Welcome to Chapter Nineteen in the serialisation of Neil Mason’s acclaimed and thought-provoking debut novel There There My Dear. Kyle Andrews announces the name of his new reality TV show, the event which will dramatically change the lives of all those involved.
If you’ve missed out on the earlier chapters, don’t worry. To discover the plot so far, just follow this link to catch up!
There There My Dear
Despite the predictability, Kyle Andrews’ staged dramatic entrance was as effective as ever. Entourage. Badinage. Delay. Contrived and obvious. Tried and tested. In the boardroom the scene was familiar. Fletcher, Sills and Ames with their respective executive assistants sat behind. Exactly the same positions as last time. The ice was thinner but not yet broken. The silence not so deafening.
Individually, each of the men had experienced events that had impacted on them but none of them was letting on. Sills had pulled himself together after seeing the intruder in his garden and Ames showed no sign of his recent altercation in the foyer.
While Graeme Fletcher’s behaviour did not reveal anything different, his appearance certainly did. His fellow panellists had noticed an apparent glow to his skin and a synthetic smoothness to his brow. Fletcher made eye contact with nobody.
‘Good morning everybody.’ Andrews breezed into the room leaving his entourage at the door. Greeted by just half-hearted grunts, he took to his chair and tossed a thin folder onto the table. With melodramatic flair he pulled out a slim document from the file and made a show of introducing the agenda.
Without moving his head at all he made eye contact with each panellist. A rictus smile battled for attention with playful eyes.
‘Prime Time Minister.’ Andrews let the words hang in the air and let the thin document fall to the table. He sat back in his chair, attempted a smile, raised his eyebrows and awaited an enthusiastic response.
He had become accustomed to hearing whoops and cheers at his suggestions, but these men were not hysterical media types. On Sunday morning when the title of his new television show had come to him he had envisaged a totally different reaction. He had been enjoying the oral favours of his favourite maid when inspiration struck, so perhaps his expectations had been artificially elevated.
In the silence Andrews jolted his head forward and tried to raise his eyebrows even further. An attempt to illicit a response. ‘That’s it?’ asked Fletcher. ‘You’ve called us here for that?’
Andrews’ face did not change, only the tone of his voice revealed the extent of his apparent anger. None of his visitors had witnessed such an outburst from the man. In reality not many people had seen such an event because they very rarely happened, despite his reputation. Normally lucid, his rage destroyed his capacity to really get his message across. Instead for a few minutes he frothed and spluttered through dozens of curses and profanities. Accusations of stupidity and ungratefulness and complete inability filled the room and nobody was spared.
In those few minutes he had reminded each of his panellists of their shortcomings and misdemeanours. His scattergun approach resulted in Andrews criticising every man as one, addressing them as if they were a single entity. As he yelled he walked around the boardroom slaying the collected reputations and daring anybody to stop him.
He made a point of ending his rant as he returned to his seat. He threw himself into the chair and spun around so his back faced the table.
There he paused, his head in his hands. The seconds struggled through the silence. There nobody could see the glint in his eyes and certainly nobody would notice the hint of a thin smile across his thickened lips.
Ames remained inert while Fletcher started to cough a little. Sills did not know where to look as his ire burned his gut. The silence grew heavy and bitter while the men made every effort to avoid eye contact with one another.
Andrews knew that the situation could not have played out any better. He had manufactured, in an improvised manner, the perfect way to let them all know that he knew everything about everybody.
The television mogul, the entertainment impresario, had everybody exactly where he wanted them. Perfect.
Had he simply regurgitated titbits from the press, had he merely recounted well known facts about each man’s sordid past then none of the panellists would have been overly concerned. But he hadn’t.
By dropping in the slightest of unknown facts – Fletcher’s wearing a shoulder brace to correct his slouch, Sills’ uncle’s benefit fraud and Ames’ expulsion from the Hare Krishna sanctuary in Elstree for stealing food – Andrews had demonstrated that he knew much more about all of them. It made each man wonder if there was anything that he did not know. It gave him the complete control that he desired. Very slowly he eased his chair around so he was facing his audience once again. Andrews glanced at each man and, without exception, they avoided eye contact with him as well.
Fletcher focused on a point on the table some three feet ahead of him, Sills looked at the backs of his own hands and Ames’ eyes drilled holes in the wall way above head height.
As if nothing had happened, Andrews reached for the folder and pulled out four copies of the agenda for the meeting. He passed them around the table and entered into his usual producer role.
