Thursday, 31 January 2008

Beckham, Titchmarsh, and Me

Disappointment howls today like the wind that keeps shifting the rafters as it tries to break the backbone of this old house. It is not a good day to be either a Madeley or a Beckham. I heard through the celebrity grapevine that Titchmarsh was out around town last night, celebrating his new job. I’ve still not had official confirmation but I can only assume that this silence means that the Madeley charm failed yet again to win over important people. I won’t get my second cap as captain of ‘Eye of the Storm’. My search for a job will have to continue and I still cannot assure you about the future of this blog. There is only a very small chance of my finding another part time vacancy as suitable as the one I’ve just missed out on.

If there are positives in this, I fail to see them. My lassitude has begun to spread around the house. Judy has fled to the local shopping centre to escape it. And when Stephen Fry appeared for breakfast this morning, even a man known for his resilient spirit looked chagrined once he heard the news.

‘As long as I’m quizmaster, Mr. Titchmarsh will never be welcomed on QI, I can assure you of that,’ he said as he watched me butter his English muffins.

‘It’s bad enough that he keeps getting all the plumb jobs and that he produces novels that take up shelf space that might have gone to new unknown writers.’ I stopped spreading butter and looked up. ‘But what disappoints me more than anything is that I thought I’d got the job. I left that interview so sure that I’d connected with people. I thought they understood the easy going nature of a man who refuses to abide by the law of underpants. They should have seen that they had a special opportunity of getting “A” list recruitment material for a knock down price.’

‘I feel your pain as though it were my own,’ said Stephen, clutching his arm and giving a dramatic wince. ‘I thought I had a natural affinity with the manatee. Little did I know that they had plans to knock me from a log and laugh about it later.’

He had a point.

‘Are you up for some writing today?’ asked Stephen after I’d finished soaking his muffins in my tears.

‘I don’t know if I am,’ I said, wiping my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to spend the day transcribing another man’s genius to the page.

‘Come, come, Richard. You should do something productive today. You need to rage against the storm that so cruelly batters you. Cry out that you’re not for being beaten.’

‘Oh, I intend to rage,’ I promised him. ‘In fact, I’ve been giving some thought to having a tattoo.’

‘A tattoo?’

I shoved the newspaper across the table. ‘David Beckham has had an angel tattooed on his arm,’ I explained. ‘It has the face of his wife, Victoria. I thought I might have the same but with the face of that real angel called Judy. I thought a tattoo might prove to people that I’m not the nice guy they can treat so unfairly.’

‘I would suggest that you think again and make no hasty decisions when feeling glum,’ replied Stephen. ‘Have a day or two to think about it. I regret very much the tattoo of Hugh Laurie I had etched on my… Well, let’s not dwell on that. Let us instead consider written English. Let me help you on your own magnum opus. Let’s see if we can raise your spirits by setting you back on track with that novel I know you’ve been writing about the Australian outback where a young boy is raised by the koala.’

‘You’d do that for me?’ I asked. ‘I mean, you’d really help me finish “Tamazepam: King of the Eucalyptus”?’

Stephen’s smile hung like a cloud beneath that great crescent moon of a nose. ‘Of course I would,’ he chuckled. ‘Not everybody is a Titchmarsh man. Some of us are on the side of Madeley and you should never forget that fact, Richard. Never forget that some of us want you to win and win you most certainly will.’

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

And Now I Wait...

I'm exhausted. We recorded today's show earlier than normal in order to fit my job interview into a gap in my schedule. It means that I've had a hectic day and now need a couple of hours of shut-eye before I drive Stephen to a poetry recital in aid of the Leslie Phillips Cravat Foundation.

I think the interview went reasonably well. By the time I'd finished arguing my case, the title of the show had changed from 'Eye of the Storm 2: Mild and Slightly Damp' to 'Eye of the Storm 2: Slightly Damp But Mild'. It was a small concession on the producer's behalf but I didn't want to have my name associated with a show whose title didn't scan right. I also have yet to hear the outcome as I understand that Alan Titchmarsh was due in this afternoon to outline his plans.

I still don't know how to feel about this development. To know that I'm going head-to-head with the nation's favourite item of knitwear is enough to dent my confidence, or, at least, unravel an extra yard of wool. Yet should I get the job, this blog may yet survive. I'll be working two days a week in the city, leaving me time to finish my novel set in the world of men who go commando. At the moment, I can only assure you that 'Bravo Size Two Zero' will be in bookshops by the late summer.

Sleuth 2007

Not much time to write. I have to get to bed. I’m up early in the morning to attend an interview for the job of host on the new series 'Eye of the Storm 2: Mild and Slightly Damp'.

Given that I've only got a few minutes to write this, I should explain the deep furrow on my brow. It wasn’t there three hours ago and I hope sleep will erase it. Tonight I had the misfortune of sitting through a remake of one of my favourite films. Kenneth Branagh’s Sleuth is as enjoyable as having a mallet swung at your kneecaps by a malicious dwarf. It left me hobbling for an explanation as to how it could have all gone so wrong.

Michael Caine is just about my favourite actor. Even when he went through a period of making any old rubbish during the eighties, I never lost my faith in him. He could still do great work. His films include some of I'd take to my desert island: the Harry Palmer films, Hannah and Her Sisters, Get Carter, The Man Who Would Be King… And even here, in Sleuth 2007, he does well playing the Laurence Olivier role. Yet he is let down by nearly every aspect of this disappointing production. Jude Law plays Caine’s old role and proves that he’s not the new Caine. The small details of casting a film really do matter. For instance, if you know the original Sleuth, you’d assume that the Milo Tindle role would be given to an actor who can sustain a regional accent. Law’s accent began in Devon, jumped into Yorkshire, skirted around Lancashire, and finally settling down somewhere in the East End. As for the script, by Harold Pinter, it had moments of brilliance but was undermined by a third act that deviated from the original and was consequently muddled, ineffective, and, at times, tedious. I don't think it was Pinter's fault. I'd like to blame on the director.

Branagh is not a subtle director. He may be comfortable when staging Shakespeare but I tend to think that it would take a director of staggering incompetence to make a hash of that. When it comes to bringing his own flair to an original project, Branagh too often fails. His film version of ‘Frankenstein’ remains one of the very few films I’ve walked out of, midway through (actually, I ran), and demanded my money back from the ticket office.

Here, he replaces the theatrical vibrancy of the original with bleak technology that rarely fits the scene or the script. The sets are minimal, filmed under blue lights that ensure that the film has a different feel to the warmth evoked by the old country house. Shaffer’s screenplay was dark and comic, occasionally frivolous, often sardonic, and questioning the nature of the mystery genre. Pinter’s is sharp, edgy, confused, sometimes rambling, and ultimately disappointing.

Anthony Shaffer wrote at least three great movies: Frenzy, The Wicker Man, and Sleuth. I would hope that Branagh doesn’t think of trying his hand at ‘Frenzy’, the only one of the three yet to have been remade. If he’s no Joseph L. Mankiewicz, then he’s certainly no Hitchcock.

You see what this has done to me? If tomorrow's interview goes poorly, I'll blame only one man.

And it won't be Michael Caine.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

Once the phone had cracked open my dreams this morning, it was the smell of fresh bacon that kept me awake. That’s not to say I didn’t want to bury my nose deeper into my pillow, but I could not stop myself drooling over the smell of fried porker rising from the kitchen. My loyalties were split. My pillow damp. My dreams still tangible. I knew I could return to them if only the noise and smell would recede. I could be back in the lesser reality where I’d been wearing a loincloth and wresting a cobra in some faraway place where men with the Madeley surname are normally christened Conan. In the greater reality of everyday life, however, those same men enjoy ripping into bacon, their dentures be damned! This was the only reassurance I had. Dreams or reality: I knew I’d be doing something manly.

I was still chewing on the hard gristle of this dilemma when the bedroom door opened and Judy set the floorboards loose with her heavy tread.

‘It’s somebody called Tarbuck for you,’ she said, pulling back the duvet and exposing my naked flanks to the sunlight.

I shrivelled like Christopher Lee naked on a sunbed. On second thoughts, scrub that bit about Christopher Lee naked on a sunbed. It’s an image with which we’d be unwise to start the week. I suggest you replace it with a picture of uncurled mimosa under drops of spring rain. It has the advantage of added freshness and significantly less droop.

‘Tell them I’ll call them back,’ I muttered as I rolled over and sought dragons to smite.

Judy just took my hand and wrapped it around the handset.

‘Talk to the man,’ she hissed. She sounded quite cobra-like and was lucky I didn’t swing a keen edged blade at her head. Decisive action tends to be the way of all men called Conan or Madeley.

