Search
Close this search box.

Podcast Transcript – Harry Brunjes

Harry Brunjes

Harry Brunjes (00:00:00):

I think people have funny bones, and it is, people can say funny things or they can do funny things. And if it’s not there, it’s not there. I don’t think, I know it’s quite fashionable to say anybody can dance and anybody can sing. But if you haven’t got a decent singer voice in the first place, you know you’re not gonna star at The Collesium

Paul Boross (00:00:27):

Welcome to the Humourology Podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business, sport, and entertainment, who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line.

(00:00:55):

 Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.

(00:01:03):

My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is a renowned medical doctor and the founder of the Premier Medical Group. Throughout his career, he has sat at the head of many boardrooms as chairman of companies such as Personal Injury Forum at BUPA Limited, and Keo Healthcare, just to name a few. In addition to leadership in the Business boardroom, you can also find him as the Chairman of Lansing College, fellow of the Woodard Corporation, a council member of Suffolk Cathedral Development Trust, and the chairman of the English National Opera. In addition to his contributions to medicine and business, he is known for his funny bone, including performing as a standup while studying to be a doctor. His talks are captivating and comedy ridden, leaving audiences and the likes of Tommy Steele and Sir Tim Rice cackling in his wake. The only thing more impressive than his list of titles and accomplishments are his glorious gifts for the Game of Golf. Dr. Harry Brunjes, welcome to the Humourology Podcast,

Harry Brunjes (00:02:15):

Not sure, I can follow that. The all say in show business, the hardest thing is to follow yourself, thank you for that glorious kickoff there. I’m all yours.

Paul Boross (00:02:24):

Oh, well, it’s lovely to have you here, Harry, and really pleased you could take the time. Firstly, I’d like to take you back to the early years when you were growing up. You were born to the Sound of Song. Your father was the oldest of three brothers who trod the boards as the singing Scott Brothers, a close harmony doo-wop group. Music was obviously everywhere, but was humour also valued in your family?

Harry Brunjes (00:02:54):

If you go back to that, I’m the fifth, Harry Brunjes, who’s had show business, you know, has had comedy in the Blood, you know, and what’s that lovely line, it’s a shame of comedy, never reached my act, but , my, my great grandfather was Principal Flautist for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra. My grandfather was a pianist and played in the silent movies, my father then became a variety star with two brothers in the singing Scott Brothers, and they started in Kilts and Tartan jackets in Scotland, but the whole thing spread to England, and they ended up doing summer seasons at the big, the big seasons like Blackpool and Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth. And then they did the Royal Variety Show in 1952 at the London Coliseum. So that links in nicely with me being, you know, nearly a decade as chair at the London Coliseum.

(00:03:57):

And then the reason they really  stopped doing that was they were all married with young children, first of all. And then you mentioned Tommy Steele, who’s a long-term family friend, but with the arrival of Tommy in 56 and Bill Haley and The Comets, my father, in his two brothers thought that close-knit harmony stuff, Mill’s brothers, Ink Spots type stuff, wasn’t gonna sustain. And, then they were gonna go into Blackpool one summer, uh, in 57, 58 with George Formby, but then they decided against it. But if I let you back in the bit, which I thought was rather cheeky was a couple of years later, by which stage all three of them were now school teachers. they got a phone call from the London office about a Sunday concert at the Opera House, Blackpool and the Stars were every Sunday, a big American style like Lena Horn, Johnny Ray, Guy Mitchell, um, got the guy who was in the Godfather, whose name escapes me, the crooner, uh, come to me in a minute, the Deep River Boys and rather cheekily not having done anything on stage for two years at that level, they turned up to the Opera House and they rehearsed in the afternoon, and they opened for Lena Horn and Guy Mitchell. And so that’s one of our family anecdotes.

Paul Boross (00:05:31):

Wow. That, that’s extraordinary. Well, I mean, obviously song was everywhere and music was everywhere in those variety acts. Was comedy also important and did that – a sense of fun, a sense of humour – pervade the family.

Harry Brunjes (00:05:47):

So they were three brothers, and when they were at their pomp, the ages were, I dunno, 26, 24, 22. And so there was a lot of sibling gags on the stage and a lot of messing the back, a lot of lighthearted introductions, and then a lot of comedy songs like a comedy version, a number called Donkey Serenade and things like that. So, there was a, there was a stack of that

Paul Boross (00:06:14):

And, and was

Harry Brunjes (00:06:15):

They never did… none of the three of ’em actually did… they did lighthearted. They were good talkers. They were good spontaneous talkers. They never actually did the sort of naked 12 minute spot you and the microphone. They never did that, you know?

Paul Boross (00:06:30):

So it was patter – a bit of patter in between?

Harry Brunjes (00:06:33):

Yeah, they, they taught me the whole patter and all the standard stuff. Yeah.

Paul Boross (00:06:37):

Well, you said they’ve taught you the whole patter. I mean, so was the Young Harry humorous?

Harry Brunjes (00:06:43):

Uh, I think I was. And then as then my father ended up, uh, as a school teacher in Lowestoft. then he became a headmaster in Bedford in later years but for about 10 years when all the big shows came into Great Yarmouth, my father knew them all. And as a boy, I had the great thrill of standing at the side of the stage watching Morecombe and Wise going on, watching Bruce Forsyth going on. I was only eight, nine, or 10. But it was highly influential to stand there at these summer shows and to have – Lenny the Lion – who’s a family friend – and, you know, watching them, watching them come on Sandy Powell, you know, just the little skills which we may go onto the ability, how important it is as an act to be able to walk on and walk off and look as if you know what you’re doing. You know, it’s, most people, audiences want people to do well, but they can smell if somebody has fear and that walk on to the middle, you know, ladies and gentlemen, Harry Scott, and you walk out and you look as if you mean business. And so I was taught all that. I watched it. And then, as the years weren’t on, and we may come onto it, I worked with some of these stars,  Sandy Powell in particular was very helpful.

Paul Boross (00:08:03):

And when you say helpful, because a lot of people who listen to this podcast around the world, you know, one of their main fears is speaking in public, and you’ve just touched on something I think that is already important, this walk on, uh, people buy confidence. And as somebody who works in psychology, I’m interested having done it myself. What is that thing that you could say to people? How do you walk on and give the audience a feeling that you are confident?

