Captain T N Brownlegg RN (Rtd)
It’s that man again - and he’s not any better than he should be.
Augustus ‘Gus’ Brownlegg-Fearn
Director of Programmes at the company. Just as sinister as it sounds.
Ms Gloria Gaumont
In charge of selling the channel’s output. Just as disgusting as it sounds.
Former director of programmes now living in a photocopier. In the Grauniad every week!
Head of Customer Relations and part-time crossword.
Ectoplasm from earwax a speciality.
We love you.
On the road with Shell:
On board the A-R Digital charabanc, following a turn from Muriel on the squeezebox and another from Gloria Gaumont on the back seat (she was breast-feeding Carlton and stroking the Captain’s forehead, or vice-versa), Swami Leslie Harblo was sitting at the drop-down table, moving stone runes and reciting a very odd chant.
Gus, Spencer-Wells with Tray 3 open and Jean Morton sat watching, fascinated, listening to the low moans of “izzy wizzy, let’s get busy” and “Hare Secombe, Hare Carpenter, Hare Worth, Hare Hill”. They were not sure if Harblo - a state registered psychic (under section 5, sub-section 6 of the Mental Health Act, no less) was actually doing anything, but given the intensity of the mood, something was going to happen. He ceased moving the stones. The other three listened, fixed in rapt admiration.
Harblo opened his eyes to the heavens, then stared down at the table, and said “Ha Ha! Checkmate, Mr. Spencer-Wells! That’s thirty quid you owe me now!”
John Spencer-Wells could only reply “I wouldn’t keep losing if you didn’t keep using those stones. Why can’t you use the proper chess pieces like a real chess expert?”
Leslie’s reply was swift. “Because I’m a medium, you fool, not a chess expert! The last time I played with that chess set Boris Sparky was visited by the Ghost Of Christmas Past, and gave up chess to play with Scalectrix. The stones protect me and the game, and anyway, they’ve foretold many, many, many things…”
Gus said in hushed tones, “Like wot, Les?”
“That anyone who plays a game against me is cursed to lose, unless they win, and then they’re just cursed”. An evil smile spread itself like Echo margarine across his unlovely features. Brownlegg stirred and shouted, “Can’t you keep the bloody racket down?
“All this frivolity must cease, as (a) you’ll wake Carlton up, and (b) my head is splitting after the last issue of the rum ration”. He took the map down from the luggage rack, and said, “Right, all of you, gather ‘round. We are about to enter the city of the dead. It’s a spooky mission, very frightening, and some of you may not come back. The last time this company made a network show, they almost made the top 100 TV programmes locally”.
Jean was mortified - it could only mean one company they were visiting. “But what about Lookaroundabit?” she said, correctly guessing the destination, “that was their most popular News programme”.
The Captain replied, “But when your most popular news programme only gets mail from sheep, disgusted at the quality of arable and grazing land, and fouling up Channel 4’s ‘Video Box’ by making it smell of mutton, you know that your core audience is turning the aerial away from your transmitter. They even want to watch (gulp) Crapton now!”
The shock waves this sent around the table were even felt by Muriel, who was struggling to drive the coach through an ever-darkening forest populated by the rare Five o’clock Owl (breed name ollias beakus) and trying to avoid dropping her piano accordion between schottisches and polkas.
“I’m sorry, everyone”, said Brownlegg, apologetically, “But we have to go to Carlisle. There are people here and there - check out the Dandy Diamont campsite (only an hour away from your PC!! Book Now!! - Sponsor’s message) and the seat of power in ITV surely must be somewhere in the UK. So, get ready to descend into the border country where men are men and so are the women.
“And don’t forget your crucifixes, garlic and brooms”.
The entire A-R Digital staff (and Timmy the dog) made a sign to cross themselves against the latent evil that awaited them in Derek’s Inferno…
END OF PART ONE
Fade up on a northern street. Soft focus. Wet cobbles. Urchins in cloth caps.
Then we see one youngster riding his bike. Dvorak on soundtrack. Dialogue, in dialect: “I used to struggle up the ‘ill to that bread shop on my old bike, just to get that taste of the finest bread we’d ever had - Lowvis. My mam used to say, ‘Albert, you must get one of those Lowvises or I’ll wallop you to sleep with Dad’s cut throat razor’.
“So, being born in the days before health care for all or Childline, I did what I was told, even though I was shit-scared of Dad after too many pints of Guineas. But I enjoyed that bread, with dripping and odd slice of dead dog on it, even when I went over the handlebars and lost all my friggin’ teeth”.
Voice over: Lowvis is as good today as it was during the years of austerity and poverty, and still tastes good with dead dogs. Recommended by Ridley Scott.
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We introduce (thunder crash effect) MOMENT OF IMPACT!
The Brownlegg Bus pulled up outside Boredom Television, having found it using a very detailed map sent to all enquirers. Uncertainly, they crept through the undergrowth surrounding the gate until they reached the reception area.
