Just before the National Lottery draw was made two nights ago, an attack of peptic reflux had forced me from my study and into the living room, where I found Judy perched on the edge of the sofa. The light of the television was reflected in her eyes, big like polished soup bowls, and illuminating the lottery ticket in her trembling hands.
‘Shush,’ she said when I took a breath to speak.
Chastened, I slid into my armchair with my glass of Andrews and I waited to see if the numbers 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5 and 6 would come rolling out of the machine and make us richer than an Oddie.
‘“Amethyst” is my lucky machine,’ explained Judy.
The comment did not warrant a reply. Why they give the machines names is beyond me. I don’t know what’s wrong with calling it ‘Ball Juggling Machine Number 4’ for the difference it would make to the outcome. Or perhaps it would make a difference: chaos theory and all that... Which is why I don’t waste my money on these foolish games. How is a man to make an informed gamble about something that might be decided by which side Dale Winton’s wearing his underpants? It’s why I’ve not actually watched a National Lottery draw since the days when Winton was a sprightly 68 year old. It made it quite the education to catch up on the world of randomly selected numbers.
Stood next to BJMN4 was the presenter, a young Adonis photocopied straight from GQ magazine and buffed to a high sheen with Turtlewax and Botox. He was wearing the ubiquitous BBC single breasted suit and had a crest of hair like a plastic newt basking on his head. From a professional viewpoint, he did a competent job. He wasn’t Stephen Fry competent but he was certainly mid-to-high Noel Edmonds good. He knew where the camera was and when to smile, and then, when the big moment came, he knew exactly how to put both of his hands on the big red button in front of him.
‘Okay everybody,’ went the sparkle on his teeth, ‘good luck!’
And as we enjoyed this moment of great theatre brought to us by the people at Colgate, he pressed the button…
There was then a pause for a fraction of a second before he did something that’s had me puzzled for days. He turned to the two men operating and he said: ‘Gentlemen, could you start the draw?’
At this point, one of the men, wearing white cotton gloves as if to prove that he was in no way shifty, walked to the machine and flicked a small switch on the side. With that balls started to pop from the slot like some Bangkok novelty act and somebody somewhere became a millionaire.
All of which raised an obvious question: what the hell was the red button for?
After two days, I’ve come to the conclusion that the red button wasn’t actually connected to the lottery machine. I know it's hard to believe but bear with me. Might it be possible that whenever these celebrities start the lottery draw, they are only pressing a bit of shiny red plastic connected to nothing but the podium?
I know what you’re thinking and I agree. It is shocking. I remember an agent friend of mine once telling me that the majority of ceremonies involving star names turning on Christmas lights make use of fake levers and switches. The actual ‘lighting up’ operation is being run from behind the scenes by some council worker, no doubt with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and effectively ‘turning them on at the wall’ with a muttered curse about it being ‘about bloody time’. But this surely can’t be the case with the National Lottery draw. That red button must do something.
Well I fear that it doesn’t and it’s merely another sign that we’ve passed out of an age of myth, legend, and ritual. There was a time when esoteric ceremonies meant something. The Queen would regularly have her earlobes tickled with an eagle’s feather, leading Richard Dimbleby to whisper that the feather represented the Isle of Skye and this gesture was that of an eagle, riding a current of Hebridean air, bowing its head in solemn reverence to the awe of Her Majesty who took great pleasure in the bird’s show of deference. It might have been a bit of Victorian hokum but it was an engaging bit of hokum. And we never doubted that it symbolised something worth symbolising, even if it was the oppression of the Scots by the English. The same was always true of launching a ship. When the bottle of champagne smashed against the hull of the latest cruise liner, we didn’t actually believe that the momentum of the bottle caused the ship to start sliding down the dock's ramp, but we did all share a deep cultural flashback to those old pagan sacrifices our ancestors made to the Gods, asking them to bless our crafts before Clan Chieftain Madeley went off to pillage foreign shores.
But have we now gone beyond that? Is it so very wrong of me to want a world in which big red buttons are linked to machines that actually do something? And might there still time for us to put things right?
The BBC Special Effects and Props department has always been feted as the best in the world. Or, at least, that’s the valuable lesson taught to us by Blue Peter. Surely, there must still be men who know how to wire up a big red button so it lights up to signify the beginning of ‘the ball dropping process’. Better still, can’t they rig it so it gives mild electric shocks to Alan Dedicoat up in the gallery. The man sounds far too cheerful for a man working on a weekend. A few scrotum-tightening volts passed across his reproductive lobes would do him the world of good and BBC One on a Saturday night would become exciting again. Get Stephen Fry involved and there won't be a man, woman, or child who doesn't tune in to see how high he came make the nation’s favourite announcer leap from his chair. Damn it. Couldn’t we all lay wagers on how far Dedicoat will fly, with proceeds going to good causes?
Not only would it make the big red button mean something again, we would take the random factor out of the lottery. We could introduce an element of skill into the life of the nation’s gamblers. We would return to the days of ‘Spot the Ball’ and the Football Coupon but with the added entertainment value that comes with a pair of well polished electrodes.
So, if anybody is reading this from the BBC, please get in contact. You know my email address. I’m full of good ideas like this and, lucky for you, I’m looking for a job.