Control freak freaked

Sunday 11th December 2011

1999 was the Cheltenham Festival of Literature’s fiftieth: my final year as production manager. Ambition decreed we would mark the occasion with three hundred events over seventeen days. I had to sip a lot of Jameson’s to protect my voice.

In addition to overseeing all technical aspects of this polyphonic anniversary, I compèred several gigs each day, grateful for the licence to unwind nightly at the Festival Club, in the company of many fine writers and musicians.

There were a few awkward moments, however.

At a green room gathering of Redgraves, I offered Vanessa refreshment by addressing her as Corin.

A disgruntled David Gower found himself the only panellist not wearing a tie after I’d suggested ‘smart casual’ to him on the phone, only to then, unusually, don a tie myself.

Children’s events at the Cheltenham Playhouse came thick and fast. The control freak in me was determined to ensure prompt starts, despite large numbers negotiating a small foyer. With Nick Butterworth under way, I was just leaving when a car dropped off a man clearly intent on entering the theatre. I assumed he was a late-arriving father with children already in their seats.

“Percy the Park Keeper?”

“Do I look like him?” replied a rather miffed Philip Pullman, arriving early for his own event.

Mobile phones were relatively new then: audiences needed reminding to turn them off. For events I was hosting, techie Kerry and I developed a routine, whereby he would ring me at a precise moment during my introduction.

Leaving a Tim Rice tribute rehearsal, I told the musical director to find me later in the Attic: a local night-club. Having wandered upstairs at the Playhouse and found its attic deserted, she called my mobile, seconds after I’d stepped up to a microphone some streets away.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to… oh, that’s early.”

Kerry, by the back door, shook his head, flummoxed. I answered it.

“Marcus, it’s me. Where are you?”

“On stage at the Attic. So are you!”

She hung up.

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