Set the scene – A television studio, London (England for the US among you), 1952. Picture the sharp suits, the cigarette-smoking executives with the natty waistcoat, their waxed slick hair and uncomfortable trouser waist-line. Picture the huge cameras, hunched on their stands. Picture the sickeningly beige and grey backdrop of the London skyline.
The ‘talent’ sits in the comfortable leather chair, cameramen, make-up ladies and lighting crew getting ready for the interview of the century. That’s THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY.
Backstage I sit, trying to juggle a scantily clad, buxom wench in one hand and a fifty-year old scotch in the other. The effect is curiously calming, although that may be the effect of the weed.
A runner pops his head into the green-room and asks me to make ready for the interview of the century. That’s (once again) THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY.
In the days that follow the fallout from this night’s broadcast will resonate throughout the world, particularly in Belgium.
FADE TO BLACK and the words “There is no punchline”.
Five years have passed. A small amount of continental-drift has occurred. The first ever Frisbee floats across a patch of grass in the United States of America, as Sputnik prepares for liftoff. That is literally all that has happened. Everything else is imagined.
That is, except for Sir Kenneth Badger, the British ambassador in Belgium.
The place? Bruges. The location within the place? A hotel foyer. A good one. Not one with towels you could carve.
Today Sir Kenneth, his rampart chin thrust out accordingly, stands by my side, his smile broad and unflinching as the cameras flash. Caught, for posterity, in this thirty second charade of a handshake, I stare at the cameras, my smile a rictus of humiliation. Always with the pictures. Is there no end to it?
You see, it all changed five years ago when I inadvertently gave the interview of the century. Sorry, I mean, THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY.
“Turn to the left a bit, Sir Kenneth,” says one of the photographers, his Belgian, or possible Flemish words translating in the air for the sake of continuity. Sir Kenneth does so. His hand in mine feels clammy, like the insides of a mango.
Within my capacious mind I continue the self-flagellation that has bestridden me for the last half-a-decade. If I hadn’t given the interv…hang on…THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY, then perhaps I’d be able to be like a normal person, and live quietly, being positive to my swarms of locusts and painting my pictures of young swans.
But no, I haven’t painted a decent cygnet in ages, and, quite frankly, the locusts are acting all depressed. If that doesn’t say ‘sort it out’ I don’t know what does.
Fade to a kind of putty colour.
Cue some jazzy intro music. Perhaps – no, definitely – a saxophone solo. And some maracas. Yes…that’s about right. Actually, the maracas are rubbish. Lose the maracas. Marimba? Surprisingly nice.
Mood funky – check, panning camera panning – check. Fade into…
Irritated, he gives a terse shake of his head. That should sort it, he thinks.
I stood up, crumpling the paper angrily, and threw it with the abandon of an overtly sensual basketball player throwing a ball whilst dead. It missed the basket.
I paced, my mind a whirl, or a whorl or something.
The paper I had discarded had printed upon it (with some sort of typeface and ink magic) a telegram. It said the following:
Sir stop Sir Kenneth Badger is dead stop Now we will have our revenge upon you stop
I’d known Sir Kenneth for thirty years. His death had shaken me to my rabid and infertile core. And on top of that, suddenly they were after me.
If I’d been any sort of a man I would have thrust out my chin, found some cloth and girded my loins, then stood with my noble feet apart and a grisly look in my eyes.
But I wasn’t just any sort of man. I was the man who brought the world to it’s knees after the interview of the century. Sigh…THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY. So long ago it haunts me yet. With Kenneth’s passing I was the only one left who could stop the inevitable. But I was old. So old.
But age changed nothing. I needed to save Belgium or the world would end and it’d be my fault. And the Badgers were after me.
Cue pause for melodramatic sting and fade to a justly vapid green.
Fade in. The music is maudlin, the colour leeched and the video grainy. Cue our hero, sat in a cafe in Dusseldorf…
The attempt to save Belgium, and by extension the world itself, is underway. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact I got on the wrong train and ended up in Germany. Damn both my poor knowledge of european languages, and a ticket-agency convinced it knows my destination better than I.
