(Left to right: Bill, Judy, Myself, Selena, Stephen.)
Click picture to see Judy's legs in more detail
Barely had the glue begun to dry on Crown Prince Willem Hendrik’s elbow than the phone suffered a harmonic seizure. In my panic, the poor man’s arm fell off and attached itself to my thumb which I then had to shake manically in order to free it from the monarch’s grasp, heavy as it was with plastic cement. Only then could I reach for the receiver.
‘Yes,’ I snapped.
‘Oh, hi… Richard? This is Clare at the BBC. I’ve not caught you at a bad moment have I?’
‘You had,’ I replied. ‘I was enjoying a quiet five minutes in my office, putting the finishing touches to my latest Airfix model from the Great Dutch Potentates Collection.’
‘Well, if you’ve got time, I need a word. I’m afraid we’ve made a bit of a botch with your booking.’
I groaned as I deposed an armless Crown Prince by sticking him beneath my desk. There were more important matters at hand, if not to elbow. Judy and I had been asked to make a guest appearance on the BBC’s hit show, Pro-Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing At Christmas. Our booking has been long standing and we’d already devoted weeks of preparation to our dance routine. With only hours left before the big night, complications were the last thing I needed.
‘Could you be a dear?’ asked the producer. ‘I need you to check your contract. Did we say that your team should have “three men and one woman”?’
My hand reached for the file we use of future bookings and extracted the contract embossed with the BBC crest, a unflappable gannet with gremlin passant.
‘You did,’ I confirmed. ‘And we wrote back to say that our team will comprise Bill Oddie, Stephen Fry, Judy and myself. So that’s two men, one woman, and an Oddie.’
‘That’s just it,’ said the producer. ‘It should have been two women.’
‘So you’re saying that our team is a woman short?’ I bit my lip. This was not the first time I’ve been left to rue the inefficiency of the BBC. They once promised me a James May but delivered a Keith Chegwin.
‘We can provide an extra dancer without a problem,’ said Clare the Producer. ‘We’ve had Kerry Katona training in case of an emergency like this. She can join up with you at a moment’s notice.’
‘I’m sure she can,’ I replied, ‘but I don’t think that sounds very safe.’
‘Safe?’ asked the producer.
‘Well, isn’t it dangerous asking four people to dance over my dead body?’ I snapped.
‘I see,’ came the reply. ‘So am I to take it that you have a problem with Kerry?’
‘I have more than a single problem with Kerry. She’s epitomises what’s wrong with this country. Publishers sell her novels though she doesn’t write them, supermarkets use her to promote a healthy lifestyle she doesn’t herself follow, and her personal life is like some rogue state that’s just gone nuclear. To say that I don’t fancy flinging my hips around a dance floor with her would be something of an understatement. I’d prefer to dance the cha-cha-cha with North Korea.’ I rubbed a hand across my immaculate brow. ‘Look, leave it with me,’ I said. ‘I’m sure I can find some able bodied woman with an immaculate sense of rhythm.’
‘Well, if you say so, Richard, but in my experience, ballroom dancers are hard to find.’
I came off the phone and uttered Clarkson’s favourite expletive. This was the last thing I needed. The Christmas work has begun to come in thick and fast and I could see that I wouldn’t even get chance to watch myself on Have I Got New For You? I went to find Judy who was busy swimming lengths in our indoor heated pool.
‘Cock up on the Pro-Celebrity Stricture Come Dancing Christmas Special front,’ I said. ‘We’re a woman light.’
Judy trod water as she cleared out an ear that had become waterlogged. ‘Did you just say we’re a Norman light?’
‘I said a woman. And not just any woman. A woman who knows the foxtrot inside out.’
‘We’ve been taking months of secret lessons to get us up to speed,’ said Judy. ‘Who could we possibly ask? We don’t even know anybody called Norman.’
Poor Judy. Her inner ear is such a weakness. She has large earholes, you see, and her lobes also have a natural tendency to attract water. When she’s been swimming, we’re lucky if her hearing is back to normal within a week of her drying out. I went back to the office and rang Oddie.
‘Simple,’ said Bill. ‘Katie will do it.’
‘Kate Humble. We present "Autumnwatch" together. Lovely girl. She has an eye for a fine badger.’
‘That’s well and good,’ I replied, ‘but can she dance?’
‘Not a step,’ laughed Bill, ‘but there’s no better woman when you need to identify the call of the screech owl.’
I hung up, leaving Oddie with a promise to ask Katie if we couldn’t find a better alternative. All things considered, if it got that bad, I’d have even consider a screech owl.
‘Stephen?’ I said moments later after the speed dial had finished speeding through his forty seven digit phone number. He’s not so much ex-directory as triple-ex directory. There’s nothing that Stephen appreciates more than his privacy.
‘Ay, ’tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, currently practising my foxtrot for Pro-Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Special.’
‘Odd that you should mention it,’ I said. ‘’Tis I, Richard, one Norman light for our team.’
‘Did you say a “Norman”?’
‘A woman. A woman,’ I cried. ‘What’s wrong with people today?’
‘A woman. I see… And is that just one woman we're short?’ he asked, apparently unfazed by the problem.
‘You make it sound like it’s a triviality. We need a woman with immaculate timing and an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary ballroom dancing. This is a woman who has to dance on national TV with Bill Oddie. She has to be good.’
‘Simple,’ he said. ‘Ask Selena Dreamy.’
I was astonished at how the man’s mind works. I’ve said it before but it’s just not connected like those of normal human beings. He’s definitely got the full spec at Mankind 2.0 standards.
‘Of course,’ he continued. ‘When she came to see the mango tree growing in my conservatory, Selena demonstrated a quite admirable set of pins on her. Never has a woman been more blessed by the gods of the rhumba, if not the paso doble, cotillion, two step, and the bunny hug.’
‘Do you know her number?’ I asked, having long ago concluded that the astonishing blog phenomenon known as Selena was really a pipe smoking taxidermist from Slough. That she existed in female form was astonishing news.
‘Naturally, I do,’ replied the Great Fry. ‘What is the point of owning an iPhone if one doesn’t have the telephone numbers of the nation at one’s fingertips?’
‘Why indeed?’ I asked as the phone went silent and I heard Stephen’s fingers begin to stroke his iPhone.
An hour later, I returned to the pool. Judy was practising back flips from the diving board. I waited for her to surface before I told her the good news.
‘We’ve got our woman.’
‘I knew you would,’ she smiled. ‘I got thinking about it too. Norman Collier. He’s always good for a laugh.’
I shook my head and returned to Crown Prince Willem Hendrik’s elbow, the one constant in an often confusing world.