William Donaldson's Week: Lost adjectives are no joke

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The Independent Online
JUSTIN JUDD, who is hard at work producing a situation comedy for Joan Collins, is being sued by Common and Ball - and not before time, if you ask me. More about that in due course, however.

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to think that Debbie Mason, of Kudos Productions, may not be as clever as she looks. Nor do I say this out of spite, simply because she accused me of having a mind like half a hundredweight of wet concrete when, in an attempt to double-cross Mark Chapman, of Tiger Aspect Television, I offered her the new Root series.

Rather, I've come to this conclusion because she believes, in her innocence, that Geoff Atkinson and I are sitting in her office conscientiously writing skits for various comedy duos under her control, whereas we're using her facilities to churn out Root for Tiger Aspect.

We have to be on our toes, of course. Just as there are no doors on the lavatories at our better public schools (this arrangement allowing prefects to check that there isn't any monkey business taking place inside), so the office layout at Kudos consists of a large central area surrounded by 30 little cubicles, none of which has a door.

Debbie Mason is thus able to be forever on the prowl, checking that in each little cubicle a skit writer in a ginger wig is producing his quota of stuff for Kudos, rather than a six-part drama series for Tiger Aspect. Atkinson and I can't nod off for a moment, of course. I sit on one side of the desk, with my back to where there isn't a door, and he sits on the other side, in front of a computer.

I do the work until we need a joke and then, since I can't do jokes, he takes over - always, and in no time, coming up with a cracker. (Nor do I say this simply to put that treacherous minx Pete the Schnoz's nose out of joint - which I couldn't, even if I wanted to, since I have received another letter from his solicitors, Kingsley Napley & Co, saying that if I so much as mention him here, I'll be in the pokey for contempt of court, or something of the sort. Further - and although I may have said this before - if Pete the Schnoz's nose was out of joint, it would take six weeks in traction to realign it.)

'Right,' I say. 'What have we got? We've got Root and Mrs Root at home and Root says - what the hell would Root say?'

Geoff scratches his ginger wig, thinks for a second, and then he comes up with a gem.

'He'd say: 'Tell me, Mrs Roo . . .' No, he wouldn't. He'd say: 'Rock on, Tommy. I went to a Turkish bath today and . . .' '

'Do what?' I say. 'Rock on, Tommy? What are you on about?'

'That's right,' says Geoff, who is now sprouting warning faces like a seaside comedian on speed, thus tipping me off that Debbie Mason has sneaked up behind me to check our progress on her Common and Ball Christmas Special. He'd say 'Rock on, Tommy, I went into a Turkish bath today and took off all my clothes. Then the steam cleared. I was in a fish and chip shop. 'I'll have six pennyworth of that,', said the man standing next to me, 'and go easy on the vinegar.' What do you think?'

Debbie Mason barks with laughter, as well she might, and then she passes down the corridor, making sure that in every cubicle chaps in ginger wigs are toiling away on her behalf.

Miss Mason, then, isn't as clever as she thinks she is. Geoff, on the other hand, isn't as silly as he looks. Not that he looks particularly silly. Indeed, he doesn't look silly at all, and I discovered just how silly he isn't when he went to Wales last week (not that he did - but more on that anon) leaving me - as Wandsworth Neil, my new best pal, would say - to do some serious collar on my own.

I didn't produce a single joke, of course, so it was a great relief to return to the office on Monday morning, where, to my surprise, I found Geoff rather down in the dumps.

'I've got a confession to make,' he said. 'I didn't go to Wales last week. Instead, I went on a writer's course at the suggestion of Justin Judd. As you know, he holds a poor opinion of your work and had therefore ruled that one of us should learn how to construct narrative drama. The only thing I learnt was not to include adverbs or adjectives. Apparently, they're the director's job.'

'Well I never,' I said.

'Precisely,' said Geoff. 'Yesterday Common, of Common and Ball, rang me up and asked me for a skit to perform that night. 'Here's one,' I said. 'What's the difference between an elephant and a gooseberry?' 'I don't know,' said Common. 'An elephant is grey and a gooseberry is green. What did Hannibal say when he saw his elephants coming over the Alps?' 'I don't know,' said Common. 'Here come the gooseberries. He was colour-blind'.

'But I left the adjectives out. That night, Common and Ball took the stage at a northern club. Common asked Ball what the difference was between an elephant and a gooseberry. 'You've got me there, Tommy,' said Ball. 'An elephant is and a gooseberry is,' said Common. I've been fired and Common and Ball are suing Justin Judd.'

That evening, Mark Chapman, who was working late at Tiger Aspect, rang me up to check our progress.

'Debbie Mason has no idea,' I said, 'that we're sitting in her office, writing Root for you.'

Chapman rocked with laughter, then suddenly sobered up. 'How do I know,' he said, 'that the same thing isn't happening here? I'd better check.'

He was only away for a minute or two. 'Just as well I had a look,' he said. 'There are chaps in ginger wigs hiding in every corner of my office, churning out stuff for Hat Trick Productions.'

'Oh dear,' I said.

'No problem,' he said. 'Judd's sent them all on a writer's course, so they've left the adjectives out.'

That's all right, then. Hat Trick will be up the spout, and a good thing, too, if you ask me.