Wish You Were Here...
An unlikely rescue takes place as our three intrepid heroes head into the murky waters of Granada Land in the third installment of JJ’s* gripping tale.
*not real initials
Something wasn't right.
The bus stopped, then loud footsteps pounded the stairs as the driver announced that Cheetham Hill Road was closed off due to unknown circumstances and the bus would have to terminate.
We got off to see blue flashing lights at the end of a long queue of cars and made our way down Smedly lane toward Rochdale road and the next parallel bus route.
It was too dangerous to walk to the city.
The postman from That's Life had been glassed in the Derby Arms two days ago and Rantzen was reportedly livid.
Rumour has it that Bob Holeness was involved but everyone was secretly gutted it wasn't Doc Cox who'd been potted.
We walked up the steep incline and hit Rochdale Road.
Not a car or bus or taxi was in sight.
We made our way to the bus stop near Queens road when Feast spotted it first.
"Flamin ell", he said, "is that a giant?"
A huge figure stood in the middle of the dual carriageway.
Dressed in Georgian traditional clobber, the figure stood clutching its own head under its arm - decapitated from the rough up at some point.
The figure's oversize footwear thudded against the tarmac before falling flat on its front.
We stood terrified as it picked itself up, clearly disorientated and ran straight into the nearby bus shelter, hopelessly trying to run through the immovable object like some deranged beetle trapped in an empty jam jar.
"What do we do?" asked Elphick.
A milkmaid Carrying two wooden pales came to its aid, slipping on the spilled contents from her buckets as she did so.
A pair wearing pin-stripe suits appeared, confirming what we all feared.
“Are you lot from Crown Court?” he asked.
Elphick, whispered in my ear,
“It’s only it’s a Knockout! I thought those two were off the scene”.
He wasn’t the only one.
It’s a Knockout had been shunned by the whole of Granada land after their celebrity Christmas special descended into chaos back in 74 when Dave Boy Green and John Inman led an on-screen protest at the two host’s medieval catering arrangements.
All of a sudden this meant nothing as in some bizarre twist, it seemed that the blame for the Chalmers attack had fallen on us and someone had clearly taken great delight in fingering the three of us.
A fowl wind blew down Rochdale Road.
The giant struggled to its feet and began to approach, pounding the floor with each step.
Out of the wind, trails of white smoke began to spin in the form of a localised tornado, and from that - a figure emerged dressed head to toe in a 15th Century court jester costume.
“Gadzooks!” he cried, then reached out with his arm,
“Quick, hold my hand,”
Elphick and Feast were already holding each other's hand before he’d even told us, so I reached out to the jesters with one hand and gripped Feast’s with the other.
“You’re stone cold, mate”, I told him.
“That’s because I’ve been dead for two hundred years”, he replied.
The giant was within touching distance, as the pin-striped man once again lifted his trilby to speak,
“We’ll have to hold it there,” he said,
“It looks like Crown Court have just played their joker”.
And on that, the giant froze in its unsteady tracks.
“Well done mate,” I said,
“What’s your name?”
“Claypole,” he replied, “but you can call me Timothy”.
And with that, he gripped his nose and we vanished.
“They whittled it down to the last two, and me and Lazenby were the only ones left”, said Claypole.
He removed his three-pronged cap-n-bells reflectively rubbing his sweated head.
“I’d been in special forces for six years, so thought my background would stand me in good stead.
You know, a sort of real-life James Bond type.
You just never know how things will turn out”.
He stared out across the ship canal, surveying the abandoned docks, pulling hard on an Embassy number six.
“Everyone thinks it’s you lot who fired the rocket”, he said.
“If that’s the case, every gang in the city will be after us for breaking the truce”, said Elphick.
If he was right it would mean that we’d have to bop our way back to Quay Street to the only safe part of the world available to us right now, the Crown Court Studio.
“I’m not even supposed to be here!” whined Feast,
"I should have been with the flamin Corrie firm!”
He’d not stopped going on about his audition since we’d set off and anyone would think he’d already got the part.
“Oh fuck off, Fred!” I snapped,
“Look what happened to Claypole - The one thing we know is that nothing is certain in this game, you feel me?”
Feast stomped off and removed his sandals before dangling his feet over the quayside.
The darkness began to lift, revealing the still waters of the ship canal as the sun began its journey from the east.
I looked out across the water and cursed my luck.
Not only being stuck with this pair of clowns, but I felt the dream I’d been sold melting away right before me.
Claypole replaced his cap-n-bells.
“I’m off”, he said,
“The Meekers worry if I'm away too long.”
“How come you went to the trouble of saving us?” asked Elphick.
“I know it wasn’t you”.
“So then, who would do such a thing?”
He paused, looking him straight in the eye,
“Look close to home.
Maybe even, look north”.
And with that, he gripped his nose and vanished into thin air.
We walked along the canal pathway seeing the early sunlight reflecting from the CIS building in the distance.
