The generosity of spirit you know as Madeley, that handsome bundle of bone and nerve you like to call Dick, believes that he always knows if he’s going to take to a person. I remember the very moment I first met Stephen Fry. I ran across him outside a TV executive’s office, gazing into a pool of koi carp. Tapping him on the shoulder had not roused him from his meditation so I gently blew in his ear. The first words out of his mouth were: ‘a rather frigid member of the family Cyprinidae and not too distant a cousin of the minnow.’ I knew then and there that I had found a kindred spirit of great craft and imagination wandering this void of emptiness we know as fame. I’m pleased to say that, since that day, rarely has a week passed without my taking time to blow into the great man’s ear.
The encounter of this afternoon was not, however, as edifying. If the above anecdote is a perfect illustration of what can go right in a first encounter, this afternoon is a remedy for that optimism one feels towards humanity in general, but in particular, towards those men and women of the light entertainment industry.
With Judy still making preparations for Christmas, I’d gone into London to have lunch with the geniuses at Cactus TV. I thought it about time that I sat down with the ‘cacti’ and went over the ideas I’ve been having for the shows I wanted to make after the Channel 4 contract came to an end in the summer.
‘Mingers’ is one of the city’s newest eating holes among those people who think that hair gel and fringes set at funny angles amount to a personality. I’d got there early and I’d sat down to have something to eat while I waited for the team to arrive. There’s an unwritten agreement in every TV contract that means that those behind the cameras can look how they want and act how they want. You can’t find a more creative or professional team in the UK but you wouldn’t want them as relatives. Talk about being a clash with the curtains, these young people could go to war with a basket of mixed laundry…
My first course had been delivered to my table and I’d started to stir my bowl of leak soup when I heard some terrible slurping noises coming from the adjacent booth. At first, I tried to ignore it. But when it persisted, I waved the waitress over.
‘What can I do for you, Mr. Madeley?’ she asked, full of that good favour you get when the service is young, impressionable, and prone to the charms of a television smile.
‘I don’t mean to cause any trouble,’ I began, though actually I didn’t give a damn what trouble I caused so long as the slurping was dealt a mortal blow, ‘there seems to be a terrible noise coming from the next booth.’
The waitress’ face flushed.
‘Would you like to move to another part of the restaurant?’ she asked.
I thought it an odd thing to say. I’m what’s known in the TV trade as ‘A’ list material. I don’t get moved. The world gets moved before I even have to shift a toe or bestir a fingernail.
‘I’d rather you would just go and stop that slurping,’ I replied.
She looked towards the back of the restaurant and made a funny gesture with her hand. I knew it for the universal distress call of waitresses in difficult positions. I just couldn’t see what was so difficult.
A moment later, the manager arrived and I proceeded to explain why my leak soup was being disturbed by the sound of slurping. I honestly thought I’d get some movement on the issue with this penguin being in his full body armour and with a thin moustache like a slipped eyebrow.
‘I’m afraid we can’t move the gentleman at the next table,’ said the manager. He lowered his voice and leaned towards me to speak in that confidential tone they sometimes adopt when they’re being particularly spineless. ‘He’s famous.’
I did a double take. ‘And what am I? A Krankie?’
‘Oh, of course, you’re famous too, Mr. Madeley, only…’ He shrugged and gestured towards the next booth. ‘He’s a rising star.’
‘I’ll give you rising star!’ I said, throwing down my napkin and standing up.
I pushed the manager out of the way and headed in the direction of the slurping.
The sight that greeted me at the end of my search was not of this world. I can only describe it as teeth, hair, elbows, more hair, a touch of hair, more teeth, and the whole mixture of teeth, hair, and elbows wrapped in beads and ribbons. A more notable example of trying too hard to look eccentric there has never been. No doubt you know this monstrous spectacle by the name Russell Brand. I’d only heard the name mentioned a few times and for most of that time I’d just thought it a type of toaster.
‘Oh, ’ello,’ he squealed. ‘You’re Madeley ain’t you?’
‘I am,’ I said, ‘and you’re slurping.’
‘Oy! That’s Mr. Slurping to you,’ he replied and giggled like a one stoke engine fed on helium. He then looked puzzled and turned his eyes to his plate. ‘Oh, yea! Slurping. I’m actually eating my periwinkles. Lovely items of crustacean, the periwinkle. ’Ere, you want one?’
‘A periwinkle? I don’t think so.’