Gus put a finger to his lips, and said: “I know there’s someone there, y’know, I can smell the decay… just keep ya lips buttoned and let me do the talkin’! Allright?” Gloria, Jean and Muriel stood back in awe, amazed as the bravery and boldness of the Indiana Jones-like Gus.
John Spencer-Wells, however, just wanted to be copiously sick, in the manual paper feed if he had a choice. The Captain said little, but was glad that Gus had taken the initiative, because he was a coward in his own way.
The reception area was darkened, and strewn with dead bodies… A woman, dressed in black and in white make-up, opened her eyes wide, and then said, in a slow drawl, “Welcome To Boredom Television. How can I helppppp youuuuuu?”
The chorus came back, weakly, from the entire Brownlegg Media staff:
“Could you please show us to the boardroom…”
“You want the boardroom, do you? Well”, the woman said, slowly filing her nails with a Stanley Surform plane, “I haven’t had anyone to talk to for as long as I can remember. The last celebrity I met here was Mr. Pastry, or at least he said he was just after taking the office typewriter. The tea’s always cold, cause no one gets a fill-up for the billy can. The ironing’s always piling up. And the kids in the next maisonette are always playing their music til all hours and having wild parties…”
Gloria said nothing, but led everyone quietly away down the corridor, saying softly, “The silly cow, if she’s got problems she should try for another post.”
Spencer-Wells, his interest awakened by the coquettishness of the receptionist - he’d always nurtured a secret passion for Goth ladies, as well as a collection of Fields Of The Nephilim CDs - said, “But where would she work?”
Glo replied, cattily, “At Belle Vue at a tanner a time!”
Gus found a corridor, with spider webs with dead presenters in them: the man from “Junior Library” was suspended above the corridor, missing a limb and with a half-eaten edition of Ben Lucien Berman’s “The Owl Hoots Twice At Catfish Bend” at his side.
At the end, there was a sign, blinking in red, reading, “DO NOT ENTER. ABANDON ALL HOPE”. There was a faint muffled sound.
Muriel felt rather bolder now, so taking a big swig from her emergency bottle of glucose drink, she kicked the door down, and entered the studio. The moaning became louder, as they approached a filthy shed in the corner; they looked in, to find two very old people sitting there, mouthing, “let us out!”
They started banging and hollering silently. Jean and Gloria were particularly pleased at this. “Oh, look! For the first time since we came to this dump, someone’s welcoming us!” said Jean. Glo added, “Yes! And so enthusiastic too!”
The group waved back, warmed by this spontaneous show of affection, and Brownlegg said, in his gruff but kindly voice (specially selected for the occasion), “Sorry, we have to go, but thank you for being so nice to us and each other! Enjoy the show!”
The old couple didn’t appear to hear them, but continued banging on the door and windows. Muriel said to Jean, “It’s nice to see that ‘Mr And Mrs’ hasn’t changed its format one bit over the years”.
After climbing over many more bodies, and working their way around the building, they eventually find what they want - the Boredroom.
The Captain stepped forward, and trying the handle and finding it stuck, called to Gus, “I think you and I had better use a battering ram. Assume position, Spencer-Wells!”
Leaping to a horizontal posture, Gus and Brownlegg took hold of the photocopier and used it to storm the powerhouse at the heart of Carlisle’s premier TV station. The door splintered into matchwood.
Inside, they heard music, strange, familiar music, coming from a Benkson Transistor 8, and a voice: “Hi, all you nit-pickers, welcome to the exciting sound of Deadtown Radio, and you’ve just heard the wonderful Te Deum remix by Paul Oakenfold, no. 1 in our local music shop, Alma’s Record Bin. This next platter’s doing very well on 12-inch, but I like the 15-inch deep pan remix - yes! It’s Gottdamerung by Richard ‘Miserable’ Wagner!”
A single gaslamp illuminated the table, leaving most of the room in shadow.
A cream and beige voice spoke. “How nice of you all to come… many apologies for the state of the building, but it’s our annual staff party and you’ve arrived during happy hour.” Brownlegg adjusted the wick on the gas mantle to reveal the face of Dread Batey, drinking from a bottle of meths and playing Russian roulette with a naval cannon.
Gloria said, “Hey, you! The last time I saw you, I was auditioning to be a hostess on ‘Mr And Mrs’ in a hotel room near Clerkenwell Close in London, and you went off and left me with the bleedin’ bill!
“And I still never got on that show!”
Batey was, to say the least, a little perturbed by this. “But, Ms. Gaumont - and what a lovely child you have there. Is it mine? I mean, you’ve called at a bad time, when all we ever seem to do is produce episodes of ‘Mr And Mr.’, and all the other things we produce are forgotten by the viewers as soon as they watch them.
