After Loose Ends



I am on Radio 4’s Loose Ends today, a programme I have enjoyed doing since the late 80s. These days it is fronted by the splendid Clive Anderson, pre-recorded on Friday and goes out at 6.15 on Saturday, but back then it was live for an hour at 10am and was hosted by the unforgettable Ned Sherrin. This is a bit from my autobiography about the post-Loose End pleasure of those Saturday mornings…..



“After Ned’s closing topical quip he removed his headphones and rose from the table.


‘Thank you everyone. I am now going to the George pub round the corner. If anyone would like to join me I shall be buying the first round.’ And so, at 11am, we arrived for opening time at the pub, where Ned would buy his promised round, even if there were twenty members of a band supplementing the guests. Here, hair was let down, anecdotes unsuitable for broadcast were told and, occasionally, a liaison was made. The latest I ever left the George was 9 pm but the record was held by David Soul, who, by staying for twelve hours, completed the full day’s drinking session.


More usually, I would leave after a pint and unwind by walking through the West End. Great Portland Street to Oxford Street, where I duck away from the crowds down the avenue that takes you past the Palladium Stage Door, along Great Marlborough Street, right into Berwick Street with its sociable market stalls and So High Soho, a temple of femininity where, for comedy purposes, I sometimes buy funny costumes and copies of the Cunt Colouring Book.


Past the Raymond Revue Bar, left along London’s premier gay thoroughfare, Old Compton Street, to the Cambridge Theatre at Cambridge Circus and down alongside the National Portrait Gallery, siphoning off left before Trafalgar Square to Charing Cross Station, where I take Villiers Street to the river and cross the Hungerford footbridge to Waterloo. On the skyline to my left, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, ahead the Festival Hall and the National Theatre, beneath me the swirling grey waters of the Thames. To the right stand the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Every one of these names recalls stories and characters from my past. Oh London, multicoloured metropolis, the only world city in Europe, the town that bred me, my London, look at the big old capital on a Saturday lunchtime, greeting all the world, relaxed, glamorous, glinting with promise, pulsating with a billion possibilities.”


Lots of Gigs to be found here

10 Years Ago…

Balance March 2012

It was my first time in Geneva, that grand old town on the lake, but I cannot say I was enjoying myself; propped up on 3 pillows, I lay in my hotel room, desperately trying to ignore the pain in my stomach and the thought that this was going to be my last night alive.

Three months earlier I had spent 12 days in hospital – the first 3 in Intensive Care – with pancreatitis, or rather, to give it its full title, severe acute necrotizing pancreatitis. “You’re not out of the woods yet,” the doctors had said when I was discharged, and advised me to rest a while – another attack could prove fatal. I spent weeks living gently – but, as I grew stronger, began to feel the desire to return to work, particularly to do the Radio 4 programme about France I had been looking forward to so much. The Vosges, I want to go to the Vosges…

From the moment Sara-Jane, the producer, and I touched down in Annency I knew I was ill again.  Stomach cramps crushed my appetite, I felt enfeebled and my urine was the colour of a full-bodied Rioja. Our visits to the former residences of Rousseau and Voltaire were an endurance test. I took no pleasure in the mountains or the lakes and nearly vomited during the section about the strong local cheese. However I was determined to make it through the recording so that I might not end up in a hospital (or graveyard) in a foreign land.

I made frantic phone calls to my doctor brother, Richard, in search of medical advice. The three days became an ordeal – for Sara-Jane as much as me. Having your presenter die on duty abroad would look bad when she next had to fill in a risk assessment form. She is my friend; she fretted. On the last night we crossed the border into Switzerland where I sat in the hotel writhing and trying to will a postponement of the inevitable collapse – at least until after I had flown back to London. This agony was clearly the sequel to the pancreatitis I had been warned about and, like all sequels – except for The Godfather of course – it was worse than the original.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I was near their dangerous centre.

At 3am I went into a coma and died…… well no, obviously, I survived, but I was admitted straight to hospital once I had dragged myself home and was not finally discharged until a month later.

Why do I tell you this? Well, because it happened ten years ago and I want to remind myself on its anniversary that I survived, so that I might enjoy more fully the days I live in now. And to suggest to you that, sometimes, things do get better and that you should cherish the life that you have.

A couple of years ago I returned to Geneva and sat overlooking the water thinking “Phew!”