HOW WE MET

SANDI TOKSVIG AND JOHN MCCARTHY The comedian and writer Sandi Toksvig, 37, was born in Denmark. Educated at Cambridge, she began her theatrical career at the Nottingham Playhouse and the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. Her television appearances have included Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Have I Got News For You. She lives in west London. John McCarthy, 38, worked as a wine waiter and an advertising sales rep before joining Worldwide Television News as a journalist in 1986. On his first foreign assignment in Beirut, he was kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists and h eld hosatge for five years. He lives alone in Essex
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SANDI TOKSVIG: Our house was always filled with my brother Nick's disreputable friends, and when I first met John in my late teens, to me he was just another one. We met during the summer holidays in the Seventies at our family house in Reigate; John and I were at university at the time. I liked him immediately because he was funny.You never knew what was going to happen; he was full of wild ideas. I remember the boys once hiring a limousine to go on a pub crawl.

In 1980, Nick and John took pity on me when I was an out-of-work act-ress, and gave me a room in their flat in Clapham for a while. Trying to get those boys to wash up was a battle - they kept sloping off to the pub. John was very easy to live with. He is very relaxed, very easy-going. To me he was part of the family, like another bro-ther. We've never had an argument. There's only one thing about him that annoys me: he is always late.

In 1986, I was working at TVS, doing a show, when I had an urgent phone call from my brother. Nick said: "They've taken Bulbous Bow" - our nickname for John, which came from the Clapham flat-sharing days, after a part of a huge boat on the cover of a shipping magazine in which John was trying to sell ad space. I couldn't believe it. I was stunned. My brother, a journalist for Worldwide Television News, had just been out to Beirut and John had replaced him. It was his first foreign assignment.

John is very precious to the Toksvig family. We campaigned for his release and put on shows to raise the profile. We always believed he would come back; we didn't dare imagine that he might never return.

When I thought about him in jail in Beirut, I tried to remember John living life to the full. I remembered sitting in the back of a cab with him when he offered the driver a hundred quid to go through a red light. I can't now remember if the cabbie did, or if John coughed up. He was foolish with money, and full of life and zest.

When he came home, I didn't see John for a while; he needed time to himself. I will never forget seeing John on the news waving to the crowd as he came out on the steps of the aircraft that brought him back. He waved and then he turned back to assist his father down the steps. That's typical of John.

The first time I saw him after his return was when I tried to arrange an outing for him where he wouldn't be hassled by the paparazzi. It was the first night of my show The Pocket Dream, and I got him a box and arranged for champagne. Afterwards, we met in an Italian restaurant. He looked so handsome.

When the BBC asked me and John to go on a boat voyage around Britain and make a documentary about it, I agreed: I wanted to work with John. We were together for two-and-a-half months (with a film crew plus skipper and first mate), and were very cramp-ed. John and I shared a cabin at the front. I was lashed to the ceiling in the top bunk which was like a luggage rack because I was the only person who could fit in it. John is a gentleman. He didn't take advantage of me. I jumped on him a couple of times - to no avail.

Of course, there were moments when we were both tense. I got to know the signal which indicated when he was best left alone. His baseball cap would slip down almost over his nose and his jacket collar would be pulled up high so that all you could see in the gap was his cigarette. In a bad situation you can choose to moan or make jokes and I'd rather make jokes. John is much more reflective than I am.

On the trip we didn't talk a great deal about his experiences in Beirut, but he did pass on one lesson he had learnt. He said: "The one thing you need to know is that nobody can touch you inside. What is inside belongs to you, no matter what people do to you." That was a very important lesson.

JOHN McCARTHY: Sandi and I met when we were both at university in the mid-Seventies. She was at Cambridge and I was at Hull, reading American Studies with her brother, Nick. During the summer holidays I stayed at the Toksvig family home in Reigate, hanging out, going to the pub and playing occasional rounds of golf with Nick. Nick introduced me to Sandi, she cracked a couple of jokes and then she was off.

