Gordon Burns recalls a very unusual task he had to undertake as a presenter!

Because I had moved away from Granada Reports, I was given this late evening programme called Reports Extra, which was basically pop psychology. We had an audience in the studio, and we did all sorts of things, like we examined one of the senses each week, smell, touch and so on, and we would have some expert in the studio, maybe from a university or something, an we would carry out experiments with the audience about smell one week and about taste the other week, and about food.

And I could tell you a story about food, which you will probably cut out of this immediately, but I’ll tell it to you and you can decide. So we were doing this story based on two learned university people who had worked out that our diets were now so good that when we released our waste, if I can put it like that, in the excrement, it was high in protein, and so they decided that if human waste was processed properly and boiled to some amazing temperature to make sure the bugs were killed off, there was enough protein in it to feed animals – animal feed – and they could survive perfectly well on this. So we invited the two gentlemen, and one in particular, to come to the studio, and they asked if we would like them to bring a sample with us that they would feed to the animals. And we said… I actually said to him, I mean, could a human eat it? He said, “Of course a human could eat it. If you’d like me to, I will do that on television,” which seemed to be an amazing live moment on television. So he said that what he would do is spread it on a sort of biscuit, flapjack, I think, he would spread it on that like a bit of icing on the top, if you like, and that’s what happened – he ate it to prove that it was perfectly safe. Now, we were booking him for two weeks hence, but the programme the following week suddenly collapsed, and we rang him up and said, “Look, we want to do your programme tomorrow – is that alright? Can you do it?” and he said, “Yes, we’re free, but there is a problem.” I said, “What’s the problem?” and he said, “Well, I’ve been to the toilet already today so I wouldn’t be able to prepare what I promised I would bring.” I said, “Oh, that was going to be an interesting moment.” And he said, “Hang on, don’t sorry – I’ll nip down to the chemist and get some syrup of figs.” So he goes to get himself some syrup of figs, duly did the task, then he had to boil it up at the right temperature to kill off the bugs, which they normally did at some big oven thing at the university, but that was either out of action or they couldn’t use it, so he used his oven at home to do this, much to the horror of his wife, who discovered later! So anyway, they came in the next day, and that evening we had an audience, and I was talking to them about this human waste that you could feed to animals, and I then said to him, “Are all the bugs gone? Could a human eat it?” knowing he was going to do that. So he picked up the flapjack, which had a brown substance smeared on the top, and he took a bite out of it and the audience went, “Urgh!” etc., and then he looked at me and said, “Now your turn,” which I was not expecting! But there’s a strange thing happens to presenters when cameras are pointing at them and so on, and of course the audience were encouraging me to do it, so in the end I thought, “I’m going to have to.” So I also took a bite of the flapjack with the covering on the top, and people always say what did it taste like, and the answer is bland – I tasted more of the flapjack then anything else, and I wasn’t ill afterwards – but I must be the only television presenter ever to have eaten – I’ve herd plenty of it, but I’m the only one to have eaten crap, excrement, call it what you like, on television.

The amusing story about that was that his wife had been so furious that he had done what he had done in the oven at home, and she came in to watch the programme, and we had a green room afterwards where we all gathered and we played the programme back to them, and to pacify her, we gave her a big box of chocolates to say we were sorry for any pressure we had put on her husband, and please accept these, and of course when she went home – this was a very hot summer’s evening – and opened the box of chocolates, it resembled very much what had been smeared on the top of the flapjacks, which upset her even more1 But anyway, that was my aside.

Leave a Reply