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                             The Alternative Universe of Des and Mel
                                                                           John Lake
        ‘All rightee,’ says Den O’Connell looking straight into camera, ‘it’s coming up to one forty-five for the viewers at home – I don’t know why I said that, you’ve probably all got clocks – and… er… who have we got next, Kim?’
        ‘Who, Den?’
        ‘Do I mean who? No, I don’t, do I? I’m getting’ the bloomin’ autocue wrong here.’
Den looks off beyond camera, pointing, waving a convenient pen. ‘Hold it up higher, darling.’
        ‘God, what’s he like?’ says Kim, brindling under the studio lights and directing her comment to the live studio audience.
        ‘Well, she is a darling, aren’t you, my love?’ Den protests, raising his head towards the object of their banter, mercifully off camera, and brindling even deeper and tawnier than his lovely co-host – the ultraviolet effects of his other life in Australia out-brindling those of a high street tanning shop. ‘That’s Rosie, that is – Rosie the autocue woman.’ Den suddenly freezes, a naughty septuagenarian boy caught out, and gazes with puppy-dog eyes into the camera. ‘I’m sorry – autocue person. But just hold it up a bit higher there, please, Rosie, ’cos I haven’t got my glasses on today. So, Kim, what – not who – what have we got coming up next on the show?’
        Kim looks excitedly to camera, simultaneously talking into it and smiling a mile-wide grin – a miraculous talent she possesses. ‘Well, Den, it’s quite an unusual item, this one. It’s a new idea but what we thought we’d do is ask people to get in touch and tell us who they thought was the biggest cunt they know. We’ve surveyed communities across the whole of Britain and this afternoon we’ve boiled it down to the UK’s Number One Cunt. Oh, and we’ve got some wicked phone-camera and video clips lined up for you as well…’
        ‘Hang on, hang on, hang on a minute,’ says Den turning ashen.
‘Can we— can we say that on live daytime TV?’ Den looks around, his
eyes finally roving to a point above and beyond the audience as if
consulting the gods on their mount. ‘Is that allowed?’ The live audience
is looking confused and he’s losing them. They do not know that he’s
peering at the control booth window that overlooks them from behind
their backs.
        ‘It’s all right, Den,’ says Kim laughing, winning back the audience. She
delicately places a long, graceful hand on Den’s arm as if to say ‘It’s all
right, dear’, like that bloke in the car insurance commercials, and the
audience laughs along with her, but nervously: they’re still wondering
where this is going. ‘It’s OK. It’s a special case, this one, it’s OK.’ Kim can
barely articulate herself through her laughter. This could be the funniest
thing they’ve had on the show all season if they play it right. ‘Trust me, Den,
we’ve got a special dispensation on this one.’
        ‘What, from the Pope?’
        ‘Don’t be silly, we can’t say that.’ Kim gives Den a reprimanding tap. ‘But-we-can-use-the-word-cunt,’ she happily reassures him in a sing-song tone.
        ‘Well,’ says Den slumping back in his chair on camera for the first time in his long professional career, ‘what can I say? I’m flabbergasted. Well, I suppose I can say what I want. I’m cunting flabbergasted.’
        The audience laughs with more confidence in the scenario now. It makes a nice change to see Kim in the driving seat.
        ‘As well you might be,’ says Kim and the audience laughs some more.
        ‘But still – hang on a minute. What do we mean by the word cunt? I mean, are we referring to the female genitalia? Can I say that? I can say that, can’t I – genitalia?’
        ‘Trust you, with your Missus Autocue, to bring that up!’
        ‘Or are we referring to the hard bahstud that you don’t wanna pick a fight with down the pub at the end of the night? Is that all right, by the way? Can we use bahstud?’ Den’s patter has degenerated into a cavalcade of Australian upspeak. He looks around for an answer from someone in charge. ‘Yes, I’m getting it through the ear-piece, if you’ll pardon the expression…’ He sets the audience tittering, sharing what he’s going through: the titters. He’s such a professional! ‘It’s all right to use bahstud. So we’re talking about the bullies, not the female whatsits?’
