"Hello, good afternoon and welcome! Today we are going to take a look into the lives of the rich and famous once again. These people have graciously allowed our cameras to take a peep into their lives. The studio panel is ready, Lloyd is ready, the audience is ready, so let's go! Remember! The clues are there… as we go… through the keyhole!
Some time earlier…
"Ah, here it is! Finally!" the man announced as a higgledy-piggledy sort of cottage came into sight around the bend in the road. "I was starting to think that this was all a wild goose chase!" Inside the white van both blokes winced and made a grab for some metal cases as the rear offside wheel lurched through yet another pothole.
"I've been on better roads than this in remote parts of Africa!" the driver complained.
His smaller nondescript companion grinned. "Could be worse, Hodgey," he said. "We could have been given the potholing assignment this week!" He sniggered appreciatively when the driver tersely indicated that he would tell the boss where he could shove another of those assignments and just exactly how far!
"Not done one of these 'Keyhole' things in ages. How does it go, usually?" Hodgey asked as he brought the van to a halt and racked up the handbrake.
His mate, the cameraman, pulled a 'so-so' sort of face. "Depends. Mostly on what mood he's in." He nodded towards another vehicle, which had drawn up alongside their battered little van. The well-known presenter slid out and right into a muddy puddle. "How quaint!" he announced in a drawl the two technicians found very affected. "You are certain that this is the driveway?" he demanded, lifting each wet shoe and regarding it with evident distaste.
"Why?" Hodgey asked with the air of a man ready to take offence.
The presenter gazed up to the low building, shielded from prying eyes by a grove of Alder trees. "There are no tyre tracks. Therefore, they don't have a car! Who doesn't have a car nowadays?"
The two technicians exchanged a pregnant glance and an eloquent shrug as the presenter changed his shoes for another pair and picked his way through the tussocky grass towards the cottage.
"Let's get it over with," Hodgey sighed. He swung out from the cigarette-fumed interior into the fresh air followed by his colleague. After a mild coughing fit, they selected their gear and performed the usual check-ups with the efficiency of much practice.
The OB director, a man well known to both technicians for his calm manner when dealing with excited Personalities, bustled round from the other side of the four-wheel drive and nodded. "Good. I suggest we start out with some exterior shots from the front door. The hall, kitchen, and sitting room are confirmed as available for filming. The family are away at the moment but I'm informed the 'key is in the toad', so let's get on with it. We've got another one of these to do today and it's a bit of a drive from here."
The toad was located beside the doorstep, under a clump of Snapdragon-like purplish flowers and the old-fashioned forged key extracted from its depths. "It's disgusting in that pot!" the director exclaimed, wiping his slimy hand on the long grass. He shuddered and wrestled with the lock for a moment before the soundman took pity on him and offered a squirt of some nameless substance from his kit. The key turned and the door could be opened.
"I'll just poke my head round the door…" he said. "While you sort yourselves out."
The lighting was soon set up. The presenter had a quick squint around, muttering a few brief witty phrases to himself as he took his position before the camera. The director returned, looking somewhat vague.
"Erm… Yes." He shook himself. "Are we ready?" The soundman nodded, the cameraman gave a thumbs-up, the clapperboard marked the shot, and the director pointed to the presenter.
"And three, two, one…"
"As I approach this house I am reminded that it is Halloween. Somebody has placed a pair of the biggest pumpkins I have ever seen on the pathway. One of them has a green candle set inside it so that the eyes glow very scarily at you on your approach. Perhaps someone in this house has a strange sense of humour…" The presenter quirked his mouth in what he believed to be a sardonic manner and turned to the heavy handle.
"Opening the heavy oak front door, we enter a charming hallway. The series of seven pegs set at varying heights suggests a large family with, one, two, three, four, five children! Judging by the mixture of stylish coats and cloaks, this family has a very eclectic lifestyle. Perhaps they have links to the theatre? Fans of 'Phantom of the Opera' perhaps?" He waved an airy hand.
"Passing down the hallway, decorated with a very unusual circular antique mirror-" He pointed to it and then stared fixedly. "Can you see people moving in the back of that glass, or am I seeing things?" he asked in his more normal tone of voice.
"Don't worry about that, we can fix it in Post. Just get on with the spiel, this place is creeping me out!" The Presenter glared at the soundman. The board was marked up again.
