Quoth the raven… ‘Nevermore!’ brush with radio panel Roy’s as Mister show royalty and a stint who Tom leads him to wonder quothed what… and why!
‘The phrase: “never work with animals or children…” isn’t credited to anyone!’
I’ve just finished two of the most enjoyable jobs of the year. One was a return to BBC Radio 4 to be part of a panel game that has been a favourite of mine since it first began in 1976 – Quote…Unquote.
I have to tell you I’m not a enormous fan of panel games; an admirer, yes, but I rarely know the answers to any of the questions. What chance would I have against the witty, erudite (I don’t even know what that word means
– a whitening toothpaste perhaps?) panel members of Have I Got News For You, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, QI, Just a Minute, or the mind-bending anagramatic cryptic posers of Round
Britain Quiz. I don’t even know exactly when to drop a coin into the Tipping Point machine.
My scraps of knowledge are gleaned from reading anything from The Great Western Railway Timetable 1936 to ‘Keep off the Grass’ warnings (in Latin). As a child I could recite the list of ingredients on a Camp Coffee label. “Why?” my Gran would enquire...
Of course the great quotemaster, Nigel Rees, who devised and has hosted Quote...Unquote since the Middle Ages always seems to know just what questions will produce funny and knowledgeable replies from the participants. In my case he cleverly angles his enquiries with teasers involving music hall history, jokes and songs, such as, “Complete the following – ‘I’ve got a luvverly bunch of …!’ or “Who wrote the phrase, ‘Quoth the raven’?” I managed to take up a good ten minutes answering that one – let me explain...
In the days when theatrical digs were still in existence, the landladies kept visitors’ books that were signed by paying guests – hopefully with flattering comments about the rooms, hospitality and grub. I was advised to always look through these comments before agreeing to stay. The clever warning guaranteed to send you hastening away was a simple quotation attributed to Edgar Allan Poe. It would say, ‘Quoth the Raven’. And what had the raven quothed? “Nevermore!” In other words, “I will nevermore return to this establishment. Head for the hills!
My second enjoyable job was the title role in the stage version of the ITV film, Goodnight Mister Tom. John Thaw played Mister Tom in the film and I was so flattered to be asked to be part of this unique production.
Oddly enough, it was one of Nigel’s many books that I consulted to try to find who actually said a phrase that is known to everyone involved with showbusiness – ‘Never work with animals and children’. I always thought it had to have been said by yet another comedy hero of mine, WC Fields, but Nigel told me it was said about WC at a dinner by a guest who was asked to sum him up. His description of the unforgettable comic was, ”Any man who hates children and dogs* can’t be all bad.” So the ‘Never work with…’ isn’t credited to anyone. I was anxious to find out who’d said it as Goodnight Mister Tom involved his affection for his dog, Sammy, and a collection of village lads and lasses and evacuees. Next column I’ll spill the beans on my merry crew of friends, the stars of the future.
■ *My favourite quotation regarding dogs comes from PG Wodehouse and applies equally to comedians, “It is fatal to let any dog know that he is funny, for he immediately loses his head and starts hamming it up.”
■ Quote…Unquote returns to BBC Radio 4 from November 5
Goodnight Mister Tom with Roy in the title role looking rather serious with young William