Hi, my name is
Iain Dawson and I play an authentic wartime Spiv from South London.
I've always got a good supply of quality merchandise for sale. It's
not nicked, its just not paid for yet...
Quality goods include:
Stockings, free fitting service
- Fags, all your favourite brands
- Ration Books, some coupons missing
Elastic @ 3d a yard
- Cammy Knickers, real silk
- Watches, ladies
& gents all guaranteed
- Clothing Coupons
- Johnny Walker Whisky
- Tea always
- Butter real stuff
- Corn Beef, not all tins are
- Perfume, Lilly of the Valley
- Powdered Egg
- Wrights Coal
I ain't got it, I can get it. And if I can't get it , it ain't worth
Or 'ave a
butcher's at me website
contact me on the above email and not the one on the website
Digger talks to
Iain about his Viv The Spiv character.
Iain: ‘Ello Digger me old mate, ‘ow are ya?
Digger: Good thanks. Where do you get all your patter from?
Iain: My mate, he said he’d bought one of these expensive
hearing aids, £1,500 worth. And I said “What type is it?” and
he said to me “A quarter to 12.”
Digger: (Laughs) I used to work for a Japanese company for a while
and we were playing a darts match against another company team one
evening in January. “I hope we win tonight” I said to my
Japanese boss. “Yes, VERY cold” He replied. So on with the
Digger. Why is World War Two so big in people’s minds still?
Iain: I think that during the war there were a lot of people
pulling together. You could leave your front door open and all that.
And because we went through such a hard time, people were looking
out for each other. And although there’s not that many left now
who remember it, they’ve passed on the stories to their children
and the younger folk and I think they want to cling on to that.
Plus, there was the fantastic music and fashions and the excitement
of whether we were going to win in the end.
Digger: Or, indeed, if we were going to survive to the next day?
Iain: Make the most of today. People were meeting on Monday and
getting married on the Friday.
Digger: When and where were you born?
Iain: I was born in south London in 1960. Ironically, the
hospital was a building the Germans used to use as a marker
for the incoming bombers. It was a great big white building, so what
the authorities did was paint it black and on the roof they painted
white lines so that from the sky it looked like a road. Once the
Germans had come out of London they used it as a marker and if they
recognised it they would be down to the south coast, over the
channel and back to France.
Digger: I hope the disguise worked.
Iain: I think it did, but there were a lot of V1 rockets landed
around there so it took a few hits. I think they ran out of petrol
about that point. I don’t know if you know but when those V1’s
started to land the government said it was exploding gas mains so
that people wouldn’t panic about this new terror weapon.
Digger: They also underplayed the news coverage and gave false
reports of where they were landing so that the Germans changed their
‘aim’ and missed the built-up areas. So how did you get into
Iain: I got into the dancing back in 2002 because I’d been
watching the series called The 1940s House and after the last
episode they said they were at a 1940s dance, which I didn’t
realise existed at that time. So I got on the Internet and met a
chap called Ian Bailey who runs the 1940s Society and he was having
these dances every six months down in Kent. So I went there and
stood there like a lemon all night and while I was there I met a
fellow called Dave who, funnily enough, lived near to me and he told
me he learned swing dancing around the corner from me. So I started
going along there and they did a thing called War On The Line where
they have a 40s weekend with solders and sandbags and WVS and all
these different characters. He had to get some coppers, sailors,
airmen, nurses and he said “Look, we’re gonna need someone to be
a spiv.” And I said “Well, I dunno about that.” And he said
“You’ve got plenty of chat. You can be the spiv for the
weekend.” I didn’t know much about it really so I went out and
got myself a 'whistle' and a trilby and a tie.
Digger: I suppose you’d seen Dad’s Army and knew what it was
Iain: That’s right. I always liked that Walker character. It
did turn out that my granddad was a bit of a wide boy during the
Digger: What’s the difference between a wide boy and a spiv?
