Richard and Judy meet the Classics
I honestly have very little ambition to be a tv don. I know that a good number of academics do secretly – or not so secretly -- hanker after the celebrity heaven of their own Starkey-style series. Not me.
The effort-reward ratio never seems quite right. The hours of preparation, make-up, nose-powdering, dressing-up is out of all proportion to those few minutes when you’re visible on the screen. Unlike radio, when you turn up at the studio, say your piece, have a friendly drink, and go.
All the same, when the call came from Richard and Judy a few days ago, I didn’t say no. The story is in the trade that a feature on Richard and Judy can turn even the most unprepossessing book into a best seller. Sadly, that’s not why the call came. They were wanting to talk about Spartacus, the Roman rebel slave. I’ve recently been advising another BBC drama-doc on the Spartacan rebellion (it’s broadcast on Friday night). Richard and Judy wanted to know if this was more historically accurate than the old Stanley Kubrick-Kirk Douglas version.
It turned out rather as I feared.
I was down for my six or so minutes at 5.30, but I had to turn up by 4.00 to go through all the procedures (it’s a bit like checking in for a flight). Now I should say that all the support staff were utterly charming. There was a car provided from the station to the studio, free coffee, a goody bag to take away (with a picture of Richard and Judy and some nice smellies), and the lady doing the make up seemed entirely happy to make me up to look just like I hadn’t got any make-up on at all (ditto the hair stylist).
The titivating took about half an hour. The rest of the time the guests were thrown together in the Green Room: in addition to my fellow Spartacus expert, My Trow, there was a starlet from EastEnders (who was chatting away to her minder, apparently about the virtues of helicopter travel), an American doctor who had apparently succeeded in teaching babies to read before they could talk (one of his two year old graduates had been brought along, but she took one look at the cameras and sensibly went to find Mum), and the finalists from MasterChef.
What Richard and Judy themselves were like, I couldn’t really say, because you don’t actually meet them. The whole thing is so well orchestrated that you only sit down on the famous sofa about ten seconds before you’re live, and you’re ushered very politely away afterwards.
Back on the train to Cambridge I nearly had my own Spartacan rebellious moment, when even on the expensive £29 commuter train there was not a whiff of a seat, even 15 minutes before it left. Resigned to sitting on the grubby floor, I mused on how odd it all was and how unlike the radio. What on earth was all that make-up and hair doing FOR? Couldn’t they just leave you as you were? And just imagine how odd it would be to turn up to do In Our Time on Radio 4 and come away with a goody bag of cosmetics and a signed photo of Melvyn Bragg.
But I got my come-uppance for these supercilious musings. As I walked out of Cambridge station, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. “Gosh,” she said, “you’re looking REALLY good.” It was, of course, the make-up and the hair do.
Richard and Judy 1, Beard 0.