The Greatest Story Never Told
'So, let's get this straight… You,.... you want Me to play the Son of God? Actual Jesus? Me, Christ, Steve!'
Swann lit another joint, sucking in a huge lungful, as he had since his very first conversation with Henry, and it never got any less confusing talking to the prat.
'It's a Christmas music shoot, two days max, all the crumpets you can eat, a free wig and beard for your collection too! It's a great gig!'
'Crumpets aside, Erm, how do I put this? No, no, bleedin no way!'
Swann was stunned, he'd never thought Letterbox was remotely religious, he was shocked.
'I never thought you were remotely religious, Henry, I'm shocked!' Swann's mouth caught up with his brain.
'I ain't, not one bit, that's not the bleedin point!'
'Then why are you turning it down?'
'Because I bleedin hate that purple haired bleedin poseur, bleedin Ted bleedin Damson! You can stick his bleedin video, stupid song anyway, Jaffa Cakes and Jesus, Christ!'
'Johnny Cakes and Jesus, no surname ' Swann toked hard as Henry glared at him, 'Quick shoot, full hair and wardrobe, bugger around in the kitchen while plum face croons, jobs a guddun!'
Swann didn't know what a guddun was, but he'd heard the Brits saying it and thought Henry may appreciate the effort, he needn't have bothered.
'No, no and bleedin no! Not Ted bleedin Damson!'
Ted Damson adjusted his immaculate plum-coloured tie, and gestured with his equally immaculate, and very expensively manicured, finger towards the platinum awards covering his office walls.
Swann took in the headliners:
Loaves and Fishes, sharing a Subway of the Lord.
Sauté d'Agneau, even the French love the Lamb of God.
Dutch Gourmetten, Your way with Yahweh.
Damson rotated his immaculate finger, despite the amount of gold threaded onto it, and settled on the only blank piece of office wall.
'That, my son, that is for this year's Christmas hit! Hillbilly Heaven, Johhny Cakes with Jesus!'
He picked up an improbably heavy Televangelist 2008 award and went on, 'If Billy Graham could've boiled an egg without burning it, this little beauty would've been sitting on his desk, (God rest his soul) , but it's mine.
You see I've managed the impossible, Mr Swann, I've successfully mixed preaching and cooking, the way to a man's (or ladies, God Bless them all) heart is through their stomachs… and ears it seems!'
Swann needed a joint, but rightly thought Damson would disapprove, his only high being the High and Mighty.
'Americana – Clooney, French cuisine – Depardieu, Those fiddly little Dutch pans with Rutger, we've had them all on the promo videos. A sixty billion industry Mr Swann, a genre that transcends radio, TV, theatre, recipe books, you name it, We've cornered the market!
And now, for our Hillbilly Heaven, Christmas Spectacular, instead of Willie or Kriss, your production company wants me to appear with not only a Limey, but a dead Limey at that'
'Technically, Ted, Mr Letterbox isn't dead, he's a…''
'Don't, sir, do not utter the Zee Word in my presence. Rising from the dead is the right of one man, and one man alone!'
Swann looked blank.
'Our Lord and Saviour, sweet baby Jesus! None of this Hollywood BS, no brain-eating special effects, no fake blood or horror, just the Son of God rising…. '
Swann sat for the next two and a half hours, whilst Damson preached and simultaneously prepared a rather delicious, perfectly risen soufflé. Jeez, this had better get Letterbox the gig!
'So they couldn't afford a little Tefal non-sick bleedin pan, but they could go out and buy gardening tools? I worked on Highlandscaper, I saw how bleedin expensive gardening stuff is! '
Swann groaned, twenty minutes now he'd been trying to explain what a Johnny cake was to Henry.
'Anyway, H, they cooked these corn pancakes on a hoe back in the day…. '
'So who's Johnny, and why is he eating bleedin pancakes off a dirty hoe?' Henry smiled evilly to himself, 'Although, there was one very naughty girl back in Blackpool, where we ate… '
Henry (thankfully) stopped mid-sentence as the production office door opened and the latest P. A. ushered in a very, very, purply attired Ted Damson.
