Dalliard: Piano

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Hugh enters a shop. There are pianos about the place. Stephen is ready.

Hugh Hello.

Stephen It does seem to be, sir, yes.

Hugh Seem to be what?

Stephen Rather hello.

Hugh Sorry?

Stephen I opened my television last night only to find that nice gentleman with the legs advancing the prediction that it might be rather "good evening" today, but looking out through the window that the previous owners thoughtfully installed for the purpose, I find that it has, as you athletically observed, turned out to be rather "hello".

Hugh Mmm. Nice weather.

Stephen And a very nice weather to you too, sir. (Calling off.) We have a customer, Mr Dalliard! It's pleasantly spoken but with a loud taste in vests. I'm talking to it now. (To Hugh.) Sir. How can I make your life more attractively-styled?

Hugh Well now, it is my god-daughter's birthday next week, and she's very keen to have a piano.

Stephen I understand, absolutely, sir. I have god-daughters of my own.

Hugh Yes, well ...

Stephen You would like me to bundle her into a large trunk and transport her to the continent of Africa, where she might join the slave trade and become a lasting credit to you and your collection of hand-painted Chinese rugs?

Hugh Well ... no.

Stephen No?

Hugh No.

Stephen No in the sense of "Yes, and is it alright if I pay by cheque?"

Hugh No, no in the sense of "no".

Stephen Hmm. I fear that being with you is one of the accomplishments I have yet to master in my short, but interestingly shaped life. (Calling off.) Things are turning frosty, Mr Dalliard.

Hugh I'd like to buy a piano.

Stephen For your god-daughter?

Hugh For my god-daughter.

Stephen With what end in view?

Hugh So that she can learn to play it.

Stephen With what end of the piano in view, you blithering customer.

Hugh Er ... both ends, I think ...

Stephen A double-ended piano?

Hugh Yes.

Stephen (calling) Mr Dalliard! A situation is developing! (To Hugh.) How old is this so-called god-daughter of yours?

Hugh Seventeen.

Stephen Mr Dalliard! Stop your ears, the talk is becoming loose. Seventeen and you want to buy her a piano.

Hugh Yes.

Stephen For your god-daughter?

Hugh Is there a problem?

Stephen I wouldn't go so far as Reading, sir. Although they tell me that it's in Berkshire at this time of year.

Hugh Look. I came in here ...

Stephen So far, sir, I am in complete agreement with you. You came in here. You bloody ... well ... came ... in ... here. You did. If you hadn't come in here, I would have noticed, and called the Church of England immediately. But you did come in here, and here you stand, proud, slightly lopsided, the finest full-page advertisement for the Anglo-Saxon race I've seen since yesterday's edition of Brookside.

Hugh I want to buy a piano.

Stephen We all want to buy pianos, sir.

Hugh Do we?

Stephen Leaving aside the vast majority of human beings who don't want to buy pianos, yes sir.

Hugh So?

Stephen Mr Dalliard! Start your ears again. This is getting exciting. (To Hugh.) Sir, you are, you have been, you were, you are, you did, you always will be, the master of that sixty-foot gaff- rigged schooner that plies the oceans of the world in the name of "Your Destiny", but might I recommend that you take at least one shagging moment to think about this?

Hugh What?

Stephen God-daughters are not horses, sir.

Hugh No ...

Stephen Neither are they commercial aircraft, nor streets of terraced housing in what used to be called Hull.

Hugh No ...

Stephen They are not quantities of tepid water that collect in the bottom of up-turned tea-cups during the wash cycle, no more are they hard-boiled sparrows.

Hugh Your point being?

Stephen I have no point sir. I am, to all in tents and caravans, pointless.

Hugh Right. One piano please.

Stephen Very well, sir. I have strained every groin I have to dissuade you from your chosen course of action. You will realise that I am too proud to beg, and too tall to sit comfortably in a Lotus Seven. If, as I surmise, sir has the bit between his teeth well and truly between his teeth, there is nothing more I can do without using Venn diagrams and multi-coloured flow charts.

Hugh One ... piano ... please.

Stephen reaches beneath the counter and produces a vibrator.

Stephen That'll be twenty-nine of your earth pounds and ninety-five pence please Bob.

Hugh That's a vibrator.

Stephen Sir?

Hugh That is a vibrator.

Stephen I realise that, sir. I am not entirely French.

Hugh I don't want a vibrator.

Stephen You've changed your mind? (Calling.) Mr Dalliard! Unpack the suitcases at once. The young git has changed his mind ...

Hugh No, I haven't changed my mind. I never wanted a vibrator, I wanted a piano.

Stephen Perhaps you are not a native of these shores, sir.

Hugh What's that got to do with it?

Stephen Or perhaps you merely thought, the grouse and the partridge being out of season, you could derive some sport from this humble shopkeeper, a man who palpably lives in Putney and grows other people's vegetables? Is that how your mind works?

Hugh Look ...

Stephen If that is what you thought, then I feel sorry for me. I may not be a duke or an ambassador's wife, but I know the price of a pound's worth of lard, and can recite the days of the week from memory.

Hugh I just want a piano. Not a vibrator. A piano. For my god- daughter. For her birthday. So that she can play it. That's all I want. Alright? Will you sell me one, or will I have to go elsewhere?

Stephen This time, sir, the dice has fallen in my favour. The worm has turned and the little man has his chance. Elsewhere will be closed.

Hugh Closed?

Stephen Closed. So now, your scheme is blown, shattered, it lies in pieces at your feet in a grotesque, mocking parody of local news broadcasts. You are a spent force, Mr Customer, yesterday's man, a speck on the pages of our island history. You are like a shoe-lace, looking for a nest. You are, in short, long.

Hugh I don't know why, but I'm going to give you one last chance. Sell ... me ... a ... frigging ... piano.

Stephen (rapidly) Upright, grand, boudoir grand, baby grand, concert grand?

Hugh That's more like it. Upright.

Stephen Cordless? With or without clitoral exciter?

Hugh (ominously) What?

Stephen Ivory-white, flesh-pink, fluted or unfluted?

Hugh grabs Stephen by the lapels.

Hugh Now, listen ...

Stephen Mr Dalliard! Step out at once, never mind your hat, and take an intensive course in self-defence. Come back when you have attained your fourth dan and give Mr Customer a thorough spanking.

Hugh I don't want a vibrator. I'm not interested in vibrators. I want a piano. Do you understand?

Stephen I read you, Mr Sir. I read you like a heart-warming tale of human courage and star-crossed love serialised in weekly instalments by the author of "Danielle Steele's Emeralds". Piano. One. God-daughter. Seventeen. For the use of.

Hugh lets go.

Hugh Right. Now. Show me what you've got.

Stephen Mr Dalliard! Ignore my previous instructions. The UN-inspired truce is holding. Sir and I are singing from the same song- sheet. Resume your carving. (To Hugh: pointing at piano.) May I urge the merits of this particular instrument upon you, sir? It is the Toyota Previa of pianos, the Radion Ultra of keyboards.

Hugh looks at it.

Hugh Don't be ridiculous. It would never fit her.

Vox Pop

Hugh My father's advice, I'll never forget it - neither a borrower, nor a git be.

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