How to make fools of a crowd
I don't know, maybe I'm nuts, but when I was asked to give a little chat to a group of female professionals the other night, in spite of extremely cold feet, I leapt right in and said I'd be happy to.
I am, as a rule, reluctant to give 'chats'. I'm into 'intercourse', quite frankly. I like to roll the conversation around on the floor a little, exchange some juicy stories and hope the person with whom I'm conversing is having as much fun as I am. The fact is, this column is the closest I'll ever get to a one-way conversation and it's only because I don't have your phone number.
My problem with giving speeches is that I don't think I have anything all that interesting to say . . . ahem . . . this is where you're supposed to leap in, protesting that the column on clearing out my children's toy box provided enough intellectually stimulating material to keep a room full of professionals mesmerised for at least . . . You get my point: the types of things that keep you and I happy for 700 words or so, are not necessarily speech material.
But when Cathy informed me the theme of my evening's chat was April Fools and Bloopers, I figured I was on terra firma. I have no shortage of material when it comes to feeling like the April, May, June, July (etc) Fool.
I got the ball rolling by reciting a laundry list of embarrassing moments in radio, including the time I got hiccups while doing a report with an echo effect on my microphone. It was like childbirth - agonising, undignified and seemingly endless. By the time one hiccup faded, the next one began.
I dug back to my disco days and the night I glided out of the ladies' room past the row of polyester-clad dudes, with one end of a roll of toilet paper attached to the heel of my 13-centimetre Elton John-esque platform shoe.
I realised this only after I made my way on to the dance floor, having left a battalion of medallion-wearing fellows laughing hysterically and pointing at my 10-metre tail of pink bathroom tissue.
Having recalled a number of occasions upon which I felt the April Fool, I invited others to regale the group with their own tales.
There was the story of a cub reporter filing one of her first stories on a politician accused of sexual misconduct. Her copy, read aloud across a room full of co-workers, noted he was a 'pubic' official. One woman entered a talent show and made the mistake of having a couple of drinks before she went on stage. Another called out the name of her lover's sworn enemy in the throes of passion.
But the best tale of the evening took us back a few years to a woman's first job in television as a production assistant. She was 22 years old and had been given the task of retrieving a drunken news presenter of a British television breakfast show from his mistress' flat, ferrying him to the studio and sobering him up before they broadcast live.
To her amazement, when the cameras rolled he was lucid and credible but the minute they went to a commercial he became a drooling drunk again. Her job was to slap him around during the breaks. What she forgot was that at the end of the programme they went to a wide shot. She was captured 'live from London', with her rear end to the camera giving one of Britain's favourite news presenters a good hard shove while screeching, 'sober up'.
That was a pretty impossible tale to top, so I wound things down by thanking them all for joining in, for letting the conversation roll around the floor and for exchanging some great juicy stories.
As I rode off in my taxi, I thought to myself: 'That was really OK. I think I'm over my fear of speechifying. All I had to do was to pose the right question. A question Anthony Newley has been asking for decades and one I basically begin this column with every single week - I don't know, what kind of fool am I?'