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DAVID CHARTERS; Almost anybody can claim to be a celebrity.


YOU would find more elbow room in a can of beans than on the lowest rung of the celebrity ladder, where the buck-toothed bibliophile rubs tweedy shoulders with the crumpled moth-collector and, together, they shower dandruff on the pigeon-toed poet, who is trying to woo the rising weather-girl with a stapled copy of his self-published anthology, Odes From A Dank Cellar.

And if I am not very much mistaken, there is the jingle of the numismatist whose florid dicky-bow has just penetrated the murk, inches ahead of the puffing philatelist, but still behind the long strides of the monocled botanist, noted for her definitive work on the coastal marshes and "the fascinating wildlife which can be found therein", as she expressed it so eloquently to the doughty members of the Women's Evening Fellowship, during her still-revered talk to them in 1959.

Of late, perches along this crowded rung have become even harder to hold as the new breed of minor celebrities is unleashed from the numerous unwatched digital TV stations' joining the one-hit wonders, retired football referees, pastry chefs, carbon-dated journalists, shadow boxers, wig-wearers, recovering alcoholics, crusted disc jockeys, unicyclists, bit part players in margarine commercials, creative accountants, deranged nettle wine bottlers, ramblers and mountaineers, reformed bank robbers, flower arrangers, giggling origami experts, the never-ending queue of disgraced politicians, unfrocked vicars, still-frocked interior decorators and the growers of giant cucumbers.

From time to time our heads are bruised by the boots of loftier celebrities on the descent.

But way up there, out of view, on the rarified rungs are the major celebrities such as retired prime ministers, US presidents, writers of books which sell, televised comedians, chat show hosts, film and pop stars and "gods" from the various sporting activities, which periodically stir the nation into paroxysms of excitement.

These days almost anybody known beyond his or her immediate circle can claim to be a celebrity, but your place on the ladder is determined at the top by column inches in the papers and air-time on radio or TV, rather than any particular distinction, stretching down to the bottom, where the rest of us jostle for position.

The fee for what is known in the trade as a "personal appearance" (as opposed to manifesting yourself in a ball of ectoplasm) is the measure of your standing in this league. It can range from hundreds of thousands of pounds for President Bill Clinton or Posh Spice to a cup of tea and a biscuit for the man with his pre-war slides of single-decker buses in Rotherham, or his friend, who has been recently released from an institution, where he had regained his self-esteem by treating fellow patients to 919 different bird sounds every Sunday night. How well those of us who belong in the second group know the sound of gravel crunching beneath our shoes as we approach the latticed windows of the church hall. Here you will find the WIs, the Townswomen's Guilds, the local history and nature study societies and the debating groups.

At one end of the room, you will find Madam Chairman, the secretary, the treasurer and the events organiser sitting at a table on which rests the gavel and block to bring the meeting to silence. On the other side of the room are the chairs set out in rows. Typically there are about 80, but if the tickets haven't sold very well, which would suggest that nobody has heard of you, a diplomatic decision will be made to leave some of the chairs in a stack at the corner of the room.

Even so, in her introductory remarks, the chairman will suggest that the members are about to be delighted by someone who has the wit of Oscar Wilde, the repertoire of Peter Ustinov and the gravitas of Winston Churchill, all delivered in the tones of Richard Burton.

Then you are invited to speak for between 45 minutes and an hour, after which there is a question and answer session followed by tea and biscuits. It is crucially important that your first joke should work. If, in the seconds after its delivery, you can hear the shuffling of feet and the bitter easterly wind rattling the windows, you know that opening before you is the longest hour since Charles I was informed that the executioner awaited his pleasure.

The other key tip is not going on too long. There is an old showbiz saying that you should stop while they still want more, but we shouldn't exaggerate here. Your timer should be the hiss of the kettle in the kitchen. Undoubtedly many of the ladies do enjoy listening to the speakers, but they like having a gab among themselves as well.

What we should celebrate is the survival through the electronic age of these organisations in our church and village halls.
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 31, 2006
Previous Article:Rare chamce to see classic titles.

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