This morning saw an astonishing and frankly miraculous feat in the name of Comic Relief: I woke up before 6am on a Sunday morning. The reason I woke up at such an unholy hour (I didn’t even know there was a 6am) was to go to BBC Television Centre to witness the final few hours of David Walliams’ entire day taking part in comedy panel shows which were streamed online on the BBC website.
It all started at midday yesterday, with David Mitchell and Lee Mack joining Walliams for Would I Lie To You. Highlights throughout the day included Miranda Hart’s efforts in the classic potter’s wheel game on The Generation Game and a wonderfully shambolic Blankety Blank with Paul O’Grady barely able to remember the rules. Things were already slightly overruning when Celebrity Juice, with the surreal sight of Germaine Greer sitting between the increasingly irritating Jedward twins, made the schedule get almost an hour late. Stephen Fry eventually took to the stage at around 1am for QI and following a revival of Nick Hancock’s comedy sports quiz They Think It’s All Over, his return to hosting Room 101 had to be cancelled to help things start to run to time.
When I arrived in the studio at around seven o’clock, Stephen K Amos was wrapping up his stint as host of What’s My Line. Throughout the more sociable hours of Saturday’s shows, audiences were in the studio for two hours before having to leave to allow their replacements to arrive. However, when I arrived there were quite a few empty seats and I soon learned that, without a steady supply of replacements through the night, some people arrived at 2am (and a couple even at 11pm) and decided to stay and see it through to the end. Despite the time of day, there was an atmosphere of excitement in the room, the sense that something very special was happening. David Walliams himself was looking surprisingly well for someone who had been not just awake for over nineteen hours, but having to entertain throughout them too.
The first full show I watched in the studio was Mastermind, with one of the stalwarts of Red Nose Day since the start, Griff Rhys Jones, asking the questions of Walliams and Ian Beale from off of EastEnders. The specialist subject round was quite funny, with both being asked about their own careers, and in Walliams’ case, catchphrases. Things got a bit more serious and genuinely tense when they got in the famous black high-backed armchair for the general knowledge round. This was followed by Have I Got News For You, presented by Patrick Kielty and guests Holly Walsh and Lembit Opik. Paul Merton was due to appear but was too unwell (I’ve heard this wasn’t explained to the online audience..?), with HIGNFY regular Clive Anderson stepping in at the last minute. Between the things Partrick was saying about Lembit and the Cheeky Girls and David’s description of an infamous mobile phone photo of a well-known footballer, I’m not sure how much of this actually went out on the web feed and how much was just the sound of birdsong.
After this, it was time for a fresh audience to arrive, and as it was now 10am, there were a lot more of them. So, we all had to leave the studio and anyone who wanted to stay could hang around and see if there’d be any spare seats left. On the way out through the backstage area, I saw a proud looking Richard Curtis looking on. Just over a dozen of us decided to stay on, mostly people who had been up all night and didn’t want to miss out on the final moments. Luckily enough, there was just about room for us all.
Next was the highlight of the morning for me, Whose Line is it Anyway with Clive Anderson as host and stars of the original series Josie Lawrence, Tony Slattery and Neil Mullarkey, with Humphrey Ker from Fast and Loose joining them and, of course, David. It really felt like a privilege to be able to see first hand an authentic episode of a show I grew up with, Lawrence and Slattery in particular were in fine form and old favourites like Party Quirks and Hoedown were played. Finally, Never Mind the Buzzcocks with David Walliams presenting and panelists including Chris O’Dowd, Robert Webb and the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. Again, it was good to see sections like the Intros Round and the Identity Parade. Walliams was still going strong, occasionally struggling to focus on the Autocue but otherwise doing very well.
As the time appeared on the big screens behind them, counting up to the 24 hour mark, Walliams and the guests seemed oblivious that the big moment was coming. It seemed like, with them continuing to chat away even with five seconds to go, the audience took it upon ourselves to count down the last few seconds before the pyrotechnics, tickertape and a big standing ovation followed. It was a fantastic achievement, and there was a wonderful atmosphere in the studio as it was recognised, before we filed out, blinking into the daylight of the afternoon.