Canavan’s column - March 7, 2013

BBC TV reporter Nicholas Witchell
BBC TV reporter Nicholas Witchell
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NOTHING sends the British media into a flurry of panic like the Queen being ill.

When she was taken to hospital with gastroenteritis - diarrhoea as it’s more commonly known – every news channel in the country went into overdrive.

ITV, Sky and the BBC had reporters covering every inch of the pavement outside King Edward VII’s Hospital talking earnestly into a camera and saying things like “Basically, George, we’ve no news.

“The hospital is saying nothing and neither is the Royal Family.

“We know the Queen’s in there but that’s it.

“However, as long as I keep talking in a very solemn voice, arching my eyebrows every so often to suggest concern, then maybe the viewing public will believe we know what’s going on. Back to you in the studio.”

I love it when the Queen is ill.

Actually let me rephrase that, for, while in no way a Royalist, I have nothing against the Royal Family. Indeed I believe they do a great job. Who else is going to fly to Papua New Guinea and shake hands with a tribal leader?

When I say I love it when the Queen is ill, what I mean is that I love a Royal story because it means we get Nicholas Witchell.

I love Nicholas. We go back a long way. Why, I’ve been watching him on screen since the 80s.

There are two things I particularly like about him. The first is his expression. He could be stood on beautiful, sun-drenched island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by two buxom blondes gyrating in tiny bikinis, and still have the look of a man who has trodden in dog muck.

Wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, he looks thoroughly cheesed off.

Secondly – and maybe this is the reason for the above – the poor chap seems to be dogged by controversy. I was watching in 1988 when, while he was reading the BBC Six O’Clock News with Sue Lawley, a group of homosexual women invaded the studio as part of a protest.

None of the women quite made it on to camera, mainly due to the fact Witchell grabbed one and sat on her. All the viewers saw was a distracted-looking Lawley attempting to read from the autocue with some loud grunting in the background.

The Daily Mirror’s front page the next day, memorably, read: “Beeb man sits on lesbian”.

Just when that incident was almost forgotten (though probably not by the woman he sat on), in 2005 another furore. In Switzerland to follow Prince Charles and sons William and Harry during a skiing trip (the Royal family taking a well-earned holiday after being forced to attend the opening of factory in Doncaster ... probably), Witchell asked a question at a press conference.

The Prince of Wales said, under his breath: “These bloody people. I can’t bear that man (referring to Witchell). I mean, he’s so awful, he really is.”

Once again old Nick, through no real fault of his own, found himself in the headlines. This year, with the Royal baby due, the Queen’s guts clearly a bit dodgy, and especially if Harry holidays in Las Vegas again, Witchell will be on our screens more than ever. The Joey Barton of newsreaders, I hope for another controversy before the year’s out.

Crying with laughter!

WHILE visiting my dad in hospital the other day, he told me a funny story.

A man, accompanied by his wife, was wheeled into the ward and put in the bed opposite.

As the porter left, a nurse approached them and asked: “Have you come from triage?”

The wife replied: “No, we’re from Chapel-en-le-Frith”.

It’s the kind of exchange Barry Cryer would have appreciated, a comedian I went to see in Morecambe at the weekend.

I’ve always wanted to see Cryer, a man regarded as the grandfather of comedy, who has written for all the greats, from Morecambe and Wise to Kenny Everett.

He’s 77 now and was everything I’d hoped for, reeling out joke after joke during a two-hour set.

For no reason other than to hopefully brighten your day, here are a couple that stuck in my mind...

I was speaking to a blind man the other day who has done 1,000 charity parachute jumps. I said to him ‘I’m full of admiration for all the money you’ve raised and the good work you’ve done, but do you mind me asking one thing … how on earth do you know when you’re about to hit the ground?’ The blind man replied: ‘It’s simple. The lead on my guide dog goes slack’.

And... on their silver wedding anniversary a man says to his wife ‘we’ve had a great marriage haven’t we? Just do me a favour (pointing to the bedside table), never look in that bottom drawer’.

The woman is puzzled and a little concerned but as the days go by, forgets about it.

Years later, on their golden wedding anniversary, she is cleaning the bedroom when suddenly those words pop into her head.

Holding her breath she opens the drawer. In it are three golf balls and a pile of cash.

‘Malcolm,’ she shrieks. ‘Get in here and explain what this is about?’

He trudges into the room, sees she has opened the drawer, sighs, and says: ‘Well, I suppose you should know. I put a golf ball in the drawer for every time I was unfaithful.’

The wife is horrified. But then she thinks ‘50 years together, three women – I can live with that’.

‘OK, what’s the cash about?’ she asks.

‘Well ,’ says the husband, ‘every time I got a dozen balls I sold them for a tenner.’