C U Next Tuesday

Back in early April, I was watching Graham Norton on television and enjoying it very much. I love that show. I laugh and laugh. Dave loves it too, but he never watches it. He'll wander in when I'm watching it, hear a joke, laugh and laugh, then leave the room before there can be another joke. I have no idea what that's about.

Anyway, I figured the only way to get Dave to see a whole show was to take him to a taping. So I emailed off for tickets, mindful of the warning that it could take them quite a while to get back to me.

Along rolls July, and I'm offered tickets on one of three dates. I e-mail back my preferences, and was told I was in on the 22nd of July.

In the mean time, a friend kept asking me what Graham Norton wanted us to do. The show is very big on audience participation, and frequently they ask the audience to bring something from home, or have stories prepared, or have photo portfolios done, or something. Sometimes they're insanely funny, sometimes they fall flat, but they're never anything like any other show would do. But they hadn't asked us anything. They hadn't told us anything. The tickets arrived a week before the show as promised, but there was no form to fill in or anything. There was a warning that not all ticket holders will get in. Damn. So we have Dave taking half a day off work, we have a sitter coming for 10 hours, we have a two hour journey to get there and a two hour journey back, so we can stand in line for an hour trying to appear "up for it" so we can get in. We considered cancelling. I mean, we're hovering in early middle age, and are just not the sort of people who can do back flips to impress strangers. We both have our strong points, but planning to be "up for it" along side a few hundred bouncy 20 years old, it just seemed we didn't stand a chance.

Around rolls Friday night, and the e-mail finally arrives. They want to know if we have any heirlooms, small things no particular value. They suggested things like a plastic comb from Granny or a silver spoon. I came up with a list, although some of the things on my list probably do have value. Some of mine are 100 years old. they also wanted to know if we'd ever seen a ghost, been in a haunted place, or just knew any good ghost stories. Bingo. I spent 6 years of my childhood living in a haunted house. I can't compete with the back flips, but stories and heirlooms are among the of the perks of getting older.

Stories and list of heirlooms went out. Of course we didn't hear anything back right away because it was the weekend. Monday arrived, and I was wondering if I should go out to get the train tickets. I rarely use my mobile, so I hadn't given then the number. I had to think of an excuse to get it to them, so I played dumb and wrote to them to ask if we should just bring our things along, or wait to be told which things, if any, to bring. I gave them my mobile number in case they needed to get me today. Smooth or what? Okay, or what. But it worked because they wrote back and said no decisions had been made, but they would call me if they wanted my stuff. Then they wrote back a few minutes later to ask if my US heirlooms were in the US or the UK. UK!

A few hours later they called my mobile, asking if I would mind bringing my stuff. Not at all! I felt much better because it was unlikely they would let our stuff in but not us. The trip would be worth making. It's not that I have any desire to appear on television, it's just the price to pay for attending this particular show. Most of the people who go don't have to do anything, so I was perfectly happy to leave the limelight to those who desired it and just enjoy the experience. But by agreeing to let them use my heirlooms, we were definitely in the door. No standing around trying to prove ourselves. And it's unlikely that either of us will have to appear in our underwear (lots of people do!). I asked Dave to wear nice pants anyway, just in case.

Then my mobile rang again. They'd very much like to have some time with my heirlooms before the show, and could they send someone around to collect them in the morning. Fine by me, easier than me trying to get breakables to London on the train then the tube in rush hour. I did tell them I had baby swimming in the morning, so I wouldn't be around between certain hours. She said she would call back and let me know if they wanted to do that.

So she called back later and said it was much more expensive than they thought it would be to collect a parcel from this far out. What time was I planning to arrive, and could I make it earlier. I had to check with Dave and the sitter, and asked her to call me back in 15 minutes. Which she did. But she no longer wanted me there early, she wanted to send a courier after all, but tonight rather than in the morning. Also fine.

I asked her during the last call what the bit was. They're doing a spoof of Antiques Roadshow, and want to value people's stuff. She said a lot of people have things like plastic skulls Granny gave them at Halloween, but they wanted some good tat like mine too. I asked if this meant we were in for sure, and she said "Pfff... oh that." She said they find if they don't throw that in, no one can think of stories or ways they can participate.

The morning of the show, the woman from Graham Norton called again. She wanted me to try to place monetary value on the items I'd sent in. That's no easy task. These are heirlooms, so I didn't buy them, neither have I been in the market for them and noticed prices elsewhere. I mean, once you have an orange carnival glass candy dish, you don't really need to know how much you'd pay for another. So she suggested some amounts, and I agreed to them. 10 for the bread pan, 20 for the Shirley Temple cream jug, 30 for the shot glass with the Mormon temple on it, 100 for the ceramic vase, and 20 for the carnival glass candy dish.