Harry Brunjes (00:08:37):

It’d be worth your while watching some of the old timers, if you watch Norman Wisdom make his entrance, you watch Frankie Howard make his entrance, I think, and Doddy – Doddy worked very fast when he came out, but he was a busy bee, but it was rehearsed within an inch of his life. You know, the hat, the big furry coat, the big tickling stick and looks as if it was all spontaneous, but it was out stage, left tickle stage, right. Tickle, how are you, missus bend forward, look to the side all rehearsed. Norman Wisdom come up, pretend to fall. And Kathy, my wife, did a show with him, the pretending to full bit and tripping up bit. It all looked spontaneous. It was rehearsed like a ballet and it’s remarkable. If you watch Morecambve and Wise, here’s only one live clip of theirs, as far as I know, from the Fairfield Halls 50 years ago. That’s right. And you watch them come out. Ernie goes first, he comes behind, they walk together, they walk over stage left, take a call, walk over stage right, take a call, then take a boulder. Then they cross over that all looks as if it’s just very natural. It’s beautiful stuff.

Paul Boross (00:09:48):

So one of the things you touch on there is actually the rehearsal of that. So it’s actually very, very clear, you know, that, that, that when you come on, you own the stage. I spent 10 years working at the Comedy Store. Yeah. And I always say to people, it’s about putting everybody else at their ease. So they go, they’ve got this, they’re in charge. And, and you’ve talked about your father and his brothers being, uh, school teachers and headmaster. And, and things isn’t, is that the same thing that, that walking in and taking charge?

Harry Brunjes (00:10:26):

So my father as a headmaster was… he wasn’t a disciplinarian, but he had discipline. And he used to say the public speaking bit of school teaching is terribly important. You will never, when you’re at school, there were teachers who could be five foot tall, but you wouldn’t mess around with, and there would be teachers who were six foot six and you would mess around with, there was just something about the personality that they meant business. And so my father’s confidence in public speaking, school assemblies and all that sort of stuff he just had it. And he relates lots of his life as I do to these very experiences you’ve had along the line.

Paul Boross (00:11:11):

Well, I, I think it’s one of the best founding blocks. I mean, you went on to work as a GP before founding the Premier Medical Group. and obviously you sold your clinics and everything. As a successful businessman, do you think on the back of what you just said, has humour actually helped with the whole business aspect?

Harry Brunjes (00:11:37):

I’ve done some pretty big negotiations, and when you’re closing out on a multimillion pound deal, if anybody ever listens, whoever listens to the podcast, if you’ve done that, I never know why that you’ve been negotiating due diligence for nine months, and yet you’re still stuck in a big legal office at 4:00 AM in the morning arguing the toss and signing it all away, then you, you end up arguing over trivia as you get nearer. I sometimes say it’s a psychological thing that people don’t want to sign or don’t want to close, or the lawyers want to continue making money, but you go there at 4 in the morning, and my technique, and I do it naturally, is to keep chucking in bit of patter. It gets tense and somebody will say something stupid and I will say, are you still available for pantomime? And I’ll do something like that, because it gets tense and you’ve got to bring people back from the brink. And sometimes they get so tense, they’re on the verge of either really losing their temper or making a fool of themselves. And I just do it naturally. That bit has been so much part of me now. It’s preconceived. I don’t do it.

Paul Boross (00:12:47):

Well, there’s a very interesting social science study. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across it, whereby in negotiation, which you just talked about, they found that when people negotiated straight, they didn’t get as good a deal as when they used like words at the end of, uh, the negotiation, which were I’ll also throw in my pet frog.

Harry Brunjes (00:13:10):

Yeah, they do things like that.

Paul Boross (00:13:11):

Yeah. And so what it does, I think it just lightens the situation and perhaps opens the door and humour opens that door, which is an interesting concept.

Harry Brunjes (00:13:23):

Well, I say things like, you know, if you stick another naught on the end of this, you can spend a whole year at my house in Spain, playing golf at Valderama, and they go, we can’t move the price Dr. Brunges. I said, well, bang goes that… bang goes that year’s golf, you know, and listen, some of it I can’t remember, it just comes off the top of my head. It’s like ad-libbing.

Paul Boross (00:13:42):

Well, it is. But do you think that that has a marked, effect on why business people work better when they can ad-lib and they can play with the room, as it were?

Harry Brunjes (00:13:59):

Well, I always like to leave somebody with something. I also like to think we’d do a deal again. And maybe it’s the insecurity of a comic. I’d like to think they like you a bit, that maybe when it’s all over, you’d have a decent lunch or a dinner anyway, cuz you never know when they come around on the roundabout of life again. So I’m not into, uh, that sort of Wall Street, Michael Douglas bashing them into submission, you know, taking ’em for everything they’ve got.

Paul Boross (00:14:31):

No, I think that and it’s an interesting thing that I, you who have been a very, very successful businessman and your chairman of all kinds of places still value humour as the difference that makes a difference. And what you just said I thought was very interesting. I still think people will do better business with people they like and they trust.

Harry Brunjes (00:14:55):

Yeah.

Paul Boross (00:14:56):

What do you think about that? Is that crucial?

Harry Brunjes (00:14:59):

It’s all about people, isn’t it? You know at the end of the day, people do business with people and, you know, you don’t do business with a balance sheet. You don’t do business with a CRM platform. You don’t do business with a back office payroll. Uh, at the end of the day, you know, I’ve got, I had this yesterday. Um, somebody was moaning, uh, I won’t say which bank it was, I’m moaning about the bank. God, you can’t trust them these days. And in fact, that’s not fair on the bank because the only reason you say that, cause you’re fallen out with the one person on the telephone and because one person in these huge multinational banks doesn’t serve you correctly, that then immediately accentuates being the whole bank is rubbish. And, so it’s it’s all of that really.

Paul Boross (00:15:49):

Do you think that as a leader, it’s, you set the tone for everyone around you? Cuz you just talked about sort of one person on the phone, you know, that can ruin somebody’s impression of a whole organisation. How incumbent is it on the leader to lead with laughter, if you like, or lead with lightness?

