One World Over – The Day that Davro Died

one world over

In this series of fictional pieces, we’ll look at the moments that almost happened, but didn’t. At least, not here. Take 30 seconds to familiarise yourself with how it went down in our reality, before we move one world over, on the day Bobby Davro was put in the stocks.

…comedian and entertainer Bobby Davro, who died today, at the age of 33.” Lionel Blair reached across to the remote and flicked off the TV. His wife had been watching from the door-frame, and padded across in her carpet slippers to sit beside him on the sofa.

“You can’t blame yourself, love,” she said.

“No, no… what a day though. Poor Bobby…”

“At least they weren’t specific. ‘An accident during the filming of a show,’ that’s all they said.” She gave him a loving pat on the thigh, while Lionel nodded. A small mercy indeed. That was the part of Bobby’s death that really hurt. Not that he was so young, or that he was a friend; it was the sheer… indignity of it all. As his showbiz career approached its fortieth year, Lionel found interviewers’ questions more frequently moving towards topics of retirement and mortality, and he was often asked how he’d like to go, if given the choice. “Dancing on the table during my hundredth birthday party” was his pat response. But Bobby, poor Bobby, he’d met his maker while trapped inside a BBC prop, falling face-first to a broken neck with his trousers down.

That had been Lionel’s doing; the trousers. It’s funny, isn’t it? The most British joke there is. A teacher or a priest, or a mayor cutting a ribbon, and then – a flash of falling cloth and a bare pair of legs, often accompanied by the sound of a slide-whistle. It’s funny because it robs the victim of their dignity. He’d done it on instinct, just leant over and gave them a tug, and down they came. Fifteen seconds later, Bobby was dead. Lionel had watched from a distance when the paramedics came in; though it was clear by then he was already gone; as they lifted him onto a stretcher and took him away. His trousers were still at half-mast, exposing a pair of white boxer shorts dotted with little red hearts. At that moment, Lionel had found himself picturing Elvis, old and fat, and keeling over while in the midst of a big shit.

“I’m going up to bed,” said Mrs. Blair, “you coming?”

“In a bit. I think I’ll just sit for a while.”

“Alright, love.”

When he was finally alone, Lionel put his head out into the hall and waited for the whir of the extractor fan on the landing, signalling his wife’s night-time bathroom routine. He quietly closed the living room door and moved into the centre of the room, opposite the large mirror that hung above the mantle, deliberately avoiding his own gaze. Lionel unbuckled his belt. He was still in good shape after all these years; a dancer’s legs, his wife would always say; which he accentuated with tight-fitting trousers. They didn’t start to come down until he unpopped the top three buttons of the fly, sliding past his knees and onto the floor. He held his arms out by his sides, crooked at the elbows, and hunching forwards slightly, as Bobby had. Then, he tried to move, just a little; a small rocking motion, like being bumped into on an escalator. Before he could stop himself from toppling, he was on the rug on his hands and knees.

“Bloody hell, Lionel,” he said, in a soft voice, “what have you done?”

lionel

“We’re talking to Jim Bowen. Friend, colleague; Jim, what are your memories of Bobby?”

“He was such a great lad. Real family man. Could make anyone laugh, he really could. Drive you crazy sometimes when you were stuck in a dressing room with him pratting about, but that was magic in front of the lens, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

That was the fifth interview Jim had done that morning. Or was it sixth? Some local radio stuff and a couple of the big papers. He’d said things about dead friends before; even about some who were still with us, for those obits they recorded years in advance for the stars who were really famous, or really old. Seemed daft to him, like an accident waiting to happen. Some poor bugger presses the wrong button and suddenly the whole world thinks the Queen Mother’s fallen off her perch. Jim remembered the time he reeled off a solemn anecdote about the sad passing of Frankie Howerd for Radio 4 while the very-much-alive Frankie was stood next to him at the bar, trying to put him off by miming a stiffy with a bottle of Cola. But he’d never done one that felt like this before. Poor Bobby.

