War is hell. Whether you’re a gonorrhea-ridden private wiping his arse with a stick or a massive celebrity flying out to entertain our boys, it’s not supposed to be easy. I didn’t have to remind myself of the inherent grimness of it all as I, along with a platoon of well-known entertainers, boarded a bullet-riddled military aircraft bound for Basra last week. With me were some of the top stars from British television – Hale (Pace had got a vicious case of the clap and couldn’t make it), Su Pollard, Jamie Theakston, Konnie Huq, the bloke who played Rene in ‘Allo ‘Allo, and (inexplicably) a Jade Goody look-a-like - and we'd all been booked for a one-night-only extravaganza to boost morale amongst the armed forces. It was this happy thought that kept me from befouling my trousers for a third time as our craft came shakily into land at Basra airport. I was slightly bemused by my own inclusion in the troop (I haven’t been on television for thirty years, and then only on a local news feature in Hollywood about men with third nipples), but I think the Dimbleby brothers are running scared of me over those photos I have of them being gobbled off by Davina McCall and had arranged it all in the malevolent hope that I’d be targeted by Al Qaeda insurgents. Dimbleby paranoia aside, I had my own trepidations about the whole affair (I did once inadvertently visit a Muslim fundamentalist website for six hours), but as we were ushered into the lead-lined blue room by a lisping senior officer, I began to secretly hope that maybe the whole enterprise would prove to be a rousing and raucous evening of fun for our brave men and women fighting abroad. The reality was more terrifying than anyone could have predicted, and I flew out of Basra a few hours later not sure if we’d initiated some kind of Jihadist Armageddon.
In my defense, it wasn’t actually me that put together the ‘Scenes from the Koran’ routine. Theakston and Pollard had been working on the script for months beforehand, and Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo had worked with Konnie Huq to come up with what I have to admit was some sparkling choreography. I reluctantly agreed to play Allah, but we only had a couple of hours to rehearse, and I could hear the seats filling up behind the curtain; our lust-incensed cannon-fodder of an army started braying to be entertained with all the pent-up rage that comes with the administration of mechanised mass-death. We were all far from ready (except the Jade Goody look-a-like, who’s only task was to come on and masturbate with a wine bottle – even I knew they’d got her mixed up with some other tart from Big Brother, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them), but the curtain parted and we were greeted by 10,000 cheering soldiers.
What happened next is the subject of a full scale military investigation, and I can’t tell you for fear of legal reprisals. Let me put it in the most explicit way I can: imagine if Salman Rushdie had just gone into a Mosque and had a great big piss all over the place, laughing while he did so, shouting “I’m having a huge piss on your bloody mosque”. I think you’d still be a thousand miles away from the reaction we got, but you’d have some idea. As the tinderbox of religious and racial tension that is present-day Iraq finally exploded into all-out civil war, I couldn’t help but think Su Pollard and Jamie Theakston might be responsible for the end of western Judeo-Christian civilisation as we know it. We all scrambled onto the plane, took off, and fled into the hot night air. My trousers, by this time, were an absolute disgrace.
Now happily back in my flat, I have promised myself that my days of live entertainment are over. Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo keeps leaving messages on my answerphone, but I won’t return his calls; sometimes these things are best left to men with chemical weapons and heavy artillery.