Monday, 31 December 2007
We spent a pleasant hour talking together. I told him that his limp seemed to have almost gone and he praised me for my pallor which he said was ‘as pale as a nun’s thigh’.
Yet the truth is that I’m feeling no better. The cold had progressed from the feverish stage and loaded my head to its muzzle with chemical weapon’s grade bacteria. There’s an odd feature of my flues and colds. I fear worse when my body is clearing its system than when I’m under the influence of some unfriendly virus. You might compare it to the condition in Iraq.
Anyway, I’m hoping to be back to normal tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. I have great plans for the New Year, including the campaign I’m going to start against the cult of the celebrity novel. Casting an eye over the January book sales at Amazon, I was pleasantly amused to see all the usual Christmas celebrity biographies are now half price and Russell Brand’s annoyingly titled ‘Booky Wooky’ (not necessarily the right title but I'm too sick to go look) is working its way towards a good pulping. Less amusing was the number of novels written by celebrities I noticed. Even our own Denise Robertson has spawned a couple of these potboilers. Something really needs to be done and I think I’m the man to do it. Judy has said to me on many an occasion that she intends to ‘become a writer’ once she finishes on TV. I try to tell her that writers are born and don’t suddenly ‘fancy having a go’ once the TV work dries up. However, on this, as in many things, we are bound to have differences.
Okay, I can feel my anger begin to rise and if I don’t stop now I won’t stop at all. I’ve already written more than I intended and I’m feeling weaker for it.
Until tomorrow when normal services should resume, I hope you all have a wonderful time tonight. Personally, I don’t treat it as being particularly special. It’s the most miserable night of the year when we all look back on opportunities not taken, disappointments accrued, and the world situation going from bad to worse. I’d be more than happy to celebrate New Year if we could take 2007 out behind the garden shed and smack it ceremonially around the head with a spade. Because we can’t, I don’t. Nevertheless, I wish you all a happy New Year.
Sunday, 30 December 2007
Saturday, 29 December 2007
The ‘bug’ had struck me around six o’clock but, by ten, what had begun as a mild headache and gathering thickness in the throat has come roaring into life as a full blown malady. Some might call it a cold but I personally think it much more than that. The Word Health Organisation needed to be informed in order to set up a quarantine. For that reason alone, I ask you not to get too close.
‘I’m been talking with Mark,’ said Judy, dumping her handbag on the work surface and quite obvious to my fever.
‘Mark,’ asked I, in a whisper. ‘Which Mark is this?’
‘Mark Ronson. The music producer.’
‘Ah,’ I replied, testing the Lemsip with my elbow and deciding that it was hot enough to drink while being cool enough to avoid a trip to A&E.
‘We’re going to record a song.’
I gave her one of my hard stares, at once doleful and cynical yet with an undercurrent of the mildly delirious. ‘A song?’ I repeated. ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Judy, but there’s a sick man standing in your kitchen. Beneath this dressing gown is a body wracked by fever. Don’t you notice my pallid colour and general lethargy?’
‘There’s nothing wrong with you but a slight sniffle,’ said Judy, ever the humanitarian. ‘Don’t you want to hear the good news?’
‘Okay,’ I wheezed. ‘What’s the song?’
‘Not just any song,’ said Judy. ‘It’s one of your favourites. I’ll give you a clue. It’s French.’
‘Not “La Vie En Rose” by Grace Jones? Some say it’s a camp classic but it always gets my testicles swinging.’
‘Close,’ she clapped. ‘It’s actually "Bonnie and Clyde". You know... By Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot?’
Shocked? I dropped my spoon in the Lemsip.
‘That’s wonderful,’ I said. ‘How on earth did you come up with an idea so brilliant?’
‘Oh,’ blushed Judy. ‘I knew we needed a bit of money so I thought we might cover the next few months by getting a single to the top of the charts.’
‘Ah, but not any song,’ I said, already shuffling my feet to the tune I knew so well. ‘My favourite song.’
The truth is that there’s a story to all this. Way back when I was a young man, Serge Gainsbourg was my idol. I modelled myself on his stick thin look. What people now think of as my creepiness and slight resemblance to a reptile is just a deliberate attempt to copy the French maestro. When I was old enough to afford to travel, I actually went to Paris and hung out with the great man. Though I spoke little French, we seemed to share an understanding that went beyond language. It was the universal language of the misunderstood genius. In a way, you might say that Serge was to me then what Fry is to me now.
I picked up my Lemsip and knocked it back in one go.
‘Steady there, champ,’ said Judy as it dribbled from my chin.
‘I need to get well,’ I said, staggering towards the door on my way back to bed. ‘I’ve suddenly got a reason to live.’
‘I’m glad your happy,’ said Judy, taking my arm and helping me to the stairs. ‘Mark’s very excited about the project.’
‘It’s bound to be a hit,’ I said. ‘He’s a great producer.’
‘The best in the business,’ she answered. ‘I think it takes a special kind of genius to come up with a twist so novel.’
‘Twist?’ I asked.
‘Oh, didn’t I mention?’ said Judy, as I we made the landing. ‘I’ll be playing Clyde and you’re playing Bonnie.’ She paused and took a step back. 'Oh dear, you do look bad, Richard. Should I call a doctor?'
'Just call me Brigitte,' I said, feeling nausea overwhelm me.
Friday, 28 December 2007
Taken as an indication of the British public’s tastes, I think
The Madeley attitude towards the Real World is a rather naive one: I try to avoid it whenever I can. A frigid shoulder is the best the Real World can expect from me. Yet yesterday it had me cornered and I could tell by the look of malicious intent in its eye that I would be lucky to get away without serious damage to my ego. Where it bit me, I prefer not to say. That it bit me at all is enough for you to know.
As you’re no doubt aware, the imminent arrival of 2008 has had me feeling deeply anxious about my future. It came to a head around midnight on Christmas Day. I was sitting at the bottom of the garden, a bottle of whisky on one knee and a garden gnome on the other. As I emptied one, I confessed my problems to the other. Neither offered much of a solution. Yet my sobbing must have carried up to the house because not long after I’d emptied the bottle, a figure of hope came looming over my shoulder.
‘Don’t let Cilla get you down,’ said Fry. ‘She doesn’t mean anything by it. How was she to know you’re a quarter Russian?’
‘It’s not that,’ I said, wiping a tear from my cheek.
‘Then why the tears and the need for a gnome?’
‘I’m broke,’ I confessed. ‘I need to find work or all this will come to an end.’
‘Ah,’ said Stephen, sitting at my side. He took the gnome from my knee and threw it into the shrubbery. ‘There is no need to confer with the little people when Fry’s around. If you need money, then you only need to find some work. Take me as your model. I’m always running low on funds but there’s work out there for men of reasonable intellects.’ The sight of a smile of my lips confused Stephen into thinking I was happy again. He slapped my knee and stood up. ‘Now come on back into the house,’ he said. ‘If we don’t stop Cilla’s 60s medley, she’ll start into the hits of the 70s and I can’t be sure that Titchmarsh won’t snap in a most violent manner.’
How that I wished it were all so simple!
With the Channel 4 contract running out in the Summer, I’ve become preoccupied with my finances. Now, no doubt you are sitting there, wrapped in the warmth of your semi-detached in some lovely London grotto, quaffing quality brandy while a large wolf hound sleeps by an extravagant fireplace. You think to yourself: what is Madeley blathering on about? Surely the £500,000 advance for his biography was enough for him. And what about the millions he has earned during his stint at ITV and Channel 4? You might even wonder about the ‘You Say, We Pay’ monies. Where are they now, you might uncharitably ask?
Well it’s nearly 2008 and that means it is time for brutal honesty. The Madeley funds are low. Lower than low. Were I an office cleaner, tethered to a vacuum for £5.50 an hour, I might consider myself comfortably off. It has got to the point where I need to act or prepare for a life wrapped in cardboard and selling matchbooks. Even blogging is becoming a luxury I’ll be unable to indulge for much longer. That’s why I spent yesterday making a full inventory of my skills and why I intend to make use of them in the near future.
I scribbled down the list yesterday morning. After half an hour’s consideration, I had the following laid neatly out on the back of one of the Tesco shopping receipts I so assiduously keep on me.
Full Name: Richard Caesar Madeley
Sex: Alpha Male
Occupation: Talk Show Host
Qualifications: Honorary doctorates from five universities, plus ‘O’ levels in carpentry and English.
Skills: listening, interrupting, pontificating, writing (questionable), loyalty, intelligence, computer literacy, expert on every conceivable subject, established contacts in light entertainment.
With my curriculum vitae complete, I folded it up and stuffed it down my sock. Half an hour later, I was in a nearby metropolis and had found myself an employment agency.
‘Hello,’ I said to a lively twinset sitting at a desk by the door. ‘I’m looking for work.’
The woman gazed up at me and within the space of the word ‘blink’ she was screaming my name.
‘Richard Madeley! Oh my God! It’s you, isn’t it? It’s really you!’
‘Guilty as charged,’ I said, ‘though I was let off on appeal… Irresistible sex appeal.’
‘Oh my god! What are you doing here?’
