Books: North Face of Soho — 15. All Day Sunday |
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North Face of Soho — 15. All Day Sunday


Being a solo act was lonely but there was a lot of aggro that it got you out of. It was as a solo act that I joined the line-up of a BBC2 no-budget late-night show called Up Sunday. A few journalists I knew said with an Observer column before lunch and a TV show after dinner I was there all day like the Archbishop of Canterbury, but only media people ever take in the whole of the media: the public never noticed. One of the nice things about the show was that hardly anybody watched it, so it wasn’t really like being on television at all. New Faces, a much bigger show mounted by ATV in Birmingham, had been too much like being on television. I was invited to do the first two of the three pilot programmes and I had a big in-house success as the hard critic telling the pitiless truth to the hopeless aspirants who wanted to be stars. One of the acts I had seen before: he was a bloke who blew up a hot-water bottle until it burst and then sang ‘Mule Train’ while hitting himself on the head with a tin tray. The studio audience, which included the mandatory number of women in knitted hats, appreciated my saying, while he was being carried out, that I hoped the following contestants would be able to match the standard he had set. Laughs along those lines were not difficult to obtain. In the hospitality room afterwards, the ATV executives painted pictures of big things to come, mentioned improbably large sums of money, and promised to introduce me to Noele Gordon, star of Crossroads, an epically tedious soap opera which rated on such a scale that it kept ATV afloat, and thus conferred on Miss Gordon the same status as a queen termite.

I, too, quite liked myself in the hard critic’s role. It consisted mainly of thinking up smart lines during the hapless punter’s number and then delivering them when it was over: an easy gig. But I didn’t like the role itself. If I took the job, I would have endless opportunities to crack wise, but I would also have endless opportunities to look like a witch-finder personally operating the joystick of a ducking stool. I thought the aspirants were touching even when untalented, and if they were talented then they had a better right to hog the screen than the judges. (When the show finally went to air with somebody else sitting in the hanging judge’s seat, Victoria Wood turned up as one of the contestants, won in a walk, and went on to help revolutionize light entertainment so that such a format, though it would never cease to flourish, would also have to live with a general awareness that the real joke figures were the judges.) I also didn’t like a clear suggestion from the second in command of the studio that we, the judges, might like to consider the handsome young male tenor among our slate of contestants as the only possible winner. The handsome young male tenor was contracted to Lew Grade’s agency, and Lew Grade owned the studio. Not that Lew Grade could be accused of a conflict of interest. As he would have been the first to point out, he just liked it when his interests as an impresario, agent, and broadcaster all coincided: no conflict there. In my first year as a TV critic I had received a bottle of champagne from Lew Grade and I sent it back to him without acknowledgment. When I met him after the first New Faces pilot he was ready to forgive my rudeness, although not until after he had mentioned it. I could see that the forgiveness would continue on a large scale if I stuck around. I can’t deny that I had visions of a white Rolls-Royce convertible with a blonde in the passenger seat, like the one driven by the show’s producer, who charmingly referred to the audience as ‘the nellies’, and to the genre of spectacle into which New Faces fell as ‘nelly-vision’. But I was already heading for the door before my departure was accelerated by the promised encounter with Noele Gordon, fresh from recording the latest episode of Crossroads and on her way, apparently, to tea at Sandringham, if not to cocktails with the Shah of Persia. It was clear that the Queen, if she indeed proved to be the target, would be outpointed for grooming and hauteur. Employees of ATV moved just ahead of their greatest star, removing obstacles from her path, waxing the woodwork, and repapering the walls. Burt Lancaster would have found the scene familiar. He and Noele were rather similar personalities, actually, although Burt was perhaps a touch more feminine in his manner: he snarled, but he didn’t bark. Not that Noele didn’t possess a certain glacial beauty, but so does a Norwegian fjord anywhere north of Trondheim between October and early March.

