced nephew, watching in the wings, was begging his uncle to “Get off! Just get off now!” But no. Tommy Cooper had been booked to do 20-minutes and 20-minutes was what Tommy Cooper was going to do. Finally, to yet more booing, followed by a hail of empty cans of beer and plastic bottles filled with piss, Tommy Cooper left the stage, passed his nephew in the wings, slapped him on the back and said, “Follow that”.

Tommy Cooper passed on. The Alberto’s disbanded. I went on my merry way. And all that we know of the Police, now, is a fading piece of graffiti on a toilet wall in Clapham Junction which needs a postscript (in brackets) to explain to an indifferent world who they were and what they used to be.

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jo gibson
 jo gibson says:

much as i loved the Police - Tommy Cooper was - and is a legend!

posted 8th September 2016

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