It was past midnight and I was as cold and lonely as the proverbial pickle left in Russell Grant’s lunchbox. A member of the local constabulary had his hand on my shoulder as he led me on a never ending walk down to the cells. Along the frozen galleries and corridors, I could hear a radio playing the echoing strains of the second movement from Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat Major. A slow moving piece, it was poignant, perhaps, but with a certain, resigned tempo that made the injustice seem all the greater.
I’m no stranger to persecution. It’s true of all great men at all times of history. As I always say: if Galileo couldn’t escape his fate with hemlock, what chance have I? Yet never could I have imagined fate being so cruel as to put me away for allegedly damaging the thing most precious to me.
The police had arrived around nine o’clock, responding to a complaint from as yet unidentified reader of this blog who had reported me for kicking Judy. The shock of the allegation couldn’t have come at a more unexpected hour. When the police arrived, I’d been spread out on the living room floor with Bill Oddie. Our attempts to erect a new flat-packed bedside cabinet that Mrs. M. had bought from IKEA had been thwarted when Bill, being Bill, lost one of the half-inch cross-headed self-tapping screws. We’d been crawling nose to shag (or, indeed, beard to shag) in a desperate attempt to find it. That’s the moment the police chose to swoop and when the scene descended into mild farce.
Bill answered the door and immediately screamed a warning that I should heel it out the back. As he began to struggle with the officer, I was on my pins heading south. Unfortunately, I ran straight into a second policeman loitering behind the recycling bins parked outside the back door.
Any struggle was a formality. I was soon escorted back into the house where I found Bill in handcuffs. I managed to talk the officers into letting him go before I was led from the house. It was the least I could do for the little fellow. In return, Bill promised to contact Judy, who was spending another night in London with Denise. Only I knew that, try as he might, Bill would never get through to her. Judy turns off her mobile when she’s in the theatre and nothing could interrupt her watching Equus for the twentieth time.
And so, with Bill Oddie left behind, rallying my supporters, I’d been taken to the local police station where I’d been read my rights and had begun my long march to the cell.
‘Let’s see what we’ve got in box number two, shall we?’ said the officer, stopping before a grey door. He unlocked it and pushed me in. ‘Have a bit of we stay and you pay,’ he added with a grim laugh.
The door slammed shut behind me and I found myself staring at a heavily tattooed bench of flesh which slowly began to sit up.
‘I was dreaming about soup,’ said the bench.
‘Any particular flavour?’ I asked.
‘Scotch broth,’ it replied, ‘but it could have been mushroom.’
My eyes adjusted to the light and I could make out a human form in the place of the bench. It was big man, well over six feet, lying on a cramped cot.
‘So sorry to have woken you,’ I said.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed, yawned, and then slowly extended an arm out towards me.
‘The name’s Dave,’ said Dave. His hand completely wrapped my own and it was then that he reminded me of a slightly more tattooed version of Terry Scott, only a good three feet taller and with at least two more pierced eyebrows.
‘Nice to meet you Dave,’ I replied. ‘I’m Richard. Richard Madeley.’ He released my hand and gave a long stretch. I skirted around his legs and sat heavily down on the sponge cot on the other side of the cell. Dave smiled and lay back down. Then, as if to prove how compassionate he was, he allowed gas to escape from his lower dietary tract. I knew then that I wouldn’t be dreaming about Scotch Broth or mushrooms. They weren’t nearly spicy enough.
After five minutes, he looked at me from beneath his brow, thick with grease and rivets. ‘Hey, ain’t you that bloke from the telly?’ he asked. ‘What’s his name?’
‘Madeley,’ I told him again. ‘Richard Madeley.’
‘Ay, that’s him,’ he replied. ‘Ain’t you him?’
‘I am,’ I said.
‘Well I never. And what they got you for?’
‘I’ve been arrested for illegally poking my wife with my big toe.’
‘Yea? Well, ain’t that something? You do that programme with your missus, don’t ya? I sometimes watch it if I’m not busy.’
‘Busy?’ I asked, naively. ‘And what do you do for a living?’
‘Oh,’ smiled Dave, ‘nothing too heavy. I just rob stuff.’
‘You’re a thief? Fantastic! We should get you on the show.’
‘Sometimes I just handle,’ he said, a little shyly. ‘That’s what they’ve got me for this time. Handling.’
‘And what were you handling? I hope it wasn’t toes or you could be in serious trouble under European law.’
‘Not toes,’ said Dave. ‘Just handguns. Glock automatics, Smith & Wesson 9 millimetres. I just do a little trade in them for the local families.’
I shifted down on my cot and tried to close my eyes. Knowing that you’re in a confined space with a man who runs a business supplying small firearms to gangsters tends to restrict conversation. It felt a bit like working on literacy schemes with the government.
