In case you’ve only just noticed my picture: yes, you’re quite right. It’s gone. Do I regret doing it? Yes, I do. And I can’t deny that alcohol played a small part in its demise. I had hit rock bottom. I drank because I was ashamed that I’ve still not had a job offer. But that wasn’t the all of it. I discovered that Stephen Fry is leaving me. Then a tooth divorced itself from a filling. Were the two events related? I cannot say. But my woes were tied into a neat little bundle by Judy who informed that Alan Carr is appearing on tonight’s show…
By the time my chief tormentor retired to bed with her Dick Francis, I was in a much weakened condition. It was probably why I sought comfort with my DVD collection. For one night, I would abandon my books, writing, scripts, and even my beaver. And when Stephen appeared, it seemed only right to spend some time with the man who will soon be touring the Great Lakes in his taxi. To break a confidence, I can tell you that he’s also been feeling pretty rotten about the whole business. He’s heard that Hugh Laurie will be performing the American national anthem before Sunday’s Superbowl. It’s the sort of privilege that makes Stephen just a little jealous of his old comedy partner.
You can see that we were both in moods that might easily be described as tender. Put alcohol on the coffee table and even our plan to sit and chat over a classic film had an element of risk. Not that choosing the film was easy. I wanted something that reflected my mood. Stephen wanted a film that taught him something about driving across America.
‘Thelma & Louise,’ suggested Stephen.
‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre,’ suggested Madeley.
‘Two-Lane Blacktop,’ came back the Great Man’s reply.
‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,’ I returned, thinking I might have won the day.
In the end, we reached a compromise. I shut all the doors, turned down the lights, and set the amplifier to 70% to really appreciate Bernard Herrmann’s score to Taxi Driver.
‘I’ve not actually see this film,’ said Stephen after a few moments. It was a rather frank confession from a man who I thought knew everything about great culture. He gazed at the young De Niro driving a yellow taxi through New York a night. ‘But this is indeed promising,’ said the owner of the nation’s favourite black London cab marked ‘Fry’.
I waved down his chatter. ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I just love this speech about cleaning the seats in the back of a taxi…’
Only Stephen didn’t, and, as the film went on, he began to tut more and more as he realised that the story had less to do with taxis than it had to do with one man's descent into his own personal hell. I did my best to calm my guest by pouring him more wine until, eventually, an equilibrium was reached. Stephen began to enjoy Martin Scorsese’s bleak portrayal of Paul Schrader’s almost toxic script and I began to understand why the world is treating me so unfairly. There is a bit of Travis Bickle in Madeley and the events of the last few days made it all the more apparent.
‘My filling fell out today,’ I said to Stephen, who was, by then, looking just a little bleary eyed from all the wine.
‘Typical,’ he said, raising a glass. ‘Here’s to decay!’
‘And I didn’t land the job to which I’d been pinning all my hopes for the last couple of weeks.’
‘Here’s to failure!’ he responded.
‘And Judy has gone and invited Alan Carr onto tonight’s show. I’ve got to be pleasant to the man who once rear-ended me on Hamstead Heath.’
‘Damn his eyes,’ cried Fry and gazed up at the screen before raising a finger. ‘Were I a man in the mood to have a psychotic episode, that’s what I would do,’ he said as De Niro appeared for the first time sporting a Mohican.
‘Judy would kill me if I did that,’ I said. ‘Could you imagine what they’d say at Channel 4?’
‘Well shave it all off!’ said Stephen with sudden passion. Even in the depth of an alcoholic murk he has the answer to every problem. ‘Your Uncle Stephen is not a man for being unduly blunt, Dicky, but you’ve become something of a national laughing stock. You’ve had that same haircut for nearly twenty five years on our screens. Your hair is older than some BBC executives I could name, damn their poxy adolescent hides!’
‘I thought people liked my hair,’ I protested, jumping to the defence of one of my twenty seven features rated by World Heritage as sites of historic importance.
‘You hair is the reason that people think you’re conservative and safe,’ said the only man I know who wears tweed pyjamas. ‘They don’t respect you and they certainly feel no fear when you’re around them. As a great and intoxicated woman once said: play hard to get, Dicky. Hard to get!’ He eased himself up, his plaster cast not making it easy, but with his natural grace and athleticism, up he soon was. ‘Come on, we’ll do it now. I’ve got the perfect thing in my room.’
He returned a minute later with an electric razor designed by New Zealand farmers to sheer the wool from sheep made hardy by the harsh winds of the southern Pacific. I was in no mood to argue with Stephen, whose natural command comes through even when soaked to his gills with juice. As De Niro began his bloody rampage on the screen, Stephen began his buzzing rampage over the Madeley scalp. I can’t say which outcome was the more satisfactory for the protagonists concerned.
After that, I remember very little except drinking more wine and then waking up on the sofa this morning. The DVD menu to Taxi Driver was still lighting up the screen but now the Special Features option was being pointed out by an arm in a plaster cast that was sticking up from the other side of the coffee table. It was only when my own hand instinctively went to arrange my fringe that I felt the cold dome of my head and I began to remember about the job, my filling, Alan Carr, and Stephen Fry shaving me bald...
Judy was less than complimentary when she first saw me and retired sobbing to her room. Stephen was less than complimentary about his hangover and soon tip toed gently to bed. I now have to spent my afternoon finding a suitable wig before the tonight’s show. Being chatty with Alan Carr will be the least of my problems. If you see my brow slip, then at least you’ll know why. My world is falling apart and I with it.