‘Speak mortal,’ I said, and by this you might guess that I was still a bit befuddled by sleep.

‘Hello? Richard?’ said a voice. ‘It’s Jimmy.’

‘Jimmy?’ I repeated. My mind grabbed the two names I’d been handed and shoved them manfully together. I was surprised by the result. ‘Jimmy Tarbuck?’

‘The very same. Now listen here, my old mucker. Those of us still up here in lovely Liverpool miss you and Judy enormously. We still drink to your health at the Dog and Duck near the Albert Dock, and your picture still hangs on the wall of the snug.’

‘Does it really?’

‘It does,’ he replied. ‘Though, to be honest, Richard, your mugshot got a bit shabby since Stan Boardman bought himself a new set of darts. He never misses now. But listen… We were talking about giving you and your good lady wife a very special opportunity on this fine day in January.’

I rolled over onto my back. I find it’s the best place to take advantage of very special opportunities on fine days in January. It’s also the best position from which to pick fluff from your navel. ‘And what opportunity would that be?’ I said as I flicked a small bail of cotton from between my fingertips.

‘A chance to do some good,’ said Tarby. ‘Listen, I can’t talk about it on the phone. Hush-hush and all that but we’re on our way to London and we could easily drop in to see you.’

‘Sure, sure,’ I said and my hand also moved south to put a parting in my hair down there to match the one upstairs. ‘You know you’re always welcome, Jimmy.’

Judy wasn’t so sure when I mentioned it to her over breakfast. ‘I thought I recognised that voice,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I didn’t think gap-toothed Scouse comedian.’

‘That’s probably because you’ve forgotten your roots, my girl,’ I replied. ‘You also wanted to move away from the north. You never liked it in Liverpool, whereas I still wear my love for the city on my sleeve.’

‘That’s not actually true, is it, Richard?’ she scolded. ‘You were the one who said that London would be better for our careers. You were also the one who scuttled Fred Talbot in our back garden because you said he’d defile the Thames.’

‘As well you know, Judy, that’s not been proved. But I was right about London being good for our careers. And I’m right about this too. Men like Tarbuck know a thing or two about bank balances. If he’s got an opportunity for us, I expect we’ll double our fortune in weeks.’

She looked at me and shook her head. ‘Well if we’re going to have guests, I suggest you do up your fly or comb your hair.’

I did both, numerous times, during the anxious wait before the taxi arrived at half past one. The three figures that piled out the back were all familiar in one way or another. The rotund guy in a blazer was known to us all as Tarbuck, though behind him was a thinner man in a suit that didn’t quite fit.

‘Look who that is behind Tarby,’ said Judy, peering through a gap in the curtains.

I looked again. ‘Dear lord!’ I gasped, recognising the jacket thick with shimmering sequins. ‘Is it Doddy? And if I’m not mistaken, isn’t that Cilla behind them?’

Judy let out a squeal of delight. ‘Oh, it is!’ she said and rushed to the front door to greet the three most famous Liverpudlians who aren’t called Ringo or suffer an allergy to wooden shanks.

‘Surprise, surprise,’ screamed Cilla as soon as she saw me in the hall.

‘Hello Cilla,’ I said and bent low to kiss her cheek. ‘I hope you’re well.’

‘Course I am, chuck,’ she replied but became distracted by a commotion coming from upstairs.

‘Save my manuscripts before you save yourselves!’ cried Stephen Fry, suddenly appearing on the landing. His face was white with fright, though he flushed slightly as soon as he saw five of the nation’s top celebrities staring up at him. ‘Somebody did shout fire, didn’t they?’ he asked.

‘Calm yourself, Stephen. It’s just Cilla,’ I said as Liverpool’s favourite daughter began to wipe her lipstick from my cheek. I couldn’t blame him for his reaction. Fleeing to fire escapes is how most people react when experiencing a visit from Cilla without adequate warning.

‘Ah,’ said Stephen, giving a dark look towards the woman he’s still not forgiven for her behaviour at our last Christmas party. ‘Well, if you want me,’ he said, retreating a step, ‘I’ll be in my room teaching myself Urdu.’

I had to smile at the poor man’s cameo in this tale. Urdu indeed!

‘Hello Dick,’ said Jimmy Tarbuck, suddenly with his arm around my shoulder. ‘You’re looking fitter than a Korean’s whippet. You know Ken, don’t you?’

‘I think we’ve met a few times,’ I replied, shaking the King of the Diddymen by his tickling stick.

‘And it is a quite splendiferous moment to be meeting you, Sir Dick,’ said Doddy. ‘Very exciting. Very exciting indeed. In fact, it makes me want to shove a bag of flour down my pants and say “how’s this for self raising?” By George! Do you know how tickled I am? I’m so tickled that my chuckle muscle’s got lodged behind my joke junction. That’s half a titter above my mirth mound.’

‘I won’t ask about that,’ I replied as Judy began to lead us all into the main room. She and Cilla immediately broke away, leaving me to talk with the two funniest men in Liverpool.

‘So,’ I said, ‘can you finally tell me about this opportunity you’re so excited about?’

Tarbuck grinned, the gap in his teeth such a happy reminder of the harbour gates at Albert Dock.

‘Do you like ventriloquism, Richard?’ he asked.

‘Who doesn’t?’ I said in reply. And, indeed: who doesn’t?

‘Who indeed,’ smiled Doddy who waved his feather duster in delight. ‘How lucky we are! How lucky we are, ladies and gentlemen! I always say a good ventriloquist is like a good wife. You don’t see the best ones moving their lips.’

I gave Ken a questioning on your behalf before I thought to take the conversation into a twenty first century free of comic misogynism.

‘But this is so strange that you ask me about this,’ I said. ‘Only last night I watched a film set in the world of ventriloquism. It was called “Dead Silence” and was about old ventriloquist came back from the dead to haunt her killers with her reanimated puppets.’

‘Well, this has got nothing to do with reanimated corpses entertaining us with magic,’ said Jimmy. ‘We’re here to meet Paul Daniels.’

‘Not Paul Daniels, famous assistant to the lovely Debbie McGee?’

‘The very same. He’s organising the Variety Club’s 2008 appeal.’

‘Charity?’ I said, my hopes taking a slump.

‘Ah, but this year it’s not just charity for the children,’ said Doddy. ‘Heavens no! This year we’re helping one of our own. Keith Harris needs our help.’

‘It isn’t easy being green,’ I muttered, giving a shiver.

For those of you not in the know, Keith Harris would be the UK’s most respected ventriloquist had he not allied himself with the world’s most irritating puppet. His career is based around the pitiful sight of a small green bird, of indistinct gender and breed, who wears a large nappy and talks in an irritating voice.

‘That’s right,’ said Jimmy. ‘We’ve asked Keith to lead this year’s campaign and we were hoping to give him career a bit of a boost while we’re at it.’

‘And that,’ added Ken, ‘is the reason we have come south. We want you and Mrs. Madeley to have Keith on your show next week.’

‘I doubt if we could do that,’ I said. ‘Channel 4 audiences are quite sophisticated. Besides, we’re running the Richard&Judy Puppies in Woollens competition.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ asked Tarby.

It didn’t take me a moment to reconsider. If I’d learned any lesson from ‘Dead Silence’, it was that ventriloquists are a breed of men and women who take offence at the slightest thing and are more than capable of launching a killing spree from beyond the grave. ‘Hypothetically speaking,’ I replied, ‘do you think Keith Harris would ever come back and haunt the people who’ve mocked Orville over the years?’

‘I’m sure that he would,’ said Jimmy. ‘He’s suffered a lifetime of abuse from audiences, which is why we want to set things right. I’m sure there’s not a ventriloquist alive that would be as justified if he sought out his bloody revenge on his tormentors.’

‘Then count us in,’ I said. ‘Like I’ve always said, Judy and I are proud to call ourselves two of the biggest Keith Harris and Orville fans in the country.’

‘How tittyfalarious!’ cried Dodd. ‘I’m over the moon with nincombobulation. I’m like the blind midget in the lady’s sauna. It’s not how I look like but how I feel…’

‘Smashing,’ said Jimmy.

‘You’ve what?’ asked Judy in the kitchen ten minutes later.

I explained about my fears of being haunted by the ghost of Orville.

‘It’s perfect,’ I said. ‘Who better to judge dogs in woollens than a man whose made his career with a green duck in a nappy? And it saves me the trouble of writing to all the viewers who complain that I chose the wrong dog.’

