“Nigel, he's added some sort of terrible quiz show segment.” Tony ranted as he paced up and down the small control room, weaving his way around Nigel and the young work experience girl Holly each time.
“I know Tony, he sent me the details and set, with express written notice that it's part of your contract to do the segment as detailed.” Nigel replied.
“He's messing with us, he knows I want out and he is making this as difficult and frustrating for me as possible.” Tony continued.
“Of course, that sounds like Gerald all over.”
“I suppose, on the bright side, if our new friend Tony James is in charge, it might makes things a bit less bland.”
“That's the spirit. Just go out there and have fun, be Tony James and kill it.”
“I'll give it my best shot.”
Tony wandered back into his dressing room and sat in his chair, staring at the wall. On the wall was a picture of him and Michael that he always kept in his dressing rooms for good luck. It seemed that for once, it hadn't been working, or if it had, he didn't even want to comprehend the amount of bad fortune that would have occurred otherwise.
He wondered, what would Michael do in this situation? For all his long standing friendship, Tony had got so caught up in the madness around his show that he hadn't been keeping in touch with Michael as much as usual. He missed his sensible advice.
For example Michael probably wouldn't be advocating presenting a TV show as a fucked up alter ego version of himself. Though if Michael had been around he wouldn't have been put into this position in the first place, Michael would have spotted the ridiculous parts of the deal and torn it up. If only.
That said, he owed it to Michael to protect the enviable reputation that he had helped Tony to build, or at the very least, to see it go out with a bit of a bang. A great actor (if he said so himself) taking one last crazy part to prove his skills to the world before his career runs out of steam.
One last crazy part. That sounded about right. This was The Tony James Show, and Tony James was going to play Tony James like only Tony James could.
It was time. Or at least that was the plan.
“Good evening and welcome to the Tony James Show.” He started as usual. “I'm your host Tony James, here with more talk than a confused mime.”
Tony paused and looked in irritation towards camera 3, whose screen in the control room faced directly where the head writer usually stood. “That's not funny, and it doesn't make sense.”
A few people in the audience gasped, a few others chuckled.
“My guests tonight are the wonderful star of the biggest DIY show in town, Handyman Adventure, James Coleman.” The sarcasm in his use of the word wonderful was unmissable.
“Then we have the not entirely awful comedian Peter Kinsella.”
The crowd applauded and a few people whooped.
“My final guest will be indie pop superstars Chillgame, who will also be performing their latest hit single.” Tony disliked Chillgame so much that he couldn't even bring himself to mock them, yet.
The crowd applauded again. One lady whispered to the person next to her. “Who are Chillgame?” The lady beside her replied. “Killgame? Sounds ghastly.”
“Don't forget we have the fantastic new quiz Celebrity Spin coming up as well, your chance to win twenty thousand pounds!” Again, Tony failed to hide his contempt for the idea of hosting a gameshow.
“So let's bring on my first guest. He knows how to use a hammer, James Coleman!”
James walked onto the set with a big smile, carrying a large inflatable hammer. Nigel, having arranged this earlier, had taken the opportunity to have fun, and selected MC Hammer's You Can't Touch This as his entrance music.
“Welcome to the show James” Tony started.
“It's a pleasure to be here.” Replied James. “I'm a big fan of yours.”
“Why thank you.” Tony replied. “I'm a big fan of yours, well I say fan. I've seen your show a couple of times and not wanted to hang you up on your own MDF like a crucifix.”
Luckily James had a good sense of humour and didn't take himself seriously, so the first appearance of the character known as Tony James didn't seem to offend him.
“It's always nice to meet your fans.” James replied with a jocular smile. “I've seen your show a couple of times and I can't say I would have minded hanging up a few of those guests myself.”
Tony wanted to be rude but struggled as he realised James was actually a smart, quick witted guy. Although James' willingness to join in the banter was handy. Oh god, Tony hated the word banter. He wasn't a 25 year old rugby playing university student with wealthy parents.