Harry Brunjes (00:16:11):

But there, there are many ways to lead, I personally find with comedy and being lighthearted about it, works. but the ethics, the values, which are, you know, fashionable words these days, the mission and vision comes from the top. It comes from the top, you know? And it’s important not to abuse that power. Uh, you can, I, I’ve got, this is probably not to do with your podcast, but with football clubs in particular they spin round leaders at great great rate. Uh, because there is, there is an underlying culture to most of our big, you know, to Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal are different. And often when you put big personalities into these big institutionalised clubs, there’s immediately a collision between the ethics and values of this new personality both interacting with the long standing culture of the club and it doesn’t sometimes work.

Paul Boross (00:17:13):

So what, so what is the way through that then, in your opinion?

Harry Brunjes (00:17:18):

Oh, that’s a different point. As a chair there’s nothing more important than you do than you hire a chief exec.So when I’ve hired Chief Exec in, in the West End, I keep pointing cause it’s just over there. West End or or in education chair in at Lancing or in business, I must admit, I spend a lot of time on those processes. You know, you only get one chance to make a first impression and that appointment of a Chief Exec must be right.

Paul Boross (00:17:49):

So, uh, and what are you looking for? How important is humour in that process? Do you have to, I mean, could you get a chief exec who was dour and didn’t have a sense of humour. Or is it something that sways the balance?

Harry Brunjes (00:18:05):

Uh, well, well this is the value judgement . I undoubtedly work better with Chief Execs who can make me laugh. And of course it’s very sensible for them to laugh at my jokes as well. That goes a long way, <laugh>.

Paul Boross (00:18:20):

Well, yeah. But isn’t that about getting rapport with people, isn’t it? And if they can get rapport with you, presumably they, the undercurrent in your mind is will they be able to get rapport with the team and bring people with them rather than, you know, be authoritarian.

Harry Brunjes (00:18:39):

Yeah, well I just think there are some major people, we all know of in life who, if they could have had a lighthearted moment, I dunno, just off the top of my head, um, let’s take Gordon Brown, well, I dunno, I’m mentioning him this morning, but Gordon Brown, clear intellectual foundation, extremely bright, uh, but a serious man and could be on the, on the dour side of life but on occasions later, later life. And I’ve seen him interviewed retrospectively or giving comment on a current situation. He is, he is funny, he is bright, but that never came out when he was leading the Labour party or the country

Paul Boross (00:19:22):

Talking about politicians, do you think that that humour and or perceived humour and charisma is now crucial for somebody to actually get there? Because we see what’s happening at the moment. Boris Johnson, you know, got a 80 seat majority by per being perceived as that. And now the perception is, which I don’t think is true, is that Keir Starmer is a bit dour and is a bit straight. Do you think now the public are looking for charismatic, humourous leaders?

Harry Brunjes (00:19:58):

Well, you’ve fall into one of my little after dinner lines, when we had Boris one side and Keir the other. I said, you know, my view leadership, you have to have swaggar and substance. And when Boris was Prime Minister, I said, we have a Prime Minister full of swagger, but no substance. And we have a lead of the opposition who’s full of substance and no swagger. And that’s where I landed on it. And I can smell cause I like PMQs, I watch it if I can. He’s doing his best Kier to get a bit more swagger but going back to comedy, even though he is a barrister, he doesn’t quite get, he doesn’t quite time the gag sometimes. And he lays them up that, you know, you, it’s sometimes they’re trailed too much and he ruins it by over trailing the punchline. He’s not, he doesn’t naturally feel the journey to the punchline sometimes. And he’s clearly been taught how to do it. And I bet he’s in and out of studios rehearsing all day long.

Paul Boross (00:20:59):

Well, that’s really interesting because, you, with your show business roots and show business background, do you think that comedy can be taught? Or is it an instinct that is within people who hear the beats naturally and are able to, to do it?

Harry Brunjes (00:21:19):

You know, the film with Jerry Lewis? Funny Bones?

Paul Boross (00:21:22):

Yes.

Harry Brunjes (00:21:23):

Lovely line. You know what he is trying to teach his son comedy and he says, son, some people say funny things, others do funny things, it breaks my heart to say it to you but you can do neither <laugh>. It’s a lovely scene on the beach when his son is trying to follow his father. I think people have funny bones and it is, people can say funny things or they can do funny things and if it’s not there, it’s not there. I don’t think I know it’s quite fashionable to say anybody can dance and anybody can sing, but if you haven’t got a decent singing voice in the first place you’re not gonna star at the Coliseum and the great dancers, who come through Strictly you know, ones who’ve done well, they would still look pretty exposed coming out on stage at the Royal Ballet Company, you know, the Royal Opera House, I think. Um, so I think you’ve got to have something there. We all have innate talent. You may be the greatest world canoeist and we don’t know cause you haven’t done it. You may have an innate skill there and you don’t know it.

Paul Boross (00:22:29):

No,

Harry Brunjes (00:22:30):

You could be made more money doing canoeing than you could do the podcast. You may not know that, but this could be a directional moment for you.

Paul Boross (00:22:38):

Oh, well I’m gonna take that and give this up and go canoeing!

Harry Brunjes (00:22:44):

Take that as an action.

Paul Boross (00:22:47):

It’s interesting cuz when you were talking now I was thinking, um, we had William Hague on the podcast who was brilliantly funny at PMQ’s and, Alastair Campbell, who he also had on the podcast was said, the only person they feared was William Hague because he was funny. But William Hague categorically on the record, said Margaret Thatcher was not funny. She didn’t get anything and, and, and, and really just didn’t get the gags and didn’t have that grounding of hearing funny, feeling funny or whatever it is. So is it just a gift given from God?

Harry Brunjes (00:23:28):

Well, William, I know William Hauge – I sat on the, in my early days at ENO I sat on the board with Ffion Hauge she was a fellow board member. So I spent time with him. He clearly is a natural comic and he’s a well known after dinner speaker. And as you know, he became all the rage when he was a funny 14 year old, wasn’t he at the conference? And, and he suddenly, no, no, he has comedy. I mean he has timing. There’s another story about Margaret Thatcher, which Charles Moore gives about comedy. They wrote about her lack of knowledge or understanding of it. They wrote a piece, it’s when the Labour Party, you know, they changed the mantra. They had a dove, didn’t they? What’s the labour part?