The passing walls were decorated with the firms who’d laid claim to this part of town.
‘BRC’ was sprayed across the pathway, reminding us we were now on the manor of the Brian Rogers Connection, only to see it defaced further along with the infamous inverted-cross symbol used by The Sunday Gang.
We walked under Regent Road as the ship canal morphed into the River Irwell, to see an old man sat with his back to us on a bench facing the water.
He turned on hearing us approach, revealing a pretend ginger beard, the type sold at the joke shops, and a small figure sat on his knee.
“Sindstatt!” whispered Elphick, “and what the fuck has he done to Elton?”
The tiny figure had pencil lines drawn down the sides of its mouth, with lifeless eyes slowly rolling forward on seeing us.
“Gerald?” I said.
I’d fond memories of Gerald, who’d gone out of his way to make me feel welcome since I'd arrived at Granada.
He reveled in the class clown persona and had caught me out more than once with his famous ‘white-eared elephant’ gag, but once Welsby came on the scene he became distant and unknowable.
Welsby’s background was in musical theatre and had won glowing accolades for his performance as Perchick in Oldham Colosieum’s production of Fiddler on The Roof.
He came to Granada as the favorite to land the role as host on an exciting new quiz show, billed as the quest to find Britain's next superman or superwoman, but had gone to pieces in the manual dexterity part of the interview.
A rising star from BBC Ulster called Gordon Burns came in from nowhere to be in the last two and excelled in the final assault course round of the selection process.
Welsby was left tragically stuck halfway up the rope ladder having to be talked down by a retired PT instructor from the Black Watch, leaving Burns free to cruise home - all the way to the finish line and land the role as host of ‘The Krypton Factor’.
After losing out, he claimed the urge to go back to his first love and ended up cajoling Sindsattt into playing the foil in a new stage act whereby Welsby played a cheeky Glaswegian schoolboy, utilising his restricted height for comedic effect.
I could see Feast becoming agitated at the sight.
He confessed to suffering from a phobia of puppets ever since working as a runner on Micahel Bentine’s Potty time, and supposedly once locked himself in the cleaner’s cupboard when Ray Allen and Lord Charles were guests on Granada Reports as part of Kleptomania awareness week.
Gerald reached down into the plastic carrier bag between his legs and pulled out a portable transistor radio.
“It’s been on the news,” said Welsby,
“Everyone’s been looking for you”.
He turned on the radio.
“It looks like It’s a Knockout slipped on the obstacle course”, said the DJ,
“Let’s hope someone else can tune into Crown Court and they’ll end up being banged to rights.
Here's a little tune with them in mind…”,
‘January’ by Pilot drifted from the radio speakers, piercing the early morning silence.
“But we didn’t do anything,” whined Feast.
“We know,” replied Welsby,
“We hear a lot of stuff and word on the street is someone's trying to set you up”.
“Who is it, Elton? You have to tell us”, cried Feast.
“No one knows for sure,” he replied, “all we know is, you need to look north”.
Welsby began to sing along with the radio, his voice squeaking like a deranged banshee,
‘Sick and tired of you hanging on me…..’
“I’m scared” whispered Feast.
“I think we all are,” replied Elphick who reached out for us to all hold hands.
He squeezed his nose and tried to jump on the spot expecting us to vanish.
Nothing happened as Welsby continued,
‘You make me sad with your eyes, you’re telling me lies…’
“Fuck it”, cried Elphick, “let’s leg it!”
We bolted past the pair as the eerie voice of Elton Welsby echoed through the underside of the Ordsall Lane bridge as we made our escape, wailing in our ears long after we were out of sight.
‘Don’t go……Don’t go!’
As we made our way under the bridge of the disused railway track of the Ordsall Spur, Feast continued to bemoan our plight.
“Look north! That’s just what that fuckin jester said. I’m not even supposed to……”
I’d had enough of the whining and decided to put the mithering fucker straight once and for all.
“Enough, Fred face!” I snapped,
“We all know Crown Court’s shit, and you’re doing us a favour by being here - but that’s what everyone does!
Do you think Blessed wants to play a prosecution QC for the rest of his life?
Do you think Tom Baker wants to be known as a dognapper?
Keith Baron as a wife beater?
None of them do - they're just using it as a stepping stone to other stuff - same as all us three are”.
Feast had that annoying habit of sulking once he’d been told off and went straight into one as the transmitter on the top of Granada Studios came into view.
“When I see that aerial thing, that's when I know I’m home”, said Elphick.
“I’m sorry for being a pain,” said Feast,
“It’s just ….”
He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his receding head,
“When I see Len Fairclough, I see everything I want to be in life.
I’m in touching distance of being the next Burt Tyldesley”.
We all knew his pain.
The sun began to bake the canal path as we walked in single file along the Irwell and towards the steps up to Quay street and the entrance to Granda studios.
To be continued....