‘You’ve lost it this time,’ said Judy. ‘I thought you’d hit bottom when you stopped wearing underpants. But this…’

‘Surprise! Surprise!’ said Cilla, barging her way into the kitchen. ‘Everything alright, chucks?’

I put on my best smile and carried two coffees into the front room. Things, I knew, would indeed be alright…

Monday, 28 January 2008

The Truth About My Underpants

Thanks to Bertas, I’m made aware of more anti-Madeley slander doing the rounds. Only, this time, the newspapers are making a mountain out of a molehill. Or a mountain out of my crotch, which, I’ll let you know, is completely free from moles and looks nothing like a hill.

It defies reason that journalists should rehash old news where there are so many interesting stories breaking in the world. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that I don’t wear underpants and I’ve always been quite open when it comes to admitting that I go commando whenever and wherever I can. It’s not as though I hide the fact. I often leave my flies down at home, though, naturally, not when we have guests. Judy has long since grown accustomed to my flaps being open and the aircraft nosing its way from the hangar. Which, again, leaves me bemused that the newspapers are making such a fuss.

I wouldn’t mind but I’m not the only one who practises the mildest form of naturism. Among the many celebrities I’ve tried brought into the fold, so to speak, are Jimmy Savile and David Walliams. They both took leaflets from me and, I would hope, saved on their laundry bills. It is, I repeat, the best way you can all save the planet. If you were all to abandon underwear, you would help reduce the nation’s energy costs by around 14% per year. We would use less water and fewer detergents, while, for we gentlemen, providing adequate ventilation in vital regions where tight underwear stifles our most basic functions, such as producing seed, scratching ourselves, and playing the bassoon.

So, again, I beg you to ignore the anti-Madeley spin the media give this non-story. You heard the truth from me. Now I suggest you do the sensible thing: pants off, undies in the bin, and feel the breeze down below. I swear that you’ll thank me for it later.

Back Soon...

I’ve been delayed today so my regular update will be a little later than usual. Life as an ‘A’ list celebrity is so busy that sometimes I wish that I could slide down to the ‘B’ list, just to catch a breather. In the meantime, here’s a quick precis of the search terms of some of my latest blog visitors arriving via Google.

For the person asking if Fred Talbot is married, I’d suggest that we find him first...

For my reader in York: at the moment, Monty Don is six feet and five inches tall but we cut him back to five feet eleven in the winter to encourage new growth in the spring.

The person asking me to ‘rate Kerry Katona’: I’d give her 1 out of 20.

The person searching for ‘interesting facts about garden gnomes’: there are no interesting facts about garden gnomes, which is itself, an interesting fact.

The person searching for ‘swearing at babies’: it doesn’t have much effect but it is enormous fun.

The person who came here asking if ‘guys rub balls for comfort’: I can assure you that they rub them to get a bit of shine in the hope of creating a bit of reverse swing.

And finally, for the person who wants to know ‘what happened to Mickey Rooney’s ears?’: Andi Peters accidentally trod on them while Mickey was doing panto in Swansea.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The Richard&Judy Film Club

With the new season of The Richard&Judy Show now down the slipway and making rather large waves in that fast flowing river known as TV, I’ve had time to notice that my dear wife has been looking drawn these past few days. I hesitate to say she’s been looking ‘rough’ because, to be fair, there’s not a woman alive who deserves the term less. She’s merely been missing that little bit of natural effervescence that normally marks her out as a right bottle of fizz.

As you know, being a considerate husband, I always try to do my bit to ease my dear wife’s nerves. Taking her out for a nice evening would, I thought, help calm her down. A good meal, a few bottle of wine, followed by a film at the local multiplex: could there be a better tonic? I thought not so, this afternoon, I set to making all the arrangements .

The only problem is Judy's delicate nature. It takes a measured eye to pick out a film suitable for her unique temperament. Remember: this is the only woman to walk out of the film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice complaining that it was too loud. Casino Royale had ‘too many filthy innuendos’. As for The Simpson’s Movie: she got dizzy once Spiderpig began crawling across the ceiling.

So tonight, I knew I had to choose carefully. I spent a good hour deliberating over the twenty seven films currently showing at the local Odeon and then I booked ahead of our arriving at the cinema. A few of the films were clearly not the sort of thing you’d want to introduce to a nervous woman in her early forties. Last week, I’d been forced to go alone to see the Coen Brother’s rather excellent No Country For Old Men, which would have been much too visceral for Judy. Beowolf was too macho and the less we say about Death Sentence, based on the original Death Wish novel, the better. I also knew that American Gangster was out, while Saw IV and Aliens vs. Predator 2 were really as far from Judy material as modern cinema can go without invoking the name 'Paul Verhoeven'.

In the end, my decision was influenced by factors not exactly related to my good lady wife. Truth to tell, I've always suffered this odd emotional reaction whenever I see Helena Bonham Carter. I tend to blub through any film she's in and pen sonnets during the closing credits. Not that I’d like to ‘covert a neighbour’s wife’ or anything as Biblical as that – they are indeed neighbours of ours – but I’ve just always thought her as beautiful as she is talented. No man leapt as high as me when hearing that she’d parted company with that blowbroth Brannagh. Nobody, perhaps, except Tim Burton. Not that I begrudge him the perfect woman. Well-worn men with a handle on scruffy are men after my own heart and it’s good to see woman of beauty and wit attracted to our kind. In other words, Judy loves a good musical and I wouldn’t be averse to looking at Helena B.C. for a couple of hours. That's why I booked us two premium row seats to Sweeney Todd on one of the largest screens in the South West.

And might I commend myself at this point by saying it was the perfect choice. Judy was soon happily holding my arm and eating from her tub of popcorn. As we settled into the murk of the Victorian gothic, I eased down into my chair, listening to my wife humming gently beside me as she began to sing along with each song. Helena was looking more stunning than I've seen her in a while, while Johnny Depp confirmed my suspicion that he's become the most intelligent and interesting actors of his generation.

Like I said: it was the perfect choice. That is: perfect until the first throat was cut...

I turned to Judy and patted her hand. ‘Can’t be too much of this, love,’ I said as the spray of arterial blood filled the screen and rained down around us in 7.1 Dolby Digital sound. 'There can't be too much of this at all. It might be rated 18 but it is a musical...'

After four or five more throats were cut, each one bloodier than the last, Judy was no longer humming along to Stephen Sondheim’s score but dry retching into her popcorn bucket. During a particularly bright scene on a beach, I turned to find her looking more ashen than a Tim Burton heroine. Her face was drained of colour and if it weren’t for her eyes, which were open (though, oddly, not blinking), I’d have thought she had passed out.

When another hour had passed and the credits began to roll, I was grateful to discover that one of the usherettes was a strapping youth. I had to call him across to help me get Judy from her chair. We then struggled to carry her to the car, much to the amusement of the cinema’s customers.

‘Oy, Madeley!’ shouted one. ‘Finally bored her to death have you?

Another, equally as witty, suggested that ‘Madeley’s got to drug his women to get them on a date’.

It was all most amusing and nearly as pleasant as the silent twenty minutes I spent driving home.

As soon as we were through the front gates, I hit the switch and sealed us in for the night. Sure that nobody could see from the road, I grabbed Judy by the ankles and dragged her into the house. Once I got her settled in a chair in the living room, I poured her a big glass of brandy and an even bigger one for me.

‘Deary me,’ said Stephen Fry, appearing in the doorway. He was dressed in a purple gown and carrying a copy of Caesar’s Commentaries in his good hand. ‘Is that Judy I see looking a bit the worse for wear?’

‘Just shock,’ I explained. ‘We’ve just sat through a Stephen Sondheim musical.’

‘Ah!,’ he trilled. ‘The pleasures of the contrapuntal world!’ His smile broadened as if it were inflating on spirits warming to a favourite subject. He came and sat down in an armchair. ‘You should have said and I might have come with you. I’m a great fan of Mr. Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the film version of which has a cameo by my favourite of the great silent comedians, Mr. Buster Keaton. Unfortunately, the film, though praiseworthy for the performances of, among others, the equally great Phil Silvers and Zero Mostel, also gave the world our first glimpse of the somewhat less than great Michael Crawford. The scene in which he attempts to scrape sweat from a horse’s hindquarters is not one of my most favourite in the history of American cinema. The very thought of drinking an animal’s sweat makes me feel quite nauseous…’

I looked at him, a steady gaze of whimsy and wonder. ‘I think we’ve had enough of that this evening, don’t you?’

He nodded to Judy. ‘Yet shock is such a wonderfully enigmatic reaction. One never knows whether to cure it or simply observe the patient’s response. Was it caused by the linguistic dexterity of the Sondheim libretti? They have been known to strain many a professional singer’s warble.’