“So, having learned how to build an Ikea wardrobe without destroying a room, what led you to believe that was the stepping stone into a career on TV?”
“Well I watched Ladies at Lunch one day, and realised that if watching menopausal women talk about sex for 45 minutes was a viable programme option, then I might be able to make something people wanted to watch.”
Tony laughed. Not even a character laugh, a real laugh. “I can't stand them. It's like watching four old ladies complain about their husbands during a tea break.”
“Exactly. If I can do something useful and teach people a skill at the same time, why not?”
“But there are hundreds of these DIY programmes, does anyone even watch them anymore?”
“I hope so Tony. After all, it's not like LTV would pay me money for a another series if no one was watching the first one!”
Tony nodded. “I'm sure I will find that one out for myself soon.”
Five minutes later, and the first part of the show was done. No one had been too offended, but Tony felt like he had done enough for the change to quite visible, besides, he had quite liked James. Up next was the passable comedian Peter Kinsella, however then the ridiculous quiz came in, followed by Chillgame, and he could not stand them.
“Tony, don't slip out of character now!” Nigel said through his earpiece with mild sarcasm. “You told me you were a good actor.”
“Oi, watch it!” Tony remarked back. “It takes time to perfect the nuances, also, shut up!”
“There we are.” Nigel replied wittily. “He's back! You're on in 1 minute.”
Tony laughed and got ready for the next part of the show.
“Please welcome my next guest, he tells jokes, a fair number of which are quite funny. Peter Kinsella!”
Peter stepped through onto the set, bathed in the bright lights and standing out a mile from the dark carpeted set in his bright pink shirt. Sitting down on the sofa it became quickly obvious that the shirt was close enough of a match to the pink video wall as to make it appear to some people at the back of the audience as if there was a rogue head floating on the set.
“Welcome to the show Peter, it's great to see you here.” Tony remarked.
“It's wonderful to be here Tony.” Peter responded in good spirits.
“I hear your new tour has been doing extremely well?” Tony sort of asked. He wanted to jump in with a rude comment but found it difficult to hide his own personality enough to let his alter ego shine.
“It has been fantastic. 100 dates, most of which were sold out, and an amazing arena gig to finish off with, the biggest show I have ever done.”
“That's fantastic. It's rare for comedians to play in front of such big audiences so early into their career. What do you think the public has latched on to with you?” Tony asked.
Nigel was leaning forward in the control room watching the monitor intently. “Come on Tony. Come on.” He urged.
“Well of course it's because I'm bloody funny.” Peter remarked, offering a cheeky grin to the crowd. For most comedians this would have fallen flat, but Peter had an irritable likeability. “But I think it's because I'm just a regular guy. I don't pretend to be a genius, or to be better than my audience. I am on their level.”
“I think you are right about that.” Tony remarked, the attempt to imply his audience were as average as he was didn't register on Peter or the crowd.
“In fact, that was one of the things that inspired me to write my book.” Peter added.
Tony had never been a fan of promoting products on his show, but he understood it was a part of the way things had to be done. His alter ego however, (when he showed up) was even less keen. “That was brilliantly subtle Peter.”
Peter laughed. “Gotta get the book mentioned early, you might just forget to do it.”
“I once memorised my part for Hamlet in three days.” Tony declared.
“Well when you only have three lines it's not that hard.” Peter jokingly replied.
Tony wanted to say something rude in return but struggled to stay in character when it came to insulting him. Instead he tried to be funny back. “Hey, they were very big lines I'll have you know.”
“So in the book I've tried to go back to my life growing up and my early career and show the developments that made me into the person I am today.” Peter continued.
“A cheeky bastard?” Tony was getting closer.
“The cheekiest of the cheeky bastards I'll have you know.”
“That's quite some accolade.” Not quite close enough.
“I'm proud of my awards. Third in the one hundred metres in year 5 sports day.”
“At least it means your awards cabinet isn't totally empty.” Closer.
“I haven't got one yet, but I'll be sure to ask James Coleman to help me put it together.”
