Saturday, 2 May 2009

Poetry Today

Eyebrows have been raised across the costlier postcodes of west London at the appointment of Carol Ann Duffy as the new poet laureate, but I’m not surprised, as I fondly recall her sterling work as ‘script associate’ on Square One, Granada Television’s oddball 1981 daytime game show presented by Joe Brown.

This pre-teatime Tuesday treat is largely forgotten now, which is a bit of a shame. (Although the Queen - a woman of refined taste - was obviously a fan.) The premise was simple. “The action-packed quiz in which members of the public join forces with celebrities to win money for charity” paired two ordinary shlubs with two A-list stars - Magnus Pyke and Barbara Woodhouse, say, or Willie Rushton and Diana Dors. We’re talking the pinnacles of fame here, the centre seat on Celebrity Squares.

The ordinaries answered comedy questions, and the celebs, in a masterful touch, were reduced to acting as human counters on a giant floor-sized board, frequently called upon to balance objects, Crackerjack-style, on top of one another, do silly accents and other whimsical ’forfeits’ in order to chase that giddy prize of 250 quid’s worth of wallpaper for Great Ormond Street or neck braces for abandoned donkeys.

In between, Joe would banter away in full cockney verbal regalia (supplied, of course, by the future laureate) and take part in some self-deprecating shtick about his less-than-immortal showbiz career, tell a few ancient jokes ("Are you having that lobster for tea?" "No, he's had his tea, now he wants to go to the pictures!") and embark on an epic attempt to tell a meandering, endless gag about some geezer who goes into a boozer. No doubt these will all resurface once the Eng Lit dons get on her case - expect to see a fully annotated selection of Square One banter in next month's Times Literary Supplement.

In the meantime, I’m taking bets on the contents of the first Royally commissioned poem: ‘Enery the Eighth 7-1, ‘Walkies!’ 4-1, ‘There’s this geezer, an’ ‘e walks into this boozer…’ evens favourite.

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