It was hard to say what was more annoying; the spring drizzle dripping off the brim of his rain-hat or the drivel being spouted into his ears.
David decided to call it a draw, especially since there was no one to blame for the situation but himself. All right, he wasn’t personally responsible for the rain, but he’d chosen to take his daily constitutional around the Pinewood Studios that afternoon, knowing full well what the lovely “spring” weather was like outside.
Pamela, the make-up girl, would have even more work than usual to do, just to make him look halfway presentable for the camera. He was already sniffling and could only imagine how red his nose had gotten. They’d have to do something with his hair as well, either to compensate for the hat hair or for the bits that were sticking out and had gotten wet already.
The fact that he was listening to a section of some Harry Potter novel was Fry’s fault. He’d convinced David that key to dropping weight was walking while listening to books, and he’d taken it upon himself to present David with an Ipod pre-loaded with all of Stephen’s own novels as well as all the books-on-tape he’d ever recorded. That was all right as far as it went, aside from the afternoon he’d been strolling through Hyde Park, only to encounter a particularly traumatic chapter involving an adolescent boy and a horse.
In the past two years, David had dropped nearly one and a half stone, without making too many sacrifices in his actual diet. There were days when the food went completely tits up, but he kept on walking and listening to Stephen Fry’s voice and thus he’d been able to button his jackets and keep up with Robert on some of his madder dashes around town. He still didn’t give a fig for Harry Potter, although he’d decided it was nice of Voldemort to always wait until the end of term to try and kill Harry. Obviously he was concerned about the boy’s education.
David was just coming up to the large sign announcing “Albert R. Brocolli 007 Stage,” and pondering the coincidence of getting rained on outside of a soundstage that was known for underwater filming, when he saw two women coming toward him. They were attempting to share one umbrella, which David suspected was hardly the most efficacious way to stay dry, especially since one of them was rather rotund. If they were trying to emulate his fitness regime, they were definitely doing it wrong.
As they drew closer, David realised it was Katie, one of the production assistants and Sarah Millican who was guesting on the show that was to start shooting in less than an hour.
“What’re you doing out in this slop?” Sarah bellowed, obviously trying to make herself heard over his Ipod.
There was no good answer, besides “Walking around in the rain like a twat,” so David popped out his earbuds, letting Stephen drone on, unheard. He shook his head a bit, feeling like a wet spaniel. Sarah moved away, trying to avoid the spatter.
“We have a problem,” Katie said, just seriously enough for David to wonder if it were some kind of prank. The “Would I Lie To You” team were notorious for practical jokes, usually instigated by Lee, whose sense of humour often went beyond juvenile to the downright imbecilic. However, coming out in this weather was a long way to go for a laugh, especially since Lee and his occasional partner-in-crime, Rob, were nowhere in sight.
“It’s Rob,” Sarah said, a particularly annoyed look on her face. “He’s got a massive case of the pip,” she announced.
Katie gave her a sideways look under the umbrella, before turning back to David.
“Let’s say he’s having a bout of nerves about tonight’s show.”
“Why this one?” David wondered aloud, following Katie into a side door of the soundstage that she had some high-tech swipe card to get into. He vaguely noticed that they seemed to be passing through Godric’s Hollow, on their way back to the smaller studio where their show was filmed. At least he was out of the rain and starting to feel his hands again.
“I guess he’s intimidated by Ronnie Corbett.”
David grimaced and blinked. On one hand, it was hard to imagine a less intimating figure than the diminutive Mr. Corbett. On the other, he understood perfectly.
“How is this ‘intimidation’ manifesting itself?”
“He’s locked himself in his bloody dressing room and he won’t come out! I figured if there was going to be a diva on tonight’s show it’d be me or Julian Clary.”
He couldn’t help wincing at the shrillness of Sarah’s voice. It made for an amusing on-stage persona, but in regular conversation, the timbre could be quite irritating, especially when it was echoing off a cavernous soundstage, just before they went through another door and ended up in the sterile corridor that led to the WILTY studio.
“Could you please try talking to him, David?”
Katie sounded desperate. Of course, PA’s always sounded desperate about something. It was the nature of their jobs. The Peter Holmeses and John Lloyds of the world got to sit back like benevolent pashas while the Katies did all the grunt-work, including the care and feeding of temperamental presenters.
“I don’t know…” he muttered. It wasn’t as though he and Brydon were terribly close, despite the amount of time they seemed to spend on panel shows together. Besides, most of his experience with back-stage drama had to do with his own eccentricities. Maybe he should call Robert and ask for advice on how to talk a co-star down from an emotional precipice of his own making.
“Please,” repeated Katie, and who was he to turn down a desperate PA, even if he had no idea what to do?
“Thank you,” she said, hurrying off, presumably to be frantic about something else for awhile.
Sarah stood there, glaring at the door as if she intended to break it down with the force of her own aggravation.
“Just tell him to put his big boy pants on or we’ll get Steve Coogan to host the show instead,” she suggested before flouncing off.
Once she was out of sight, David rapped on the door.
“It’s David. Can I come in?”
“I’m not coming out. I can’t do it.”
“Yes, I’ve got that. I’m alone. I promise, we won’t bring in the camera crew and force you to host from your dressing room.” Not a bad idea, he thought for a second, which showed just how contagious this particular form of lunacy was.