That first meeting is a bit of a blur. My early memories of Sandi are of someone who always seemed to be in a hurry. She was spending the vacation doing the lighting for Jesus Christ Superstar. Nick and I tried to persuade her to get us free tickets for the show, but she couldn't; she was too lowly a person then. So we never got to see Sandi's follow-spot technique.

I was rather intimidated by Sandi's reputation for being incredibly clever. She ended up with a first-class honours degree from Cambridge in law and something tremendously clever-sounding. Later, when she started becoming a performer and was professionally acknowledged as witty, she seemed even more intimidating.

We lived together for a while in 1980. I was sharing a flat in Clapham with Nick and my then girlfriend and Sandi rented our spare room. She was between acting jobs, working as a cook at an old people's home, Nick was a journalist with Worldwide Television News, my girlfriend worked for a film production company and I was trying to sell space for various trade magazines. I was a hopeless salesman; luckily it wasn't a commission- only job.

The flat-sharing worked well be-cause we were all working different hours. I can't remember any problems like Sandi hogging the bathroom or anything like that. I think she went off very early in the morning, before the rest of us were up. Having recently spent two-and-a-half months together cooped up in a small boat sailing round the British coast for a television programme, I know her much better now. We are alike in one respect: we are both slow in the mornings. How-ever, she is still the bundle of energy she was when we first met.

Sandi was then, and still is, easy to get along with. She makes me laugh. We are chums and our relationship is that of brother and sister or cousins. When we shared the flat she was our chief cook and I remember she was very proud of her trifles. I was particularly fond of Sandi's trifles. They were like the ones my mother made.

I also remember that Sandi seemed to devote a huge amount of time to zooming up and down the Northcote Road market nearby. She would turn up triumphantly with her latest acquisitions. Once, she brought us a huge bag of chicken wings. Another time she found a marvellous frock coat and persuaded Nick to wear it and me to put on a dinner jacket when we went to visit a friend. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sandi and I were in a circle of friends built around Nick. Our careers took us our separate ways, but we continue to meet up fairly often. I found the Toksvigs a very entertaining family. Sandi and Nick's father, Claus, was a journalist with Danish television and radio and I followed Nick to Worldwide Television News. They are a very funny family. They could all have become professional comedians, not just Sandi.

When I was captured in Beirut, I thought about them all a lot. A couple of messages from Sandi and Nick got through, sending their best wishes and urging me to keep faith. All the messages I received helped a lot and I imagine it must have been difficult to send a note into oblivion, hoping it would reach me.

When I was in prison, my fellow hostage Brian Keenan and I dreamed about learning to sail. For me, it was a mental escape route, so it was a perfect turn of fate to be invited to travel around Britain in a classic sailing vessel with an old friend. The trip came about because somebody at the BBC wanted to do something with Sandi, and also knew me; it was a happy coincidence that we were friends. In reality, the trip proved exhausting; when I was feeling knackered it gave me a boost to have someone cracking the right joke, as Sandi did. Though when we'd come through a frightening gale and been sailing for 24 hours and were leaping around trying to get the boat moored up, and Sandi was still cracking jokes, I did get a bit annoyed. She was very tolerant about sleeping in the top bunk, though.

Sandi is a complete workaholic. She likes to be busy all the time and she likes her plans to be stuck to. She makes me feel guilty. When I speak to her on the phone or we meet for a drink, she always seems to have at least four new projects in hand, which makes me feel incredibly lazy.

Making the film, Sandi taught me a lot about behaving naturally in front of a television camera. She was the first celebrity I knew, and I remember her telling me how strange it felt to be followed round a shop by someone who had recognised her but never said a word. The same thing happened to me after my release from Beirut.

When I first came home in 1991, I kept a very low profile. One of my first outings was to see the opening of Sandi's show, The Pocket Dream. Jill [Morrell] and I went to the gala night, which was great fun. Sandi and I have written a book together about our travels. I enjoy working with her. Everything we do together is fun. !

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