Issue 375
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Forget Tom Cruise filming Mission: Impossible in Birmingham – there’s a new spy in town. And he’s not dressed in a neat tuxedo, he’s wearing a gruesome Hawaiian shirt. Milton Jones – Mock the Week’s resident oddball, Radio 4 regular and king of the surreal one-liner – is back on tour and plays the Alexandra on October 24, tickets from £31.90. The wild-haired comedian might not be the obvious choice for a secret agent, but in Milton: Impossible the 55-year-old comic will be taking his audience through an action-packed story via hundreds of his trademark pieces of wordplay. I caught up with the Live at the Apollo star ahead of his Brum appearance, to check he’s had the proper training.
I don't know if you know this but Tom Cruise was in Birmingham recently.
Yes, Tom Cruise, but not his car! He was filming Mission: Impossible, right? I think I know where you're going with this. What I would say is that Tom Cruise has been involved in six previous missions that he has claimed were "impossible", but has sure enough successfully completed. You'd think after two or three he should call it Mission: Perfectly Feasible.

When he was here he managed to eat two back-to-back Chicken Tikka Masalas. I was thinking, you might get some decent PR by eating three while you're here? Your Milton: Impossible, if you will?
When you say back-to-back do you mean in successive meals or in one meal?

One meal.
I did see the photo of him outside the restaurant actually. Well, he'll be a bigger boy in this movie won't he. Which hotel did he stay in?

The Grand Hotel. Where are you staying?
Possibly at my friends house in Bromsgrove. Two tikka masalas?! Crikey. I could eat three portions of apple crumble. Do you think that would get the same PR? I have no boundaries when it comes to apple crumble.
Doubtful. What made you decide on the spy theme for Milton: Impossible?
Basically, I came up with the title before the show. I thought: “That sounds good!” So I made a rod for my own back by theming it. But sometimes it’s easier to write to a theme than have a completely blank page. The show is based on Mission: Impossible, but that has a huge budget and lots of special effects. My show is just me and some hats and about 250 jokes. It’s low- tech instead of high-tech. The show’s got an interrogation scene, a car chase with a swivel chair, and I end up escaping on top of a Vince Cable Car. It’s not strictly realistic, but it’s as daft as ever.

Have you been to Birmingham much?
I've done lots of gigs at the Glee Club and I always really looked forward to playing Birmingham. Believe me, not all clubs are to look forward to, but Birmingham Glee really is. I've played the Symphony Hall too. In fact, the last time I was there, someone got on stage and proposed to his wife. He did check with me first and thankfully she said yes. It would have been a grim end to the show if she'd declined.

Again though, great PR if she had.
Ah yes, very true. This time I'm in Birmingham I'm playing the Alexandra, which is always an absolute pleasure. There's a chap called Milton who works backstage there. I've met about two in my life and one is in Birmingham.
Before touring, you perform work-in-progress shows to test your material. How important are those previews? 
They’re very important. Even after all these years, I’ll think I’ve written the best joke ever and it turns out to be one of the worst jokes ever – but what I’ve improvised off the back of it stays in the show. So I would have never got to point B without going through the dreadful point A.
Do you end up with a lot of great jokes that just don’t fit into the theme? 
Yeah, I do. There are about 250 jokes in the show, but I reckon I end up writing about 350. A lot of them are then used somewhere else – in the next tour, on radio, on Mock the Week – so they’re never wasted. And if they’re particularly brilliant then I might go out of my way to include them in the show.

When do you consider a joke ‘finished’?
When I’ve got an idea over in the minimum number of words, then I know it’s done.

And what makes the perfect joke?
If a gag works, it makes a cartoon in someone’s head – a very brief picture where they think they know where it’s going, and then you pull the carpet from under them and it was all about something else all along. It’s reverse engineering from an idea.
What’s more fun to do: a live show or a TV appearance? 
They’re both good in different ways. Going to small place on a Saturday night where they’re all determined to have a great laugh – I don’t think that can be beaten, in one sense. With radio or television, you’re as good as the edit, and it’s out of your control. That may well work in your favour, or it may not. With Mock the Week, when I think I’ve done a bad show, I’ll watch it back and think, “oh, it was all right”, but when I think I’ve done a really good show I’ll watch it back and think, “oh, it was just all right”. It all evens out.

Do you always watch your appearances back?
Yeah, because I need to know what they used and what they didn’t. Doing several episodes, the same subjects may come back, so obviously I don’t want to say the same thing that has already been aired. And then, occasionally, I’ll be channel flicking and I’ll come across myself, as it’s endlessly repeated on Dave. But I watch them from behind a sofa a bit. I’m very grateful to Mock for giving me a wider platform, and also a slightly different audience. It’s a younger audience, and those people will come to a tour show, sometimes even bringing their grandparents or parents. My audiences are a motley selection of people, which I like.