At the appointed time, we went back to the studio to stand in a queue at the audience entrance (aka the loading dock). A young man with a clipboard was able to stop telling the inquiring hoards that he was not on the selection committee, and they would have to wait to demonstrate that they were up for it, and that tickets probably meant they would get in, long enough to ask if I had any heirlooms. We were sent straight to the priority queue, where we had a good vantage point for watching those who still had to prove themselves. They didn't appear to be doing anything very special, although the woman in the white spandex top with no bra did wait until the clipboard people had passed her before putting on her jacket. In fact, the whole crowd went from not very special to downright dull when the clipboards left. Then again, we were looking at people who were not in the priority queue, which was getting very very long behind us.

I noted with interest that the latest fashion trend seems to be bras with clear plastic straps so they don't show when worn with spaghetti strap tops. The things I miss out on! In my day the straps were a badge of honour. I wondered about all the problems such straps might cause, with flesh becoming hot and irritated because it couldn't breath under them, but no one seemed to be having problems like that.

We had a nice chat with the people behind, one of whom also had an heirloom. The people in front of us actually had stickers on their tickets that said PRIORITY, and they told us it was because they'd come all the way from Manchester for it, and they figured the Graham Norton people didn't want them to make a trip that long for nothing. I guess Cambridge isn't far enough away for that.

Clipboard people came by to talk to me a few times, and eventually pulled me and the woman behind me out of the priority queue. I asked about bringing Dave along, but they said he's miss the first half of the show if I did, and that he would have more fun in the audience. I could join him later, they said.

Inside, a group of six people with heirlooms was shown to a room with a small amount of teal paint in it, a "green room." They brought us bottles of water and cans of cola and had us wait. We talked nervously amongst ourselves. One woman had what she called a Turkish banjo. She was nervous because she didn't think it was really even an heirloom since it only belonged to her grandfather then father. I said that's pretty much what an heirloom is. She sort of hinted that maybe her father didn't know she had it. Another woman had a shot glass with a hunting scene on it. She said she'd looked it up online and learned that if she had two, they would be worth 400. One guy had a blue doll. One woman was embarrassed because she'd only brought an old plate with animals on it. I tagged one guy as the clear winner because he had his father's watch, medal, and vibrator.

Another heirloom guy was brought in, so we talked to him for a while. He had his Nan's wig from Sweden, which was a wooly red hat with curly brown hair coming out from under it. They'd all grown up wearing it for photos and stuff. He valued it at 5 pence. Someone wandered through and told me my item for the show was my bread pan. Graham was going through and making choices.

Wig man said he'd come along at the last minute, that his work said they had tickets for who ever wanted them just the day before, and he was the only one interested. He offered them the wig that very day, and was shocked and pleased that he was selected. I remembered seeing him outside in the non-priority queue, trying to get someone's attention. Someone else said she'd gotten six tickets, but couldn't find enough people to use them all. It seems odd that some people have to wait three months for tickets when they're of such little apparent value elsewhere.

Blue doll guy got told that Graham had decided not to use his heirloom. Oh well, off to the audience. Some of us hoped audibly that our items would also be excluded and that we could go watch the show. Just as shot glass lady started fixing her makeup, someone came in and told her she was excluded. Just as we were starting to wonder who would be excluded next, we were told that the remaining five of us would be going on for sure. The two guys started furiously text messaging everyone they knew.

Eventually someone wandered in and suggested she might bring us beer and wine. We agreed heartily. There wasn't much time left before we went on, and we were getting pretty nervous. She left and came back twice saying "OOPS, I forgot the beer and wine" before actually bringing some in.

The other heirloom people thought they'd overheard who the guest was, but I didn't know the name. That's not unusual, I don't really follow celebrities, and didn't even grow up in the right hemisphere to appreciate the work of most of the people who go on the show. Someone saw him, and confirmed it was Nigel Havers. He looked familiar, but I couldn't say why.

Our monitor came on, but without sound at first. Dave told me the warm up act was great, but I didn't get to hear it myself. We were seeing raw footage, but I noticed Dave got on camera a lot. He looked good, and was laughing in all the right places. He later told me that there was one joke he thought was bad, so he pulled a face, which made Graham stop and try to explain it to him. Dave got seated close enough to Betty that he felt he'd had a brush with greatness.

Nigel wandered into our room and asked us if we were on the show too as he stole some of our water. The two guys asked if they could take photos with him, and he was very impressed with their phones that allowed them to do that. He'd never heard of such a thing. At some point he told us he had to go because he was very nearly expected on stage. He was very polite about it though. He did indeed appear on stage on our monitor moments later.

