It was meant to be a small celebration to mark the end of the Channel 4 dream but it had turned into an festival of fun for friends eager to ask me about my ears. By eight o’clock, I’d grown tired of people handling my still moderately enlarged lobes. When Russell Grant crept up behind me and grabbed me by my lobe, I snapped, slapped him, and launched into one of my celebrated rants against the world. After fifteen minutes, I’d begun to settle down again. That’s when I heard somebody make the suggestion that my slight fixation with celebrity friends is getting a little out of hand and that I’m beginning to compromise their privacy.
‘Nonsense, Billy,’ I said as I went over and poured the Big Yin another glass of a whisky and offered him one of Judy’s cigars.
‘But there has been so much loose talk spoken,’ said the man of the dark green chin whiskers. ‘Which is why I was only thinking yesterday that you should ask Pamela about the special retreat she runs where people like you can go and learn to stop dropping names.’
‘Is that the place Ben Elton went?’ I asked. ‘Or was that Jimmy Hill? No, I tell a lie. It was Roger Moore. Donald Sinden told me that. He said that Prunella Scales had heard it from John Cleese who recommended it to Russell Crowe’s barber.’
‘There you go,’ screamed Billy. ‘You’re ******* doing it again!’
‘Dropping ******* names.’
‘There are worse things I could drop,’ I replied, looking around the room to see if anybody else was as offended by his bad language. It didn’t appear so. Judy was too busy to notice. She was in the corner of the room, standing next to the series of black and white nude photo studies I’d posed for last year. She busy telling Cilla Black and Barbara Windsor about the trouble we’ve been having with the ex-pat Brits living in Tunisia. Cilla was tutting and Barbara giggling in that annoying way she had that sounds like meltwater dripping from a glacier and landing on a snowbound otter.
‘The thing is, Dick,’ said Billy, blowing a plume of smoke. ‘You must have an extraordinary small ego. You mustn’t think very much about yourself if you feel the constant need to affirm your importance by mentioning all the celebrities you know. I would say, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re seeking a… I don’t know… a grandeur that’s not your own. But once you get to know stars, you’ll find they’re no different to you or I.’
‘Is that so, Billy?’
‘It is, my boy. It is. Now take my very good friend Steve Martin. He wasn’t too happy when Robin Williams told me about the time he’d asked Steve to stop grabbing hold of his…’
He never got to finish the line. At that very moment, hell broke out in the living room. Luckily, Cilla screamed a high C which momentarily stopped time, allowing me to get a proper sense of the commotion. Judy had sparked the chaos by giving a yell of her own and then Barbara Windsor ran once around dear old Cliff Michelmore who asleep in the armchair. The only person in the room who had any presence of mind was that dear Emily Watson who tried to use a bread stick to magic a Cruciatus Curse aimed somewhere around her ankles.
Cilla’s note ended and time resumed.
‘What’s wrong?’ I shouted.
‘Mouse!’ shouted Cilla who proceeded to mount the side board. Judy, in the meantime, was trying to shin her way up the curtains. Barbara had grabbed Emily’s hand and pulled the girl to safety and into the next room.
Billy laughed. ‘It’s only going to be a wee mouse! Honestly, what’s wrong with you people?’
I knew it was no laughing matter. I stared at Judy, now seven feet up the curtains and making rapid progress with the remaining nine. ‘Which one was it, Judy? It wasn’t Roger?’
She managed to mumble the word ‘Sylvester’. It was the word I feared the most. Knocking back the last of the whisky in my glass, I directed a dark look towards Connolly. ‘Tell me you’re a man I can rely on in a crisis, Billy.’
‘You’re not frightened of a mouse as well, are ye?’
‘It’s not any mouse,’ I explained. ‘It’s Sylvester. We think he’s the original one that Raj fed the cheese to. He got the full dose.’
I proceeded to explain the story of how Raj had tried to get rid of our mice infestation by using powerful nerve medicine injected into cheese. ‘Most of them are now just a little loopy,’ I concluded. ‘They’ll chat to themselves, and occasionally, one of them will think they’re Shirley Bassey.’
‘Yes deary?’ asked Dame Shirl, coming through from the buffet in the next room. I ushered her back. The last thing we needed was to set her lungs going. Just think of being Goldfingered in an enclosed space and you’ll know why I was worried.