‘No, it was blood,’ I replied. ‘Gallons and gallons of blood. Never seen a film like it. I shouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t have trouble sleeping tonight. It will be months before I’ll even contemplate eating a meat pie again…’

‘Well, should you suffer wakefulness, you need only come tapping on my door and we can play Scrabble til dawn.’ He smiled as Judy’s head lolled onto her chest. ‘The poor thing,’ he said, standing up and taking two long strides across the room. ‘There, there,’ he hushed, laying a hand on Judy’s head. ‘Rest yourself in the knowledge that it wasn’t blood at all. I should imagine it merely a combination of corn syrup and food colouring.’

Miraculously, Judy looked up at him. It was the first movement she’d made since the second act’s little ditty involving a straight edged razor.

‘Oh, Stephen, is that right?’ she asked.

‘Of course it is, you silly thing,’ smiled the Great Man. ‘Now, you drink up your brandy and I’ll sing you something soothing to help you take your mind off it.’

And with that, he took another strode that carried him to the fireplace where he threw another log onto the grate before lifting his and lifted his plaster cast and resting it on the mantelpiece. And there he stood for the next hour as sang a selection of light operetta to us in his deliriously sonorous voice. At the end, Judy was feeling well enough to applaud and I was relieved enough to stand up and go shake him by the hand.

‘Stephen Sondheim, eat your heart out,’ I said.

I would have clapped him about the back but Judy chose that moment to faint.

‘Under the circumstances,’ said Stephen, ‘it probably not wise to talk of men eating their own hearts.’

And I suppose, under the circumstances, it wasn’t.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The Carr Crash

You might know that I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Alan Carr since the moment I first heard him speak. He’d just shunted me from behind on Hamstead Heath and his voice reminded me of the howl of a Barbary monkey undergoing hormone replacement therapy. It's why I was so adamant in my refusal when Judy put his name forward as a guest on the new series of The Richard&Judy Show.

‘If he appears then you can find yourself another sofa partner,’ I said yesterday lunchtime as I poured hot water over a leak and onion cup-a-soup.

Judy was scrubbing down the sink at the time and the name had come to her after a rush of others that had included Liza Minnelli, Paul Ross, John Updike, Roger Moore, and David Bellamy.

‘You have to come up with more interesting names, Richard,’ she said, treating me as harshly as the mildew around the taps. ‘You can’t keep suggesting the same old guests.’

‘Same old guests?’ I replied. ‘What does that mean?’

‘Whenever we ask you for suggestions you only ever say Bill Oddie, Stephen Fry, and Jeremy Clarkson.’

‘But they’re my kind of people. Why should I go out of my way chumming up to the likes of Monty Don when we’ve got Bill Oddie? And what can David Bellamy tell us about a subject that Stephen hasn’t already researched?’

‘It’s not the point,’ said Judy. ‘People want a bit of variety in their lives. When we introduce guests, we don’t want to be seen introducing the same faces, week after week.’

I took Judy’s words on board and contemplated them over the course of yesterday when I withdrew slightly from the public eye. Judy probably has a point. I’m just too loyal to my friends and when Stephen breathes an utterance, I want to report it to you without delay. The fact that we’ve begun working writing next year’s ITV hit series, Bunion, gives me even more reason to talk about the Great Man. As, indeed, the coming Spring will see Bill Oddie come out of hibernation and I’ll have many more things to tell you about The Bearded One.

Yet, if Judy is right, I should also bring you news about other people.

Which brings me back to Alan Carr. Was I right to hold a grudge against the man just because he once shunted me from behind on Hamstead Heath?

‘Oooooooohhh, look what you’ve done!’ I remember him saying as he climbed out of his enormous jet black 4x4 with glittered trim.

Back then, I was driving my Jag and I was not best pleased to discover the bumper twisted to hell and back.

‘What I’ve done?’ I laughed, squaring up to the man who’s bigger than you’d expect. ‘You’re the one who wasn’t looking where he was going.’

‘Oh, I can’t be held responsible for that!’ he replied. ‘I can’t be held responsible for that! You just put on your brakes like you wanted me to come up your behind.’

‘If you weren’t tailgating me, it wouldn’t have happened.’

‘Tailgating?’ he hissed, if indeed you can hiss a word made up of ‘t’s and ‘g’s. ‘Is that meant to be some kind of homophobic joke?’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Now it was my turn to sound insulted. ‘Homophobic? Don’t you know that you’re speaking to one of the nation’s gay icons? I’ve been voted pin-up of the year by the Pink Paper for seven out of the last ten years.’

‘Don’t give me a laugh. It’s Judy we all love. Not you. I mean, who’d lust after you?’

And with that, he’d climbed back into his monster truck and drove off without even leaving me his insurance details. Since then, I’ve gone cold whenever his name is mentioned. Or, indeed, whenever I’ve heard a Barbary monkey scream.

These memories were rattling around in my mind last night, until finally, around eight o’clock, I decided that life would be better if I didn’t hold on to my grudges. I rang my agent who soon came back with the number to Alan’s mobile phone.

‘Hello Alan,’ I said, trying to sound upbeat. ‘It’s me. Richard Madeley.’

‘Oh, pin up of the year,’ he said, knowing, no doubt, that since our little argument, I’d lost my pin-up of the year status to the moustached Chuckle Brother. ‘What you ringing me at eight o’clock on a Friday for?’

‘I’m ringing to say I’m sorry about that incident last year and to invite you on the show.’

‘Sorry dear, I don’t do afternoons.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘If it’s alright with you,’ he said, ‘I prefer to keep my brand of slightly indecent humour for the evening audiences which will appreciate such things.’

‘This was meant to be an attempt at reconciliation,’ I said.

‘Reconciliation!’ he squealed. ‘l’m sure it is for you but those of use whose stars are rising do not need help from those whose stars are fading.’

‘Now you just listen,’ I began but at that moment Judy and Stephen walked in the room. ‘Listen,’ I hissed. ‘You’ll know what that’s like sooner than you think... I’ve got two words for you, mate. Julian Clary. Julian Clary!’

And with that, I hung up the phone.

‘Did I hear Julian Clary’s name being used as a not-too idle threat?’ asked Stephen, taking his seat next to Judy as they prepared to watch Gardener’s World.

‘Alan Carr doesn’t want to be on the show,’ I said to Judy.

‘Well at least you did the friendly thing and asked.’

‘I did that,’ I said, darkly. ‘I most certainly did that.’

Friday, 25 January 2008

The Dull Vista

I’ve spent the morning sitting nursing a laptop through its first experience of Windows Vista. I’m not technically minded so it has been a frustrating few hours trying to understand ‘drivers’ and ‘authentication’. The annoying thing is that it’s my own fault. Before I sent it back for repair, I applied a scorched earth policy to the laptop. I deleted all my work files, software, and personal details in case the laptop didn’t come back. You probably smile ruefully at my foolishness but you’re not a celebrity. I didn’t want my emails and unfinished novels doing the rounds on internet gossip boards. Only now, a week after it arrived back from repair, do I see that I probably went a bit over the top in deleting things.

All of this means that I’m behind on my work. It’s also Friday and for the last couple of days I’ve dipping below the enthusiasm horizon. We’re chatting to Monty Don this afternoon, which is never a prospect sure to fill me with much excitement. He’s a good enough bloke but he’ll be going on about all the exotic places he’s been.

I might write something longer for later on. I might not. I’m in one of my occasional moods when I need inspiration, encouragement, or a slight whiff of something that tells me that all my efforts aren’t futile…

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Bunion

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…’

‘Yes?’

‘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.’

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Strange Case of the Greater Lobed Winkle Picker

Look up the name ‘Richard Bartholomew Madeley’ in Who’s Who and you’ll notice that, in their great wisdom, the editors have added the word ‘sharp’ after my list of distinguishing characteristics. It’s there for a reason, less to do with the fact that I’m a pretty natty dresser than the renown of my vastly superior mind. Very few things escape my notice. Such as when Judy waddled past me this morning making the sound of a duck.

Straight away I thought that here was something a touch unusual. Normally when I appear around ten thirty, Judy welcomes me with some chirpy comment about my choice of multi-hued shirt sure to strobe for the cameras. There may be small talk about on the morning’s big news events or gossip she’s heard while chatting through the back fence with Mrs. Ronnie Corbett. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a rare morning when she waddles past me, and doing so while making the sound of a duck has never been part of our morning routine.

