So, the day before I turned 51 I was laid up in bed with one of those mystery ‘viruses’ doctors diagnose when they haven’t a bleeding clue what’s wrong with you, and I happened to check my junk mail box on my email account.
A new mail had gone there directly, and when I opened it, it claimed to be from Endemol, the TV production behemoth. In the subject line was Celebrity Deal or No Deal Jimmy Carr Special.
I read through and apparently Jimmy had nominated me as one of the 22 ‘celebrity box openers’ for a charity special he was filming on Good Friday (6 April). If I accepted the offer, myself and 21 other comedians from the circuit would get to appear on the cult C4 show hosted by one of my childhood icons Noel Edmonds.
I was giddy and intrigued. It was such an out-of-the-blue offer. As someone who’s been part-time on the circuit for the last couple of years due to a prolonged period of self-discovery and tan enhancement, I was amazed that any TV company was interested in using me onscreen for anything.
I was intrigued because while I know Jimmy and worked with him a few times when he was on the circuit, I seriously doubted I was in his top 22 comedy chums of all time. It had to be a scam or a mate taking the piss.
I know this makes me sound incredibly paranoid but it wouldn’t be the first time a ‘friend’ had done this to me. I was once on a quiz show with Jonathan Ross back when I was a journalist, I should’ve won a car but instead I got some of Elton John’s old platform shoes. The next day, my phone at work rang and a ‘producer’ from a TV company was offering me all kinds of televisual opportunities. Said ‘friend’ waited until I had told every single person I’d ever known before coming clean that it was a prank. Needless to say, that person is no longer a friend.
But I digress. How was I gonna work out if this was kosher? I replied to the email saying I would love to do the show, but it was dependent on me being able to get to my gig that evening. Within seconds, the researcher came back with train times from Bristol to Sheffield where the show was. If this was a hoax they were on the ball.
I wanted to get on Twitter and ask my comedy pals if any of them had been asked, but if it was a genuine offer, then I risked pissing off those who hadn’t been approached, all of whom would suddenly have a better claim to being one of Jimmy’s pals than me. I asked one of my closest mates and he’d not been asked but he is secure enough for it not to matter. His advice was say nowt to no-one until you’re sure.
After a few days of exchanging emails and phone calls with the production company, I saw my mate Mark Olver online. I tweeted him asking if I’d be seeing him on Good Friday and got the response that I would. I should explain that Mark is the warm-up man for the show as well as a comedian, therefore bound to know if it was legit.
I had my confirmation, now I could relax and plan what to wear. The rules were pretty comprehensive - no black, no white, no stripes, no sparkles, and of course no red as the boxes are red and you’d look like you just had the number on your belly.
It was suggested that I wear what I might wear to go out to dinner on a Saturday night, but after almost 20 years of working every Saturday night, dinner for me was a sandwich back at the hotel or a selection of fried animal in a basket at the venues. In the end, my last choice of an old hippy-ish jacket was their first choice and everyone was happy. Me especially cos I didn’t even have to change the bottom half as it’s not seen onscreen.
The rules were pretty comprehensive - no black, no white, no stripes, no sparkles, and of course no red as the boxes are red and you’d look like you just had the number on your belly.
I was asked my age, and when I responded that I was 51, the lovely girl on the phone came back with ‘can you stand unaided for two hours?’. ‘Of course I can’ I said, only mildly insulted, and of course the next day my raddled, arthritic hips began to play up making a mockery of my indignation.
Because the show was being filmed relatively early on Friday morning, we were asked if we’d like to come down the night before and stay in a hotel in Bristol. The majority of us jumped at the chance and those of us who didn’t have gigs on Thursday night met early and went for dinner. Afterwards, as we sat in the hotel bar drinking, bullshitting and catching up there was a steady stream of arrivals as comics who did have gigs began to arrive. None of us knew for sure who was taking part so it was quite exciting as one by one the ‘cream of the circuit’ made their way to reception. It’s very rare that you get more than two or three comics in one place except the festivals, so for a gang this size to be together, was a real treat.
