Tony strolled into the LTV Head Office with a joy that had been missing from his step ever since Michael Gates had been forced to cancel his appearance two weeks earlier. He swung through the office as if driven by a Rhumba or Cha Cha, even timing his greetings to the passing staff along with the melody that appeared to be channeling it's way through his shoes.
Steve on the other hand, was stuck. Wedged into a solid traffic jam cutting through the streets of West London. There was no chance of a taxi getting him to the studio on time, the only close Tube line had massive delays, and running would take at least twenty minutes. There was no other choice, Steve phoned Nigel, his assistant.
“Nigel, I've been stuck in slow traffic for two hours, I can't get to the studio in time. I have no idea what is going on here, but you are going to have to look after tonight’s show until I arrive.”
“Sure thing boss.” Nigel replied casually. “I'll start preparing everything we need.”
“Thanks, I'll let you know as soon as I know a likely time I'll get there.” With that Steve hung up.
Nigel put his phone back in his pocket, and promptly put his hands to his head. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, what do I do? Shit shit shit shit.”
“Jesus Nigel, calm down.” said Marcus, the head writer sternly. “You've done this with Steve a hundred times, just follow your usual procedure and things will be just fine.”
“...You're right.” said Nigel, calming down slowly. “It's no different to any show we've done before. Plus no crazy Chinese artists on this week.”
Nigel sat in the control seat, stared at the monitors with the air of a king surveying his kingdom, breathed a sigh of relaxation, and remarked back to Marcus. “This'll be a piece of cake.”
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON NIGEL? WHAT THE HELL IS STEVE PLAYING AT? WHERE IS HE? I AM GOING TO KILL HIM. I AM GOING TO BLOODY KILL HIM.” screamed Tony as he stormed into the control room, throwing his coffee on the floor in anger.
Nigel looked at Tony like a small child being told off in a foreign language by a scary looking great aunt. His eyes started to well up, and just about holding himself together, asked. “What's the matter Tony?”
“WHAT'S THE MATTER? THAT BASTARD LIED TO ME. HE LIED TO ME AGAIN.” screeched an enraged Tony.
“Y..Y..You'll have to explain Tony. I don't understand.”
Tony paused for a second to try and calm himself down. It didn't work. “That bastard told me we had Stephen Fry on the show. I decided to go to his dressing room to say hello, and he wasn't there. In his dressing room was the former model and...” Tony adopted the most condescending tone he knew how to do, which being a versatile actor was quite staggeringly condescending. “..and... author... Kerry Prost.”
“But that can't be right.” replied Nigel. “I checked the schedule and it quite clearly says Stephen Fry.”
“Well unless he dyed his hair blonde and had gigantic breast implants he isn't here.” snapped Tony.
“That's... that's not right.” spluttered Nigel.
“Damn right it's not.” growled Tony as he stormed out of the control room. “I have had enough of this shit.”
Nigel shakily picked up his phone and rang Steve. Nothing. “Shit shit shit. What do I do, we're on air in ten minutes?”
Tony sat in his dressing room, his eyes staring directly into the point blank. His expression a combination of utter anger, frustration and sadness. He had tried so hard to make a show that people would like, a show that people would truly enjoy without it pandering to the lowest common denominator, that Sun reader and Guardian reader alike could appreciate. Instead it was gradually turning into the Daily Star for the screen.
After so many years, he could feel his reputation draining away from him with each passing minute of the abomination that was becoming The Tony James Show. If things got any worse, everything he had worked for his entire life would vanish in a pouting puff of silicone enhanced lips.
That was it, Tony thought. After tonight's show he was quitting. Nothing was worth the degradation of his hard earned reputation by cheap television stars with no talent. Of course, he thought to himself, Mario had just been an actor, so maybe he wasn't that bad. But what on earth are real actors doing on shows that have no real purpose, that are cannon fodder entertainment with no message?
His mind was made up. After the show, after the reality show judges, after the model, he was going to see Gerald and resign from the show. After all, he wanted to replace it with repeats anyway, so if he pulled the plug it wouldn't really matter. To LTV no show at all was better than poor ratings.
As the cue came for the start of the show, Tony smiled, knowing that this would be the last episode of the Tony James Show he would ever have to present. He even managed to introduce that night's guests without so much as a raised eyebrow.
“Welcome to The Tony James Show! The only show on TV with enough Tony James to keep the whole family happy.”
In the control room, a nervous Nigel looked across the room at the head writer with a scowl learned wholeheartedly from Steve.
“On tonight's show are the amazing judges from Britain's Next Top Hairdresser, Sam Wilder and Abbie Jones!”
