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The unseen guests?

James Cary


One of my professional aims is to be on Desert Island Discs. But I'm not too hopeful. No one really cares about the plump, over-educated men who write jokes for the good-looking people. I understand that. It just does mean that I will have to write something really, really famous and popular if I'm ever going to be cast away and forced to chose my records, my book and my luxury for Kirsty Young. BBC Radio 4 have their pick of The Great and The Good. BBC Radio Bristol, however, can't be quite as fussy. And so amid the sound of a barrel being scraped, I recently accepted the invitation to be a guest on Dr Phil Hammond's Saturday morning show. I get to choose two records. Rather than agonise over this decision, I decided to pick the kind of song that I'd like to hear on a Saturday morning, while demonstrating that I don't just pick stuff from the charts from the last ten years. What could be more feel-good than 'Roll with It' by Steve Winwood, a song also used in one of my favourite films of all time, Nuns on the Run? (The other song will be 'Ballroom Blitz' by The Sweet, obviously.) The question that got me thinking, however, was being asked to think about my four ideal dinner guests. Of course, at this point, my faith - or conscience - immediately kicks in and ponders whether one of the guests should be Jesus. Obviously, I'm keen to meet him - and one day I will. But I suspect a weekend radio chat show producer is rather hoping I don't invite deities, as it could make the show rather intense, thus negating Steve Winwood's work. I wondered about inviting someone else from the Bible. As a fairly hardcore Calvinist, I naturally veer towards the apostle Paul. I could ask him about a number of things troubling me about the Church of England at the moment, although I'm pretty sure I know what he'd say so it may be a wasted opportunity. And my nagging is worry is that he wouldn't be the best dinner guest. He's someone I'd like to talk to one on one, but comes across as rather an intense fellow. I worry he might dampen the conviviality. I considered another guest that ticks theological and entertaiment boxes: Thomas Cromwell as played by Mark Rylance in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. This would mean that whenever the conversation went quiet, we'd all look at him and he'd cut us down to size with a one-liner and then casually eat a fig. Once I'd wrestled with these issues, my four guests came together very quickly. My first is my great hero, GK Chesterton. No big surprises there as I mentioned this Christian colossus in a column last year. I've always enjoyed his fearlessness as an advocate of the Christian faith coupled with his wit as a writer of essays, plays and novels. A truly preposterous figure, no-one found him more absurd than the man himself. His capacity for joy, comedy, good food and fine wine was matched only by his desire to debate and engage with the culture of the day. I'm sure he would have been delighted to have his size and girth mentioned by my second guest, who once wrote 'The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G.K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.' PG Wodehouse is, for me, one of the great proponents of situation comedy, way before television came along. He created a cast of characters like Jeeves, Wooster and Lord Emsworth who came back time and time again, utterly unchanged by their experiences, ready to make the same mistakes in a different way again. That's sitcom. Much as I admire Wodehouse, he's no intellectual heavy-weight. Nor is there is a scintilla of spirituality in his writing, unlike his contemporary, Evelyn Waugh. But Waugh will not be at the dinner, mercifully. If Chesterton can't bring Wodehouse out of his shell, my next guest, CS Lewis, might have more success. Do I need to justify All-Round-Renaissance-Christian-Man Lewis's inclusion into the fab four? I didn't think so. But who is the fourth? PJ O'Rourke. He would undoubtedly wonder what had hit him, but write about it very amusingly afterwards. That's my four. The only disappointment is that I stand no chance of keeping up with the discussion and the repartee. Best lurk in the kitchen and listen over the washing up. That's where Jesus would be.