Saturday, June 10, 2006

Playing dead...

Brian Sewell made for an excellent and eccentric guest at last night's recording of Genius. He really does play the role of Brian Sewell better than anyone else. The recordings are coming thick and fast right now - the moment a show is done, it's time to focus on the next show. The final recording is on Monday when my guest will be the brilliant Armando Iannucci.

I'll be seeing Armando again on the 15th when I'm a guest on his Radio 4 show, Charm Offensive which is, I believe, broadcast the next day. We have no such frenzied edits on Genius... it will be a few months before the series goes to air. We're recording it now because it was about the only chunk of time in my diary when it could be squeezed in and done properly.

I think when Genius was first conceived we imagined it would be a two-way conversation between myself and the guest each week. Instead it's definitely become a three-way conversation between the two of us and the individual who's pitching each idea and it's their input that makes the show so much fun for me. They all turn up with such different attitudes and given that they're unlikely to be accustomed to speaking in public they can be quite nervous.

But I don't think we've ever had anyone come to take part in the show and not enjoy it and they all leave at the end of the day with a real spring in their step. I wish we'd started a guestbook back at the start of series one because I'm sure if they could read the comments from previous guests in advance of the recording they'd all relax a bit sooner.

We've tried to set the show up so that they're under as little pressure as possible and we try our hardest to make sure they have a fun time. Every night, as they read their idea out, there is always a moment where the audience cheers or laughs or makes some other kind of noise-of-approval and I can see them visibly relax as they realise the audience are on their side and it's going to be fun. From that moment on they seem to have a ball.

Understandably a few people get cold feet and I mentioned recently how one chap called us on the day to say he couldn't come but was persuaded and had a great time. Well recently someone took the not-turning-up thing to a new level. When we start making the series we look through thousands of ideas and we get in touch with lots of people whose ideas we enjoyed. Then slowly as people's availability becomes clear we start to put ideas together that we think will blend well in the same episode.

This time round we had a couple of ideas come from people across the Atlantic. We got in touch with them but didn't really expect anyone to come from Canada or America in order to be on the show. This is Radio 4 so naturally we don't have the kind of budget than can afford to fly people over or anything silly like that. To our surprise and delight a couple of people - one from Canada and one from America - said they wanted to come over and were prepared to fly themselves.

The Canadian chap was scheduled to take part in the show with Carol Vorderman and an American lady (or Americaness as I believe they're called) was scheduled to appear in the show with Sid Waddell. The Canadian chap, Chris, (I'll leave his surname out to spare his blushes) was particularly keen and went to great lengths in his e-mails to explain how he was prepared to fly over at 72 hours notice if required. Then shortly before the show we found that he was no longer replying to our e-mails. Occasionally people have to pull out and as incovenient as it is we understand that there are reasons and we do what we can to accommodate people. If Chris had e-mailed us to say that on reflection he really couldn't afford a trip to London to take part in a show we would have been fine with that and we could have started work on finding an idea to replace his. But instead we just received no replies.

Then, onlya day or two before the show, we received an e-mail from his address but signed by 'Maria.' The e-mail started with the words, 'Sadly, Chris is no longer with us.' Hmmm... we weren't sure if this was someone at his work telling us that he was no longer employed there or someone from the world saying he was no longer a part of it. The e-mail went on to say that he would be dearly missed and that as he had often talked excitedly about the show that it would be a wonderful tribute to him if we were to still include his idea in the show.

It was a very odd e-mail. It was clearly implying that he was dead but at no point did it actually use the word. We were all pretty convinced that it wasn't quite right in some way but of course when the subject is as serious as that it isn't really easy to question it in case it turns out to be true and you appear to be incredibly insensitive.

There was no way we were going to include the idea in the show without someone there to pitch it because the show just doesn't work like that and so we replaced it and got down to work on the show and didn't really give it much thought. The show passed and then the next show came along and this time our transatlantic guest stayed in touch, showed up, pitched her idea and had fun. All was well.

Then a couple of days ago for some reason Chris floated back through my head. I was trying to write an intro for Brian Sewell and was distracted by thoughts of a potentially-dead-but-probably-not Canadian. So I picked up the phone and gave him a call. It went through to his voicemail. I didn't leave a message and returned to thinking about Mr Sewell. Then five minutes later my phone went. I picked it up.
"Hello," said a Canadian voice, "It's Chris, I missed your call."
"Oh," said I. "Hi Chris."
"Who's that?" asked Chris who I have to say was sounding very much alive to me.
"It's Dave Gorman."
"Oh. Hi Dave."
"Hi Chris. How are you?"
"I'm good," said Chris. There was a pause. And then the phone went down. He was definitely alive but, I imagine, rather embarrassed.

How odd? Imagine being so concerned about what some-strangers-you'll-never-meet will think of you that you would rather fake your own death than be honest about letting them down? How very, very odd.

Nine days to go before I cycle to Brighton. Not many opportunitues for training rides between now and then. Gulp. I'm really impressed by how much people have donated though. Total sponsorship so far: £8682.99. You can make it even more here.

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