The Independent London Newspaper



NO JOKE AS FLYERS ARE GROUNDED - Fears for world famous comedy venues as promotional leaflets are banned

Comics and promoters protest against the flyers ban in Leicester Square

 No laughing matter... Leicester Square comedy clubs’ fight for survival is bit by a ban on flyers

Published: 25 June 2010

THE West End’s reputation as the world’s leading stand-up comedy destination could be in jeopardy after a clampdown on ­venues handing out flyers.

Westminster Council have imposed a blanket ban on flyers being distributed in and around Leicester Square because it says visitors feel “harassed”, and that “overzealous promotion” is spoiling the area.

Three popular club nights have gone under in the past six weeks and promoters fear they will have little choice but to leave the square – ending its 40 years as the home of British stand-up – unless the ban is lifted.

The central London comedy circuit is made up of around 20 clubs in the Leicester Square area – the Comedy Store being the most well known – and is credited with launching the careers of Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Al Murray, Michael McIntyre and Omid Djalili.

David Mulholland, who runs the Soho Comedy Club, described the ban as a “life or death” issue for grassroots comedy, which relies on flyers for survival, adding that it would seriously damage the calibre of the next generation of comics. Dozens of club owners, fans and comics themselves have signed a petition for the ban to be lifted.

Mr Mulholland said: “Already we have lost three shows, takings are down and staff are being laid off. I’ve already had to sack people. 

“Leicester Square has had a comedy heritage dating back to the 1970s. It literally invented alternative comedy right in the middle of Westminster Council’s patch – surely this is something worth fighting for. 

“For my shows in the summer I’d say 60 per cent of the punters come because of flyering. It’s our life blood. Leicester Square is probably the only place in London where people come looking for something  to do.”

Leicester Square is on the frontline of the council’s drive to clean up the West End ahead of the London Olympics in 2012. The clampdown marks the final push in an £18million makeover. Critics of the revamp suspect purging the comics is “collateral damage” in a bid to overhaul the square for the cinemas and casinos that have contributed towards the cost.

Another promoter, Brendan Naughton, whose Funny Ha Ha club folded last month, said: “It’s literally killing the scene as we speak. There’s no argument about London being the capital of the world for comedy. It is.”

Steve Bennett, editor of the UK’s leading comedy website, Chortle, joined the rallying cry. He said: “It’s very hard to start up in comedy, and these are the people being affected by this blanket ban. Flyering is very important to the business. 

“Alternative comedy has its roots in Leicester Square with the Comedy Store setting up, and while New York might have invented it, there is no doubt that London is the best in the world. It’s the only place where comics can make a living.”

The Boom Boom Comedy Club at Oxygen, Funny Ha Ha at the Roundtable and the West End Comedy Club have all been forced to close. The council has conceded it does not have legal powers to stop people handing out flyers but a City of Westminster Act that would extend powers to outlaw flyering is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords. Some premises, it says, have conditions placed on their licences that prohibits it.

Andy Ralph, licensing manager for Westminster City Council, said: “We frequently receive many complaints from residents and visitors who are upset about harassed by overzealous promoters, and we have approached all businesses to comply with this request.”

When asked about threats made to licensees a Westminster Council spokeswoman said: “Premises with licences that have it as a condition are in breach of their licence and therefore face formal action for that breach under the Licensing Act 2003. Even if it is not a specific condition they are required to promote the licensing objective and if they are not they face action under the Licensing Act 2003.”



The unbanned...

There are more flyerers than ever before in Leicester Square, the problem is most, if not all of them are working for a scam comedy club, which is seemingly unaffected by any licensing issues, operating as it is out of a hotel. This club is run by someone with an absolutely abhorrent reputation in the industry, does not pay it's acts (in fact, for the £8 or £12 ticket price, it features either just the proprietor of the night insulting the audience for an hour, or a very mixed bag of comedians from the open mic circuit, all desperate to perform and learn their craft, but not necessarily worth the cover charge). The problem is, tourists coming to the area start to think this is representative of the quality of comedy in London, whilst plenty of well run nights, with cheaper entry fees, better (paid) acts are struggling to get an audience for fear of flyering in the square.

Scam Club

It isn't the job of Governments to police the quality of live entertainment - that should be the job of critics and the punters job to inform themselves before they go... Making the local Government into artistic critics of comedy is a dangerous centralisation of political power. So the Government is now caught between two stools - it cannot get further legislation against flyering onto the statute books because of the bad publicity surrounding the original stealth legislation and how it's been instituted on the sly - and also having criminalised normal promoting activities it has created an arena in which everything is run by the kind of people who dont care about their reputation and will always find a way round any rules. This is what happens when you abolish free markets and free speech. I wouldn't personally want to go to any night run by the gentleman to whom you allude but I will defend to the death the right of anyone to run a night badly.

Anthony Miller

These changes are not just happening here - they are everywhere, they are the result of BIDs - public private partnerships to PRIVATISE your public space. BIDs represent the most massive changes in the public right to access public space since the Enclosure Acts of the 1850s forced people off farms and into the cities. They are stealth imposed legislation cunningly concealed in minor pieces of "routine" legislation like Environment Acts and Local Government Acts ...hived off to local government to implement -
as local Government's job is to take the blame for all the most unpopular legislation. Specifically to avoid ANY PUBLIC DEBATE OR LOBBY GROUPS FORMING UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE! BIDs even have their own private police forces - the City Guardians.
The Business Police - Here to keep your small business small.

Insanely though BIDs can be voted in by businesses once they exist not everybody who pays the business rates to fund them has the right to joing them.

Westminster Council's arguements are Bullshit. They are part of a coordinated strategy to NATIONALISE the promoting industries and exert political control over the distribution of printed matter. Obviously if you told the public upfront their public space was being sold off and the police privatised a riot would break out. So the changes are implemented covertly in a piecemeal way using salami tactics. There'll still be as many people in promotion - they'll just be under government control.
Westminster Council is revamping the Square for the Olympics and the Film Industry and ordinary people who want to break into the entertainment industry can now get stuffed as we dont do social mobility in this country any more.

Leicester Square was given by Albert Grant to the Government in 1874 to be preserved for the FREE USE and Enjoyment of the Public not for a Public-Private partnership to abuse into a posh-people-only-cartel.

Welcome to the world of Government organised "fun".

Leicester Square is not a "level playing field for comedy promoters" like Tiananmen Square.
It is only a matter of time till someone is imprisoned for political flyering as has happened already in Japan.
Not since Daniel Defoe has a British government gone to such fantastic efforts to punish someone innocent for self publicity.

Post new comment

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.