The crowd applauded wildly.
“Following that we have the incredibly successful author, singer, business woman and model, Kerry Prost!”
The audience applauded, but a few people started whispering to themselves about the line up. “I heard Stephen Fry was supposed to be here?” one woman questioned. “I heard he killed his manager.” the woman sat next to her replied.
“Last but not least, we have the lead singer of the magnificent Snow Plough, Matthew Stevens!”
The audience screamed in a delight that blew away the cobwebs of Fry based disappointment.
“Let's bring on my first guests! As the head judges in the smash hit show Britains Next Top Hairdresser, we've seen them chop, trim and curl... the contestants. It's Sam Wilder and Abbie Jones!”
As the audience applauded the head writer hung his head in shame before Nigel even had time to look at him.
The judges walked on to stage with a huge round of cheering and clapping from the audience. They shook hands with Tony and took their seats.
Tony started. “Welcome to the show. Great to have you here.” He even sounded as if he meant it. “I love the show. do you think it's doing a good job of reminding people of the true skill involved in hairdressing?”
Abbey, a tall, spindly girl with a pretty face and bright red hair replied. “I do Tony. People have this impression that hairdressers are all the same, one gigantic stereotype, I think this show proves to people that we are all individuals.”
A slightly surprised Tony continued. “What do you think Sam?
Sam was 22, wearing red trousers that were so tight his feet must have been crying out for blood, and a shirt that Eddie Jordan would reject as flouncey, replied. “It's great ain't it. We ain't all gay.”
“Riiiight.” stumbled Tony. “So Abbie, what brought you into the world of hairdressing?”
“Well mainly, it was a desire to bring something new to a world that seemed very one dimensional. A sense that the styling of hair is an art form in itself, not just an extension of the fashion world. That there is a craft and skill to what we do.” Abbey answered passionately.
“That's excellent.” remarked an impressed Tony. “Do you think hair can really be art?”
“I do Tony. A good stylist puts the same technique and thought into their hair as an artist does a painting, an architect does a building, or a graphic artist does a sign or piece of packaging. Every style is right for the head that holds it, so to speak.”
“I love that passion that you have.” responded Tony. “It's very inspiring. What about you Sam?”
“It's great, ain't it. Cutting hair of famous celebs and seen your name in magazines and stuff.”
“I once cut David Beckham's hair, was amazing ain't it. Saw it in all the papers.”
“That must have been a big moment for you.”
“Yeah, I got his autograph and everything ain't it.”
“So Abbey.” Tony deflected. “Are you enjoying making the show?”
“It's brilliant Tony. Seeing the talents of so many young people being developed and tested in front of your eyes.”
A few minutes later and the show cut to it's first break. Tony stayed sat in his seat, speaking to Nigel . “I thought that went quite well, everything okay with you Nigel?”
A rapidly maturing Nigel replied “Yes thanks. Good work so far. Hang in there for the writer. You're on in one minute.”
The ad break ended, and the next part of the show was on. Tony introduced the next guest cheerfully, and even gave her a hug as she came onto the stage. Kerry sat down and produced a happy looking smile. She had an unusual look to her, as if every action she made or word that came out of her mouth had been pre-planned. She seemed almost as if getting a genuine reaction from her was an impossibility, like she was a robot tricking the entire world into thinking she was human. A robot with massive breasts.
“Welcome Kerry. It's wonderful to have you here.” Tony started.
“ThAnK yOu ToNy. I aM hApPy To Be HeRe On YoUr LoVeLy ShOw.” Kerry replied. In reality she sounded less like a robot than that, but the weird intonation of the word lovely was entirely accurate.
In typical fashion, every reply that Kerry gave talked about a product with her name on it, a show she had done, or an event that could be publicised in tacky celebrity gossip rags. The only spark of life to appear through her eyes was when Tony mentioned her children. For a brief minute she reacted with the joy and pride of motherhood, demonstrating that behind the machine there appeared to be a functioning human being lost in there somewhere.
After fifteen minutes Tony still maintained his genuine smile. This wasn't his show for much longer, it was almost time to let it go and move on to something better.
Even the drab guitar whining of Snow Plough didn't dampen his spirits, and by the end he was ready to walk away from The Tony James Show forever.
“Thank you to all my guests. Take care and see you soon.” Tony closed the show, wanting to say. “In a show far far away from here.” Although he didn't.
As the lights went off, Tony resumed his earlier Cha Cha steps and sat back at his desk, leaning back on the chair, he let out a sigh of contentment and started to spin it round and round.