Friday, April 7, 2006


If I'd known how busy I was going to be this week I'd probably have done the sensible thing and turned down The Wright Stuff. Not because I don't enjoy it - it's always a fun week - but because I like sleep. Each day after the show I've headed into town to work on Genius and each evening I've been working at home on another writing project. I've been getting to bed at 2am and waking at 6.30. I'm knackered.

A couple of night's ago when I was heading to bed in the early hours I had the TV on in the background. A show called Mint was on ITV. This is one of a new breed of evil telly that seems to be increasingly popular. The commercial stations have found it harder and harder to make money out of advertising of late - especially in the wee hours and so they've come up with programmes that pay their own way instead. They have big cash prizes on these shows and rather than quizzes they have what amounts to a guessing game. Every call makes them money even if you just get through to a recoded voice telling you that you've been unlucky. I suspect they're making a fortune.

Even though the shows are evil and exploitative (for every "don't make too many calls, please set yourself a limit" there are fifty "just think... you could be thinking of the right answer... if you don't call you can't win... how will you feel if someone else gets through with your answer and wins ten thousand pounds? What could ten thousand do for you? Think about it. I could be sending you ten thousand pounds just for making a phone call... you don't want to miss out on that do you?") I have to admit to a grudging amount of respect for the presenters.

The best of them have that QVC kind of ability to talk about nothing for ages while they wait for a call to come through. Incidentally, they might be waiting but it isn't because nobody is calling... they're waiting because there's presumably a system that works out when they've made enough money to start giving some away. A friend of mine tried calling one of these shows on a cable channel the other week. He called two hundred times. At 60p a call. He was very embarrassed when he told me about this. As he should be. You see what I mean by evil... but that doesn't mean that there is no skill in keeping the show afloat while there is nothing to talk about and I sometimes find myself staring in fascination at them partly wondering how they manage to keep talking and partly wondering how they sleep at night knowing that they talked hundreds of strangers who can ill-aford it to waste hundreds of pounds entering a lucky dip.

Anyway... when I turned on the TV the other night I had no intention of watching it because I knew I had to be up at 6.30 in the morning but I wanted something on in the background. So, Mint was on and one of the not-very-good-presenters was talking to Mick Miller. Mick Miller is an old-school comedian from the trad circuit, but one I admire for his delivery and craft. He was the guest on the show and people were phoning in to guess comedian's names. If they guessed the right name they would win a cash prize. When I turned on the more obvious names (Steve Coogan, Peter Kay, Jimmy Carr) had been guessed winning people smaller sums of money and a few of the more obscure answers (like Jethro - euch) had been guessed winning people larger sums of money.

Then someone won ten thousand pounds for guessing Dudley Moore. I suppose he was deemed obscure because he's dead. And possibly people had been steered towards currently working comics. That left one answer still to go. It was worth five thousand pounds. A few wrong guesses started coming in and they started increasing the prize money with an extra hundred quid each time. A small part of me was thinking, "Well, I know a lot of comedians... maybe I should call in... I mean, I know I won't get through because I know the story my mate told me about his 200 calls... but y'know, if I did... I might be able to think of an obscure comedian that no-one's thought of yet..." and then I snapped to my senses, turned the box off and put my head down.

The next day I had an e-mail from someone telling me that I had been the correct answer. Apparently I went for 7 thousand pounds. By the sounds of it by the time they gave it away the presenters were giving huge clues, telling people all sorts of information about me and all but giving them my name. I'm amused by the idea that the Great British Public cannot guess my name when asked to think of a comedian. I think I should probably be slightly offended that I am clearly the most obscure comedian in the land... but somehow that seems more like an accolade to me. Hurrah for obscurity.

Obviously, this would have been a far better story if I'd called up, guessed my own name and won 7 grand. But sometimes the not-quite-so-good-story is what happens. My Mum once won a prize on a local radio station for recognising my voice in a who's-the-mystery-voice competition. She told them she was my Mum which may be the reason they never sent her a mug.

I would have told you the name of the e-mail correspondent who passed on this exciting punter-wins-7k-for-saying-my-name info but I can't right now because the e-mail is on my laptop and I'm now back to using my desktop which has returned from the computer hospital and seems to be fit and well. After I wrote something about my computer problems many of you got in touch to offer techy advice - all of which is very gratefully received. Ta.

One more day of The Wright Stuff to go this week and then some proper sleep comes my way.

Total sponsorship so far: £5135.87. I'm impressed and grateful... but somehow it seems a bit dissatisfying next to a story about someone winning £7000 for saying my name. Please do keep it coming.

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