I only just escaped from a trap. Romaine Badger, the erstwhile benefactor of Sir Kenneth’s legacy and vast personal wealth, has her minions seeking me throughout the continent. Only last week I savagely resisted a young Badger’s attempt on my life when he tried to re-enact a scene from The Omen, only to realise that chasing me on a child’s tricycle had only minimal chances of making me fall to my doom over a balcony.
And what’s more, the staff of this cafe insist upon smiling at me in a friendly manner, which is crippling me emotionally. I cannot cope with the kindly and prompt service. I am English, and such efficiency and pleasance makes me suspicious.
I sip at my espresso. I really must find a train to Belgium. I feel waffles and other traditional images of Belgian culture nagging at me. When one is assailed by images of Hercule Poirot, you know you have a job to do.
I look at my vintage timepiece, given to me by the rotted corpse of H G Wells himself, and realise the time is approaching for action. Rising, I note with some alarm that a face I recognise appears around the corner. Romaine Badger herself. The face of a withered deer, an expression that curdled milk aspires to, and armed to the teeth with every manner of projectile weapon.
“______,” she says, calling out to me with her voice like a badly maintained Volkswagon Passat. “Don’t Push it. Don’t push it, or I’ll give you war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”
A quote from Rambo – First Blood. Damn she’s good. I respond in the only way possible, setting my thighs to inscrutable. I postured up as Romaine Badger approached, and said “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
She visibly flinched. I’d dug up that Dumbledore quote as if from nowhere. She quailed, turning and running when she saw I was preparing a quote from The Lion King.
She’d be back, armed with better quotes – probably from Rocky or, perhaps, a bland Jennifer Aniston rom-com.
But I’d be ready.
Fade to ineffably ginger and with the words, “To be continued,” written, bizarrely, in Comic Sans font.
Scene 5: Finale!
Fade in. Then out again. Boom moved a little to the left. “Dammit, Nigel, where did you learn to be so royally useless.” Boom replaced in original position. Sullen indignation of Sound Recordist.
I sit here, reclining in my fashionable regency chaise longue, wreathed in finest crimplene, swollen with pride. An almost paralytic amount of it, to be precise, and curiously enough measured in gills – a truly archaic unit of measurement.
She sways in like Badgers never had a graceless moment, though her brother Derek has the coordination of a baby elephant with a case of rickets, so I know it to be just plain luck.
“Get your own wine,” she shrieks.
Briefly I ponder the nature of the universe. That a mighty god watches us always begs the question where the f*** was he when I asked her to marry me. Off fishing probably. Or carving figurines of dolphins. Or whatever – for is it not sang, “God Only Knows”, and that is a direct quote, entirely unedited or paraphrased. From the bible and everything. Maybe.
I wasn’t really regretting the decision to abandon Belgium to its fate. And I think we can all say, with total lack of offence, that nobody likes Belgium anyway. Romaine was worth it. The way she walks (erect), the way she talks (orally), her very attitude (spunky).
“CUT! Come on! We’ve talked about this, man. Stick to the script. People died in the congo for this, or something. Just keep it together and leave out the sexual weirdness.” A pause. “Nigel, move that fucking boom, or I will use it to clean your oesophagus. From below. Good. ACTION!”
“Was it worth it?” I ask, doubts assailing me like chickens fired from a cannon into the side of a barn.
She grimaces in a fever of over-acting, throwing herself to the floor before spearing me with a glare and saying, scornfully, “We got the world. Nobody likes Belgium. I can’t believe THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY ended in our world domination, in a quite unbelievable and entirely un-thought-through way.”
“Yeah,” I said. I’d failed Belgium, but married the leader of the earth’s first global tyrannical dictatorship. It was a small price to pay. If only for the fringe benefits. I get free parking and everything. Screw Belgium.
“CUT! Thank Christ we can all go home now.”
Cue embarrassing bloopers reel, featuring the moment on the set of the interview when the interviewer is unwittingly racist, and the time the actor playing Sir Kenneth Badger accidentally shot an urchin in the back.
Fade to a distinctly inspiring void that consumes the universe.
Let there be light.