The oldest cliché was true, and the show must go on, with Jim in the back of a taxi, on his way to another taping of Bullseye.

“Here,” asked the driver, meeting his passenger’s eyes in the mirror, “how’s old Cheggers taking it? Them two were mates weren’t they? Did he see it?”

“Oh, Keith? He’s alright. Yeah… he’s doing alright.” Keith wasn’t doing alright, not at all. Over a phone call they’d had last night, it was clear that Keith had taken it very hard, and was back on the bottle. He kept going on about that German footballer who broke his neck, but held it in place with his hands and finished the match. “You’re not supposed to move them, are you?” he’d said, then the line went quiet like he’d dropped the phone. Jim could hear him stumbling around in the background, and listened for a bit at Keith’s distant cries of distress, which were incoherent but for an alarmingly clear “why’d you have to touch him?!” followed by what sounded like an enormous bookcase crashing to the floor. He’d tried calling back later, to tell him he mustn’t blame himself. Things happen, and there’s no point dwelling on the whys. Laying awake at night won’t help you change the pa—

“Turn that shit off, will yer?!” yelled Jim, with a sudden volume that even made himself jump.

“Soz, mate,” said the driver, so startled that he didn’t just change channels from the Simon Mayo show playing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, but switched the radio off altogether. He drove in silence for a few minutes, before a voice came from the back seat.

“Sorry, son,” said Jim. His legs were shaking.

One World Jim small2

“Lovely speech by Les.”

“Beautiful, very moving, wouldn’t you say, Keith?” Keith was already looking unsteady, and scanning the room for a reason to excuse himself, as though he was worried anyone seeing the three of them stood in a group would piece it all together. They had this bond now; this unspoken connection, like survivors of a traumatic event. Except they weren’t survivors, thought Keith, they were perpetrators, as he pushed past Christopher Biggins towards the bar.

“Were you… with him when it happened?” asked Biggins.

“No,” said Jim, almost too quickly. “We were in the studio, but not with-him with him. Terrible business.”

“Quite,” said Biggins. “So young; such a loss. He was our Peter Sellers.” It’s then that their attention was grabbed by the sound of a glass smashing against the wooden floor at Chegwin’s feet, followed that automatic cheer that goes up in a pub whenever someone drops something — “Weeey!

“Yeah, yeah. Fuck off,” said Keith, altogether without humour, glaring down at the remains of a wasted pint. Jim exchanged a look with Biggins and made his way over, putting an arm around Keith.

“Keep it together, Cheggers, for God’s sake. Here are, look, it’s the entertainment.” Jim nodded towards the front of the room, where a TV was being wheeled in on a stand. Someone pressed play on the VCR, treating mourners to a selection of highlights from Bobby Davro’s career. Don’t mourn the death, they always say, but celebrate the life. And what a life. There he was, impersonating Freddie Starr’s impersonation of Hitler, and as Sean Connery running a car wash, and at the Children’s Royal Variety show, in a Thunderbirds sketch with Billy Pearce.

But Keith couldn’t take his eyes off Bobby’s widow, who was firing off machine-gun laughs between hysterical, anguished wails, which reminded him of the time he’d had a sneezing fit while vomiting.

“Poor lass. I don’t know how the pair of you have got the nerve to stand here and watch that.”

“You’re the one who moved him, Keith,” said Lionel. “Broken neck, and you just heaved him straight up off the floor.”

“Well, you pulled his fucking kecks down. How’s he supposed to balance with his trousers round his ankles?”

“At least I didn’t start can-canning,” said Lionel. “That’s what made the pedestal wobble. What a moment for Jim Bowen to audition for the Folies Bergère…”

Will you keep it down?” said an angry Russ Abbot, through a teeth-gnashed stage whisper, “this is a bloody wake. Take it outside if you can’t behave yourselves.”

“I can’t go on like this,” said Keith, with the three of them now sat on patio chairs in the beer garden, beneath a light drizzle. “Funerals are supposed to help you move on, but where’s the peace of mind after something like this?”