I put my foot on her desk and rolled down my sock to show her my makeshift C.V. Then I gestured to my surroundings, the green office furniture, the walls covered with small cards briefly describing employment opportunities. ‘I’m here seeking work,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on!’ she laughed. ‘Don’t fool with me. What are you really here for? Is it a show?’
‘No, no,’ I replied. ‘I’m really here for work. Or, at least, I’m here to see what kind of job a man of my vast experience and skills can land.’
‘You’re really here for a job?’ she asked, looking not a little disappointed. ‘Well what kind of position are you after?’
‘Ideally it would be something in presenting a national teatime chat show, perhaps on a generous contract of a few million a year. But if you don’t have that, I thought something in an office…’ I held out my details. ‘I’ve written down all my skills if that’s any help.’
She took one look at my résumé and, after making a comment about the price I pay for peas, turned it over. She seems quite impressed as she cast an eye down my qualifications on the back. She then picked up at a card she had been in the process of filling out.
‘To be perfectly honest with your Richard, with this limited skill set we’d be looking to place you in a role such as a General Catering Assistant.’
‘And what does that entail?’ I asked.
‘Can you ladle dumplings?’
‘I see,’ I replied, not immediately attracted to the work. ‘And is that it?’
‘We do have an opening for a Community Care Worker. You would get to meet a wide range of interesting people.’
‘Define “interesting”,’ I said.
‘Newly released prisoners and people with some kind of social disfunction. It’s basically work with the violent and the criminally insane.’
‘A bit too close to dealing with bloggers,’ I replied.
‘What about a Human Resources Officer working with Information Systems?’
‘Ah ! An executive job. That sounds more promising. Are there any more details?’
‘Full training will be given on site,’ she said, ‘though you might have to double for the usherette on a busy night.’
‘You mean I’d be selling tickets in a cinema?’
‘That’s what I said,’ said the woman. ‘Human Resources Officer working with Information Systems.’
‘And is that all I’m good for?’ I asked, falling back onto a chair, amazed at what I had heard. ‘Does an honorary doctorate not account for anything these days?’
‘Almost as little as a real one, I’m afraid,’ said the woman.
There really was nothing more I could say. I told her that I’d consider the job working with ex-convicts and made my way home. I got back at three to find Stephen Fry lazing in my arm chair. He was smoking his pipe.
‘Ah, the Dick of the house is now in residence,’ he said as he closed my copy of ‘Private Eye’. ‘I hope you don’t mind but I settled myself with a humourous read while I waited. Unfortunately, I’d already read that particular volume of Wodehouse and was forced to pick up the “Eye” instead. There was a joke on page seven that almost made me smile. Then I realised it was merely an errant staple.’
‘Judy not home?’ I asked as I threw down my car keys on the table.
‘She had go out early to beat the London traffic. I understand that it’s bingo night at Denise Robertson’s.’
I kicked off my shoes and made like the last English Oak and collapsed onto the sofa. Given the angle between my head and Stephen’s chair, it felt like I was about to undergo a session with my shrink. As it turns out, that’s not far from the truth.
‘Oh, Stephen,’ I began. ‘Why is it so easy for you? How did you become such a polymath? You only need to say that you’re going to do a thing and you cause it to happen. You want to publish a novel, the publisher says how much do you want as an advance. You say you’re writing a book on writing poetry and they make ready to print a hundred thousand copies.’
‘Do I sense jealousy, Richard?’ asked the Great Fry.
‘Only admiration,’ I said. ‘I’m tired of being typecast as the handsome yet knowledgeable irritant. I want the next stage of my career to bring me moderate rewards for all the work I do. Is it too much to ask that I’ll not be consigned to spending my days writing invoices and inputting data into a computer? I want to carry on writing, Stephen, but the world simply won’t allow it. Have I deluded myself into thinking that I have a talent for this work? Are those people right who vote for me to give up blogging? Should I accept my lot in life and succumb to the routine of a telesales office?’
‘You must succumb,’ said Stephen. ‘There are very few of us who can make a living by being witty. You are no different to the thousands who try and fail.’
‘You really think I’m no different?’
‘No different except you are perhaps a little more determined, rather stubborn, and have a higher tolerance for pain. Otherwise you’re born to fail.’
‘So that’s it then? ’
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Stephen as he puffed away at his briar. ‘A man must know his limitations and you do have such woefully limited limitations, Richard.’
I exhaled a sigh that would have been enough to extinguish the world’s light.
‘Oh, come, come, Richard,’ cried Stephen in reply. ‘Don’t look on this as the end of your writing career. See it at the beginning of a career in telesales! And who knows? In a year’s time, perhaps you’ll be the most famous telesales person in the country. People will be talking about your telephone manner from Wick to Cornwall, from Bright to Aberdeen.’
I sat up and gazed on his magnificence. ‘My God, I do believe that you’re right,’ I said. ‘I will do this and I will be a success. I’m going into telesales. If I can’t talk to the nation each night at five o’clock, I’ll ring them individually at inconvenient times of the day. It’s about time people stopped thinking of Richard Madeley as a man who lives only to annoy them.’
Thursday, 27 December 2007
A wan hand appeared from under the duvet. It recoiled from the light before whispering. ‘Richard, could you please be a little quieter when you curse Parky? It sounds too much like blasphemy.’
‘Don’t tell me you’re going to defend him!’ I snapped.
‘He is the nation’s favourite talk show host.’
That was low, illegal blow, especially on Boxing Day. ‘The last time Parky asked a penetrating question it was 1973.’ I said. ‘And even then he questioned Lee Marvin about his sexuality.’
‘Oh Richard, give it a rest,’ said the hand. ‘Or at least lower your voice.’
‘I can’t give it a rest,’ I answered. ‘And you know I don’t have any sympathy with hangovers. If you can’t hold your liquor, you shouldn’t drink so much.’ I turned my attention back to the news. ‘If Parky spoils this for us, I’ll never forgive him.’
The instructions from The Palace had been quite explicit: don’t respond when asked about Her Majesty’s New Year honours. It wasn’t my own knighthood that concerned me as much as knowing that Judy has become really attached to the idea of becoming a dame. The weeks of excitement had pretty much been centred on Judy’s outfit for the day. I think my own elevation to the knighthood had passed without even a single mention.
I closed the laptop and slipped from the bed. The hand retreated under the sheets, no doubt rejoining the rest of Dame Judy who had over-exerted her liver at the previous night’s party. Things had been going well until Stephen Fry began supping champagne from Selena Dreamy’s shoe. Judy shouted that had to try it herself and kicked off a slipper. The poor woman was now suffering, not because she’d miscalculated the potency of the drink but the size of her own feet. It stands to sense that it one can get a touch tipsy by supping from Selena’s small pumps then you can get totally bashed by drinking from Judy’s size elevens.
I pulled on my dressing gown and quietly headed for my office, having decided make my phone calls from there and allow Judy chance to sleep off her bad head.
One soon learns about one’s friends when the Press are sniffing about and it’s important to remind some about their loyalty. The man I was about to call is well known for being unable to keep a secret and it was important that I got to him before the newspapers.
I dialled, I sat, I waited as his phone rang, all the time staring at my unfinished Airfix model of Crown Prince Willem Hendrik and wondered if I’d ever find time to finish making the complete Great Dutch Potentates Collection. Eventually, somebody picked up the phone.
‘Jeremy?’ I said, loud and cheerful. ‘It’s Dick. How you feeling?’
The phone groaned. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear that this week but Clarkson had more reason than many to be tender between the ears. He’d got himself in a drinking game with Sue Lawley and lost consciousness on the eleventh round. The last I saw of him was when A.A. Gill dragged him by his ankles, out to their waiting taxi.
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I don’t like bothering you on Boxing Day but I just wanted to give you a warning. Looks like the Press are out to discover the contents of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. If they contact you, please don’t mention our names. It’s meant to be a secret.’
‘Yes, yes, sure,’ muttered Clarkson. ‘What time is it?’
‘Nine thirty,’ I said with a crisp alertness.
I heard a head impact on a pillow. ‘Oh! You bast…’ began Clarkson before the phone went dead.
Need you any more proof that the man’s a wit and wag from morning till night? I think not.
I dialled the next number on my shot list of those ‘in the know’.
‘’Tis I, Fry, whispering on my iPhone,’ said The Great Man.
‘Morning Stephen. Feeling a bit peaky, are we?’
‘To paraphrase the Bard, my revels now are ended and I have foresworn all spirits that have melted my brain into air, into thin, thin air…’
‘Yes, well,’ I replied, ‘if you insist on drinking like that with The Merry Wives and Windsor, then your hangover is “As You Like It”.’
‘Very droll,’ muttered Stephen. ‘But how was I to know that Mrs. Madeley and Mrs. Titchmarsh could handle their liquor as well as Barbara Windsor?’
‘I’m sure it’s a hard lesson learned, Stephen,’ I answered, ‘but I’m sure you’ll recover your elan in no time. However, that’s not why I’m ringing. I just wanted to warn you against mentioning our names if anybody asks you about the New Year Honours. It’s supposed to be a secret.’
