Friday, 6 March 2020

I could have been like Esther Rantzen, but they said I was too handsome!

A facebook friend posted this comment on Facebook earlier in the week  "What is Claudia Winklemans talent?". A series of rather nasty comments followed. Whilst I have no great interest in Ms Winkleman and don't watch any of the shows she features in, except under duress, I also have never really had any negative feelings towards her. As the comments became more bitchy, the little part of me that hates bullying and trolling engaged. Even though I doubt Ms Winkleman will ever see them, and wouldn't be bothered if she did, what sort of person would I be if I didn't stick my oar in if I saw someone getting a kicking for no good reason, even if it is on facebook.

Having thought about what she does and how she does it, I put my response down "She is exceptionally good at reading an autocue. She speaks quite clearly. She knows which camera to look at. She turns up for work, on time, sober and camera ready. She gets on well with people. She is not so good looking she is a distraction from the people she is dealing with, but she is not ugly.  Which when it comes down to it is the skill set her job requires."

Too handsome?
As I pondered my response,  it reminded me of a rather amusing (in hindsight), episode that happened to me in the early 1980's. Regular readers will know that I had been a successful child model in the late 1960's. This ended when my mother developed stomach cancer.  As I found myself to be in a rather impecunious state, following The False Dots tour of Scandinavia in January 1982, I decided to try my luck at getting some work in TV or commercials, thinking I could make some easy and quick cash. I made some enquiries, got a friend doing a photography course to shoot some pictures, in exchange for some beers and free rehearsals for his band. I managed to find an agent, who seemed rather enthusiastic. I was not surprised a couple of days later to be told to report to a location in central London for an audition for a role on a TV show. I was told to wear the quirkiest suit and loudest tie I had. A quick trip to my favourite barbers, in Windmill Street, on the way ensured I was looking sharp. The barber was one frequented by many stars, the most memorable being Kenneth Williams. By pure coincidence, I got a job working for a company in the same street a year later. I arrived and gave my name.

Back in 2010, I recounted the story, but neglected to mention the agent or perhaps the funniest part of the story. In actual fact I saw an advert for an agent looking for new talent, but I trimmed the story down to be more concise.
In my teens (before I was old, fat and going grey), I saw an advert for presenters on a show Ms Rantzen was doing (it might have been Thats Life). Having done a bit of acting and thinking "They do good stuff exposing dodgy washing machine salesmen". I thought this might be a good job for me, so I applied. Next thing I was given a date for the auditions. Off I went with all of the other hopefuls. I've done many auditions in my life, so I looked at the opposition. Being a bit of an old hand I did the usual of checking out the oppo. I normally wrote them off if they brought mum or dad for support (clearly not up to the job), then you see how they look. Any with a lazy eye, stammer, etc generally could be written off as well (unless that was a specific requirement in the brief). That brought it down to four or five. You listen to their accent. There was one girl who was georgious. Clearly the serious opposition. I thought I'd check her out (purely for professional reasons, Heh Heh). Up I bowled "done much of this sort of stuff?". She replied "Oh yes, I do radio for BBC West Midlands". Yup, serious contender. She was the first in and she was out within seconds. "How did it go?" I asked. She looked a bit upset. "It was awful, I walked in and they told me I wasn't really what they were looking for". "Lunatics I thought". Sadly she declined my kind offer of a quick drink. One of the advantages of the name "Tichborne" is that these things are generally done alphabetically. Most of the oppo are usually rubbish, so you get the chance to really shine. Early contenders are dimmed by this. In they went, out they came. I always took a watch and would time them. That gave me some idea of the oppo, their strengths and what I had to do. It seemed they liked the ones with a bit more character. The front runner had a bit of a plumby voice and a slightly deranged look. Interesting. I can do plumby voice and slightly deranged look if I have to, so I figured I was good to go. 

If you are going for a reporter job, you have to show that you are on the ball, and can be interesting. You have to be able to think on your feet and take the lead. I went in "Mr Tichborne, you are the last one, we can all go to the pub when we've done, so what do you have to say for yourself". I quipped back "Well if we are going to the pub, I'll have a pint of best, is it on expenses?". They sniggered. "What makes you want to be a reporter on the show?" Well easy peasy "Well, mainly for the dosh, no seriously, I enjoy meeting people and I think that this sort of show makes a difference and helps people". Yup job done. On to the screentest. Again a breeze. Next up, you wait for the call. A couple of days later, a letter pops through the door "Nice try, but no cigar this time". Now I was mildly surprised. I wasn't cross or upset. These things happen and generally it's just because they want a specific look or someone really great turned up. 

I'd not done any TV work for 10 years, so maybe I just wasn't as good as I thought. No problem. A couple of weeks later I was at Dingwalls for a gig. I think it was Paul Carrick, although I may be wrong. I found myself at the bar, next to one of the production team. They recognised me and said "Hey, it's Roger isn't it?". I responded "Yeah, Hi, how's the show going?" We chatted for a while and had a few drinks. As the conversation progressed, I was told "Actually, you did really well. You looked great in front of the camera and were really funny". Thanks I said (the industry is full of this sort of BS). My new found friend continued "the only reason you didn't get it was because you were too young, too good looking and too funny". I was surprised "What? Why?". My friend responded "Well you see, with Esther being the star of the show, we couldn't have anyone stealing her thunder, we needed someone who was a bit stranger looking, a bit more awkward with a bit less confidence".
There were a couple of key details I neglected to mention.  When I arrived, the casting director gave me the once over. A puzzled grimace came over his face. He exclaimed "You don't look like your picture?". This wasn't the response I expected. I wondered what picture he was looking at. I asked if I could see. A quick look and the problem became clear. The agent had sent completely the wrong photo with the portfolio. The character who's picture had been sent was, shall we say, not exactly an oil painting. I was slightly perplexed. Without wishing to sound big headed or arrogant, it sort of occurred to me that I was a much better looking chap. In hindsight, I am surprised they even bothered with the audition. I have a theory, but don't want to share it. However, after speaking to the casting director, I realised that the agent had completely wasted my time. I spoke to him and we had an argument and that was the end of my acting career.

But returning to Ms Winkleman, I now totally understand why I was nopt suitable for the role on That's Life and also why Ms Winkleman is good at her job. TV presenters are not there to outshine the stars, hog the limelight or steal the show. They are there to feed the real talent the lines, read the autocue, improvise if needed and not get in the way. If you are very good at that, as Ms Winkleman clearly is, you can make a lot of money. Maybe now I've got old, fat and ugly, I may stand a chance. Actually I don't as I'm dyslexic, so the autocue would be a disaster and I'm far too much of a show off, as anyone who has ever seen the False Dots will attest to, to let the stars get a look in. Best off staying writing blogs and playing guitar.

Here's a bit of the mayhem that is The False Dots, I think when it comes down to it, Rock and Roll is more me than being Mill Hill's answer to Claudia Winkleman.

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