"Okay. Three, two, one…" The director counted him back in with his usual aplomb.
"Passing down the hallway, decorated with a very unusual circular antique mirror, we enter into the heart of the home… the kitchen. With its large brick hearth… Bloody hell! Is that a cauldron hanging over those gas flames?" The entire team froze in shock.
"Why d'you say they're gas flames?"
"Because they're blue! D'oh! Sawdust-for-brains!" The soundman glared at the presenter.
"Fine! Then why can't I hear any gas hissing out?" He jogged over for a quick look. "And look… there are no pipes! So where's the gas coming from, wise guy?
"We are in the right place? Where's the bloody map? Show me the directions!" the director demanded crossly. Things had been going wrong all bloody morning and this was the last straw.
"Yeah, 'course we are! We went exactly where the directions told us! Off the motorway at junction three, follow the road until you see the sign for Godric's Ford, cross the river, past the burned out house and turn off onto the track heading north to Coombe Goodrich. The house is at the end of the track, key is in the toad! See! That's what we did! Now can we just get this done so we can get out of here?" The soundman, who was also the driver, folded the map up and shoved it haphazardly back in his pack and adjusted his levels yet again.
He couldn't shake off the sensation that he was being watched. The whole place felt unreal and more than a little bit un-nerving. He would have sworn there were eyes on him at that very moment, watching every move he made. It was like those old movies, where the eyes in the portraits moved when you weren't watching. His pack, slung across his back, felt like a real encumbrance just now. The strap was making him sweat. Or was it something in the room? He forced himself to watch his scales. His equipment was playing up; the levels were all over the place. What the hell was going on?
The cameraman had wandered off to the other side of the spacious room during this exchange and was studying the open shelves. "Hey! Have you seen some of the labels on these jars? 'Flabbergasted leeches!' 'Flobberworm mucous' and wait- oh, you're so not going to believe this one- dragon's liver!" The soundman's mouth fell open as his mate lifted the jar and gave it a shake. Something suspiciously like dark flesh swirled around in preservative fluid.
"Can we all just collect ourselves, please? We are all professionals here. Let's just do our job and go!" the director insisted, hoping he wasn't about to get another migraine. His head had started to pound the second he'd walked through the front door. There was something very odd about this place.
"Fine by me!"
"Okay, so, three, two, one…" He pointed to the presenter and they were off again.
"We enter into the heart of the home, the kitchen. With its large brick hearth, imaginatively decorated with a reproduction cauldron, you might think you were in a witch's kitchen- Okay! I've had it! That dog has got a forked tail!" The presenter pointed with trembling fingers at the terrier -like dog, obligingly wagging its forked tail as it pranced towards them.
"Look! Look at it! Forked tail!" If there had been a convenient stool, the soundman was sure the presenter would have been up on it.
The terrier yapped and then stopped. It slowly cocked its head. Then, the fur bristled down the length of its back and a low growl emanated from its throat. Before any of the men could respond, it leaped at the nearest of them- which unfortunately happened to be the presenter- and having seized a handful of expensive trouser leg, worried at it while keeping up a ferocious series of growls. The presenter tried to kick out, shrieking for the others to do something but the dog was too quick for him, dancing agilely out of the way. The two technicians began to down their equipment but, as the yelling aggravated the director's headache, and he was still wearing his driving gloves, he waded in first.
"Come here, you bloody little pest!" he snarled, grabbing hold of the dog around its front shoulders. This proved to be a mistake as the animal let go of Lloyd's trouser leg, sank its teeth into his wrist and whipped back to seize a better hold on the fine trousering.
With the abuse, insults and obscenities turning the surrounding air deep blue, the director yanked hard; there was the sound of tearing cloth and before the dog could get in another bite, the cameraman grabbed hold of its muzzle. The dog resorted to wriggling in impotent fury, trying to use his claws, still growling and sending the vibration through both men holding him.
"Phil! Quick! Get that door open!" The cameraman appealed to his colleague. The soundman struggled with the resisting back door, gave up and ripped open an internal door to reveal a staircase and dog bed. "Good enough!" Hodgey said, panting from his exertion. He and the director counted to three and shoved the animal roughly along the flagged floor before leaping back and slamming the door on it. They heard claws scrabbling and then a hefty thud accompanied by more barking and thumps.
The director pulled his clothes straight. "He'll get fed up of it soon