Judy thinks that it might be worthwhile if I begin to post the occasional anecdote from my autobiography. I’m afraid that these aren’t the parts the Daily Mail will be paying us a fortune to serialise next year, so don’t expect to read about the time Judy worked as a ‘dog of war’ in Angola or how I helped rig the Icelandic vote in the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest. These are the smaller adventures from the Madeley files and, as such, are self-contained appetisers to the volume currently sitting in my wordprocessor.
I want to begin with the following extract which comes from the middle section of the book. Here, you will find me living the high life in 1980. I’m already settled in the routine of hosting the nation's favourite morning talk show but doing the occasional bit of freelance work on behalf of the government, to whom I was both advisor and trouble-shooter.
[Taken from Chapter 7 of 'When Greatness Comes Calling: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Madeley' © Richard Madeley. All Rights Reserved.]
One of the strangest yet notable experiences of 1980 was my involvement in one of the boldest feats of mechanical engineering ever attempted in Western Europe. It would bring together three government agencies, two of the armed services, and some of the biggest names in light entertainment. It began, however, quite humbly when my name came to the attention of the people at the Environmental Agency. They knew of me because of the part I played in developing a methane-powered engine for Jeremy Clarkson’s rocket car. The new engine had been a great success, despite an earlier model exploding and leaving the lank-haired Clarkson with a permanent perm. With such a high profile achievement to my name, however, men in important positions in Whitehall thought me perfectly placed to help them combat an emerging threat to the British Isles.
One morning in the middle of October, two men travelled up to Liverpool and cornered me in my dressing room. They found me in an upbeat mood. The show was over for another day and an interview with the newly-reformed Monkees had gone particularly well. I was particularly happy because I’d managed to get Davy Jones to sign my locker. For much of the 1980s, I’d use that locker to break the ice with nervous guests. Most struggled to find it as amusing, which, I suppose, is evidence of the stupidity of some of our guests, but it could always cheer me up. Eventually, in an act as ironic as it was spiteful, Judy had the locker taken out to sea and dumped somewhere off New Brighton in 1989. She’s never been a woman to appreciate a good pun and rarely allows me to use the same joke for more than ten years.
I can’t say that the men from the ministry were that keen on the jest, even when it was in its prime. They were in no mood for Davy Jones’ Locker and they soon got quickly down to business. They explained how they were facing an environmental catastrophe due to the aging condition of one of our favourite national monuments. I’m talking, of course, about Ms. Barbara Windsor.
Over the course of the 1960s, little bubbly Barbara had become a household name. She played chirpy but chesty young women with a habit of losing their tops at the slightest encouragement of man or nature. Babs was in her element when her ‘baps’ were ‘popping out’ in front of the nation’s campest comedians. These were men without the necessary chromosomes to enjoy the sight of her pendulous breasts floating wild and free. How ironic it was that Charles Hawtrey was always there whenever her nipples needed soap suds to hide them from the nation’s view. Brassieres would only fly off when Kenneth Williams gazed in their direction. If it wasn’t for the late great Sid James and a few members of the London underworld, Barbara’s breasts would have gone unappreciated by males of the heterosexual caste. As it was, they retained their popularity throughout much of the 1970s and they went on to star in some of the funniest British films ever made. ‘Carry On Henry’, ‘Carry On Matron’, ‘Carry On Abroad’ are all classics of their kind. And who will ever forget ‘Carry On Dick’ which brought more jokes about my name to the public’s attention than any film before or since?
By 1980, however, Barbara’s star was beginning to wane. More specifically, her chest was beginning to wane. Southwards. What had once stood proud like a twin-nippled symbol of everything that was good and holy about Britain, was now making the three feet one inch journey towards her ankles. The government feared the unknown consequences should that once magnificent edifice slip so far. Were it to succumb to gravity, they were concerned about the environmental damage that would be left behind. It was the kind of disaster that had once befell small Welsh mining communities and rice farmers in China. They knew that only a man with a keen eye for mechanical problems could solve it.
