After the drama of yesterday morning, it was good to escape the house for a few hours last night and spend the evening with the rest of the TV industry celebrating the fifth year since Paul O’Grady stopped wearing high heels. The event was a huge success, with lots of money raised for Paul’s charity that finds work for unwanted lap dogs sniffing out landmines on the border between North and South Korea. My mood had still risen considerably by the time I was driving home around eleven o’clock, which is probably why my instincts were sharp enough to react when I turned into the drive and saw something scamper from the beams of the headlights. It was no more than a shadow that flit across my attention but enough of a shock to make me pull up. Before I could get out, the creature – I was sure, at least, of that – had scampered into the bushes that block the lawn on one side and hide the view of our tennis court from the public road.
Intrigued, I ran for the spot in the bushes where the animal had disappeared. A tuxedo with purple cummerbund may not be the best outfit for crawling in vegetation but it did protect me from the branches that clawed at me like so many desperate fans. I have enough experience of celebrity to know how to push, elbow, kick and bite my way through a crowd and with a little effort I soon emerged on the other side to find myself in a slight clearing at the side of the house. The sight to greet me was not what I had expected to find. A bundle of plastic sheeting had been set up like a tent over the outlet to the central heating and more sheets covered the ground that was scattered with empty tubes of Pringles. More disturbing still was the figure that sat in the lea of the shelter, glaring at me as it shivered in black bin bags and tattered clothes.
‘Dick?’ croaked a voice I thought I recognised. ‘Is that you Dick?’
‘Yes, it’s me,’ I said, leaning down to see if I could recognise the face behind the mud, straw, and what smelled like unrefined effluent of cow.
A smile broke through the dirt. ‘Don’t you recognise me, Dick?’ whispered the voice. ‘It’s me. It’s your old friend Griff.’
‘Griff?’ It all came together: the face, the voice, the smell, and the name. ‘Not Griff!’
‘The very same,’ he said, his voice now recognisably that of my old judo partner, Griff Rhys Jones.
‘But Griff,’ I replied, ‘what are you doing here? And what’s happened to you? A man of your celebrity shouldn’t be eating Pringles in a tent made of plastic bags.’
‘Ah,’ he said, looking not even a bit ashamed. ‘It’s not what you think. I’m doing research.’
‘About Pringles? Here in my garden?’
‘About beggary,’ he replied. ‘It’s for a new TV drama in which I’ll be playing a much loved tramp in a small Shropshire village. It’s a light comedy for the winter evenings. I think it could be my path back to prime time.’
‘And what’s the name of this show?’ I asked, a little intrigued since I too have often seen myself moving into drama. I have asked the people at Cactus TV to find me an suitable role and a tramp in a Shropshire village sounded just my thing.
‘His name,’ said Griff, ‘is Bunion.’
‘As in the corn?’
‘Actually it’s more like the inflammation of the first joint of the big toe.’
‘Right,’ I replied, still feeling a bit disappointed that I wasn’t playing what sounded like a meaty role. ‘That sounds like good TV. The audiences are sure to flock to see you.’
‘Oh, they are,’ said Griff. ‘Or at least they will once I’ve finished writing it.’
‘Ah, so this Bunion is self penned?’
‘It is,’ he admitted. ‘And that’s why I’m here. I’ve been waiting for you to get home. I need some help putting the finishing touches to my script.’
My laugh was like a branch snapping or a can of Pringles opening. ‘You can’t fix your Bunion?’
Griff looked sadly to his feet, wrapped in bundles of cloth. ‘No, no, I can’t,’ he said. ‘To tell you the truth, Dick, I haven’t actually started it. All I have at the moment is the name and the setting. But I do think it’s the perfect for Sunday night on ITV.’
The news that the series had yet to be penned set my mind duelling with the facts. Here, I thought, was an opportunity to get in on a good thing right from the beginning. I still regret turning Jasper Carrot down when he offered me the ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ gig. I’d could have been Chris Tarrant if only I’d been blessed with the killer instinct and an inverted laugh.
‘Bunion? A very good name for Sunday night,’ I said. ‘I’m sure that Bunion will complete the triumviate of the nation’s favourite tramps that currently stands at only Compo and Cheggars. There’s nothing a middle class audience enjoys more than the reassurance that the destitute live a happy carefree life.’
‘I think so,’ said Griff, adjusting his plastic bag overcoat.
I grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. ‘Don’t you fret, Griff. Come on into the house and clean yourself up. I’m quite a talent when it comes to scripts. I’ll soon be able to sort out Bunion’s problems. We can then be described as the series’ joint creators…’
‘Oh,’ said Griff. ‘I didn’t mean for… I mean… That’s very good of you to offer, Dick. It’s just that…’
‘Well, I heard that Stephen’s staying with you.’
‘Ah,’ I said, the clouds parting and moonlight illuminating the real lie of the bushes. ‘You don’t want me to touch your Bunion?’
‘I had rather hoped that Stephen would help. He has such a way with words.’
‘As have I, Griff. As have I. But I’ll see what I can do but you might find that this will be a Fry / Madeley co-production. You see, I’m doing all his typing since he’s broken his arm.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ said Griff. ‘I’m a very good typist.’
Two handfuls of black polythene bin bags and a few chest hairs later, I had Griff pinned against the wall. ‘Listen Griff. If you come into my house, asking Stephen Fry to lend you a hand with your script, then you obey my rules. Okay?’
Griff looked suitably subdued. ‘Okay, you do the typing. As long as Stephen’s involved, I can live with that.’
I lowered him to the ground. ‘I knew you’d see it my way,’ I said. ‘You must remember that the scriptwriter is always right.’