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HarperCollinsPublishers 77–85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB www.harpercollins.co.uk First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2011 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 © Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan 2011 Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan assert the moral right to be identified as the authors of this work Picture Credits: Page 1, top © Albanpix Ltd/Rex Features, bottom courtesy of author; page 2, top © Getty Images, bottom courtesy of author; page 3 © Adrian Sherratt/Alamy; page 4 © BBC Photo Library, inset © Tim Rooke/Rex Features; page 5 © Colin Mason/ LFI/Photoshot; page 6 © Fremantle Media Ltd; page 7, top & bottom left © BBC Photo Library, bottom right © Brian Rasic/Rex Features; page 8, left © David Pearson/Alamy, right © Andy Drysdale/Rex Features; page 9 © Justin Canning/Comic Relief; page 10, top © BBC Photo Library, bottom © Ken McKay/Rex Features; page 11 © BBC Photo Library; page 12, left © Hera Food/Alamy, right © BBC Photo Library; page 13, left © Alvey and Towers, right © BBC Photo Library; page 14 © BBC Photo Library; page 15, top © BBC Photo Library, bottom © Yuri Arcurs/Alamy; page 16 © Baby Cow Productions/Fostersfunny.co.uk A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-00-744917-0 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-00-744919-4 (trade paperback) Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.

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12.

GLEN PONDER, MUSICIAN87
***

say what you like about Glen Ponder – and I have, frequently – but he was a virtuoso conductor of lounge music, possibly the most talented easy-listening batonsman of his era. He and his loyal band of minstrels (musicians) were a fixture on the Norwich music scene, effortlessly able to switch between the rival demands of a wine bar, a hotel lobby or a shopping mall forecourt. He was that versatile. As soon as I saw him and his band in action, I knew they must be given a big break. By me. Glen had just finished an awe-inspiring during-dinner set at Café Symphony in Norwich (now, at long last, a Nando’s) when I decided to broach it. I followed him to his bus stop.
87 Press play on Track 22.

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‘Mr Ponder,’ I shouted as I approached. ‘Let’s have it then, fucker!’ he said, wheeling round and baring his fists and clenching his teeth. I pretended not to notice and ploughed on. ‘Great set back there, man,’ I said, using the word ‘man’ so he knew I was familiar with modern music. ‘Magnificent tracks.’ He looked at me in order to size me up and gauge my intentions. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were wild. I had to say something. ‘Are you okay?’ I said in a quiet soothing voice, as if I was a Conductor Whisperer. He was instantly becalmed. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said, now at ease. ‘I thought you were a mugger.’ Glen, it turned out, was responsible for collecting up the coins that were tossed at the band, carrying them home and piggy-banking them. As such, he was often targeted by youths, vagrants and Scots. Clearly, I was none of these things and we were able to strike up a conversation. ‘Wanna be a star?’ I asked, casually, pretending to inspect my fingernails. He just looked at me. ‘I’m Alan Partridge,’ I said, but he looked at me even more blankly. ‘From Radio 4’s Knowing Me Knowing You,’ I added. Still nothing. Then I added The Day Today and On the Hour, fruitlessly. I listed several other pieces of my work, but it wasn’t until I mentioned Scoutabout that the penny dropped. Flippin’ Scoutabout. Undeterred, I suggested that he and his band sign up with me. He agreed there and then, before we’d even discussed terms or mentioned money – which I found both refreshing and a bit desperate. But I remembered a piece of advice I’d
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been given by Bernard Matthews – ‘It’s when they’re tired, desperate and hungry that they’re at their most compliant’ – and I suddenly knew that this could work out very well indeed. Of course, it didn’t. I made Glen and his group Brandysnaps88 my house band and, while not expecting an unending gush of gratitude, I was anticipating a little bit of respect. What I got from Glen, alongside rank amateurism and off-kilter comic timing, was literally a slap in the face89 – and that hurt me. It hurt me a lot.90 Full disclosure. My first choice for house band had been the Jeff Lovell Orchestra, the outfit who had re-recorded the theme to Knowing Me Knowing You for my Radio 4 show, but Jeff was something of a recluse, having badly disfigured his hands saving an oboe from a van fire. He was also perhaps a little ill-suited to the top-of-the-show comic banter that the role required, having lost his sense of humour in a van fire. That said, I still had high hopes for Glen and his band.91 But from the get-go, I realised I’d made an error. A week before the show, I’d ordered Glen to get a haircut and he had reluctantly obliged, losing his waist-length corkscrew curls in favour of a shorter, smarter style. But, like an adolescent Samson, it was as if the loss of his locks created a lackadaisical attitude to the basics of live TV: rehearsal, attitude, deference, obeying instruction from the exec producer.92 This resulted in a number of mis-steps in the live broadcasts – unexpected cymbal crashes, Glen mumbling and an
88 Current name: Vajazzle. 89 Not literally. 90 Not literally. 91 Current name: Popsox. (I’m writing this footnote on a different day to footnote 88.) 92 I was the exec producer.

