The Petula Clark Files


I keep my Petula Clark files in a remote secure storage facility. The perimeter fence is electrified, and patrolled by wolves. The wolves are not electrified, but I am working on it, in partnership with the animal behaviourist and amateur electrician Walter Mad. The wolves have been trained to become docile at my approach, but to attack savagely anybody else, including Walter Mad. The combination of fence and wolves and some fairly stout padlocks ensures that my Petula Clark files remain safe and secure.

It is fifty years since I began my collection. There was a brief report in the local newspaper of the seaside town in which I then lived, announcing a forthcoming concert by Petula Clark. I snipped it out of the paper with a pair of scissors and put it on my desk, under a seaside pebble. Over the following few months I snipped out of various papers several reports in which Petula Clark was mentioned. Some of these were illustrated with photographs of the chanteuse, though the photographs themselves were of low quality, as were most newspaper photographs in those days.

By the time I had accumulated five or six such snippages I lost all interest in Petula Clark. Looking back, it is fair to say that I was never particularly interested in her in the first place. I spent far more of my time, for example, thinking about and studying and even attempting to imitate the behaviour of wolves. Eventually, one blazing summer morn, I looked at the seaside pebble on my desk, and the five or six press clippings related to Petula Clark underneath it, and I resolved – with a sort of manly Jack Hawkins stern-jawed resolve – to find a more efficient storage method for them. After all, it had occurred to me more than once that, were I to move the seaside pebble for any reason, and my window was open, and a gust of wind blew in, billowing the curtains, the cuttings, all five or six of them, could be scattered, untidily, and – perhaps, perhaps – be lost forever.

Hence the files, by which I refer to buff cardboard folders. I bought a packet of these at a stationer’s. I distinctly recall that on my walk to and from the shop, which took about fifteen minutes each way, I did not see a single wolf. This saddened me, but I was consoled, on the way back, that I had acquired a suitable means of storage for my collection of five or six Petula Clark press clippings. I was so eager to return home and set to work that I did not, as I usually did, stop off at the ice cream kiosk to buy a choc ice, which I would then eat while sitting on a seaside bench and staring out to sea. Walter Mad has hatched a scheme to use half-eaten choc ices as bait in the process of electrifying wolves. I must admit I did not quite follow his reasoning, but I feel sure it is sound.

Once home, and having unwrapped from their cellophane the buff cardboard folders, I took five or six of them and placed a Petula Clark snippage into each one, having first, of course, moved the seaside pebble to one side on my desk. I considered marking the folders, for example by writing “Petula Clark Press Clipping No. 1” (and so on, up to No. 5 or No. 6) on the front of each one, but I decided against this. My decision was made the easier because, at the time, I recall I had mislaid my pencil, and I only discovered it some days later, tucked against the wainscot on the opposite side of the room. How it came to rest there I shall never know.

I placed the folders in one of the desk drawers, made a cup of tea, and settled back to gaze at a picture book of wolves I had borrowed from the seaside library. It was long overdue, but I was young and feckless and reckless, and I did not give a hoot.

Despite the fact that I no longer had any interest in Petula Clark, my collection was not yet complete. About three years later, riffling through a colour supplement, I came upon a quarter-page colour photograph of the star, and in a sudden frenzy, as if gripped by demons, I reached for my scissors and snipped it out. Fortunately, in spite of the passing of the years, I had the remainder of the buff cardboard folders close to hand. I took one, placed the colour photograph of Petula Clark inside it, and added it to the collection in the desk drawer. Outside, the sky had darkened, and I swore I could hear the distant howling of a wolf. At that time, I had not yet gained the acquaintance of Walter Mad, so I was not in a position to telephone him to confirm whether that was indeed what I heard.

