Errors of Comedy - Chapter 20
Doris Lundy stood outside the door of the headquarters of Sprawling Metropolis Television. The building towered above her, most of its height accounted for by the garish red and white antenna on the roof. She, however, looked straight ahead. She had an appointment and she was going to see the manager whether he liked it or not. The elevator carried her to the first floor, the doors opened and she strode over to the desk.
'Hello, welcome to Sprawling Metropolis Television, my name is Sharon, how may I help you?' said the secretary automatically.
'Good morning,' said Doris. 'I'm here to see the manager. I made an appointment last night on your answering machine.'
'Please take a seat. Mr Jones will be with you shortly.'
'Thank-you,' said Doris in surprise. Surely it wasn't going to be that simple?
She sat in the small waiting room and picked up a magazine; Television Producer Weekly. She scanned the contents page for anything of vague interest. 'Do you have trouble hiring the stars you want? Fourteen sure fire tips to get those big names on your team.' So how did you go about hiring a celebrity? She turned the page and looked at tip number one. 'Pay them lots of money.' Fine. What about tip two? 'Pay their agent lots of money.' Perhaps the next article would be more interesting. 'Do you have trouble hiring the writers you want? Fourteen sure fire tips to get those big names on your team.'
Doris put the magazine back on the pile and began to look around the room. A glass-fronted cabinet stood at the far end, filled with what looked like awards. She stood up and walked over to it. The contents of the cabinet were indeed awards of one kind or another. Doris peered through the glass to read some of the inscriptions. 'Sprawling Metropolis Academy of Radio and Television - Winner - Best Television Drama - "The Paradoxicals".'
Doris rubbed her eyes and took another look. Yes, it was definitely an award won by 'The Paradoxicals'. She looked for a date on the award but there didn't seem to be one. She glanced over her shoulder. Nobody was watching her so she pulled gently at the cabinet door. There was a slight click and it swung open. Another glance. Still nobody looking. The secretary was staring into space, chattering into the telephone. Doris picked the award from the shelf, backing off slightly as a large cloud of dust rolled over her. She took out a tissue and wiped the inscription, half expecting the dust cloud to coalesce into the form of a genie, or perhaps Dave Brady himself, leaning forward, putting his right hand on the table...
'Your wish is my command.'
'Get your damn program off my television.'
Perhaps not. She looked again at the inscription and smiled. This award was twenty-three years old. Maybe 'The Paradoxicals' had merited an award when it was first produced. It might even be worth watching now if it hadn't been repeated quite so many times in the intervening years. She replaced the award on the shelf, carefully lining it up with the hole in the dust layer where it had originally been.
The next award on the shelf was of a different, and stranger, design. It appeared to be some sort of hat; a square thing with a tassel and, lying next to it, a stylised scroll of paper. Doris wiped the dust from the plaque. 'Sprawling Metropolis Academy of Radio and Television - Winner - Best Educational Programme - "The Paradoxicals"'. Best educational programme? The award was from the same year as the first one, so either 'The Paradoxicals' was a lot more factual than she gave it credit for or, more likely in Doris's opinion, decent programmes had been a bit thin on the ground that year. What was the next one? 'Sprawling Metropolis Academy of Radio and Television - Winner - Best Television Documentary - "The Paradoxicals"'. Oh, now this was starting to get silly. Doris was prepared to admit, grudgingly, that the programme might contain a few facts here and there but a documentary it was not. So what other awards were there? 'Best Children's Programme.' Well, it was certainly childish. 'Best Television Comedy'. 'Best Animated Film'. 'Best Foreign Language Production'. 'Best Talk Show.' She took a step backward and took in the array of trophies. The show might have merited an award in one category, but a clean sweep? What had happened at the award ceremony that year? Perhaps she could ask the manager. If she ever got to see him.
Quietly she closed the cabinet and returned to her seat. Sharon was still nattering into the telephone. The intercom buzzed briefly and Sharon placed her hand over the mouthpiece.
'Yes, Mr Jones?''Send Mrs Lundy in would you Sharon?''Yes, Mr Jones. You can go in now,' said Sharon to Doris's back as it entered the manager's office. She shrugged and returned her attention to the telephone.
Dick Jones stood up and held out his hand as Doris entered the room. Doris shook it firmly and took a seat.