How do you cater for those different generations in the same audience?
I'm aware that if I make a reference to Instagram or something, I’m going to lose everyone over 50. But that’s fine because overall my references are quite general, and even if you didn’t get it, the joke’s only going to last 20 seconds, so there’ll be something else along soon enough.

You have a Radio 4 series in the works, the tour and more Mock. What’s next?
Who knows what will turn up. Sometimes the unexpected things that come along are the most interesting – other quiz shows, a corporate event abroad – things you wouldn’t have predicted. Doing Celebrity Mastermind or something, you know? 

You were on that, weren't you? What was your specialist subject again? 

Ha! Potatoes! 
I mean, if I’d have taken it seriously I’d have done something like Arsenal. But when he announced it – “your specialist subject is potatoes” – the audience all laughed, and I thought: in a way, I’ve chalked up! I came last, obviously. But I’m employed as a comedian. It’s entertainment. If I get to do it again I’ll choose carrots.

Milton Jones plays the Alexandra Theatre, October 24. Tickets


Benjamin Franklin once said "tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” But he also said "genius without education is like a dog without shoes" so I don't know what to believe any more. Either way, learning even when you're older seems to enrich the soul and the University of Birmingham is gearing up to host its largest-ever Festival of Social Science, spanning topics from climate change to societal change and offering us all the opportunity to reflect on ‘Our Changing World’. Taking place throughout November, the Festival offers a programme of free virtual and physical events during which we're invited to play an active part in discussions about global challenges and how they are transforming the way we live, work and interact. As our lives fall back into a sort of normality, the transition between pre and post pandemic life has highlighted our continuing global challenges, issues relating to climate change, economic recovery and social inequalities remain biggies. Headlining will be an event looking at sport for a new generation, a panel discussion bringing together academics and industry experts where attendees will hear commentary on character and value in sport, inclusion and empowering coaching, as well as fan ownership of football. It's a broad church, this year, proper 'something for everyone' stuff, so take a look at the full line-up


If you want to witness a man with severe anxiety stand up in front of hundreds at New Street Station and conduct a live 80-piece orchestra with exactly zero musical experience, then I'll be doing that Friday, October 15... And you could too! The CBSO are offering Joe Public (me, you, that guy over there) the opportunity to conduct sections of two pop-up performances as part of a city-wide programme of events. During the two 25-minute shows the orchestra will play everything from the John Williams' Star Wars theme to classical showstoppers from the likes of Berlioz and Rossini, with conductor Michael Seal (thankfully) holding the baton. Then, towards the tail-end of both sets and in 30 second bursts, selected members of the general public and at least one hyperventilating writer will step up to master Mozart's the Marriage of Figaro. No problem. They're also keeping a few slots available for people who show up on the day and decide they'd like a go. Maniacs. From 4pm to 4.25pm and 5.30pm to 5.55pm tomorrow, as part of a programme of musical events which have been made possible by support from the CBSO'S new principal partner HSBC UK and Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund. 


Birmingham International Piano Festival returns following a two-year break and it'll take place in the gorgey surrounds of the University of Brum's Elgar Hall, in the Bramall Building. The Bramall sits near the foot of the 'Old Joe' tower with the 450-seat auditorium, named after the uni's first Peyton Professor of Music (Edward Elgar), considered the most flexible performance space at a UK university. Suitable for performances from solo voice, early music, to a full symphony orchestra, when not used for music, it is a high profile location for drama, dance and dead fancy lectures. It's well worth seeing. At the festival, Alexandra Dariescu stands out as an original voice championing diversity, and her performance on 10 November highlights music from French female composers. Children aged 3 to 7 (and their grown ups, presumably) are invited to Groove Into the Woods in a special jazz- and funk-fuelled family adventure that lands during half term. Birmingham favourite Di Xiao performs music inspired by spring, hope and rebirth on 5 November, and popular pianist Kenneth Hamilton returns for a lecture-recital with works by Liszt and Chopin. The festival runs October 26 to November 12. Prices vary. More
Venue: Raja Monkey, 1355 Stratford Road, B28 9HW; Website 
Choice: Monkfish Moilee (£16.29) Chooser: Munayam (head chef) 

