Our song was Christmas No 1 and we wanted to watch it on TV. So we knocked on a stranger’s door

It was Christmas Eve 1968 and Lily the Pink by the Scaffold was top of the charts. We were a long way from home - and desperate to see our performance

Some readers may remember, perhaps with a certain fondness, a song called Lily the Pink by the Scaffold (alias John Gorman, Mike McGear and myself) that was No 1 in the charts in 1968. The song was based on an old American folk song, and celebrated efficacious cures for mild ailments. Backing vocalists included some lesser-known figures from the world of music: Graham Nash (of the Hollies), Elton John (then Reg Dwight) and Tim Rice. Jack Bruce (of Cream) played bass guitar. It was the night before Christmas Eve, the year the song hit its peak. We were driving to Liverpool from London after recording it for an Eamonn Andrews show earlier that afternoon.

The show was to be broadcast that night on the BBC. Time was very tight.

In those days, of course, you couldn’t press record or save on the remote, you couldn’t “watch again”. Once the programme was transmitted, that was it. If you missed it, you missed it for ever. And we were running late.

Would we get home in time to watch ourselves on television? Unlikely, as we were still on the foggy outskirts of Nantwich. Suddenly, seeing a light on in one of the houses, we parked outside, rushed to the door and rang the bell.

A man in his late 20s opened it. “Excuse me, do you have a telly?” asked John, politely elbowing his way into the living room.

“Blimey!” the man said, “It’s the Scaffold! But you can’t be here – you’re there on the TV screen!”

Sure enough, there we were, bounding on to the set at Lime Grove in our white suits.

The man ran to the foot of the stairs. “Janet,” he called. “Guess who’s down here? The Scaffold!” From upstairs came a muffled scream.

“Janet is your biggest fan – she’ll be down as soon as she’s changed and put on her makeup. I’m Dave by the way.”

When the song ended, we took a bow in the living room, thanked Dave for his kindness, shouted our goodbyes upstairs and drove back home to Liverpool.

Many years later, the white suits long since hung out to dry, I was approached after a poetry reading at a headteacher’s conference in Coventry by a lady who introduced herself as Janet. She told me that she had never believed her husband when he told her about our flying visit. “Was it true?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. Janet raised an eyebrow and came over all headmistressy.

“Then why didn’t you wait a few minutes, knowing that I wanted to meet you?”

“We wanted to, but we had to be back in Liverpool before it closed for the night.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “At first I was tempted to bin all your records. Then, remembering it was Christmas – a time for giving and forgiving – I forgave you.”

As I walked away, suitably reprimanded, I remembered more clearly how John, Mike and I felt as we drove home that night. Thrilled at seeing ourselves on telly, of course, but also guilty about not saying hello to our biggest fan. We also vowed that next time, we would ask the BBC to book us into a decent hotel for the night.

Safety in Numbers by Roger McGough is published by Penguin, £9.99


Roger McGough

The GuardianTramp

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