Many more years passed before I decided to transfer the Petula Clark files from my desk drawer to a remote secure storage facility. The process was surprisingly straightforward, and was accomplished in a single afternoon, with the assistance of Walter Mad, who by this time had become my boon companion. In addition to being an animal behaviourist and an amateur electrician, he also owned a van, which he drove at terrifying speed while wearing a pair of goggles and some sort of home-made cobbled-together gutta percha breathing apparatus. Having secured the Petula Clark files deep in the bowels of the facility, we drove back via an ice cream kiosk and stopped to eat celebratory choc ices while staring out to sea.

I broke our contented silence by asking Walter Mad if wolves are able to swim.

“That very much depends on the wolf and the conditions in the sea,” he said.

“And Petula Clark,” I continued, “Can she swim?”

“I am no expert in Petula Clark matters,” he said, “But I expect she can, yes.”

That was precisely the answer I wanted to hear, though I could not think for the life of me why, as I had no great interest in Petula Clark, then or now.

We digested our choc ices – Walter Mad saving half of his, uneaten, for baiting experiments with wolves – and drove away from the kiosk, as the sun sank in the west, and waves crashed relentlessly against the pointy rocks.

The Light Pours Out Of Me


Here is a snap taken at Yada’s restaurant in Peckham last night, where I did a reading as part of the LitCrawl festival. The photo was taken by one of my fellow-readers, Tony White, and also on the bill was Audrey Reynolds. I read a couple of stories and also took the opportunity to extol the many and various virtues of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives, waving a copy of the book at the audience and reading a couple of extracts. This, for example, provoked pleasingly immoderate laughter:

Scott, George R. (British poultry expert, 20th century). Scott was the author of the 1934 book The Art Of Faking Exhibition Poultry. In the introduction, Socrates, Galileo, Voltaire, Nietzsche and D. H. Lawrence are each called to support his attack on the despicable practice, nowhere more vile than in “the pseudo-scientific Hogan cult, with all its blowsy jargon; its crapulous fundament of snide anatomy; its noisy and prolific drool of whim-wham”.

Swabian Hothead

Perhaps the least-known of the Swabian hotheads, so obscure that we do not know his name, and have never known it, can be seen in the bottom left corner of a mezzotint by the noted mezzotintist Rex Tint, where he is to be seen in full Swabian hothead mode, suitably attired and, we surmise, purple-faced in the throes of tempest, though the mezzotint is monochrome, yet purple we see, by dint of Rex Tint’s artistic chops, honed, if his sister Dot Tint’s memoir is to believed, and why should it not?, upon Tyrolean peaks, in inclement weather, with pencil and paper, and a pipe stuck in his mouth, as gales howled around him, scribbling furiously with the same scribbly fury he would bring, famously, later, oh! years later, to his depiction, so gauche yet valiant, of the Swabian hothead in the corner of a mezzotint otherwise empty of human figures, a picture populated largely by cows, and herons, or moorhens, or some other birds, for as was often said of Rex Tint, not least by his sister Dot Tint, in her memoir, if there was one thing the maestro could not do, for love nor money, it was to draw accurately any of the birds which God created to bless the skies, if, that is, that was the reason for their divine invention, during the seven days of creation, or rather six, six, I am forgetting that on the seventh day He rested, just as Rex Tint liked to take a day off from his indefatigable mezzotinting at least once a week, usually on a Thursday, when he would prop up the bar at his local kloppisguelph and knock back an entire litre of absinthe, in homage to the habits of his hero Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), but so unlike the Swabian hothead, who never rested at all, never, never, so hot was his head that it never allowed him to rest, at least not when he was in Swabia, and he was always in Swabia, as far as we know, he never went further afield, they wouldn’t let him, they’d've stopped him at the border, forbidden him to cross, wisely, it has to be said, wisely, for who can guess at the enormities that would ensue if once the Swabian hothead were given entirely fresh territories in which to be a hothead?, it fair boggles the brain, mine at least, and possibly yours too, though I cannot guarantee it, even if you have been concentrating hard, and furrowing your brow, and chewing the end of the pencil with which, I hope, you have been taking notes, scribbling furiously, like Rex Tint atop a Tyrolean peak, all those years ago, smoking his pipe, swept by gales, that will do for the time being.