I'm announcing a tireless roots and stem investigation into how I left it 3 years between Raja Monkey visits. The place has doubled in size since I last indulged in what is, surely, one of suburban Brum's best venues. They’ve managed to pass that tricky test of expanding (a lot) without losing charm, the open kitchen still a glorious centre-piece. The restaurant didn’t have that horrible barny/empty feel that many overextended places get, and it was bubbling with diners on a Wednesday night. They've shifted away from street food (while everyone else desperately pulls into that direction) and towards what can best be described as Lasan's little sister. I mean, it's always has been part of the Lasan Group, of course, but now it looks and feels like Lasan Lite, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment. It's like the quality has shifted up a gear or two, and sure the prices have crept with that, but in doing so they've found, or even created, their own niche. A "nice occasion, but doesn't have to be a big occasion" sort of a restaurant. A 41st birthday not a 40th. The service, as always, was slicker than a buttered otter, with the scallop with spring cabbage chutney, peanut and cucumber kakdi "small plate" (bit punchy at £12.79) a velvety, super soft and impeccably seared hit. When ordering (and this was a really flex move) the waiter said they’d got to the point where there wasn’t much they could do to improve the tandoori chicken, so they've stopped trying. The implication being it can't get any better and, sure enough, they're right. I've never had better tandoori chicken, anywhere. Chargrilled, blistered skin duveted over supple chicken — chef knows how to master the tandoor without drying out the bird — an immediate addition to my Brummie death row meal and a £6.79 steal. The monkfish main (£16.29) is a wonderful example of a chef balancing flavours, nothing over-powering, just nuanced and refined, the fish sits in a creamy, coconutty sauce that I would gladly have placed my entire face deep into had it not been, you know, niggling social norms. The mutton chops in prunes (£13.99) is absolutely a sharer of a dish. A rich, spicy, stocky, deep and fruity number, it's delightful to dip into but, I suspect, a battle to put away solo. Thin, crispy naan was faultless but the king of the sides were the samphire fries – the ultimate in bitter, salty deep-fried naughtiness, hiding under the cover of veg. It won't be three years again, I promise. It's got to be somebody's 41st birthday soon. Menu


Head empty. Can't think about anything else except this extraordinary scene from Doctors in which Cov singer Navin Kundra tears up the screen with a big (and I mean Bollywood BIG) choreographed marriage proposal special. I don't know what I was doing at 1.45pm on June 9, 2017, but I wish I was watching BBC Two. The scene was joint winner at the British Soap Awards, along with, apparently an Eastenders rooftop fall that I won't be YouTubing. Kundra, for the uninitiated, is one of the strongest forces in the British Asian Music Industry, with several number 1 hit singles and awards. His recent achievements include completing his first ever Bollywood movie, scoring his third consecutive top-15 UK urban charts hit with and performing at Wembley in front of 60,000 for the Indian PM. Fancy some floor rocking? Kundra performs as part of B:Music’s Midday Mantra series in partnership with Sampad on Saturday October 30, 1pm, Symphony Hall. Free!


Have you got nerves of steel and just eight pieces of the Queen's gold coin? Fancy sitting in a shipping container, slipping on some headphones, being plunged into darkness and experiencing a séance? This October at Bullring & Grand Central as part of Birmingham Hippodrome's Festivals Programme, the first Darkfield shipping container experience, transforms the interior of a 24ft metal room into a Victorian séance. Over 20 minutes it explores the psychology of a group of people, and asks that they believe, not only in what seems to be happening inside the container but also in what might be conjured up into the room with them. The production company doesn't like to giveaway too much so that the experience isn’t spoiled or impacted in, but the company behind it have serious pedigree. The experience will be available to book between October 27 to 31 it'll take place on St Martin's Walk, between 1pm and 8pm. Tickets are priced at £8 and are available to book now. More
A solidarity protest following several hate crime attacks in tow takes place today at 6pm, outside the Nightingale. 

Good morning and hello very much. I Choose Birmingham has been nominated for Small Business of the Year at the Birmingham Awards and if this email has ever been of use to you, a little vote (which takes 15 and half seconds — I know because I've timed it) would be splendidly appreciated. You don't need to vote in every category. Vote

There's a sushi meets cocktails mash-up taking place on November 7. I've not eaten OKO's food but I can absolutely 100% vouch for the Ikigai cocktails of which you'll get five plus grub, for £40 pp. More

Aerial yoga at Moseley Dance Centre? Saturday, October 23 and £30 for two hours. More

New cocktail bar Manahatta opens on Temple St this weekend. Facebook

An evening of poetry with the head of the department of Film and Creative Writing at University of Birmingham, Luke Kennard, is happening in Bournville. I wasted about 90 mins trying to make this AOB mention int a poem but gave up. November 18, £7.50. Details 
South Birmingham Curry Club is back and you have until 6pm today to get your orders in for tomorrow's delivery. I'll be having the beef rendang, ta muchlies. £8
Kings Heath Pizzeria Poli goes vegan for one night only, October 25.
An unsubscribable offence maybe but I'm going to mention Christmas and Milan Topalovic's beautiful Bournville cards
WORDS: Tom Cullen and Ben Williams

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"Hard to tell if people are interested in joining my
Sarcastic Club or not…"

Milton Jones

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