'Good morning,' said Dick, 'what can I do for you?'
'Mr Jones,' she began, '"The Paradoxicals". Why?' That seemed to be the simplest way of asking the question.
'That, Mrs Lundy, is a very good question.'
Deborah Daniels, in her role as a buyer for the largest department store in Sprawling Metropolis, had spent many hours listening to inane presentations on useless or near-useless products. Today, an intense young woman was delivering a high-powered presentation on the subject of candles. But not just any candles...
'...and so, as you can see, the Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg range of candles represents the very pinnacle of illuminatory wax sculpture. I am confident that you will go back to your retail outlets and recommend that a substantial quantity of Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg be ordered immediately. I am prepared to give you my personal guarantee that the Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg range will rapidly outsell any other items of faux edible organic matter enlightenment devices that you may have in stock. Furthermore, it is my pleasure to be able to offer you a free gift; your choice of article from the extensive Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg range. Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been an absolute delight to have had this opportunity to share with you the joys of our Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg range of monohydric alcohol ester room brighteners.'
The woman stepped away from the podium and was rewarded with a ripple of polite applause. Deborah breathed a sigh of relief. She felt quite sure that Sprawling Stores could do without Deluxe Fruit 'n' Veg candles. Still, she might as well collect her free gift. She stood up and walked over to the woman's stall to find that everybody else had got there first. The only candle that was left was a rather amusing bluish... thing. There was no other word for it. Well, presumably there was another word for it, but Deborah had no idea what it was. She picked the candle up and put it into her bag. She could give it to Derek. He could put it in his office to remind him of home. Exactly why an oddly-shaped candle should remind him of home she couldn't quite work out, but it was the thought that counted. Besides, it was free.
At five o'clock that afternoon Arthur Mayhew, Ernest Ramsden and Harold Simpson stood nervously outside the door to Billy Hilarious's office.
'I suppose we'd better knock then,' suggested Arthur.
'Had we?' asked Harold.
'What do you suggest then?'
'What does it say on your pad, Arthur?' asked Ernest.
Arthur pulled the pad out of his pocket and flicked over the last few pages.
'Carpets, glorious victory, scribbles crossed out, command, fine things fine and five six.'
Ernest looked at Harold and then back at Arthur.
'I don't know about the rest, but it's nearly six minutes past five,' he said.
'We should probably knock then,' said Arthur.
'Go on then,' said Harold and Ernest together. Arthur flinched.
Harold and Ernest nodded slowly. Arthur replaced his notepad carefully in his pocket and squared up to the door. He lifted his fist and would have knocked very feebly had the door not flown open to reveal Billy Hilarious looking somewhat irritated.
'You're late. Get in here, sit down and shut-up.'
Arthur, Harold and Ernest trooped obediently into the office and arranged themselves in their usual semicircle around Billy's desk.
'Right. Down to business. Thanks to the tardiness of your arrival, we now have slightly less than one hour to prepare for my first broadcast to Sprawling Metropolis. Before that, I am going to explain the battle plan to you, very slowly and very carefully, in the hope that you'll understand it.'
Arthur discretely eased his notepad out of his pocket and wrote down 'battle', 'slowly' and 'carefully'.
'What we are going to do,' continued Billy, 'is gather our armies together on the Southern border and march to the central region.'
'We know that, Mr Hilarious, sir,' said Ernest proudly, 'you've already told us.'
'I know I've already told you,' said Billy menacingly, 'but I'm telling you again and I will keep on telling you until I'm certain that you've remembered it. As I'm sure you'll agree, this could take a very long time.'
Arthur wrote down 'take a very long time'.
'When we reach the central region, each of the four armies will have a specific target. My army will seize control of the television station.' Billy took a deep breath. 'Right, now for the difficult bit. Ernest, your army will invade the Central Hospital. Harold, your army will take control of the Daily Thompson. Arthur, I want your army to occupy the Presidential Theatre. Have you all got that?'
The three men nodded.
'Repeat it back to me then.'
'My army will invade the central hospital,' said Ernest stiltedly.
'I'm to take control of the Daily Thompson, Mr Hilarious, sir.' said Harold.
Arthur stared at his pad and then looked up guiltily.
'I haven't written it down,' he said quietly.
Billy looked at him, a look of despair on his face.