Caption Competition



Here is an (anonymous) review on Amazon of Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives:

This is a near-perfect example of a gift book that keeps on giving. Small and appealing, with a well-organised, encyclopaedia-style layout and charming portrait illustrations. The text is a delight – easy to dip in and out of, and full of facts that are perplexing, bizarre, amusing and sometimes poignant. What really sets it apart, however, is Frank Key’s unerring eye for the deliciously obscure and his unique sense of humour, which runs like a seam of precious metal through the book. An unexpected treasure.

I need hardly remind you lot that you are under instructions to buy copies of the book for everybody you know. While you’re about it, you should add your ha’ppenyworth to the online reviews at Amazon. You know it makes sense.

Narcoleptic Presbyterians

Tomorrow sees, at long last, the publication of my important reference book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives. Within its pages you will learn, among much else, that Eric Clapton is an anagram of Narcoleptic, that Britney Spears is an anagram of Presbyterians, and that, during a foopball match in which the Brazilian Ronaldo faced an opposing defender named Rolando, a commentator asked “how long is it since Ronaldo was marked by an anagram of himself?”. There is much more in the book other than anagrams, so go and queue up at your nearest bookshop for opening time tomorrow morning …


Since returning from my jaunt to Belgium I am afraid I have been somewhat indisposed. I shall spare you the details. Suffice to say that my brainpans remain in full (if uninspired) working order. Fine fettle? I would need to consult a qualified fettlist to be sure on that score.

But things are gradually getting back to normal. There was a new piece in The Dabbler on Friday, and after the Resonance summer break Hooting Yard On The Air is back on the air. Last week’s show is available here, and I ought to remind you that each show now appears on Mixcloud almost as soon as it has been broadcast.

Added to which, my book Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives is – at long last – published the day after tomorrow. Of which more later.

In theory I will be back here tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Toppled Infant

Meanwhile, thanks to Poppy Nisbet for drawing to my attention this snap encountered somewhere on Het Internet. She asks : “ Isn’t this someone from your landscape?”


A Gent In Ghent

I am off to Belgium for a bit. Upon my return, I will strive – well, if not every sinew, then at least some of the more sinewy ones, to revive Hooting Yard so that it is once again a busy and bustling thoroughfare o’ prose.


I have decided to devote my life to birdsong. No, not that kind of birdsong, all those trills and squawks and cooing noises that birds make. I mean songs about birds. I have not quite worked everything out in my head, but the general idea is to take familiar songs, not originally about birds, and to amend the lyrics to make them more bird-focussed. I feel this would provide an invaluable musical service for both humans and birds. As an example, here is the first fruit of my project, a rewrite of David Bowie’s 1979 hit Boys Keep Swinging. I hope you will agree that this revised version is superior in every way, particularly from an ornithological point of view.

Heaven loves ya
The clouds part for ya
Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a grebe

Plumage regales ya
Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a grebe

When you’re a grebe
You can soar through the air
When you’re a grebe
Other grebes check you out
You get a fish
These are your favourite things
When you’re a grebe

Grebes keep swinging
Grebes always work it out

Uncage the colours
Unfurl the flag
Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a grebe

They’ll never clone ya
You’re always first on the line
When you’re a grebe

When you’re a grebe
You can dabble about on a pond
When you’re a grebe
Learn to dive and everything
You’ll get your share
When you’re a grebe

Grebes keep swinging
Grebes always work it out

Classical Grunting

As Hooting Yard is the home of The Grunty Man, I thought I should draw to your attention the latest “Ancient and Modern” column by Peter Jones in The Spectator:

What a pleasure it was to watch the men’s final at Wimbledon contested with a minimum of grunting, exclaiming and gesticulation. Romans would have approved.

