Regular readers will know that I once had a career in stand-up comedy (see Blogs of the 11th & 18th May) and that I spent some months playing clubs up north billed as ‘Ted Irwin – The Irritating Git from Down South". It was during a week when I was third on the bill at the Accrington Odd Fellows & Job Seekers Club when I got a call from a researcher on the Michael Parkinson Show. Apparently Jimmy Tarbuck had pulled out at very short notice and she was desperate for someone to fill the gap that very night. Now I hear you saying to yourself “Surely the Parkinson Show could find someone more impressive than a comic who was third on the bill at the Accrington Odd Fellows & Job Seekers Club”. Apparently not and though I say it myself I had gained some local notoriety as a comedian whose sole purpose in life was to insult anyone born north of Watford whilst being pelted with rubbish by a hostile and drunk audience and I had attracted a lot of media interest in Manchester where the Parkinson show was recorded in those days. Needless to say I jumped at chance and as the show was recorded early evening it didn’t interfere with my club engagement.
The researcher Fiona met me at the studio mid-afternoon and we went through background details until Parky himself became available and he and I mapped out how things would go. It was agreed that since I was a relative unknown I would do a snippet of the act in my full rig of ankle length quilted riveters coat and orange cycle helmet, before sitting down for the chat bit.
Being the new boy in town I was on first (Meryl Streep and Noel Edmonds were my fellow guests) and then as now the entrance onto the Parkinson set was at the top of a curving staircase. I was on the point of vomiting from nerves and was by no means reassured by seeing Audrey, my mistress, Harry her husband and my boss with the rest of my cabaret co-workers in the audience, when I got a “3-2-1 Go” and a gentle shove from a floor manager and I tottered down the stairs.
Now before I go any further I will answer the question that has popped up in all your minds. “What is behind the entrance at the top of the Parkinson staircase?” Presumably you, like me, have always thought that there would be a lavishly appointed hospitality suite with agents, promoters, hustlers, high class hookers, recreational drugs and young men with metal briefcases full of money. Every so often one of these young men would open his case and say “Look what a lot of money I have in my briefcase” only to be put down by another young buck opening his case to reveal even more money. But no, the backstage area resembles nothing so much as a ‘Goods Inwards’ in a typical Slough industrial unit. The hospitality suite and dressing rooms are contained in two rather squalid portacabins and the only catering on site is a Turkish burger van on the far side of the car park. Parky spends most of his time, when not on set, playing cards with his chauffeur in the back of his car. Even more intriguing is the fact that the staircase just goes up to a temporary platform accessed by a rather steep ladder from offstage. Lounging around at the bottom of this ladder are two shaven headed Serbs dressed in combat trousers and rather soiled vests whose sole purpose in life is to assist any guests that might have trouble getting up the ladder. Apparently they really earned their money when Whoopi Goldberg was on the show.
I was on and I launched into my standard patter and as I did so the studio audience dutifully started rather feebly to chuck the odds and ends that the studio staff had provided, nothing more lethal than screwed up paper or soft fruit. Luckily my party had managed to smuggle in some bottles, glass ashtrays and a decent sized bag of King Edwards. In no time at all shards of glass were flying round the studio like shrapnel and Parky was ducking and diving down behind his chair. My routine ground to a standstill in very pleasing uproar and there was a lengthy pause while the studio staff swept up the debris and Parky picked all the shreds of potato out of his hair (Kevin Keegan style in those days). Then we sat down and I explained to the world at large how after a long, expensive and privileged education I had ended up standing on stage in a long coat and cycling helmet while the punters threw lethal objects at me. It was dull and predictable but would have done my career no harm at all had it not been terminated soon after. Then it was Noel followed by Meryl, afterwards we adjourned to the portacabins for a bottle of light ale and kebabs, which Meryl gamely fetched from the burger van. I thought Noel was a bit sniffy about the whole thing and sulked in the corner muttering that they always had Chicken in the Basket on Multi-Coloured Swapshop. Meryl and I got on famously, so famously that a few months later we had an incognito ‘weekend’ together in a B&B in Solihull. It wasn’t bad at all, en suite but with hard loo paper, nylon sheets and loud parrot in the hall. To be honest I thought that Meryl was a bit noisy too and I’m sure the landlady wonders to this day why her parrot was squawking “Aahfrika! Aahfrika!” on the morning that we left.