I don’t know if any television network commissioning wankers editors read Hooting Yard, but I certainly hope so, because I have had a fantastic idea for a show. It is a panel game called My Favourite Owl. The idea is that every week, four panellists would each be given an hour to sing the praises of their favourite owl. I do not mean they would actually sing, as there are already plenty of television programmes where people wail and caterwaul to no good purpose. No, I mean simply that the panellists would make the case for their favourite owl being the best owl of the four extolled on that week’s show. The chairman, who would ideally be me, or if not me then a neglected genius, would then decide which of the four owls was the winner.
Those are the bare bones of the show, and I think any commissioning wanker editor worth his or her salt would give it the green light straight away, on that basis alone. However, I am given to understand that these people like to preen themselves and pretend to an expertise and intelligence they signally lack, and thus the creative genius pitching an idea must abase themselves by providing unnecessary detail. So here are some further particulars.
If I do not get to be the chairman, then ideally I would like that role to go to the neglected genius Freddie “Parrotface” Davies. Older readers may recall him from various excruciating light entertainment television shows of the nineteen-seventies. For me, however, Davies’ immortality is guaranteed by his appearance in a film, Peter Chelsom’s masterpiece Funny Bones (1995). As the clapped-out old vaudevillian Bruno Parker, Davies is magnificently lugubrious, and one wonders why he was never cast in a Samuel Beckett play. It is Davies I see in my mind’s eye as the derelict and dilapidated protagonists of Beckett’s great trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. Now in his mid-seventies, Freddie “Parrotface” Davies could have a late-flowering career resurgence as the host and chairman of My Favourite Owl.
I said that each of the four weekly panellists would be given an hour to extol their favourite owl. Clearly this means that each episode would be at least four-and-a-half hours long, if we take into account the padding and faffing. Objections will be raised that this is far too long for a prime-time panel game, but I disagree. In a world of ever-decreasing attention spans, my show would be striking a blow for something we miss profoundly. In the nineteenth century it was quite common for large audiences to be attracted by lengthy talks and lectures. In Amusing Ourselves To Death (1985), Neil Postman gives the example of a hall full of people held spellbound by a seven-hour address by Abraham Lincoln – and this was before he was president, indeed before he considered running for president. And this was not an unusual event. Clearly the human brain is capable of sustained concentration, and it is our current Age o’ Pap that is destroying it. Well, I, and Freddie “Parrotface” Davies, and our owl-loving panellists, will restore it to sparkling good health.
As for those panellists, who would they be, precisely? It is common knowledge, I think, that there is, in Television Centre, a cupboard where the dozen or so panel show regulars are kept, to be trundled in their chairs into place just before transmission of whatever programme they are appearing on that day. Well, we are going to lock that cupboard! Instead of the usual suspects, our panels will be composed of owl-loving people we drag in off the streets, or rather off the pathways of owl sanctuaries – true enthusiasts, who may not be familiar to the audience, but whose eyes gleam with fanatical glee when invited to prattle on about owls, uninterrupted, for sixty minutes.
We will add a further layer of excitement to the show by leaving deliberately vague the definition of “owl”. So, for example, the favourite owl might be one particular living owl, one kept as a pet. Or it might be a dead owl, stuffed by a taxidermist. It might be not one owl, alive or stuffed, but a type of owl, saw-whet or eared or horned or pygmy or stilt or maned or crested or screech or elf or scops or hawk or fearful or giant or striped or white-faced or spectacled or laughing or earless or little or tawny or barn. Or it might not be a real owl at all, but a toy one or a trinket, a glove-puppet, perhaps, or a thing of rags and string and glue, or a hideous gewgaw made from seashells, as one might find in a seaside resort gift shop, the kind of seaside resort where Freddie “Parrotface” Davies, or Bruno Parker, would haunt the pier, majestically lugubrious. The fact that there are numberless things called “owls” that might be a panellist’s favourite suggests that the show could continue, week in week out, for years and years.
I expect eventually it would prove so popular that, slowly but surely, all other television shows, including Channel 4 News, would lose their audiences. The time will come, I believe, when the only use for a television set will be to watch people talking at length about their favourite owl. That day cannot come soon enough. In a better world, it would already have come to pass. I just hope the commissioning wankers editors are paying attention.