        ‘Most definitely not the female whatsits,’ says Kim. ‘Possibly the latter?’ She’s looking straight to camera now. ‘Well, you decide. Because this afternoon the nation has spoken and we will be revealing to you who is Britain’s Number One Cunt.’
        ‘I’ve got to admit,’ says Den, ‘I knew nothing about this. I still can’t believe it. It’s like I’m in a dream. Did you know about this, Kim? Course you knew about it. It was you who told me about it.’
        That gets a mighty laugh from the audience. They’re happy now. Den is making himself look stupid and loving it. It’s what he does best. They love that.
        ‘But I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe that we’re allowed to say cunt – the “C” word – on live daytime British television. That’s astounding.’
        ‘Anyway,’ says Kim dragging her eyes impatiently, ‘moving on…’
        ‘I’m just saying,’ says Den trying to squeeze out a last few dribbles of Him Time.
        ‘Den,’ says Kim. The subtext is: It stops here or mockery ensues. ‘Will you just get over yerself for a minute?’ Kim’s smile is wider than ever.
        ‘Just the word cunt, that’s all,’ Den slips in quietly before shutting up.
        ‘It is indeed, Den, the word cunt – which you’ve succeeded in making such a meal of.’
        Visualising the vulgarism, the audience erupts: Den O’Connell in the act of cunnilingus.
        ‘Well, you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty unusual. I mean, come on.’
        ‘Well, perhaps we live in more broad-minded times than you, Den.’
        ‘I’m not saying I disapprove.’
        ‘Listen, d’you wanna hear the results or what?’
        ‘Yup. I’m all ears. Cuntin’ ears. I still can’t believe this.’
        The audience is still laughing with Den, not sure if they can believe it either or if it’s all part of some grander ploy.
        ‘Right,’ says Kim importantly.
        ‘Hang on a minute,’ Den interrupts. ‘Is this a historical thing? It’s not cunts in history, is it? ’Cos if anyone says anything about Margaret Thatcher I’m leaving the set.’
        The audience is in stitches now. Soon they’ll need ambulances standing by.
        ‘No, Den’ – Kim tries to keep a straight face but can’t stop herself from guffawing at the Thatcher remark; her cavernous mouth looks like a savage donkey attack – ‘it’s not cunts in history. It’s actual cunts that are alive now – though hopefully not for much longer.’
        The audience is squealing and wheezing.
        ‘All right, I get that, I get that. But what’s he done? What’s he done to deserve this… honour, if that’s the right word. It isn’t, is it?’ He’s archly looking at the audience now and they’re cackling, as he is, trying to suppress it, tears nearly standing in his eyes, almost wetting himself under the desk. ‘Imagine that – thinking it was an honour to be called a cunt.’ It’s the audience that’s wetting themselves now. This is turning into great television, award-winning television. ‘Let’s face it, audience, you’d have to be at least a stupid cunt to think that in the first place, wouldn’t you?’ He’s pushing it now but it’s still great television, explosions of laughter, wild, knowing, debauched, detonating around the studio.
        ‘All right, Den,’ says Kim smiling a wide-eyed but lopsided shut up look at him over a shoulder laid bare by the particular décolletage picked out for her by Wardrobe today.
        ‘What is the correct term? I should know, I host Countdown. What’s the opposite of honour? Is it slur?’
        Kim knows he’s never going to shut up. ‘Stay tuned because we’ll be back to reveal Britain’s Number One Cunt right after the adverts.’
       ‘From cunts,’ Den manages to fit in to camera before they go to break.
        As the warm-up guy takes over, keeping the audience laughing and the until-recently taboo word in the front of their minds, Kim leans over and whispers, ‘It’s going well. Great idea, Den.’
        ‘Thanks, sweetheart,’ Den whispers back with a wink. ‘Told you it’d work, didn’t I? Never overestimate the great British public.’ As they go back on air he turns to the audience. ‘Right. I’ve just been told he’s here with us in the studio so are you all ready to welcome the poor cunt?’
        The audience starts up a chant with one voice, bring–him–on, bring–him–on, bring–him–on, loving it now, and eager to witness the humiliation, anyone’s humiliation as long as it isn’t theirs.


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