Getting typecast as a heavy who beat up the helpless punters would have been a mistake, and the scale of the publicity would have made my position at the Observer untenable. There was neither typecasting nor publicity to be feared from Up Sunday. That was the whole idea. It was an off-trail variety show run by Will Wyatt, then an up-and-coming producer, and always my pick for the budding executive who would one day run the whole BBC. If only that prediction had come true. As things happened, he went all the way to second spot, which meant that he had the responsibility of carrying out every demented notion the latest bad-choice big-wig had, but never enough power to straighten out the madhouse. But all that lay in the far future. Up Sunday involved only a very small part of the corporation’s resources. Indeed it was put together in Television Centre’s very smallest studio, Presentation B, which was about the size of a squash court. On a single day of rehearsing and taping, the contributors did their various things while watching each other from the control gallery, because there was no space left to stand around in the studio: three cameras left barely enough room for the performer. Such Private Eye stalwarts as John Wells and William Rushton appeared in various personae while they bashed away at the Establishment of which they were transparently vintage products. The veteran journalist James Cameron held in his false teeth with his lips while he irascibly pitched the line that nowadays would be associated with John Pilger or Robert Fisk. It was subversive stuff from all concerned, but it was still all very British. My contribution to the supposedly iconoclastic concept was a series of impersonations, of which I suppose the best was my Henry Kissinger, and the worst my Lord Litchfield. (I could get Kissinger just by changing a few consonants, but to get Litchfield I would have had to change my entire past, repopulating it with pheasants, fallow deer, and Joanna Lumley, with whom Litchfield was at that time friendly: a sufficient motive for revenge.) It didn’t make much difference what I did, because whether on form or off I was hugely outclassed by Viv Stanshall, an alumnus of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band who did stuff that was from another planet. Clad in tie-dyed overalls a couple of sizes too short, wearing pop-eyed joke glasses that proved, on closer examination, to be his actual eyes, Stanshall, I suspected, was the kind of next-century anomaly that Will was really after. Living at his rate, Stanshall could last only so long, and I think that he eventually vanished in a sheet of flame after his breath caught fire while he was meditating in the lotus position, or it could have been when he was meditating in a Lotus sports car: I’m a bit hazy about the details, and so, I think was he. But I learned a lot from watching him. He did a thing where he misinterpreted bits of film. Most of the film was weird, so that he was only making something weird more weird; but it occurred to me that there might be some mileage in misinterpreting ordinary news footage. Over the next twenty-five years I would do a lot of that. Nowadays everybody does it, but I can honestly put my hand up and say that if I didn’t invent the idea, I was the first to steal it, and that I stole it from Viv Stanshall. That was the great thing about Up Sunday. You could stand around and watch the workings of each other’s box of tricks. And finally everyone watched Spike Milligan.

Spike didn’t do the show very often, but he left everybody breathless when he did. As a manic depressive, he came through with the goods only when he was up, but when he was up he was never off, so some of his best stuff happened in rehearsal, and I often moaned aloud if the tape wasn’t running to catch it. (In those days nobody could afford to run the tape all the time.) I remember him pretending to be a hotel reception desk in Scotland, complete with ringing bell. The number got started when he found the bell left over from somebody else’s sketch. By the time it finished he was the whole hotel. In the control gallery we were falling about to the full extent that space permitted. When the tape rolled Will asked him to do the number again but he had forgotten it. That was the way he was. You have to imagine an illuminated manuscript propagating itself at the speed of a ticker tape. You could hear the ideas bumping into each other, blending, rebounding, starting a new comic universe. Though he thought me timid, square, and uptight compared to himself — he was right on all counts — Spike took a shine to me and asked me out to dinner in South Kensington.

His Australian wife told me, on the way into the deeply fashionable restaurant, that Spike was currently on a plane of psychological equilibrium, held there by various carefully matched antidepressant pills. She thought she could promise me a relatively uneventful evening. ‘Just tell him your stories about Australia. He loves that.’ So I did my numbers about the snakes and spiders, and the great man did indeed seem to enjoy himself, effortlessly topping my yarns with his vivid memories of Woy Woy. But he tempered his laughter to the dignified ambience of the restaurant, and when he told stories of his own they were accompanied by only a small range of gesture, even when he was evoking a Messerschmitt 109 that had strafed him in North Africa. (‘Today, that pilot is one of Germany’s leading surrealist comedians.’) He drank water and made no fuss. Only the famous Italian actress, surrounded by her protective retinue at a corner table, needed to be told who he was. Everyone else including the Foreign Secretary knew that a giant was present, and behaving beautifully. It was only during the coffee that the subject of conversation turned to jazz. In answer to his question about who was my favourite trumpeter, I was in the middle of explaining why Bix Beiderbecke’s lyricism moved me whereas Dizzy Gillespie’s virtuosity did not. ‘Finally,’ I said, ‘feeling comes first.’ ‘Yes,’ said Spike intensely, ‘but there must be excitement first and foremost.’ And at that point he reached into a hold-all under the table, produced a trumpet, and began to play an ear-splitting chorus of ‘A Night in Tunisia’. The noise was shattering, and, it gradually emerged, continuous. People looked first worried, then indignant, then desperate. In the corner, the Italian actress clutched her pearls to her throat. Spike’s wife was talking into his ear but I don’t think he could hear a word.

