Stop this balloon I want to get off

Which four people would form your balloon crew from hell? Which quartet would make you ditch so quickly that Richard Branson would look like Phileas Fogg by comparison? We posed the question on Tuesday and readers responded with all the hunger of publicity-crazed tycoons.

Cabinet ministers had no trouble picking up votes: the Michaels Howard and Heseltine leading the chase, Portillo close behind, Dr Mawhinney trailing. Great names from television and the arts soon followed: Chris Evans, Ruby Wax, Anthea Turner, Paula Yates.

But it's not only bad company that is bad company in a balloon. Too much company is equally unwelcome, hence Nick Laitner's crew comprising Luciano Pavarotti, Cyril Smith, Vanessa Feltz and Nicholas Soames, and Christopher Gardner's: Pavarotti, Smith, Soames and Konishiki, a sumo wrestler. Sarah Pilkington offered horrors that mere humans could not contrive unaided or unmutated: Rod Hull and Emu, Elaine Paige, Mr Blobby and Edward Scissorhands.

In the main, though, it was mental stress you imagined. Geraldine Burke's "ultimate lethal crew" was Ian Paisley, Bernard Manning, Norman Tebbit and David Starkie. Hazel Laitner offered a surrealist's dream involving Le Petomane, Job, Virginia Bottomley and the same Ian Paisley. Carol- Anne Hodgson, with a care for the sensitive of soul, looked to Jo Brand, Gary Bushell, Bernard Manning and Diane Abbott.

Certain namesrecurred with striking frequency. A final tally gave us a top 10. In equal seventh place were Mark Thatcher, Michael Howard, Michael Heseltine and Roger Gale MP. Just above them came Chris Evans, Bernard Manning and Paul Gascoigne. In third place was Baroness Thatcher; in second, Max Clifford. But no one came close to the outright winner: the Rev Ian Paisley MP.

As well as offering a challenge, we promised a prize for the most disturbing crew. Some of the performers on BBC2's Late Review would give anybody pause for thought (except themselves). So too would John Francmanis' "any four contributors to Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today programme". But in the end, we had to admit that a balloonful of Michael Jackson, Anthea Turner, Michael Winner and Teresa Gorman who would be as unfun a place to be as could be imagined. Champagne then to Emma Jardin from Rainham, Kent.

A final thought. Can you live with yourselves for allowing Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Johnson and John Redwood - to name but three - to go free?n

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