June Whitfield

The Twelve Dames of Christmas, part nine.

The episode of Terry and June I watch on YouTube is the Christmas episode from 1980. It is missing the ending and playing slightly faster than normal time. I don’t know why. Presumably it is an attempt to escape the gaze of the solicitors entrusted with protecting the broadcast rights of a forty-year-old episode of a once popular sitcom. It is a tactic that has worked. The video was posted nine years ago. I was the seventeen thousand and somethingth person who watched it. The difference in speed is enough to make Terry Scott and June Whitfield’s voices higher in pitch but isn’t enough to make their movement seem impossible. The brain accepts it as real.

The opening scene sets up the misunderstanding that the narrative will orbit around. Terry’s workmate, Malcolm, has a mink fur coat that he is intending to give to his wife for Christmas. Could he hide it at Terry’s house, but not tell June, because June might tell Malcolm’s wife about it and he wants it to be a surprise. Obviously, June will find the coat and think it is for her, with hilarious consequences. But for now, Malcolm is left alone in Terry and June’s front room as Terry hides the coat upstairs. “I killed a man once,” Malcolm whispers into the silent room. “He wanted to stay.” His voice begins to trail away to nothing. “Even the weak. Even the very old.”

At this point I paused the video because an email popped up on my screen. Dear Sir, please stop watching the 1980 Christmas special of Terry and June. Watching it at a slightly faster speed doesn’t make it legal. I implore you to desist immediately. You have been warned.

The second scene of the episode is set in a charity shop. Two old ladies (for some reason played by two women younger than Terry Scott or June Whitfield, wearing ill-fitting wigs and grey clothes) help Terry and June find a Christmas card. A jade-coloured phone on the shop counter trills loudly throughout the whole scene but nobody acknowledges it is ringing. For a while, I convince myself it is another effect added by the poster of the video to YouTube to confuse lawyers searching for the video, but after Terry and June leave the shop one of them picks up the phone and says, “Why aren’t you fucking dead already?” before calmly placing the phone back on its cradle.

My phone rings. An old woman says, “Why aren’t you fucking dead already?” I look at my computer screen. One of the old women is looking directly at the screen. In the charity shop the jade phone starts ringing again. The screen fades to black.

Scene three. Terry is trying to put up an artificial Christmas tree. Did artificial Christmas trees exist in 1980? Who was the old woman who rang me? He hangs individual branches on to a steel trunk. He cuts himself on a rough piece of metal but he doesn’t bleed.

June enters the room. “I’ve found the coat under the bed that I am assuming you have bought me for Christmas,” she says. “I am now going to the shops to buy a present of equal or greater value.”

“Look at my finger,” says Terry.

“That’s deep,” says June. “I’ll get the Dettol.”

“But it isn’t bleeding?” Terry says. “Why isn’t it bleeding? Why isn’t it bleeding, June?”

Malcolm walks into the room with a cheery wave. “Hello everyone! I’m just popping round to pick up that coat. Hopefully it hasn’t caused any misunderstandings or confusion while it has been here, hey what.”

“Why isn’t it bleeding, Malcolm?” Terry pleads, holding his finger in the air pathetically. “Oh, God, it’s not right, is it? What am I? Why don’t I bleed. Christ’s mother, will somebody help me? Please.”

My phone rings again. This time the voice on the other end of the phone is clearly June Whitfield’s but the sentences are pieced together from recordings like train time announcements. “Stop. Watching. The video Ben. Jam. In. Before. It is too. Late.” Panicked, I slam my mobile phone down onto my desk and my hand collides with coffee mug. It shatters awkwardly. Thin slivers puncture by hand. The pain is terrible. There must be thirty shards of paint flecked pottery piercing my skin, some of them running deep into my palm. I feel sick. If I were to flex my hand the pieces would break again, leaving fragments behind. My bones itch at the thought of it.

I pull the shards out one by one. There is no blood. Why is there no blood? Bile rises in my throat. I rush to the kitchen, hoping to make it to the sink in time. I forget to press stop on the video.