Anthony McDonald Books
THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
A Very Silly Story
By Anthony McDonald
“Can you do without me during the daytime on Friday?” Philip the stage manager asked Nick. Nick was the company manager: Philip’s immediate boss.
“I daresay we’ll manage. What’s on?”
“I’ve got an interview.”
“At the BBC. Production assistant. With a man whose name you won’t forget in a hurry. Peter Thursday-Valentine.”
“I know him,” said Nick. Met him at least. He interviewed me for a job a couple of years back. I didn’t get it.”
“Why not?” asked Philip.
“I looked at his hair,” said Nick.
“You did what?”
“He wears a toupee, hairpiece, wig, whatever. It’s not so bad that you spot it at once, but it’s not so good as to be able to escape detection in the long term. Once I’d begun to suspect his hair wasn’t all his own it became difficult to take my eyes off it. At first I glanced at it quickly every time he looked away. Then I found my eyes wandering up to it even when he was looking directly at me. By the time twenty minutes were up so were my chances of getting the job. He asked me a few more questions but with less and less enthusiasm. Then he stood up, thanked me for coming and said he’d be in touch. I knew by then I’d blown it.”
“Bad luck,” said Philip. “Still, thanks for the tip-off. I’ll remember not to look above his eyebrows. And I’ll be back, at the latest, by five o’clock.”
Philip arrived at the BBC in good time, took the lift to the correct floor and was shown into an armchair. “Mr Thursday-Valentine won’t keep you long,” said his receptionist. “But he’s running a bit behind with his yoga. There’s some back numbers of The Radio Times you can look at if you like.”
Peter Thursday-Valentine turned out to be a charming, kindly man. You could imagine he had been very good-looking once. He was a good interviewer, having the knack of putting people at their ease and then firing off a deadly question when they were least expecting it. But Philip hardly noticed any of this. What claimed the whole of his attention was that Thursday-Valentine had BBC length hair of a distinguished iron-grey colour which swept back from a noble if receding forehead and which nearly but not quite concealed a balding patch of the size that, on a man of his seniority, you might expect.
If this is a toupee, thought Philip, it’s an extremely good one. No wonder Nick couldn’t keep his eyes off it. What a masterstroke of subtlety to have incorporated into the design a bald patch in the middle and a receding hairline at the front.
Mr Thursday-Valentine asked Philip about his experience as a touring stage manager. Philip replied, looking at the floor. He asked him about his background in regional rep. Philip focused his gaze on a standard lamp. Thursday-Valentine talked about petty cash systems and monthly audits. Philip pressed the tips of his fingers together and answered, studying his shoes. In a low conspiratorial tone Thursday-Valentine talked of problems with the Unions. Philip responded in similar tones while staring at a Picasso reproduction on the wall.
At last Mr Peter Thursday-Valentine rose to his feet. He was impressed, he said. He needed to discuss Philip with one or two other people, but it was fairly certain that he would be joining the team. Detailed information and a contract would then be sent to him by post.
Never had an interview gone so well for Philip. He burbled his thanks. Then, with a laugh in his voice and as winsomely as only Philip knew how to be, he said, “May I say, if I’m not being too personal, what a magnificent toupee you’re wearing. I’ve never seen such a sophisticated one in my life.”
The temperature in the room dropped. Philip failed to notice that. “I’m sorry?” said Mr Thursday-Valentine.
“Your wig,” said Philip. “People say they can spot it but they’re quite wrong. Believe me, it’s marvellous.”
“I don’t wear a toupee,” said Thursday-Valentine, his voice turning from wine to vinegar, only more quickly.
“Of course you’ve every right to say that,” said Philip. “But it really is extraordinarily subtle. So good.”
There was a second’s silence. Then Mr Thursday-Valentine said, “What the eff are you talking about?” This was the BBC after all.
“Your wig,” said Philip, smiling. “It’s just so good.”
“I’ve told you twice,” said Mr Thursday-Valentine. “If necessary I’ll make that three. I’m not wearing a wig of any sort. Now thank you but I have other people to see.” He indicated the door. “Jennifer will show you out.” It occurred to Philip as Jennifer did so that he might not be receiving a contract in the post after all.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Nick when Philip arrived back in the stage management office on the stroke of five o’clock. “You were wrong about this producer chap. His name isn’t Thursday-Valentine, it’s Tuesday-Valentine. I hope you didn’t call him by the wrong name. You know how particular these BBC types can be. Unless of course…” the idea made Nick smile “…unless there are two of them. A Peter Tuesday-Valentine and a Peter Thursday-Valentine… Maybe they’ve got one for every day of the week. I wonder if they all wear toupees.”
“I can’t speak for the others,” said Philip, but the man who interviewed me was Thursday-Valentine. And he doesn’t wear a wig.”
“How can you be sure of that?” asked Nick.
“He told me,” Philip said.