A suitable job for, you know, old whatsit

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The Independent Online

The function of the chairman of governors of the BBC is threefold. One, to do what the Government secretly wants him to. Two, to do what John Birt secretly wants him to. Three, to resign when required to."

The function of the chairman of governors of the BBC is threefold. One, to do what the Government secretly wants him to. Two, to do what John Birt secretly wants him to. Three, to resign when required to."

There was a murmur of laughter at these words, from the hundred or so of us who had gathered in the same room to compete for the selfsame post of chairman of governors.

"No, but seriously," said the BBC spokesman. "I am here today to brief you on what is expected of each candidate. However, it is only right that I should impart this in the way in which all vital information is usually spread in the BBC, and that is, in hurried conversations in lifts when nobody is eavesdropping. So if I could have the first candidate please, in alphabetical order..."

The rest of us watched, bemused, as the spokesman vanished into the lift with Martin Amis.

"I can't imagine that the spokesman will get a word in edgeways," said a famous British novelist, whose name I had better not mention.

"If it's alphabetical, it might be me next," said a man in a white suit whom I recognised as Martin Bell.

"Why on earth would you want to be chairman of the BBC, Mr Bell?" I said.

"It gives me a heaven-sent chance to get out of politics," he said.

"I wouldn't have thought that being chairman of the BBC is non-political," said John Simpson. "It's more like being a government mole. Except, a government mole right at the very top of the organisation! Clever."

"What you need as chairman is not a mole but someone who has been outside the organisation all his life," said a voice behind us. "Away in New York, for instance."

We turned round. To our amazement, it was Alistair Cooke.

"Do not look amazed, gentlemen," he smiled. "You thought I had retired? Not yet, not yet. I am here because I have calculated that if I become chairman of the BBC, I can then exert some pressure to get my Letter From America reinstated!"

For a moment nobody said anything, then Angus Deayton leant forward and pulled the so-called Alistair Cooke's mask off. It was Rory Bremner!

"You had us all fooled," said Deayton. "We thought you were over there, on the far side of the room, masquerading as Michael Barrymore. But if that's not you, that must be the real Michael Barrymore. What on earth is he doing here?"

"Looking for work," said Bremner. "Aren't we all?"

"Not if you're Prince Charles," I said, pointing to an approaching figure. "What's he doing here?"

"I'll ask him," said Bremner. "Excuse me, Sir, but what are you doing here?"

"How extraordinary," said the Prince. "I ask people that question the whole time, but nobody has ever put it to me before. How extraordinary. Well, carry on..."

And he drifted on.

"Could be an ideal chairman," said Bremner. "Knows how to ask all the questions and how to answer none of them."

Martin Amis came out of the lift. Michael Barrymore went into it. Germaine Greer passed by.

"Think a woman would make a good chairperson?" said someone.

"What about that woman who started lastminute.com, whose name nobody can ever remember?" said Andrew Motion.

"What about Janet Street-Porter, whose name nobody can ever forget?" said AN Wilson. "After all, she's famous for speaking her mind."

"Actually," said someone else, "what you really need is someone from outside. A tough foreigner who has a track record of taking on hopeless British causes and making them spring back to life. Someone who doesn't give a fig for criticism."

"And who might this paragon be?" asked Clive James. Just then, P-Y Gerbeau walked past.

"Him," they said.

Well, it's not such a bad idea, at that.

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