Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Comedy Memory From the Past...

Good King Hal in September 2005 working for the BBC at Trafalgar Square and wondering where all the cameras have gone. This man got kissed by Cherie Lunghi you know.

I was on national radio today. I was. But if you had sneezed loudly you would probably have missed it. I was driving over to Chard in Somerset whilst listening to Radio 5 Live, and Victoria Derbyshire was doing an item about the "mid-life crisis" and had you done anything a bit strange at or about your late 30's early 40's. I texted the show that I had quit my job at the age of 37 and had become a full time professional Henry VIII instead and had been doing it ever since. The BBC phoned back immediately - would I like to go on air and be interviewed by Victoria? Does the Pope have a balcony? So at 20 to midday I was called back again and told I would be on air shortly. At three minutes to twelve, Victoria finally came to me, asked me one question, listened to my answer and went off on something else. I was on air for a total of about 20 seconds. A little anonymous BBC voice then said "thanks Mike" and I was cut off. As I sat in my car muttering a few choice oaths, it suddenly reminded me of a previous encounter with the BBC back in 2005 when I was asked to appear on the "Rolf on Art" TV show from Trafalgar Square. Back in those days I wasn't doing a blog, but I wrote up my experiences of the day as an email to send to a friend, and I was so happy with what I wrote I kept it. And as that nice Jennie Towan lady in Australia keeps telling all her friends how funny my blog is I thought I had better try and prove it. So for the first time, with a few names changed to protect the innocent, is my full write up of my experiences of working for the BBC back in 2005. Let me know if you enjoy it!
ROLF ON ART – The Chilling Truth

I had been asked by the BBC to take part in a programme called “Rolf on Art – The Big Event” where everyone’s favourite antipodean wobble board wrangler would be re-creating a long lost portrait of Henry VIIIth by Hans Holbein as a massive 10 metre high collection of canvasses by separate artists. I arrived at Trafalgar Square at about 9.15am, thrown from a speeding car being driven by my father (God bless him). The only thing I knew was that I had to be at the Trafalgar Hilton Hotel for about 9.30-ish. I had been informed by my BBC contact that it was “the opposite end of the square from Canada House”. I, and my Henry costume in its inordinately heavy case, trundled across a rapidly filling Trafalgar Square away from Canada House. Not a sign of a Hilton Hotel. Asked a man who was sweeping a paving stone with all the zeal and gusto of a bereaved sloth on mogadons where my hotel was and he informed me it was “on the uvva side”. So I went to the uvva side and there it was.

As I was being ushered inside by a large security guard and Anna (My BBC person), I suddenly realised I had a large grinning lummox with me. To my horror he turned out to be another Henry. 6’5” and built like a brick shithouse, he had a beard but no other discernible likeness to Henry the VIIIth. He also had all the personality of a sunken trawler. The two Henrys were brought inside and whisked upstairs in a flash lift to the BBC nerve centre, which consisted of a “green room” with platefuls of biscuits and muffins, bottles of mineral water, Coca Cola and 7up, and constantly brewing tea and coffee. We had to wait as the other Henry (another one?) was already getting changed in the solitary dressing room available. The door to this room suddenly opened and John Culshaw from “Dead Ringers” walked in, said “hello”, grabbed a cup of coffee and a muffin and disappeared again. That’s the sort of thing you can do when you’re famous I suppose.

Finally the other Henry had finished and was brought in to meet us. His name was Bob; he was from “Lancasheeeer” and was about 107 years old. Henry Lummox and I were ushered into the changing room and asked whether we minded sharing. I’d show him mine if he showed me his. (Henry costume that is of course). I was in my costume in my customary 10 minutes, but Lummox was struggling a little. I went back into the green room where Bob and his ugly wife were sitting.
“’Ere!” Shouts Bob, in that gratingly annoying Lancashire drawl. “You got yer codpiece on oopside down!” I automatically looked down, but all was in fine working order. “Made him luke! Didn’t I? Eh? HUR HUR HUR!” Chortled Bob. What a fun chap he was going to be. How I hoped that any suicide attack on Trafalgar Square that day would get him. Finally all Henrys were assembled and ready for action. We had to go down to the foyer of the hotel and await a final briefing from the Producer. We went downstairs and waited and waited. We waited sitting down and we waited standing up, which is pretty much the same only higher. After several more waits we were informed by another BBC person that he was not available. What he was going to brief us on, God alone knows, as far as I knew all we had to do was walk around and look Tudor. If a cameraman shouted “OI! COME HERE!” we would respond.

