Coales' Notes: Funny business

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The Independent Culture
TUESDAY A great relief. I have been given a dispensation from the Edinburgh Festival. Never again, I hope. Rory announced that he would be up there hoovering the cabaret circuit. I said I couldn't understand why everyone wanted to be comedians nowadays. He thought it was one of the unrecognised consequences of mass unemployment.

I also had a call from Silver, asking me to meet a friend of his - a Mr Best, who 'makes beds'. I asked, what, in a hotel? He replied: 'No, no. Bed shops. He is Bedmania. You know, 'Bedmania - For People Who Like to Sleep'. This is the top guy. He needs some advice.' Sponsorship questions, I suppose.

THURSDAY I met Mr Best in his club. He got me a drink, and at once launched into a little speech. 'Let me introduce myself. My name is Donald Best - and I make beds.' He seemed to pause for a reaction. I nodded, and then he filled me in some more on his life, concluding: 'So, I have made money. I have a lovely home, and a lovely business, and a lovely wife.' He paused again. I nodded again. 'But is that enough?'

I asked, did he now find himself in a position where he wanted to put something back? He said: 'Hold on there, hold on.' He then mentioned that his company had made some training films, 'in which I myself have personally participated. So my personality is already fairly well- known on the conference circuit.'

And now, he said, he came to the point. 'Just compare me, if you will, to the great comedians of our time. I'm talking about the true greats: Cleese. Atkinson. Rhys Jones. Enfield. The guys at the top.' He said he'd made a study of their careers and he had noticed something. 'They start off in comedy, right? Then they do some commercials. Then they move on to the industrial training films. And finally - well, it's pure business, isn't it? They've got their own companies, they're businessmen.'

I agreed it did seem to go that way. He went on: 'But something has occurred to me, Mr Coales. Why not the other way round? If it goes one way, then why not the other?' I didn't think I quite followed him. He replied: 'Well, very simple. Start at the top - and reverse the process.'

My heart was beginning to sink. I said, did I gather then that he himself wanted to be a comedian?

He went on: 'Oh, this surely is the point. And clearly, my next step towards the funny-bone of the great British public is advertising. And we do have a campaign for our beds lined up, featuring prominently myself. So really everything is in place.'

I laughed. I said, did he seriously imagine that, simply through appearing in an advertisment, he would be mistaken for a comedian?

He answered: 'Well, if I may say so, I think that impression would be inescapable. I mean, think about it. What else could I be? And people are going to start asking: 'Who is this guy? Who is this very, very funny man?' Next stop, Have I Got News for You?

I was becoming eager to close this discussion. I said, so, ultimately, did he see himself ending up as a medical student at Cambridge University, perhaps?

He thought for a moment, and came back with: 'Oh, excellent, excellent. D'you mind if I use that? Yes. And I suppose at this rate, I'll end up as a medical student at Cambridge University] Very good. I must say, at the beginning I got the impression you had no sense of humour whatsoever. So, do you write yourself? Because I do need a writer.'

He became confidential. 'The thing is, I'm jumping the gun a tiny bit here. I've hired a venue up at Edinburgh this year. Only for two weeks, very low key. But maybe if we could just do a quick run through my script together. . . '

I told him that, very sadly, his first impression was absolutely correct. I did have no sense of humour whatsoever. All my friends said so. I could be of little help. But I added that, if it was any consolation to him, I was someone who liked to sleep.