Naked in London by Brian Birkenstein

A few years back my 15 minutes of fame came to me in England. In this case, it might actually be known as infamy, but I’m not picky. About 10 million British people have seen me naked, which is not a statement a lot of people can make. For my honor or shame, I am in a fairly elite group.

I worked for nine months for a travel company in medium sized English town called Banbury. It took me a little while to get immersed in British culture, but it happened. Generally Americans and Brits have a different sense of humour (and spelling), so comedy TV took the longest to get into while of course visiting the pub came the quickest. There was however a show that struck my funny bone from the start. I don’t even know the exact name of it, but the host was Graham Norton.
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The show was of the nighttime talk show variety, with an opening monolog, a skit or two, a celebrity guest or two, and a closing musical act. But Graham’s show was different than others of this genre. For starters Graham is flamboyantly gay, as camp as a row of tents (as they say). Secondly, the show has the distinct advantage of NOT being on American TV (or at least he wasn’t then). They didn’t have to worry about blacked out nudity and bleeped out swear words and general censorship that plagues “America the free.”

I had wanted to go see the show live the whole time I was in England, and finally about four days before I was set to fly home my friend got us on the list to see Graham in studio. Of course, it was filmed in London, so on a Wednesday night we headed south for the show. As we waited in line to get in, some of the production assistants circulated through the crowd. They asked us to write down a crazy story that may be shared on the air. We all did. I can’t remember what I wrote but my friend Tim had a winner. Also while we were in line a producer said to me, “you, you look like you’re up for a laugh, would you do anything?” I instantly said yes, to which he quickly replied “anything???!” Because I had seen the show many times before, and knew of Graham’s crazy antics I more hesitantly gave an affirmative the second time.

Our group of five was placed near the aisle so that Graham could “randomly” select us for Tim to tell his story. I had decided to wear some crazy patchwork pants (that my mother made) and an authentic San Francisco policeman’s shirt. I wanted to stand out, as I knew Graham often picked audience members to do something crazy. During the “mingle with the crowd” segment, Graham headed up the stairs into the audience in our direction. He was on a hunt to find audience members with crazy stories, and he “wound up” asking Tim. Tim and I (and the others with us) all worked for a camping tour company that has trips all over North America. Tim (prompted by Graham) proceeded to relay a story about when he had been a tour leader out and about in America. He was with his group, sitting around the camp fire, enjoying his dinner of fried chicken. About midway through his meal he looked down and realized he had dropped a little chicken skin into his lap. He decided to retrieve it and stabbed the skin with his fork. Much to his dismay, he realized the skin did not belong to a dead chicken, but rather a very alive set of family jewels, his own. This is a great story, just the kind of thing Graham usually looks for, and brought roaring laughter from the crowd. It would be even better if it were true. Tim admitted to us later that he ALMOST stabbed his own sack, but realized what it was at the last moment. BUT, Graham, the studio audience and all of the show’s viewers never knew the story was inaccurate, and it was a very funny segment of TV.

After the laughter died down, Graham wanted me to stand up to see what I was wearing. My costume decision worked, and he proceeded to ask me a few questions. He then moved on, but didn’t forget about us. He kept referring to Tim as “bollock man” as in the British slang for testicles. Several times mentioned us as Bollock Man and Brian, like some sort of super hero duo

Graham has various segments on his show before the guest comes on. One standard of his is where he looks at some kooky website. He decided this night on one called “molesting statues” or something like that. After having a brief look around, he proclaimed “We have a lot of statues in London, and we think it would be funny if a member of our audience molested some. We also think it would be funny if it were Bollock Man or Brian!” The camera zoomed in on Tim and myself and showed our shocked faces. After a brief moment of back and forth indecision between Tim and my self, somehow we decided that I was to be the statue molester.

A producer rushed down the stairs and grabbed me by the arm. He led me through the studio and out the back door. He had a camera in his hand and we headed to the parking lot, in a hurry. They don’t film the show live, but it is taped nightly with only a few hours to edit it before it goes on the air. We hoped into a car that had a ladder sticking out of the trunk (or boot) and sped out into the London evening.

Our first victim was a statue of Nelson Mandela. We quickly got out and the producer put the latter up to Nelson’s head. For what I was about to do, I figured Nelson and I could be on first name basis. I quickly had a French kissing session with his ear as the producer filmed away. As quick as we got there, we were away, zipping off to our next statue.

After another short drive, we wound up at the Thames. There was a statue of a topless woman sitting by the river bank in an area that was a lot more crowded than the first one, but I hoped on the lady and did my duty. The producer wanted me to put my hands and mouth on her breasts as he filmed. Of course people were looking at me oddly as they strolled by, but I kept tonguing away at the bronze lady.

Again we hurried away, but this time we pulled back into the studio lot. I was a little confused, but assumed that was all we had time for. Then, I was led (now with a security guard in tow) to a back lot statue of two wrestling Greek men. It was supposed to look as if it was also out and about in the city, but this one was actually private. At that point the producer said to me, “we think it would be funny if you got on the statue, and we think it would be funny if this time, you were naked!”

I was stunned. I had seen the show before and I knew they did some crazy things, but naked! To my recollection I had never seen anyone fully naked on the show before. People had shown their butt or the pubic hair, but not fully naked. The producer could see I was hesitant, so he (like a good sales man) said “not to worry, Graham will hold his thumb over, they won’t really see anything.” As I considered dropping my drawers I thought to myself that I had already told them I would do “anything” and this part of the show was counting on me. Also I thought (being American) there would certainly be black lines or fuzzy spots covering my junk. So how could I expect they would show everything. I decided to just go for it and my clothes came off, as I joined the naked wrestlers for a three way photo shoot.