Once out in the square I was informed by one of the production assistants that Rolf Harris would be doing a filming section shortly in a tent nearby and could I encourage some kids to go and join him. Now normally wearing tights in Trafalgar Square and encouraging small children into tents with elderly Australians is the kind of behaviour to get you on the sex offenders register – but now I was being encouraged into that sort of thing by the BBC. So I started wandering round doing my usual Henry nonsense – booming out to kids and parents alike. But wherever I went, the Lummox kept following me. It was like he was scared to go off by himself. Now I could see his costume in the daylight, no wonder he was a little ashamed. It looked like he had simply got drunk and fallen into his grandmother’s wardrobe. Added to which, his hat (bright orange) was starting to leak colour and run down his forehead making him look like a slowly melting sorbet.

Eventually the BBC producer caught up with us. Bob from “Lancasheeeer” was offered a young and impressionable BBC researcher dressed up as Anne Boleyn to follow him around. The Lummox was told he would be taken down to the Embankment with a film crew to meet Claire Sweeney as she stepped off a Tudor barge with some more canvasses for the giant portrait. And me? Well…they would think of something. Eventually I was asked to go into a tent where a mixture of celebs and ordinary Joe’s were painting frantically at various canvasses. I was asked by the camera operator to wander round and interview various artists. First I got shoved in front of a woman doing a collage painting of various brown lumpy things. I started talking to her on camera and it began to dawn on me that I knew her from somewhere. I finally twigged that it was Maggie Philbin, late of Tomorrow’s World and Keith Chegwin’s bedroom. Nice person. Next up was some kids and then Bill Oddie. As soon as I approached, the hirsute Goodie began hollering and screaming about how awful Henry the VIIIth was making him do his canvas of the carpet. This is a tactic he obviously uses with most members of the public and it probably usually works as they would feel a mixture of terror and annoyance and so therefore clam up. Not me. I gave as good as I got, until after one particularly saucy gag about Anne of Cleves and an upright Dyson stumped the shortarsed twitcher into silence and brought guffaws from the crew. He shook my hand and everyone seemed happy. “That’ll be used” I thought. HA! Then I had to interview Sarah Greene late of Blue Peter and have a quick gawp at (wait for it) Cherie Lunghi (ARGH! QUICK! NURSE! THE SCREENS!) before being dragged over to shout at the children again.

For the next few hours I plodded around Trafalgar Square being photographed endlessly by people from countries including Libya, USA, Poland, Portugal, Israel, Spain, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, India, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, and even the odd one or two from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. After meeting all these people I have decided to move to the Ukraine. They may have dodgy nuclear reactors that occasionally drop a cog or two, but by God the women are stunning. Until that is, they reach 40 and turn into an unfortunate cross between a turnip and a tractor.

Lunch was pleasant as I could sit quietly in the air conditioned luxury of the Hilton restaurant next to Rolf Harris and his wife, before being yanked back to my feet and cattle prodded back to the Square and my life as a photographic study. The orchestra had turned up on the big stage by now and were scraping their way through various mood music moments and a seemingly endless repetition of “I’m Henry the 8th I am”, to the extent that grown men would have chewed their own arms off rather than have to hear it again. Millions more photos of me grinning into a million different cameras, which will no doubt horrify and bore relatives in countries around the world for years to come, are taken. Rolf Harris then bounded on to the stage and the entire programme was run through as a rehearsal. Wow.

Suddenly the heavens opened and a downpour of near biblical proportions threatened the entire day. Trying desperately to stop my expensive costume getting soaked I dived headlong into one of the tents full of celebs as a tiny little BBC person tried to hold me back. It was like watching a meerkat try and stop a wildebeest. And there was Cherie Lunghi again. (ARGH! MORE COLD COMPRESSES NURSE!). By now though my feet were like two plates of well chopped steak and I had almost had enough for the day – and it was still an hour before the show went “live” at 5.45pm. Anna, my dear little BBC helper found me and near carried me back to the hospitality tent next to Nelson’s Column. We sat on a bench together drinking free BBC tea and complained about sore feet. Cherie Lunghi walked in so I immediately dropped to the floor and began showing her how many press ups I could do. After just one and lots of screaming I gave up. Suddenly we were commanded back into the Square and told we were about to go “live”. And we did.

Well, if you saw the programme you know what happened next. Lots of pre-filmed bits of Bob from Lancasheeeer, a load of Lummox on the bus with Claire Sweeney, looking about as much like Henry VIIIth as Mother Theresa did, and two seconds of footage of me shouting at some terrified looking children. Of the Bill Oddie and Maggie Philbin interviews – nuffink! More of the Lummox speaking like a broken “speak your weight” machine to Claire Sweeney, a big hoo-har of putting the painting together, Rolf leading a rousing chorus of “I’m Henry the 8th I Am” and that was it. Just as I was contemplating suicide, I was approached by two photographers, one from the Evening Standard and one from Associated Press. Would I be interested in doing some shots on the stage in front of the finished portrait? As long as I could keep my tights on I was all theirs. So, happy in the knowledge that I was at least getting one over on the Lummox and Bob from Lancasheeeer, I happily grimaced and gurned my way through about 30 shots with the press. GREAT! I WOULD get national exposure from this day if it killed me!

