Who was that fat-necked, balding, smug twat in the 1980s?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007 by

And so to the 1980s. As I waited for my cab home having filmed my contributions to the ’70s episode, the production team were generous about my efforts. “Have you done this before?”. “Sort of”.

Janine’s in touch by email. Can I do next week? I can only do Thursday. The week passes. The following Monday I’m told it looks like it’ll be Thursday 3 May. Wednesday, and a venue is fixed. A huge house in Highgate. “If you could arrive at the location by 5pm that would be great as we have to be out of there by 6.30pm. It is someone’s home and they hire it out to film crews now and then.”

I arrive at 5.10pm. This place is seriously imposing. Tiled floors, enormous ceilings and wall-to-wall sideboards. With sealed packets of chocolate mints on them. “You’ve come up in the world since your modest West London flat in the 1970s!” jokes Sophie, the director.

I sit down, and she begins to talk. As the filming lights come on, she gradually fades in the blur. Janine’s guarding the door to the room, which swings open of its own accord. I feel for her, as she’s dispatched to tell the home-owners to stop walking around their own house. 

And then we get into it. 

We start with Postman Pat, a show I’ve little interest in. I say a bit, the director then says, “Thank you.” I say another bit. “Thank you. Now I just want you to say …” and she tells me what to say. Phew, the cynical ’80s, eh? The ’70s weren’t quite like this. 

But we warm up, and while always rather stilted, we get into something that feels a bit more like a conversation. “I want you to say that American shows had a negative impact on British children’s programmes in the 1980s”. “Well, I don’t really think they did,” I reply, taking a stand mere minutes after disgracefully parroting back some guff she’s fed to me about a Pigeon Street episode I’d never seen (they open a vegetarian café, apparently). But, here, I’m salving some small sense of dignity. I’m not just going to say anything. Although I do then concede that perhaps buying in episodes ofHe-Man dissuaded British broadcasters from commissioning their own fare. I’m guessing that bit won’t make the cut, but my musings on Pigeon Street‘s eatery probably will.

Things are getting sticky, though. There’s a helicopter buzzing overhead, the family’s dog is barking, and worst of all, they’ve got the temerity to use their own creaking back door. “Surely there must be another way round they can use?” says the director. “Janine, can you ask them?”. “Well,” says Janine, “it’s after 6.30pm already. That’s probably their guests arriving. I don’t think I can”. I agree, but I don’t say anything. Who am I in this? “In fact,” says our slightly bristling researcher, “you really need to push through these”.

“Make your answers shorter,” I’m told. And then we get into talking about Grange Hill. I retread my Gripper comments from the ’70s shoot. We talk about Press Gang and I attempt – from memory – to quote Paul Cornell’s praise for it in the Guinness book. “Thank you”. Then, with everyone getting itchy, we talk about kids appearing as themselves on telly. I say some stuff the director really seems to like, and she wants me to expand. Meanwhile, I can feel the whole room is now of a-twitch.

Then it’s over. It’s 6.55pm. My cab’s been waiting since 6.25pm and now he’s threatening to go. Janine gets me to sign the release forms, and then – Jim Bowen-style – counts out cold, hard cash into my hand, before we race to catch the cab. But the front door’s locked and we can’t get out.

That’s how I ended up ruining your show again, everyone. Sorry.


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