The door opened and David walked in. Rob sat down on the small couch and looked genuinely distraught. David certainly understood what Rob wa going through. It was just rotten luck that he was about to encounter his idol under these circumstances. And despite the fierce ego it took to be any kind of a performer, much less a comedian, he’d also seen glimpses of a deep, but typical insecurity. He recalled sitting next to Rob during a QI shooting, when Fry was clearly playing favourites with Johnny Vegas and it had been clear how much Rob was hurt by the slight..
“Look, Rob…” Oh that was a brilliant opening! What had The Mail or The Guardian called him a few years back? One of the UK’s most accomplished young wordsmiths, or something to that effect? Good thing they couldn’t see him now, trying to coax Rob Brydon out of his dressing room to face his own combination of Darth Vader and Yoda. “I hear he’s absolutely lovely.”
“Of course he’s lovely,” said Rob, his Welsh accent coming through in a mournful tone. “He was my inspiration. I’m in this business because of Ronnie Corbett. He was the first person I ever imitated.”
“And I’m sure he’s flattered to bits.”
“Oh really?” Rob replied, his voice turning suddenly cold and sarcastic. “Are you ‘flattered to bits’ when I imitate you on the show?”
David was literally stuck with his mouth open. Because Rob did him brilliantly. And he fucking hated it. Especially when Rob incorporated little bits of business and verbal tics that David didn’t think he’d actually ever done before, but which people now assumed he did, and, even worse, which he now noticed himself doing. While Rob’s impression of Ronnie Corbett was certainly more flattering, the actual subject might not see it that way.
He decided to try a different tack. “The first time I met Vic Reeves, we were both going to be on Parky or Wossy or one of those things, and I was absolutely terrified, because it was back when everyone was saying that Robert and I were the new Vic and Bob and it turned out…”
“The new Vic and Bob? Thought you guys were the new French and Saunders.” David turned to glare at the new arrival. “Or Fry and Laurie,” said Lee, in his usual dismissive fashion, having been let in by Katie who was brandishing an old-fashioned door key with a particularly malevolent look on her face.
“We were never the new Fry and Laurie,” David replied, embarrassed, as always, by the comparison.
“Well, it don’t matter who you are, or who you were. What’s important right now is getting this one into his long socks, so we can get out there and do the show.”
David watched as Rob folded his arms defiantly. Any progress he might have made had clearly been knocked back to square one. David loathed all the stereotypes about British class structures, but there was something about Lee’s working class schtick that made him want to call a manservant and have Lee tossed off the premises or something. Five minutes with Lee and he felt himself morphing into Bertie Wooster. As Fry had said about Lee on a Christmas QI episode, no one could be that stupid. Therefore it had to be an act, a damn convincing, infuriating act.
“I can’t,” Rob insisted again, and now David was getting impatient with the lot of them.
“Well that’s tough, isn’t it?” Lee shot back, pretty much expressing what David felt. “You think I like everyone I’ve had to sit with out there? How about that mad bint who said she had the clouds moved for her eighteenth birthday party? Or Barrowman, sitting there, sneaking his willy out while I’m trying to keep up some line of rubbish about hiring a bloke to manage me damn Ipod?”
“Oh my! That must have been a night to remember!”
David hadn’t even noticed Julian coming in. The dressing room was starting to resemble the stateroom scene from A Night At The Opera. The clock was ticking and Rob was still in jeans and a t-shirt, and therefore no closer to being ready to go onstage.
“I think I might be able to sort this out.”
It took a glance to make sure that Rob wasn’t speaking, but his lips were sealed, and the voice was unmistakable. Oddly enough, David did find himself momentarily intimidated. After all, this was Ronnie Corbett. He and Robert, along with any British comedian worth his salt, had been influenced by The Two Ronnies. As part of a double act, he felt the debt even more acutely.
David caught a glimpse of Sarah standing in the doorway, looking smug. Good for you, he thought, wondering briefly why someone hadn’t done that as soon as the drama started.
He had to resist an urge to genuflect at the short, but dignified older man. There was gray hair and a slower gait, but this was clearly the same comic genius who’d made history as the shopkeeper in a nonexistent hardware store, serving a customer asking for “four candles.”
Ronnie approached Rob who stood up looking shame-faced.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, putting out a hand to shake, before Ronnie went ahead and gave him a hug, which looked a bit odd, given the height disparity, but managed to break the tension in the room.
“Think nothing of it. Happened to me the first time I met Bernie Winters at the Palladium. I nearly shat myself with fright.”
“It's just that…” Rob was still struggling.
“The imitation is brilliant, young man. And I do believe it is the sincerest form of flattery. Let’s see if you can’t find some way to work it in to our little performance this evening. I’ll lend you the glasses.”
With that, David could tell that Rob had gotten the stick out of his arse and was prepared to do his job. Katie flashed a grateful smile. Not that David had been much help. He rarely was in these situations. Better than Lee, of course. Useless git. Who seemed to have already wandered back to wherever he kept his endless supply of hideous shirts.
Generally, David didn’t give that much of a toss about the points. Everybody knew that the scores on these things were meaningless and the goal was to give the audience a good show, but not tonight.
Tonight he needed to win.