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The Invariable B Flat

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"You will not do this to me, Arthur!"

Uther's voice rang across the house as Arthur walked away and into the music room, where he rebelliously pinged a middle C on the piano, and then, as always, sang a solid B Flat. He continued with his off-key warm-up, even as his father stormed into the room after him.

"Why you persist in these delusions is beyond me," Uther said, mid-harangue. "but you will not profane the sanctity of a fine musical institution with your — your—"

Arthur sang louder. One of his dogs, outside in the hall, set up a piteous keening at the sound.

"—your gargling!" Uther stormed back out, slamming the sound-proofed door behind him, much to the relief of the dog.

"You can't deny my passion forever, father! I have music in my heart!" Arthur called after him, and then returned to his laborious rendition of "I got rhythm," in which he completely failed to hit any of the syncopations.

"Our next contestant on British Idol," the voice-over began, before the camera cut to reveal the producer's second assistant, who was not the usual announcer for contestants, but the only one willing to brave the head judge's wrath, "is a young man many of you may recognize from the music world, but today he prepares to step out of his father's shadow—"

The head judge looked up in sudden horror and began to make emphatic hand gestures at the announcer that could have signified either "stop talking" or "I will decapitate you if you finish that sentence."

The announcer trembled, but continued, "Now ordinarily we could not allow a family member of one of our most illustrious judges to compete on this programme, due to our ongoing concern with unbiased judging and fair play—"

The head judge had begun to make discrete strangling motions from the judges' table.

"—however, to help us reach a fair decision..." The announcer gulped nervously. "As a special surprise, today we have with us the man behind the Pendragon legend, the renowned vocal coach, who made our own Uther Pendragon the musical success he is today... Mr. Gaius, if you would please join your protegé and the other judges..."

Astonished, astounded applause burst from the audience, as an elderly man in a silver lamé suit emerged from backstage to wave cheerily at millions of viewers. Sandwiched between his fellow judges, Uther buried his head in his hands as his old friend winked and came over to clap him on the back.

"And now, without further ado," the announcer exclaimed over the excited murmurs of the studio audience, "I give you the vocal stylings of... Arthur Pendragon!"

A spotlight descended on centre stage to find it... empty.

A confused whisper ran through the crowd, and the announcer said, "Erm, I'll just go get — just a minute, everyone, er, thanks."

He bounded off stage, to where the promised contestant was having a mild nervous breakdown in the wings.

"I can't do this, Merlin, it's all been a terrible mistake." Arthur clutched desperately at the announcer's sleeve. "You've got to tell them — I've changed my mind, you've got the wrong bloke, I'm not ready."

The announcer laid a calming hand over Arthur's. "You can do this, Arthur. This is your dream. You go out there, and show your father what you stand for."

"He's going to kill me," Arthur said, although his eyes strayed longingly towards the spotlight awaiting him on the stage.

"He can't murder you on national television!" Merlin promised.

"You don't know that!" Arthur protested. "You've met him, it's just the sort of thing he'd do."

"Then at least you'll get good ratings?" Merlin offered weakly. "Arthur, you've trained for this, you know what to do — now go out there, and show the world how much you love music!"

Arthur breathed deeply, once, said, "Right," and marched out into the spotlight. "I'm going to sing, 'Climb Every Mountain,' and I would like to dedicate this to my father, without whom I would never have found the courage to believe in myself."

At the judges' table, Uther was doing his best to crawl underneath his chair and out of sight. In the wings, a worried stagehand bit her lip and asked Merlin, "Are you sure we're doing the right thing?"

Merlin nodded sagely. "We're his friends, we have to help him. Even if that means helping him make a prat of himself on national television."

She sighed, and hit "play" on the music for Arthur's number.

The series four premiere episode of British Idol became an immensely popular fan favourite, especially the bit where the much-loathed main judge tried to chew off his own arm and stuff his ears with his old singing teacher's silver suit, and Arthur's example inspired a generation of bad singers to believe that, no matter who they were, they too could stand up for their right to sing showtunes in public.

Arthur himself retreated to an undisclosed location in the midlands, where he is believed to be hiding from his father in a small cottage with his two best friends, and conducting experiments on the effects of various modern pop artists on the growth rate of root vegetables.