Pottering about with 'Thought for the Day'

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The reason why "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4's Today programme is going through such turmoil is quite simple. Just before he died, Dennis Potter signed up a deal with the BBC whereby they would agreed to use his posthumous scripts for "Thought for the Day". It meant firing all the regulars and completely clearing the decks, but now everything is sorted out and ready to roll.

The first Dennis Potter "Thought for the Day" went out this morning.

In case you missed it, here is the whole historic text.*

"Thought for the Day": part one of a new radio play by Dennis Potter.

The scene is a radio studio. The Bishop of Rutland is seated before a microphone. He has a bottle of whisky in front of him. He sips from a glass. We hear Fred Astaire singing "Night and Day". It fades away.

Bishop: Mmm. Scotch. Nice. Warms the cockles of your ... cockles of your thingy. Heart. Warms the cockles of your heart.

He takes another slurp.

Bishop: Cockles. Funny word, cockles. Cockles and mussels. Strange place to find cockles, in your heart. Mussels of your heart. Strange ...

Voiceover: Going live in 20 seconds, bishop.

Bishop: What do you mean ? I'm live now, aren't I?

Presenter's voice: And now it's time for "Thought for the Day", which comes today from our Leicester studio, where the Bishop of Rutland is waiting for us. Bishop ?

Bishop: Thank you, James, and good morning everybody. Today I want to say something about hearing voices. You know, we often talk about hearing voices, but how often do we actually hear voices out of the air? I mean actually hear disembodied voices out of thin air? Like St Joan of Arc did ? Well, in my case, quite often. For instance, I am sitting in a radio studio at this very moment and from time to time I hear Fred Astaire singing. Or voices saying, "Going on air in 10 minutes" or "Could you speak a little more clearly, Bishop, without the slurring?" and these voices seem to have no human source at all. I'll give you another example. I was at a party the other day ...

We move to a party scene. Lots of chatter and tinkling and laughter.

Bishop: I was just standing by myself when from nowhere a voice spoke.

Voice: Hi, Bish! What's your poison?

Bishop: How very true, I thought. Drink IS our poison, isn't it? The words "toxic" and "intoxicate" are so very closely allied. And I looked round to see who had said this, and there was a man who introduced himself as a doctor.

Doctor: Hi, Bish. Have you noticed that at every party you go to there's always one person who confesses to being a doctor? And another 10 who don't? Because if you admit at a party that you're a doctor, then someone is bound to start presenting their symptoms to you. So we take it in turns. And I'm the doctor on call at this party.

Bishop: Funny you should say that. I've been hearing voices recently. I have also been slurring my speech a lot. And I've been knocking things over. I wonder if there is any disease which causes all those things, when you haven't been drinking at all.

Doctor: You haven't been drinking at all?

Bishop: Oh, no, I've been drinking a lot. I just need a disease which produces the same symptoms, so I can use it as an alibi.

Doctor: Senile dementia would fit the bill.

Bishop: Senile dementia! Excellent! Thanks, doc!

The scene changes to a rainy street. We hear the Bishop accosting a pair of young girls.

Bishop: Hello, girls. Like to hear my thought for the day ?

First girl: You're pissed!

Second girl: You're disgusting!

Bishop: You may be right. But at least I hear voices, which is more than you do. And I'm not pissed. I've got an illness called ... hold on, I've got it written down somewhere.

Sound of a fall.

First girl: Oh my God, he's collapsed.

Second girl: It happened to my Uncle Jack just like that. One minute he was shoplifting in Woolworth's - that was his job - the next minute he was down with a stroke. They found 40 packets of jelly babies on him. The coroner said it was a miracle.

This extremely confusing episode is being repeated on commercial radio tomorrow. There will be another 149 episodes on Radio 4, all more or less the same.