There are moments when I despair for mankind; moments when I become a little fretful about the state of the world and wonder what would happen if I gave up my TV career to become a man with nothing more than a bag of onions and a plot of land. The simple life often appeals to me but then I usually run myself a big bath, soak for half an hour or so, and emerge a well wrinkled optimist with hardly a bad word to say about anybody or anything.
Yesterday was a busy day at the Madeley household. A highly respected man of letters threatened to have me killed for releasing footage of him shaking a leg at the Charleston, and then David Dickinson forced me up a ladder to give his crotch a good scraping. Days of rosier hue there certainly have been and Judy wouldn’t have been at all surprised if, upon arriving home at ten o’clock, I had told her that I was heading straight for the bathtub.
Unfortunately, by the time I did arrive home at ten o’clock, Judy was gone. I’d forgotten that she’d made plans to see Equus in the West End for the nineteenth time. She would be staying over in the city with Denise Robertson who had bought herself some high powered binoculars especially for the occasion. It meant I had time alone to enjoy a good long bath and my special formula of salts were soon filling the house with the aroma of apricot and cinnamon. All my earthly worries eased away as I slid into the hot water. Bliss.
I woke up five hours later.
The water was cold and my legs had gone dead. And that wasn’t the worst of it. Below the waterline there was more shrivelled skin than in the audience to a Cliff Richard concert. I didn’t know if I should call for help or sing a chorus of some chirpy Christmas hit.
‘Judy!’ I cried, my voice sounding hollow against the walls of the tiled bathroom. Then I remembered that she’d gone away for the night and that I was alone. Trapped in a bath. With possibly severe wrinkle damage and hugely bloated buttocks that had wedged me tight into the bottom of the tub. I knew I had to act and, if I was to escape from my bath, I would have to do so without her help.
Panic, my rarely reticent mistress, wrapped me it her tight embrace. My breath came to me ragged and uncontrolled. Luckily, Dr. Raj had taught me meditation techniques for a moment such as this so I began to think of my ‘comfort mantra’ and began to say it aloud.
‘Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding… Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding… Sue Lawley’s sponge pudding…’
Eventually, I felt my breathing ease and I found myself able to think myself through my predicament. Consider: man in bathtub; unable to move; becoming more bloated with every passing moment. It seemed that the only chance of escape lay sitting in the pocket of my trousers. It was the new Apple iPhone I’d bought over the weekend, after much pestering from Fry. The trousers were, however, a good few feet away and beyond my reach.
However, I’m a man of some considerable imagination. I quickly grabbed my bathrobe, put a knot in the cord and then tied it around my large luxury loofa. On the third attempt I managed to snag my trousers and drag them to the side of the bath where I reached for the phone. Luckily, I’d charged it up that very morning and it came on with a bright chirp as I ran a finger down the screen.
Unfortunately, severe wrinkles had not been a design consideration back at Apple HQ. After accidentally selecting the MP3 player and then pulling up a detailed map of Swindon on the GPS, the internet browser loaded and I inadvertently checked all my emails. Only then did I manage to get to the phone book. That’s when I remembered, to my horror, that I’d only got around to putting one number in there. There was nothing I could do but press dial.
‘’Tis I, Fry, past midnight on my iPhone,’ yawned a somewhat sleepy Stephen Fry.
‘Stephen, thank god,’ I said. ‘I need you to call somebody to help me.’
‘Richard? Is that you?’
‘Yes, ’tis me, Richard, on my iPhone and I’m stuck in the bath.’
‘In the bath? Heavens!’
‘You must call somebody here in the UK. I need somebody to come and rescue me at once.’
‘I’ll be right over,’ said Stephen.
If I hadn’t already been wedged into the bath by my bloated buttocks, I would have still been rooted to the spot in shock. ‘I thought you were in America,’ I said. ‘What happened to your counter-clockwise tour of the nation?’
‘Oh, I’m go back to finish filming that in a few days but I had to come back home to narrate a piece for The Sir John Soane’s Museum. I had to tell people about their quite wonderful collection of chimneypieces. But more about that later. I’ll be there within minutes.’
And with that, he hung up. I love the man dearly but, to be honest, he wouldn’t have been the person I’d have asked to come help me out of the bath. Yet if brains were brawn, he’d be the first. Chimneypieces, indeed!
Half an hour later, I was woken from the early stages of hypothermia by the sound of a large shoulder impacting multiple times upon the front door. Then there was the noise of lanky legs ascending stairs before the bathroom door was flung open and Fry marched in.
‘Thank god!’ I cried, fearing that my body couldn’t stand much more shrivelling.
‘Not God, but close,’ he said. ‘’Tis I, Fry, in your bathroom!’
‘You have to get me out,’ I said. ‘I’m freezing, my legs are completely dead, and my body has absorbed so much water that I’m now wedged tight beneath the waterline…’
He untied his cape and threw it dramatically to one side as he came forward to grab hold of me.
‘Poor Richard,’ he said. ‘Throughout this adventure I shall refer to you as “Thora”, as though I were the playwright Mr. Bennett and this were a drama fit for the great Dame Hird herself. Old Lady in Bathtub.’ He let me slip as he stood up and pulled a notebook from his pocket before jotting down the idea. ‘The scenes almost write themselves,’ he said with evident glee.
‘Just pull me out,’ I pleaded, giving him both my hands.
After two minutes of struggle, I fell through his grasp for the dozenth time and Fry stood and leaned against the wall.
‘Who’d have thought you could be so terribly slippy when naked and wet?’ he said. ‘This is impossible. I need help.’