Iain: They’re the same thing really. So I called myself Harry
from Mitcham and at school everyone had called me Viv because I
resembled a footballer called Viv Busby who played for Fulham. So I
thought Viv The Spiv. And I must have had a dozen people come up to
me and say “We’re doing a 40s thing in a couple of weeks, can
you come along there and let us know how much you want?” So it all
started from there. I’ve compeered and I’ve done plenty of
stand-up and I’ve done the Palladium twice and Her Majesty’s
Theatre and some other gigs. The John Miller Big Band and a bit of
dancing and a bit of spivving and now when I go to events I actually
take stuff in my coat and I flog it. I make a few quid for meself, of course. You’ve got to
cover your ex’s guv’nor, ain’t you?
Digger: How are you received by people at the events?
Iain: I always seem to get a good response at the events, more so
than some of the other characters because I’m interacting with
them. I’ve got plenty to say, tell ‘em a few jokes, flog ‘em a
Digger: You’ve never had anybody react to you in a negative way?
Iain: Only once. I had one fellah when I was at a railway event at
Swindon and he came up to me and had quite a 'moosh' on him and he
said “You wouldn’t have a suit like that up the East End.”
‘Cos he’d obviously been there and they’d been hammered, of
course. I wanted to say “Well, you would if you knew my tailor.”
But I thought I’d let him get away with it ‘cos he looked like
he’d been through it and had a hooter like a strawberry and he was
knocking on a bit. He probably still had a good right hand on him.
Digger: The Germans had scored a direct hit on him and he bore a
grudge. Most people will get the joke and what you’re trying to
do, so one isn’t bad, is it? How far do you travel?
Iain: I’ve been doing it for about eight years now and I’ve been
all over really. What I usually do is, if there’s a new event
I’ll go on me ‘Jack’ and then while I’m there I usually get
approached by one of the organisers and they want me to come back
next year. It’s a bit like Iceland, buy one get one free!
There’s a few other spivs on the scene, but a lot of them
haven’t got much to say for themselves. What I have found is that
I’ll say something and then I’ll hear them say something that
I’ve said like “Free fitting service for the nylons, cold hands
guaranteed.” And then they’re saying it. What do they say
Digger: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Iain: Yeah. Everyone comes to up to see me and says “You’re the
best we’ve seen” and all that. And also, ‘cos I’m a big lump
of a geezer, I'm six two and when I walk into a room I fill a room
Digger: They say that about me for a different reason! You look good
in a suit and you’re a good looking bloke.
Iain: Oh, cheers mate.
Digger: And you fit the bill perfectly really.
Iain: And that’s another thing, and all. Because I’m quite
confident and the girls respond well to a bit of flattery.
Digger: Viv has groupies!
Iain: I come home smothered in lipstick sometimes. Never my colour,
may I add?
Digger: And you tell the missus it’s all for the act?
Iain: I tell her I put it on meself. But it’s bit like the Walker
character, he was a bit of a lady’s man and I think if the ladies
don’t like you then forget it. You might have a great suit but if
you’re a little spotty bloke with a bald head and no personality
or patter, then forget it.
Digger: It’s charisma. It’s like you say, when you walk into a
room and people notice you.
Iain: Yeah, that is the word. I mean, anyone can dress up as a
soldier and walk around but to be the spiv character you’ve got to
have plenty of 'bunny'.
Digger: Are spivs a British phenomenon? I’m thinking of Flash
Harry, Del-Boy, Arthur Daley…
Iain: Yes, I think they are. I mean, the war was a hard time but a
lot of the spivs were people who’d got someone to take their
medical for ‘em, you know what I mean? So they weren’t called
Digger: Did they nevertheless provide a service?
Iain: Oh yeah, definitely. It didn’t matter if you were working
class or top of the tree, if someone said “I’ve got two dozen
eggs, no questions asked” and you had hungry kids indoors, you’d
have ‘em wouldn’t you? Everyone was getting petrol coupons. Working
class people didn’t have a 'jam jar', but they were flogging their
coupons because there were people at the other end who did have a
motor and needed the petrol and would pay for the coupons. There
were a load of forgeries going around – I don’t know if you’ve
seen a petrol coupon?
