Don't Put Your Ferrets On the Stage Mrs Worthington
or
Paving the Road To Hell

by Bill Beck

In the middle of January this year we were contacted out of the blue by an ITV company saying that were very keen to source animal performers for a forthcoming series of 'Britain's Got Talent'.

Oddly, we don't have any juggling ferrets, or musical ferrets, or miming ferrets but we do have ferrets that can do an agility course. I mentioned this and the show's producers latched onto it in a flash and started asking about our 'act'. I told them the basics: a ferret rides a toy 4x4 up to a six-pole weave or slalom, followed by a wiggly tunnel, followed by a see-saw, then a hoop and finally down a slide to the ground. Now this idea originally came from Ann who thought that it would be a good alternative to ferret racing for those occasions where space was limited, or where the audience might want something a bit out of the ordinary.

I'm sure you've all seen dog agility shows, where highly trained canines zoom round an obstacle course at high speed with their owners sprinting along beside them shouting encouragement. Of course, ferret agility was never going to be like that, and certainly in the early days it was always a total shambles (as you'd expect), much to the amusement of the onlookers and ourselves. But as we did it more often some of the ferrets got quite good at it until, with a bit of encouragement from a treat or a squeaky toy, our star performer Goldilocks could clear the whole course in a couple of minutes. So we made a DVD of Goldilocks doing her stuff and sent it off to the people at ITV.

Subsequent developments took place at an alarming pace and in next to no time, the producers were back on the phone to us: could we attend an audition at the Palace Theatre, Manchester in two day's time? Well, we knew very well that there was never any chance that we could actually win this competition (with a chance to appear at The Royal Variety Performance plus a 100,000 cash prize - that could keep a few Rescues in ferret biscuits for a while!) but we did think that it might be a good opportunity for some ferret PR.

And so we agreed.

Oh dear.

The producers wanted us there for 7:30 am so even though we only live a few miles away, we had to make a very early start. The TV people had said "Don't worry, there'll be lots of people outside the theatre to help you." In fact, when we arrived at 0720 hours in torrential rain there were just two Security personnel who studiously ignored us whilst chatting and smoking their fags. Fortunately I did manage to collar someone else to find out what was going on. We eventually managed to gain access to backstage and unload our stuff.

I then went in search of parking in an NCP multi-storey. I'm not saying that parking in central Manchester is expensive, but the machine only accepted gold ingots....and the spaces were just about big enough to park a pushchair; I had to limbo-dance out of the car once I'd succeeded in parking it. But I digress.

We didn't want to leave our ferrets backstage so we took them into the enticingly-named 'holding area' where constestants had to wait for their auditions (holding area...hmm....isn't that where you get put by the police while being frisked, stripped and body searched before being shoved into a cell...ahh, yes, I see....) Of course everyone wanted to see the ferrets and stroke the ferrets and hold the ferrets. Then we started the interviews; we did interviews for Britain's Got Talent, Britain's Got More Talent, ITV1, ITV2 and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

The the Britain's Got Talent team wanted to film us walking the ferrets into The Palace Theatre, and then they wanted to film us again from a different angle, and then they had to do it again because someone had a taken a flash photo during the last shoot, and then they wanted to film the ferrets being carried in in their carrier and then they wanted more interviews for some website or other.... phew! By this time we and the ferrets were getting a bit frazzled. Oh yes, and someone from Britain's Got Talent happened to mention that as well as the three judges, there would be an audience of two thousand people in the theatre! Excuse me? I thought this was just an audition?!?

Finally, at about 1:30pm, some six hours after we arrived, we were asked to go backstage as we would soon be on. We got 'miked up' and a very nice man named Julian got to put his hand up my T-shirt to thread the wire through(!) We got instructions on where to stand and the stage hands started setting out the agility course. Then the dread moment came; time to go 'over the top'.

We walked on stage with Ann clutching our star performer Goldilocks and myself holding our back-up ferret Chubbley Bear. The three judges asked us to introduce ourselves and the act. Having done that, the music started (we had chosen 'The Devil's Gallop, better know as the theme from the old radio show 'Dick Barton, Special Agent') We had asked them not to play it too loudly, but of course this was ignored. We put Goldilocks in the car and then....well, they do say never to work with children or animals, don't they? Suffice to say that Goldilocks by this time was too cream-crackered and frightened by the loud music to do anything much and hid under the toy car. The audience began getting restive and so did the judges. We attempted a desperate switch of ferrets but Chubbley Bear was pretty exhausted by now as well: he did a bit of the slalom and then gave up. Oh dear. The audience began chanting 'OFF, OFF, OFF, OFF!' until the judges cut the thing mercifully short. One of them then stated that ours was one of the worst animal acts that he had ever seen and that our ferrets couldn't win a talent contest for ferrets, let alone one like this. Ann attempted to explain but got shouted down. We were eventually booed off.

'Well,' I said to Ant and Dec as we came off stage, 'that could have gone better.' To their credit they looked pretty mortified at the reception we had received and we had filmed interview with them post mortem, as it were. But then, there were more interviews where we had to attempt to put a brave face on the preceding catastrophe. By this time we had had more than enough and all we really wanted to do was crawl under a stone and die.

Still, at least the interviews were positive were positive and we did some good ferret PR there, but I have a nasty feeling that we're going to end up being shown on 'It'll be alright on the night', probably after that well-known chestnut with Richard Whiteley. I guess that humiliating us is just part of the 'entertainment' but I really did take exception to them sneering at animals who couldn't defend themselves.

Oh yes, and the icing on the cake was that we were both wearing NFWS T-shirts during this debacle, so I expect that the Committee will be having us de-frocked and/or drummed out for bringing ferrets into disrepute.

As it turned out another ferret welfared had also been railroaded into doing an act (a 'massed weasel war dance' I believe). They auditioned the following day and, sure enough, they were given much the same humiliating treatment as ourselves.

As this newsletter goes to press, we are negotiating with BGT representatives to get our permission fro using any filmed material of our audition withdrawn from possible broadcast on the basis that the whole thing was grossly misrepresented to us. We will let you know what happens

First Published in NFWS News #80 January 2008

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