‘You should know that I’m the model of discretion,’ said Fry. ‘Fortunately, I’m currently also a model of forgetfulness. That was quite a party, or at least what little I can remember of it. Perhaps you can you shed some light on why I can taste shoe leather and anti-fungal cream?’
I did just that. He seemed less than amused. I then asked him if it was true about him buying Weasel Vomit coffee for Prince Charles.
For some reason, the question brought out conversation to a premature end. He had to dash off to the bathroom, leaving me with no other alternative than to ring the final person who knows about my impending knighthood.
‘Morning Bill,’ I said to Oddie. ‘Hope I didn’t wake you?’
‘Wake me?’ laughed Bill. ‘I’ve not been to bed. Nature doesn’t rest for Christmas. I’ve been out watching hibernating moles.’
‘That doesn’t sound exciting,’ I replied.
‘To be honest, Dick, it’s not the most fun you can do at four AM on a freezing cold December morning. However, you learn a lot about yourself watching a mole sleep.’
‘I’m sure you do,’ I replied, though not at all sure that I believe a word of it. ‘I’m just surprised you’re not feeling a bit bloated in the gills this morning. You were putting the drink away as well as anybody.’
‘Oh, I feel fine,’ said Bill. ‘But that’s probably because I’m immune to whisky. Ever since I was bitten by a raccoon, alcohol doesn’t affect me. I might as well have been drinking tea.’
‘Well it would have been a bit cheaper if you had,’ I replied, sourly. ‘Listen, I’m ringing to make sure you’ve retained your ability to keep a secret. The Press are nosing around for hints to the Queen’s New Year honours. I want you to remember that nobody is meant to know about Judy and me.’
‘I’m keeping it under my hat with my pet dormouse,’ said Bill.
I believed that he would.
I listened to Bill go on about moles for five more minutes before I hung up the phone and came out of the office to find Judy creeping slowly down the stairs. It looked like she was heading for the kitchen so I moved ahead of her to get the door open.
‘Did I hear you on the phone?’ she asked as she shuffled past me.
‘I was ringing Bill to remind his to keep the New Year honours a secret. He’s a wonderful man but prone to blurting things out that he shouldn’t. Wouldn’t want to jeopardise our honours because of a slip of his wayward tongue.’
‘Our honours?’ asked Judy, stopping by the sink and looking a bit puzzled.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You know… The letter from Buckingham Palace…’
‘Oh, I remember the letter,’ said Judy. ‘I just didn’t remember your name being on it.’
‘Well, it was addressed to me,’ I said, amazed at how the drink was affecting my poor wife’s faculties.
‘It was addressed to Mrs. Richard Madeley,’ said Judy. ‘And it was about my DBE. There was no mention of a KBE.’
I sank down onto the wicker stool as Judy stumbled to the cupboard and took out the jar of salts. After she’d downed a pint of the stuff in a single go, she turned to me and belched gently. ‘You didn’t think they’d knight you after all the things you’ve said and done? I’ve warned you before, Richard. You should do more charity work.’
‘And what about all my work writing my blog if it’s not charity?’ I asked. ‘If it weren’t for me, there would be thousands of people going through life without the hope I give them. My regular readers would soon go off the rails if they didn’t have me.’
She waved down my complaint as shuffled away on her way back to bed.
‘Sir Richard Madeley,’ I heard her laugh before the bedroom door closed. I sat in the kitchen, listening to the echo of her laughter dance around the house, beating its merry step on all my hopes for the New Year.
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
‘It’s wonderful,’ I lied. ‘It’s… just… what… I… wanted.’
Her spirit seemed to ebb back into her chair, as though her world were now somehow complete.
‘I’m so glad,’ she sighed. ‘You’re so hard to buy for, Richard. I just didn’t know what to get you. But then I remembered you mentioning that you were running low on aftershave. Denise recommended this. She says it’s the best.’
‘I’m sure she did,’ I replied, wondering what kind of recommendation that is for a man's aftershave. Not that I’d ever doubt Denise’s opinion about anything but I wondered what on earth she could be razoring that required an astringent with such muscle.
‘You have run out, haven’t you?’ asked Judy.
‘I have,’ I smiled and it was true. My bottle of Lynx Unlimited Vitalising Aftershave had run dry days ago. Since Christmas Eve, I’ve been rubbing fumes onto my face, wondering if my body would revert back to its natural masculine odours of cordite and cigar smoke. Yet none of this helped me overcome the shock of my gift.
I must have sat too long in silence, my fingers squeezing the life out of the neck of my new 100ml bottle of Denim Original. It lay in the middle of a floret of red wrapping paper that appeared to have exploded from my groin, as though I’d just given birth to a monster. In a way, that’s exactly what I had done.
‘What’s wrong? You’re not going to smell it?’
I glanced down at the unwieldy bottle embossed with a large gold medallion.
‘Do I have to?’ I asked, which wasn’t so much the ‘wrong thing to say’ as scribbling my Tony Hancock on my own death warrant.
Judy was erect in her seat, disappointment elbowing for attention on her face, already occupied by a Christmas bumper bundle of anguish. ‘Oh Richard! Don’t tell me you don’t like it!’
‘No, no, not at all,’ I said but made no move to open the bottle.
‘Richard Madeley, you are the most ungrateful man I think I’ve ever known!’
An ache in my joints told me to expect rain or tears. Neither are good for me. I panicked and unscrewed the cap. Women called Pandora have opened boxes in a similar fashion and with lesser consequences. My mind’s eye played out typhoons in the Sahara and tidal waves hitting Mogadishu. The devastation in my own living room was biblical. Not even cosy New Testament biblical. I mean Old Testament right hook from Henry Cooper dressed as Moses biblical.
The scent sent me back back in the 1970s of my youth: a denim shirt tucked into white flares, my tall afro combed to a sixty degree angle as it bounced to the sound of the Pointer Sisters.
The vision passed and I was left back staring at the picture on the box. Only Jeremy Clarkson still wears denim shirts and all that was missing was a female hand stretching in from the side of the picture to unbutton one of the shirt’s press studs. I could only think hairy chests and Burt Reynolds.
‘Well?’ prompted Judy, waiting for me to insert the bottle up my nose.
I raised the bottle and sniffed.
The coma was involuntary.
When I awoke, years might have passed but it might have only been seconds.
‘Like it?’ she asked. ‘Read the back of the box. It says it’s for the man who doesn’t have to try too hard.’
‘Or the man who doesn’t bother trying at all,’ I wheezed as I tried to clear my nostrils of a smell that reminded me of a blaze at a tyre warehouse I’d once covered for Granada Reports. I wanted to say as much, only I looked up and saw tears in Judy’s eyes. ‘No, that wasn’t a criticism,’ I hastened to add. ‘Denim aftershave is my favourite. It takes me back, that’s all it is. Good memories. I don’t want to open it in case it evaporates.’
Judy smiled. ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,’ she said. ‘I’m just glad that I’ve finally found you something you like. And what’s so good about it is that I can always get you some more when you run out. I’ll never be at a loss for what to buy your for your birthday.’
With that, Judy stood up. ‘I’ll go and check on the turkey,’ she said.
I smiled as she walked from the room.
‘God help me,’ I muttered as soon as she was gone. In only a matter of hours, I’d be greeting some of the most powerful people in the UK media. There was no way I wanted them to smell me like this. I also couldn’t let Judy think this had been one of her better ideas. I had to let her down in a way that made her feel like I was doing her a favour. Better still, she had to think she was saving me from myself.
There was only one option. I unscrewed the cap and knocked back the aftershave, all 100ml of the fire water. It tasted remarkably like Russian whisky and, like Russian whisky, left my lips quite numb.
‘Turply oplay?’ I asked as Judy came back.
She gazed at me before she looked at the empty bottle.
‘Oh, Richard,’ she said. ‘You said you’d never do that again. I thought you’d learnt your lesson with Old Spice.’
‘What canp I sthay, gorpgeous?’ I replied and raised the empty bottle. ‘Fill ’er up, and then give yourp Uncle Pichard a kissss.’
‘I suppose next year, I better buy socks,’ she muttered as she snatched the bottle from my fingers.
It was a sentiment with which I could only express my full agreement. I passed out on the sofa and slept a couple of hours until I was woken by Fry dressed as Santa dropping his large sack on my back.
But, as they say, my dear friends, that is a story for another day...
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
In case you’ve not noticed, it is now Christmas Day and it has fallen to me to be the first person of significance to wish you a very merry Christmas. I’d be very grateful if you would also do me the honour of also accepting my salutations for the New Year. So grateful, in fact, that I won’t even mention Global Warming, Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the mounting crisis in the world banks, and the fact that Lily Allen has begun to reproduce. Although each so frightening as to turn an Oddie grey, they are stories for 2008 and we do well to now worry about them now. No, really, we shouldn’t…
Instead, let me be my usual understated self by saying that there is a significant lack of words in the English language to describe the love I feel for you regular readers. The ‘occasionals’ I like too but, let’s face facts here: it’s the regular readers (even those of you who don't think I know you're even watching) who butter my Christmas muffins. If I could, I would have you all pickled and popped in jam jars for my mantelpiece, where your little wrinkled cadavers could be studied during the remaining dark days of winter before I bury you in the fertile loam of my back garden sometime in the spring. With the right nutrients and careful watering, I’d raise many more of you, multiplying my readership with a fruitful harvest in the Autumn. This time next year, we’d have an army and who knows what good we could do!
