Ian McMillan: Hair today and gone tomorrow in wacky world of TV

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Many years ago I presented an antiques series for a now defunct TV channel; I remember meeting the director in a supermarket café (ah, the glamour of showbiz!) and I remember him asking me, over a cup of tea and a flapjack, if I knew anything about antiques and I replied that I know more about flapjacks than I knew about antiques. I could see him calculating if it was worth offering the networks a series called Ian McMillan’s Wild and Wacky World of Flapjacks but then the penny dropped and he realised I knew nothing about antiques.

And he hired me on the spot and ordered more tea. I was exactly what he was looking for, he said: somebody who knew nothing about the subject but was willing to learn. I nodded and munched the flapjack thoughtfully.

The filming took us to Montrose in Scotland to shoot some scenes (see how quickly I slip into the media parlance?) in a huge antique shop more like a warehouse or an aircraft hangar. My job was easy: I had to walk up and down the shop and do a bit of pointing. Sometimes I had to stop and spout scripted wisdom into a camera lens. Occasionally I had to stop and look pensive. If I wasn’t looking pensive enough the director would shout, “Press the thoughtful button” and I knew what he meant. We filmed for two days, came home for a couple of days and then we were to go back for more filming.

At home I relaxed spectacularly. I lolled about. I didn’t do any pointing, pensive or otherwise. I wandered down Darfield to buy my Yorkshire Post and because Mad Geoff’s was quiet I nipped into his shop for a haircut.

In Geoff’s chair something nagged at me, something I’d forgotten or should have done. We chatted about filming as he snipped. Then a word popped into my head, a word that made me shiver with fear – continuity. I told Geoff to stop but as he was only halfway through that would have made matters much worse. I would have looked like a half-trimmed hedge. I let Geoff finish, paid up and scuttled from the shop.

In the few hours before I had to go back to Scotland I tried to will my hair to grow. I rubbed my scalp with lard, something that my late uncle claimed was ‘A proper Yorkshire hair restorer’. I stood under the shower and pulled hard at my hair but soon stopped when a clump came out in my hand, making me look even worse.

I walked into the antiques emporium in Montrose wearing a cap at a jaunty angle. The director and cameraman regarded me with suspicion.

“Right, get the hat off and let’s get started,” the director said. “Can you walk over there and point at that chair?”

I took the hat off. The director gaped like a cave. The cameraman gasped. ‘You’ve had your hair cut,’ he said, with horror. I nodded.

“I’m wearing the same shirt,” I said, affecting a brightness I didn’t feel.

The show had to go on, though. And that’s why viewers saw me at one side of the shop with long hair, and at one side of the shop with short hair, like a man whose wig kept blowing off.

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