Hang on a moment . . . what interview is that, Jeremy?

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The Independent Online
THE PHONE rang in the office of Chat Back, the BBC's big arts, news and views show. The phone was always ringing in the office of Chat Back. It was answered by a girl called Emma. It was always being answered by a girl called Emma. But then, there always is a girl called Emma in the office of a show like Chat Back.

'Hi, could you hold on a moment?' Emma said, putting the phone down, not caring whether the person at the other end could actually hold on a moment. She had learnt this at her researcher training session, in fact a five-minute briefing by the outgoing researcher, who had also been called Emma.

'It's an amazing thing,' her predecessor had said, 'but if you ask people to hang on, they always do. Gives you time to adjust your make- up, go to the loo or whatever.'

A minute later, Emma picked up the phone and said: 'Yah?' In that minute she had done nothing. Still, at least she had remembered someone was hanging on. Sometimes she left people hanging on for hours, simply because she had forgotten about them. She would come across the phone on her desk, wonder who had left it off the hook and replace it. Chat Back had a reputation for being hard to contact.

'It's Jeremy Archer,' said a voice. 'I'm ringing back in reply to your message, and the answer is, fine, I'd love to do the interview. Perhaps you could pass that on.'

'Fine,' said Emma. Almost before she had put the phone down she was yelling: 'That was Jeremy Archer, someone asked him to do an interview, he says that's fine.'

Judging from the silence, it was not entirely fine.

'You don't mean Jeffrey Archer, do you?' said the producer.

There was a laugh. It was the kind of office where the mere mention of people like Jeffrey Archer got a laugh. A nasty, cynical, knee- jerk reaction office. Still, with Jeffrey Archer, one can see their point. 'I mean, he's like the Peter Mayle of politics, know what I mean . . ?

'It was definitely Jeremy Archer,' said Emma, 'and he can definitely do the interview, he said.'

'Not Jeremy Hardy?' said someone else.

'No,' said Emma, who had never heard of Jeremy Hardy.

'Well, ring him back,' said the producer, 'and find out what it's all about, what the name of his book is, or what show he's in, or how well he knows Ned Sherrin, or anything, but find something out . . .'

'He didn't give a phone number,' said Emma. 'I assumed someone would know all about it.'

'Never assume anything on this show,' said the producer. 'Always take a number and find out what it's all about. Then, when we know exactly what someone is after, we can safely ignore him.' Laughter. 'But if we don't know what he wants we can't rebuff him, can we?'

The office of Chat Back continued with the job of putting that evening's programme together, but more quietly than usual, in the knowledge that Jeremy Archer was somewhere expecting a call from the office, a call he could never get. They all went for lunch, except for an assistant researcher, Alice. When they got back, Alice said there had been a few calls, including one from Jeremy Archer.

'He wants to know when to turn up for the interview.'

What was the interview about, who the hell was he and did he leave a number, were just a few of the questions fired at poor Alice. Yes, he had left a number. Emma was deputed to ring it.

'Hi, it's Chat Back here, is that Jeremy Archer?'

'No, he's gone out,' said a voice. 'Is that about the interview?'

'Yes, it is,' Emma replied.

'Oh, good, he's looking forward to it,' said the voice. 'He said if you rang, I should take the details from you of when and where.'

'But . . .' said Emma.

Did she but know it, there was no such person as Jeremy Archer or, at least, that was not his name. His real name was Tom Wharne, and he had sent a play to the BBC about a year previously, and had still received no reply. Meanwhile, Tom had seen two BBC plays that bore a distinct resemblance to his script. He was now taking the unusual revenge of making life miserable for BBC producers. At that very moment he was ringing the Kaleidoscope office: 'Hello, Jeremy Archer here, that's fine about the review, I'll be at the theatre at 7.15, thanks again . . .' and ringing off before a sleepy assistant could say anything.

This story was sponsored by the Association of People Who Have Had Stuff Turned Down By The BBC And Seen Remarkably Similar Programmes Go Out Not Long After.

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