Saturday, 3 November 2007

Week moment

.How soon the future becomes the past when you get older. Christopher Fry complained: “When you are old you seem to eat breakfast every half hour.” Or as my jungly friend Lord Langford who bought himself a quad bike on his 90th birthday puts it: “Growin old is not for Cissies.”

To me Xmas comes but once a week and it always seems to be Friday.
Not that I am against the sere and yellow. My only serious ambition in life was to retire. I had an agreeable picture of myself in an alpaca jacket, leaning on a walking stick and pottering through my rose garden.

So carried away by this vision was I that I left the Daily Mirror when I was thirty, moved to Chester and retired whilst I was still young enough to enjoy it. Alas, I fell in with a group of racing men, book makers and professional gamblers and, as a result, the next ten years were passed, in the words of Lord Rochester, “in a mist of perpetual revelry”.

The swinging Sixties swung right over my head and I cannot remember a single thing about my retirement.

It ended abruptly when I was forty and met my wife and her family of High Achievers. In self defence, I became an author and broadcaster.
Which is how I came to meet Jess Yates, who was born in a cave in Llandudno and grew up to be a brilliant organist, a legendary television performer, the most innovative programme maker in the history of the medium and a total disaster as a human being.

After World War II, West End cinema openings were spectacular occasions which all the stars attended. It was Jess who created the spectacles. For Cockleshell Heroes, a war film, he recreated a Commando landing in the cinema foyer with all the noises of war. He organised circuses, mini Hollywood musicals, Arabian nights…

Inevitably he was snapped up by TV where his great achievement was a star studded show watched by millions called “Stars on Sunday”. Gielguid, Kitt, Olivier, a constellation of Hollywood and Ealing Studio stars not only appeared: they kept coming back. Which was a mystery because the show had a minute budget.

The secret was the contacts book Yates had made during his days producing West End Spectaculars. He would ring a star and invite him or her to spend a day with him on a free Sunday. He offered a car to collect them, a slap up lunch, dinner and a night in a top class hotel.

And in return? “Sing me three songs or read me three extracts from the bible.”

Fee? “No fee. But,hey, what are you doing on Sunday anyway?”

Amazing the number of stars who accepted his invitation. They would sing their songs, without rehearsal, Yates would tape them and drop a song in each of the next three programmes.

Yates’s fall from grace is a tragedy for another day. When I knew him, though, he lived in a mansion at Rowen in North Wales. He was a penniless recluse, unable to write the biography for which he had taken the publisher’s gold. I was hired to ease it out of him. It was an eerie experience. He would take you from the front door along a corridor and into a wardrobe which opened out into a palatial flat where he hid with his girl friend Anita.

The stars did not desert him. Eartha Kitt rang one day and invited him to take her for lunch at Porth Meirion, the smartest hotel in North Wales.
Unable to admit he was broke, he agreed, but warned Anita to say they were on a diet and to order only cheese biscuits and water.

Eartha innocently went through the card and, as Yates watched in agony, ordered champagne, oysters, fine wine and the house speciality. He knew the bill was going to be far more than the few pounds he had in his pocket. After the meal, during which he had nibbled at a biscuit and sipped at the house water, ravished with hunger he excused himself and went to the lavatory to count out his few pounds.

On the way he was stopped by the Maitre d’. Yates sensed everything was over. He would be disgraced; the paper which had hounded him would have a field day. He was about to confess he couldn’t pay the bill when the manager interrupted him.

“Mr Yates, we are so grateful to you for introducing Miss Kitt to our hotel. OF COURSE THERE WILL BE NO CHARGE FOR THE MEAL.”

* * * * * * * * * * *
I was an expert on being poor. When I came out of the army I took a job with a news agency, got married and was sacked the week after we returned from honeymoon.

The only work I could get was a casual Saturday shift on the News of the World, which paid £4 and 10 shillings in real money. My rent for two rooms in a very smart house was £2. I had married a Jewish princess who knew nothing about laundry, even if we had hot water. So we had to pay 2/6 a week to get the washing done. Didn’t cost a lot because I only had two shirts. We could do what we liked with the remaining £2 7s. 6d. which meant we ate every other day.

I had to keep half a crown back to buy myself into a lunchtime drinking school every Thursday at the Waldorf, in Cooper Street, Manchester, where John Milligan, the News of the World Editor, drank with the news editor, Graham Haslam.

At some time during the hour that followed the news editor would say, “Doin’ anyting on Saturday, Skiddy?” “Don’t think so, Graham. Why?”
“Wonder if you would do the late shift for us?”

It meant a ten mile round walk to the News of the World but for a year that was our only income.

We were in the house one day sharing a cigarette we had made from the week’s collected dimps. The front door bell rang. I was wearing my good suit and my one clean shirt ready to go to the Waldorf, so I went down.
There was a tramp at the door.

He said he had just come out of prison and did I have the price of a cup of tea. I said I was broke, and saw him look at the smart house in which I lived, the well cut navy suit and polished shoes I was wearing and then he looked back down the long drive to the road.

The look he gave me, utterly defeated and totally disbelieving, went straight to the heart. Halfway back upstairs I remembered the half crown I had put on one side to buy my way into the round. I ran after him.
He looked terribly guilty but I pressed the half crown into his hand and returned home rejoicing.
My wife asked, while I was at the front door, why didn’t I pick up the washing from the front step?

I went back.

No wonder the tramp had looked guilty. He had stolen it. For the next six months I had to sit in my vest whilst my shirt was washed under a cold tap so I could go to the Waldorf and get my Saturday shift.

The highest penalty for urinating in public was dealt to Pierre Pinoncelli, a Frenchman who was fined 45,122 euros (£31,400) in 1998 for relieving himself into artist Marcel Duchamp's modern art urinal, called Fountain — said to be worth £1.9 million.
He described his "attack" as a surrealist act.
Now, however, authorities believe they may have come up with the answer: le mur anti-pipi.
This brilliant, yet simple invention is an undulating wall that fires urine back in the direction of the offender.
"The jet of pee is rather oblique. If it meets a sloping surface it is sent back to the trousers," said Etienne Vanderpooten, a municipal architect who has been working on the problem for the past 25 years.
"It is the case of the arroseur arrosé [the sprinkler sprinkled]," he told the Nouvel Observateur magazine.

SAD NOTE; You can count on three fingers the truly fine people I met as a broadcaster. Two now that Ray Gravell has died. He was a legend as a rugby player and one of the few human beings I have met who was without an ounce of vice. The BBC has archived the last job we did together, a film about his hero Owain Glyndwr. I treasure the walking stick he gave me as a memento,
Although he had a massive cohort of fans, including the film star Peter O’Toole and used to terrify opposing rugby teams by singing Welsh warrior songs in the dressing room and although he had less cause than any man to be humble, he was humble,sweet and generous. And you don’t get many of them to the pound.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Well it seems Tomos got off rather lightly.

Having read your post about your greatcoat I am going to start leaving my trench unbuttoned at all times.