You have been reading Episode One of what would have been the greatest sitcom ever.
We’ve been inundated with questions asking… Why? What happened? Why wasn’t there more? Was someone ill? Was it too political? Did some high-up intervene, and block it? Did a key actor drop dead? Etc.
For the first time since those golden days, we take you behind the scenes, to reveal a carefully guarded professional secret – this is WHAT HAPPENED.
Peter Jones, when I first worked with him, was the archetypal macho male. Charming, witty, upper crust, but adamantine. When I later reminded him of this, he said he couldn’t remember a single instance of that kind of behaviour.
Too late, he’d begun to be thoughtful towards his somewhat highly-strung wife. She was convinced, told me so, that she’d sacrificed her own promising career as an actress to let Peter star. Far, far too late, he was being very, very kind to her; truly thoughtful; consciously, conspicuously a reformed human.
Peter’s sense of humour, and mine, overlapped in many places and one day he said, “We should be able to come up with an effective sitcom…” He already had a notable writing track record, in comedies he both wrote and starred in.
We were crossing (I think it was) Trafalgar Square one time when I suddenly said: “Private prisons”. “That’s it,” he said.
We were getting on famously with the first episode when an unexpected life-change intervened.
Peter’s wife was American and her sister, in the States, said I’ve had mother for twenty-five years – it’s your turn; reckoned she’d served her stint and she brought mother over to St. John’s Wood. It was the English side of the family’s time to do its share. To pull its weight.
When his mother-in-law materialised, she related that she’d been twice rescued from her grave by heroic American medical intervention – insurance fully paid-up.
In Peter’s study, Episode Two of the script was going well when Peter suddenly broke off. “She’s outside. I’m sure.” He flung open the door – no-one. From that moment, Peter was haunted and kept sensing the old lady everywhere. Mum-in-law was a sandwich short of a picnic by then, ninety-four, and really, really wished not to be resuscitated a third time.
We had a brilliant first episode, but no more was written. My co-writer was spooked.
Peter (fans will agree) was a jewel of a man. He was hugely in demand for after-dinner speaking. He asked me to direct him in a stage compilation of his funny stories which we tried out at Southwold. His commentary on a fly settling in the studio, when the TV picture of the big match had gone down, was hilarious. But he couldn’t quite be bothered to give his show the proper finish by coming up with new writing, so – it went O.K. to a devoted, but not too discerning, audience.
Memorably, Peter recounted to me a chilling outing at Oxford – he’d been invited there to entertain. He described a president of the union bash at which an obscene mock marriage was staged between two students dressed in slash-and-burn gear and all of it attended, giggled through and condoned by high-up clergy, tarted up in their canonicals, cracking the most foul jokes Peter said he had ever heard in his life.
It took a lot to shock Peter. He seemed, almost, to want to report it. Higher education…? I wish I could have recorded this story. It’s useful to know what your betters are up to.
Lots more memories, but that’ll do for now.
Most people will remember Peter as The Voice of the Book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
And there’s a nice story, typical of Peter, in Are You Going to do That Little Jump? The Adventure Continues.
A darlin’ man…