Radio 4 Extra Strong: Count Arthur speaks
The train left Euston at 11.40am on an unusually clear blue spring day back in March. Aboard it were myself and broadcast assistant Kevin Gordon, both of us bound for Manchester. A normal enough start.
Of course, 'normality' is a relative term. My day to day duties at 4 Extra probably appear quite bizarre to visitors. My job is listening to all archive programmes before they get a proper airing on the network. Ordinarily, this means a lot of time with headphones on, poring over editions of Dad's Army, Paul Temple, Ballylenon and the like. It's by no means a solitary job - in fact there's whole team of us, like a strange branch of MI5 keeping fictional characters under surveillance.
We do get the chance to flex our creative muscles as well as our analytical ones. Namely, the dedicated three hour specials you may have heard on Saturdays. This particular opportunity I'd seized with both hands. The chance to work with radio legends Count Arthur Strong and Mark Radcliffe? Yes please, especially as the good Count (his Grace? I never did settle on a form of address) was mid-tour, providing an opportunity to record in Manchester's Oxford Road studios. A piece of broadcasting history, I was thrilled to record there before it all relocates to Salford.
Count Arthur's impending presence seemed to add a gloss of cheery surrealness to everything almost as soon as we got there.
The receptionist, startled by our early arrival, said she'd check with the people booked into Studio 5 next - and promptly dialled my number while I was stood two feet away. The cab company, too, had somehow got my number conflated with Count Arthur's and kept telling me my lift was waiting. They were so insistent, I began to wonder if I was Count Arthur after all. To raise it all to a giddy height, Studio 5 was mysteriously festooned with bunting and paper chains.
Of course, when Mark and the Count (His Worship?) arrived it served as a splendidly demented backdrop to an uproariously silly session as the pair took off in intricate flights of fancy. Mark Radcliffe and Count Arthur were quite simply a delight, and a joyous hour of recording yielding far more than I'd expected.
In fact all of the staff at Manchester, studio managers, receptionists, our own Kevin Gordon, deserve a huge thanks for their help in making it happen. I hope it makes you smile as much as I did as I stepped out onto Oxford Road afterwards, when further surrealness erupted in the form of French football fans chanting 'Manchestaaaaaair!'.
It's the Count's world, we just live in it - 'normal' really is a relative term.
Martin Dempsey is producer, Radio 4 Extra