PICK THE WINNER
In the very early days of BBC2, I was in a game show called Pick the Winner. What a great job. It went out every week, but we recorded 2 programmes in one day, so no lines to learn, no nervousness, one days work and then 2 weeks free. For 9 months. The panel was made up by an actor called David Healy, Katie Boyle, for half the run Arthur Askey and the other half Ted Ray. Unlike most comedians I have worked with, they were wonderfully funny offstage as well as on. So my outstanding memory is of nine months of laughter.
Later other game shows copied our ideas, but we were the first. In each programme there were four sets of contenders. And in each set there were 3 contenders with a visual skill. Two were genuine, and one was a joker. We questioned them to guess which one was the joker. It was hard, as the jokers were so clever. After the joker was revealed, the two experts had a competition in their field of expertise. There were chocolate dippers, archers, shire horse and dog trainers, glass blowers...it was clever how they found so many skills to keep the show running for nine months.
There were two men who were experts at tiddly-winks. I asked one of them, who happened to be genuine, whether he had any unfulfilled ambition. "Oh yes" he replied "I want tiddly-winks to be one of the Olympic Games"....and he meant it. There were the national top experts on wine. Before we arrived at the studio, the contestants had had a rehearsal. The producers had decided that to ask such experts to differentiate betweed different wines for their competition would be too easy, so they had the same wine and they had to guess which year. At the rehearsal, one of the experts had got 3 wrong out of 5. So between the rehearsal and the show he had crept into the studio and peeked at the answers for the evening show, little knowing that the director saw him from his booth. Poor man. Before the show, they changed them around, and he got every one of them wrong!!
Between recordings, I flew off to join Jay in our little house in Ibiza. Then flew back to London the night before, did the show, and back to Ibiza. There were no direct flights to Ibiza--there was a little local plane to Barcelona, then a real plane to London. On the local plane, one sat down and immediately was in the air with no preliminaries...Jay claimed that the pilot thought he was driving a donkey! One week there was a problem with the little plane, and we missed the connection to London. Panic. I had to be at the studio doing the show the next day. We were put up in a hotel in Barcelona overnight, and even when we got onto the plane in Barcelona it was the wrong plane, and we had to get off and get onto another plane, followed by confusion with the luggage. So again the plane was late. My wonderful friend Jen Gosney had been waiting to meet me for hours the previous day, when I didn't arrive, and again she loyally waited, and was there when I landed, with very little time to spare. But I couldn't go on air without having my hair done! She got me to the hairdresser and the studio with minutes to spare!
Alas, in those days hardly anybody was able to get BBC2. So I don't suppose anybody in the world remembers that show. But oh, how I loved it.
I was recovering from an operation. The actor Nigel Davenport rented us a little house he shared with Robert Stevens on the island of Ibiza, in the village of Santa Eulalia. In 1963. I had never heard of Ibiza, but during that stay Jay and I fell in love with Ibiza and with Santa Eulalia. A local man called Francisco was looking after Nigel's villa, and he helped us to find a villa for us to rent. He was "our man in Ibiza" and remained a good friend until his death many years later.
In those days, before Ibiza became popular, the island was a paradise. There were only 2 paved roads on the entire island, the rest were cart tracks, and nobody needed to lock their door. The favourite form of transport was horse and cart. Santa Eulalia was a favourite haunt of actors and artists and writers. And for all of us who spoke English, Sandy's Bar was the heart of the village. Sandy was a tall, slim Irish boy, a waspish sense of humour, a heart as big as all outdoors--he helped all of us whenever we needed help--and a pride in keeping his bar immaculate. The tiniest spot of ash on a table would be wiped and cleared within seconds. I wonder what has happened to dear Sandy.
The place we chose was a mile outside the village, built by a farmer, Jaime, who lived nearby with his mother, Catalina, who did all her cooking on a single stove outside the house. When we met him, Jaime had been engaged to a girl called Isabel in Formantera for some 20 years...eventually he married her. There had been several years of drought, and he had had to take a job as a gardener. He had built our little villa himself to make a bit of extra money, and it was four walls and just finished. I think the yearly rent was something like £15. We said we would furnish the house. We supplied everything, even the fly screens on the windows. There was no electricity--we hauled calor gas bottles from the village for cooking, fridge and water heating, and oil lamps for lights. The water for cooking was from a well in the garden, and for the taps it was delivered from a lorry and emptied into a tank beside the house. It was hard work pumping the water from the large tank beside the house onto a tank on the roof, to come through the taps, luckily Jaime did the pumping for us each day.
One of the major problems was to get the water from the roof to light the calor gas heating contraption to heat the water as it came through. Like an Ascot heater. The first word I learned in Spanish was "fontanero", which means "plumber", because Francisco kept bringing in plumbers, and when water hit the heater there was an almighty explosion. None of the plumbers could solve the problem. A fountain was being erected in the middle of the village, and Francisco nabbed a plumber from there and brought him to the house. He worked on it, and came to us in triumph. "O.K." he said "I've solved the problem. You turn on the tap, you run out into the garden and wait for the big bang, and when you go back you will have hot water". Honestly. He was serious.
The following year we decided to take as much as we could from England. We borrowed a shooting brake. We took everything--pots, pans, bedding...everything. I thought I had found a real bargain. There was an offer that with every double pack of toilet paper, you got a free tumbler. I bought enough toilet paper to last for years to get those free tumblers! We had been told that if we made a careful list and had it translated into Spanish, we would not have to pay Customs Duty. Which we did. Jay was an expert driver, and off we drove through France. The border was up in the mountains, the Pyrenees. Proudly I showed the Border Inspector my list. Not only was the back of the car full of dozens of boxes and parcels, but we had bought a roof rack, which was also full. The man spoke no English, but some French, I speak some French--Jay only spoke English!--and the man made me understand that, if we had been immigrating into Spain to live, there would be no duty, but we had to pay as it was for a holiday home!
I thought we might have to turn back and go home. But he started to take the boxes and parcels out of the back, and ask me what was inside. Each one had been carefully labelled. He came to a box of Wastepaper Baskets, and asked me what was inside. At that point my French deserted me. "Por jeter!" I bleated with gestures. He started to laugh, took us into the office and waved us through!
As I write this, the memories come flooding back. We had a neighbour called Miss Errol, an elderly eccentric lady who went into the village with a horse and cart. She loved all living things. We went there for a party one day, and I leaned over to pick up one of the canapes. "Oh, how lovely" I said "Caviar". When I touched it, it was covered in flies! One of the most exciting was when Laurence Olivier and his wife Joan Plowright came for a holiday. I met him in Sandy's, and his villa was very near ours, and one evening the four of us sat on our little terrace, talking and watching the sun go down.