'Not one more word about Blackpool!' Swann hissed at Letterbox, hastily stubbing out his doob, and walking around his vast desk to greet Ted.
'Revealed Damson, Ted, dude, so great to have you in the City of Angels!'
Damson's face turned, well, almost, Erm, Damson.
'There is but one place where the Heavenly Angels reside, Steve my son, and that is in the house of the Lord!'
'Ah, of course, of course, bless all the, erm, Angelic dudes, Reverend Damson, please do me the honour of introducing you to Henry Letterbox. Henry, meet the Very Very Reverend Damson!'
'Hello Eddie, how's that nasty little infection?' Henry beamed through a mouthful of butter and crumpet, 'Ain't seen you since that wild weekend in bleedin Blackpool!'
Thirty years earlier in a hotel room in a Northern English seaside town….
Saint Boniface's under-21 soccer team were having a great Saturday. A five-nil win over the Blackpool Municipal Baths under 21 squad, an afternoon on the funfare and now, two of the teams rising stars, Henry Letterbox and Eddie Plummer, had pulled!
Not only pulled, but spent a wild night with the girl in question. A very, very wild night.
As the sun came up over the Big One, (no, it's a rollercoaster! Tsk tsk!), anyway, as Dawn awoke (Dawn being the girl from Preston they'd copped off with), she blearily climbed out of bed, pulling the duvet off the two exhausted footy players.
'Need a shower lovelies, gotta get this bloody chocolate off me belly!'
Dawn, being a classy bird, wrapped herself up in the duvet, and bounced off towards the bathroom.
Henry beamed at Eddie.
'What I need now is a bleedin big breckie, fancy a crumpet Ed? Or are you not allowed to eat on a bleedin Sunday nowadays?'
'I'm training to be a vicar Henry, not a bleedin vegan! We haven't all got footy contracts! Throw that blanket over on your way out, mate?'
'Tsk tsk, Father Ted, you should know better, thou shalt not cover thy neighbour's ass!'
By the time he'd finished his breakfast, Eddie was fast asleep again, and Dawn had left, no phone number, no address, just the faint smell of melted Toblerone hinted that she'd ever been in the room.
'Please Henry, for old times sake, eh mate?'
'Don't you bleedin mate me! Why, Eddie , why did you let her go without getting a bleedin number, WHY?'
'I told you years ago Hen, I crashed, I was bleedin zonked mate, up all night, well you were there, you know what a bleedin sesh it was! Woke up with you spitting crumpets everywhere, asking where she was, that's it! Please, mate don't destroy what I've made of meself, the Yanks love me! Not over just a one night stand with a bird…and anyway….. '
Henry twiddle his fingers, rubbing the buttery digits together, searching for the words. He cut Eddie off mid -entence, anger and sorrow in his voice.
'You were me best bleedin mate, Eddie. You knew, or should've bleedin knew, I really liked Debbie'
'Yeah, I really liked Dawn, could've made something special with that bird, if me mate had had my back!'
'Come on Henry, we've both made something pretty special with our lives… and erm, our deaths… your death at least… you know what I mean. Just don't let my little fib get out, please mate… '
'Little bleedin fib? Lied about your name, lied about your nationality, fake accent, lied about your bleedin religion, and I bet the good flock don't know you had an Unholy Trinity with a bleedin zombie megastar and Donna, the love of his life! Little fib, my backside!'
'Dawn mate, it was Dawn… The love of your life.. er.. death, whatever. Ruin me if you want to, but it was a long time ago, time to forgive and forget, maybe we could become mates again?'
'Okay, Eddie.. Rev Ted, or whatever your bleedin calling yourself! I won't forgive or forget, I'll never be your bleedin mate, but you can do something to help me feel better about Dierdre.'
'Dawn. Anything mate, just ask and it's bleedin yours!'
Henry smiled and reached for a fresh crumpet.
'In that case, forgive me Father, for I'm about to blackmail the bleedin hell out of you!'
