Can't stand charidee events normally. They generally feature a group of artists who hate each other's guts pretending that they are the best of friends united in a common concern to save dolphins, squirrels, fight Aids or plant trees. Many of the participants have turned up only because they've got a new record/book/movie/handbag collection to promote. We, the mugs in the audience who've coughed up £50 a pop to sit through this Quality Street assortment of drivel (with the odd choccie truffle of delight), will be urged to "put our hands together" and sing along to "Imagine", led by Fab Macca or Jools Holland, as if our lives will be immeasurably enriched by the experience. At some point in the evening Chrissie Hynde will sing a vegetarian medley and Tom Jones will be wheeled out to go through his paces one last time before he joins Delilah in the afterlife.
Up close these days Mr Jones looks as frightening as Anne Robinson in her new face. He has weirdly prominent cheekbones, a terracotta Shredded Wheat frizz on his head and a curiously immobile glazed expression. I got stuck with him at a party in a gay nightclub last year and found myself so disconcerted that I started waffling on about congestion charges and parking problems.
But the worst thing about charity events is their sheer worthiness. It's not enough to have a captive audience who've paid through the nose to support your cause; you've got to ram tedious information about it down their throats at every opportunity. But this approach could be a thing of the past. Last week I enjoyed one of the most triumphantly tasteless nights ever at the Royal Albert Hall. And it was all in aid of charidee, in this case, the very deserving Teenage Cancer Trust. Unpromisingly billed as the "cream of British Comedy" and compèred by Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, jokes about wheelchairs, blow jobs, cripples and Aids came thick and fast. Ricky Gervais hit exactly the right note when he whinged about charity work, claiming it was "a wasted evening" he was only doing for expenses, "and so I came by helicopter". Even better was his unprintable routine about Stephen Hawking being "lazy".
Even the audience seemed temporarily stunned by what they were witnessing. When Matt Lucas and David Walliams did their brilliant routine from Little Britain in which Walliams plays a well-meaning but hopeless carer and Lucas the ungrateful, curmudgeonly, fake cripple, the place went crazy. I turned round and saw two people in wheelchairs laughing hysterically. As the evening progressed I realised just how brilliant this group of comics is - no jokes about shagging the girlfriend or anal sex, those standby elements beloved of yesterday's men like David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. Rich Hall, as hopeless country and western singer Otis Lee Crenshaw, went even further, moaning that wearing an Aids red ribbon, "didn't guarantee any protection".
Alan Partridge was the compère from hell, cynical and sneering from start to finish. Thank God that television hasn't sucked the life out of this lot - and they are inventive and brave enough to come up with genuinely tough material that only works live. By the way, there were five nights raising money for the trust. Tom Jones appeared on Friday.
My night of Shane
The next night, I fought off jet-lag to present BBC1's live political programme This Week. There was much excitement over Beverley Hughes's resignation earlier in the day. Regular pundit Diane Abbott seemed to find it very hard to speak to me either before or after the programme was on air, but I did write in this column that she should resign for letting down her constituents in Hackney by sending her son to private school. Her own lack of ministerial office did not, of course, stop her from shoving the knife between Ms Hughes's shoulder blades. The idea of sisterhood is a myth, in Westminster at least. But the evening really started to morph into the one I'd attended the night before when the producer announced that our star guest would be Shane MacGowan. The great man and legendary drinker would be arriving straight from (surprise, surprise) a charity appearance at the Royal Albert Hall to give us his thoughts on Ireland's decision to ban smoking in public places. I never thought I would write this, but I am now for ever indebted to Mr Michael "Polly" Portillo.
Shane arrived late, wearing a calico maternity smock and stained trousers, clutching a pint glass of what looked like brown milk, and a cigarette. The floor manager was too frightened to tell him smoking was banned and cowered in the corner of the room. When I asked Shane the big question, he looked blankly in the other direction, and made a strangulated moaning, followed by a couple of grunting noises. None the wiser, I brightly tried to decode these jungle utterings. "So, you're upset Shane?" More silence and the odd "ooarrgh"-type word emerged from the sofa. Polly, sensing disaster, sprang into action, explain-ing patiently to me that Shane obviously thought such legislation would never get off the starting blocks in countries like Spain. Hoorah! At least now the chat was kick-started and we could occasionally defer to Shane for a grunt or two. Even the Ice Maiden Ms Abbott thawed slightly. Then, those words every presenter loves to hear at moments like this, "Ten seconds to wind-up", chimed in my earpiece.
Afterwards I had my picture taken with Shane and so did Michael, who seemed to have quite a long conversation with the legendary boozer - but in what language I cannot be sure. Those weeks being filmed as a single mum have clearly brought out a caring nurturing side of Polly I hadn't realised was there. If you missed this TV disaster, don't worry. It's bound to end up repeated on one of those Best Blunders of the Year compilations.
Michael Grade, the new chairman of the BBC, used to be my boss at London Weekend Television, and was brilliant at sticking up for controversial programmes he'd never watched. But he is Mr Showbiz, a man whose personal tastes are from an earlier era. His time as boss of Channel 4 is now deemed to be "innovative", when the person who really commissioned ground-breaking stuff for the new channel was Jeremy Isaacs, its first director of programmes. Michael is obsessed with sport and ratings and is an ebullient character who will be good for staff morale, but he is part of a boys' club in the media that includes Michael Green and Alan Yentob. I hope now that the new DG is either the current director of television, Jana Bennett, or Mark Thompson, head of Channel 4, both people who have made really high-quality, innovative factual programmes in their time. This is what the BBC needs to foster and grow, not more football or game shows.Reuse content