“You know I’m doing Run For Your Wife at the Chichester Festival?” said Lionel. “I heard the understudies talking about how Bobby had died.” He adopted a gutter voice, imaginary roll-up pinched between two fingers – “’I heard he slipped on dog muck and cracked his head open. What a way to go!‘ Not saying how it happened makes it even worse. People’s imaginations run wild.”

“Worse than what did happen?! And what might that be?” said Keith.

“Everyone thinking he died having a wank or summat.” said Jim. At this, Keith stood up and kicked over his chair, his face wet with tears.

“What do you want us to do, tell everyone we murdered him?”

“Steady on,” said Jim. “I’ve got an idea.”

keith

Even irregardless of what happened there, there was always something eerie about an empty studio. Robbed of their usual life and laughter and bustle, they revealed themselves as vast, brutalist spaces, with echoing footsteps and darkened edges, particularly when you’d snuck in at 1am after bribing a security guard with autographs.

“Have you got it?”

“What do you think this is,” said Jim, “box of bloody Coco Pops?” He reached into the carrier bag and pulled out a Ouija board. It was wooden and vintage, borrowed from a magician friend, with its surface wearing the scuff marks of many uses. “Bugger. Forgot to bring a glass.”

“Here,” said Keith, pulling a shot glass out of his pocket.

“Figures,” muttered Lionel.

“Alright,” said Jim, “this is the spot where he died, isn’t it? I think it were right here.” He looked out into the darkness, where row upon row of empty seats faced the trio like an audience of ghosts. “Let’s get on with it.” He turned the glass upside down and placed it on the board, touching the point of his finger on the bottom of the glass and motioning for the others to do the same. Keith’s finger was noticeably trembling.

“Is there anybody there?” Nothing. Just the silence of the studio. He asked again, this time louder, playing to the cheap seats. “Is there anybody there? Anyone who’d like to make contact?” Again, all was still. And then, the glass began to move, sliding slowly across the board to the word–

YES

“Can you give us a name?”

BO

The glass stopped for a moment.

“Maybe it’s a different ghost telling us we stink,” said Lionel.

BBY.

“It’s him,” said Keith, “it’s Bobby!”

“Aye,” said Jim.

“Oh, Bobby,” wailed Keith, “can you ever forgive me? I wasn’t thinking, I just wanted to help. It all happened so fast, and maybe if I’d let the St Johns deal with it, you’d still be with us. I’m so sorry. We’re all sorry, aren’t we, lads?”

“Very sorry,” said Lionel. “Sorry for pulling your trousers down. Jim? Do you want to apologise?”

“Of course. Bob, I’m really— ey up, fellas, he’s on the move again.” And it was; the glass moving faster now, sliding from letter to letter with precision, like it really had something to say.

NOTHING TO FOGRIVE

There was a collective sigh, like the lifting of a crushing weight that finally allowed them all to breathe.

“You have to close it down, or he’ll be stuck here,” said Keith, “I read it in a book. I don’t think he’d want to trapped as a poltergeist at Going Live for the rest of eternity.”

“We’ll say ta-ra now then, Bob. All the best. See you again someday, I hope.” The glass slid to GOODBYE, and then whatever life had been within it was gone.

“He’ll be getting off with Marilyn up there now, eh?” said Lionel, looking up at Keith, who was using his sleeves to dry his face.

“I need a fag. You guys coming?”

“Be with you in a bit, Cheggers.” They listened to the tap of his shoes across the floor of the empty studio towards the exit, until he was gone.

Fogrive. Bloody hell, Jim.”

“I’m a comedian, not an English teacher.” Suddenly, Jim shivered. “Cold breeze went right up my back. Come on, let’s be on our way.” As the two of them headed out of the studio, carrier bag swinging gently with each step, perhaps just to fill the silence, Jim found himself whistling.

Always Look on the Bright Side…

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, including plenty more about terrible British variety.

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~ by Stuart on June 24, 2018.

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