My thanks to all the kind readers who have enquired about Terry the Turtle. Terry was a green plastic toy who sat on the shelf next to my desk at PM... sharing the space with a clutch of Sony awards and a pile of legal writs relating to stupid things I’ve said on air. Terry’s USP was his ability to utter the vilest phrases with the push of a little black button on his chest or, depending on his motion sensor settings, whenever someone walked past.
Terry rose to national prominence when he was removed from public view and put in a drawer as a precaution shortly before a visit to Broadcasting House by Her Majesty the Queen. There was some concern at the highest levels of the Corporation that after its recent travails, if a robotic turtle was heard to call the Head of State a “b***h” as she went about her business, the BBC would have to be shut down instantly. And rightly so.
I wrote about it all on these pages and a few days later, Terry went missing. His settings were motion sensor on/off and language PG/18+. There was no walkabout setting. He did not wander off. Someone stole him.
My calls to Scotland Yard were met with increasing impatience. Nick Ross didn’t return my voicemails. Even a public appeal in this column did not result in Terry’s safe return. By this point, I know you are dabbing tears of sympathy (or boredom) with a scented tissue, and I thank you for your concern. I would love to report a happy ending with perhaps an accompanying photo of me hugging Terry on the cover of Radio Times. Sadly, I can’t report such a reunion, and as usual the editor hasn’t returned my voicemails. What I can reveal is that there are some nice people out there.
I arrived at the PM office last week to see the familiar sights: Martha Kearney toiling away on The World at One; and someone in a sharp suit from the seventh floor wandering around with a clipboard, no doubt collecting material for his lunchtime seminar: “How we can save money at the BBC by employing fewer producers by having more seminars like this one”. And wait – what’s this? Yes there, in his familiar position – Terry the Turtle. Shiny, plastic and – let me press the button on his chest – “b******s” – yes, sweary as ever. I let out a cheer of happiness, and the man with the clipboard scowls and makes another note.
Someone – some kind soul in our office – has bought a new Terry. The original had a missing eyebrow (don’t ask) so I know this pristine turtle is a replacement. But in every other respect, Terry is back. His vocabulary is just the same. His facial expression, frozen in shock at his own bad language, is just the same.
I’ve asked around to find out who is responsible for this generous gesture, but no one is owning up. And so it is the kindness of a stranger.
Sometimes I look at the new Terry and miss the old one – like when you buy a puppy to replace a much-missed old stager. Sometimes I just marvel at the act of kindness that brought the new Terry into my life. And sometimes I look at him and think – maybe I should be getting on with my work.
Eddie Mair presents PM Mon–Fri 5.00pm Radio 4 and hosts iPM Sat 5.45am and 5.30pm