Sharp though he undoubtedly is, Madeley has not won Elle Magazine’s ‘Top Husband’ award for five years running without good cause. There was no way I was going to question my lady wife’s behaviour. One of the first things you learn when marrying strong minded, intelligent women is never to question their actions. What might look like ‘A’ list Channel 4 talent acting like a duck could well be a yogic meditation technique for giving up butter pastries. It’s why, conscientious if not slightly bemused, I followed Judy as she made a circuit of the living room, walked through into the dining room, and followed a path through the house that ended by the swimming pool. Only then did I intervene. I became concerned that she was about to throw herself in a dive for freshwater mullet so I grabbed her by the shoulders and marched her back into the dining room.

‘Come on Judy,’ I said giving her a mild shake as I sat her on a chair. ‘What’s wrong girl? Talk to Madeley. Tell him what’s wrong.’

She stared at me, glassy eyed. I’d never seen her like that. Well, perhaps once when we were interviewing Les Dennis but, quite frankly, that’s because he can’t go five minutes without mentioning his love of Blackpool.

‘Is it something I’ve done or said?’ I asked as Judy failed to respond. ‘Have I forgotten an anniversary? It’s not your birthday? It’s your birthday, isn’t it? I knew that… And you know that I’ve left your present at the studio...’

‘Quack,’ replied Judy. It clearly wasn’t her birthday.

Confused, I sat myself on the next dining chair and held her hand as I began to consider what could have caused such strange behaviour in a normally well adjusted woman in her early forties. That’s when the neurons controlling my raging paranoid gave both barrels to my frontal lobe.

‘Beadle’, I muttered darkly and I was straight down onto my hands and knees as I began to search for hidden cameras and microphones.

Judy and I have had a long standing agreement that we’d only invite Jeremy Beadle into our home if he were destitute and the cold winds of a frozen Hell were making it hard for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to find their way to Armageddon. However, I did wonder if the end of the Channel 4 contract had encouraged my darling wife to do something rash. TV talent reduced to duck-form would be precisely the sort of thing that a practical joker would find funny. That’s why I promised myself that I would soon share my own joke with Beadle, swinging a length of lead piping at his kneecaps. Unfortunately, a five minute search proved that there were no cameras and no Beadle. When I got to the front door, there wasn’t even sign of either one of his kneecaps parked in a van and wearing a fake perm and sunglasses and ready to pounce

Forlorn and still confused, I walked back to the dining room.

Judy had disappeared again.

I caught her by the swimming pool. This time she was preparing to wade; flapping her wings and giving full throat to a duck call. I had to forcibly drag her back into the dining room and got a wing around the ear for my trouble.

‘Now isn’t that better?’ I asked her a few minutes later as I stood up and examined the neat way I’d knotted my belt around the arm of the chair and Judy’s wrist. It would prevent Judy’s unseasonable migration while I went and hunted down some help.

A few dozen steps and a landing or two later led me to the sound of Wagner breaking down the door to the spare bedroom. I didn’t bother knocking.

‘Stephen,’ I said bursting in on Fry who was lying on his bed and waving his good arm to the music. ‘I need your help. It’s Judy. She seems to think that she’s a duck.’

The Great Man put aside his pipe which he’d been using as a baton and eased himself to his feet before he turned off the iPod connected to a pair of 2500W speakers.

‘Show me where she is,’ he said, his voice as rigid with concern as his arm with thick with plaster. ‘A duck you say? That doesn’t sound like Judy at all.’

Judy was still sitting glassy eyed in the dining room when I returned.

‘How long has the poor woman been like this?’ asked Stephen, kneeling by her side. He did what all medical professionals do when faced with a woman in a trance: he waved his hand before her eyes and began to make slight ‘whooping’ noises.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘She walked past me in the hall and said “quack”. It’s been more of the same since then…’

‘Think carefully, Dick. Did she make any other signs that would indicate that she thought herself a duck and not a goose, a swan, or some other migratory water fowl?’

‘I really can’t say,’ I said. ‘Should I ring Bill Oddie? He might be able to communicate with her.’

Stephen sat back. ‘I think you should,’ he said, now sounding just as bemused as I by the mystery.

The ping of Bill’s bicycle bell eased our worries a few minutes later. The situation had calmed somewhat after we’d untied Judy and helped her into the living room. There, we’d placed her on a chair beside the sky blue curtains. That seemed to relax her and she’d begun to make guttural sounds in a low voice as she pecked at the green spots on the curtain. Leaving Stephen to look after her, I went to greet Bill at the front door.

‘A very odd thing,’ said Bill as he stepped into the hall. ‘I was locking my bike to your drainpipe when I head the unmistakable cry of the Greater Lobed Winkle Picker.’

‘And what’s odd about that?’ I asked.

A noise like a deflating crisp packet emerged from his lips. ‘They’re migratory! They shouldn’t be back from North Africa until early May.’

That’s when I did the sums and produced 4 from a nifty combination of 2s. In other words, I walked him into the living room and introduced him to the only Greater Lobed Winkle Picker not to be sporting a winter tan.

‘How long’s she been like this?’ asked Bill as he took a seat by her side.

‘Perhaps an hour. Stephen thinks you might be able to communicate with her.’

He laughed as he adjusted his glasses. He then bent down and checked Judy’s ankles.

‘My dear man,’ said Stephen. ‘What on earth do you think you are doing?’

‘Checking to see if she’d been ringed,’ explained Bill. ‘First page of the RSPB guide to wild birds: always check to see if they’ve been ringed…’

I was speechless.

‘I fear that she’s beyond Bill’s help,’ said Stephen, looking at me gravely. ‘I believe that our only hope of solving this mystery is if we now retrace Judy’s steps.’

‘She was in the hall when I first saw her,’ I said, hoping that might mean something.

‘Then to the hall we must go.’

This time I left Judy in the care of Bill, who had begun his attempts to communicate by making throaty clucks of his own. Stephen and I began to search the other rooms leading to the hall.

‘Ah ha!’ said Stephen, a few minutes later. He was kneeling on the kitchen floor and was retrieving a small CD player that had been lying beneath the kitchen table with a pair of headphones still attached. ‘The plot thickens!’ He handed the player to me and I ejected the disk which I was surprised to find had no label.

‘What CD could do that to a woman?’ mused Stephen as he took it from me and began to turn it over in his hands.

‘I don’t know. Perhaps James Blunt. I’ve always said that he could cause serious brain trauma.’

‘Oh, the dear woman,’ muttered Stephen as he examined the CD in an angled light. ‘I believe this isn’t James Blunt at all. In fact, I think she has been the victim of a terrible practical joke. If I’m not mistaken, this CD has exactly the same arrangement of pits as an unlicensed audio disc that I thought had been destroyed many years ago.’

‘You can see that just by looking at it?’ I asked.

‘Can’t you?’

I didn’t want to argue eyesight. ‘So what does it mean?’

‘It means, my dear Richard, that your wife has been hypnotized.’

‘That’s not possible!’ I scoffed.

He held out the CD player. ‘If you doubt me, return the disc from whence it came and put on the headphones.’

No Madeley has ever let a challenge go unmet. I did exactly as Stephen told me and he pressed the play button.

Even now, it’s hard to remember what happened. I recollect soothing music and a voice I thought I could recognise. Then my eyes felt heavy as I began to imagine myself swimming on a pond, the cool water lapping at my belly and the fish dipping beneath my webbed toes. And then I was falling. At this point I believe Stephen slapped me across the face. I wouldn’t have minded except he used his arm that was in plaster.

I picked myself up from the other side of the room.

‘That didn’t go as planned,’ he said as he came to my side. ‘But at least you didn’t go under.’

‘Under?’ I repeated, as I straightened my jaw. ‘What kind of magic was that?’

‘That,’ said Stephen, removing the CD, ‘is the work of Dr. Paul McKenna, Ph,D.

‘Not the man world famous for being a quick and successful litigant in many trials involving people making slanderous remarks against his trade of hypnotist and his professional qualifications?’

‘The very same. You should take great care when mentioning Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D.’s name. Even the wildest example of hastily written satire found on the internet might cause Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D to sue.’

‘But what does this mean for Judy?’

He smiled and placed his hand on my shoulder. ‘Fret not, Dick. I can explain all. You see, these recordings were made in the 1980s at the height of stage hypnotism. They were party favourites among a certain media set. I attended many parties where the fabled Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. tapes were played to unsuspecting victims. They were outlawed in the 1990s and Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. has rightly condemned their use. Many claim that these tapes weren’t even recorded by Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D. but some other man called Paul McKenna. Others just say that this is a story put out by sad, tired old men who fear prosecution by the King of Litigation himself.’

‘The King of Litigation? You mean Dr. Paul McKenna Ph.D.?’

‘The very same…’

‘And what kind of men would spread rumours like that?’ I asked.