Someone came in and confirmed that we all knew what we were going to say about our items. Keep it short and informative with a personal twist, and then just answer whatever Graham asks. He'll keep things on track, don't worry. He's great, he's casual, he's professional, he knows what he's doing.

We only had a short time to swill our booze before being led back stage, down black curtained alley ways with orange speed bumps every few feet over the many electrical cables. We were taking care to walk quietly, but the stage hands were stomping on the speed bumps.

We were taken in pairs to collect our items and name tags. Banjo woman was first and I was second. We were put in place in the wings, just where we would be going on. The stage manager told us to go out when called, do our bits, leave behind Graham and go stand on the black carpet while the rest of the people got their items valued. We would be able to find it because it's carpet and it's black. If we got lost, Graham would direct us. In whispery tones in the dark wings, we were told that just because they film us is no guarantee of getting on the air. Whew!

Graham announced that because Nigel liked to collect antiques, we would be honouring him by having a game called "Antiques Roadkill."

Banjo woman went on and gave her suspected value at 500. She was told that it was actually a Turkish balalaika, and that it was cheaply constructed from plastic and plywood, that it had holes that had been repaired, and was generally knackered. Actual value was something like 50, but I didn't hear for sure, because I was distracted by someone grabbing my wrist so she could propel me out at the right moment.

Suddenly Graham was boggling over my surname and I was walking out on stage. I told them that the bread pan had belonged to my grandmother, that it had a nice pattern on it that made the bread pretty, that it had always been used in a wood stove which left the dark marks on it, and that it was probably from about the 1920s USA. He pointed out that it could be vintage kitchenware, or it could be Americana. Nigel guessed 15. Graham said it had to be more and asked the audience to bid higher, which they did. He said that before he read the value, he was going to read the valuer's description of it, which was "a useless piece of rusty tin." Value 0. I laughed. He dismissed me saying it didn't matter because I was loaded anyway.

From the black carpet, I watched the wig guy come on and do his thing. He was great, and Graham tried on his wig. The actual value was around 4.50, so he was pretty pleased. He left the table in front instead of behind, which made the carpet go wonky. Next up was the guy with his father's watch, medal, and vibrator. The watch he said was about 1, but the actual value was more like 50. The medal he thought would be around 50, and it was actually more like 5-6. The vibrator ended up being 4-5, a big decrease in price because it had been used. Plate woman went on guessing 20, and her plate was charming. Nigel offered her money for it on the spot. It turned out that a whole set of it would have been worth 800, but the single plate was worth 40. She was thrilled.

The audience was allowed to pick their favourite item, which turned out to be the wig rather than the vibrator. The guy collected a 500 gift certificate for clothing. Not bad. The mad camera man ran at them and skidded on the displaced carpet, then they filmed a promo with the winner.

With the cameras off, Graham said he really thought the bread pan should be worth something, and asked me about my name. He wanted to know if I came from a wealthy family. Nope. Oddly, even though England is close enough to Holland to throw rocks at, there are very few Dutch names here. I guess he figured you need to have money to not have your name anglicised.

When we got back to the green room, we were given more beer and wine and told we couldn't go back out because the audience was full, but we'd be given tickets to attend another show. It turns out that on this night they had made good on their threats that not everyone will get in just because they hold tickets. They guys started furiously texting everyone they knew again. The woman whose idea the sketch had been hung out with us and discussed the temperament of various guests they'd had on the show as she basked in the glory of her success that night. There had been three potential audience bits, and hers was the one that got on. We commented on other shows we'd seen and liked or not liked. She was happy that none of the ones we hated were hers. It seems each night is assigned a team who takes it from brainstorm to completion over the course of a few days. The ideas are bounced off Graham who gets to decide which ones he can make funniest, then the team has to do back flips to put it all together in a very short space of time.

The musical guest went on, and Dave appeared on camera a bunch more. He told me later that it was fun to watch the mad cameraman, the one with the camera on his shoulder rather than a stand. He was running circles around the singer, and the two guys following him trying to keep the cables untangled were knocking over mike stands right and left.

The show is taped from 6-8pm, then airs at 10:30. They want it to appear live, and with that little time to edit, it really does. We were taken to collect our other heirlooms and meet up with the rest of our parties, then shoved out the door so they could go edit furiously.

We got back to Cambridge, home in time to see the show broadcast rather than having to watch the tape later. They'd cut out banjo woman and vibrator man, making me first, wig man second, and plate woman third. They left in about 60% of what I'd said, which was fine with me. Even less might have been better. From the hundreds of good shots they got of Dave, not one got on the air, but then I didn't see that anyone in the audience was really distinguishable from anyone else in the few audience shots that were included.

Dave did say he had fun, and would be happy to go with me when the replacement tickets arrive.

© 2003 Susan Van Valkenburg
since 23 July 2003