Twenty minutes later, the amended, and rather butter-stained, contracts were signed.
Letterbox would have no contact with Damson, other than at the one-hour shoot, he would be flown in and out, the music rights were his, the TV rights were his, the fake beard and wig stayed his, and Letterbox had an unlimited supply of fresh English crumpets supplied, (and professionally buttered), on any set, anywhere on the planet, paid for by Damson Churches Inc, and for the rest of his death.
What a deal! Damson must really want Letterbox in his musical cookery preachy promo, although Steve Swann thought he was tripping when he looked at the agreed fee, and saw all those extra zeros!
Camera pans. Old time American main street, wooden facades, horses and carts.
External lead in shot. 1880s frontier town's folk flocking to the local church, dressed in Sunday best.
Sound. Bell chiming in the blazing sunshine.
Close up of sign outside church. 'Come join the breakfast prayers, Johnny Cakes with Jesus, the Very Very Reverend Ted Damson welcomes one and all!'
Cut to inside.
Range cooker where altar normally sits. Damson, dressed in purple dungarees and cowboy hat, beckons viewers closer. Damson picks up a frying pan and looks to the heavens, shaking his head theatrically.
Flash of heavenly light and the frying pan is replaced by a purple rhinestone covered guitar. Damson smiles, showing impossibly perfect teeth.
Music strikes up and the opening bars to 'Johnny Cakes and Jesus' are played.
'Makin pancakes with the Lord today.
Makin them with love and faith,
that Jesus helps me weigh.'
Enter stage right.
Letterbox, dressed in white robes, long wig and beard, carrying a bowl of pancake batter under one arm, and a garden hoe in the other.
Congregation screams Hallelujah! as 'Jesus' starts to heat the hoe on the range altar, whilst Damson performs the song.
'Stirring in some kindness
Sure thickens up that batter,
God's recipe for Johnny Cakes,
It's little things that matter.'
Ted sets aside the guitar, rolls up his sleeves and to rapturous applause, starts to fry the cakes.
'Don't need to add no sugar
Life's already sweet.
Johnny Cakes and Jesus,
A mix that can't be beat!'
Jesus now has a large platter of pancakes. Looks to Damson quizzically over the growing top of the mountain of food.
'Oh, oh, folks, seems even the Son of God sometimes needs a little neighbourly help!'
Damson gives that trademark smile, and waves to someone off camera.
'Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, why it's Mary-Beth-Lou-Jane! Mrs Damson! Come on out honey, help the Lord feed these kindly folks!'
Mary-Beth-Lou-Jane enters shot, beautiful (obviously her beauty has been well paid for and surgically sculptured and maintained) but dressed demurely, she leans in and duets the remaining lyrics with her husband.
'Eatin hoe cakes with the Lord today,
Heart and belly full,
Johnny Cakes and Jesus,
Surely is the Way!'
She dances over to Letterbox, smiles, and holds out her hands for the platter.
Henry drops the pancakes, plate smashing on the floor. He tears off the fake beard and shouts, 'Jesus bleedin Christ! That you, Dawn? '
Letterbox stomps across stage and punches Damson, knocking out several gleamingly white teeth,.
'Eddie Plummer, you bleedin lying '''''''', you told me she just left!'
'And cut, reset guys, everyone take ten, medic, dudes, get Ted a medic!'
Henry sat in his trailer, crumpets untouched. He got up reluctantly and answered the soft but persistent knocking on his door.
Dawn smiled softly, 'Jesus.'
'Mary.' Henry's heart melted, like butter on a hot crumpet, or a Toblerone chocolate bar on a lover's stomach.
'Blackpool,' She said, as though reading his mind.
'Henry, you should know the truth about Blackpool, but you're not gonna like it.'
'Stabbed in the back by my mate, girlfriend runs off with him after, well after we, you know, bleedin great night… '
'No, Henry. No. Sit down, have a crumpet and I'll tell you what actually went down in Blackpool'.