He calmed down after a long while, put the trumpet away, and didn’t mention it again. Not for the first time, I wondered if I was making enough demands on the world. My family would probably have said that I was quite unreasonable enough, but even they would have had to admit that I was responsive to the opinion of others, even cravenly so. It mattered to me how I went over. When it seemed not to matter, it was only because I had made a mistake. Even my poetry is predicated, even at its most hermetic, on pleasing an audience of some kind. I have never been able just to pick a course of action and keep going with it whatever people think. This might be the secret of sanity but I feel it as a loss. My night out with Spike Milligan was a daunting reminder of my fundamental predictability. I began to be depressed about not being quite depressed enough. Melancholy was a useful thing to have, but mania, obviously an even more desirable condition, seemed tantalizingly out of reach. Still, there was obviously latitude available for bad behaviour from anyone who could be relied on to write the words coming out of his mouth while he was looking plausible on screen. What he did off-screen was likely to be forgiven, as long as it didn’t frighten any under-age horses.

I tried out some of that latitude when Up Sunday finally folded and noises were made about giving me a show of my own. Will Wyatt having moved up a notch, the project was deputed to a second team of producers whose judgement I didn’t trust. For one thing, they laughed at anything — always a fatal sign in a comedy producer. Also they had trouble getting organized, and the job of a producer is to organize people with that very characteristic. I had been here before: a bunch of people was assembling on the assumption that I would know where to lead them. How had I let that happen? We spent a lot of time having meetings to discuss when the next meeting would be, rather like the French Resistance cell that counted Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir among its members, and which never had time to do any resisting, because it was too busy having meetings. One of my proposed fellow cast members was the young actress Madeline Smith. Previously I had thought that the word ‘orchidaceous’ had been invented for orchids. Now I realized that it had been invented for Madeline. She was so beautiful that men otherwise ebullient would, after they had seen her, go away, lean against something, and look sad. But she was still an unknown. The show was thought to need a female headliner. Marianne Faithfull was supposed to be the one, but dithering months went by without them being able to get her signed. Eventually I remembered that they had not signed me either. So I walked away. There was no contract. But I was walking away from a verbal agreement, and although Sam Goldwyn’s classic formulation has its validity (‘A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on’), there is such a thing as honour, which I had violated. I felt bad about that, and when Private Eye got the story I was invited to feel even worse. But what really tore me up, after I had learned a lot more about the harsh realities of show business, was how I had helped to waste several precious months of the saintly Madeline’s time. The beautiful young actresses measure their careers against the lifespan of a butterfly, and to keep one of them waiting is the act of a vandal. Eventually the world was saved from yet another underpowered variety show, but I should have been more decisive at the start, and from then on I always tried to be, if only by being more careful to make clear that the word ‘maybe’ meant what it said. I can offer that as a valid general tip: be very careful that your hesitations are not construed by hopeful people as a licence to proceed. Among the clever young performers in the generation after mine, the one who got himself and others into most trouble was the cleverest of them all: but he kept saying ‘yes’ just to make people go away, so they went away to prepare some huge event for which he would fail to show up. Thus his brilliance and his sensitivity were at war, a paradox arising from that deadly characteristic I described earlier, by which one lacks the moral courage to tell people early enough what they don’t want to hear.

Up Sunday didn’t pay big money. No white Rolls-Royce with inbuilt blonde was in prospect. By that time my family was working its way through a succession of small cars that all shared the gift of breaking down on the way to Italy. Since I had no licence, they weren’t my concern and the white Roller wouldn’t have been either, although I suppose I could have sat beside the blonde while she drove it. But the show paid something, and we were now enjoying what it would be hypocritical not to call prosperity. The children were taken on a trip to Australia so that their grandmothers could go crazy about them in the open air. Their mother had already gone crazy on the flight, after they used up their colouring books before the aircraft had reached cruising altitude. In those days there was almost no entertainment available in economy class except to watch the break-dancing displays put on by people who had made the mistake of waiting until they wanted to go to the toilet before they started queuing for it. For those sitting down, there was scarcely room to have thrombosis. It was like the First Fleet in there. After that, it was held more feasible to take vacations less far-flung. Italy being short of the kind of beach life that doesn’t leave children crying because there isn’t enough sand to dig a hole, the choice fell on Biarritz, where our friend Michael Blakemore had a house. Though it rained often, a sunny day on the Côte des Basques could be lyrical, especially towards evening, when the water turned a soft silver to match the sheen of gold dust on the tamarisks that clothed the cliffs. Enviously watching Blakemore — a magnificent surfer — catching the last wave of the day from about half a mile out, I tried to copy his knack of putting aside the insanely complex problems of his professional life while he soaked up the shimmer of the sweet surroundings. I almost relaxed. Among the rocks when the tide was out, I built driftwood houses for the children. Typically I overdid it, so that the results could have been published in Architectural Digest. The point is still sore, so I won’t pursue it. Sufficient to say that when the rain released me from the obligation to lie idle I would sit at my favourite cafe with its instantly memorable Basque name — the Bar du Huahuahu, next to the Café Xerox — and I would start writing a new book. One of the new books I started writing was an autobiography.

