Here are some amusing examples of how to fail with real elan…
On a flight from Florida to Hanover, Johann Peter Grzeganek. a German tourist, was desperate to relieve himself shortly after takeoff. He could wait no longer, despite the insistence of the cabin crew that he stay seated while the seatbelt sign was on. It was far too late for this so Grzeganek jumped up from his seat and, giving a top drawer performance, shouted in German: “I have to go urgently to the lavatory; otherwise I will go through the roof. I am exploding.” Hearing the words “Ich explodiere” the cabin crew, who spoke no German, assumed he was a suicide bomber and alerted the pilot who dumped all his fuel and did an emergency landing at Fort Lauderdale. There Grzeganek was arrested and imprisoned for 10 months to await trial. When his case eventually came to court the judge dismissed it as ridiculous and apologised to him. Even then his ordeal wasn’t over. Rearrested outside the courtroom because Iris tourist visa had run out. he was sent back to prison in Miami to await deportation. In the hands of a real artist even the simplest everyday event can be transformed into a surreal drama of many acts.
Invited to give a lecture on how to survive in the wild. Alistair Emms arrived early at All-hallows school, which is perched on remote cliff tops near Seaton in Devon. Having time to spare on that fine day in October 1992, he decided to go for a stroll before delivering his talk. When he had not returned an hour later coastguards were sent off to search for him. Failing to find him. the police and two other coastguard units were also called in. By this stage 40 local people, five police officers, a tracker dog and two helicopters were involved. It took five hours to rescue the intrepid explorer. Jeremy Willis, the school’s head of music, said: “One team scaled the cliff face, cutting through bushes and eventually found him.” He was winched onto the helicopter. The lecture was not delivered.
January 2001 is remembered as the launch date of Harry Potter and the Never-Ending Sequels. Sadly, it drew attention away from ‘Offending Angels’, which was released in the same week and became the worst-selling film in cinema history.
It had a fabulous plot about two laddish, layabout housemates who occasionally go outside to play cricket. God takes pity on them and sends a pair of guardian angels, Zeke and Paris, to lead them back to a life of virtue and industry. Happily, Paris used to be a dolphin and Zeke was formerly a squirrel so divine intervention proved a bit of a mixed blessing. Eventually they all fall in love.
At a cinema in Croydon, south London, the only people who saw the film all week were the projectionist and the usher. Fewer than 20 people around the country paid to see it. After VAT and the cinemas’ cut. it made a total profit at the box office of £17. When the DVD came outitbecame a cult collectors item.
In March 1998 police squad cars roared into Rolvenden. Kent, with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing after a gun was seen being fired from a cottage window. More than 30 armed officers surrounded the cottage and the village was sealed off for two hours as police waited for the suspect to emerge.
Marksmen trained automatic rifles on the building and a negotiator crouched behind a car. shouting through a loud-hailer: “We have you surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air.”
Inside. Violet Hook. 86. who was hard of hearing, made herself a pot of tea and relaxed in her kitchen chair, oblivious to the drama. Eventually she heard one of the calls and came out, still carrying the cap gun she uses to scare rooks from her roof, demanding to know what all the fuss was about.
When the police screamed at her to throw down her gun. she replied: “I wont. I don’t even know you. And besides I’m going out and I am busy getting ready.”
In February 1999 David Nowitz. marketing manager of the ‘Society for Family Health’ in Johannesburg, South Africa, admitted that its safe sex campaign had dramatically increased the danger of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
The society had distributed thousands of pamphlets in Zulu, Xhosa, English, Sotho and Afrikaans, all featuring the character ‘Johnny the Condom’ and warning against unprotected sex. A free government condom was attached. Unfortunately all the condoms had been perforated when stapled to the leaflet. “We made a deal with a low-budget distribution company.” Nowitz said.
Since the dawn of democracy we have waited for the definitive election in which no candidate polled any votes at all. It finally happened when Pillsbury in North Dakota held a council election on June 10, 2008 at which no one voted, not even the people at the ballot station. It is the first time that six candidates have stood and not one of them has got in.
“Everybody has got a job and they’re busy.” said the mayor of this small rural community, who was going vote for himself but had crops to tend.
For a quarter of a century the great actor Alan Devlin has stood untouched in his masterful ability to leave the stage in mid-performance with no warning. His finest hour came in the 1987 production of HMS Pinafore at the Gaiety theatre in Dublin. He had delivered half his lines when he turned to the audience, said. “F*** this for a game of soldiers. I’m going home” and clambered through the orchestra pit shouting. “Finish it yourself”.
Really great actors live on in the mind long after they have left the stage and Devlin was no exception. Still wired for sound, he could be heard ordering a round of drinks in the pub next door.
This was the third time that he had shown his mastery of the premature exit, but he always did so halfway through a production to give the audience some idea how dull the evening would be without his intervention.
In January 1998 he met his match. Adrian Hood gave the performance of a lifetime playing a stand-up comedian afflicted by anxiety in Weekend Breaks by John Godber. Setting a new world record, he walked off after the first line. Our man walked into the spotlight, said “I hate flying I do” and left the stage, never to return.
In September 1999 police arrested a woman in Los Angeles who was stark naked with a bucket on her head. Asked to explain this state of affairs, she said that while undressed she had stepped briefly out onto the balcony and the door had locked behind her. Thinking laterally, she put the bucket on her head to hide her identity, went for help and got lost.