Written by Catie Wilkins

In The News

Adieu, adieu, René

In 1990, when she was about nine, Catie Wilkins got to meet Gorden Kaye, who sadly died yesterday, aged 75. She remembers a lovely man.

Excuse my French: Gorden Kaye with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo!. Photo: BBC.

I LOVED ‘Allo ‘Allo! when I was a kid. I loved the silliness. I still love the silliness in my favourite comedies as an adult. René Artois, played by Gorden Kaye, was the centrepiece of a family sitcom my family actually watched together, like some kind of 80s, TV-obsessed Waltons.

I still remember now, the giddy thrill of quoting lines the next day in the playground. Lines that sounded like swearing, but weren’t in fact swearing.

“Hey, hey, remember when that officer said, ‘I vas just pissing by, ven I heard two shats!’”

‘Allo ‘Allo! taught me the wonderful swearing loophole: that you can’t be told off if you’re technically just saying normal words, but using a really bad fake French accent. It was the having your cake and eating it of childhood entertainment.

I think it especially felt a win to get away with something, because I grew up in a small town where nothing much happened, and I wasn’t allowed crisps or fizzy drinks unless it was Christmas or my birthday. But thanks to ‘Allo ‘Allo!, I got to illicitly say piss.

So imagine my excitement when my tiny town booked Gorden Kaye to be at their summer fete. Something of this magnitude had never happened. It felt to me like we were suddenly attached to Hollywood or something.

I grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire, called Ware. (Yes, yes, it is where Ware wolves come from, very funny. Grow up.) Ware is famous for two things. (All right, three if you count the Werewolves.)

The other two are: Posh Spice’s sister used to have a shop there; and the Great Bed of Ware. Which is famous. Shut up, it’s famous. We’ve all heard of it. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that it gets a mention in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, as an example of something that is big.

Incidentally the story of the Great Bed of Ware is that it was a huge bed. That’s not a story, you may say. Wait, let me finish. Historically, Ware was a stopover town on the route to London, and had a lot of inns. (This also helps explain why today, Ware has, like, two shops, but an insane population-to-pub ratio).

“The drab, daily life of school and no crisps was lit up for a bit. It made me think, if René can come to my town, maybe anything is possible.”

The Great Bed of Ware was so big, it was boasted, it could sleep six people. It was rumoured to have been used for orgies, and the bed posts are adorned with Greek nymphs of fertility or something. It is currently on display in the V&A, which, to be fair, isn’t bad for a town that didn’t get a Boots till 1996.

So anyway, it’s 1990. It is a very hot day. I am nine and beyond excited that a bona fide Comedy Star is coming to my town (previously only famous for historically debatable orgies. 1990 is very much pre Posh Spice’s sister’s shop – that didn’t happen till about 2004, and then only lasted a year).

I had a fizzy feeling of anticipation in my stomach.

Kaye may have opened the fete and cut a ribbon, I don’t remember. He may have done a speech, I don’t remember. I just remember they put him in this tent for most of the day, while a huge queue of mainly children snaked around the coconut shy and candyfloss stalls, waiting hours for their turn to meet him and get his autograph.

Finally it was my turn to enter the tent, where Kaye was flanked by some of the town councillors who had booked him. I’m assuming. Maybe they were there to make sure no children misbehaved or said piss too much using the loophole. And probably to give Kaye water. Everyone was sweating.

“This is Catie,” said someone.

Allo Catie.” He did the accent! “Eeet is a pleasure to meet you.”

Catie’s signed photo from the fete.

He was so nice and so gracious. He’d been doing this for at least five hours by now, I’m sure. It was sweltering. But here he was, pretending to be French, to amuse yet another nine-year-old.

I don’t remember what I said back to him, as he signed his picture for me. I think I was too stunned to say much beyond, “Thank you.”

I was in a proud and happy daze for the rest of the day. Meeting him, and him being so kind, made me feel important in a way nine-year-olds rarely get to feel. The drab, daily life of school and no crisps was lit up for a bit. It made me think, if René can come to my town, maybe anything is possible.

RIP Gorden Kaye. I’ll always remember you as the funny man in that show who was nice to me, and who also taught me I could get away with swearing if I passed it off as a French accent.

@CatieWilkins

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Written by Catie Wilkins

Catie Wilkins is a writer, comedian and children’s author who likes jokes and stories.

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