William Donaldson's Week: I won't take it sitting down

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The Independent Online
IN MY day, which was approximately 18 months ago, television producers who wanted to make prime-time monkeys of the general public only did so after they'd obtained a licence, as it were, from the local police. Now it's the other way round.

Should the Stoke Newington Old Bill suddenly decide to pot a few faces on their patch, they can't carry out a dawn swoop as in the old days; they must respectfully ask Beam and Da Silva - the two heavy-footed plonkers who are currently grassing up all and sundry on behalf of Carlton Television - if they can ride along in the latter's transit van, picking up the bits and pieces after Beam and Da Silva have got their footage in the can.

I discovered this on Monday after the postman and I, who, you may remember, are keen to give Beam and Da Silva a run for their money, were confounded by the new security system at our office and were obliged to call out the Chelsea police.

We'd spent a couple of weeks buffing the place up - furnishing the boardroom with buns and bananas in case Marcus Plantin came to call, putting up bossy 'No Smoking' signs and so forth - and then I noticed there was something missing. We lacked a co- ordinator, though this could soon be remedied by headhunting Jenny Zamit from Mark Chapman's outfit, Aspect. I'd never cared for her, but she's the best co-ordinator in the business, in spite of the fact that she can only do it standing up. Sitting down, she causes all manner of logistical problems.

During the shooting of Root into Europe, Chapman instructed her to have his cameras located at the Embassy in Rome. Pitching up later in his gym shoes, he found himself in a low-lit room in which wax-faced debauchees sat around on cushions, smoking substances through waterpipes and sodomising anything that moved. For once, Chapman lost his rag.

'Not the British Embassy]' he stormed. 'I meant the Embassy Club round the corner. You've been doing it sitting down again.'

Be that as it may, I invited Miss Zamit to call on us at our office, shortly persuading her to switch her business to us from Aspect. 'But you need a new security system,' she said. 'A security system is of the essence. Chapman's was the best.'

'Very sensible,' I said.

'A precaution, I imagine, against smart competitors such as Hat-Trick Productions or Noel Gay sneaking in at night and pinching his developments.'

'In fact,' said Miss Zamit, 'it was a precaution against their pinching his bananas.'

That made even greater sense, and we shortly installed the latest system on the market, which Miss Zamit assured us was as good as Chapman's. It was so good, indeed, that after an office outing to stock up with bananas, it confounded us completely, leaving us standing in the street and with no alternative but to ring up Chelsea police station from a callbox.

To my surprise a detective inspector, two detective sergeants and three uniformed wooden-tops arrived in seconds - later explaining that this rather excessive turnout was a consequence of their having nothing else to do.

'Thanks to the exigencies of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act,' said the detective inspector, 'to say nothing of the scheduling requirements of ITV's new supremo, Marcus Plantin, we are now obliged, if we wish to attend a bust, to ring up Mr Plantin and ask him if he has a slot, thereafter seeking his permission to accompany Beam and Da Silva as observers. What's your racket, then?'

I said that we were in much the same line as Beam and Da Silva, whereupon he became quite excited and asked us if he and his men could attend our next outing as well-

behaved non-participants.

'We're only at the planning stage,' I said.

'That's right,' said the postman. 'We'll offer Plantin the mixture as before, with some crucial differences.'

I didn't like the sound of that. 'Not too crucial,' I said. 'We mustn't confuse him.'

'Point taken,' said the postman, 'but we're talking prime-time slots. We must have a new ingredient. I suggest we combine a bust with a human tragedy - mothers in anguish, say - the whole to be fronted by Cilla Black.'

'I agree,' said Miss Zamit.

'So do I,' the detective inspector said. 'A bust, a mother in anguish and a song from Cilla Black. He'll like that, will Mr Plantin.'

I'd heard enough. The detective inspector had only been in showbusiness for half an hour and already he knew it all. I told them all to lose themselves, and thereafter composed a short proposal which I sent to Plantin's office. To my surprise, he rang me up the next day.

'I liked your proposal,' he said, 'though it was a little long. My people don't like wading through two whole paragraphs. However, I've decided to go with one submitted by the new firm of Zamit & the Postman. They've got Cilla Black.'