William Donaldson's Week: Auntie takes a morbid interest

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The Independent Online
THE Press Complaints Commission, which, you may remember, now edits me in place of Mr Alway, is in dispute with itself over something written here two weeks ago.

I said - or meant to say - that 'whereas my aunt, Dame Mary Donaldson CBE JP, has reached the age when she doesn't give a stuff, I'm still constrained by middle England decencies and have an idea being considered by a corpse at the BBC.'

A killer sub at the PCC changed this to: 'I'm still constrained by middle England decencies and this is why I have a corpse at the BBC considering my latest idea' - which, of course, is the precise opposite of what I meant, suggesting that I chose to have a corpse at the BBC.

Several readers complained to the PCC and, if it finds against itself, the PCC will relinquish its grip on my affairs and Mr Alway will be back in the driving seat (not that that will get him very far, since, cornered in the bathroom as I am by Reena the alsatian, he'll be unable to reach me on the telephone).

Meanwhile, and apropos the corpse at the BBC, I've had an idea that will make me even richer than I am already. In future, I'll charge a small fee for any meetings I attend. Meetings are everything in this business (I refer to the world of TV developments) and an experienced producer can tell immediately how much an idea (or concept, as we call them) is worth in terms of buns and bottled water.

Root Into Europe, for instance, may not have been any good but it was clearly a 276 meetings concept spread over three years, and I was fortunate indeed that it was produced by Tiger Aspect Television, whose staff are very good at meetings, being stylishly dressed and very clean.

'We'll have a quick shower,' Mark Chapman used to say, 'and then we'll have a production meeting' - though I never did discover why.

Be that as it may, I recently had what I took to be a mere two, or, at the most, three meetings concept, though - due to the double doses of Zimovane I'm taking - I can't remember what it was. I do remember, however, that I decided to bypass Tiger Aspect on this occasion and to offer it instead to my friend Geoff Atkinson, who has just set up his own production company in Berwick Street.

First, though, he had to pass the meetings test. I therefore visited him at his offices, which I was disappointed to discover were entirely unfurnished. That was no good. You can't have a decent meeting without good furniture, and the cloakrooms, while adequate, were noticeably inferior to those at Tiger Aspect, whose gents has just been voted superior to the celebrated bog at the Savoy Hotel's River Room.

Atkinson then suggested that we have lunch, compounded this mistake (unlike publishers, television producers might do breakfast, never lunch) by inviting along the immensely gifted director David Mallett, who, like me, went to Winchester.

Atkinson should have known that you can't have a sensible meeting with two Wykehamists, who will simply reminisce about their homosexual pasts, noting that so-and-so, a doe-eyed tart who, in a mood of mortification and like an 18th-century French adulteress, had once shaved his head as clean as a billiard ball, was now a High Court judge, living, if the latest Old Wykehamist Roll was to be believed, in Up someone, Hampshire. Not that Mallett had a homosexual past, preferring (which struck me as weird) to attend lessons with two falcons on his wrist, which he was entitled to do by some medieval statute.

At this point, I decided, after all, to take the idea (which, due to Zimovane, has slipped my memory) to Tiger Aspect, which doesn't employ Wykehamists and whose cloakrooms are the best in town. Paul Sommers, my favourite there, ruled my idea (whatever it was) a cracker and said he'd run it past the BBC. A week later, he rang to say that the BBC was most excited and that I should attend a meeting with them the following Wednesday afternoon.

Paul Sommers is a brilliant director; as brilliant, perhaps - though this is a large claim - as Mark Chapman, but he turns out not to be so good at meetings. He arrived at Television Centre on a motorbike, thereafter wearing his crash-helmet during the negotiations.

'I've forgotten my idea,' I said. 'It's the Zimovane, you see. Can you by any chance remember it?'

'Yes,' said Sommers.

'Thank God,' I said. 'Should you remove your crash-helmet, do you think?'

'No,' he said.

At which point the corpse was carried in in a fireman's lift and placed in a surgical chair.

'Have you read our proposal?' asked Sommers.

The corpse was given a jolt from a hand-cranked generator.

'No,' it said.

That was to our advantage, I thought, since a producer who has read a proposal sometimes offers his opinion for all the world as if it was of any interest. Sommers, however, wasn't pleased.

'In that case we'll be off,' he said. 'Come along, Button.'

That's the bad news. The good news is that the alsatian no longer has me cornered. I gave the brute the whole packet of Zimovane, whereupon it went down like an ox in an abattoir - allowing me to invoice the BBC. 'To attending meeting with a corpse at Television Centre . . . pounds 250 plus VAT.'