‘With us all agreed on the title for the show, now we have to establish a few key details about the schedule and how we intend to guarantee some free newspaper coverage to really make this worthwhile.’ The panellists read through the bullet points on the agenda. None of them was brave enough to pass any comment despite the unusual nature of some of the topics in the agenda.
Andrews took a few moments to explain that the show would only run for five weeks and that only the final was likely to be broadcast live. All of the shows would be made in London and, due to the format including back-story pieces on those candidates who would progress to the final, the filming would take twelve weeks in total, including the edit.
Once Andrews had explained that there was still a chance that the entire show would not make it to air he asked if any of the panellists would like to withdraw from the project. As expected, none of them pulled out.
Since the very beginning, Andrews had been absolutely explicit about the fact that none of the major broadcast companies had guaranteed a place in their autumn schedules for the show. Andrews’ gut feeling was that they were worried that nobody would want to watch such a programme. He also believed that the media bosses were very sensitive about getting involved in a politics-based light entertainment series at a time when the relationship between Parliamentarians and the media was subject to such scrutiny in the guise of a massive public enquiry. Andrews was confident that one of the channels would want to steal a march on their competitors and, at the eleventh hour, agree to a prime time slot on Saturday evening.
In his heart Andrews knew that the whole concept was a risk and that he had to make the show anyway. That’s why he had leaked the story to the press some weeks ago. If nobody agreed to go ahead with the broadcast, then he would film a documentary that would expose the television channels as state-controlled entities intent on denying the public’s access to true democracy. Although Andrews had struggled to think up a catchy title for the show, he had always known what he wanted to achieve. And he had the contacts, the power and the natural ability to manipulate the press to his own advantage.
His panellists had been aware of this all along. They had agreed to getting involved with the show knowing that it might lead to nothing. But they all suspected that it would go all the way. They all suspected that Andrews would find a way to make it happen.
Rising to his feet and holding the agenda in his hands, Andrews read out each bullet point.
• Must have
• Hope to have
• Road show
‘Right. Let’s start at the beginning.’ Andrews proceeded to lay out the schedule and emphasised, once again, that the live shows were subject to further negotiations. He did not expect or wait for any comments from the table and moved on swiftly through ‘Location’ which, as commonly accepted, was to be London.
‘Now then, let’s work our way through ‘must haves’ as I like to call them.’ At this point his eyebrows may have raised a fraction of a millimetre, the full extent of their travel. As he scanned the room he was greeted by a complete dearth of responses.
Over the years of providing prime time televisual delights for the masses he had fallen upon a formula for maintaining public interest by including certain points of intrigue during the broadcasting of the series. At previous pre-production meetings his list of ‘must haves’ had elicited great excitement amongst amassed staff members, but this was different. To him it was proof that there were fundamental differences between media types and politicos.
‘The deluded.’ Andrews’ words seemed to fall on deaf ears once again.
Eventually Ames broke the silence of the pregnant pause. ‘How will we differentiate? I mean, anybody who really feels that they can change the political landscape must, by definition, be deluded already.’ His co-panellists nodded in agreement.
‘Look, we must all get to grips with the fact that we are dealing with entertainment here. That’s what this is all about. I’m sure we’ll get some serious minded young Turks who believe that they have – I don’t know – the answer. But we must have the ‘deluded’, the nutters who want to – whatever – I mean ban celery or something.’
‘Lord Sutch Junior,’ offered Fletcher.
‘Exactly,’ Andrews agreed.
‘Isn’t that a bit mean?’ Sills’ brow knitted in an earnest fashion as he asked the question.
‘Does it really matter? None of us will be forcing these people to do it, will we? They’ll already have these thoughts in their heads. We’ll just be giving them an opportunity to say them out loud.’
‘What’s wrong with celery?’ asked Ames.
‘You can die by eating too much celery,’ offered Sills.
‘Don’t be so bloody ridiculous, man.’
‘It is a known fact that the human body uses more calories than it consumes when eating celery. Take it to its extreme and there you have it – you’ll starve to death while eating celery.’ Sills rested his case.
‘Our first contestant?’ asked Ames.
Andrews stepped in and quashed the banter in order to move things along. He pointed out and explained the need for all of the ‘must haves’ required for the show. Fletcher jotted down the list in bullet format:
• DELUDED – COMEDY
• ANGRY – COMEDY
• UGLY – COMEDY
• BEAUTY – FOR ITS OWN SAKE
• NERVOUS – COMEDY/EMPATHY
Andrews then introduced the next ‘must have’.
‘Feud.’ Andrews looked around at blank faces.
Ames caught on immediately. Andrews was pleased and a little proud, too.