‘Sad men,’ said Stephen. ‘The sort of men who sit at their computers late at night and Google their own name.’

‘But what of Judy? Can we stop her from thinking she a duck.’

‘Of course,’ promised Stephen. ‘I can deprogramme her now that I know the cause for her behaviour.’

We returned to the living room where we found Bill flushing. ‘I think I’ve done it,’ he said. ‘I’ve managed to communicate with Judy.’

‘Wonderful,’ I said, patting him on his back. ‘And what did she say?’

He blushed a deeper shade of Oddie. ‘Well, it might have made the mating call of the male Greater Lobed Winker Picker. I don’t think she was interested.’

Not long after, the sound of Bill’s bicycle bell was heard pinging down the drive as he legs peddled furiously away with a warning in his ear about chatting up a man's wife. Stephen, meanwhile, began his hour long vigil with Judy, slowly whispering to her, until finally, just before noon, her eyes cleared and she looked between the two of us.

‘Richard,’ she said with a human blink. ‘I hope you don’t think you’re wearing that shirt on the show today. You know it will strobe.’

‘Good morning, Judy,’ I said and gave her a kiss on her cheek. ‘I’ll go and change.’

‘You better,’ she said. ‘Quack.’

I looked at Stephen.

He shrugged. ‘Nobody will notice,’ he promised.

Tune in at five to see if that’s true.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Stephen Fry Reviews The Harrison Tweed P7200 Magnetic Flies

Bless you and your little pumping hearts for trying, but I beg you to trouble me no more with manatee related gifts. I can assure you that the manatee novelty does not last. A man has only so much room in his life for stuffed manatees, manatee towels, tea cosies, or, indeed, t-shirts on manatee related themes. The Post Office have informed me that they’ll impose a manatee tax on deliveries to Fry Towers should the flow of this manatee merchandise not abate. So, please, my dear sweet and sometimes insufferable friends: no more. Send your manatees elsewhere. Anywhere but send them not to me.

Now I have stated my position on my manatee problem, I would like to take this opportunity to also appeal for calm on another issue. My arm has indeed been cracked asunder but take not your worries out on the one man who has promised to set it right. Richard Madeley is a generous man. Much misunderstood by the British public he may be, but in private he is a man blessed with healing fingers and thumbs to match. If my knowledge of obscure authorities in the Catholic church isn’t to fail me, I believe it was Saint Francis de Sales who advised us to make ourselves ‘familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you.’ Well, make myself familiar with angels I have certainly done. His name is Dick and I would happily swear on the infernal suffrage of all tweed-loving Englishmen that I don’t not understand why you should continue to vilify him.

To underline my devotion to the man whose spare room I now call my home, your favourite Uncle Stephen has gone buttock to seat to prepare something for this blog. He creased a brow to consider the many subjects ripe for the Fry treatment. Should he give you a primer on writing lyrics of light English operetta? No, you have that already. A field manual for fixing battle wounds? Perhaps next week. Needlecraft for the crafty? Edible toe fungi? Effluent disposal in the Kenyan National Park? No, no and no. Instead, I looked down and saw the subject of today’s article staring right at me. I would review my flies! But, fear not for Stephen. There are not any old flies. I should say “Strewth” and compound my surprise with one of these “!” if it were so. These flies are made by the good people at Harrison Tweed. They are the Harrison Tweed P7200 Magnetic Flies no less. They are flies to savour. Pat one’s belly and say “Yum!” after me. Yum!

Restricted to the use of my left hand, I decided this week was the right time to upgrade the Fry flies. I am currently putting the P7200 Magnetic Flies through their trials and flying through the trials the new Fry flies most certain are. They come pre-installed on any Harrison Tweed trousers but can be fitted to any pants that have either zip or button fastening. The compact design, weighing less than two grammes, ensures that there is no unsightly sagging about the crotch, while the prototypes’ notorious faults have also been fixed so there’s no need to worry about your groin spontaneously igniting. Nor, indeed, your eyebrows. Shudder.

One armed men among you will find the magnetic flies’ voice operated mechanism a boon. With a simple to set top secret code word, I can have my flies open with no trouble. The only drawback I can see is the number of occasions when my flies have opened when in conversation with a friend. My advice: choose you secret word carefully. Setting it to ‘I like you hat, Mrs. Wogan’ caused your friend Fry no end of embarrassment at a recent drinks party at the BBC.

Many of you will find the WIFI feature of the Harrison flies a deal breaker. Remotely operated via a suitably equipped laptop, you will always have up to the date minute report on the state of your flies while on the move. The position is tracked to the closest millimetre via GPS so you should have peace of mind about the security of your loins. Indeed, remote sensing is not the end of the Harrison flies tricks. We’re talking about remote operation too. The flies can automatically open in a class leading 0.2 seconds. Lordy, lordy, zip! That’s nearly half a second over its competitors and nearly a second faster than on their manual setting.

The flies are compatible with European protocols, though be warned: there may be a few moments of delay while the flies enter into prolonged handshaking with foreign models. Quel surprise! With integrated alarm, the flies are also protected against intrusion. The manufacturers also assure us that recent reports of East European gangs accidentally hacking into the flies have overstated the problem. All flies now come with a flywall installed, to stop those virtual gropists having access to all your important data, and, indeed, fleshy goods.

When friends next ask me to recommend a set of flies to them, I will not hesitate to point a finger to my Harrison P7200 magnetic flies with WIFI functionality and declare them the best on the market. For the man on the move, or the man with only one arm, they are the best magnetic flies on the market. With the next firmware update promising extending functionality including scrotum detection to prevent those painful bathroom snags, the future of the Harrison flies leaves your Uncle Stephen quivering with excitement. Quiver. Quiver. Quiver.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Dreamy Words

Because of the media’s strictly enforced rules against nepotism, I rarely promote the work of those people I consider to be as much family as friends. I’ve made it my lot in life to always sneak in a link to Stephen Fry’s blog, whatever the topic of the day’s post, but that is merely a professional courtesy towards the man who helped save Ronnie Corbett’s golf swing from his shattered walnuts.

However, it’s not nepotism but humility that prevents me from directing your attention to the newest blog on my blogroll. Not only because I had a small hand in the blog’s design but because long-time reader Selena Dreamy says good things about me. Far be it for me to encourage you to make Selena’s blog a regular drive by on your circuit around the neighbourhood.

Fly, my pretties… Fly!

The Holy Underpant War

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’.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

A Sunday Morning Manatee

‘Richard.’

‘Richard.’

‘Richard!’

‘Richard.’

‘Richard?’

‘Richard.’

‘Richard…’

‘Riiichaaard!’

‘Richard.’

‘Richard. Richard.’

‘Richardddddd...’

‘Richard.’

‘Dick?’

There was a sudden rustle of duvet and a figure loomed snapping at my side. ‘For God’s sake, Richard! Why don’t you go and see what he wants?’

‘Isn’t it your turn?’ I asked Judy but she just groaned and rolled onto her side. ‘That’s very unfair,’ I added. ‘You know I went last time.’

‘Oh, no,’ she muttered, heading dreamwards. ‘He’s your friend. You go and see to him.’

I gave breath to a sigh. Lying on my back, my eyes open, I’d found myself in a deeply meditative zone and I didn’t want to move. From there, I had begun to make some sense of my life, my career, and my future. It would take something very special to move me…

‘Richard?’ went the voice again, this time with a note of mild distress.

Unquestioning, I slid out of bed and into my slippers. I winced as I stood up. Judy always forces me to wear pyjamas when we have visitors and I have an unnatural habit of getting the cord of my pyjama bottoms wrapped around my tenderest parts.

I hobbled out to the landing and paused at the door to the spare room before I knocked.

‘Richard?’ said a voice on the other side.

I went on in. The room was in semi darkness; the only light coming from a slight chink in the curtain. It was enough to illuminate the man lying on the extra long bed.

‘Yes, Stephen? What do you want this time?’

Stephen Fry peered out from beneath his sleeping hat, his broken arm held up by makeshift rigging that Judy had strung from the ceiling.

‘I’d like a glass of water,’ he said.

‘Water?’

‘Well, I, Fry, would be shamefaced were I to ask you to make me a hot chocolate made with organic goats milk and with a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on the top.’

I looked to the man to whom I owe so much. ‘And I,’ I replied, ‘would be shamefaced if I didn’t make you a hot chocolate made with organic goats milk and with a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on the top.’

I turned for the door.

‘I hope I didn’t wake you,’ he asked.

‘No, not at all,’ I replied. ‘It’s hard to sleep when your intellectual world has been thrown into chaos...’

