EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: And not a glimpse of Carol Vorderman...

COMEDY: RICHARD WHITELEY PLEASANCE

AND YOU thought Rolf Harris was culty. Sure, there were a goodly number of OAPs in lilac windcheaters and matching rain-hoods here, but they were far outweighed by the highest number of student cult followers this side of a late-night screening of Withnail and I.

The fans packing the 350-seat theatre to the gunwhales weren't disappointed, either. Refreshingly, Whiteley was able to laugh at himself as much as the audience were. The boundaries of the comedy festival are now so blurred that it can easily accommodate a kitsch daytime TV presenter with the capacity to take the mick out of himself.

"After 2,600 episodes of Countdown, I still haven't got a catchphrase," he sighed. "Pathetic, isn't it? `That's all for Part One, see you in Part Two' hasn't really caught on." People in the street now just come up to him and sing the Countdown theme-tune, he lamented. "That's what I'm reduced to now - a clockface and eight notes."

Whiteley's tea-party was enlivened no end by his choice of guests: Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, and Johnny Vegas. It was as if he as saying: "I could never in a million years manage to be hip, but at least my guests are."

Content to let his guests take the limelight, Whiteley makes an effective chat-show presenter (he certainly has the regrettable fashion-sense for the job). I feel another daytime programme coming on.

By the end, the 350 of us were putty in his hands, all quite happy to forget that that we were responsible adults and mimic the Countdown clock as Vegas attempted to make a teapot for Whiteley inside a minute.

After this, no doubt some smart alec journalist will soon be writing that daytime TV is the new rock'n'roll.

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