Paul Boross (00:24:13):

Oh, that’s right. The logo. Yeah,

Harry Brunjes (00:24:15):

The bird on it. So the script writers 40 years ago wrote a whole piece for Her mimicking and plagiarizing the Dead Parrot sketch from Monty Python. So it was all written out for her and she’d rehearsed it. She said, I don’t think this about the Dead Parrot’s funny. I don’t think it’s funny. They said, Prime Minister it will work if you just pause there, hold there, do the comparison with Dead Parrot. It will land. That is funny. She goes, well, if you say it, I’ll go out and do it. And she was standing in the wings at the Bourmouth conference – again, still right about the Dead Parrot. And then she said to the script writers, this fellow Monty Python, is he one of us

Paul Boross (00:24:57):

<laugh>?

Harry Brunjes (00:25:00):

She had no idea who Monty Python was. I said, Charles Moore dines out on that. This fellow Monty Python… Anyway, there you are.

Paul Boross (00:25:09):

Oh, well, going down that road. What makes you laugh, Harry? I see Max Wall on your wall behind you, so I’m presuming that he’s one of them.

Harry Brunjes (00:25:20):

There he is. So, uh, after my early days with my father, then when I was at school at the age of 14, I started work as a Butlins Red Coat. So I did three years as a red coat, and I got into a thing, which was very big business. I got into the Red Coat Show, which then I travelled around all the Minehead and the Fileigh and the Bogner and the Clacton and did all the camps. So what made me laugh then, it was fabulous, really. I mean, there I was doing Science O levels and science A levels, and then seeing all this Easter holidays and summer holidays, I just loved the nonsense of the, I loved what some of the corny old routines, and of course when you travelled with them, you knew their acts back to front.

(00:26:09):

Cause they were word perfect. They had a 14 minute routine, and it was just like turning a record on. It was just, and so I loved and then I loved the bits where it went wrong mbut as I was watching all that, I did love Monty Python. I did lock Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Um, uh, and people often used to say, I’m a pianist. People say to me, who’s, who’s the greatest pianist? And I say the greatest unsung pianist in my view is Dudley Moore and the greatest unsung horn player is Roy Castle, because they were known for other things. Yeah. Although they were brilliant musicians. People don’t quite remember them for being brilliant musicians. You know, I suppose Dudley Moore could have spent his whole life playing at Ronnie Scott’s and Roy Castle could have sat in a pro band his whole life playing horn.

(00:27:02):

He was fabulous. But when I was watching them, I got, when I loved all that on tv, but I got more seduced by watching the traditional musical comics from the side. And I never saw Max Miller, but I saw Trinder a lot. I saw Max, who I knew Stacks, and then other comics at the time, the young Jimmy Tarbuck, I saw lots of, uh, double act. I worked with who may or may not remember, called Hope and Keen, who I thought were very good at knockabout comedy. Um, Sandy Powell, the comedian I loved, used to watch a lot of Bob Monkhouse. Um, but I suppose my favourite was Max Wall. He had every trick in the book and every line in the book, every pause, a wonderful entrance, a wonderful entrance on the stage. And, and he had two routines. One with the tights, mean Professor Velovski, then the other one when he just came on in a suit with a trilby. And it was just the pace of it and a wonderful opening.

Paul Boross (00:28:15):

So you mentioned so many people there. I mean, they are all of a certain era. Is there anyone in more recent times that you think has held a candle to them?

Harry Brunjes (00:28:27):

Them? Oh yeah, of course. I mean, I mean, Billy Connolly was in a class of his own. Yeah, Eddie Izzard does a most bizarre standup. I mean, he’s got such intelligence and he’s brave because he sometimes disappears down the stream of consciousness. Whereas most comics will disappear down somewhere and will want to close, you know, and say the vicar said, you know, but Eddie will go down somewhere and if it peters out, he doesn’t bother.

Paul Boross (00:28:59):

I’ve known Eddie for so long, uh, since he first started. And, and I would say, there’s a word I always say about Eddie is brave. Yeah, he’s extraordinarily brave because he doesn’t mind going down those rabbit holes, but he’s got enough confidence to know that he can find his way out.

Harry Brunjes (00:29:20):

He’s extremely good like that. The one who interests me, of course is Peter Kaye is an astonishing talent, but interesting. I, I compare him with Billy, who I only met once. You know, Billy did start as the archetypal Scots comedian dressing up in the outfit with the big banana boots on. And it was all very,it was all very Scottish and things, but he moved away from that and he moved, first of all to England and then to the States, and then would stand up in a jeans and a t-shirt and talk about anything in a Peter Kaye’s enormous. I mean, he is gonna make a fortune outta the O2 next year. And yet he hasn’t, in a way, he’s still a Northern Bolton man, isn’t he? You know, and, and I suppose, I think he, I mean, he could just move away from that.

Paul Boross (00:30:12):

People who listen to this podcast are obviously, well, obviously we do get quite a lot of comics cuz I know them. But mainly it’s people in business. But who want to know what you are a great after dinner speaker? You, you do it. What do you think your advice to anybody who’s standing up to speak should be? Is it, you know, only use humour if you are sure it will work or allow the humour to come. What do you think that normal people in inverted commas who just have to get up and speak? What do you think that key nugget that you would give them is,

Harry Brunjes (00:30:51):

If you’re not funny and being funny, trying to be funny terrifies you, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t. Number one. If you’ve been asked to speak, first of all, uh, be nice, you know, be nice, you know. Um, if you’re gonna be funny, that’s a bonus. If you can’t do it, don’t kill yourself. Don’t try. And if you, I see so many people I can see, in these after dinner routines. They’re getting into a gag. A gag. I know they’re rushing for the punchline. They can’t pace it. Then they, and I can see their faces drop when, when they don’t, it doesn’t land. And they think, don’t do it. I mean, although I would love to. I don’t try and play football for Tottenham Hotspur, you know, I can’t do it. So, don’t, if you’re not funny, don’t do it. That’s the first thing.