We gossiped, laughed, bitched and traded gags and insults far later than we should have given the early call time. Truth be told we were all a bit excited, no matter how blase we pretended to be. A few of us were regular viewers of the show, and you can be as cynical as you like, when they get someone on who you connect with or care about, you get involved. Yes, it’s a game of chance, but that doesn’t stop you wanting someone who’s had a few bad breaks in life to win a decent amount of cash. I’d even been considering applying to be a contestant on it, though of course now I am ineligible.
After breakfast we were ferried by coach to the studios - on an anonymous Bristol industrial estate, and guided through the pre-show procedure. Wardrobe examined our three outfit choices, we were taken through the rules - you mustn’t touch the box till Noel tells you to, etc., and given a dummy run at opening the boxes.
Now in reality it’s all very simple, all we had to do was not swear too much, be supportive of Jimmy, get involved in the game and open the box when he picked our number. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Jimmy arrived and he seemed as excited/nervous as us. The pressure was on him to win big for his charity, the excellent Helen and Douglas House. They run hospices for children and here’s a link so that you can give them some dosh as well:
As we were dressed and made up - a huge thanks to the make-up artists on the show, they made us all look bright eyed and bushy tailed - it was like an episode of Extreme Makeover as one by one sallow skinned and saggy eyed comedians emerged looking faaaaabulous darling!
Then we were led into the studio. The ‘pilgrims’ were already seated and Mark was doing a great job of warming them up. They were all wearing black and were far younger than I expected. You could tell the recognised one or two of us (not me) from telly, but they were as supportive of those of us they didn’t know too.
A man came round with a bag of balls and we all had to choose one. This is how you get your box. Mine was 5 and said box was placed in front of me. As instructed, I didn’t touch it, but placed my hands either side and as I did, I noticed that the veneer of the wooden desk had disappeared completely in two hand-shaped spots. The sweat of hundreds of players had eroded the varnish!
Suddenly Noel Edmonds came out and it was very odd to see him in the flesh. As a child of the 70’s he was the voice I heard before I went to school in the mornings and the face I watched on Saturdays (well before Tiswas started). He almost didn’t seem real. He was though and off we went.
Once we got halfway through the game, the atmosphere changed, a lot of the big money was gone, taking with it the flippancy from most of us hard-bitten, cynical comedians.
My box was chosen early on and in an only slightly mocking way I made comments about how my box felt full (phnar phnar) and how I was convinced that I had a huge amount of cash in there. Of course I didn’t have a bloody clue, but if there was 50p it would be funny and if I had the £250,000 I’d look psychic, win/win. Turns out I had the next one down - £100,000 and this prompted Jimmy to call me a witch. All good telly.
Once we got halfway through the game, the atmosphere changed, a lot of the big money was gone, taking with it the flippancy from most of us hard-bitten, cynical comedians. His charity is an amazing one and we all got gripped by the cult of DOND, even the most level headed of my comedy pals were starting to give a shit! We booed and hissed at the Banker’s derisory offers as well as his generous ones. Our boy Jimmy was going all the way and he was gonna take a bucket load of cash with him.
It’s really hard to describe why or how it happens but you do get totally sucked in, you forget that it is a series of numbers chosen at random, and that the outcome is one that’s purely down to chance. You begin to believe. You start to think that if you really want it bad enough the biggest box will the be the one the player has, and as blue after blue appeared we were all convinced that £35,000 was on it’s way to the charity.
In the end it was down to two numbers £35,000 and £750. Jimmy had turned his game around from a disaster to a potential success, surely the gods would be with him as Noel opened box 22?
Sadly not, he didn’t have the big money Roger Monkhouse did, and I can’t begin to tell you how heartbreaking it felt. Seconds before the entire studio was infected with an elation I’d not felt in years, then bang! With the tearing of a bit of tape it was gone.
There was talk of ‘we can do a benefit and make the money back’ and another suggestion after the show ends all 23 of us would post the link to Helen and Douglas House’s website so that everyone who watched the show or just gives a shit about children would click and donate. I’m going one further and putting it here too, again. Do it. You know it makes sense.
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