Digger: I’ve seen repros.
Iain: How easy would they be to forge? And look at the identity
cards – no picture on them. You know, anyone with half a bit of
sense and a printing press could knock up a few dozen of them in
ten minutes, couldn’t they?
Digger: I’m sure they did.
Iain: They did. Or you could say all your furniture had been lost
and get a voucher to get more furniture and curtains. There were
people like landlords who, where they had six houses, would say they
Digger: They’re called politicians aren’t they?
Iain: That’s right Digger. They call ‘em spivs now don’t they?
I was talking to a lady recently I was doing some work for at Duke
Street just off of Oxford Street and she was pretty 'minted' and she
was knocking on a bit and her claim to fame was that during the war
her mum and dad owned four tobacconists. Now two of them got
destroyed by bombs but they didn’t declare that their shops had
gone and they still had their books to get this tobacco for four
shops, so they had four amounts going into two shops. They were
doing bloody well out of it. Cigarettes and tobacco were as good as
money in the war – everyone wanted a fag and everyone smoked
Digger: I remember seeing a real wartime public information film and
there’s a minister telling the British public to smoke their
cigarettes right down to the butt. Wouldn’t get that today.
Iain: To save the tobacco, yeah. A lot of the 'lags' would have a
tin because a lot of the cigarettes were non-tipped. The only ones
that were tipped were 'Craven A' with a bit of cork. You’d crumble
the tobacco in a tin and by the end of the week you’d have enough
to make another twenty fags in Rizla papers. There was no wasting
going on. When I’m doing the spiv character, I have one behind me
ear’ole and one in me gob! You can get fake ones but they’re not
the same. I can remember when my kids were little – they’re
eighteen and twenty now – but they were walking around Woolworths
with a fag in their mouths when they were about six and you can
imagine the looks they were getting. They don’t smoke now, and it
was probably a silly thing to do but it was just for a laugh really.
Digger: Where is Viv The Spiv going?
Iain: I spoke to a few people who do television and although I’m
quite a niche market with the forties humour they seem to think
there’s some options there for me. And I’ve compeered the Big
Band Blitz for the past four or five years, but I always get asked
to come back for more. The events are a piece of cake because people
come up to you in character – “Got any petrol coupons mate?”
“Ive’ got plenty of them.”
Digger: You just go into auto-pilot really?
Iain: That’s it. When I started doing work with the Debbie Curtis
Radio Big Band, and she put this show of forties music together
because she works with John Miller who is the nephew of Glenn Miller.
And she asked me to do a bit of the dancing. Then she said she’d
like me to do ten minutes stand-up and I said “That’s not a
problem.” But, as the time was getting nearer I was getting more
and more worried. And when the Sunday of the show came it was at The
Palladium and I got up in the morning and I felt physically ill
with worry. But I thought “I’m not going to get out of doing it
because I’ll look back and think what a wimp. All you’ve got to
do is stand up and tell a few jokes and you can do that all day long
in the boozer.” So, as the afternoon went on I got meself primed
up and sorted mentally. And
it’s not that big, really, The Palladium. You’re standing there
and it’s not that big – on the telly with Bruce Forsyth or Jimmy
Tarbuck it looks huge. So she gave me the sheet and we did a bit of
dancing and then she cued me to come on for my comedy routine and
I’ll never forget because I had half a dozen gags lined-up and as
soon as I got to that mike my mind went totally blank. I couldn’t
think of anything. So I looked out and weighed everyone up and I
said “I hope you’re all having a nice time, ‘cos it’s
all gonna change now.” And they laughed. That gave me a few
seconds. Then I said “If any of you are thinking about chucking
tomatoes at me, I’ve got some tomatoes but mine are in tins.”
And they really laughed and that gave me a few seconds to get me
Digger: And did it all come back?
