I looked in my old e-diaries this morning.
In January 2000 – exactly thirteen years ago to the day – I had a drink and snack with someone at a pub in St Martin’s Lane, London, because he allegedly had a ‘comedy idea’. I will call him Roger (not his real name).
The comedy idea turned out to be a ‘character’ who rants on with various allegedly ‘right wing’ ideas taken to the extreme in order to outrage the audience: We should kill off the weak in society to make life better for everyone else etc. This character would be posing as a ‘New Conservative’ – “You were right to boot us out at the election and choose New Labour because we were pussyfooting around. Now we are New Conservatives with real policies…”
The idea was to make people believe it was true, that the character was a real person espousing real policies, to generate outraged articles in the press and perhaps to even get an MP elected on these totally spurious fake policies.
It lacked humour; it lacked any intellectual point; it lacked any means of making money. It was, in short, something Roger must have thought up on cocaine and he certainly seemed to be on coke when he was telling me. He had unblinking wide-open eyes, kept sniffing and rubbing the bottom of his nostrils with his finger, was waving his arms about oblivious to passing customers and bar staff who had to swerve to avoid his sudden body and arm movements.
He was convinced this was a truly great idea which would… Well, he clearly wasn’t actually sure what it would do except involve lots of people being swept up by his genius and affected by what he was doing. They would be affected by his thoughts and actions. Which seemed to me like a straight psychopathic fantasy.
Halfway through our time in the pub, standing at the bar, he decided to get some food. After he ordered, the barman asked: “Do you have a table, or are you…”
“Well, I seem to be standing,” said Roger. “Excuse me, but perhaps I’m imagining it. I don’t seem to see a table.”
“I just wondered,” said the barman, “If you would be going to sit at…”
Roger then carried on for about 30 seconds with sarcastic comments about how he was standing and not sitting, aggressively staring at the barman, who was rushed off his feet. At the end, Roger smiled and said amiably: “Yeah, mate, we’ll be here at the bar.”
He had been trying – in his own mind – to be humorous and (bizarrely) to be loveable. I guess he imagined people thinking: Good old jolly Roger! He’s a laugh!
But the result was what appeared to be an aggressive arsehole, probably drunk and possibly drugged-up, causing aggro for an underpaid, overworked person who had to be polite to any wildly-rude person who was a customer. It was something Roger occasionally did in restaurants to waitresses in a surreally mistaken attempt to chat them up.
When we were both working together in Amsterdam, there was an occasion when he growled at an old woman cleaning the tables in a cafe. He just growled and kept growling. He thought it was humorous. She thought – entirely reasonably – that he was potentially dangerous.
When we worked together at one ITV broadcasting company, he was reported to the management for sexual harassment by one girl. He had clasped his hands on her breasts. He said he had been joking. Later, at another ITV company, he was reported again for sexual harassment. Again, he said he had been joking. I think he thought he had been. He was consistently bad at gauging people’s reactions to his actions.
Of course, drugs may have had something to do with it. But maybe not.