Banksy has paid tribute to a late comedian who trained 100 teenagers to be “the most surly and incompetent employees in the history of hospitality” for his 2015 Dismaland exhibition.
In a rare step, the reclusive graffiti artist has written a piece recalling his time with the comedian Tony Allen, which was read on BBC Radio 4’s obituary programme, Last Word, on Friday.
He said Allen, who died this month aged 78, was “a born troublemaker”.
Known as the “godfather of alternative comedy”, Allen helped the young recruits to adjust to their roles at Banksy’s “bemusement park”, which was not quite as billed.
Because of the secrecy around Dismaland, the callout for stewards was made in the guise of a job advert in the local paper in Weston-super-Mare for “runners and extras” for a film shoot.
Banksy felt there would need to be some coaxing to get them onside once they realised they would instead be working at the sinister theme park parody.
In keeping with the dystopian theme of the pop-up exhibition in Somerset, Allen trained the stewards to behave outrageously. Their antics would go on to become the hit of the show.
In his tribute to Allen, which was read on the radio programme by the actor and comedian Kevin Eldon, Banksy explained: “I was concerned that when these young people discovered they weren’t on a film set and in fact had to interact with the public all day, they might get a bit freaked out.
“So I asked Tony to come and host a few basic confidence-building workshops and hone their stewarding skills. It was essentially a pretty dry corporate gig for him. However, Tony Allen was a born troublemaker, he took one look at the name of the event and for three days in the conference hall of a nearby hotel he trained the teenagers in his own image.”
He added: “He’d been left alone to get on with it, so come opening day we had no idea what was about to hit us. Tony delivered the most surly and incompetent employees in the history of hospitality.
“They were truly dismal, incapable or unwilling to even point out the fire exits. They ignored any requests for information, they popped the balloons they were meant to be selling, they threw people’s change on the floor, they even went up to random members of the public and licked their ice-creams.”
Allen’s workshops had instilled in them “never to break character, even when speaking to management”, which caused a few headaches, he said.
“Our head of production lost their mind and threatened to quit. The council and police were not impressed and called a meeting. But by the end of the first day it was clear the stewards were a massive hit. They became by far the most talked about part of the show, overshadowing six months of my hard work and the efforts of 50 invited international artists.”
Referencing the twisted Disneyland theme, Banksy wrote: “I had to hand it to him, Tony Allen really knew how to take the Mickey.”
The edition of Last Word, presented by Kirsty Lang, can be heard on BBC Sounds.