'Have you got your pen, Arthur?'
'Yes, Mr Hilarious, sir.
'And have you got your notepad?'
'Yes, Mr Hil...'
'Then take your pen and write on your notepad, "The Presidential Theatre". Have you got that, Arthur? "The Presidential Theatre".'
'Yes, Mr Hilarious, sir. "The Presidential Theatre". I've written it down now, Mr Hilarious, sir.'
'Good,' said Billy with forced cheerfulness. 'We can go and prepare for my broadcast now.'
'There is one question, Mr Hilarious, sir,' said Arthur.
'Why the Presidential Theatre?'
'"Why the Presidential Theatre?"'
'Yes, Mr Hilarious, sir.'
'Because it's a vile pit of decadence which represents everything about the South that we're trying to get rid of. It's full of fat, self-satisfied businessmen and doctors and lawyers with their carpets and their air-conditioning and their golf clubs and it should be wiped off the face of the Earth in such a manner that it can never be rebuilt. I want every trace of its memory removed from existence. If anybody ever so much as mentions the Presidential Theatre I'll have them shot. In fact, if anybody even thinks about the Presidential Theatre I'll have them shot. It is the single foulest, most putrid, most wretched, most disgusting place on Earth and I will not have it standing for any longer than necessary. Understand?'
Arthur looked up from his pad.
'How do you spell "vile decadence"?' he said.
Derek walked slowly along the corridor, carrying a dustpan containing a mound of earth. The brush belonging to the dustpan was tucked firmly under his arm. His other hand grasped a broom. The tools of his trade, such as it was. He wasn't really sure whether sweeping the floor constituted a trade or not. Probably not.
He arrived at his office and pushed the door open. The kettle was boiling away and his mop had moved from where he had left it to the side of the refrigerator.
'I see you put the kettle on then,' said Derek to the mop before his brain caught up with his mouth. 'Alfred,' he called, 'that's not very funny.'
Alfred appeared from the storeroom and looked apologetically at Derek.
'Sorry, squire. I couldn't resist. Sit down and I'll make you a nice cup of tea.'
'Thanks,' said Derek, leaning the broom against the wall. He held up the dustpan and brush. 'Where do these go?'
'In the storeroom, under "D".'
'Not "D" for dustpan, surely,' asked Derek disbelievingly.
'I'm afraid so, squire.'
Derek sat down heavily.
'My world is collapsing around me,' he said melodramatically.
'Have a cup of tea,' said Alfred with sympathy, 'and tell me how the dramatic rescue went. I hear that the editor has resigned. Well done, squire.''Thanks,' said Derek.
'You can't just say "Thanks" like that, squire. You've saved Lisa from a fate worse than death. You should be over the moon and I want to know everything about it.'
'Oh, I just walked into the editor's office and said something witty,' said Derek casually.
'Aha!' said Alfred suddenly.
'What?' said Derek, jumping slightly and sending a few drops of tea onto his overalls.
'You said, "I walked in", not "Witty Put-Down Man walked in". You've accepted your destiny.'
'I've accepted my destiny?' said Derek incredulously. 'That's a bit over the top isn't it?'
'You might be right, squire. It just sort of seemed appropriate somehow. Anyway, I've got work to do.'
Alfred stood up and walked out of the office.
'He's right though,' said a familiar, and rather English, voice. 'You have accepted your destiny.'
'Have I?' asked Derek.
'Absolutely,' said another familiar, and rather Irish, voice.
'Oh,' said Derek, decidedly unimpressed.
'You might not think too much of it, but we are simply delighted with you,' said the English ghost.
'You've saved Lisa,' said the Irish ghost enthusiastically, 'you've learned how to use your wit-sense, you've become comfortable with your identity, you've...'
'Hold it a minute,' interrupted Derek. 'Who says I've become comfortable with my identity? All I said was "I walked into the office". It doesn't mean anything.'
'Doesn't it?' asked the English ghost pointedly. 'Think about it, Derek. I believe you are happier than you are willing to admit.'
'Think about it, Derek,' repeated the Irish ghost, 'and when you've thought about it, feel free to admit that we were right all along. We'll forgive you.'
Despite himself, Derek smiled.
'You'll forgive me?'
'Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much,' said the Irish ghost.