“Your sense of humour is as silly as mine!” – Chris Tarrant
Some of you will not know that Chris Tarrant is a talented, funny and seemingly – I’ve never met him – thoroughly likeable man. Well he is. He is also an OBE, so even the Queen likes him, because she doesn’t just hand those out to anyone, you know. He is now perhaps best known in the UK as the erstwhile host of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, to which he brought his appealing brand of humour, gentle sarcasm, blatant, and therefore friendly, mickey-taking and the Tarrant talent as a consummate quiz show host.
I first came across him as a Disc Jockey on Capital Radio, back in the days when I used to listen, through my hair, to modern music. I still listen to the same music, but it isn’t modern any more. (That’s for another day, though.)
It became obvious, listening to Chris, that we had a very similar sense of humour, and very similar ways of expressing it. Without any copying involved – I’m pretty sure he hasn’t heard me on any radio – our phrase formation, our delivery, even our choice of words were uncannily alike. I noticed it, and so did other people, who commented to me on it. It was actually one of the things that got me started writing humour rather than trying to be a literary author. Chris Tarrant was very popular, my theory went, and I was very like him, ergo what I wrote should stand a chance of being very popular. Apart from all the variables missing from the equation, it was a cracking hypothesis.
When I had my first book – The Galaxy Game – published, I sent Chris a copy. I thought he might enjoy it, and, since he had given me a lot of laughs over the years I thought I might be able to return the compliment. And he did enjoy it, because I got a letter not long afterwards thanking me for the book and containing the quote at the top of this piece.
Now something that publishers like to do is to put quotes on the front of their books, and all we had for the front of The Galaxy Game was a complimentary comment from Kent Today. And while this publication has a fine reputation as an august judge of all things literary – I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that! – its view was perhaps less influential than that of Chris Tarrant, even in Kent.
It was not, however, with this in mind that I mentioned to my editor that I had heard from Chris, and that he liked the book. But mention it I did, and her eyes lit up like a cheetah hearing a gazelle sneeze. In milliseconds the quote was usurped and appeared on the front of the second book – Fission Impossible.
I should have said something. I should have said that Chris Tarrant did not specifically say that I could use the quote anywhere, and that it was not only a bit rude to do so, but also bordered on the unethical unless we actually asked for his permission. But I didn’t say anything. I’d like to claim it was because I was lovably naïve, the pawn of a publishing industry more powerful than I could possibly imagine, and that I knew my feeble protestations would have been laughed aside by a moustache twirling executive.
But the truth is that I quite fancied being very popular. And – see above – Chris was.
So I didn’t say anything, and the quote appeared on Fission Impossible’s cover. I sent a copy to Chris, with a letter in which I apologised for using the quote. He didn’t reply, presumably because he thought I would extract more words and use them. I sent him a copy of the third one – I, Arnold – as well, with the same apology, but he remained scribally mute, and I couldn’t blame him at all, because I still felt guilty, and I still do
So now, in public, can I once more offer Chris an unconditional apology. I’m glad you enjoyed The Galaxy Game, and I hope you enjoyed the other books as well, and I’m sorry that your name and private comment appeared on the front.
(Oh, and Chris; there’s a contact thingy below if you want to write something nice in return.)