Enough about the distant future. My day is going to be a busy one. We’re holding a small party here at our home for just a few hundred celebrity friends. Homes across London will be empty between the hours of 8PM and 3AM, while their owners are here enjoying a feast the likes of which have not been seen since the days of the toga. If you’re driving in the area tonight, please take care of celebrities running out into the road. We don’t want any accidents like we had on Judy’s birthday, when Billie Piper was impaled on a juggernaut’s radiator grill and carried all the way to Bradford.
I’ll be back tomorrow, when my hangover has lifted, to cast an eye over the destruction. My advice to you all is not to drink or to drive, and to avoid putting the moves on a Nolan, an Izzard, or a Clarkson. As for a Madeley… Well, let’s never say never, shall we?
Monday, 24 December 2007
All that, however, is to get to the bacon before we’ve greased our lips with egg. The whole thing began after breakfast, this morning, when my gift to Judy arrived at the appointed hour and in perfect condition. She was not home at the time. I’d managed to get her out of the house by arranging for Denise Robertson to drop by at ten o’clock and suggest a bit of last minute elbowing through the Christmas crowds. That part of the plan went off like a clockwork pie. With Judy out of the way, the next stage could go ahead. A black London taxi arrived at ten thirty with our expert in the back.
‘Do you have to bother with that thing?’ asked Bill Oddie as he waited for Stephen Fry to finish fixing a lock to his steering wheel.
‘One can never tell with celebrity neighbours,’ replied Fry, which only led Oddie to make a rather mean remark about the intellect of men who drive London taxi cabs.
‘Stephen’s right,’ I said. ‘Just because many of the people in this street are respectable entertainers, it doesn’t mean that they’re not prone to the occasional bit of car theft. A Channel 4 executive recently told me that a high profile member of the spring schedule has a thing for doing doughnuts in bent super minis.’
‘I’ve heard the same rumours,’ said Bill, ‘though I don’t believe it has actually got anything to do with cars.’
If I looked shocked and not a little confused, I hadn’t time to dwell on it. A roar of a jet engine filled the street as Clarkson’s supercar fell from the sky.
‘So?’ he asked, an excited flush to his cheeks. ‘Has it arrived yet?’
I checked my watch. ‘Any time now, if the plan is going as arranged.’
Stephen took out a pocket watch from the front of his waistcoat and flipped open its cover. ‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t, given that I gave the plan its conception,’ he said. ‘If I have my numbers right, we should see the van arriving in three… two… one…’ He pointed to the end of the road.
‘Zero?’ asked Clarkson, snorting his amusement. That’s why he missed the large blue truck making a turn at the bottom of the road.
‘Ah,’ said Stephen, ‘I see that its front right tyre is low on pressure. That would more than account for a few seconds delay between here and central London.’
Bill gave a whistle, which sounded not unlike the appreciative note of a song thrush. I could only share his admiration for the man. You have admire such a brain. I have an urge to write Fry a verse drama using nothing but alexandrines in the New Year. Heroic couplets made from iambs just wouldn’t do him justice. I swear that there are moments in the day when I sometimes believe that he knows more than me.
‘Well gentlemen,’ said Clarkson, slapping his hands together. ‘Shall we get started?’
‘I think this is a most wonderful idea,’ said Stephen as we walked to the foot of the drive. ‘Were it my own, I would write about it in a novel.’
I slapped my old friend about the shoulder. ‘It was you who inspired me to be so bold,’ I replied. ‘Didn’t you tell me that there’s no gift as welcome as the gift of surprise?’
‘I may have remarked on that,’ he replied, ‘though perhaps in a manner that was both more witty and infinitely more succinct.’
As the lorry hissed to a stop at the foot of the drive, I felt something moving beneath my elbow. I looked down to see Oddie at my side. He was peering nervously at me over his glasses. ‘Do you have any idea about how difficult this is going to be?’
‘You’re the bird man,’ I said. ‘We’ll follow your lead. You said you’ve done this in Africa.’
He looked again at the van, which was blocking out the low December sun. Oddie doesn’t respond well to the gloom.
‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ he said.
It was much too late for doubts. The van’s driver was climbing out. He was a pasty looking fellow with a slight limp. This we only noticed when he dropped from the cab and winced as his right leg hit the ground.
‘That looked painful,’ I said as we approached.
‘Bloody thing took half an inch of flesh from my shin this morning,’ he said. ‘You Madeley?’
‘I am,’ I said. ‘Half an inch?’ I whistled between my teeth. It sounded nothing like a song thrush.
‘You’ve got to watch it with these things,’ said the driver. ‘They’re a bit dangerous.’
‘Rubbish,’ scoffed Clarkson. ‘I’ve been behind the wheel of an Ascari A10. Now that’s danger.’
‘Yes, well, mate, if you say so. But I know what I know. This ain’t something you should treat lightly.’
I turned and gestured to Bill. ‘Do you recognise this man?’ I asked.
‘Course I do,’ smiled the driver. ‘Mr. Oddie is a TV legend.’
‘Then you know I’ve ensured we’ve got the best in the business to handle this transaction.’
The driver shrugged and began to walk us to the back of the van. ‘If you say you know what you’re doing, who am I to argue?’ he asked.
The rear doors of the van opened to reveal a large cage inside. Inside the cage was my gift to Judy.
‘That’s a bloody big ostrich,’ said Stephen as the bird pecked violently at the cage.
I gave Stephen a surprised look. ‘That’s a bit prosaic of you,’ I said. ‘It was a line remarkably flat for a man of your calibre.’
‘One was momentarily distracted by the abundance of ostrich,’ he replied. ‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’
I took a look at the bird. It was indeed a creature long in the leg and neck and with remarkable plumpness about its body. I then looked towards Bill hid behind Clarkson’s right knee. He too was remarkably plump about his body but his legs were visibly trembling.
‘I had to order the stoutest ostrich they had on the farm,’ I explained. ‘Do you think it’s okay?’
‘You certainly did that,’ replied Jeremy, moving to open the cage. ‘Look at those thighs. They’ll be able to handle the weight.’
It took Bill, Stephen, Jeremy, and myself a good half hour of coaxing to get the ostrich out of the cage and into the back garden. It was the sort of bird that really belongs in burlesque, more feathers than flesh and with the attitude of a slightly bad tempered stripper. If we hadn’t had Jeremy with us, I doubt if we’d have shifted the animal. Years of living with donkeys seem to have given him a special insight into the workings of stubborn animals.
By the time Judy arrived home at one, the whole scene was set. I went out to meet her at the car and, after covering her eyes with my hand, I escorted her into the back garden where events were due to unfold.
‘Well,’ I asked as I pulled my fingers from Judy’s eyes.
The sight to greet her was one of the most remarkable I think I’ll ever witness. Bill Oddie was racing around the back garden on the back of the ostrich, as Jeremy Clarkson held the end of a long reign. He used the free end to lash the bird onwards, keeping it running in a giant circle around our expansive back lawn. Meanwhile, Stephen was sitting to one side, reciting a special poem he’d written for the occasion. All three were clearly in their element, and Bill enjoying himself more than any. Holding on with one hand, he used the other to wave frantically as he shouted comic things like ‘get me off’ and ‘I’m going to fall’ and ‘I don’t like this’. Like I’ve said before, the man is of the highest order of good sports.
After a few moments, Judy looked at me.
‘Richard,’ she said, ‘why is Bill Oddie riding an ostrich around our lawn?’
‘It’s my Christmas gift to you,’ I explained. ‘Unfortunately, I couldn’t arrange it for tomorrow. The ostrich farm could only deliver it today.’
I hadn’t bargained for her to look so confused. ‘You thought I’d want this for Christmas? You thought I’d want to see Bill Oddie riding an ostrich?’
‘Well, no, not technically. Bill is just showing you how it’s done so you’ll know what to do when it’s time for you to have a go.’
‘I’m having a go?’ She laughed a bark of amusement. ‘Richard, you must be joking. You don’t honestly think I’m getting on that?’
‘Well it is what you asked for,’ I replied.
‘You think I’d want to ride an ostrich?’
‘Well that’s what you said! Two weeks ago when I mentioned about Christmas, you said you’d love to ride an ostrich.’
Judy’s face broke out into a wide grin. ‘What I said, Richard, if you’d bothered to unplug yourself from your iPhone, was that I’d love to be treated to a ride in an old stretch limo.’
‘You said ostrich!’ I protested.
She shook her head slowly. ‘Old stretch,’ she said and planted a kiss on my cheek. ‘But it was a lovely thought. And when it comes to memorable Christmas gifts, I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to remember with such fondness. How many women can say they’ve had Bill Oddie ride an ostrich for them for Christmas.’
‘Not even Mrs. Oddie,’ I admitted.