“He is the man with the hammer after all.”
Tony was trying too hard. In trying to say the right wrong thing, he was taking himself out of the character altogether. Curse these guests for not being hateful enough... Tony would laugh at the irony of this thought later that evening. For now he got to the end of the interview and prepared himself for the last two segments during the break.
“I just don't know if I can do this.” Tony said to Nigel through his microphone.
“Tony, you are a great actor. You can do it.” Nigel replied, before adding. “Come backstage quickly, I know what will help.”
Tony ran into the dark control room, Nigel took his feet off the control desk and handed Tony what appeared to be gigantic shot of Whiskey. “Are you sure about this Nigel?”
“What's the worst that could happen? You mess the show up?” Nigel replied with a grin.
“Touche' Nigel.” Tony smiled and went to drink the whiskey. “Bottoms up.”
“People still say that?” Nigel inquired.
“Yes. Bugger off.” Tony snapped.
“That's the Tony we know and love.” Nigel exclaimed. “Well, not really the Tony we know and love, but that is the Tony we want to see performed by the Tony we know and love.”
Tony looked at Nigel with a raised eyebrow, gulped down the drink and headed off back to the stage. “Wish me luck.”
Tony's intermittent mood was changed by the appearance of the temporary set props for Celebrity Spin as he walked back onto set. A gigantic cardboard looking wheel was carried in, fashioned in a crude red and white colour scheme with categories written over the segments. It looked as if it had been designed by a small child using an old box and some half chewed up crayons.
Just the sight of the wheel and the matching podium stand lurking in what was usually the band stand were enough to make Tony irritable, and conveniently throw him back into character for most of the latter half of the show.
The cue came, and the audience at home saw the show return with a shot of a scowling Tony stood behind the podium, aiming his frustration at his autocue. He didn't plan on reading it.
“Welcome back to the Tony James Show, we now come to quite possibly the worst game show it has ever been your misfortune to experience. Celebrity Spin!” Tony remarked with sarcastic joy.
Tony dragged his feet along the black polypropylene carpet as he walked to the spinning wheel, scraping his soles like a schoolboy being forced to do his homework, and causing a crackle of static that was loud enough to be heard through the microphone.
“Yes folks, by answering a few inane questions about celebrities, you could find yourself twenty thousand pounds richer.”
The audience whooped.
“Of course, you won't, because we've rigged the wheel. You'll be lucky to take home a tin of baked beans.”
The audience laughed, Tony was caught off guard, he hadn't even thought about people finding his new character funny. He liked the fact that he could gain appreciation without having to stick to the idiotic setup given to him by Gerald though.
Gerald was watching in his office, tapping his uncut cigar on the table with unusual impatience. When the audience laughed however, he stopped tapping, and broke out in something approximating a smile.
Back in the studio Tony was explaining the rules of Celebrity Spin. “It's quite simple folks, we pick two audience members at random. You have three questions to answer, and for each one you get right you get one spin of the prize wheel.”
Tony went to spin the wheel, but it jammed in place and refused to spin. “Excuse me a moment.”
The audience laughed again. Tony wondered if he should play up to it. He went to spin the wheel again, and as it refused to move his hand slipped from the handle and scraped his skin across the metal clip. “Bloody hell!” Tony exclaimed in genuine pain, in anger he kicked the wheel as hard as he could, a move which promptly saw it unlock and gently start to spin. The crowd loved it.
“Sorry for those technical difficulties.” His desire to crack a joke got the better of him. He looked to the side camera and remarked to his earlier guest. “I thought you knew how to build James? I'm taking this back to Ikea tomorrow.”
The audience laughed, though not quite as much as Tony had hoped. This, combined with glancing the hideous quiz set at he walked back to the podium, kept him firmly in his bad mood.
“So let's see who will be our lucky first contestant this week.” Tony opened the silver envelope sat on the podium. “Mrs Brockwell from Glasgow!”
