Friday, October 31, 2008

Thoughts on Prank Phone Calls

In about 1993 I was speaking/training at a church in Nottinghamshire as the head of a Christian youth organisation. In an interview I was set up. The interviewer said flattering things about me being the head of a major youth organisation. He suggested (I guess I nodded) that this meant I knew a bit about youth culture, and then he asked me what was number 1 in the charts. I had no idea. He went on to ask me to name any chart record but by then my mind was blank.

The thing is that to understand youth culture you don't have to know what is in the charts, although it would be good if you knew how to find out if necessary.

That interview not only humiliated me publicly but also shot my credibility with the people, I had to go on to train. I don't think public figures should be given public intelligence tests about the facts/trivias of their brief. If, say, a world leader can't immediately recall the name of the capital of Burkina Faso (s)he has advisers, lists, databases to consult. (S)He could even google it like us plebs if (s)he wanted. Save you bothering; it's Ouagadougou but I had to check the spelling. Someone with a poor memory for names may have a great ability with strategy or vision.

I have rarely played practical jokes on a single victim and certainly haven't done so since school days. I apologise for sending taxis to teachers. I hate being the subject of those sort of jokes, so I don't play them myself.

Listening to radio or watching TV where someone is being picked 0n - Brass Eye, Ali G, Candid Camera (back a few years) makes me cringe not laugh. When he had the Radio 1 breakfast show in the 1970s Noel Edmonds used to do it. The phoned 'victim' was derided as a bad sport if they didn't say, 'Ha, ha Noel you got me,' at the end. Every now and then someone heroic told him exactly what they thought of him. Good for them.

So I have no idea what Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross did to Andrew Sachs recently, although John Humphrys just gave me a hint. Suffice it to say that I'm chuffed heads have rolled for it. Humiliation is cheap-shot entertainment.

I blame Ricky Gervais. Someone needs to. I have a certain uneasiness about what we are being entertained by when we watch The Office or Extras. There is something about caricaturing the inadequacies of well-meaning people who are trying their best that makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe I'm turning into a very dull, humbug-shouting curmudgeon. Or a control-freak.

Don't organise a surprise party for me. If I get wind of it I won't turn up.


Ali said...

I also am past master at practical jokes, having for example once put a friends house on the market while they were away on holiday

(It was OK Steve, before you get neurosis, I knew the estate agent and he knew it was a joke!)

I still find the odd harmless joke good fun, but never at the expense of other peoples private or public humiliation.

I am not fully aware of what went on with this Sachs thing, but this I do wonder. Why did the controller of BBC Radio 2 have to go and Jonathan Ross (who I believe to be a plonker of the highest order anyway) only get a suspension?

In other words, when did people who earn £6 million stop being accountable for their own actions?

Mike Peatman said...

Just cancelled the surprise hot-air balloon trip over the Gobi desert we had organised for you (just kidding)

Jonathan Potts said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person who can't stand Ricky Gervais. I was beginning to wonder.

The youth-leader/chart-knowledge thing reminded me of an anecdote: about 100 years ago, a reporter asked Einstein what the speed of light was (apparently, James Watt had said that this is one of the things "any educated person should know"). Einstein didn't know: "I don't see the point in filling my head with pointless knowledge that I can easily look up in any textbook" he replied. Good on the man.