Tales about Sidney Bernstein from Tim Sullivan

My favourite story of Sidney…tell me if Helen McMurray’s told you this. She was working in Globe & Simpson, which was the building opposite Granada, which, colloquially, used to be known as Pearl & Dean. And we were making a show called Reports Action, with Bob Greaves, first of the local kind of telethon. We did them pre-Comic Relief, pre-all of those things. And Helen was the researcher and she’d been sent over to that big room in Globe & Simpson to set up the office. And she was having a really bad day. The desks hadn’t arrived. She had one desk. She had one phone. None of the whiteboards arrived. There was supposed to be an exchange of about… because they took loads of phone calls to take money. There’s supposed to be a little mini switchboard, yada, yada, yada, yada. She was in a really, really bad mood. And this old man wandered in off the street wearing an overcoat and a little sort of trilby hat. And she thought, “Oh fuck, this is all I need.”

“Hello,” she went. “You can’t come in here; this is part of Granada TV. What are you doing in here?”

“Oh, I’m trying to make this show, Reports Action.”

“What does that do? Look, I’m really sorry. I’m really busy. I’ve got no desks. I’ve got no phones. What does Reports Action do?”

“Well it raises money for local charities.”

“Please, could you go?”

“Well, how are you going to do that if you haven’t got any desks?”

This conversation went on for about five minutes, at which point he left and she thought, “Oh thank fuck.” Half an hour later, the doors are knocked down. There’s 25 workmen. There are desks flying in, there are phones coming in, switchboards coming in, whiteboards. It all happened. And she turned to the producer and said, “What the fuck happened?” She said, “Well, you told Sidney there was a problem.” And he came into the building and stripped an ear off someone. That was Sidney.

I never met him. Derek (Granger) had a very close relationship with Sidney. They used to holiday together. He was very tight with Sidney and his wife, but then they had a situation and they had this beautiful Oliver Messel designed garden and house in Barbados. And they were held up at gunpoint one holiday, and Sidney’s wife refused to go back, but he loved it. So, he used to go there regularly and on occasion, Derek will go with him, and meet wonderful people like Claudette Colbert. Has he told you the story?


So, Derek has gone to spend a week or so with Sidney and he says, “We’re going to Claudette’s for lunch.” No, Claudette came for a drink and she said, “Will you come for lunch on Sunday?” And Sidney went, “Yes, of course.” She said, “It’s a bit of a nightmare.” And Sidney said, “Why?” And she said, “Oh, President Reagan and Nancy are coming for lunch. I’ve got the bloody CIA there. They’re fucking ripping the butler’s pantry out, putting an international switchboard in. It’s not like just having someone around for lunch. It’s like a whole great big event.” And so, Derek thought, “Oh, this is thrilling.” So they went to have lunch. Derek was an inveterate swimmer, which is probably why he’s still alive at 99. Now he would swim 100 lengths a day, right up until the 70s. And after lunch, Nancy Reagan said, “I’d love to go for a swim.” Derek said, “Oh, I’ll come with you.” And this is when he realised that she had a slight sort of mischievous sense of humour. So they walked out onto the beach. She had a swim costume underneath her dress. They’re informally dressed. And she whispered to Derek, “Watch the Secret Service.” And he said, “What?” She said, “Watch now what happens.” So, they walked towards the sea. And up on the little hill, there were about 20 suited ear-pieced, Secret Service men who all suddenly frantically started looking at each other. Then ripped off their suits, all of them, ran towards the sea. And Derek said, “As they swam out, they had a v-shape or sort of semicircle of about 15 Secret Service agents, swimming in their underwear.”

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