Editor's note: I have asked Radio 4's favourite journeyman-scribe Ed Reardon to document his festive season in four blog posts, to be published here between now and the first episode of his new series in the new year. Licence fee-payers may be gratified to learn that no fee was paid - SB.
It is that time of year when Elgar's tin of cat-food has snow on the letters of the word 'VALUE' and sprigs of holly round the dents. In short, 'tis the season to be jolly... jolly inventive that is, when blagging one's way uninvited into television or radio drama department parties. 'Blagging' is in fact a clue to the Reardon modus operandi, a term dating back to 1970s' crime series, when young writers such as myself sat in agreeable houses in North London and imagined scenes set in disagreeable South London lock-up garages.
TV producers' offices then bore a more than passing resemblance to said lock-ups, only with cases of wine and whisky piled high behind the desk rather than some dodgy but lovable villain's stash of music centres, church-roof lead and in one memorable episode of Minder, talking parakeets. The Christmas parties were lavish and Bacchanalian and it was a point of honour among writers never to leave empty-handed. I well remember two young Turks of British theatre stumbling away from Teddington Lock in a Jake the Peg arrangement, one Afghan coat between them concealing four bottles of Southern Comfort in an empty trouser leg.
Being extremely well-rewarded for putting words like "Leave it out, Tel" into colourful geezers' mouths, we didn't actually need to go to any of those lengths, but back then the thrill of the chase was all, and with it the warm glow of triumph at having successfully made off with a carafe of Paul Masson, a pocket full of king prawns and a toothsome PA with whom to share them in an account taxi home.
Of course this was in the palmy era when each ITV company had its own plush office block. These days it is not the whisky that is twelve years old but the producers, all crammed like oily and headless sardines onto one floor on the South Bank, the rest of the building being reserved for the personal and private use of Messrs Jason and, latterly, Clunes. Ed Reardon too has felt the chill wind of financial reality in recent years (17 of them to be precise) with the result that more often than not it's been a case of no Christmas party, no Christmas dinner.
But then, a sudden chink in the curtains hitherto firmly drawn in front of the window of opportunity! A call arrives from a person at the BBC, possibly male although as the voice is barely broken it's hard to tell, informing me that it would be 'plugtastic' if I were to promote the next series of Ed Reardon's Week by travelling to Broadcasting House at my own expense from Berkhamsted and recording some 'bijou trailerettes' - argot I thought had disappeared with Round the Horne, so presumably this is an example of post-post-post-modernism.
I have no need of Skype or whatever asinine nomenclature it goes under to be able to picture this offensively salaried creature: betrainered feet up on the desk (undoubtedly the only use for it) and shortie scarf knotted invitingly at the throat. However, I do not quite justifiably slam the 'phone down, my usual reaction, as a metaphorical lightbulb has appeared above my head - albeit only 30 watts and one which I'm obliged to carry with me from kitchen to bathroom, the finances being what they are. Entering the BBC on official business means a one-day badge, and to an old pro like myself that also means Access To All Areas.
If I were to set out early enough that would give me time to find a route from the studio - traversing the wasteland of football tables, cartoon furniture and empty work-stations like a modern-day Patrick Leigh Fermor - to the ultimate destination of the BBC Radio Theatre where doubtless some thoroughly undeserved Christmas party should be in full swing. Or failing that the recording of an episode or two of Brain of Britain, where it will be possible both to scoff at the appalling ignorance on display and fall asleep in comfortable warmth.
So: Check-list for the day ahead. Padabag sewn inside overcoat - it protects the pockets from anything too greasy and keeps purloined sausage rolls or pieces of sushi intact. Home-made 'Out of Order' sign for the train toilet to allow free travel (carefully remembering to take a choice of two, one in italic lettering in case it's a Virgin Pendolino). A last look outside to check that Roger Bolton isn't coming up the hill - when Feedback isn't on the air he's always on the cadge for a couple of drinks and a chance to put the world to rights.
And - over the top!
Ed Reardon is an author, pipe smoker, consummate fare-dodger and master of the abusive e-mail