Double Bill by Alec McCowen

St Mark's Gospel

While we were in Washington, President Ford invited Diana and me to a ball at the White House. This was on a Wednesday night after we had done two performances. The company stayed behind - like children seeing mummy and daddy off in their party clothes. They also generously offered drinks and other stimulants. I was soon ready in my dinner jacket, and joined the others to await Diana's entrance. Suddenly her dresser, Bumble, mysteriously humming a song called 'The Stripper', opened her dressing-room door, and Diana strolled out clad in outrageous pink and black net underwear designed to reveal everything. This was a great success. Finally, when she was beautifully gowned and coiffured, the company saw us into a White House car and we drove off - to the sound of raucous English cheers. At the White House we were met by imposing uniformed aides and taken upstairs to wait outside the room where the ball was in progress. We were told that when the President finished dancing we would be presented. The President didn't finish dancing. He danced with his wife, with the Governors' wives, and with Pearl Bailey. We were hungry and bit dizzy - but nobody offered us anything. After about twenty minutes we were befriended by a pretty Chinese secretary and a handsome black aide, and Diana asked them whether they could at least find us a drink. A tray laden with glasses of champagne was brought, and I think we quickly downed about half a dozen of them. Then we suggested dancing, since it didn't seem as if the President was going to was going to leave the floor. The secretary and the aide agreed to partner us and we joined the crowded ballroom. Soon I noticed that Diana was sitting on the floor...but she said that she had tripped up on her new long dress. Finally I saw the President leaving the room and grabbed Diana and pulled her after him. I said we couldn't leave without a meeting. Diana was reluctant and informed a startled Senator, 'Alec's a terrible celebrity hunter!' I did all I could to get into the President's eyeline as he was bidding various people goodnight, but to no avail. After he left, we went back to the dance - which became somewhat wilder. Later that night - since we were never given any food - Diana improvised a delicious tuna-fish salad in her suite at the Watergate Hotel, and the evening ended with a lot of laughs.

The next day there was an apology from the White House staff - 'lack of liaison' - and we were invited to a private lunch with President and Mrs Ford on the following Monday. Once again we dressed up. Once again we were collected by a White House car. On arrival we were told that unfortunately Mrs Ford was ill, but that the President might see us in the Oval Office. After a guided tour of the building, we were ushed into the famous room. When the photographers had left, we faced each other warily, and Diana and I soon realized that the President's knowledge of the theatre was minimal. However, eventually he asked us to tell him about Mrs Thatcher, and we seemed to confuse him by our preference for Shirley Williams. As he didn't make any move to dismiss us, Diana finally said: 'Well, you must be very busy...' and the meeting ended. Then Mrs Ford's Social Secretary took us up to the Presidential apartments and gave us a lunch consisting of chicken, bacon and tomato sandwiches, and a Coca Cola.

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