Just as I was about to leave the stage I heard a call.
“Oi, Henry! OI!” I looked across. There was a man of about 60, smothered in tattoos and wearing an F.C.U.K shirt and leaning heavily against the security crash barrier.
“Yes?” I answered. As I moved across the stage to get closer to him, I could smell the booze. Even though he was at least 12 feet from me and behind loads of metal barriers you could almost taste the alcohol fumes from him. He had obviously had a hard day.
“Is that the best painting Rolf could come up wiv, den?” He spittled, pointing at the massive picture behind me.
“Er…yes, what’s wrong with it?”
“Well he’s painted one shoe white and the other one green.” I looked round. True, the shoes were of a slightly different hue, but then they had been painted by separate artists on separate canvasses. “All he’s done is made it look like Henry has pissed on one shoe. What are you gonna do about that then?” He demanded, and then laughed as though he had just said the wittiest bon motte since Oscar Wilde’s days. He was a big bloke, but he was behind several tons of crash barriers and BBC security staff. So I went for it.
“Are you a professional comedian by any chance?” I enquired sweetly.
“Yeah, I am as it goes.” He lied.
“You’ll f****** starve then.” He started shouting at me, but I was tired and already on my way out through the “celebs” exit.

Of course you can’t get back to the hotel dressed as Henry without something occurring and of course I was set upon by hundreds more tourists. I finally got to the door of the hotel when I was hauled back by a group of elderly reptilian looking American ladies. I had to pose in the middle of the scrum and look happy. My smile must have appeared cracked. I had been on my feet for nearly 11 hours now.
“Your smile looks a little forced Henry!” Shouted the dozy, face-lifted, vacuous-brained harridan with the camera. They all cackled like senile chickens.
“That’s because it is!” I said and hitched the smile up further.

Inside the hotel there was pounding dance music coming from the after show party in the bar. But there was Cherie Lunghi! ARGH! I had to say something. What? “I liked your hair in Excalibur?” “Do you really drink Kenco coffee?” Er… I walked up to her and she curtsied elegantly.
“My Lord” she said. Of course, I was still dressed as a mock Tudor pillock. I bowed in return. Now to say something devastating.
“Er… You’re beautiful” I said. That was the best I could come up with??? She smiled, kissed my cheek and chalked me up as a basket case.

I changed back in the dressing room and staggered down to the bar with the costume in its suitcase. I had a drink with Anna, Bob from Lancasheeeer, his wife and the Lummox, who for some reason didn’t want to change out of his vile orange outfit. It was all free from the BBC – gallons of red and white wine, so I swallowed my pride, and then a lot of the red wine. I had phoned my father and he and my wife were on their way to get me. One over paid BBC twit o/d’s on the booze and ends up losing his deposit over a table, before being hauled out by leviathan-like bouncers who escort him off the premises. I go to leave. There is Rolf again. I have a nice long chat with him. He is such a genuinely nice guy. What you see on TV is what you get. Instantly likable and unforgettable. Then there is John Culshaw again. I have a long chat with him. Another lovely bloke, remarkably modest about all that he does. Then there is Cherie again. Oh heck, I’ll have another bash. I introduce myself again, just in case she cannot see that this enormous ginger monster swaying in front of her is the same enormous ginger monster in the Tudor robes about an hour previously. She is delightful, says how wonderful my costume is and gives me yet another peck on the cheek. I retire to pour a soda siphon down my trousers to extinguish the flames. I go outside and an extremely drunk Bill Oddie is trying to dial a lift from his mobile phone and constantly dropping it on the pavement. I shake his hand and we have another chat. Suddenly a loud mouth walks past.
“Don’t talk to him about the Goodies, he gets angry” shouts the loud mouth. Bill offers him some advice about spatial positioning and procreation. I chip in with:
“I wasn’t going to mention the Goodies. I was going to mention the ‘Saturday Banana’.” This was a kids TV programme Bill did back in the 70’s.
“Oh God…” He sighs. “I’d forgotten that.”
“It was good” I insist “You had good bands on it, like XTC.” He smiles, nods a drunken nostalgic nod, drops his mobile for the 15th time, shakes my hand and off I go into the London night. By the time the car comes for me, I am nearly asleep sitting on my suitcase in Northumberland Avenue. I shall never look at it the same way again on a Monopoly board.

I bought all the national newspapers the following day, AND the Evening Standard. I wasn’t in any of them. I think the phrase rhymes with “row locks”.
There - all finished. Hope you liked it!


Cyberkim said...

You wait ages for a Henry the Eighth, and then...

(It sounds like a hell of a day)

Mike Farley said...

Oh boy, it was a day and a half to say the least. And to have gone through all that and then only appearing on the screen for a total of about 5 seconds was deflating to say the least. Well, at least I am probably still owed another 10 seconds of fame, if Andy Warhol is to be believed!