William Donaldson Week: To Ibiza, and no Miss Lumley

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The Independent Online
THE PEOPLE at Radio 4 don't seem to have got a grip on programme-making in the least. Their Andrew Johnston rang me on Monday and asked me if I'd like to do a show.

That was OK. What with El Independo and the thing for the corpse at the BBC I'm flat to the boards right now, but by the time I'd done a proposal - later boiling it down to one sentence so that it was intelligible to the producer, the tea lady and the tea lady's cat - and once the possible participation of Joanna Lumley (alternatively, of Clive Anderson) had been discussed, it would be August 1996.

'I'll do a proposal,' I said. 'Read it if you have a moment and let me have it back by Christmas.'

'That won't be necessary,' said Mr Johnston. 'I've had an idea myself.'

That was a shock. If broadcasters are now having ideas, what will become of independent producers, chaps whose trousers are correct, likewise their haircuts, and who, because they exude a Matre D' or salon manager's air of competence are rightly judged by broadcasters to be good at making programmes?

'We'd better have a meeting,' I said.

'Why?' he said.

I'd got one here. 'So that we can discuss it,' I said.

'We can discuss it now,' he said.

Feeling a little faint, I told him to hang on while I poured myself a glass of water. I've got a hoaxer here, I thought, and I resolved therefore to put a spanner in the works, to skip approximately 47 meetings and to play the Joanna Lumley card. (To give you an idea of how disorientating that would be, I need only say that my people at Tiger Aspect, the corpse at the BBC and I have already had meetings and none of us has judged it the moment yet to produce the Joanna Lumley ploy.)

'About Joanna Lumley,' I said.

'What about her?'

'Shouldn't she be in it?'

'I don't see why. If you'd let me tell you my idea . . .'

Too late. I'd already hung up, which was a little reckless, you may be thinking, so let me explain myself. If you or I were broadcasters we'd hire people who were cleverer than us, engage good writers, pay them a lot of money and flat-hand anyone full in the face who mentioned Joanna Lumley or who suggested that the script should be read by the producer's chef and the producer's chef's teenage niece. And, in no time, British television (described recently in my hearing as the worst in the developed world outside Zimbabwe) would be turning out stuff almost as good as Cheers, Frasier and NYPD Blue - which isn't what's wanted in the least. What's wanted is last year's duff ideas again - Joanna Lumley, the silly ass cook who drinks too much and Clive Anderson on a train.

No, this Mr Johnston from Radio 4 was a joker all right, so I was a little surprised when, two minutes later, he rang again.

'I gather,' he said, 'from your published works that you . . .'

I'd hung up again already. No serious broadcaster would ever admit to a writer that he'd come across his work, or, if he did,

only with some oafish, would-be humorous reference to the fact that he'd found it in a car-boot sale but had not as yet got round to reading it. He was persistent, this Mr Johnston from Radio 4, however, and he rang again immediately.

'I gather from your published works,' he said, 'that having enjoyed the Sixties the first time round, you decided in 1988 to do them again on your own.'

'It seemed like a good idea,' I said.

'Since you couldn't by now walk from the waist in the King's Road and stick one finger in the air, you hired a flint-eyed dancing girl - later your baby - and did the Sixties again in Ibiza Town. Here they're too courteous, of course, to say 'Clear off, you're too fat and your trousers all too obviously come from Peter Jones'.'

'That's right,' I said.

'Having got on one - an E, to be precise - you had a religious experience, deciding that no materialistic interpretation of existence could account for your baby's nobility of character and exquisite beauty and that Dummett's argument for God was therefore irrefutable.

'Since your baby was then contracted to give a religious experience to a Chevrolet salesman in Orlando, you put your watch on to Florida time and returned to London, where, wishing to purify yourself, you told your wife of your witty infidelities. Later, you were on the street.'

'Entirely so,' I said.

'It might be fun to take you back to Ibiza,' he said.

Apart from a short break in Nevis with Frankie Fraser, his lovely Marilyn, the Princess of Wales and Classy Cressida, I was more or less free in 1995.

''When?' I said.

'Tomorrow,' he said.

You could have knocked me down with a stageweight.

'You've done this sort of thing before, have you?' I said.

'Frequently,' he said.

Never mind. I'll report on this jaunt next week, and sanity was then restored by a phone call from one of my people at Tiger Aspect.

'Good news,' he said. 'The corpse at the BBC likes Alexei Sayle but has decided that Joanna Lumley would be even better.'

That's all right, then.