He’s the man who claims to have put the ‘knob end’ into Amy Winehouse’s mouth and has been called upon by expletive-shy stars as a stunt-swearer in a string of top films and TV series. Damien Ffook, one of London’s most notorious foul mouths – his expletive strewn tirades delivered at passers-by from street corners have become a major tourist attraction in the West End – has revealed exclusively to The Sleaze how his ‘School for Swearing’ has helped the rise to fame of many of Britain’s best known celebrities. “Mastering the correct use of swear words is essential for media success today,” declares forty-four year old Ffook as we sit in the lounge bar of a Soho pub. “An expertly deployed ‘fuck’ or ‘wank’ in an interview immediately confers a degree of street credibility, establishing the user as either ‘edgy’ and ‘dangerous’, or ‘irreverent’ and ‘iconoclastic’, depending upon the tone and context of the expletives.” However, as Ffook is at pains to explain, years of careful training are required before the public use of such language should be attempted. “The indiscriminate and gratuitous use of swearing will have the opposite effect, and simply make the user look like an ignorant moron,” says the softly spoken old Etonian, pausing only to shout “Arsehole” at a passing glass-collector . “Just look at Gordon Ramsey, for God’s sake.” Indeed, the filthy mouthed chef is one of Ffook’s rare failures. “He attended a couple of classes, but thought he knew better,” recalls Ffook. “You can see the sorry results on TV every week – a pitifully small vocabulary of expletives. He just keeps saying ‘fuck’ over and over again at the most inappropriate moments, until it becomes utterly meaningless.” The idea for a ‘School for Swearing’ evolved from Ffook’s work as a ‘swear double’ in the 1980s and 1990s. “You’d be surprised just how many big name stars either didn’t like swearing, or simply couldn’t do it convincingly,” he reveals. “Take Samuel L Jackson – he just couldn’t say ‘cocksucker’ or ‘motherfucker’ with any conviction, so they brought me in to dub him. It was the same with that Helen Mirren, even before she was a Dame she was far too prissy to swear – I did all her sweary bits in films for years.” Luckily, Ffook is a talented mimic, a talent he demonstrated for us by breaking off the interview to lean out of the pub’s window and shout “Tosspots” at two passing women, the insult enunciated in the distinctive tones of Dame Judi Dench. He quickly realised that giving actors swearing training could be a far easier and more lucrative solution. “Originally I just gave personal tuition on a one-to-one basis – Ian McShane was one of my first students,” he reveals. “He wanted to establish himself as a credible actor after playing cuddly antiques dealer Lovejoy for so many years. I was obviously successful as he won an Emmy in 2005 for his swearing in Deadwood.”
Ffook invested the earnings from his tuition in his ‘School for Swearing’, originally established in two rooms above a Croyden travel agent’s in 1999. “It was tough going at first, there was a whole new generation of sweary actors and singers coming up,” he says. “The likes of Ray Winstone nearly put me out of business – geezers who had learned their effing and blinding at their gin-sodden mothers’ knees in the saloon bars of seedy East End pubs.” Ffook’s fortunes were revived by the advent of a new media phenomena – privileged middle class kids who wanted to talk ‘street’. “Swearing had become an essential skill for performers wanting to reach a mass audience. It’s no use going on stage in front of an audience of inebriated students in Preston and trying to crack jokes in a public school accent – they’ll just tear you apart,” Ffook explains. “That’s precisely what happened to Russell Brand when he started in the business. He tried everything to get enough street cred to survive in stand up: cocaine, booze, the lot. All in vain. Then he came to me – once he’d learned how to cuss properly, he was away!” As well as public schoolboy turned grimy low class lothario Brand, Ffook’s successes have included songstresses Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. “Before they enrolled in my classes they were all terribly well-spoken and middle class,” he claims. “Nobody in the world of popular entertainment would have taken them seriously.” He is particularly proud of Winehouse. “She’s quite amazing – not only has she mastered the swearing, but she’s also managed to perfect that whole bar-room brawler look,” he enthuses. “That hair, the tattoos, the excessive drinking – those were all her own innovations. Quite brilliant!” Lily Allen is another student who has made enormous progress. “She was just a demure convent school educated middle class girl when she came to me,” he says. “She was unbelievably shy, wouldn’t say ‘Boo’ to a goose, let alone ‘Fucksticks’ – in fact, I don’t think a swear word had ever passed her lips, not even ‘Fart’ or ‘Bum’. Nowadays she’s swearing for England!” Indeed, Lily’s father Keith was one of the first performers Ffook gave personal tuition to. “People forget what a toff he was,” Ffook chuckles, beckoning over a barman and shouting ‘”Fuckwit” at him.
But just why has swearing become the secret to populist success in the arts? “It all stems from the fact that most creative types are middle class,” opines Ffook. “The trouble is that audiences of all classes persist in the illusion that art is only created through struggle and oppression – the middle class accent and speech patterns don’t exactly scream ‘I’m poor and underprivileged’, now do they?” He also believes that working class audiences don’t like to think they’re being patronised, so pretending to be one of them is essential if this demographic is to be captured as part of an entertainer’s fan base. “Swearing screams ‘I’m a working class geezer’,” he opines, rejecting allegations that he is simply perpetuating outdated social stereotypes. “The lack of vocabulary it implies encapsulates the speech patterns of the lower orders. Of course, it is exactly that lack of articulation which prevents them from exhibiting the kind of creativity the middle classes do. Still, after the first couple of ‘fucks’ and ‘buggers’ the great unwashed will be convinced that you share their dreadful life experience.” Ffook is keen to emphasise that his school for swearing isn’t exclusive to celebrities. “With increasing numbers of middle class professionals ‘down shifting’ and switching to trades like plumbing and cab driving, we’re doing good business getting them up to speed with the right vocabulary,” he claims, as we leave the pub. “Customers expect their tradesmen to eff and blind liberally, not speak like accountants or stockbrokers. It undermines their ability to feel superior to them otherwise.” Outside, Ffook starts hurling abuse at foreign tourists. “I like to keep my hand in, test out some new phrases this way,” he grins, as some passers-by put loose change in his upturned hat. “I suppose I’m a bit like those professional musicians who go busking incognito – it helps keep me in touch with cutting edge of street swearing.”