The only general idea I had for an autobiography was that it would be the story of someone who hadn’t really done anything yet. There was truth to that. I had such a knack for avoiding the big time that it was starting to look wilful. In New York I wrote an Observer Postcard at the same time as the serial killer Son of Sam was on the loose. As far as I know I never met him, but I had an encounter in the same league for being hard on the nerves. William Shawn of the New Yorker had been reading my stuff and sent a message that he hoped I could spare him some time. I didn’t need telling that he rarely had to make such a formal request. He could safely assume that most people read his thoughts. Since I was staying at the Algonquin, there was no problem about a meeting place. All he had to do was cross the street from his office and occupy his regular table. The intermediary who told me this — I think it was the deputy editor’s deputy assistant secretary’s deputy — told me that Mr Shawn would be waiting for me after he had finished his lunch. Everybody I knew in New York told me that Shawn was so shy and polite that it would be impossible to tell when the meeting was over, so the best thing to do would be to assume, as with royalty, that an exit could not be made too early. Plead a heart attack if necessary, but leave. I was also told by everyone that Shawn would never raise the subject he wanted to talk about, so I should go on raising subjects myself until the one came up that he wanted to pursue. This last bit proved not to be true. Everything else was: he was so quiet and self-effacing that he was hard to detect against the red-plush banquette even though he was wearing a black suit. He was also quite small, so that he tended to disappear behind a salt cellar if you shifted position. He himself never moved. But after we had both quoted to each other our favourite bits from S. J. Perelman, Shawn raised the subject almost straight away. Or rather, he raised two subjects. Could American television be thought of as a fruitful object of criticism? And had I ever thought of coming to write regularly in New York for, say, a weekly magazine? Tentatively but inexorably, the two subjects grew closer together, until finally they were joined by an arc of light whose blinding significance not even I could miss. He was asking me if I would like to become the New Yorker’s TV critic. If I had said yes, my life would have changed right there. But I said no without having to think about it. My wife’s work was in Cambridge and London, my heart was with the old Empire, and America appealed too much to my sweet tooth.

Like the first, this last factor would have been decisive even without the others. In America I was too much at home. As Milos Forman once said, there are only two places in the world where we are truly at home: home, and in America. In Los Angeles, I had only to lie down beside the hotel pool and in half an hour I was dreaming of a screenplay. In Biarritz, a Hollywood producer called David Giler (the first Alien movie was among his credits) turned up to ask me if I would adapt Michael Frayn’s play Clouds into a screenplay for Twentieth Century Fox. Frayn’s play was set in Cuba, but the plot entirely depended, for its wit and point, on Cuba’s being represented theatrically by a few chairs and a table. Giler, a suave and knowledgeable Ivy League type, said quietly that Fox had secured permission for location shooting in the actual Cuba. This coup had removed the play’s raison d’être at a stroke, but I said yes because Giler had Camilla Sparv on his arm. In Downhill Racer her silk, suede, and cashmere appearance had induced in me the terrible suspicion that if America could take over the class and gloss of a Euro beauty like her then it would take over the world. I saw myself in Hollywood, growing young twice as fast as I grew old while I rescued troubled movies with a quick dialogue polish at a million dollars a pop. For a blessing, the Clouds screenplay got no further than the first draft before Sherry Lansing took over the studio and cancelled the project, leaving me with (a) a lot more money than I had ever earned in such a short time, and (b) a lasting realization that the merest taste of that way of life would turn my brains to blancmange. Nor was all the nonsense confined to Los Angeles. New York was different but not different enough. In America, there would still be no way out of the life measured by success. I had, and still have, the instincts of someone born for that life. But I could never lead it any better than it would lead me. America would suck me in so thoroughly there would be nothing left to spit out. By the second week, I would have the third wife and the fourth car. Hear that whining sound? My Gulfstream IV, waiting on the tarmac. See you in Aspen.

