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Wednesday October 16, 2013

A memorable night with the kings of comedy

These days few invitations are capable of luring me away from my cacophonous frogs and mellifluous menagerie in the Majorcan hills or for that matter the vegetable plot, lemon and orange orchard and my scribblings. Much as I might juggle daily writing deadlines like plates in a Greek diner, the aromatic fusion of rosemary, jasmine and lavender wafting up to my window is a wonderful antidote to stress – as is the mellow sun grinning from the tips of the Tramuntanas. Soller, not London, is definitely where it’s at for me.

So when my long standing friend, the actor Nicholas Parsons, asked whether I might organise his 90th birthday celebrations with him for a host of showbiz friends in London, I had a long mull. An adrenalin rush it would inevitably prove to be but as a reincarnated Worzel Gummidge with a penchant for midwife toads, was I the right girl for the job? About fifteen years ago, we’d put together a similar do when Nicholas had astonishingly clocked up 60 years as an entertainer so I reckoned that this time it would be rather like Groundhog Day – but with his guests looking a mite greyer at the edges.

Once again comedian Paul Merton, his good friend and fellow panelist on BBC radio show Just a Minute offered to speak, as did skilled orator Gyles Brandreth while Kit Hesketh Harvey agreed to concoct one of his witty ditties at the piano. So far so good. As it happened a London based chum worked with me on the event and together with Nicholas’s wife Annie and the slick team over at the Hyatt Churchill Hotel, everything went like clockwork.

The only rub was how to recognise the guests. As someone who for the last 12 years has studiously ignored television save for indulgent bouts of Have I got news for you and the odd documentary, I accepted that I was wholly ignorant of the new wave of celebrities in Britain. To my relief most attendees were comedy icons, many of whom harked back to my youth such as Pam Ayres and Josie Lawrence. June Whitfield and I had both attended the same school although as she wryly pointed out on the night, not at the same time. Then there were the likes of Esther Rantzen, Christopher Biggins, Virginia McKenna, Ian Lavender and Henry Kelly. But the piece de resistance was chatting with a gaggle of old boys – the greats of British comedy such as Barry Cryer and Dabber Davis. Dabber, once a comedian himself, had become a showbiz agent representing his close friend Bob Monkhouse whom I had the fortune to meet in my early twenties when a press officer for charity, Help the Aged. He and other multi-talented older stars often gave their time to promote the needs of the elderly. In fact it was also there that I first met Nicholas Parsons, another great charity benefactor, and the lovable Stanley Baxter who took me for lunch on a snowy day in Edinburgh and made me laugh until it hurt.

Happily Nicholas’s big bash at the Hyatt Churchill was a spectacular occasion and very moving – though the room was filled with laughter and many a gag. Nicholas, with his thick snowy hair and lineless skin (botox free, unlike some of the younger guests present) proved that you’re never too old to work, party – or laugh.

At the end of the evening I caught up with master of the one liner Paul Merton and his comedy actress wife, Suki Webster and admitted that I was a fraud, more at ease feeding the hens, chatting with my frogs and hanging out in the hills in an old T-shirt, shorts and bare feet. To my delight I learnt that Paul didn’t have a mobile, was not swept up in the world of social media and rarely took much notice of the news. In fact both he and Suki pointed out that I had a life that many would crave.

Of course they were right. The bright lights of London still hold their magic and it was a party to be cherished but later that night as midnight struck, this Cinders was very happy to hot foot it back to her Garden of Eden in the Spanish sticks.

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