The audience looked around at each other until a surprised Mrs Edith Brockwell, a surprisingly tough looking 68 year old lady stood up, waved to the crowd, and walked down the stairs.
“Good evening Edith.” Tony started. “Lovely to have you here.”
“Thank you.” Edith replied.
“What would you do if you won twenty thousand pounds?”
“I'd invest it.” Edith explained. “Add to my portfolio on the futures market.”
“Er, okay.” Tony wasn't quite sure how to respond to someone who clearly had no need for any money she won. “Your first question, are you ready?”
“Which pop star recently filmed the TV show, 'Back in the Sack'?”
“Erm...” Edith thought. “Jennifer Crosby.”
“Correct!” The audience applauded. “You've won one spin of the wheel. Your second question. What is the name of model Michelle Jones' pet poodle?”
“I think...” Edith explained. “I think it's Fluffles?”
“Correct! You've won a second spin of the wheel with that entirely useless fact.”
The audience applauded again.
“Last question Edith. Which actor recently broke the world record for most advertising voice-overs in a single week?”
“Ooh, I should know this one.” Edith thought aloud. “Is it... you?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I'm afraid that's incorrect, the answer is Stephen Fry.”
The audience let out an audible groan of disappointment.
“So Edith, time to spin the wheel and get your prizes!”
As Edith moved over to the wheel, the cheesy generic suspense music (as used by all quiz shows of the past decade) started to play. Edith took hold of the wheel and span it as hard as she could.
The wheel rolled round at speed before gradually slowing and coming to a halt on the £100 prize. Cue more disappointment from the audience.
“One hundred pounds, it's a good start Edith. Time to spin again.”
Edith span the wheel even harder, and after about 10 seconds of spinning it slowed and rolled onto the £10,000 section.
“Wow!” Tony exclaimed as the audience cheered. Edith was jumping up and down in excitement, and ran and hugged Tony who was caught off-guard and nearly fell back onto the podium.
“Well done Edith! Spend it wisely.” Tony remarked as the giddy Edith ran off stage after being directed by the cameraman. “That's a good start to this cheesy rubbish.”
Tony enjoyed seeing people win money, but this was all coming at the expense of his own reputation and dignity. Tony silently sighed and readied himself.
“Our second contestant today is.” Tony looked at the card. “Miss Sarah Clarke from London!”
The audience applauded again, looking around to see the randomly picked participant. A pretty girl dressed in black trousers and a black t shirt with a colourful print, stood up and walked down the steps. As she approached, Tony realised it was the girl he had spoken to earlier that week on the Underground. He smiled to her as she approached, an action which made her grin and look down shyly. At this point Tony realised she was wearing a Zombie Grave Diggers t-shirt.
“Nice to have you down here Sarah, what do you do?” Tony asked.
“I'm a film student.” Sarah replied.
“Wonderful.” Tony beamed, knocked out of character by Sarah's reappearance. “What sort of films are your favourite?” He asked, expecting the answer to be horror, slasher, or some combination of the two.
“Well usually I enjoy French cinema, though I do watch a lot of Japanese films too.” She responded.
“A girl of the world, that's great to see.” Tony was pleased to see a smart girl enjoying good cinema. “How are you on celebrities?”
“Well Sarah, let's hope you get some good luck then as we play...” Tony sighed and adopted a mocking tone. “Celebrity bloody Spin.”
The audience chuckled and applauded.
“Your first question. The TV chef, Antonio Gelatino is best known for which signature dish?”
Sarah paused to think. “Erm, is it Lobster thermadore?”
“Ooh, so close, I'm afraid not. The answer is Cheese on toast.”
The audience groaned.
Tony continued. “Cheese on toast? How on earth do you need a chef to help you with cheese on bloody toast?”
Sarah shrugged and smiled in bemusement at the question.
“Your second question Sarah. The...” Tony sighed and gave Sarah a look of knowing sympathy. “...boyband 'Safe Word' had their first UK number one with which song?”
“I have no idea Tony.” Sarah replied.