It was well known that athletes and those taking exercise had a tendency to grunt. Seneca the Younger (c. 4 bc–ad 65), multi-millionaire Stoic philosopher and adviser to Nero, described his unfortunate lodgings over the baths, which made him abhor his ears: quite apart from people hawking their wares, depilators making their victims shriek, bathers singing out loud and splashing about, ‘those working out with weights — whether actually working out or just faking it — grunt away; when they let out their breath, they emit shrill wheezes’. The satirist Juvenal mocks the way female gladiators, taught by their trainers to prepare for the real thing, ‘grunt while they practise thrusts at a tree-stump (and then reach for the potty)’.The assumption is that the grunting associated with exercise was largely a matter of showing-off: it sent out the message ‘look what a heroic effort we are putting into all this’. In a philosophical dialogue, Cicero shines a different light on the matter. Discussing mastery of pain, he sees an analogy between bracing the soul in order to keep a stiff upper lip and bracing the body to sustain a supreme physical effort. In both cases, a groan or grunt may help. He cites athletes in training, especially ‘boxers who, unleashing a blow on their opponent, emit a grunt… in order to tense up the body and so increase the force of the hit’. To that extent, Cicero goes on, a man in pain may release a groan — but nothing feeble or piteous — if by bringing a degree of relief it will strengthen his will for the battle against it.

The two Wimbledon finalists provided an admirable example of skill, determination, self-control and minimal, functional grunting. Perhaps the professional grunters and ranters might mend their ways if crowds grunted and ranted back at them in mocking unison.

I feel inspired by this to write a fat and comprehensive World History Of Grunts And Grunting. Watch this space.


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Dear Mr Key, Are you still alive?

Dear Mr Key, Has your pea-sized yet pulsating brain finally given up the ghost?

Ahoy there Key!, Is there a terrible vacancy between your ears we devoted readers ought to know about?

These are just some of the letters I have received in response to the eerie silence which has fallen over Hooting Yard like a leaden pall. The awful truth is revealed in today’s Dabbler, and it is all about bees!

Pointy Pod

A particularly thrilling new podcast from ResonanceFM.

On Pointy Town

podcast pic

Stunned Duchamp

I am much looking forward to the Joseph Cornell exhibition which opened at the Royal Academy at the weekend. Meanwhile, reviewing the show in The Spectator, Martin Gayford tells us:

Cornell … was one of the few ever to ruffle [Marcel] Duchamp’s philosophical cool. At their first meeting, or so the story goes, they discussed the topography of central Paris in enormous detail, building by building – and in French – Cornell mentioning casually only afterwards that he had never visited the city. Duchamp was lost for words.

Cornell spent his entire life on Utopia Parkway in New York, and never travelled further than Maine.

From The 20th Century

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In my cupboard in yesterday’s Dabbler I resurrected some prose from the last century. The twelve potted biographies you will find there served originally as the texts accompanying illustrations for the 1993 Hooting Yard Calendar, entitled The Golden Age Of Bodger’s Spinney Variety Theatre. (One of the illustrations is reproduced for The Dabbler.)

I revisited some even earlier prose in a dream last night. When I was about fifteen years old I wrote a dreadful surrealist(ish) play-of-sorts called The Shepherd Of Amsterdam. The text no longer survives, long ago consumed by fire or eaten by worms. Last night it returned to haunt me in my sleep. I was in charge of putting on a stage production of the work, due to begin in fifteen minutes in spite of the fact that no rehearsals had taken place and the actors were wholly unfamiliar with the play. Indeed, there was only the single copy of the text in my possession, which I belatedly thought to photocopy. I was heading to the library for that purpose when I was told that the soundtrack CD of the play – produced by a walrus-moustachioed impresario who, I was assured, was “a big fan of Hooting Yard” – featuring music by Verdi and Monteverdi, was ready, awaiting only the addition of the actors performing the words.

Then I woke up.