(The answer to one of these questions is quite simple. Nobody asked me to do a piece on Peter Cook because a) I never met him at Shrewsbury or worked with him at Private Eye, and b) everyone asked Clive Anderson to write a piece about Peter Cook instead.)
As for the rest, I usually tell inquisitive outsiders that, in fact, I don't write any of my columns myself, and that I use the same pool of unemployed Youth Opportunity workers that Ned Sherrin uses to write his opening jokey monologue for Loose Ends. Iget them during the week and he gets them on Saturday morning ... Unlikely, of course. For a start, Ned Sherrin needs that gang of unemployed gagsters all week in order to work up his monologue, and they would never have time to write for anyone else as
well. They tell me they don't even write the opening monologue for Clive Anderson on Clive Anderson Talks Back and they don't know who does write it, and I have to believe them ... So how does a column like this get written? Well, I'll tell you. On the Humour Internet. Yes, you saw right. On the Humour Internet. This is a very advanced electronic network that links all the columnists and cartoonists of the country, by means of which we can link up every morning and compare notes, to make sure we don't all do the same idea. It also serves as a sort of village shop notice-board, with little announcements and job offers and bargains on show. For instance, yesterday there were lots of little notices saying: "Urgent - need tributes to Peter Cook - will anyone who was at Shrewsbury with him, or with him at Private Eye or, failing all else, has Clive Anderson's number PLEASE get in touch."
Later in the day there was another intriguing notice: "From editor of big daily - we now have four tributes to Peter Cook saying that he was the funniest conversationalist of the 20th century but nobody can remember anything he said - PLEASE HELP - has anyone got any quips?"
But the main function of the Humour Internet is to share ideas on the big news stories. For example, this morning the big news is all about prison escapes and Camilla Parker Bowles getting divorced. So what do we all write about, prison escapes and Camilla Parker Bowles? No, no, anything but. We look round for other things to write about, using prison escapes and Camilla Parker Bowles as the fulcrum.
Here's a little paragraph I did before I woke up this morning.
"The search is still going on for Maurice Saatchi, who recently escaped from the agency which bears his name, in fact, which bears his name not once but twice. Police now think that the name Saatchi and Saatchi is a blind, and that there may be no one ofthat name still hiding inside. They have warned the public: `Do not hire this man! He is is highly creative and may have big outside financial backing!'"
Pathetic, eh? Yes, but you have to start somewhere. I could, for instance, have begun with the impending Parker Bowles divorce, and gone plunging in with: "Yes, it's divorce at last! Tony Blair's solicitors announced today that the long alliance between the Labour Party leader and Clause IV is finally over. `They have been living separate lives for many years,' said the simple statement, `and the time has come to stop living a lie ...'"
I know in my bones that even as I pen those words some smartass cartoonist can cover the same topic in fewer words, with a drawing, in a tenth of the time. In the old days I wouldn't know for sure until the papers actually came out the next day, or that evening, whether someone else had done the same idea, but now on the Humour Internet we can avoid all that. We pool our ideas and share, then agree to do the different topics. It's fairer. It's safer. It's easier. And none of the newspaper editors or proprietors has the faintest idea it's going on.
So today, for instance, I have agreed to do Michael Howard again. Yes, yes, I said. Leave him to me. And yet, as I said it, I was lying. Because into my mind, as I thought about royalty and divorce and mistresses and things, there had come a phrase I couldn't shake off. It was "irritable Parker Bowles Syndrome". And that, I knew, was what I had to write about.
Unfortunately, I haven't left myself any space.
Tomorrow: Michael Shoots Himself in the Foot to Prevent Deportation.