(00:31:48):

The second thing is don’t overstretch if you’re going out for the early time, don’t try and do 25 minutes, do eight minutes, don’t, you know, 25 minutes. Can I tell you where the mic in your hand is a long time? And so do eight minutes, do six minutes and just make a good six minutes. And one of my lines, another one, I’ve got loads of this stuff you can get me talking about this all day long – spontaneity is all about rehearsal and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and have a very good start. Don’t get up and get that opening line. It sounds silly, but good evening ladies and gentlemen. What a great pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invite. Just get that very clear. None of that is funny. But it looks as if you’re confident

Paul Boross (00:32:40):

And confidence sells, doesn’t it in any field,

Harry Brunjes (00:32:43):

Just get your start and have your finish and have the finish. And the finish is either genuine, it’s about you, or could be something to do with whatever sector you’re in. Or if it’s a, if it’s a nice story. There was a period when I was doing after speaking, when in fact it’s gone outta fashion. You’d be picking on something in the audience, you know, thank you sir. I was gonna do an impression of an idiot tonight, but you’ve just beaten me to it. You know, and you, you could do all that stuff, but that’s gone now. If you’re gonna do anything like that, it’s self-deprecating. So, I will stand up and say what a great pleasure to be. Thank you so much for tolerating me. Before I became chair of English National Opera, I was six foot six with long brown hair. Now look what’s happened. And, but you know, nice stuff against yourself. I would do that.

Paul Boross (00:33:32):

So, you talk about self-deprecation, do you think it’s important not just on stage, but in life and in business to be able to laugh at yourself?

Harry Brunjes (00:33:42):

Yeah, I think, yeah. You have gotta laugh at yourself and if you laugh at yourself, then they like it. And actually, if you take the mickey, everybody’s there in boardroom, it’s all quite alpha. But if you say something about yourself, you know, being small or bald, whatever it is you do that, that actually they find that that takes ’em off guard. That takes ’em off guard.

Paul Boross (00:34:07):

Do you find that that’s more of a British thing? Because I mean, having lived in America and seen it there, they seem less inclined to go the self-deprecation route. And and do you have to adjust depending on who the audience is?

Harry Brunjes (00:34:25):

In, I mean I’ve done a lot of business in Hong Kong as well, and, and the states, um, the states is all speak and all algorithms. Um, we must close out here before the fall and they’re all talking like that. And Hong Kong, of course, it’s all very charming, extremely graceful, exchanging cards. And in fact, if you come in with a comedy, they don’t like it cuz they don’t understand it. We certainly can’t do British comedy there. American comedy is very different as welland it’s horses. I mean, I, I wouldn’t go out, I mean, I’ve done a lot of after dinner speeches in Hong Kong. I wouldn’t go out to Hong Kong football club and do my old, my old material from Great Yarmouth. <laugh> it’d be foolish.

(00:35:15):

Well that, that takes me to another place because what you are describing to me is the importance of listening to a room.

(00:35:24):

Well, you get me onto another one of my stuff stories. I qualified as a medic in 1980. I was five years a junior surgeon between Guys Hospital and the Royal Sussex County Hospital hospital. And then I spent five or six years as a general practitioner. And then I used to train younger general practitioners coming through. And I used to say, well, let me do this. Let’s say you’re a medical student now. That’s another career for you. I would say to you, Paul, as a doctor, what’s the most important thing you do with a patient? What do you think the answer is?

Paul Boross (00:36:00):

Listen to them.

Harry Brunjes (00:36:02):

Correct. Now they all get that wrong. Junior doctors, they all say make a diagnosis. They all say do a blood test. They all say examination. And I say, just listen to ’em. Can I tell you, if you listen, you’ll have the diagnosis even before they’re on the couch. And just listen to them.

Paul Boross (00:36:24):

I’m slightly cheating here because, uh, I, I spent two and a half years training doctors in communication at Guys, Kings and St. Thomas’s. So,  I kind of get it, but one of the things I found with doctors is that the hardest thing to teach them was to listen and to actually be in the room with people. The amount of people I found who were looking at their laptop or their computer rather than the patient was remarkable to me

Harry Brunjes (00:37:01):

What I used to do, uh, in those days, if somebody came in with an esoteric rare illness, I would send them off to the professor whose faculty, who’s discipline that was. And I used to say, you’re gonna go and see Professor Smith – brain the size of the planet. Trust me, it’s the right person to see. Having said that, one just seen him come back and see me and I’ll translate for you <laugh>, you know, and I’ll explain what he was talking about. Cause they go straight into speak. Well, the condition you have, Mrs. Johnson, the osmotic transfer of the OT molecule across the LV membrane is competing with the actual CO2 component on the Hema. And they’d just go into that. And of course, and people not aware, you know, cause they think they’re in front of some, but they come out even more confused and not satisfied.

Paul Boross (00:37:49):

I saw that happen so many times. And, and what doctors don’t realise is that, that people go into altered states when they’re in front of a doctor, a medical professional. So they, they get more confused and the first thing they hear that they can latch onto is the thing that they believe is true. You know, and, and a doctor could say something like, oh, yes, people have had your condition. Some only lived, uh, six months, um, but you, young he and fit. But they will just hear six months come out and go, I’ve got six months to live. And it’s very, very, it’s how you say it’s how it’s, it’s like comedy, isn’t it? It’s, it’s how you deliver it.

Harry Brunjes (00:38:34):

You can talk to, to ’em for an hour. The only word they’ll remember is cancer. And, so you’ve, you’ve got be, again, you’ve got to use that. And again, over the years, having, having been on stage, having had a very open family relationship, having done all that Red Coat work and holiday camp stuff and then having been on, you know, on the theatre tour, I just learned lots of things to say and saying the right things at the right time,

Paul Boross (00:39:01):

That’s instinct.

