Radio Times/1923/12/07/My Microphonic Debut
My Microphonic Début
By John Henry, the Popular Entertainer.
It all started some months ago. I was sitting peacefully at home—that is, as peacefully as a married man can expect to sit—when my wife, who had been unaccountably quiet for some time, said: "John"
I said, "What?"
She said: "I see by the paper that the B.B.C. are engaging artistes to entertain the unseen hosts. Here's a chance for you," she said. "Your audience won't he able to see you and your appearance won't he against you. Here's your opportunity," she said, "and you'll go after it with all the chic and embonpoint of which you're capable when I'm behind you. And every night you'd better bring your wages home to me, For Heaven will Protect the Working Girl.'" she sang, and her gladsome laugh rippled on the balmy air like the sound of water dripping into a rusty pan.
So I wrote to the B.B.C. and I got en appointment for an audition. At the time appointed I went to the office and I interviewed the Commissionaire, and I think he must have liked me, because I noticed he couldn't keep his eyes off me, and he told me to wait, and presently a young lady came out. I didn't know then, but I found out after, it was Auntie Sophie, and she looked at me and she said "Good heavens! What do you want?"
Interviewing an Uncle.
I said: "I want to warble," and she turned round, and I think she must have had some secret sorrow, because I could see her shoulders heaving; but she took me into another room, and there was a gentleman there and he amid "Go ahead! Show me what you can do."
So I said my piece, and there were tears in his eyes when I'd finished. "John Henry," he said, "you're both versatile and ambidextrous, if I may be allowed the use of an expression far above my station in life. Go forth! Go forth! You'll hear from me." And he covered his face with his hands and pushed me down the lift shaft.
I found out afterwards this was Uncle Jeff, and he says I've put years on him.
However, I went home and waited, and eventually I got a note to say that next Wednesday I was to make my debut before the microphone. So on the Wednesday I went up to the Studio, all complete with pianist, and after lingering shivering on the brink for some time, we were finally ushered into the presence of the microphone.
A Hopeless Moment.
I didn't notice the room at all. I was placed before a shrouded form on legs, with a metal plate on top, and I was vaguely conscious of a rattling noise somewhere in the vicinity, and it gradually dawned on me that it was my knees knocking together, and I remember wishing I'd been a better man and lived a nobler and purer life.
Now, I've had some bad moments in my time. I've been First Turn in a music hall in that Yorkshire city that's known as the Grave of Comedians. I've offered my seat in a 'bus to a lady who has refused it very audibly, and I've gone home to the wife short of half a crown that I couldn't give any satisfactory explanation of, but I've never before experienced anything quite an hopeless as I did at that moment.
Explorers have written of the ghastly loneliness of the desert and the Arctic regions. Castaways on uninhabited islands have chronicled the appalling solitude of existence under such conditions. But no explorer or castaway ever experienced such a forsaken feeling as crept over me when the announcer opened the switch and made the statement that: "John Henry will now entertain you."
Familiar, but Not Funny.
Icy waves of horror overcame me. My mouth seemed to fill with dry, fleecy, sticky wool. Cold tremors ran over my frame, and I thought of the thousands of listeners getting ready to put down the ear-pieces; but after a convulsive gulp, I heard a voice that I didn't recognize as mine, and which I noticed appeared to he having difficulty in pronouncing the letter "s," repeating lines that seemed vaguely familiar, but not at all funny, and after an eternity., I found myself out in the night air with a badly-shaken pianist and no clear recollection of what had happened, but with a horrible feeling that "the bird" had been liberally administered.
And now, when I hear the young fellows swanking and telling their adventures and expatiating upon the many thrills that this life affords, I sit back and watch the blue smoke curling out of my pipe, and in a vision I see myself once again coming safely out of that most awesome of all ordeals—my début before the microphone.