Review: What a lark, ascending to fame
Anthony Clavane is the author of Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?, a social history of Jewish involvement in English football, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Football Book Of The Year. His first book, Promised Land, won the 2011 Sports Book Of The Year.
Thursday 12 February 1998
In the future perhaps everyone will be famous for 15 minutes of a docu-soap. But, as Radio Times proudly announces the "next generation" of fly-on-the-walls, and all bright, young, media things dash off to shopping malls, ski slopes and zoos hoping to get a piece of the actuality and discover the next Driving School or Vets, one man has emerged as a true star, a natural-born performer, a legend in his own check-in time.
Step forward Jeremy, from Airport. Until he shot to stardom in a series only pipped from topping the BBC's ratings by EastEnders, he was simply a natural-born baggage-handler, a vaguely irritating official who seemed to enjoy taking money off passengers with overweight luggage. Now he is cuddly, lovable Jeremy from Airport, known to millions of couch potatoes as the laid-back Aeroflot chap who once misplaced the entire string section of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
"Bless 'em" chuckles the human, giggling face of air travel as he opens the door of his semi-detached house to the strains of Vaughan Williams's "Lark Ascending". "That'll be my epitaph: 'The guy who lost an orchestra'. Come in. I was just sitting here imagining the bird going up into the sky."
His own feet, he is quick to point out, remain firmly on the ground. "Let's be honest here. The media build you up, then the next day they pull the rug from under your feet. People are already writing to Points of View complaining about Maureen from Driving School." Ah yes, Maureen from Driving School, his great docu-soap rival. "Bless her," he sighs. "She makes me laugh, she really does." The public backlash against the learner-driver from hell provides a salutary lesson for all would-be fly- on-the-wall TV stars. One minute you are the subject of This Is Your Life, the next you are getting the Anne Robinson wink.
Jeremy sinks into his comfy sofa and muses at the fickleness of fame. Dressed in lime-green grandad shirt, blue jeans and trendy Caterpillar trainers, he comes over as a cross between a tubby Lenin and an even camper Dale Winton. Women of a certain age may ask him to sign their stomachs, and he may get "regularly mobbed on the streets of Ipswich", but "the bubble could so easily burst". Which is why he has taken professional advice and intends to pace himself to avoid burn-out. "Maureen says it could all end tomorrow, so make the most of it. But my agent has told me to look at it more long-term."
An agent may seem an unusual acquisition for a humble Heathrow ground- staff supervisor, but for 29-year-old Jeremy Spake, from the Essex village of Great Bentley, opportunity just keeps on knocking. The darling of daytime TV - today he makes his second appearance on BBC1's quiz All Over the Shop - he has, in the last month, flirted with the "two lovely ladies" of Light Lunch, been grilled by David Aaronovitch for On Air and been approached to do a documentary on ordinary Russian folk. This last project is closest to his heart, for his mother is Russian and he has a cat called Lenin.
"Lenin," he coos. "Ty khochesh ookhodit? (Do you want to go out)?" Does he always converse with his puss in fluent Russian? "Oh yes. We used to have Trotsky, but he disappeared." An icepick through the head? "Oh no. There's been a lot of stealing around here. I have my suspicions. He had a lovely coat on him - bless."
Airport addicts watching him failing to move a walkway close enough to the plane for passengers to disembark, or trawling the bars of Heathrow for AWOL Muscovites, may be surprised to hear of his great interest in Soviet history. However, his professed admiration for Communist dictators is, on reflection, in keeping with his on-camera declaration that passengers should have little devices attached to them so they can be "buzzed in appropriate parts of their bodies".
TV insiders, however, have advised him to stick to light entertainment. His wife, Lorraine, is a bit miffed by the showbiz lifestyle, but he loves schmoozing with celebs, appearing on the front cover of Radio Times and signing autographs at the National Television Awards. He got on famously with "Vanessa and Thingummy", especially when she said that he, rather than Maureen, should have handed out a gong. Not that he's bitchy about Mo. "I've said to her: 'You wanna watch yourself, love. I know lots of little black Ladas with smoked glass and they will run you over.' But I love her dearly, really."
He agrees that there are too many flies and not enough walls, and that the British public will soon be suffering from soapumentary fatigue. "But after a stressful day at work, you come home, sit down and see someone having an even more stressful day. And you take comfort in that. I get thousands of letters from people saying: 'You've brightened up my Thursday evening'. If the country didn't have people who were slightly mad, such as myself or Maureen, it would be a very boring place to live."
Jeremy Spake appears on 'All Over the Shop', today at 9am on BBC1.
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