It has been suggested in certain quarters that I’m delusional. Some would go further and claim they make insightful comments when questioning my mental heath, my abilities as a diarist, and my friendship with some of the greatest minds of our age. Well I’m here to rebuff these remarks and to again state that I’m merely the chronicler of reality. If our American cousins don’t understand the world of London celebrity, then it really isn’t my concern. I suggest they go take a long jog along an abbreviated pier. I am quite comfortable with the life I lead and the friends that surround me. It doesn’t surprise me when fans of the man I know simply as ‘Fry’ question my relationship with their hero. Take the incident that greeted me this morning. It is not the stuff of celebrity magazines and red carpets. It’s just the stuff of my grim everyday life.
Newly hatched from beneath my duvet, I had been heading in a south westerly direction, negotiating a run of stairs with the intention of heading towards the kitchen and seeking out a woman called Judy. Toast was on my mind when I heard a rather strange outburst coming from the front room.
‘Hurrah!’ came the martial cry followed shortly after by the sound of wood cracking lampshade.
I might have ignored it but, when another ‘hurrah!’ was followed by a ‘have that!’, I stepped into the living room to see what the commotion was about.
The stuff of merry old England was never like this. There was Stephen Fry, with his plastercast arm in a sling, hopping around the living room, jousting with a mop resting on his good elbow. It was an odd sight but odder still for the large pair of gentleman’s Y fronts that were hanging from his lance.
‘Ah, Sir Richard! How good of you to rise before noon,’ said he. ‘Methinks you have too much ale last night and a good time with yon buxom wench.’
‘I hope Judy doesn’t hear you calling her that,’ I warned. ‘Yon wench packs a buxom punch.’
‘Pah!’ he laughed. ‘Fry frets not. You must hurry up and sate your appetite. We attend a tourney at noon and there we might be spending the night in the Sheriff’s dark dungeon.’
It’s funny how a statement like that can press for attention despite the other things that are going on in the world. You would think that the next words out of my mouth would have been: ‘why are you waving your underpants on the end of a stick, Stephen?’ But instead I merely asked: ‘What sheriff?’
‘Sheriff Plod of the London constabulary who will arrest us for causing a public affray. That’s if it all goes to plan…’
‘Plan? What plan?’
He toed the day’s Guardian across to me and dropped the knightly patois. ‘Ah, Dick! Were we both smaller men, we might think it a trivial concern. However, blessed as we both are by marvellously manlike hips and loins, I thought it only right that we both attend a demonstration at the Oxford Road branch of Marks & Spencers. We’re due there at twelve.’
‘Are we?’ I replied. ‘And why “we”?’
‘Because I thought you’d be there as a favour to one of your oldest friends,’ said a voice from over my right shoulder.
I turned around and saw a man who has been welcomed too infrequently in the Madeley home.
‘Paxo!’ I said, rushing up to shake Jeremy Paxman by his hand. ‘What you doing here?’
He sneered. ‘I’m here to organise a protest to stop the insufferable creep of cheap quality gussets,’ he said and sneered again. He means nothing by it, the poor man. It’s just the way that God connected his face to his chin.
‘That’s right,’ explained Stephen. ‘Jeremy has taken it upon himself to protect all us who like underpants with the luxury of extra supportive gussets. We are to be the vanguard of the campaign. When the world sees Richard Madeley being dragged screaming into the back of a police van, they’ll know that we feel strongly about quality underpants that can carry a couple of large sized bowling balls.’
‘That’s all well and good,’ I replied, ‘but what has this got to do with me? I don’t wear underpants. Everybody knows that. I refuse to become a martyr to the visible panty line.’
‘Tsk,’ said Stephen. ‘In fact, double tsk. Where’s the man who wrote the two hundred like mock heroic epistle about Jeremy’s sock drawer? You do know that this protest is about socks as well?’
That did perk my interest. ‘Socks? What’s this got to do with socks?’
With that, Jeremy kicked off his shoe. ‘Look at that,’ he said, gesturing to his big toe. ‘I’ve not had these socks for a week and already they’ve gone through.’
Sure enough. The Paxman toe was there for all to see. Pink, well clipped, and full of sneer.
Something gave way and my resolve collapsed. With an audible twang, my shoulders sank all the way to the sofa where I lay my head against a cushion.
‘Come, come,’ said Stephen. ‘It’s not that bad.’
‘Turn that frown upside down,’ said Jeremy; rather ironically, I felt.
In fact, it was a foolish remark given that Stephen does like to take some things very literally. ‘I don’t know the full procedure of removing a mouth but I imagine it fairly tricky to turn a frown upside down. You’d probably have to cut into fairly complicated facial muscle. I’d be surprised if you didn’t end up with some paralysis in the cheeks and jaw.’
Jeremy sneered again, proving that there’s no paralysis in either his cheek or jaw.
‘Come on,’ I said, getting to my feet. ‘Give me five minutes while I go and put on a pair of underpants. If I’m going to do this, I might as well do it properly.’
‘White Marks & Spencers only,’ sneered Paxman as though I needed the warning.
It was Stephen who insisted that we take his taxi. It meant that I had to do the driving. It’s an odd business negotiating London’s traffic when people try to flag you down every few hundred yards. I imagine that’s why Stephen loves it so much. It gives a man a sense of being enormously popular and ‘in demand’.
We rolled up before Marks & Spencers just on the stroke of noon. Jeremy and Stephen climbed out the taxi and I drove round the corner to park in a loading bay. When I got back to the front of the building, the protest had grown quite considerably. John Humphrys was there, as was the complete news reading crew of the BBC. It would seem that Marks & Spencers underpants are the underwear of choice for the BBC newsroom. John Simpson and Huw Edwards were holding up placards demanding a rethink on sock policy while Stephen walked up and down waving Judy’s old kitchen mop in the air with a pair of his underpants flying proudly from the top.
‘Ah!’ he cried in his loudest thespianised voice. ‘’Tis, I, Fry, walking up and down outside Marks & Spencers waving my underpants around on the stop of a stick made from Judy Finnigan’s mop.’
Perhaps it was the uncomfortable sensation of underpants on my hips or the sight of unfriendly policemen gathering at the edge of the scene but I couldn’t step forward. Call me a coward or the consummate TV professional, but I knew I couldn’t be arrested. Not today. Not when I’m due at the studios to interview Colin Corfield who has lost 44 stone after having a gastric bypass operation. How would Judy cope without me once “Dancing on Ice” stars, Tim Vincent and Aggie MacKenzie, landed on the sofa? Say what you want about Marks & Spencers underpants but this fight wasn’t mine. With the sound of Stephen’s protests fading as I went, I walked back into the crowd and at the next corner waved down a taxi. Gussets be damned! Ed Saunders would be coming into the studio to talk about Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd’.