‘So, all your mice have conflicted personalities?’ asked Stephen Fry, pushing his way into the room. ‘That’s very interesting.’
‘I should have known you’d have been listening in,’ I said as he came and stood beside Billy.
‘I’m interested in all strange phenomena.’ He nodded back to the dining room and the buffet. ‘Speaking of which, do you know Valerie Singleton’s back there arm wresting with John Noakes? Seems they’ve still got paper mache issues they never managed to resolve.’
Sometimes the man’s genius leaves lesser men bewildered.
‘I should go and get Pamela,’ said Billy, who seemed oblivious to Stephen’s arrival. ‘She’d find this fascinating.’
‘You’re not going anywhere,’ I told him and lay a hand on the arm of his crushed velvet jacket. ‘You leave Pamela alone. She’s upstairs trying to programme Natasha Kaplinsky to mention lime green jelly in every news report. It’s vital work and she shouldn’t be interrupted. Besides, we need you here.’
‘To catch a slightly disturbed mouse?’
‘Sylvester isn’t just unstable. He’s got powers.’
‘My, my,’ laughed Stephen. ‘A mouse with powers. Whatever next? Shall my incredulity know no limits? And what does this mouse do? Can he predict the future? Read people’s minds.’ He snapped his fingers. ‘I’ve got it. He’s mastered levitation!’
Stephen Fry can be so smug, I find it almost intolerable.
‘You may all laugh,’ I said, pointing particularly at Cilla who was now on top of the sideboard and draining a bottle of wine she’d taken with her. ‘But this mouse has a strange hypnotic quality.’
‘A hypnotic mouse?’ Billy clapped his hands together. ‘This sounds interesting. Now how do we find the little bugger? Is it cheese?’
‘You’re not going to hunt for him, are you?’ shouted Judy as she made it up the last few feet of curtain.
Stephen pushed his glass into my hands. ‘Of course we’re going to find him. You can’t expect a man of science to ignore the chance of finding a mouse with the power of hypnosis.’
‘A man of science?’ I scoffed.
He put his shoulder to the sofa and began to move it out of the way. ‘I’m a man of science. I host QI and have my own technology column in the Guardian.’
‘Next to all those advertisements for miracle garden tonic, large girdles, and incontinence pants,’ I reminded him.
‘I do a popular routine about incontinence pants,’ said Billy, quite enthusiastically, but I was in no mood for him to relive the highlights of his career. I had Judy sixteen feet up the curtains and hooking the straps of her brassier over the track in order to hold her there like a rock climber trained by M&S.
Without warning, Stephen shouted: ‘There! I think I saw it!’
Cilla screamed, ‘surprise, surprise!’ which did nobody any good.
‘There, behind the television,’ said Stephen, dropping to his hands and knees. ‘A big grey mouse.’
He crawled slowly over.
‘Remember,’ I warned, keeping a few steps back, ‘don’t look him in the eyes.’
Stephen gave me glance back. ‘You really are too much, do you know that?’
Before I could respond, there was a scream from the dining room that took us all completely by surprise. The next thing we know, Emily Watson is running in shouting something about a mouse attacking Johnny Vegas. When we got there, the poor man was gone to the world, can of larger still gripped magisterially between his tobacco-stained fingers.
‘Hypnotized,’ said Stephen, snapping his fingers before Johnny’s eyes. ‘This is bad.’
Vegas just muttered ‘you never loved me like Shep did’ before he fell completely silent. It was apparently the last thing he’d heard before the mouse got him.
After that, the party fell pretty flat and guests began to leave. Stephen waiting until the end, helping Vegas to his taxi. ‘I’ll bring him out of this,’ he said. ‘Don’t you let Judy worry herself. I’m coming back and we’ll sort out this mouse problem. I hope you now realise that you should have come to me at the beginning. What does Dr. Raj know about catching mice? Don’t you know I’m currently writing a book about rodent removal?’
‘And hypnosis?’ I asked, nodding at poor Vegas.
‘That’s just a hobby,’ said Fry. ‘You know how it is.’
‘I do indeed,’ I said to Stephen as I turned my weary back on the world and closed the front door. It would be a while before I could get to bed. I had Judy to help down from the curtains and a hypnotic mouse still on the prowl. And some people still say that losing a Channel 4 contract is the worst than could have happened to me.