Well, what else could I do or say? I was utterly confused. In the end, I put my arm around my wife and we watched Bill as he carried on riding the bird, which never seemed to tire as it was whipped on faster and further by a quite gleeful Jeremy Clarkson. I wished that the moment would never end. Which it didn’t. Or at least, not for another hour filled with mirth and comic pleas for us to stop.
Sunday, 23 December 2007
I don’t know an easy way of escaping Christmas beyond becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. It seems to me an odd paradox that the best way to avoid the festivities is to become a Christian. You rarely, if ever, hear an atheist or agnostic say that since they don’t believe in/doubt the existence of God, they don’t celebrate Christmas. Yet if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you can get away with it every single year. People will, in fact, go out of their way not to offend your sensibilities.
Perhaps I should form my own sect, The Church of the Sacred Richard. It would attract a huge membership. Although it’s no longer a novelty to say that Christmas is the great feast of consumerism, everybody walks around muttering darkly about how much they hate it. The obligation to go into debt amazes me each year, even as I’m handing over my credit cards buying things for friends, family and Oddie. We go through the motions as if there’s no other choice. Well, TCotSR is that choice.
There’s another side of Christmas which I’m completely in tune with and which TCotSR would help promote: the need to spend a week away from work and worries. It’s just a shame that I’ll be spending January trying to make amends for the previous month’s excesses, both in terms of my finances and the time I’ve wasted sitting in front of the TV and watching a full season of Carry On films. For me, writing and blogging, I find that I need consistency. Christmas is coming at a bad time for me this year. Sometimes it comes at the wrong timde for us. That’s why, in The Church of the Sacred Richard, we celebrate Christmas when we want it.
If you’re interested in joining, sign in the comments and I’ll have your vestments made measure. Bishop Fry or Archdeacon Oddie will be leading this week's service in The Dog & Duck, Lewisham. Book early to reserve your seat.
Saturday, 22 December 2007
These are the somewhat unexpected questions I find myself asking after a day on the front lines of the Christmas sales. We made it home, leaving the field of battle with only moderate lesions. Behind us there were a few isolated scenes of destruction wherever Judy did decide to tread. Some days I fear she’s more elbow than woman. Presents have been bought for our nearest and dearest. I tried my best for all you regular readers, though I fear that some of your comments didn’t get through in time. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t check my email on my iPhone due to an issue of incompatibility between my gloves and the touch screen.
The highlight of my day was an argument I managed to start at the local Starbucks where I refused to accept a cup of their milky java which contained 70% froth and 30% liquid. It amazes me when I do complain, being on the whole a rather placid man. I would say the Christmas spirit brought the best out of me but I like to think it’s because I’ve been reading A.A. Gill’s ‘The Angry Island’. It has encouraged me to become more overt in my displays of disappointment. Not for me, this hypothesis that we’re a nation of people who suppress their anger and then go and invent new and exciting types of lagging. There are no trips down the Nile because I couldn’t tell my wife that I don’t like the colour of her curtains.
Instead, mug in hand, I stormed the serving counter and demanded action.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t normally do this but I’ve been reading A.A. Gill’s “The Angry Isle” which has encouraged me to be more overt in my displays of disappointment. This cappuccino is more froth than milk.’
The serving assistants looked at me as though I’d asked them to run my cup through a battery of highly scientific tests to detect neutrinos. After one of those long moments in which the world seems to stand still, in silence, one of them gathered the general gist of what I was saying.
‘Cappachino is supposed to be half froth.’ she said, her eyes as empty of wits as the mug was devoid of dairy product. 'They all vary quite a bit.'
I looked at her and smiled. ‘The average human IQ is supposed to be 100 but I sure this fact didn't stop one's mother feeling a great sense of disappointment when it was recognised that we fell below that.’
She was surprisingly quick. ‘There’s no need to be rude,’ she said. ‘It’s not my fault that you don’t know your coffee.’
‘I don’t know it because I’ve yet to have been introduced to it.’
‘Well,’ she replied, picking up the jug of milk and topping up my cup. 'Nobody else seems to have a problem.'
‘I bet they don't,’ I said, darkly. ‘It’s this kind of shoddy treatment that makes me long for less professionalism in the catering service.’
And that, I think, is a truth of our consumer society. We have the perception that things improve because coffee shops have better decor and a more varied menu. Yet the identikit façades mask highly evolved organisms that put the customers’ needs a distant second to profit. Froth is the battleline where we stand nose to nose. They will know the exact froth to coffee ratio that ensures that 9 in 10 people don't complain. If they can sell half a cup of froth, that’s 9 half-cups of milk they save themselves. Transfer that to every Starbucks across the land and they must be saving millions. I fear for the milkmen. Starbucks must account for the majority of those notes left out in the morning that read, ‘No milk today, thank you’.
I think I made a difference today. Gill has clearly changed my attitude and my life. Though whether I was right to subsequently buy two collections of his essays is yet to be determined. There is only so much change that Judy will accept and what that cantankerous / placid ratio might be is much harder to judge.
I'm also perplexed by the first results of the new poll. Only two votes are encouraging me to write my autobiography, nobody has requested more of my celebrated poetry, and one of you have suggested that I should give up blogging. The only consolation is that the majority of you feel that 2008 will be a year of celebrity nuptials.
Such disappointments perhaps accounts for why I’m posting something brief tonight. But it’s not the only reason. ‘Operation Elbow ’goes into operation at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. Judy and I are already girding ourselves for a lighting raid on London’s shops to finalise the Christmas gifts. We’ll be first through the doors when the stores open at nine and we should hopefully be home before the crowds descend. It leaves me with this brief window of opportunity to ask you all what you want. Get your requests in now and I’ll see what we can do. There aren’t many of you, so I’m looking to spend no more than a couple of hundred pounds on each of you.
If you're lost for ideas, why not ask me for an electronic toothbrush or the new Charlie Brown DVD?
Friday, 21 December 2007
I was about to pull the master switch that turns off the outdoor floodlights and arms the infra red turrets on the battlements, when there was a fretful hammering on the front door. Such was the indecency of the hour and the panicked nature of the knocking, I was immediately awake and my old army training kicked in. I was down the stairs in three leaps and had the front door opened and the intruder wrestled to the ground in the time it has taken you to read about it in a line of my immaculately written prose.
It was only when the red mist began to clear that I recognised the small figure trapped beneath my knee. It was Mrs. Ronnie Corbett, dressed in her night gown and wearing a look of absolute terror on her face.
‘My poor woman,’ I said, moving the sharp edge of my tube of denture cleaner from her jugular. ‘What must you think of me, throwing you over my shoulder like that?’
‘Richard, you have to come,’ she said as I helped her to her feet. She was clearly shivering, obviously with the cold, so I moved her into the living room and sat her in a chair before draped my dressing gown around her shoulders. ‘Ronnie’s had a terrible accident,’ she explained, ‘and they said an ambulance can’t come for a good two hours.’
‘Don’t you worry yourself, Mrs. C.,’ I said. ‘You were right to come here. There are few people in this street that are more used to dealing with emergencies than Judy and me.’
As if to prove the point, I promptly nipped upstairs, grabbed my car keys, and told Judy about our visitor. Then I came running back downstairs and rushed out to the car. I was at the front door of Corbett Manor in less than three minutes. That’s when I realised I was still in my pyjamas and that I’d left Mrs. Ronnie Corbett sitting on the chair in our front room.
I was about to get back in the car when headlights flooded the drive. It was Judy in her little Suzuki Swift bringing Mrs. Corbett and keys to the house.
‘We thought we’d better come along,’ said Judy, who had somehow managed to waste three minutes dressing herself, applying full make-up, and picking out a suit for Mrs. Ronnie Corbett. I told her that I had more important matters on my mind.
We found Ronnie in an armchair, a huge log fire burning beside him, and the poor man writhing in agony. Blood speckled his tartan trousers. His lime green intarsia golfing sweater offended the eye.
‘It was the walnut,’ explained Ronnie as I kneeled at his side. ‘It shattered in my lap.’
‘That is only too clear,’ I said. A pair of nutcrackers lay on the floor, alongside a spilled bowl of Tesco’s finest selection of Yuletide nuts. The poor man had obviously become one of only three people who, on average each year, are injured when an abnormally pressurised walnut explodes with the force of a hand grenade. Razor sharp shards of walnut shell had penetrated his trousers and caused extensive damage to his lower regions.
‘We can’t move him like this,’ I said, examining the site of the injury. ‘Some of these pieces of walnut could be lodged in vital regions.’ I stood up and looked for the nearest phone. ‘We need help immediately or he might never play golf again.’
‘Is it that bad?’ asked Ronnie.
‘Sit tight, little fellow,’ I said, laying a reassuring hand on his head. ‘Stay still and don’t, for god’s sake, tell any anecdotes involving the letter P.’
‘Ah, no… Indeed…’ he said. ‘Which reminds me… Ha! Did I tell you the one about the Polish postman?’ His face winced with pain as he mouthed those lethal syllables.
‘I told you not to,’ I said as I began to dial the number I’ve learned to memorise for moments such as this.