‘Oh, they’re very good for keeping you going, if you know what I mean. Smashing delicacies if you’re needing a bit of extra focus during those long and mysterious adventures that lead our souls to soar into the heavens and consummate our spirits with another beautiful example of God’s creative genius.’ He brushed his hair from his eyes as he looked up to the ceiling and considered his next words. ‘You know, they help you have a good shag. Shellfish in general, I think, are God’s way of telling us to keep going with the procreation and that we’re doing a bang up job. Keep it up, he said, if indeed he would say anything. He’d probably just take pictures.’
‘Isn’t that a little blasphemous?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry yourself about that, Richard. I’ll make my peace with God when the time is right. To be quite frank, I don’t think it’s your place to judge. When the call comes, I’ll take the big fellow into a corner and have a good shufty about my misdeeds as numerous and varied as they are.’
‘I should imagine there are quite a few,’ I said, feeling a bit isolated in this conversation with a madman.
‘Oh I’ve got a lot of ’em, haven’t I?’ he said in a voice I was beginning to recognise as being like that of Kenneth Williams from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. ‘Course, I’ve given most of my bad habits up on account of my sexual disfunction.’
‘Sexual disfunction?’ It’s not, I admit, a phrase that one likes to hear oneself using in a public restaurant.
‘I can’t get enough of it,’ he giggled.
‘Which is why you’re slurping shellfish?’
He looked at his bowl as though it were suddenly alive with contradictions. ‘As a hugely asexual man, I’ve got to ensure that, should I be called on – and it’s only natural that I should – I’ll be able to fulfil my duties as God intended, vis-à-vis, my loins should be ready for the clarion call.’
‘Right,’ I said, ‘but you see, far be it for me to get in the way of God’s plans, but I was wondering if you could stop slurping. I’m trying to eat my soup.’
‘Course, and I don’t intend to be rude, Richard, but you look like a man who should ingest more of the periwinkle. It is, to me, the heroin of the sea floor. I used to indulge myself a little too heavily in the brown sugar but, now that I’m clean, I’m hooked on my little friends, the shellfish. Which is a good fing when you fink of it.’
‘A very good fing,’ I replied and turned away as though returning to my cold soup.
‘No, don’t go!’ cried Russell, growing agitated. ‘I had summink to say to you. I wanted to ask you you’re opinion. You know, as one man who has made it in the field of light and popular entertainment. Though, of course, you’ve done it without any discernable talents…’
I was so shocked I couldn’t speak.
‘Which is impressive in itself when you fink about it. I mean, if it weren’t for this foppish demeanour of an average Restoration cad, married to the quick and ready with of a modern Moliere, and accompanied by a brain the size of a watermelon, then I don’t fink I’d stand a chance in TV. You’d done it with next to nofink. That’s even more genius that what I am, that is.’
‘Oh, not ’alf. Proper good it is!’
I gave a small wave of my hand. ‘I really need to get back to my soup,’ I said and quickly walked back to my booth where I started to spoon leak to my grateful lips.
‘The fing is,’ said Russell, slipping into the seat across the booth from me, his bowl of winkles in his hand, ‘I want some advice about my next career move.’
‘I’m no comedian,’ I said.
‘Cor, I know that,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen your shows and I’ve read your blog. You’re about as funny as an addiction to hard drugs. Though I could tell you some funny tales. Made my career by telling funny tales of the world everybody wonders about but cares not to investigate too closely. I fink I’m sort of a David Attenborough of that dark underbelly of drug culture only I don’t go near any hairy baboons.’
I dropped my spoon and pushed my plate away.
‘You should have ordered winkles,’ said Brand.
‘I’m not hungry,’ I answered, ‘and I really have to leave.’
He shuffled around the booth and put his hand on my knee. ‘Can’t I persuade you to stay?’
I lifted his hand and dropped it on the table. ‘It’s been a pleasure meeting you,’ I said and managed to get to my feet before he could reply.
‘Oi,’ he shouts as I’m halfway across the restaurant, ‘I didn’t tell you about my renowned sexual prowess. Perhaps next time?’
I waved my had as I reached the door. Across the road, the team from Cactus were weaving their uneasy way through the London traffic. ‘Change of plans,’ I shouted. ‘We’re eating at McDonald's. The food’s crap but they don’t serve periwinkles.’
They thought I was mad but I think you can see, I’m the only sane one in this crazy industry of ours.