Andrew Collins: My life as a Radio Times Zelig

Attempting to stand next to every celebrity in the room at the Covers Party, as is traditional

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I’m something of a war-hardened veteran of the annual Radio Times Covers Party now, having been shamelessly using it as an opportunity to stand next to famous people for over a decade. My thinking is as follows: I spend 364 nights a year being entertained by the stars of TV, so on one night in January, I will personally thank them all.

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I glad-hand, I schmooze, I rub up against, I gush and salute. I make like Woody Allen’s human chameleon Zelig, popping up next to everybody, and I am unapologetic in this. I am, as a journalist, impartial all year, except on this night, when I become a fan.

RT has a habit of lining up a new galaxy of small-screen luminaries for me every year, and I would feel bereft if I didn’t attempt to meet them all and tell them how great they are. This year was a particularly fine turnout, and began well for me when I said hello to Jeremy Vine in the cloakroom before even entering the party.

But he was easy; I’ve met him before. Much more fun to meet people for the first time. I was able to take Vicky McClure to one side and tell her, with sincerity, that if she didn’t follow last year’s best actress Bafta for This Is England ’86 with another one this year for This Is England ’88, there was no justice.

Having met Vic Reeves on many occasions over the years, I was quick to congratulate him on receipt of his framed cover featuring Morecambe & Wise, and happy to point out why he’d been given it, as he seemed unsure. (He’d contributed to the magazine, and his name was on the cover.) Later in the evening, as the sherry flowed, I was challenged by our picture editor to bring her two celebrities for a photo and I managed to rustle up Vicky and Vic for the price of one. I forced myself into their photo session, naturally.

I’d exchanged tweets with John Simm before the event about the best way to line one’s stomach, and was happy to meet him in real life. He and David Morrissey – whom I’d met at the Covers Party two years ago and told him how great I thought he was – compared voiceover work. Vic wanted to meet Morrissey, so I introduced them, and witnessed Vic demonstrating his David Morrissey impression for David Morrissey.

I asked Warwick and Samantha Davis if they’d like me to get them a drink – always good to play the waiter if you want to meet famous people! – and I apologised to Mark Gatiss for mispronouncing his name (“Gatt-iss” instead of “Gay-tiss”) in a recent Sherlock review I filmed for The Guardian website. He was gracious about my schoolboy error.

I picked up the charming Louise Brealey’s shoes after she’d taken them off and carried them for her, as if perhaps I was her butler – a role I know many red-blooded Sherlock fans would be happy to fulfil. But to be fair, she did approach me first. As it turns out, we both come from Northampton and she was keen to make contact and share local knowledge. Refugees from Northampton do tend to seek each other out in London.

I had my photo taken at the bar with bestselling author Caitlin Moran and the two Downton ladies with whom she’d made some kind of social pact: Jessica Brown Findlay and Laura Carmichael, or Lady Sybil and Lady Edith to you. I babbled with massive Radio Times geek (he won’t mind me saying so) Thomas Howes, aka William in Downton. And I told Steven Moffat that I didn’t “get” Sherlock when it first aired in 2010 but had completely fallen for it this time around. I hope he didn’t mind my honesty. Sometimes gushing has to be qualified in order for it to matter.

I also shook the hand of Bryan Dick, who’d played Ernie in Eric & Ernie, and told him how much I’d enjoyed him in the 2005 series Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky. He took the fact that I couldn’t remember its title and called it “that thing set in the past” in good humour – and he knew what I was talking about!

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Not a bad performance, on reflection, and as far as I know, I didn’t embarrass myself like I did last year with, individually, Jean Marsh, Alex Jones and Steve Pemberton. Back to watching telly for the next 364 nights.