“I'm sorry Sarah. It was in fact, 'Keeping quiet'. I've not heard of it either.”
Sarah laughed, some of the audience chuckled.
“Your final question, you need to get this one right in order to have a spin of the wheel Sarah, is this. Born in Sussex star Tara Young was recently given which award at the Hiya! Magazine Women of Britain Ceremony?”
“Erm.” Sarah thought hard. “I'm not sure.”
“Have a guess, go on.” Tony replied as he subtly winked to her with the eye that was facing away from the camera.
“Is it, erm, Loudest TV Star?”
“That's right!” Tony exclaimed, even though it wasn't. Several members of the audience who knew the answer looked around in surprise. For reference, the actual answer was 'Best Vajazzle.'
Sarah jumped into the air with excitement.
“You've earned one spin on this junior woodwork project wheel.” Tony pointed to the wheel half-heartedly. “They got a D minus by the way.”
Sarah stepped over to the wheel and got ready to spin.
“Good luck!” Tony said.
Sarah grabbed the handle and spun it as hard as she could.
The wheel spun round and round, gradually slowing. It was reaching a stop between a few low sums of money. It was about to stop completely on £50, when Tony took the wheel and manually rolled it round two more spaces to the £20,000 marker.
“Amazing, you've just won the twenty thousand pound jackpot!” Tony exclaimed.
Sarah put her hands over her mouth in joy, and then promptly ran and hugged Tony. He gave her a friendly squeeze, and for a few moments briefly broke character, smiling in the knowledge that he had done something good in the midst of the chaos.
Sarah walked back up the steps to her seat, scarcely able to believe what had just happened.
Tony was pleased, but only temporarily as he remembered what was coming next.
“That was the terrible gameshow Celebrity Spin, and now please welcome my final guests who are, somehow, the most popular band in the UK right now. Ladies and gentlemen, it's Chillgame, with their latest single, 'broken hearts'.
Chillgame were the very definition of a middle of the road band. Just enough guitars to feign credibility, but dull enough tunes that people who didn't like music loved to be seen with them. The kind of band that became a dividing line between whether you had good taste or were just dull. If you went on a first date and the other person said “I'm a big fan of Chillgame.” The odds are anyone with much taste would point at an amazing occurrence behind the other person, and promptly run as fast as they possibly could out of the restaurant.
However, there was no denying that Chillgame were popular. Five number one albums, three number one singles, and a lead singer that moved in celebrity circles. Charlie Clarke was his name, a shortish, dark haired and Bristol born guy, who, despite the blandness of his music, was known for being a bit awkward in some of his interviews.
After three minutes and fifty two seconds of blandness, they stepped off the blue lit musical stage and walked across the now slightly frayed black carpet to the main part of the set. Charlie led of course, taking the seat closest to Tony, or 'the seat of maximum publicity' on the soft black leather sofa.
“Good evening Charlie, and the rest of the band.” Tony started. Apparently Charlie didn't like the other band members to be named all the time. “Welcome to the Tony James show.”
“It's lovely to be here Tony.” Charlie replied.
“Well, I suppose so.” Tony shrugged.
“Sorry?” Charlie looked back with a confused irritation.
“I can't say I'm a big fan. Your music really isn't my sort of thing.” Tony explained. Half of the audience gasped, a quarter were stunned into silence, and the other quarter smiled as if Tony was saying what they all wanted to hear.
Meanwhile watching from his house, Gerald raised his eyebrow, smiled, and sipped his whisky.
“Well, we're not to everybody's taste.” Charlie snapped.
“That's very true. Though I'm not so sure about the word taste.”
This time the whole audience was silent.
“I'll have you know we've sold almost seven million records.” Charlie waved his finger at Tony as he said this, perhaps, in hindsight not a great idea.
“So did Shakin' Stevens.” Tony, even the new Tony, was always good with his research. “Are you claiming that he is better than you?”
“Of course not, Shakin' Stevens was rubbish.” Charlie replied angrily.