As you know, Judy’s a woman unable to restrain her curiosity. And we know what that did the cat, though forensic evidence was lacking.
‘What about the Polish postman?’ she asked, to my utter dismay.
Ronnie, ever the hero, let out a trademark ‘ah ha!’ and then delivered his punch line with his usual immaculate timing.
‘He delivered the mail on time,’ he said before he pushed his glasses up his nose and passed out.
I shook my head. I could hear a phone ringing. A moment later, there was a click.
‘’Tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, currently engaged in an online game of Halo3 under my XBox gamer tag of Zorg the Destroyer.’
‘Hello, Zorg,’ I said, ‘’tis I, Madeley, on Ronnie Corbett’s telephone. We need your help.’
‘Oh, hush!’ said Stephen. ‘Were it that I could lay aside my railgun and come to your aid, but I fear that my gaming reputation would suffer enormously were I do abandon this festive firefight while Zorg the Destroyer currently tops the frag leaderboard and pwns the arse of the Lapwing of Death’
‘Pwns the arse of the Lapwing of Death?’ I asked before I could help myself.
‘Alas, our friend Oddie is new to the fragfest which is Halo3. He has yet to acquaint himself with the tactics of finding himself a high vantage point and a sniper rifle. Some players frown on it, but I, Zorg the Destroyer, says it’s a true Englishman’s calling and the only reliable means of dispatching these alien scum.’
‘Stephen, we need your help immediately,’ I said, hearing a groan from the armchair as Ronnie regained consciousness. ‘A walnut has shattered in Ronnie’s lap. I think he’s suffering from severe shell lacerations, with what I can only describe as potential trauma to his hazelnuts.’ I looked at Mrs. Corbett and Judy, neither of whom seemed to understand my euphemism. Ronnie obviously did. He groaned and again passed out.
‘Ah,’ said Fry. ‘Walnuts are pwning little Ronnie’s hazelnuts? Then Zorg the Destroyer will be there immediately. I advise you to move neither the patient nor his nuts.’
Sound advice. Instead, I got Ronnie a glass of whiskey and poured it down him as soon as he came around. Judy had found a large rug to keep him warm, and we all sat around, taking turns to stroke Ronnie’s brow as he grew increasingly feverish. After fifteen minutes, I was beginning to fear for him. The poor man had begun to recite old scripts to ‘Sorry’, which I thought had been unhealthy enough the first time.
Eventually, I saw lights flicker beyond the window and the sound of a diesel engine pull up outside.
‘That’s Stephen,’ I said.
Judy jumped up and was at the door before the Great Man could knock.
‘Ah! The lacerations of the festive walnut,’ said Stephen, appearing in the doorway. He cast his cape to one side and came to loom over Ronnie. ‘So, might I see the sight of the explosion?’
I pulled back the rug and Stephen winced. ‘Tartan and lime green. A combination that the BBC has happily outlawed.’ He gazed at the spread of the wound. ‘I’m afraid we shall have to remove the trousers. Ladies, could you please leave the room? This will not be pretty.’ He opened his medical bag and removed a pair of scissors with which he proceeded to cut away Ronnie’s tartan britches.
The operation was slow and extremely gory. Ronnie was fitful throughout, though brave and screaming only once as Stephen dug a large chunk of walnut from his groin.
‘Ah, the walnut is indeed a terrible weapon,’ said Stephen, swabbing the wound. ‘Were it only a landmine.’
Around three o’clock in the morning, the last stitch had been sewn and a good colour had returned to Ronnie’s face.
‘There,’ said Stephen standing up. ‘All done. And a pretty little job I’ve done of it. You were damn lucky, young Corbett, that I spend a few months last Autumn training to be a surgeon.’
‘I’m so grateful,’ whispered Ronnie. ‘I’m grateful to the two of you.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Stephen. ‘What are friends for if it’s not for coming to dig fragments of walnut from your unmentionables.’ He turned to look at me. ‘And now, if you don’t mind, I have spent the last hour trying my best not to mention that large gap in Richard’s pyjama bottoms exposing his lack of underwear and the coldness of the evening.’
Ronnie smiled. ‘Nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times,’ he said as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
I closed the gap in my pyjamas but Stephen just patted my shoulder. ‘My advice to you sir, is fear not the walnut! Were one to explode in your lap, it could only correct the deficit that nature so cruelly intended.’
Thursday, 20 December 2007
Many years ago, a star shone brightly over Romford, East London, and a baby boy was born. That child grew up and, yay, how the people loved him! Well now that boy is a man and he wants to wish you all a very merry Christmas.
Speaking for all of us at ‘The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society’, I just wanted to say that ‘The Richard&Judy Show’ is a success because of the little people. And by little people, I don’t mean nanuses.* I mean you guys at Cactus TV. You are the people who put the shows together and it wouldn’t be the same without your input.
So, have a great holiday and a spirited New Year,
Hugs, squiggles, and kisses,
* I don’t mean to jump to any conclusions. If you do employ any people of diminutive size, then it’s quite clear that they also contribute to your much deserved success. Granted, they probably don’t do any heavy lifting work, like shifting scenery or moving the sofa, but I’m sure they do work that’s commensurable with their size and I would want to send them my suitably proportioned best wishes for the festive season.
For the moment, I hope you'll enjoy chapter one, which opens at the beginning of my broadcasting career, when I was working at BBC Radio Carlisle.
In the beginning, there were knees.
There were two knees, to be precise, dressed in an airy fold of chequered trouser with full Donny Osmond flair, and they were both mine, rattling together at a good rate as I counted off the steps leading up to the newsroom at BBC Radio Carlisle. The peculiar garb surrounding the knees could be attributed to the wild days of 1975, their energy to the fact that this thin grub of a nineteen year old had just come back from recording the interview that would change his life.
How strange it is to describe my younger self. Six ripe feet of confidence, an inch or so of ambition, and the whole thing topped off with a twist of something special. Young Madeley was made in my image, or I made in his, and there was nothing that was going to stand in the way of our reaching the top.
My shoulder made light work of the newsroom doors as I barged into the studios that day. I marched towards my desk at the rear of the office, giving a mighty lung of ‘Hi guys!’ to the small enclave of reporters stuck there.
‘Ah, Madeley,’ said old Ben Primrose, the station’s chief newsreader, editor, and the man who taught me the golden rule that reporters always go that extra mile for a good scoop. He was sitting on his chair, feet on his desk, and a pencil prying that extra mile into the cavity of his right nostril. ‘I trust you’re sounding so bright because you’ve finally brought me the piece on the council’s grid replacement policy I asked for last week.’
‘I’ve got something better,’ I told him. ‘Prepare to see the future! The impish charm of Madeley has done it again!’
I brushed him aside and made my way to the desks beyond. One was my own; the other, that of Simon Drisdale, a behemoth of casualwear and skin conditions. He was related to Primrose in a way that I never did establish and was rapidly making a name for himself as a local crime reporter, first on the scene of every snatched bag and tampered parking meter.
‘I have in my possession a tape containing twenty minutes of quality gossip and chat.’ I turned to face the pair of them as I set my heavy tape recorder on my desk and let the strap fall from my shoulder.
‘Gossip?’ scoffed Drisdale. ‘And here I was thinking that you were out there working on a proper story.’
‘Gossip can be news too,’ I said, taking off my jacket and sitting down at my desk. The big tape deck had rubbed my shoulder raw but it had been worth it.
‘So who have you interviewed?’ asked Drisdale.
Officially, Primrose was the only person who could question me about my role in the news department. Not that this stopped his relative-of-undisclosed-significance from giving me the third degree when he felt like it.
I looked at him and felt a smile spread my upper cheeks. ‘On this tape I have an interview with the nation’s favourite funny man.’
‘Richard Briars!’ laughed Ben from the other desk. ‘I love The Good Life as much as the next person but it’s hardly news.’
‘It’s not Richard Briars,’ I replied.
‘Eric Morecambe?’ returned Drisdale. ‘Bob “Golden Shot” Monkhouse? The Honourable Nicholas Parsons of “Sale of the Century” fame? Or is it Ed “Stewpot” Stewart from “Crackerjack”?’
‘Crackerjack!’ cried Ben.
I was in no mood for antics. ‘I’m talking about Bill Oddie.’ I said at last.
‘The Goodie?’ snorted Ben. ‘Are they still going?’
‘Man, oh, man! Are they! This is 1975!’ I said, winding the spool to the beginning of the interview. ‘The Goodies are this decades Beatles, only they’ve promised us that they’ll never break up.’
‘Perhaps they should,’ said Ben. ‘Then you might have some news for me and a good reason why this radio station continues to ignore the large scale replacement of the county’s grids.’ He swung his legs from the desk and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he ran a hand across his well oiled comb-over. It was the hairstyle of choice for any true radio or TV journalist and I had found myself envying it on more than one occasion. ‘You really don’t understand what we’re doing here, do you Madeley?' he asked. 'People turn on their radios to hear news. They want to know about the world situation, what the Mr. Wilson has to say…’
‘And crime,’ added Drisdale. ‘People want to know that their handbags are safe and, if they’re not safe, they want us to assure them that The Sweeney are just around the corner.’