Shawn gradually absorbed the evidence that his offer was being turned down. It probably hadn’t happened to him since WWII, but he was a polite man, and ready to whisper of other things. Remembering all the advice I had received as to the desirability of an early exit, I made noises about leaving, but Shawn made noises — very quiet ones, as of a mouse on the rack — about how it would pain him if I deprived him of my company so soon. Thus it went on until the air out there in 44th Street grew dark. For years ahead I went on being astonished by how much time Shawn had lavished on me, but it could have been that Lillian Ross, his great secret love, was out of town for the day and had left him with an afternoon to fill. Or he might have just been hungry for a conversation that didn’t matter. He was a powerful man, but perhaps he had been lonely. Almost everybody you have ever heard of spends a lot of time being that. Finally he left to meet J. D. Salinger or Mary McCarthy or John Updike, or whoever was first on his evening roster. I sat there alone, faced with the long task of finding reasons for what I had done by instinct. Even today the best reason I can think of is that I didn’t want to exchange my life for an illusion that so exactly fitted my desires. Reality was meant to feel like the conquest of the self, not of the world.

So there was my subject: an ordinary life. I was quite aware that I could do things only a few people can do. But I was equally aware that in most aspects of character I scarcely attained the average of the common run: I was a very ordinary person. That was the principle I stuck to while I was writing the first volume of my autobiography, and I have stuck to it ever since, as the project stretches into this fourth volume and now looks like heading towards a fifth. The self-deprecation is still sincerely meant. Back at the beginning, it seemed like the least I could do, so as to start paying back the luck that had given me the means to earn a living when I had no other qualifications. By then, my first agent, Christine, had left the literary business to go into television, a move that I myself still regarded as drastic. My new agent was the equally glamorous Pat Kavanagh, who was quite accustomed to being admired by her male clients. Blessed with a direct manner, she made it clear that she didn’t necessarily salute the idea of my writing an autobiography. ‘You haven’t done anything.’ That, I tried to explain, was the point. The very idea was ridiculous, and therefore automatically comic: as long as I could make my memories of an Australian childhood and adolescence amusing in themselves, the book would stand a chance through being the opposite of serious. She looked dubious but thought that Tom Maschler of Cape might go for it. To Charles Monteith of Faber, he who had gone to sleep during Peregrine Prykke’s Pilgrimage, it would probably sound like the boy from the bush pulling another fast one. As things happened, Monteith wasn’t asked for his opinion. The project got no further than Maschler, who called me in and did a routine by which he proved, with statistics, that publishing such a book would be, for him, the same as throwing money on the fire, but he would do so because occasionally a man has to risk all in the defence of his integrity. The print run would be small, he warned me, and the advance would be small to match. I said with some confidence that Pat Kavanagh would be interested to hear all this. Nothing daunted, Maschler went on to say that I would be risking my future but he would be risking everything. His spiel practically had soundtrack music by Elmer Bernstein. It was him and me against the world. He would clear the path ahead, placate the board of directors, drug the sales representatives. But this unique idea of an autobiography by someone who had done nothing must go through. All I had to do was write the thing. He even offered me a free cup of coffee — a spendthrift gesture he usually made only for John Fowles. But it was his enthusiasm that clinched the deal. Between author and publisher, the relationship works awfully like sex: there is no substitute for being keen on each other. There was also a biscuit.

After a build-up like that I expected that the actual writing process would be agonizing, but it came easily when I could find the time. Some of the time found itself. My television appearances, dotted irregularly through the decade, had attracted the attention of one of the smartest executives at LWT, Barry Cox. If he had been less smart he might have ended up running a TV channel, but like Will Wyatt he was doomed by his sanity and competence to making sense of the chaos created by managerial zanies. I owe him a lot. In fact — it just occurred to me — I owe him a thousand quid. The year before last I bumped into him on Waterloo Bridge and he made the mistake of asking me what I had been up to since my retirement. I told him that my new idea for a multimedia personal web site was going to revolutionize television. No doubt sick of hearing about new concepts that would revolutionize television, he handed over a grand to help stay on the air for a few more days so that it could burn his money along with mine. He’s that kind of man, although, since hardly any men are that kind of man, you might not recognize him when I say so. At the time, I had met very few people like him. The show he was cooking up for LWT at its new citadel on the South Bank was called Saturday Night People. It would feature Russell Harty, Janet Street-Porter, and one other in yet another survey of the week, but this time based on solid journalism. Harty, whose life was to be cut sadly short, was a very sophisticated man with a knack for looking shocked on air. Since Janet Street-Porter specialized in the outrageous, they worked naturally as a double act, although off screen Janet privately, but sometimes very audibly, denounced Harty as a patronizing git. There was something to it: gay men, still fighting their own battles, weren’t yet very attuned to feminism.