‘You want us, at least two of us, to fall out on camera, don’t you?’ It was a rhetorical question.
‘On camera is fine but not essential. You see there’s great mileage in the rumour mill. If a couple of you are seen to have…words…at a party or an event or somewhere public, then the press will love it.’ Andrews’ eyes widened. A bit. Sills was about to ask a question when Andrews interjected. ‘Please don’t be so naïve, Michael. The press will know about it because somebody…somebody will tell them about it.’
‘You’ll tell them. But why?’
‘Look, Michael, you are showing a complete lack of understanding here. Think about it. Think about why I chose you, why I chose all of you. The public loves to witness a slanging match. They love it. So we’ll give it to them. OK?’ Andrews did not expect an answer and moved on to the next bullet point on the agenda.
‘What do we hope to have?’
Fletcher chimed in. ‘Well, for entertainment purposes, probably an all-singing, all-dancing, female JFK with the perfect figure and come-to-bed eyes.’
‘Sounds good but it is wrong. We hope to have, or we hope to find, a common theme. A unique and yet united voice. Imagine that. Five million, maybe ten million viewers screaming at their televisions. Screaming and shouting, ‘That’s it! That’s what I think!’ At the tops of their voices.’ Andrews had risen to his feet and was gazing at the wall opposite him, seeing the newspaper headlines lauding his show.
‘Never in a million years.’ Fletcher’s voice cracked as he continued. ‘You may get millions of people screaming at their televisions but they won’t all agree. Never.’
Andrews snapped out of his thinking pose and reminded Fletcher that it was something to be hoped for. Fletcher did not bother to enlighten the room with the fact that every election was based on the same hope. Taking to his seat once more, Andrews explained the next point on the agenda. The prize.
Since the whole project was mooted there had been a continuous doubt over what the prize should be. At one point all four men had actually agreed that being on the show was prize enough for some. It could act as a political launch pad for those intent on joining a party, although it was highly unlikely. Money seemed to be inappropriate as a reward and a contract was out of the question. What could the winner be contracted to do for KyLa, pronounced ‘killer’, the group of Kyle Andrews’ media companies?
‘Deposit and electoral campaign. There. That’s the prize for the winner.’ Genuinely Andrews looked delighted with himself. It must have come from his eyes because his facial expressions were limited by youthful smoothness. ‘And that gives us our road show. And that, my friends, is pure genius.’
Sills’ eyes hardened as he thought about the prize. He thought about the trials and tribulations he had endured at the start of his political career.
The prize, almost a guaranteed victory at the next bi- election, was too much. Surely. With no budgetary restrictions and weeks of media coverage during the show, the competition winner was unlikely to lose out.
If only he had had the same chance.
In the moments following the end of the meeting, when he found himself alone in the boardroom, Andrews took a moment to think about the prize. He had seen the jealousy in the eyes of his old friend, Michael Sills. He had no idea what Ames was thinking and he knew damn well that Fletcher could make a killing on the back-story of the competition winner – the prize would guarantee interest in the muck he could spread.
It was then that he considered his own prize. He thought about what could happen after the show had finished – assuming it would be broadcast in the first place.
On the one hand, the show could crash and burn and he would have to think deeply about his future. The ignominy could force him out of television presenting for good. But, if the show really grabbed the public’s attention, if the whole plan led to some kind of political revolution, bloodless and benign, he, Kyle Andres, would be lauded as the man who changed everything. The man who brought decency to the British political system. The man that gave back the power to the people.
His altruist alter ego pondered all the good he could do by pulling strings in the background. He assumed that it would only be right for him to become a significant government advisor after all this, so he would be able to influence decisions relating to things that mattered to him – the funding of charities, support for terminally ill children, tax regimes for arts-related commerce.
Andrews leant forward to pick up his papers and caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass table-top. As he looked down at his caricature face he knew that, if the show was a success, his profile would change. Already a global media mogul, his reputation would alter beyond recognition. He would be able to say whatever he wanted about anything he wanted – because he had been so right about everything.
He would have to decide whether to ramp up his caustic tirades against people he didn’t like or evolve into a benevolent oracle. It was a decision he could take at leisure – but only if he could guarantee the success of the show.
To Be Continued…
So, what do you think of the name for Kyle Andrews’ new vehicle to further fame and fortune? Does ‘Prime Time Minister’ sound a little cheesy? Of course it does, this is reality TV we’re talking about.
Do post your thoughts on my Facebook Page . I’d love for you to be a part of the conversation!
Chapter Twenty to be published next week.
Very best wishes,
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