Eddie Mair: Why I hid Terry the swearing turtle from the Queen

"It isn’t possible to give you a flavour of the filth that can pour from Terry’s shocked face, but if I tell you that one of the mildest phrases is “poopy pants”, you’ll have some idea"


There were signs, of course, that Her Majesty the Queen was due to pay a visit. Windows on the third floor of New Broadcasting House were cleaned until they sparkled; the dirty coffee mugs that litter work areas were suddenly missing. And Terry the Swearing Turtle was no longer on display.


Terry is a green, motion-activated toy who sits on the PM desk near me. When he’s switched on, passers-by are treated to a variety of saucy or expletive-filled rants (depending on whether he’s been set to PG or 18+), while Terry’s little plastic head bobs enthusiastically. It isn’t possible on these pristine pages to give you a flavour of the filth that can pour from Terry’s shocked face, but if I tell you that one of the mildest phrases is “poopy pants”, you’ll have some idea.

When we occupied a quiet corner of TV Centre, Terry was on quite a bit. His appalling outbursts were almost therapeutic in the midst of a tension-filled day. Now that we’re in a vast open-plan media hub, Terry is generally switched off, especially after he got glares from people at the World Service. While their stock in trade is communicating in all of the world’s rich and diverse languages, they clearly hadn’t heard language like that. At least not from a plastic green turtle.

The day before The Visit, our office manager cleaned the desk where Terry resides. “Is he going to be here tomorrow?” She gave me a look I hadn’t seen since the day Terry shocked the World Service. I knew then he wouldn’t have a chance to greet the Queen in person. Neither did I, despite practising my curtsey in the mirror for hours. A long-forgotten Asbo turned up during my Palace security check and I was politely informed I could watch it all on the telly at home.

It was funny seeing the Queen glide through our office. At least she got to see it as it really is – no one was doing a stroke of work. Martha Kearney from The World at One looked magnificent shaking the Royal Hand, and was mercifully bee-free for the day. And how delightful to see a beloved old Queen on the BBC News channel.

And talking of… a word of warning about the film Behind the Candelabra. As a lifelong candelabra fan, I’d assumed when I walked into the cinema I was going to be treated to a charming documentary about the always-thrilling world of candle-stick holders, and perhaps interior design generally. It’s really not. Not that at all.


Dan Aykroyd is in the film, too. For publicity he filled in a questionnaire in The Guardian, which revealed something new to me. “What do you most dislike about your appearance?” “The crack in my nose that makes it look like a human bum.” The giant close-up of Dan’s face provided unequivocal support for that statement. And now when Dan crosses my mind, so does his bum-nose.