Thirty years (and a few weeks) earlier, the jewel of the Lancashire riviera, the entertainment Capitol of the North, the glittering…. Ok, Ok, erm, a grey Saturday morning in Blackpool…..
Henry and Eddie have noticed the two girls looking at them from the touchline.
After the game they'd asked the girls if they fancied showing a couple of southern boys the sights?
Dawn and Tracey, especially Tracey, agreed readily, and the four young souls spent the afternoon doing what young souls had been doing in Blackpool since Dick docked.
They ate a lot of sugar and fat, paid too much for a forty-five minute wait for a thirty-second ride, promptly reacquainted themselves with the partially digested sugar and fat, lost more money playing carnival games, trying to win aTeddy they could've bought in Tesco for a few quid, then gave up and went to the pub.
A Country-and-Western-themed pub no less, with a band and, later, karaoke for those drunk enough to sing, and those even drunker who were prepared to listen.
The four sat around the beer- splashed table, eating chips and gravy and listening to a rather poor version of 'Family Bible' (being belted out by the cowboys from Accrington) on stage.
Eddie smiled blissfully, folding up his chip to salute the band, 'Doesn't get any better than this, Hen, perfect day!'
Henry was a little drunk, and a little distracted, trying to drink, and kiss Tracey at the same time, was proving impossible.
'Yeah, cracker of a day Ed, and the nights still bleedin young, fancy another shot, Tanya?'
'Tracey, babe, and hell yeah, I'll have another, Dawn, you not drinking, babe?'
'You see Henry… '
Mary interrupted the flashback.
'I had a terrible ear infection, was on antibiotics so I couldn't drink… stone cold sober… ' She let the information sink in and the flashback resumed.
'Doesn't get better than this, Henry!'
Eddie tried again, (or maybe the flashback had jumped back a few seconds too many).
'God, Guitars and Gravy! Bleedin perfect!'
'That'd make a bleedin awesum country song, mate! If I ever give up the footy, we could be famous music stars!'
Henry was then torn out of his reverie by Tracy, who had had another idea as to how they could kiss whilst drinking tequila.
'So the country songs and cooking and all that bleedin god-bothering was actually…. ' Henry tried to interrupt the flashback, but Mary pressed on…
The night was indeed perfect, Henry, we left the bar and me and Tracey sat on the prom, watching you and Ted, sorry, you and Eddie, play football with a beer can. Bloody hours it took, too!
'What was the sc… '
'Two- two, before you ask who won! So, anyhoo, we ended up staggering back to the hotel, well, I walked, you three staggered, then found out that Tracey, drunken cow, had lost our room key.
And that's how we ended up in the room with you two dummies.'
'But… bed.. you, me, Eddie..?'
'Never happened, sorry Henry, but you and Eddie crashed, totally out of it, Tracey fell asleep in the bath, and I spent a magical night watching old black-and-white Westerns (what is it with Blackpool and bloody cowboys?) and scoffing all the Toblerones out of the mini bar.
Must've eventually nodded off, woke up with my head against poor Eddie (that's how he caught my nasty little infection) and melted Toblerone all down my front.
You two woke up, so I skeedaddled into the bathroom, only to remember Tracey was asleep in there! By the time I'd woken her up, you were gone and Eddie had crashed again. We got the maid to let us in our room and that was that.
Henry didn't know whether to be pleased, angry or confused, he settled for extremely disappointed.
'So we never…?'
'Nope, not you, not Eddie, not me, definitely not Tracey. Anything you came up with after the hangovers stopped was entirely wishful (and dirty) thinking from two young lads! Sorry, not sorry!'
She smiled as the realization decided to climb onto Henry's face, it sat there looking a bit grumpy, then decided what the hell, fake memories would do!
'But if you left with Terri, how did you and Eddie…?'
'Tracey, Hen, Tracey, and she was actually the reason we met again…. '
Mary trailed off, cueing up the next flashback, Henry popped a few more crumpets into the toaster and asked her to carry on….
... no, sorry… wait…. need a bit more bleedin butter… ok, thanks, sorted…
.... you were saying… Tracey …?