Harry Brunjes (00:39:03):

But you talk about coming on stage, you know, when used, when I used to take my entrance, ladies and gentlemen and I’d come out, do all that the same used to come and see me in Harley Street. I don’t care who it was, whether it was Lord Haw Haw – be absolutely consistent. Treat everybody exactly the same. Get up, meet them at the door, shake their hand, sit them down. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting. Now how can I help you today? And the word help’s important. For example, I just tell, say help cause they are there for help. And, and again, to me that was a bit of an act, really, you know, next patient press the bell, go and meet them. If I was running fluently and not being not tight on the time, it didn’t always work because of the pressure of patients. I’ve actually go and pick them in the out the waiting room, go and get them.

Paul Boross (00:39:55):

Brilliant. Because it’s an entrance, isn’t it? Yeah. And it’s, and already you are creating rapport between you and your patient. And you just said it earlier on, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Harry Brunjes (00:40:08):

No, I know. I know.

Paul Boross (00:40:09):

And, and that’s you’ve just shown why that’s so important and I thank you for that. If I asked you to write a business case for humour, Harry, what would you include in it?

(00:40:22):

If there was to be humour in the workplace? I think, uh, you would bring this out rather trite, but you would bring happiness and I think people would be happier. It’s not a struggle to come to work. I don’t like, people know I’m running these things. Um, there’s no need to keep reinforcing. You’re the boss and I like to be approachable. So I think humour and happiness are important core things to any institution, whether it’s a business or a school or an institution. Let’s take London Coliseum. I’ve been their best partner for decade. I have a great relationship with the chief exec. I also have a great relationship with, with Mick on the stage door. I also have a great relationship with Mohamed, who’s in charge of security. And they’re all very charming to me. We have lovely exchanges. I found out what they like to talk about. And Mohamed likes to talk about London. Mick likes to talk about Tottenham Hotspur and it just makes it very, very happy. And sometimes I may need something done very quickly. I know because I’m close to Mick on stage. I can phone him and no problem doctor, leave it with me. I’ll get it sorted. And it just works.

(00:41:40):

That’s really interesting from a man who you know is chair at the ENO and all those things that you are still aware that it’s all about the relationships, isn’t it? And there was a really interesting study in America that concluded that 85% of all your success in life is down to the quality of your relationships. And I think when you’re talking to Mohamed or whoever, you are using humour and lightness of touch, are you not?

Harry Brunjes (00:42:16):

Yeah, <laugh>. I’ve had a nice line, I won’t say who gave it to me. It’s a national figure, said this, we’re involved in this bun fight at The ENO and this national figure put his arm around my shoulder. And he said, Harry, I do enjoy these moments where you seamlessly transfer from being Norman Wisdom to James Cagney <laugh>. And most of the time I’m quite happy to mess about. But you know, if there’s an issue, I’ll take control of it and I’ll run with it as I am with The ENO right now.

Paul Boross (00:42:46):

Well, and I wish you every success with that. And we will encourage everybody who listens to the Humourology podcast to actually support,, your cause at The ENO and, and to make sure that they sign the petition. I’ve heard you say that there’s a growing understanding of the relationship and potential of the arts to promote health, prevent disease, and accelerate rehabilitation from illness. Does that include humour aiding resilience in that sense?

Harry Brunjes (00:43:24):

I often say people used to get better long before doctors were invented. And I’ll do a simple thing for you – let’s, let’s do heart disease. You may genetically be predisposed to heart disease and that’s the risk of life. You know, I often say it’s important to choose your parents wisely, <laugh>. On top of that, what could make your heart disease worse? Smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise, poor sleep, stress. So these are very simple lifestyle factors. Now there’s lots of theories on obesity. I mean, it’s against predisposed. All of us have been guilty for comfort eating, you know, when we’re not feeling happy. And, uh, you then will, will go for the second bacon sandwich or you’ll clear, clear the cheesecake in the fridge. We’ve all been guilty when you’ve had a bad week of opening that bottle of wine and finishing it.

(00:44:27):

But if you were happy, you may not have eaten to excess. You may not have drawn to success. Uh, and of course, and if you can just get some, even however bad the situation is, you can get some comedy outta it then you, you’ve got to find a way of coping. So, if there is happiness and comedy, I think it reduces the stress levels. There’s loads of work being done on this. There’s loads and loads of papers to do with – the fashionable expression is called social prescribing. You know, when you bring lifestyle factors into people’s lives, and a lot of work has been done to see if you can actually cut down dependency on your doctor, dependency on the hospital and the dependency on drugs by actually correcting some of your lifestyle factors.

Paul Boross (00:45:15):

Yeah, well I think Dr. Tim Sharp, um, of Australia’s Happiness Institute, um, to say the humour said something about humour being the core component in resiliency. And one reason for that is that it’s about seeing things from a different perspective and something that’s something that all the best comedians do, isn’t it?

Harry Brunjes (00:45:39):

Yes. But it jumps the position of that the comedians hopefully will make you happy. Cuz they make you laugh, they relax you but the ammount of comics I’ve met that are quite uptight. <laugh>,

Paul Boross (00:45:51):

Well, yes. Well, but the happiest, most successful people don’t just stop at one way of looking at things or, or a situation. They explore other ways, which is using that component. By the way, both of us have known a lot of comics, and I know what you’re saying.

Harry Brunjes (00:46:09):

And it can be tricksy, can’t they? And, uh, I’ve never been involved in more tension when you’ve got five comics on the same show. I mean there used to be TV series called The Comedians years ago. And these six go on the road, my God, to fight for nicking time, pinching each other’s material. Who went first, who went last, and all the rest of it. And unbelievable really.

Paul Boross (00:46:34):

It was four acts and a compare every night at the Comedy Store. Yeah, two shows a night so I’m very aware of that one. But I love all of them dearly because I still think that they are doing the hardest job in the world. And having been around it, I mean, if you think about it, what comedy is and you do it and I’ve done it, what you are doing is making people do an involuntary act. You know? And that’s got to be the hardest thing. And taking them on that journey and then giving them that huge dopamine hit that makes them feel great.