“How dare you insult the master of 50's revival pop.” Tony snapped back. "Actually, Shaky sold over seven million, so he is definitely better than you."
“Oh please, Shaky was a novelty retro act that capitalised on a desire from ageing 50's teens to be reminded of the music of Elvis and rock n' roll.” Charlie knew his stuff too it seemed.
“Green door was a masterpiece.” Tony aired defiantly. "...and you are saying that someone who is novelty shit is better than you? Wonderfully honest."
“Novelty trash.” Charlie insisted, secretly enjoying the argument, but also feeling quite insulted at Tony's ability to say what most people chickened out from telling them.
“Besides, if they were novelty retro trash, then using the same artistic descriptions we can summarise that Chillgame are bland middle of the road bollocks bought by people who have no taste in music and no desire to challenge themselves in the media they consume.”
Charlie was getting redder and redder. The rest of the band just sat there staring blankly at Charlie and Tony, although the one on the end was dangerously close to laughing.
“In fact I would go as far as to say you are the musical anti-christ. At least those cheesy boy bands know they are there to pose and get girls screaming with cheesy pop songs. The way you pretentiously sit there with your head so far up your own arse that you can see out of your own nostrils makes me sick.”
Charlie was visibly enraged.
“That you get millions of sales while interesting and talented bands have to scrape and save just to do gigs is a travesty. If I had my way...”
Charlie couldn't hold back anymore. “Shut the fuck up. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. I didn't come all this way to be lectured by someone with no musical taste whatsoever.”
“I could say exactly the same thing.” Tony grinned as he said this.
Nigel was sat with his feet up on the big control desk, watching the mayhem, and sporting the biggest cheesy smile it was possible to see. This was just perfect. At her pretty little modern flat, Abbie was torn between disbelief and pride for the man she had barely known a few weeks earlier.
“Why the hell would you invite me here just to criticise me?” Charlie enquired with exasperation.
“Well I sure as hell wouldn't invite you here to praise you.” Tony answered. “God forbid I boost your ego beyond it's already astronomical limits.”
“Does Bono know about your ego? He might get jealous.”
“What the fuck do you know? This programme is a load of shit.”
“Ohh yeah. Speaking of shit. This is Chillgame's new album, 'Floating in the Stars.'” Tony pulled out the album from under his desk and waved it at the camera. “It's an insipid waste of recording studio time. To think that a studio which once recorded the Beatles has been lowered to doing your so called 'music' is saddening.” Tony threw the CD away to his side nonchalantly.
“Right, fuck you.” Charlie got up and looked squarely at Tony. “I don't have to listen to this bollocks anymore.”
Tony smiled and looked straight toward Charlie. “Thankfully I can say the same thing about your new album.”
Charlie tore off his microphone and stormed off, the crowd were still completely stunned in silence.
Tony laughed, waited a moment, and turned to the three other band members, each of whom were too amused to follow Charlie off of the sofa. “So, is he always like this?”
The musician at the end of the sofa couldn't take it any more and he burst into laughter, the others swiftly followed.
Tony turned back to camera 1. “Well folks, as an interviewer it's my job to reveal the truth. Job done. Don't buy this album, or that bastard in the green room will get more of your hard earned money.”
The audience seemed incapable of making a sound.
“I'd like to say thank you to my guests James Coleman and Peter Kinsella, and a big fuck you to Charlie Clarke. What a wanker.”
As the credits rolled and the show's music kicked in, the already stunned audience and the gobsmacked viewers at home saw something moving at the side of the stage. Charlie had brought out his bottle of beer from the green room, heard Tony's final remarks, and had started to run across the wide set towards his desk.
Tony saw him coming and quickly stood up, backing away from the desk as Charlie reached the sofa. As Charlie swung the bottle to the desk, breaking the end from it, the other members of Chillgame grabbed him and tried to pull him away from Tony.
As the show faded out to the sponsorship message, viewers were left with the image of ten large LTV security guard bundling on top of the singer from the most popular band in Britain.