Tracey leaned in and whispered, 'Why wasn't Jesus born in Blackpool?'
She ignored the shushing from the pew behind and giggled, 'Coz they couldn't find three wise men and a virg… '
The congregation stood, cutting off the expected punchline.
Reverend Plummer bade them welcome, prayed they'd be seated, and began his Christmas sermon.
'Told you the new rev was a fitty!' Tracey nudged Dawn in the boobs, 'Hope they don't do confession here, I'd get bloody lynched!'
After the service, over carols and mince pies, Reverend Eddie mingled with his new flock, keeping one eye on the kitchen, where he'd left another batch in the oven.
'Delicious Father, so nice to see a young man cooking!'
Eddie thanked the old dear and told her that 'cooking was one of God's great gifts, that, music and, of course… football!'
He left the seniors giggling, and moved through the painfully thin flock, to the new faces he'd seen, Christmas always brought in fresh blood, keeping it coming back was the trick.
But hey, it was Christmas, and miracles happened!
He held out his hand to the two girls bundled up in scarves, and bobble hats, 'Eddie Plum.. '
'Hello, Ed, how's the hangover?' Tracey, much to the shock of the devout, flung her arms around his neck and planted a big smackeroo on the startled Reverend!
'And so it was, Tracey dragged me to church on Christmas Eve, but I ended up pulling a cracker!'
Henry wished Mary would stop interrupting the flashback with lame puns, but he needed a wee, so let her take a mo.
They'd honeymooned in Nasville, (due to an unfortunate typo, the happy couple missed out on the Country Music Capitol of the Universe by an H, and ended up miles away, in a small town in the middle of the Bible Belt) and their own love affair turned into a love affair with all things American, including (much to Eddie's surprise) a passion for the pure joyful entertainment that was Evangelist church services.
Eddie had volunteered to help out for a feed the poor event, (busman's holiday) , and was welcomed into the flock both as a fellow Christian, and a dang fine cook!
They'd emigrated, he converted, and later became the town preacher, and she the coffee shop owner, Friday and Saturday they shared the duty of putting on live bands and Country karaoke.
The events were picked up on local cable, then state TV, then the national religious networks.
Eddie became Ted Damson and his wife adopted Mary-Beth-Lou-Jane. The names just sounded more American to their British ears, but he often got asked why they'd finished something called Cheers.
The rest, as they say, (or if you've already read God, Guitars and Gravy – the Ted Damson Story) is history. Fame, Fortune, Family and Faith, all was good.
But Ted still kept one eye on his old mate, rejoiced when he became a top flight footballer, wept when he died, rejoiced when he…. (Ok, Ok, read My Bleedin Wonderful Life – The Henry Letterbox Story for the full bio…)
Ted knew Henry hated him, accused him of messing up his chances of getting with a girl, still bore a grudge after thirty years, but Christmas was coming, they were filming in L. A., Flamin Crumpet Productions were doing the promo. The good Lord had put Henry and Ted together again, and He had a plan.
Ted had feigned annoyance with Steve Swann, refused point blank to work with Letterbox, knowing exactly how Henry would react, sure he'd find a way to get back at his old friend-turned-enemy.
'I mean, anyone in their right mind would run a mile at the thought of you playing Christ, Jesus, Henry, you must've known something was fishy?'
'So you planned all this, just so me and Eddie could make up, be mates again, and have a bit of a bleedin knees up at Chrimbo?'
'Well, yeah, kind of -–you knocking his teeth out was a bit of a surprise, that'll cost thousands – but we just wanted to clear the air, tell you the truth, hope you'd find closure, a little happiness maybe?'
'But most of all, Ted wanted his best friend back, he's missed you, Henry.'
'And Theresa? Your mate?'
'Tracey, Henry, Tracey is here, she works for the Church, she'll be thrilled to see you again I'm sure!'
'In that case, darlin, get her over here… Oh, and tell her to bring tequila and a couple of Toblerones, I think this is gonna be a bleedin Very, Very, Merry bleedin Christmas!'