Iain: Yes. So I worked it out. You tell the gag. They laugh. Wait a
few seconds. Get the next one in the barrel. Then shoot.
Digger: It’s such a scientific thing. You’ve either got them on
your side within thirty seconds or they hate you. It’s so difficult
to get them back after that. Somebody will come out for the first
time, because there are so many styles of comedian obviously, and
people will be weighing them up to see what kind of a comic he is.
Is he really that bad or pretending to be that bad, or is it just
part of the act?
Iain: Yeah, exactly. I went down to this thing down in Worthing and
they wanted me to compere and introduce the band and do some gags in
between. When I got there, there was this bird I'd known from a
dance and who I’d met a few months before. Lovely Babs - can't
remember what her name was! She was lovely and had all the gear and the look. She turned up with
a dodgy looking little geezer with ginger hair covered in spots. And
she introduced him to me and he just pulled a face, you know. He
didn’t like me straight away, so I thought “I’m wasting my
time talking to you mate.” So, I got up and I started doing a few
jokes and I could see ’em standing at the side and he shouted out
“Rubbish!” and I just ignored it and then a couple of minutes
later he shouted out “Rubbish!” again. So I said “Rubbish
mate? There’s a bin at the back, go and put it in there.”
Everyone turned and looked at him and laughed and he went all red. A
couple of minutes later he came back with “No, YOU’RE
Rubbish!” and I said “What, MY rubbish? I take mine home with
me. I suppose YOU don’t. I suppose you’re one of them blokes
that chucks it down the street, ain’t ya? Didn’t your mum ever
tell you about taking it home with you?” And that was that, it
finished him. He left and I never saw him again and when I came off
stage she said “Sorry about that, he’s one of those insecure
blokes." And I said “Well, not only insecure but he’s an
ugly bugger as well.”
Digger: (Laughs) There’s two sorts in this world, the givers and
the takers, the positives and the negatives.
Iain: Since I’ve been doing this I’ve met so many people and
99.9 of them are great and people come up and say “Ello Viv, ‘ow
are ya?” And I don’t remember half of ‘em but they all
remember me and they say “Got any good jokes?” And I say “I've
got plenty of good jokes, just give us a subject.” Just one word
and it will trigger me off with half a dozen jokes, you know?
Digger: That’s the sign of a true professional, that is.
Iain: Yeah!.. I suppose it is.
Digger: You’ve come a long way in ten years.
Iain: I ‘ave really, haven’t I? I’m down at the Kent and East
Sussex Railway this year. They’ve got a thing called The
Evacuation Week and it’s four days this year taking coach loads of
kids down to the station and telling them about evacuation.
They’ve already had the lessons at school about gas masks and
stuff. Then, on the train, they’ve got old evacuees who will tell
them all about it. It was really popular last year and they give me
bed and board and teas and coffees. I do get treated like a minor
celebrity at these events. I’m also down at Kew Bridge Steam Museum
and they do have a forties weekend there but this year they’re
gonna do a couple of days for the local children. ‘Cos it’s a big
year this year, the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk and 65 years VE day.
Digger: There always seems to be an anniversary of some kind,
doesn’t there? They educate the kids still about this.
Iain: Thank goodness, eh?
Digger: Yeah, I think so.
Iain: Lest we forget and all that stuff.
Digger: Well, Iain it’s been great talking to you.
Iain: Thanks a lot Digger:
Digger: Wishing you best of luck for the future.
Iain: Thanks me ‘old mate. Be lucky.
grab meself a cup of Rosie Lee while keeping
a sharp mince pie out for passing trade.
offered the Captain some whisky and stockings for his Missus.
The constable had already ordered three pairs for his
I'm very patriotic -
I even wear union jack underpants, you know.
wiv' some of me mates. "You want cigars, Mr C?
No problem - Cuban or Colombian?"
I'm a celebrity around the town. They'll be printing
me face on the bleedin' stamps next.