3 July London Journal (AM Edition)
4 July London Journal (AM Edition)

3 July London Journal PM Edition

First, let me end the suspense: I relaxed, got a massage, and made it into the News Quiz taping.

I have led a charmed life. I realize that. I was born white, male and middle-class. I got into MIT. I married a woman who has spent three decades ironing out my foibles and putting up with the ones she can't iron out. I have two sweet and intelligent daughters who still like me. And today, the beat just went on, as you will see. I am lucky, and I am grateful that I am lucky.

Nothing in London is air conditioned. It is like the San Francisco of 30 years ago; "We don't have air conditioning because in San Francisco you never need it." Well, fortunately both BART and Muni long ago realized that theory was bogus, as did (eventually) the Opera House and most restaurants. In London, they still haven't awakened to smell the coffee of  global warming.


I have been keeping a secret. If you've been reading along, you know my reason for making this trip at all (despite all the other great fun I am having) is to see the Monty Python Live performance. Well, the ticket did not arrive before I left. It did not arrive Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I was sweating bullets. The ticket agency ASSURED me it would arrive Thursday. I was reading in my room when the phone rang; it was the front desk. UPS had a package. It was the ticket. LUCK!

My condo is upstairs from a spa. I had some time Thursday afternoon, so I went in for a massage. They call it a "holistic whole body massage," but it is pretty much the same as the massage I get every month in Lafayette. My Polish masseuse, Anette, knew what she was doing.


Then it was off to the BBC, for my attempt to attend a taping of the BBC Radio Four Friday Night Comedy, currently The News Quiz with your host, Sandi Toksvig.

I have seen many pictures of the BBC building, but either they are photoshopped or taken with very weird lenses. If you approach the building from any direction but the front, you can't tell it is Broadcasting House. You can easily walk right under the trademark statue without seeing it, which I did. Thank goodness for the brass plaque next to the door. Tonight, I came straight at the building down Regent Street and it was obvious, finally.

I went inside, into the Media Cafe, where I was told people waited before the show taping in the Radio Theatre across the hall. I approached the man checking people in and told him my plan; I was an American and I would ask if anyone had a spare ticket, or offer them money for one of their tickets. "Their tickets have names on them and we check IDs," he said. "Why didn't you enter the lottery for a ticket?" (The show is so popular tickets are distributed based on a lottery)

I responded, "Because your system won't enter anyone in the lottery without a British address." "That's because we must admit rate payers," said the public service broadcaster. "I will mention your plight to the floor manager," he said.

I figured that was it; I would sit there for three hours and not get in. At T-1 hour, the man at the door proved to be a man of his word; the manager came looking for "the American in the Beret." He stuck a standby tag on my shirt, and said, "I hate to see you wait; odds are we'll be full." "I'll take that chance," I responded.
Standby sticker

*My BBC standby audience sticker
Of course we have standby audiences in the U.S. as well; I know this because on one night when New York was basically shut down by snow, I saw David Letterman admit there is an entire full-sized standby audience each day for his taping, to insure a full house. He dramatically threw the doors open to the standby audience.

BBC Radio 4 admitted audience members in groups of 50. After everyone else had left the cafe, the Floor Manager came in and told me there was exactly... one... seat left in the hall. LUCK!

Sandi Toksvig began the show and introduced the week's panelists, regulars Jeremy Hardy and Fred Macaulay, newbie Samira Ahmed and Andy Hamilton, a one-time regular who has not appeared in years because of television commitments. I was lucky to see him. Sandi proceeded to select the "audience member of the week." She asked who came farthest and quickly pinned it down to me, from San Francisco. She came back to my seat and told me my picture would be tweeted as Audience Member of the Week. She had just been installed as the president of some radio/TV organization and was wearing her medallion of office. She had me slip it on for the picture. As soon as it is posted, either @sanditoksvig or @TheNewsQuiz, I will repost the picture here.

Few people realize that the reason Groucho Marx's show, You Bet Your Life was so funny is that they filmed an hour every week for a 22 minute (after commercials) program.  They normally tape an hour for a 30 minute News Quiz; this week they went 90 minutes. Since they turn the air conditioning off to reduce noise (in the U.S. we have figured out how to do silent air conditioning, but apparently not in the Radio Theatre). An hour and a half of scintillating humorous takes on the week's news. Now that's value for money--especially since the taping was free. I should really listen to hear what  "made the cut," as they said several times during the taping. There wasn't a suit or tie in sight; two of the three men were wearing shorts. Well, it was hot in London that day. As I walked out, I could see the production personnel discussing something with gusto; since one of the women had a clipboard, I assume they were already beginning the process that will produce 29 minutes and 30 seconds of hilarity by 6:30 pm on Friday.

By the way, since you can't see it on the radio or the podcast, you should know that Sandi chair dances during the musical clues.