‘Chaos’ might have been too strong a word for what I’d experienced earlier in the day. ‘Turmoil’ was a better way of describing it. Working as Stephen’s scribe, I’d been introduced to new ideas and shown the way a gifted imagination works. We’d written an opera together, followed by essays, poems, and an intense hour writing out a future Dork Talk article about the exploits of Mozilla browsers. The whole experience had taught me that writers aren’t born but fashioned from tweed and green cape. Writing isn’t a craft. It’s a gift possessed by a few rare intelligences of true and natural genius raised at the twin comedic teats of Cambridge University and the BBC. It was just the sort of thing to make a lowborn man bitter about his more talented friends.

Some might even say that I’d have been justified were I less tolerant of the Great Man’s peculiar demands. But I am, if I’m anything, a patient acolyte of the Priory of Fry. I can’t forget that I owe him many debts. He’s saved me and my friends on so many occasions, he could spend a month with us and I’d bow to his every request. I was more than happy to wander down to the kitchen and put a pan on the hob for the man who had bravely plucked shattered walnut shell from Ronnie Corbett’s groin.

The heat had barely begun to rise from the milk when the kitchen door opened and Stephen wandered in. He was dressed in a bathrobe with the official Fry crest on the pocket; two hippos cavorting around a quill errant.

‘I thought I’d find you here,’ said Stephen, cradling the heavy cast on his broken arm. ‘I was wondering how you’re getting on with the hot chocolate.’

‘It’s warming nicely,’ I replied.

He walked to the breakfast bar and threw a leg over a stool. His arm made heavy contact with the worktop and he winced slightly.

‘I never did ask you how you broke it?’ I said.

‘Ah, now there is a story to be told in the glow of a hob busy boiling goats milk,’ said Stephen. He smiled and slowly brushed his hair from his eyes. There was a definite whir in some mental mechanism as his mind switched modes from observation and to composition. ‘After I, Fry, Scrabble Champion, left you the other day, I took a plane to Brazil.’

‘Brazil?’

‘Indeed. It was going to be a week long jaunt around the nation that brought us the G string and the maraca. I was there to film a new documentary about the animals of South America. My destination was the city of Tefe on the bank of the River Solimões. It was there that I met the BBC crew and the subject of the first programme. A family of manatee.’

‘Manatee?’

‘Sea cows,’ he explained. ‘A strange creature that is best described as having the athleticism of Christopher Biggins and the personality of Jo Brand. Not the world’s most loveable beast and, in truth, Richard, probably harbouring a desire to exterminate mankind. Think of them as the aquatic version of the North Koreans. Fortunately, like the North Koreans – and, for that matter, Christopher Biggins – they lack the equipment to do us any serious harm. Except, that is, when mankind happens to be called Fry. Ah, Richard. I didn’t see it coming. One moment, I was in a pool of water talking to camera and the next and I’m being mauled by a sea cow. It didn’t even have the decency to say “moo”.’

‘It mauled you?’

‘Slowly but it caught unawares.’

‘I see,’ I said.

‘And that’s how I came to be injured. To avoid serious sea cow mauling, I jumped back and tripped over a submerged log. Fortunately, my landing was cushioned by the female manatee. You might say it was a swings and roundabouts situation. My injury would have been much worse if I hadn’t landed on the creature.’

‘Lucky for you.’

‘But, alas, not for Mrs. Manatee. In saving me, she suffered a mortal wound. A very contradictory beast, the manatee. Some are prone to do great violence and others equally great kindnesses.’

‘Oh, Stephen,’ I said, wiping an honest tear from my eye. ‘Don’t tell me any more. You didn’t warn me this story would end so sadly.’

‘Not as sadly as for the family of little manatees. As the ambulance drove me away, I could hear them crying out for their mama. “Mama. Mama. Mama.” A sad sound, indeed. Their mother crushed by a falling Fry and their father condemned as a Fry mauler. The world can be so cruel.’

I turned around just in time to catch the milk before it boiled over. I quickly poured it into a cup, stirred in the chocolate and shook out a bit of cinnamon.

‘Ah, wonderful,’ said Stephen, taking it from my hands. ‘And you had cinnamon. I’ll sleep well after this.’

I smiled but I doubted if I would sleep at all.

The cries of the baby manatee would keep me awake until dawn.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Have A Break, Stephen Fry Style!

Heavens! Crikes! Shudder and Drool! Throw the word ‘calamity’ full force into a room crowded with ‘disaster’, ‘shock’, ‘outrage’, and ‘catastrophe’ and you might experience a fraction of the concern I had felt by the time I came to button up my fly at ten o’clock this morning.

At first, it began with a touch of mild annoyance when I was awoken by Judy hammering away in the spare bedroom. Groggily, I slipped out of bed and fed my feet to the slippers. Bones cracked, ligaments creaked, but His Madeley’s Slippers Brown and Orthopedic held up well as I set off to see what the old girl was up to.

‘I won’t be long,’ said she from the top of a wobbling stepladder. The curtain rail was hanging down across the windows. ‘As soon as I’ve fixed this, you can help me carry the new bed up the stairs.’

Daylight bankrupted my sleepiness but not my sense. ‘New bed?’ I asked. ‘What new bed?’

Judy wobbled again on the ladder and I thought for a moment she might actually fall through the window. She grabbed the wall just in time. ‘The new extra long bed and mattress I had delivered this morning.’

‘Extra long?’ I too felt a bit unsteady. The world wasn’t making much sense to me. ‘What’s going on Judy? Why do we need an extra bed?’

She turned and looked at me as she slipped her claw hammer into her workbelt. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve not heard the news!’

‘I’ve been asleep and in a fairly deep one at that. I was combing the knots out of Katie Denhem’s hair.’

Judy gave me one of her narrowing stares that warn me against mentioning Katie’s name too often. It’s the reason why I’ve held off including her picture in my bestiary.

‘You claim to be the man’s closest friend yet you haven’t heard the news?’ She gave me the full force of a tut which couldn’t have sounded more dismissive if she’d driven it through my forehead with her hammer. ‘Stephen’s broken his arm.’

That news shocked me into wakefulness. ‘Is he okay? Is he conscious? Did he mention my name?’

‘It’s only a broken arm but I’ve told him that we think it only right that he comes and stays with us for a few days while he recovers.’

Words are an unnecessary luxury when men of action are in their slippers before noon on a Saturday. I rushed to the window and lifted the rail into place. ‘Hammer away, Judy. Hammer like you’ve never hammered before…’

As Judy began to hammer and my arms began to rebel against the weight of the heavy curtain pole, I looked down and out the window and saw the postman walking up the drive. I smiled to him as he approached but he didn’t smile back. I suppose that’s the problem with sleeping in the nude. One quickly discovered the limitations of a pair of slippers when you’re holding up a curtain rail before a low silled bedroom window.

Stephen arrived an hour later when I was dressed, shaved, and buoyed by cornflakes.

‘How bad is it, old boy?’ I asked as I helped him into the hall.

‘Alas,’ said Fry, his arm in sling and plaster. ‘’Tis I, Fry, with the cruellest break of all. It’s my writing hand. I fear that the good people of The Guardian will have to do without Dork Talk for the foreseeable future. And my iPhone has been ringing all morning but I’ve been unable to answer it.’

‘Don’t you worry yourself about that,’ said Judy, fluffing a cushion on the sofa. ‘You come and sit down. You poor thing. And if you need somebody to do your typing for you, I’m sure Richard would only be too happy to help. It might even do him some good and show him that a real writer doesn’t just sit there and make things up off the top of his head.’

‘Indeed,’ said Fry, though I noticed, failing to meet her gaze.

‘I’m happy to do that,’ I said, flopping into my arm chair. ‘You need anything in the meantime? Something to eat? Entertainment? I could ring Oddie and ask him to bring his musical spoons?’

‘No, no,’ smiled Stephen as Judy perched herself next to him. ‘I just want to rest a few moments before we get to work.’

I looked at him. ‘Work? On a Saturday?’

‘I have noticed this in your before, Dick. You have a distinct reluctance to grasp life with both hands and shake it free of every drop of its possibility.’

An odd thing to say when your wrist is encased in plaster. He’d be grasping little in both hands for the foreseeable future. However, Stephen was right. I do complain about not having the time to write, yet in a few weeks I might be burdened with additional duties to make these days feel like protracted holidays.

‘Okay, I’ll help you,’ I said. ‘What do you need?’

He smiled as he used his good hand to retrieve his pipe from a pocket. Judy was soon shoving shag in his bowel and helping him to light it.