‘Well, if you must, go get Palin,’ I said. ‘He’s only a few doors up the road.’
Not an ideal solution, I suppose, but there you have it when ‘needs must’.
Fifteen minutes later, Palin walks in, still dressed in a dressing gown he’d clearly bought in Afghan bazaar. ‘Well, well, well,’ he said. ‘Looks like you’ve got yourself in a bit of a lather.’
‘Oh dear,’ groaned Stephen. ‘Well past midnight and the older generation of comedian still insists on punning. I can tell you, Dick, he’s been working on that one all the way here.’
‘Comedy legend,’ said Michael with a wink as he came and peered into the murky water. ‘Somebody dropped the soap or is that the natural colour of a well washed Madeley?’
‘I wish you’d hurry up and get me out of here,’ I said, feeling not a little embarrassed by my nakedness. I was only glad the water was opaque with the soap.
‘Stephen, you get his legs and I’ll take his arms,’ said Michael. ‘And I’d advise you to not look towards the middle. That is only fit for fair maidens called Judy.’
They huffed and puffed for a good few minutes before Palin fell back and sat down on the toilet. ‘He’s not going to shift,’ he gasped. ‘I tell you what… Why don’t we empty the water first?’
‘No way,’ I said. ‘I’m already cold enough and I’m not exposing myself to you two.’
‘There’s nothing down there we’ve not seen a hundred times,’ said Palin.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Well, those trousers you wear on the show,’ he said. ‘They don’t leave much to the imagination when you go spreading your legs for the ladies.’
I resented his implication and told him as much. ‘I can’t help but sit the way I feel most comfortable.’
‘Hush, you two,’ said Stephen. ‘We don’t need to empty the water at all. We just need an extra set of hands.’
‘We could always ask David,’ suggested Michael.
‘Not Dickinson,’ I said, drawing the line. ‘It’s bad enough that I’ve seen his groin at close distance. I don’t want him seeing mine. There’s a good likelihood that he’d flick it with his nail and call it a bad 1960s reproduction.’
‘Well you must have another neighbour,’ said Stephen. ‘Is there anybody close by who you don’t mind asking for help?’
I thought a few moments. ‘If it weren’t an emergency, I’d never suggest this,’ I said. ‘But you could always go and ask Corbett.’
Stephen looked towards Michael. Michael looked towards Stephen. Finally Stephen spoke.
‘Matthew or Ronnie?’
‘Ronnie, of course. And before you say anything, the man is stronger than he looks.’
‘I’ll go get him,’ sighed Michael. At the door he turned to look at me. ‘Are you sure this is the only option?’
I would have shrugged by even my shoulders were beginning to suffer water damage.
By the time Michael returned with little Ronnie Corbett, Stephen had finished lecturing me on the delights of the Sir John Soames museum’s collection of rare pickle jars and I, in my desperation, had almost found it interesting.
‘Anybody in?’ asked Ronnie, sticking his head around the door. ‘Ah, Richard! How good to see you. No, don’t get up. Ah ha! No, seriously. I’ve not seen a flesh that white since my wife cooked turkey last Christmas. I’m not saying it was underdone but it did help us unwrap the presents. Ah ha! No, come on. We have to get you out of there. My wife doesn’t like me being out at night. She thinks I might be mistaken for a peeping tom. No, honestly. My wife is a terrible worrier. She went to the doctor with an irritable wart. He told her that is she didn’t like it, she shouldn’t have married me. Oh no. Actually, I’m being unfair. My wife is very loving. She wanted me to take her ballroom dancing. I said fine, I’d do that so long as she took an interest in my golf. After two weeks she told me that she thought our foxtrot was fine but our tango would be better if I stopped shouting “fore” and if left my nine iron in the car.’
‘With you in a moment, Dicky. Actually. I’ll let you know that I’m a very accomplished dancer. I look very good in tails. I’m often being mistaken for a bridegroom. I’ve been stuck on so many wedding cakes, my toes have got frosting damage. Ah ha! No. Seriously…’
‘Ronnie?’ I said again this time splashing some water his way. ‘Ronnie, please?’
‘Oh, of course. Don’t know what I was thinking. How did you managed to get stuck in there, Dick? As the bishop said to the actress. Ah ha! Have I told you the one about the pygmy and the slipper salesman?’
Fry groaned. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I’ll take the legs if Ronnie you can take one arm and Michael get his middle.’
‘I’m not touching that,’ said Michael. ‘This gown is real Afghan.’
‘I’ll do it,’ said Ronnie, rolling up the tartan sleeves to his own dressing gown. ‘As they say, if you have a man by his balls, his legs and arms will follow.’
What more need I say? Ronnie was right. They had soon dragged me from the bath and wrapped me in a bathrobe before placing me warming before the fireplace.
‘I can’t thank you all enough,’ I said to my friends as they sat with me and helped drained my drinks cabinet. ‘I honestly thought I was a goner there. History would have Jimmi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and me. Three famous bathtub corpses.’
‘Shush, Richard,’ smiled Stephen. ‘There are many more miles left in you.’
‘Indeed,’ added Michael. ‘You don’t think Dickinson would let you go anywhere until you’ve finished scrubbing his groin?’
Ronnie laughed. ‘Poor David’s groin! It reminds me of this story about a bank manager from Congleton and a goat with extremely large udders…’
‘I’m sure it does,’ I muttered but Ronnie couldn’t be stopped. The last thing I remember fore falling asleep is the sound of Stephen Fry chortling softly over a punchline involving cold fingers.