Harry Brunjes (00:47:13):

I can tell you a current story, at The ENO, during the crisis, we thought, how else can we help? So one of the problems of long covid is, uh, they don’t breathe very well. They’ve gota respiratory complications. They’ve got these inflammatory changes on the internal anatomy of the lungs. So we can’t reverse inflammatory changes, but most people don’t breathe correctly. So when they were breathing with these inflamed lungs, they were starting to affect their oxygen saturation. So we’ve got our singers, they actually show ’em how to breathe better using the diaphragm, using the upper muscles here, lifting the thorax, and, um, it’s proof. So therefore the underlying diseases that’s still there, but their ability to maximise their capacity on their lungs has improved. So they’re feeling better systemically, feeling better, they’re feeling stronger and better oxygenated. So we’ve now got, we call it ENO Breathe.

(00:48:14):

And we have 2000 patients on the project around the country with 85 NHS Trusts. And we’d ended a trial in 2021 with Imperial College. And it’s proved to be so successful, it was published in The Lancet. Oh my gosh. So it’s hugely successful. So there is the arts and one of the techniques of the arts i.e. singing, using your lungs, it’s probably a variation of physiotherapy really. But it’s cost. The NHS nothing. Uh, no, it is meant less appointments to the GP, it’s meant less hospitalizations. And that is just helping people maximise on what they have already.

Paul Boross (00:48:58):

I will look up ENO Breathe and we will tell everybody about it…

Harry Brunjes (00:49:02):

…it’s on our website. All the years I was a doctor, I never published in the Lancet. Now I’m chairman of an opera company, I’ve published in The Lancet, <laugh> Whacko juxtaposition of that.

Paul Boross (00:49:15):

Oh, that’s wonderful. Harry, we’ve reached the time in the show, which, where we like to go for Quick Fire Questions. (Quick Fire Questions.) Harry, who is the funniest business person that you’ve met? And I should say that Arlene Phillips named you as the funniest business person that she’d met. So, who would you give that mantle to?

Harry Brunjes (00:49:43):

There was, who remained a friend a chap used to run the RAC called Eddie Ryan. He could make me laugh cause he had liver, but in humour. So that’s mon come. So Eddie will be very pleased with the name check. He’s retired now, but he had l Liverpudlian lines.

Paul Boross (00:49:58):

Why is it that people from Liverpool, people from Glasgow have that rhythm, have that comedy?

Harry Brunjes (00:50:04):

I think they’re tough cities. My parents were from Glasgow. Liverpool, I mean, shouldn’t just focus on the Beatles, you go the way back to Arthur Askey and Frankie Vaughan. There’s been loads of them have come from Liverpool bringing right up to dat ewith, John Bishop, you know, and Jimmy Tarbuck on the way. Lots of them

Paul Boross (00:50:20):

So out of adversity comes humour, do you think? Yeah, my mother’s from the East end of Glasgow as well. So

Harry Brunjes (00:50:27):

Yeah. I’ve done one quick file and I’ve distracted you. What’s the next one?

Paul Boross (00:50:31):

No, <laugh>. What book makes you laugh?

Harry Brunjes (00:50:35):

What book makes me laugh? Um, well, Adam Kay’s had written Books on Medicine and I’m just slightly irritated that I should have done those. So Adam Kay’s books are funny, but I’m rather irritated. I didn’t write them first. I’m not sure that’s the right answer to that.

Paul Boross (00:50:55):

No,

Harry Brunjes (00:50:56):

That’s my answer I think.

Paul Boross (00:50:58):

Oh no, it’s good. What film makes you laugh?

Harry Brunjes (00:51:01):

A film I watch repeatedly which I just, if I’m on a flight and it’s not, or if it happens to be on Well it does make me laugh cause I enjoy it so much, which I know this is not original, but I adore Casablanca. Uh, I know every scene of Casablanca back to front. I like Funny Bones, which is why I mentioned it to you. There’s a lots of showbusiness stick in that. What makes me laugh? I love some of the scenes in Scent of a Woman, with Al Pacino.

Paul Boross (00:51:36):

Oh yeah, that’s, I he is really funny in that, isn’t he?

Harry Brunjes (00:51:40):

I’ve got every Marx Brothers movie going. I love some of the very old Road Tofilms with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I love some of the stuff of Billy Crystal. Uh, his film. I saw one, the, I saw a bit of, what’s it called? What’s it called? Um, was it Blazing Sandals? What was the film called 30 years ago?

Paul Boross (00:51:59):

No, no, no, it’s not the

Harry Brunjes (00:52:02):

City

Paul Boross (00:52:02):

Slickers. City Slickers. Yeah,

Harry Brunjes (00:52:04):

City Slickers. And there’s a scene where he’s dressed up as a cavalry man in it with the two sidekicks and there’s the Indian drums and they’re going, this is only, I only had this lime on Saturday. And the sidekick says, I don’t like the sound of those drums. And Billy Crystal says, it’s not the regular drummer,

Paul Boross (00:52:28):

It’s a real showbiz line.

Harry Brunjes (00:52:31):

Greatshow business schtick, you know? And he did another film I like, which makes me love called Mr. Saturday Night about a big comic who he, you know, again was tricky fell out of people, didn’t behave himself, then became unemployable, then ended up, you know, doing old, old people’s homes and stuff. And again, I know, I know lots of comics like that who had the moment, but they were just so tricky.

Paul Boross (00:52:56):

I’m gonna take a shift to the other side briefly now and ask you what’s not funny.

Harry Brunjes (00:53:03):

Well, I think everything has the potential to be funny. Was it Lord Salisbury? who said, nothing matters very much and few things matter at all. And if you, if you can carry that mantra with you, I mean, I find most things I mean, board meetings, there’s so much comedy and go goes on with the, in the rehearsal room. It dead serious. I can see little bits going on, people’s unhappiness, frustration. I mean some of the horrendous things. And I, there’s nothing funny about the Ukrainian war is there, you know, nothing at all.

Paul Boross (00:53:40):

But the funny thing is that, uh, we had John Sweeney who is reporting from there and who’s based there now. And he said the, the thing is that you do find funny things within that because that’s a survival mechanism.

Harry Brunjes (00:53:56):

It’s like in medicine. I mean I was the duty doctor the night of the Grand Hotel bomb blast back in 1984. And I looked after all those famous politicians. You know, there is a sort of secret comedy between doctors even in moments like that, really. And, but when, when, when what? You don’t want of any, any of the comedy, which sometimes naturally appears, you don’t want it to sound unkind. Cause it’s not meant to be like that.

