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Hamming it up with the burghers; TOON AND COUNTRY.


IWAS upstaged this week by some burghers, the president of Iran and a Thames eel; slippery customers all of them.

Yes, I know plenty of TV folk have warned me not to appear in the same shot as children, politicians or animals but the money was good and my agent told me it would make me the Jeremy Paxman of Persia, so how could I resist? Besides, how else would I collect bizarre tales like this one with which to enthral you? That's how my life is at the moment: supporting the Maggie's North East cancer charity Milfield one day - the Red Lion's golf day and hog roast raised an amazing pounds 2,575 for that great cause - and down in London the next, scripting and presenting a documentary on Democracy in Danger for Iranian TV.

First, my problem with President Ahmadinejad began in London, when I and my camera crew fled from outside Parliament and into a pub as the capital's weather turned nasty on us.

"Why don't we shoot some footage in here?" I suggested, brightening as a foaming pint arrived at my elbow. "You know: 'Jowly British journalist interviews long-suffering London landlord about expenses-fiddling MPs he serves'?" "No, 'fraid not," said my producer. "They wouldn't like you being filmed in a pub," he explained, pointing to his executive director hovering hesitantly in the doorway. But we all knew he was really referring to President Ahmadinejad who, coincidentally, turned 53 on Wednesday (Happy birthday, dear Mahmoud). Broon Ale doesn't go down well back at head office in Teheran. So we braved the showers and trooped across Westminster Bridge on to the South Bank from where I could be filmed doing my Paxmanesque walkie-talkies with the imposing House of Commons as a backdrop across the river.

"Cut!" I could hear the producer yelling, but I couldn't see him. Suddenly, the 50 yards between me and the camera crew had become thronged with crowds, running and pushing like fleeing rioters.

A car crash? Some catastrophe? Not at all; a conger eel, as thick as my forearm and twice the length, had been landed with a flourish and was now flailing among the piles of autumn leaves that swirled along the Embankment.

"We can't film here!" roared my producer, outraged by the strange Western river angler's custom of clubbing a conger to death with the handle of his umbrella.

I hardly supposed President A. would have cared for that, either.

Anyway, we retired to the Victoria Tower Gardens alongside the Lords and finished filming the videotaped homilies with me inelegantly draped all over Rodin's rather convenient resting place, the statue of The Burghers of Calais.

And that might have been that, were it not for the fact that I hurried back to Godzone in north Northumberland for a brilliant production of Whisky Galore by the Northumberland Theatre Company at Etal Village Hall and was there accosted by our local furniture maker. "I saw you sprawled all over The Burghers of Calais (I think he said Burghers) talking into a camera the other day," said Alan Green, half of Etal's Taylor and Green firm of craftsmen.

"Me and Cheryl were down in London for the weekend."

"You should have come over and said hello," I protested.

"No, you looked too busy with the burghers," he replied.

You can say that again.

I WAS writing my tailpiece to this week's column, suggesting that either Magpies owner Mike Ashley or Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, might make a better European president than Tony Blair (especially as it would mean getting one of them off our backs) when the phone rang.

My fellow columnists, Messrs Gutteridge and Hann, were waiting for me 50 miles away at Cafe 21 on the Newcastle Quayside. I had forgotten our lunch date. And you can bet they were busy with something a bit better than burgers.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 30, 2009
Previous Article:NORTHERN NIGHTS A full moon [...].
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