‘Exactly right, Simon. You see, Madeley, our audience expect us to be serious. They don’t turn on the radio to be entertained. They want news about grids. Not some squeaky voiced hippy telling us about a show he’s made for dim witted children.’
‘But the news of the future will be like this,’ I protested. ‘The news of the future will be full of celebrity gossip and journalists won’t have to go out and get stories. Stories will come to us. We won’t have to talk about grids. We’ll spend our days with interesting people, learning about their fascinating projects. We won’t need to go down to community centres and interview people about bring and buy sales. Journalists of tomorrow won't know how to spell "fête". We’ll be in state of the art studios, listening to Cilla Black tell a funny anecdote about Johnny Morris and a lemur.’
Ben picked his pencil again, only this time to use its moist end to gesture at me. ‘Cilla Black’s lemur might be the future, Madeley,’ he said, ‘but, while I’m in charge, you won’t be filling our airtime with any of that celebrity rubbish. You need to sort yourself out or you’ll never be a success here at BBC Radio Carlisle. If you aspire to sit in this seat, you’ll have to learn what it is that people want. Remember, it might not be as exciting as interviewing Bob Oddle, but there’s nothing wrong with an honest story about grids.’
History teaches us that the briefest of moments can radically change the future. This could well have been one of those times. I sat at my desk, fury cramping my hands on that tape machine. I looked up into Drisdale’s face and saw a look of elevated pleasure inflating his cheeks until they were taut, red, with a sheen of delight as though they were ready to burst.
Barely able to hold my anger back, I grabbed my jacket.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Ben.
‘I’ve left my notebook at Bob Oddle’s hotel room,’ I lied and stormed from the building. I thought I’d never go back.
That night, I lay alone in my room in the small bedsit on Viaduct Road and stared up at the cracked, water-stained plaster, much as I imagine Michelangelo occasionally took a gander at a ceiling and wondered how it would look with a few pert breasted nymphs. Only I saw visions of a different kind. I saw sofas and television sets dressed in creams and shades of pastel. I saw happy faces engaged in light hearted banter about a whole manner of interesting subject. I could see myself, sitting alone on that large sofa, talking to the world’s most celebrated people and occasionally cutting across what they were saying with a choice observation of my own. Just as I began to interview Dolly Parton and tell her about uses of mutton in the Restoration, a voice cut through it all and brought me back to Carlisile.
‘Richard? There’s somebody on the phone,’ shouted Mrs. Crumb, my landlady, from the bottom of the stairs. ‘He says his name’s Ben.’
I picked up the phone with a sullen grasp, all fingers and very little palm.
‘Hello?’ said a voice I knew at once wasn't that of Ben Primrose. ‘Is that young Madeley?’
I said that it was.
‘Bill Oddie here…’
My heart skipped not one beat but a few and certainly enough to kill a less healthy man. Poor old Mrs. Crumb. Through the persistent wax that plugs her ears, ‘Bill’ had become ‘Ben’. Instead of being told that I’d been relieved of my grid reporting duties at BBC Radio Carlisle, I was again speaking to the world’s greatest Goodie.
‘Are you the young chap who came and interviewed me today?’ asked Oddie. ‘Only, I was wondering if my interview had been broadcast yet.’
‘N… no, no it hasn’t,’ I stammered. ‘And to be honest, it might never get broadcast.’
‘Oh,’ said Bill. ‘Was it not good enough?’
‘It’s not that, at all. I’ve been told the interview doesn’t fit with the news policy of BBC Radio Carlisle.’
‘I see,’ said Oddie. ‘That’s a bit awkward isn’t it? Still, I suppose there’s no harm done. You can always boast that I’m the Goodie that got away.’
‘That’s not the point,’ I said, my passion overwhelming me. ‘They should play your interview. I know there are lots of people out there who want to hear about your life as a Goodie. They want to know if Graham’s sideburns are really his own? Does Tim really wear union jacket underpants? Do you all sleep in the same bed and, if so, who lies in the middle?’
‘Oh, it will all have to wait for another time,’ replied Bill. ‘Don’t be too down about it. It’s not that important. It’s just an interview…’
‘But it isn’t just an interview,’ I said, scolding the man. ‘Can’t you see that’s the problem? This is about the future.’ Somewhere, my appeals had turned into sobs and my face felt the heavy grease of the deepest tears. ‘Why do interviews have to be dull? Why should the interviewer not ask the questions that everybody wants answered? And why can’t I occasionally chip in with a word or two of my own? Were you offended just because I stopped the interview to explain my theory on how termites reproduce?’
‘Of course you weren’t!’ I replied. ‘If anything, it turned an average interview into something that would enhanced our mutual reputations. And don’t you see that this is the future? Didn’t people tell the young Henry Ford that he was mad when he fitted a petrol engine to an ironing board? But didn’t he show them?’
Oddie seemed startled. His voice rose an octave. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that he did… An ironing board? Fancy that.'
‘The first petrol power ironing board,’ I corrected.
‘Yes,’ said Bill. ‘But regarding my interview, I’m sure you’ll take them around if you tell them how you feel about it.’
‘They might do, except I’ve decided to quit,’ I explained, as much to myself as to Oddie. I’d worked so hard to get a break in journalism that, until this point, I hadn’t been able to acknowledge how far this setback had taken me. My voice was strangled by emotion. ‘The truth is, Mr. Oddie,’ I gasped, ‘I’m beginning to think that the news business isn’t for me…’
I didn’t wait for a reply. So overwhelmed by disappointment, I simply thanked him for ringing me and I hung up the phone. Soon I was back in my room. I dropped onto the bed and fell into a deep sleep, my own tears replaced by those of a specially invited audience of viewers laughing at my interview with Bob Hope.
The noise of feet storming the stairs woke me, perhaps an hour later. Then the door rattled.
I rolled out of my cot, surprised to find myself still wearing my office clothes.
Light blistered my eyeballs the moment I opened the door.
They were colours like I’ve never known, cast into shapes, psychodelic and mysterious, where the wild orient mated with abstract geometry with a hint of the Hawaiian. A shirt the colour of a molten sky was being assaulted by a gold medallion, handing over a pair of bright yellow dungarees. The whole ensemble was overgrown by coarse black hair, spouting from every opening yet the whole of this burning mess reached no higher than my elbows.
Standing on the doorstep was a bundle of fundamental elements, in a hot state of comic fusion.
‘Grab your coat and come with me,’ said the nation’s favourite Goodie. ‘There’s something I want you to see.’
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
‘Dick? Jeremy,’ said Clarkson. ‘Listen. You know Top Gear’s not on tonight because of the billiards? Well, I want you to come over. I need your help.’
A large flake of vitamins and goodness hung from my chin, held there by a dribbling of the local dairy’s finest. ‘Want? Need?’ I repeated. ‘These aren’t words a man likes to hear on a Sunday.’
Clarkson sounded shocked. ‘And since when have I not been allowed to ask you to return me a favour on a Sunday?’
‘But it’s a day for cornflakes and football,’ I protested. ‘How can I come and help you when I’m wearing only my dressing gown?’
‘Is this the very same Dick Madeley who needed my help only last week?’ asked Clarkson, adopting that voice designed to mock a man within an inch of his life. ‘Wasn’t it you who said: “Don’t worry, Jeremy. If you ever need help, you know you can call on me”?’
‘But that was a weekday promise,’ I explained. ‘When you do a favour for somebody on a weekday, you expect to pay it back on a weekday.’
I moved the phone from my ear as Clarkson detonated a barrel full of bluster. I turned my attention to a large cornflake which I kidnapped from the bowl before cruelly breaking it on my teeth. When the hectoring noise from the telephone ended, I put it back to my ear.
‘It stands to reason,’ I said. ‘A weekday favour cannot be called in between midnight on Friday and midnight Sunday. That makes it a weekend favour, which are worth far more. You’d then be in my debt and by a considerable amount. If fact, more than I’d be happy to loan you.’
‘I’ve never heard such rubbish,’ spluttered Jeremy.
‘You say it’s rubbish but I say it’s common knowledge. Everybody knows that a weekend favour weighs more than a weekday favour.’
At that moment Judy came in, her face flushed from a morning down at the stables with her show ponies. ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I’ll put you on speaker phone and let’s see what Judy has to say.’
I pressed the button and the red light came on the phone. ‘Are you there Jeremy?’
‘I’m here,’ sighed Clarkson.
‘Now, Judy, let me ask you since you’re impartial…’ Jeremy sniffed his distain at that one. ‘If a man does another man a favour on a weekday, can that other man expect to call his friend to do them a favour on a weekend? Doesn’t this other favour have to weigh the same?’
‘There’s no such thing as the weight of a favour,’ answered Judy, much to my surprise. ‘When you do a favour for a friend, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.’
‘See!’ cried the phone. ‘Good old Judy. Well done my dear. Now get your lazy husband out of his chair and get him down to my place. I need his help.’