'Richard, we want you to do something about Barbara's droop,' said the man from the Ministry once he had finished drawing a pair of breasts in pencil on the dressing room wall. ‘If we leave it much longer, who knows what might happen? God knows but this week we’ve even had to stop Barbara going to visit a children’s hospital. The Prime Minister was paranoid that they might fall while small children were standing beneath them.’ Here he tapped his drawing with the pencil before drawing in a small child beneath the pair of mammoth breasts. ‘Could you imagine what the newspapers would say? The PM wants to call in the army.’
‘Well, they have the lifting gear,’ I admitted, ‘but can they be trusted with a matter of such delicacy?’
‘That’s exactly our problem.’
'So you want me to produce a clever solution to the problem, rather like Howard Hughes provided for Jane Russell in 'The Outlaw'? You require a supportive brassiere that lifts, separates, as well as ensures the long term stability of Barbara Windsor and the nation? Well, gentlemen, you needn’t worry any further. This is exactly the kind of problem that excites me. In fact, I can’t wait to get my hands on it Barbara’s breasts.’ I wiped the last of the makeup from my face and began to list my demands. 'Of course, I'll want detailed schematics and I’ll need to make a close inspection of the site. If you can get me satellite pictures of the cleavage, I’d feel better. If you can’t manage that, I’ll take my own measurements with a steel tape measure I’ll be sure to warm between my thighs.’
'That might be tricky,' said the man from the Environmental Agency. 'You see, Barbara’s not admitting to the problem. She won’t allow any of us to get close enough to see how far things have slipped. We had a team of inspectors dressed as East End wide-boys and spivs but they can’t get close enough without her seeing through their disguises.'
'It’s a no go area, then?' I asked and began to shake my head. 'Then I don’t see how I can help you. Without access to the site, I can’t take the measurements that I’ll need to begin construction of a suitably reinforced brassiere.’
Ministry kicked a chair in the corner of the room while Environmental wiped his face on a cloth he picked from the back of the door. I hadn’t the heart to tell him it was the last of a pair of Fred Talbot’s thermal underpants which had perished due to a particularly warm autumn. We only kept them to wipe the sweat off Russell Grant whenever he got too excited by Taurus’ proximity to Gemini.
‘There must be something you can do,’ said Ministry. He looked at me and whispered. ‘They speak very highly of you in Whitehall. They say that there’s no man they’d trust more to solve a problem on this scale.’
I always respond well to flattery. ‘Well, this will be tricky but I think I might have a solution...'
'It’s obvious. We'll have to get her to appear on the show. There must be something she wants to plug. Once we get Barbara on the sofa in front of an audience of many millions, Judy can distract her while I crawl around the back of the sofa and take all the measurements. We’ll have to synchronise the cameras so they don’t show me fondling our guest but I think we can make it work. We have done in the past...'
'That’s genius!' said the man from the Ministry.
'If only all our problems were as easily solved,' said the man from Environment.
And so it was that the arrangements were made by the people at Granada and shortly after it was announced that Barbara Windsor had agreed to come on the show to promote her appearance on ‘Worzel Gummidge’. She’d played a character called Saucy Nancy and I wrote Judy enough ‘saucy’ questions to keep Barbara busy. I was to get on my hands and knees, crawl around the sofa, and install the same type of motion sensors that had been used on the side of Mount St. Helens and would measure any movement in her bust line.
However, when the day of the recording came around, I was nervous. Even Judy noticed that I seemed to be sweating more than normal.
‘You’re not wearing underpants, are you Richard?’ she asked, five minutes before we were due to go on air. I had to admit that I was. ‘Honestly,’ she tutted. ‘Why do you do it to yourself? You never normally wear underpants. You know you get too warm wearing them in the studio.’