Paul Boross (00:54:27):

No. And I think but it’s sometimes just a coping mechanism, isn’t it? You know, they talk about gallow’s humour. It has to be there as a release.

Harry Brunjes (00:54:37):

Yeah.

Paul Boross (00:54:38):

But everything is potentially funny if it’s done with the right heart. Is that where you would go? Yeah,

Harry Brunjes (00:54:44):

Well see. It was in… the bomb was 84 and in 1997, 33 years later, I was president of the Sussex Medical Society and asked, asked Norman Tebbit to come and speak. And that was his first visit back. And he, I introduced him and he came out and he goes, thank you Harry. And again, he had presence. He had presence about him. And he goes, he says, he says, um, I trust tonight will be less eventful than my last visit to Brighton <laugh>

Paul Boross (00:55:13):

<laugh>. Great opening.

Harry Brunjes (00:55:15):

That’s a great opening line. And again he walked out. Well, people were pleased to see him back in Brighton. Uh, he had rehearsed that line and it landed. And I just thought it was extremely professional.

Paul Boross (00:55:29):

Yeah. And, and classy really, it’s a classy line of thing. What word makes you laugh, Harry?

Harry Brunjes (00:55:39):

Well, three words are currently making me laugh and cry. And that’s The Arts Council England, uh, <laugh> makes me cry and laugh in equal measure, a word? Well, let me do that. Um, Max Wall had a few of these, you know, he used to that voice “splendid” and he had that lovely way of speaking. He used to take the micky of the toffs, you know, and he used to say to people, did you enjoy act? He’d go, Oh, “absolutely capital” <laugh>. And he had lots of those things. That was all from his comedy routine.

Paul Boross (00:56:20):

Well, what a genius. What a genius. And I was gonna ask you what sound makes you laugh, but it may be the sound of Max Wall’s delivery.

Harry Brunjes (00:56:29):

Good evening, you know, and this wonderful voice that opening was good evening. The name’s Max Wall and one of the great walls of China. My father was a brick. And that’s, and that I heard that night after night, good evening, Max Wall here. I’m one of the great walls of China. My father was a brick. And I dunno what is funny about my father as a brick, but it got a laugh every night.

Paul Boross (00:56:57):

Would you rather be considered clever or funny?

Harry Brunjes (00:57:03):

That’s gonna be a very arrogant answer. I’m very happy to be considered both actually.

Paul Boross (00:57:08):

Well, I’ll take that from you. But by the way, I always say that actually in order to be funny, you have to be clever. I’ve, I’ve very rarely met any comedian who isn’t very sharp of mind.

Harry Brunjes (00:57:25):

I mean, there’s certainly a different intellectual level. I mean, if you take Jonathan Miller, who I knew well in his last few years, uh, a different intellectual level. But what they do have, all of them, depending on where they are on the sort of intelligence spectre, they have great awareness, great cunning, a great sense. They, they all have that in common really. And all of them, they all have one thing, whether you’re a Northern Club comic or whether you’re Peter Ustinov, they all had timing. They all had timing all of them, and they just got it right. Okay. I mean, there’s a big difference between Peter Ustinov and all those acts on The Comedians. But, you know, if you want to go and see those comedians, they, they did time perfectly.

Paul Boross (00:58:13):

It’s the one thing that you can’t actually get. You either have it, you either hear it and it’s there.

Harry Brunjes (00:58:20):

You know. That’s Stephen Fry line. Did I try it on you?

Paul Boross (00:58:24):

No,

Harry Brunjes (00:58:25):

You ask me what is the success of comedy, ok?

Paul Boross (00:58:30):

Okay. What is the success of (Timing!)Comedy

Paul Boross (00:58:33):

<laugh>?

Paul Boross (00:58:37):

Well, that takes us nicely to the last question on the Humourology podcast, and that’s Desert Island gags. You’ve known hundreds of gags over the years. You can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What would that be?

Harry Brunjes (00:58:56):

Gosh, off the top of my head I like the one about the two priests in the graveyard. And one priest says the other, says, father says, if there’s a birth of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the good Lord himself, Jesus Christ suddenly appeared on that very tombstone right there in front of you. What would you do? And the other priest says, I’d look busy.

Paul Boross (00:59:17):

<laugh>.

Paul Boross (00:59:20):

Oh, I love that gag. That is a great gag and a perfect way…

Harry Brunjes (00:59:25):

Oh, you’ll, ive got I could give you 100’s of them.  I loved Max Wall gag. I used to, this is an old gag, but used to land it so well, Last night I nearly lost my lovely lady wife. Pause. Look at the audience. What a card game that was,

Paul Boross (00:59:47):

<laugh>.

Paul Boross (00:59:50):

Oh, that is absolutely brilliant. And you’ve been a wonderful guest. Thank you for the lightness. Thank you for the laughter. Harry Brunjes, thank you very much for being a wonderful guest on the Humourology podcast.

Harry Brunjes (01:00:01):

 I’m still available to Panto if anybody out there is listening.

Paul Boross (01:00:06):

The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, produced by David Rose. Music by Steve Haworth, Creative Direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.

Listen & Subscribe where you enjoy your Podcasts

See also:

More Humourology highlights

Article

The Science of Silliness: How Laughter Can Save Your Sanity

Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of the business world? Do you find yourself longing for a break from the stress and monotony of daily life? Well, I have some good news for you: the solution to your woes may be as simple as a good laugh. Science shows us that a smile may be all it takes to save your sanity. 

Article

The Joy of JOMO: Finding Happiness in Missing Out

JOMO is the art of embracing the beauty of missing out on the noise and chaos of the world around us. It’s about finding contentment in solitude, enjoying the simple pleasures of life, and cherishing our own company without feeling the need to constantly chase after what everyone else is doing.

Alastair sitting
Podcast

Alastair Campbell – Punchline Politics

Author and Former Press Secretary to Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell shares his thoughts from years of experience working with world leaders with Paul Boross. How can humour help the House of Commons?