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all-pervading surliness from the band – which really put me off my stride. My professionalism was such that I didn’t betray even a flicker of displeasure on camera, until I was sadly left with literally no choice other than to dismiss him live on air in our fifth show. Let me just lay to rest, here and now, a baseless accusation. Some have suggested that my relationship with Glen soured when I learnt he was gay. For crying out loud, if I really couldn’t bear to consort with homosexuals, do you really think I’d have pursued a career in television? At the BBC of all places?? Be real. I have no issue with gaymen. I’m a firm friend of Dale Winton, for example, one of the gayest men in Europe. (Dale and I spent a lovely weekend hanging out at the Earls Court boat show and he was delightful company – and knows a lot about rigid inflatable boats.) (I also once shared a stage at a charity dinner with Elton John [see picture section]. Then again he did used to be married to a woman. I know he’s with David Furnish now but I’ve long suspected that relationship is just a cover for his heterosexuality.) No, Glen’s sexuality was not a factor – at least not for me. My assistant was a different story. She had enjoyed Glen’s company tremendously, and would probably have classed him as a friend. But her attitude towards him changed like that93 when she learnt he was gay. Why? Well, she was and is a devout Baptist and, for all their handshaking and tambourinebashing and shouty singing, many of them are staggeringly hard-hearted when it comes to ‘sins of the flesh’. My assistant was typical of this world-view, somehow managing to reconcile the twin passions of home baking and homo-bashing.
93 I just did another click. A loud one.

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But back to the sacking. Glen consulted his lawyer, citing unfair dismissal. His argument, that ‘insubordination’ is a disciplinary issue only in the military and therefore not grounds for dismissal in the private sector, saw him (temporarily) reinstated pending a tribunal, in time for the final episode of the series. We muddled through that, a little frostily. But what followed was a regrettable period in which we began to sue and countersue each other on a juvenile, tit-for-tat basis. It was vindictive, uncalled for, and cripplingly expensive. After several years, Glen and I managed to patch up our differences. We shared the common ground of both despising our respective lawyers and would often laugh about how much we were spending on their unnecessary legal advice. (Glen lost his flat as a result and lived in a YMCA for six months.)94 I dropped my legal actions against him some time ago, but he apologetically intends to pursue his against me, because his bandmates are currently suing him for unpaid earnings and he needs the money. And so it is that he forges ahead with his live shows, long past the point that he derives any enjoyment from them. Indeed, with severely arthritic fingers, every swish of the baton is agony for him. I still go and watch from time to time and afterwards we go out for a Nando’s together (you know which one!).95 (I enjoy the taste of chicken and chips enormously, and am only slightly put off by Nando’s bewildering ordering system in which customers must pay for food at the counter, set the

94 And I apologise to Glen for my ‘kid in a sweet shop’ comments around this time. 95 The one that used to be Café Symphony. I mentioned it earlier?

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table themselves and then wait for the waiter to bring the meal over. Interestingly,96 Glen and I have developed an unspoken but quietly effective NES – Nando’s Efficiency System – in which we ensure that not a second is wasted. We secure a table and then, with coats draped over the backs of our chairs, we separate. My role is to grab a menu and secure a place in the queue. From there, I loudly read out the food options so that Glen can hear. He, meanwhile, is scurrying to the far side of the restaurant to grab cutlery, napkins and condiments, but all the while he is listening to me and shouting back his order. I place it and pay. We usually end up back at the table at roughly the same time and then enjoy our chicken dinners, while chuckling at the many people who are still waiting for theirs despite having arrived way before us.) Of course things take on a different hue if you dine solo. Last time I went to Nando’s I was Glen-less. I placed my order but forgot about the cutlery. My food arrived and I had neither knife, fork or spoon. Admittedly, in a chicken-and-chips scenario the spoon is less important, but I could sure have done with a knife and fork – the former to cut with, the latter to maintain carcass stability. Cursing the absence of my partner-in-chicken I went over to get the required eating tools, walking as fast as I could without breaking into a run. Just my luck – they were awaiting a refill on both the knives and the forks! Spoons, on the other hand? Dozens of them. I had no choice. With a lateral shake of the head and a vertical raise of the eyebrow, I return to my table. I’ve made the effort to find cutlery, I’m darn well going to use it. And I have to say it worked out okay. I shovelled the chips into my mouth as if I was eating pudding, and as for the
96 It is.

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chicken – it was just a question of trying to drag the meat off the bone by using the spoon as a paw. And what of me and Ponder? Well I don’t talk much about our rekindled friendship. My assistant still harbours an openly bigoted dislike of Glen and his husband (whose name I don’t know). But I enjoy it, and I’m proud to be friends with the greatest bossa-nova maestro this country has ever produced.