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Football Italia
by Charlie Britten

Everyone’s on strike at the BBC. Well, not quite... because Lionel and Frank from Music are still there, also Tony, one of the managers. 

“I NEVER strike,” says Lionel the producer, from over his glasses, which he’s pushed down his nose in order to read ‘The Gramophone’. 

“They’ll have to send us home,” adds Frank, the gaffer, “seeing as we’re the only ones here.” 

“The BBC MUST carry on,” retorts Tony. 

“Yeah, right.” Frank rolls his eyes.

“England’re playing Italy tonight at Wembley,” Tony continues. “Lionel, you’ll have to cover MOTD. 10 o'clock." 

“Italy? Verdi... Puccini... Rossini...” Then Lionel rams his glasses up his nose. “MOTD. Match of the Day. I can't do that.”

“You can, Lionel. You’re a professional. Gary Lineker’s coming in, so there’ll be an anchor man. You’ll just have to improvise for a commentary.”

“No, no!” cries Lionel to his boss’s retreating back. “This... is... outrageous. I'm taking this to the union.”

“Go for it.” Tony swings round. “They’re all marching around outside with banners, protesting about redundancies.”

“I NEVER strike,” Lionel repeats.

“Er... redundancies?” says Frank. “Yes... um... yes.  We can do MOTD. Can't we, Lionel?”

Tony lays his hand on the gaffer’s shoulder. “I knew I could rely on you.” 

Lionel stares ahead for several moments after Tony has left. He hopes his expression appears suitably glazed. “Frank, how could you?”

Frank holds up his palms. “I'm as much as musician as you, mate, but... well...”

“Well, nothing.”

“Redundancies, Lionel. Redundancies.” Frank leans over his armchair. “Look, Gary’ll be in the studio and outside broadcasts’re working, so they’ll get it in the can. We just put it together.  Ooh... and find a commentator.”

His colleague backs away from him, jutting his chin into his neck. “Well, don't look at me.”

“Someone’ll do it. You’ll have to make a few phone calls.”

Lionel attempts this, but, amongst football commentators, the strike’s one hundred per cent solid. When the operator is, unaccountably, unable to find Kenneth Wolstenholme’s number, the two men go to the canteen for lunch. This is something they have done before. 

“It’s ridiculous,” says Lionel, as if he were saying it for the first time. (He isn't.) “I'm going to Tony.”

“We’ll think of something. Have I ever let you down?”

As Lionel sits down to his rubber sausages, he has to admit, “No.”

“When Katherine Jenkins accidentally pulled out Camera One’s lead with her heel during Rule Britannia?”


“When Spotlight Three was on Pavarotti’s crotch when his flies were undone?”

“That was a long time ago.”

“Trust me then.”

“You’ve got to understand, Frank, that this time last week we were at the Albert Hall. Bach Choir. St Matthew Passion. And you were fixing the English subtitles for the German libretto.””

“Subtitles? Hmm.” 

At ten o'clock that evening, Lionel sits in the control room surrounded by monitors. Several Gary Linekers bear down upon him grinning but, when play starts in silence, Lionel’s stomach plummets down his legs and into his shoes. Until he sees on the screen the words ‘Allegretto ma non troppo.’ This, he understands.