We lay like that in the darkness of the cell a good hour before one of us spoke again.
‘So how do you come up with your ideas for your show?’ asked Dave, sometime around one o’clock.
‘With great difficulty,’ I answered, rolling from the side of the bed that stank of urine to the side that carried the aroma of vomit. ‘Ideas are the hardest things to come up with.’
He grunted in the darkness. ‘I have some fantastic ideas for TV shows,’ he said.
I opened my eyes. Sitting in the slight murk of the cell, Dave had the composure of a church gargoyl. ‘I really don’t think it’s as easy as that,’ I told him. ‘For instance, my new series is called “Dick Justice”. It’s taken months of planning just to get the first episode worked out. I’m going undercover to smash the gangs flooding Blackpool’s Golden Mile with poor quality rubber novelty items from China.’
‘I don’t mean making shows,’ said Dave. ‘I mean coming up with ideas for new shows. I’ve got hundreds of them.’
I snorted a scoff and I heard the other cot squeal. Dave was sitting upright, his eyes like menacing stars set against the dark graffitied night of the cell wall, with the constellation of ‘Nark off, Coppers’ rising.
‘You don’t think I can come up with good shows?’ he asked.
‘I’m not saying that,’ I replied, fear overriding my bravado. ‘I’m just saying that original programming ideas aren’t that easy to come by.’
‘Yea, well what about “Felicity’s Fingers”? It’s my take on the oldest profession in the world.’
‘That’s the second oldest. I’m talking about gardening. Each week we give two teams a chance to race Felicity Kendal to plant a herbaceous border.’
‘Not bad,’ I said.
‘Oh, if you like that, I’ve got lots more. “Earlobe Alley”, “Sugar Rush”, “The Parsnip Game”, “Roll Over, Beets in the Oven”, “Pro-Celebrity Duck Hunt”, “It’s Purple, Doctor!”
I had to stop him. ‘And what exactly is that last one about?’
‘You mean “It’s Purple, Doctor!”? That would be TV’s first surgical quiz game. Doctors compete to diagnose real illnesses from descriptions of the symptoms presented by the nation’s top comedy talent. Think how funny it could be. We’d might have a man with one leg on one side of a screen and Phil Jupitus would describe how he keeps falling over. It would be hosted by Jimmy Carr.’
I have to admit I did wonder if had something there. I’ve pitched lesser ideas to ITV and won commissions on most of them.
It was the thought of making quality programming that probably helped me to sleep. As Dave began to run through the complicated rules of ‘Hey! That’s My Sausage!’ I was overcome with fatigue and drifted into an almost blissful sleep. I awoke at eight o’clock the next morning to a palatable change in the air. The stale cell felt optimistic as I listened to the soft yet lively humming of somebody outside the door. When it swung open, I was not at all surprised to see the man standing there.
‘As you no doubt expected, ’tis I, Fry, having negotiated your release,’ said Stephen. ‘You are free to go as the actress said to the generously blessed country swain she’d helped release from the threshing machine.’
‘How on earth?’ I gasped, sitting up on my cot. Dave was still sleeping and I thought it best not to wake him.
Fifteen minutes later, my shoelaces restored to my shoes, I was walking beside Stephen on the way to his black London taxi. ‘You are indeed fortunate, Richard,’ said the Great Man. ‘You are lucky that I crammed years of legal study into a few weeks last summer to pass my bar exams. There are very few people in showbiz who are fully trained lawyers.’
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ I said as I slid into the back of the cab. ‘I didn’t even know you’re a lawyer.’
‘Among many things,’ said Fry, settling himself in the driver’s seat. ‘My practise is small but I like to think that my clients are blessed by the best legal mind this side of Mr. Rumpole.’
‘I’m sure they are,’ I replied and there began the conversation that would occupy us all the way back to the house. I had plenty of talk to get out, explaining to Stephen about my idea for a quality quiz involving the comic descriptions of serious surgical conditions.
‘“Lance My Boil!” sounds like a fine idea for a comedy quiz,’ said Stephen. ‘Put me down as the host and co-producer.’
‘Consider it done,’ I said as we turned the corner of the road and I saw the house in the distance. It did my heart endless good to see all the neighbours waiting to greet me, along with a few cherished friends. Oddie, Plain, Corbett, and even Paxman had come down to welcome me back. But the greatest satisfaction was seeing Judy standing there, tears running down her face.
‘I thought you’d be gone years,’ she said, sobbing into her blouse. ‘Yet it was only one night. It as only one night!’
‘One night indeed,’ I told her as I took her into my arms. She seemed to have stiff with worry. ‘One long and terrifying night for you, Judy, but for me, I saw a night of great things for the future of light entertainment.’ I held her at arms length and gazed into her eyes. ‘I’m going to restore us back to the top of the television ladder. Now what do you know about non-infectious diseases?’