Women’s Hour – December 1978…
Have you ever wondered what Jesus looked like? Was he tall and bearded or was he black and clean-shaven? Did he really look like Robert Powell or have the artists been getting it wrong all these years? Well, perhaps I can help, because you see – I’ve seen him…
Three flicks at the end of that last line. My fingernail must have been black and blue by the time I’d finished. But then we writers are supposed to suffer for our art and as I read on it proved to have been well worth the effort. I could remember the day as though it were yesterday.
There must have been a hundred of us proud parents huddled together in that cold hall, squatting on those long low forms that have been designed to accomodate the tiny bottoms of five year olds.
Every now and then we would hear a shriek of agony from some six-foot father as cramp struck home and then a hush settled over the audience as the lights began to dim and a huge gold cardboard star, suspended on a wire, began its journey from the back of the hall towards the stage.
Halfway along its path it dithered slightly and then shuddered to a grinding halt.
A teacher, who had spent the last half hour leaning against the wall bars, strode purposefully forward, brandishing one of those long poles with a hook on the end, the sort they use for opening and shutting fanlights.
She arrived so promptly and so well equipped that obviously she must have done this at least half a dozen times during rehearsals.
She stood on the end of one of the forms and, swinging the pole around her head, she cracked the star with such force that it belted off down the wire, towards the stage, at about thirty miles an hour.
It slammed against the curtains and the audience sat fascinated as it spun like a Catherine wheel. Eventually it slowed down and stopped and that was the signal for the entry of the three wise men.
They were dressed in white flannel sheets and their average age was somewhere around seven years and 3 months – you had to be a mature student to be a wise man in those days.
They wore little white towels on thier heads secured by those narrow striped belts with the ‘S’-shaped buckles. The towels had been supplied by the landlord of the local pub and were the ones he draped over the pumps at closing time, with the result that each wise man had the words ‘McEwan’s Export’ emblazoned across his forehead.
The wise man in the middle was the one with the gold. I could tell because he had a large brown paper parcel under his arm with the word ‘GOLD; written on it.
I think the wise man on the left was the one with the frankincense and he was carrying it in what looked suspiciously like a Fairy Liquid bottle.
The wise man with the myrrh was very shy. He had his back to us and was sobbing gently.
The curtains parted and the scene before us was that of a stable. Centre stage we could see Mary sitting on a long form – very like those that were giving the audience so much trouble out in the hall.
We could also see a donkey with huge ears, a lamb represented by a five year old under a bedside rug, and a cow with the most pornographic set of udders I have ever seen on the British stage.
The producer, Mrs Micklewight, had opted for participation rather than historical accuracy, with the result that the stable was a trifle overcrowded. There must have been seventy kids in there.
The children in the dressing gowns were the citizens of Bethlehem and the small boy in the chef’s hat must have been the innkeeper.
The others had been told to use their imagination and come as assorted animals. About nine of them had their right arms shoved up emu’s, teddy bears abounded, there was a four-foot duck, and a huge back and white panda with wicked green eyes was threatening to take over the show.
In the meantime, the shy wise man with the myrrh had decided against a theatrical career and was sitting on his mother’s knee in the front row.
The children had written their own script, and the high spot of the afternoon was the arrival home from work of Joseph, looking very much like a refugee from Fiddler On The Roof.
He paused at the door, not for dramatic effect, just to avoid standing on his beard. He approached his wife.
‘Hello, Mary, what’s going off? It’s a bit crowded in here.’
Mary smiled sweetly.
‘Hey up, Joseph. Have you had a good day at work?’
‘Not so bad, Mary. What’s going off?’
‘It’s me, Joseph. I’ve just seen an angel.’
‘Have you really Mary? And what was it the angel had to say to you then?’
‘He said I were having a baby.’
‘Did he really, Mary – when?’
Mary bent herself double. Then, bunching her fists and screwing up her face in agony, she gave the most God Almighty grunt.
Opening her eyes, she pointed triumphantly over towards the crib just left of centre stage.
‘There it is.’
Joseph seemed slightly taken aback by Mary’s virtuoso performance and had to be prompted from the wings, but he quickly pulled himself together and then wandered slowly towards the crib. Mary could hardly contain herself.
‘What sort is it, Joseph?’
Joseph wandered slowly back.
‘I’ve just had a look, Mary, and I think it’s a little lad.’
‘Oh, Joseph. I’ve always wanted a little lad. What shall we call him?’
Joseph thought about that for a while, long enough to be prompted by a small voice from underneath the bedside rug. Joseph glowered at the unwanted intrusion and then carried on.
‘Well, I had thought of calling him Walter after me dad, Mary, but to tell you the truth I’ve always had a soft spot for the name Jesus meself.’
Mary smiled. A sweet motherly smile.
‘Right then. That’s what we’ll call him.’
And with that she leaned over and shouted in the general direction of the crib.
‘Nah then, Jesus!’ And a little toddler, who all this time had been hidden, curled up inthe crib, jumped up and shouted back. ‘Hey up, Mam!’
I shall never forget that afternoon and the sight of Jesus, Joseph and Mary taking a final curtain call, flanked on with side by a duck, a panda and a bedside rug. It brought the house down.
I flicked through the pages and read the final paragraph.
And so if you want to know what Jesus looked like, then I am just the man to tell you about him. He isn’t tall and bearded and he doesn’t look a bit like Robert Powell.
He’s about two foot tall – definitely clean-shaven. He’s as black as coal, he’s got a lovely smile and he speaks with a Derbyshire accent.