But once the cameras were on those two, they were the ideal couple. Harty looked and sounded like an aesthete who knew Alan Bennett quite well, and Janet looked and sounded like a cockney female assassin who had been trained to kill with her voice, which was not only raucous but seemed permanently surprised, like a macaw taking off repeatedly from a steam catapult. They were the two sides of the class war, temporarily seated behind dodgem-shaped desks. The question was about who would occupy the third desk. How would the Third Person fit in? Barry’s rationale for picking me was that I didn’t fit in at all. The more that I played the visiting Aussie with the unexpectedly confident perspective on disintegrating Britain, the better he liked it. All three front-persons were fed with proper news stories. These had been put together by a team of journalists commanded by Peter Hillmore, an able young editor whose career was to be cut short by illness. But he was still going full blast when we started off, so we weren’t short of material. The question was how to comment on it. Each in his or her own way, all three of us worked it out. There was plenty of time because the show was only local in its first season. At first I was the slowest to get going. I took the stories handed to me by Hillmore’s research team, switched the words just enough so that I could read them out, and saved my comment for the end. Things were a bit dull. Then I learned to interlace my commentary all the way through, and things brightened up. Finally, with Barry’s encouragement, I learned to get outdoors, find a suitably grotesque showbiz story, and bring it back for dissection.

By an accident that helped to change the course of my career, I found myself sitting through the first screening of a movie called The Swarm, starring Michael Caine as a scientist saving the world from the killer bees. In the dark of the Leicester Square Odeon, as the killer bees swarmed all over Richard Chamberlain and reduced Olivia de Havilland to a hive, I wrote down Michael Caine’s dialogue in my notebook. ‘Everyone inside! The killer bees are coming!’ (Tip for writing in the dark: write big. The worst you can do is waste paper, whereas if you can’t read what you wrote you will have wasted the whole assignment.) In the next edition of the show I gave an account of the movie’s plot, with a recital of Michael Caine’s best lines. Since everybody can do Michael Caine’s voice — the only question is whether he can — my deficient powers of mimicry were no handicap. As I evoked the splendours of the screenplay — while being careful not to underrate the threat to civilization posed by killer bees — I could feel my story going over with the studio audience. There was a lady in a knitted hat who could take no more. Better than that, there was evidence next day that it had gone over with the audience at home. People came up to me in the street and talked about killer bees. Some of them imitated killer bees. On the other side of the street, people would wave their arms rapidly and do a buzzing thing with their mouths. It was my first experience of starting a craze on TV and I could feel it working exactly the same way as the first drink I ever had. I tried to remember the effect of my last drink, and how the first drink had led to it by an inexorable process. But there seemed just as great a danger of getting addicted to Puritanism. Here, surely, was a harmless pleasure. The following week I spoke again of The Swarm, and found that the audience couldn’t hear enough about it. For the last show of the season, the studio crew, in cahoots with the art department, rigged up a huge killer bee so that it could be lowered to attack me at the appropriate moment. Usually surprises don’t work in studio, but I managed to keep my head as I struggled, summoning my Michael Caine voice to cry: ‘Everyone outside! The killer bees are attacking the franchise!’ Janet hit the bee with a rolled-up script. Or something like that. There is no tape to say any different.

Saturday Night People was off to the races, but it never raced on the network. Lew Grade would not have Russell Harty on the air in the ATV area, which was too large a chunk of the network for the other stations to ignore. If Lew Grade’s prejudice against Harty was based, as seemed likely, on Harty’s homosexuality, then we were out of business until such time as the victim could prove he had gone straight, perhaps by marrying Janet. Otherwise there was nothing we could do about it. Luckily for me, there was nothing LWT could do about it either. The show was too expensive to keep running without a network slot. On the other hand, we had contracts that had to be honoured. So we all got paid top whack for a whole season of not making a television programme for LWT. Since the contract said that we couldn’t make television programmes for anyone else either, there was time to burn.