We hurried back to the set, and I waited back stage. Graham was busy with the guest, finishing up the interview. I was a little disappointed by the choice of guest because I had never heard of him before. The week before, Darryl Hannah and Burt Reynolds where both on, and I would have liked to be on stage with either of them. Instead, I got someone who was more or less a third rate British soap opera star. Most English people when they hear who it was say “Ohhh, Him?” Before the show started there was some delay and they made an announcement about the guest being late. The guy who did come on eventually was doing a play (rehearsal) nearby and we think he was a last minute fill in guest. It was Paul Nichols, and you’ve only heard of him if you are English.

Finally the interview finished, and Graham said “I hear Brian is back, lets get him out here and see what he got up to.” I went out on stage and sat in between Graham and Paul. Graham asked me a few questions but more or less got right into the photos. They were still photos, not movies, up on the big monitor above the stage. That’s right, way above Graham on a giant TV. There would be no thumb of Graham’s saving my dignity. I was in a daze.

First they showed the picture of me and the topless woman. Nelson Mandela was on the cutting room floor; apparently the man is not important enough. Then all of a sudden I was naked in front of millions. My friends who have been watching Graham for years say they have never seen him so shocked. He was almost speechless, which is not a good quality for a ‘talk” show host. The crowd whopped and hollered for quite some time my friends leading the cheers.

The photo was not a flattering one, but there it was, and there it stayed. First of all, I am not the skinniest guy in the world, but I am by no means obese. The way I was sitting had my belly jutting out at a weird angle, and looking rather large. Secondly, (guys will back me up here) sometimes your “stuff” looks more impressive, sometimes it looks less. Well today, mine defiantly looked less. I was mortified, Graham and the crowd were ecstatic. It’s a good thing I was set to leave England in a few days as I probably wouldn’t be getting any more dates.

When all the laughing settled, I got up to leave assuming my 15 minutes of fame were over. Paul said how brave I was and that I needed a hug, so he hugged me. Graham told me to sit and stay a bit while the musical guest came on. I sat back down, still in a daze. The Pet Shop Boys (of whom I am a big fan) came and played a set 10 feet from me. I began to somehow forget about what had just happened and enjoyed being on TV.

The show was almost over and it was time for Graham to tell me what I had won. I knew from watching the show that the audience idiot (me this time) always was awarded with a prize. Graham asked me if I liked golf. I tried as hard as I could to put on a good game face and smile, but I don’t think I was successful. I hate golf. The prize was 6 tickets (two each day for three days) to the British Open golf tournament in Scotland, which of course the Brits just call The Open. Along with those tickets came 6 tickets (same as before) to the British Telecom hospitality booth at the Open and 3 nights at a 5 star hotel in Edinburgh. All in all, it actually sounded like a pretty good package even though I didn’t like golf. Later my friends and I tried to price it out, and we decided on a little over 3000 pounds value. So I took the envelope and headed of stage, hoping I could actually attend the tournament that was over the coming long weekend, of which Sunday I was supposed to fly home.

On my way off stage, I (me and my friends) were invited to the after show party. It was great fun to go there for free drinks and snacks and mingling with the cast and crew. Graham and Paul were both really nice people off stage as well. I even got to meet Betty. If you are not a Graham Norton follower that doesn’t mean anything to you, but regular viewers should know her. She is an older lady that for some reason goes to every one of Graham’s shows and is used as a punch line quite often. I asked her if I could have a picture with her, and that saucy old bird replied “if you take your clothes off again.” The cast party was a lot of fun and topped off a great evening, except for about 10 minutes of horror.

The next day at work, I quit. Actually it was Thursday and I was supposed to be done Friday, but I explained to my boss what had happened and that I was heading to Scotland. He was fine with it, and Tim got two days off as well. We only planned to go for one of the three nights as it was a long drive and I needed Saturday at home to pack. I gave the rest of the tickets to the others (Lee, Molly and Andrew) that had gone to the show. It took Tim and I 11 hours (horrible traffic) to get there and in the end we stayed until early Saturday morning, two nights.

I didn’t really see any golf, but had a great time. On the one day that Tim and I attended we headed straight to the hospitality booth and didn’t leave there until they closed it up. The golf was on the TV in the background, but we were more intent on the never ending steaks and scotches. All our table mates were quite interested in the story as to how we got there. During one of my many bathroom visits a man came up to me and asked me about the show. He was in the middle of several questions when another man came up and asked if when I was done, I could come by his hospitality booth, the ladies in there wanted to meet me. It couldn’t be because they were impressed with what they had seen. I went in and everyone clapped. Tim, seeing what was happening wanted to share the limelight and ran over. I shouted “hey everybody look its Bollock Man,” to which they all cheered. We were minor celebrities for the day.

By the time we left the booth, we were quite drunk. As I said, we really didn’t see much golf. We did look around a bit for Tiger Woods, but apparently kept missing him by a few minutes. We also tried to steal (or borrow) a golf cart to get around but got told off in the process. It was a great day and we topped it all off by spending another night in a 5 star hotel. Lee, Andrew and Molly arrived late and shared the room, ready for their fun the next two days, but Tim and I left early in the morning.

That night, my friends and work mates had a going away party for me. It was inevitable really, but out came a video tape. We had realized that Graham’s shows are often audience participation, so we set up the VCR before we left. The tape was played over and over and over again. I thought it looked bad the first time, but with pause and rewind it was much worse. I eventually had to leave the room from embarrassment, and thankfully the next day I left England as well.