With the argument lost, the appeal of my bowl of cornflakes faded. Even my vibrating cushion seemed to mock me. I dumped breakfast in the waste disposal, threw my dressing gown on the living room floor, and marched myself naked back to my bedroom where I dressed myself as though it were a weekday. Forty minutes later, I was in light casuals, open necked shirt, sunglasses hooked coquettishly in the V, and pulling up at the gates to Clarkson’s place. I was surprised to see that they were already open and even more surprised when a donkey came trotting out, Clarkson trailing behind it.
‘You took your damn time,’ he said, dragging a reign on the donkey and bringing it to a stop.
‘What’s with the mule?’ I asked.
‘This is Florence,’ he said, a bit dopy, and grabbed the donkey by an ear. ‘Lovely creatures, donkeys. Very docile.’
‘And this is what I’m here for? A donkey related problem? Why didn’t you call Oddie? You know he loves this sort of thing.’
‘You don’t even know what this sort of thing is,’ said Jeremy. ‘You see a donkey and assume it’s some woolly eared job involving cardigans. Well it isn’t. I’ve got you here for a totally different reason. I want you to play God.’
‘God?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you think I grow tired of being typecast?’
‘I’m sure you do but the local sect of Christian types have asked to borrow my donkey for their nativity. They’ve also asked me to play the voice of God.’
‘There’s a terrifying thought,’ I muttered.
‘I’ve agreed but I’ve got cold feet or, at least, a slightly chilled larynx. That’s why I rang you. I want you to do it in my place. There’s not much to it. Lots of proclaiming. You get to say “thee” and “thou” a lot. And the occasional roar.’
‘You didn’t think of ringing Fry? The man’s a born actor.’
‘I did but he said he thought the role beneath him,’ explained Jeremy. ‘Oddie agreed to do it only so long as he could leave the earth not to the meek but the meerkats.’
I could see Jeremy’s problem. ‘I’ll do it,’ I said, resigned to do the man a favour, ‘but you’ll have to pay me back. This is worth at least a few hundred words for my blog.’
‘Anything,’ said Jeremy. ‘I’ll even let you ride Florence down to the village hall if you like.’
‘I’ll leave that to you, Jeremy,’ I said, backing towards the Range Rover. ‘I’ll meet you down there. These days, God prefers to travel in his four by four listening to Chris de Burgh’s greatest hits.’
Clarkson visibly paled. ‘Oh my merciful heaven! Chris de Burgh?’
‘What can I say, Jeremy? God does like to move in mysterious ways...’
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
I should have known all along that they could not be culpable. It shouldn’t have taken my ringing up Bill Oddie to bring them back and install them back in the eaves for me to know they do not boost a WIFI signal. According to Fry, the reason my broadband failed was because the line had been ‘severed by either a vengeful rodent or a sullen wife’. Judy claims she knows nothing of snipped cables, though if you were to put her on a lie detector, I’m sure the truth would come pouring out of her. She’s been oddly happy today and, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that my broadband was sabotaged in order to get me out of the house.
If so, then I need to thank her. I sometimes forget how good it is to get away from this office. I spend relatively little time in London and I sometimes forget how much it frees the brain of the cobwebs that accumulate over the weeks and months of labouring with words. Writing the scripts for the next series of The Richard&Judy Show, along with writing much of the material for Dick Justice, I have become like the proverbial candle lit at both ends. Yesterday, the two flames met at the middle and there was no more. I could barely rouse myself to write a word, despite their being an episode from Sunday that’s worth relating as it’s both festive and involving Clarkson at his most argumentative.
Now I’m home, I’m eager to write and I’m burning white hot with ambitions and ideas. You might have to give me 24 hours or so to catch up. I’m also working my way through a copy of The Angry Island that began as pristine and slowly getting dog-eared.
I’ll end this update here. I can hear the sound of a ladder being propped against eaves. It will be Oddie, back to remove sparrows for the second time today. Hopefully my broadband connection will hold up and I’ll be able to post this.
Until Fry can come around later today (he’s very busy, at the moment, recording voice overs), I’ll be off the radar. He suspects that the sparrows were acting as some kind of free flying booster units to my wireless connection and thinks there may well be a fortune to be made in this discovery. I’m not so sure but I can only ask you to bear with me.
Normal service will resume shortly with a particularly galling account of my Sunday spent with Jeremy Clarkson. In the meantime, I’m off to do some Christmas shopping.
Monday, 17 December 2007
Since the pre-Christmas slump has started, I thought I’d begin to ease myself into holiday mode. This is aided by the simple fact that I don’t need to write any 2000 word accounts of my day. It has been, in all things, quite normal. Bill Oddie popped by this morning to borrow Judy’s Black & Decker Workmate and I’ve agreed to nip to see Jeremy and pick up the manuscript to his latest collection of essays. As usual, I’m proofreading it for him and he has got to the point where he trusts my eyes above all other.
What I thought I would do today is spend some time completing a job that has been long delayed. Reading back over some recent comments, it occurred to me that the battlelines aren't clearly drawn in the world of showbiz. You might think that in a world as friendly as light entertainment, I’m here to sing the praises of all men and woman who labour under the weight of talent. And you’d be wrong. An Oddie is quite different to a Cowell. A Clarkson is very unlike an Osbourne.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to produce my official list of celebrities. This will firmly establish for all of you reading my blog, who is on the side of Madeley and who isn’t. As you can see, there are a few surprises. The Osbourne’s remain a divided family. While we can, without fear of contradicting ourselves, declare Sharon and Jack as undesirables, it’s hard to be negative to a man so monumentally insane as Ozzie. Nor can we overlook Kelly’s work in bringing peace to Rwanda. You can also see that we’re still faced with the problem of a waxing James Blunt. His appearance on 'Top Gear' proving that he’s essentially one of the good guys but, unfortunately, he is still insists on opening his mouth and singing. Until this issue is resolved, he has to remain floating at the foot of our list.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
1. ‘Creep Richard Madeley’
We have a new number one. I don't see why this should be so popular this month but I’m now going to be looking over my shoulder in case somebody has been working out the best way to creep up on me.
2. ‘I hate Richard Madeley’
The long standing number one drops to number two, which is indicative of the thawing in the relationship between the British people and the Madeley man mountain. My Appreciation Society is having an effect, as I always knew it would.
3. ‘Richard Madeley a terrorist with AK47’
In some quarters, the suspicions still continue. Can't a man attend a terrorist training camp without being labeled a terrorist?
4. ‘two rectums’
Why ‘two rectums’ remains so popular it is still beyond me. I do know that anybody wanting to search for ‘two rectums’ on Google will come here before they go anywhere. This is the duel rectum center of the world wide web. The way I calculate it, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably got two rectums. If so, I want to hear from you. There’s an award winning documentary in this or my name's not Madeley.
5. ‘Ray Mears hedgehogs’
At some stage every website gets a visitor looking for Ray Mears and hedgehogs. There’s simply nothing better than a hedgehog cooked in mud and wrapped in tin foil. The only problem with hedgehog meat is that’s a natural laxative. Beware. Especially those of you with two rectums.
6. ‘Richard Madeley is a cute nice guy’
Speaks for itself. I’m cute and I’ve a healthy respect for all men and women, even if they do have two rectums.
7. ‘deadly beast drawer’
English students at some American universities are already studying my 200 line mock heroic epistle on Jeremy Paxman’s sock drawer as part of the degrees in English Literature. People searching for the text of the poem accounts for this result.
8. ‘penis cactus gift barrel shaped order’
We do actually have a biscuit barrel that’s shaped like a cactus and, as I believe I've recounted on many occasions, I once got my penis trapped in it. I'm sure the story is in my archive if you can be bothered looking.
9. ‘Richard Madeley commando’
It’s the commando I go when I go commando. It's Madeley sans underpants.
10. ‘Jeremy Clarkson eats chaffinch’
The cruel persecution of Jeremy Clarkson is obviously continuing. If people want evidence of the time he ate chaffinch then they need only come around and ask Judy to show them our photo album. I’ve lost the number of times he’s eaten chaffinch at this house. I think he particularly likes the way I prepare them over a hot charcoal as I was taught by Ray Mears.
11. ‘Richard Madeley in a lift’
Mysterious. I’ve been in lifts but, as far as I can recall, nothing of significance has ever happened in a lift. I gone up many times but I've never gone down. I normally use the stairs.
12. ‘person with two rectums’
See my answer to number 4 or seek medical help.
13. ‘Mickey Rooney beard photo’
There’s no picture of Mickey Rooney with a beard here. There is, however, a picture of him smoking a pipe. I would hazard a guess and say it’s the best photo of Mickey Rooney smoking a pipe that’s available in the public domain.
14 ‘Judy plums’
I'm only too happy to clear up this little urban myth. No, she doesn’t have plums. Never had, has, or will. Unless they’re mine, in which case she’s threatened to have them turned into ear rings.
15. ‘what fine would you have to pay for smuggling fur for ocelots?’
The most intriguing result. After a little research I can now confirm that it’s a $20,000 dollar fine and up to twelve years in prison. Madeley’s rule of thumb when smuggling ocelot fur: don’t get caught. Here endeth the lesson.