‘Bring my laptop in from the car and we’ll begin,’ said Stephen after a couple of mild puffs. ‘I was hoping to finish my libretto for my new opera based around the legend of Grunhilda, the one armed Bavarian bandit and truffle hunter. Wagner left his score unfinished when he began to find it too much for him. Luckily, I have the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber to finish the music and give an extra the polish and layer it with my lyrics.’ He cleared his voice and began to sing in that occasionally fragile voice of his…

‘’Tis I, Grunhilda, speaking to you on my Alpine horn.
Where are you my band of flaxen haired lovelies,
We need to ascent again up yon Matterhorn,
Where grow the finest of Baverian trufflies…’

He gave an almost embarrassed smile as his voice finished echoing through the rooms.

‘Okay…’ I said.

‘Then I’d like us to write a couple of chapters of my new novel, “Bullocks in Tow”, my tale of farming life set against the backdrop of genetic mutations and cattle haulage.’

‘Right…’

‘And we’ll finish by writing a couple of essays on Tamil nationalism and security exploits in Mozilla based browsers. I thought after some dinner, we might spend the rest of the night writing poems and end with a game of Scrabble.’

‘I can see that you’re going to be busy,’ said Judy rising and adjusted her cuffs in a way that evoked just a touch of envy.

‘Indeed I am,’ I smiled, though I didn’t quite know how I should feel. ‘Give me five minutes, Stephen, while I just go and update my blog and I’ll be with you and Grunhilda.’

And now that job is done it’s time for me to learn how to write like the Master and learn the history of Grunhilda and her trufflies.

Saturday's Search Term Bonanza

It’s the weekend and I’ve had little chance to rest, even though I’m worn out after the first week back in the five o’clock slot on Channel 4. I’m rushing to write up the latest bit of gossip regarding Stephen’s accident but, in the meantime, here is something to make you smile: my favourite search terms from the past week's visitors from Google.

People often ask me if I make these up and I swear that they are genuine. As usual, I’ll try to explain/answer them to the best of my ability.


‘Venessa Feltz cleavage’

The old favourite is still going strong. It is a somewhat disturbing fact that this phrase alone accounts for more visitors to this blog than any other. I doubt if Venessa Feltz even knows that her cleavage is this popular.

‘How did the pencil help society when it was invented?’

Well we finally had a single instrument which could be used to both stir our tea and remove troublesome ear wax.

‘Perfect marker beard’

I think small Jimmy Hill style beards are the perfect way to mark the end of your chin. Some men swear by them. With a well trimmed Jimmy Hill beard, you’ll never lost the end of your chin again.

‘Uses for hemorrhoid cream’

Cleaning out an ants nest, smoothing wrinkles, making an Eskimo frown.

‘How to electrocute a squirrel’

It is a known scientific fact that you cannot actually electrocute a squirrel. They have such a high level of salt in their bodies that they are a natural conductor of electricity. Some people say that squirrels might even hold the key to our energy problems.

‘Jeremy Paxman pants’

The details are these: inside leg 38”, waist 41”, and made from the best squashed worsted by Mr. Patel of High Street, Whickham.

‘Water Sport transvestites’

This one confuses the hell out of me. Why anybody would want to see transvestites surfing and wind sailing is a mystery. From a distance, I’d doubt if you’d even know that they’re transvestites. Could they perhaps mean water polo?

‘Prunella Scales topless photo’

Understandable. I’ve always had a slight thing for Mrs. Fawlty.

‘Usherette tray manufacturer’

You can’t beat Peels of Norwich. They make the finest usherette trays.

‘Fart appreciation society’

The mind boggles. Where do they hold their meetings? What do they do at their meetings? And who would want to attend their meetings?

‘The rubber duck appreciation society’

Much more my cup of tea. Quack.

‘Kirsty Wark newsreader marital status’

Married and mean. You don’t want to go there, boyfriend.

‘Richard Madeley funny things he says’

See above and below. I’m here until Easter.

‘Who is Marti Pellow's wife?’

Mrs. Pellow. I’ve met her on many occasions and she’s a lovely woman. Oddly, she has a total aversion to the records of Wet Wet Wet. It marks her out as a connoisseur of good music.

Friday, 18 January 2008

When Beavers Attack

The mystery of Fred Talbot's disappearance deepens.

Judy was hanging out her newly-washed triple-trussed safety brassieres this morning when she saw something grinning at her from the bushes that run alongside the rear patio. Naturally, she gave a scream and fainted there on the spot. When I ran out to see what was wrong, I found our beaver lurking in close proximity to her left leg, a morbid grin fixed across its wet, salacious lips. I saw immediately what had happened. From somewhere, the poor creature had unearthed an object that looked remarkably like a human jawbone. The object had become stuck on the beaver’s oversized teeth and were preventing the beaver from going about its normal business of making a documentary for the BBC down at the lake.

Still feeling a little cautious about how I handle an animal owned by TV license payers, I immediately rang Bill Oddie who jumped on his bicycle and peddled around. Together we managed to lure the beaver back down to the lake where we penned him against the bank for a closer inspection.

‘This isn’t a jawbone,’ squealed a delighted Oddie once he’d prised the grin from the beaver’s mouth. ‘It’s the upper half of a set of dentures.’

‘Dentures?’ I said, reaching for them. ‘And what would a beaver be doing with dentures?’

Oddie looked to the still, dark waters of the lake. ‘And you’re yet to be convinced that Fred Talbot’s not down there?’

‘Impossible,’ I replied and looked at the smile in my hand. Could this really be the same grin that had welcomed in many a warm front and warned of overnight ground frost from a floating map moored to the Albert Dock? There was only one way to find out.

‘We need to get these dentures checked out by an expert orthodontist,’ I said as Bill began to frolic in the mud with the beaver. ‘We need somebody to confirm that these teeth match Fred the Weatherman’s smile.’

There is, of course, only one person we know who has the medical training to make such a identification.

‘I got here as fast a human legs and diesel engine could carry me,’ said Stephen Fry, jogging down to the lake. He was wearing his Oscar Wilde had and favourite green cape, while in his hand he carried a shooting stick with the large handle in the shape of H.G. Well’s naked buttocks. ‘Might I enquire, Dick, why your lady wife is currently lying on the patio?’

‘Ah,’ I said, no doubt blushing a touch. ‘That’s because I completely forgot about her in all the excitement. She fainted when the beaver reared its grinning head.’

‘The same beaver with the teeth you want me to inspect?’

‘The very same,’ I said, handing him the dentures.

‘You are indeed fortunate,’ he said, inspecting the teeth. ‘I spent my last Whit holiday taking all the qualifications required to work as an orthodontist. Do you know I fixed Jade Goody’s underbite last year?’

I gave an involuntary shiver. ‘Working for the enemy, Stephen? That’s not like you.’

‘It’s hard to say no when one has the chance to wire that woman’s mouth shut.’ He turned the teeth over in his hands. ‘These dentures are well worn and have the distinctive bite characteristics of a man who speaks with his mouth full and gets overexcited at moments of even mild stress.’

‘That could easily be Fred,’ I said, remembering many a meal when his enthusiasm for a cloud would get the better of him.

‘I need to compare it with pictures of the man.’

‘I’m sure we have a few of those tucked away,’ I said and gestured up to the house.

On the way back, I got Stephen to help me lift Judy from the cold patio and into the conservatory where she’d be warm as she slept off her shock. I then took Fry and Oddie into my study where I keep the chest containing all my old souvenirs of my days on This Morning.

‘Inconclusive,’ said Fry half an hour later. He sat back and let the magnifying glass fall to his knees. ‘These teeth could easily have belonged to Fred but they could have also belonged to one of a number of men with strong jaws and slightly erratic natures.’ He looked toward Bill who was curled up asleep on the rug. ‘For instance, these teeth could easily have belonged to Bill.’

Bill gave a quite mutter, no doubt dreaming about chasing owls through a semi-deciduous forest.

‘Well that means that mystery only deepens,’ I said as I lay the teeth on my desk next to my unfinished Airfix model of Crown Prince Willem Hendrik.

‘Indeed it does,’ said Stephen. ‘If only you could find the bottom set, we might be able to make a positive match. Until then, there’s little more I can do.’

‘Thanks,’ I replied, patting the Great Man on the knee. ‘Fancy a game of Scrabble while the babes are asleep?’

‘I thought you’d never ask,’ said Stephen as I stepped lightly over my little bearded friend.

‘I’m afraid the excitement of the morning had come too early in the year for him,’ I explained to Stephen as we softly closed the study door on the sleeping Oddie. ‘If he doesn’t get a good four mouths of winter hibernation, he can be so irritable come the spring.’