“We’re so poor we even stole a transmitter tower from Croydon so we could broadcast in the Isle of Man. Not that it does any good, I mean folk are too racy in the Isle of Man, ask any girl from Peel or Port St. Mary. I know I have. Don’t make a scene at a time like this…”
He sobbed into the soft folds of his casual slacks. The Captain saw an opportunity to console an old compadre at the game. “Come on, skipper”, said Tommy, “What do you think you need to do? Accept a takeover offer from the brightest new media company around? Or rebuild your company and its reputation right here and now?”
Batey thought for a moment, and said: “I have a dream. A dream to take agriculture to the masses. Not Emmerdale, like. I mean, really to make “Border Farming” a national primetime series, well funded - maybe even with European farm subsidies - and to feature, if money was available, the famous farmer Mr. Jones of Cockermouth, the most famous person in the region”.
The Brownlegg Media crew were totally stunned. “Oh, no! That is a terrible idea! But highly suitable for ITV1”, said Gus, “We could get Hughie Green to host. Or maybe Hugh Carleton-Greene if he’s available. It could be a replacement for ‘Blind Date’ - we could call it ‘Blind Hate’!!”
Dread Batey was furious. “I just knew that you A-R types would try to spoil my idea!
“But”, he said with a sneer, “At least we had in-vision continuity, unlike your horrible clock!” Brownlegg and his staff shouted back, “Well, at least we were a bit more professional than your snotty-nosed, weak-kneed announcers!”
“Oh really?” said Batey, “Watch this, this might change your mind!”
He placed an ancient QUAD tape onto the dust-covered player, and pressed the button…Vision - a magnificent Heraldic Clock, showing the time coming up to 7 o’clock.
Grams - the end of some meandering piece, probably by one Mr. Bates, lumbering to a close.
Sound (R. Kyle v/o) - Tonight’s programmes on Associated-Radiation include…
Vision - Adastral on clock grinds to a halt, droops and pops out on a spring, dangling in front of the clock face and bouncing slightly.
FX - Boinggggg! (softly, off-mic, as if in another part of the room)
Sound (RK v/o) - We regret that the Adastral appears to have fallen off the clock…
Vision - a hand appears, in silhouette, and is seen attempting to re-attach the adastral. It spins, lopsidedly, for a few moments, and then pops off again.
FX - Boingggg! (softly)
Sound (RK v/o) - I’m sorry, but we appear to have a technical problem. Luckily, I am quite handy with scissors and sticky tape.
(Murmurs and rustling noises are heard off-mic. There is a muffled thump, and the sound of running footsteps. A voice says, “He’s been watching that new children’s programme ‘Blue Peter’ on the other side”)
Vision - fade on clock; fade up caption reading “An Announcement is now being made in sound”. The caption is upside down.
Sound (L. Twitchell v/o) - This…Is London. I think. We apologise for the fact that we have already done that bit, and that you all knew you were in London anyway, so perhaps it’s about time that we dropped it and did something else. And a more interesting piece of theme music would not go amiss while we’re at it, thank you. The Other Channel has a jolly ripping bit of tune, though they don’t seem to know when to use it. Thank you, and goodnight, everybody, (pause) goodnight.
Vision - the clock reappears, the adastral is stuck on with Sellotape and rotating eccentrically at a varying speed, backwards. It looks as if it will fall off, again at any moment.
Sound (RK v/o - a little breathless) - I am afraid that we are running a little late this evening, so we now return you to our programmes.
Vision - the adastral droops and falls off.
FX - Clink! (Softly).
(There is a distant crash, as if a door has been opened violently, and a high-pitched piping sound is heard)
Sound (off) - Officer on deck! Come here, boy! What in …… is going on here, you… (more expletives follow as the sound is gradually cut off).
Vision - fade to black, roll A-R endcap.
Brownlegg sat with his head in his hands. “What do you want, Batey?”
Dread Batey said, “Oh please, please, take me with you! I can’t stand it anymore! With Grandad taking over, there’s less to do than on a Job Creation Scheme! Please, please, PLEASE!!”
The Captain raised himself to his full height, and said, “No, and in any case, no-one will ever believe that the tape existed either. (By this time, the reel was burning on the obsolete QUAD machine).
“Come on, you lot”, he said to his crew, “We are going. Goodbye, Mr. Batey, and hard luck”.
They once again embarked on their magic bus on a merry prankster’s magical mystery tour, and Brownlegg summoned them all to a back-seat meeting. “What’s the verdict, Unc?” said Gus.
“Well, my boy, ITV has no seat of power in Carlisle, it barely has a studio either. I think we need to travel further and dig deeper.
“Leslie, do you have a sign? Any sign?”
Leslie Harblo motioned for them all to keep quiet as he dealt out the Tarot cards, and said; “Whatever will happen is written in the cards, or by Morrissey and Marr. How soon is now, anyway? And by the way, John”, he said to the Canon photocopier, “don’t you dare shout snap!!”