How could I explain that I was only wearing them because I feared that any prolonged contact with Barbara Windsor’s breasts would enrage Little Richard in front of a national audience of millions? The pair of super-tight underpants I’d bought on our last Italian holiday would be perfect for keeping the beast at bay.
The show began well. Our first guest was Jacqueline Bisset, for whom I’ve long held many impure thoughts. It gave me plenty of chance to test the viability of my underwear, which I was glad to see withstood the considerable strain placed on them. Things only began to go wrong with our second guest who was a yoga instructor who believed that keeping blood from the knees helped maintain a healthy body. When we came back from the break, they insisted on putting me through a few basic moves. Being double jointed and having a natural athleticism, I didn’t think twice when he asked me to stand on my head and cross my thighs. I’ve done the ‘inverted stork’ a dozen times on live TV and never without a problem. However, never before had I been wearing skin tight underpants made for slim Italian hips. By the time I got around to the second half of the show, my underpants had ridden up and were cutting off the circulation to the lower half of my body. When it was time for Judy to introduce Barbara, I was in no fit state to go crawling and groping. My ankles had turned black and my thighs were the size of buoyancy aids for ocean going yachts.
‘It’s lovely to see you here, it really is,’ said Judy, beginning the interview. ‘What have you been doing since we last saw you?’
‘I’ve been busy,’ squeaked Barbara. ‘I’ve just finished doing an episode of Worzel Gummidge...’
‘Did you get your breasts out in every Carry On film?’ I asked, a touch panicked by the size of my legs and wanting to hurry things on.
‘Not all of them,’ said Barbara, still smiling.
‘Yes, but all the ones I’ve seen...’
‘Perhaps that’s why you keep watching them, Richard,’ replied Barbara. She’s quick like that.
The small talk over, I scratched myself, which was the sign for Judy to distract Barbara.
‘Tell us about of Worzel Gummidge,’ said Judy as I casually slid to the floor.
I winced as my underpants dug into my groin but the pain quickly passed. Doctors later told me that a nerve had been severed and by the time I began to crawl around the sofa, there was no feeling in my legs. Had the camera panned out by even a fraction, the world would have seen my engorged black ankles disappear behind the sofa and, a few moments later, my hands emerge under Barbara’s armpits. She was so busy telling the world a funny story about Jon Pertwee and a rancid carrot that she didn’t notice me taking careful measurements of her bust or attach the small transmitters that would send back precise measurements should the slope decide to fall.
It was a job well done. By the time I was back sitting next to Judy, I was numb below the waist and wondering if I’d severed any vital parts of my anatomy, but generally satisfied that I’d managed to complete the trickiest stage of Operation Windsor Sag.
As I recovered over the course of the next month, I worked diligently on my designs for a new brassiere with a double cantilever, five vertical stays, and twin lace cups made from braided steel cable. Because of the scale of the engineering task, we had to disguise it as work commissioned by the navy. By the time my legs were back to normal size, we’d taken over a dry dock in Hull for the build and the finished brassiere was moved to London in an armoured convoy on the night of November 11th, 1980.
The next day, we passed the brassiere over to a team of Royal Engineers, specially chosen for their indifference to the female bust. Half of the platoon were leg men, the rest of indeterminate sexual orientation. At half past seven in the morning, working in darkness, they breached Barbara’s front lines and set about attaching the first push-up bra of its kind. They managed to outfit her bust under heavy bombardment and suffered only seven losses in the process. All were later decorated.
Though I say it myself, the work we did that day will last centuries. It was a piece of engineering to match London’s sewer system and was the sort of feat of British knowhow that would bring a tear to Jeremy Clarkson’s eye. The government rewarded me for my duties with another medal, which, again due to national security, went unlisted in the New Years Honours. In addition, my patent for the lifting and separating brassiere earned me a small fortune when it was later marketed under the name ‘Wonder Bra’. Though they didn’t know it at, women across the globe had me to thank for their newly-found cleavage but I was just happy to have served my nation and help preserve a monument that generations of school boys would be able to visit and admire for many years to come.