They found themselves in darkness, cramped between a wall and a loose hanging curtain. ‘Follow me,’ urged Sydnee. They followed. Rounding the corner of the curtain, the five of them were momentarily blinded by the sudden glare of studio lights.

The set in Studio B was considerably smaller than that in Studio A. (Indeed, the whole studio was smaller.) It represented a study-like room, a cross between a barrister’s chambers and an amateur laboratory. Shelves of leather-bound books encased the walls, while the surfaces were littered with a variety of phials and retorts. Firearms, daggers and the occasional skull had been scattered in calculated disorder. The set could have been designed for an updated remake of Sherlock Holmes.

And, though the man at the centre of this space could not have been mistaken for the great detective, he was, as it happened, speaking of crime. ‘And here we have it — ’ he was saying, in an exaggerated French accent, indicating a small elegantly-shaped bottle with a glass stopper which he held between thumb and forefinger, ‘perhaps the quickest-acting of all poisons. Cyanide. Beloved of detective-story writers, though significantly less popular with real murderers. Cyanide can kill in as little as ten seconds. Well, though I said it is not popular with murderers, there have still been one or two juicy cases where it was the favoured method. In 1907 Richard Brinkley. .’

‘Ooh, it’s Melvyn Gasc,’ hissed the one female in the party, peering at the speaker beyond the cameras. ‘He did that series on torture, didn’t he?’

‘This is the follow-up,’ Sydnee hissed back. ‘It’s called Method In Their Murders. Being made for Channel Four.’

‘What are you doing here?’ a third female voice hissed. Charles could make out a shapely outline in a flying- suit of indeterminate colour which had stepped in between his group and the light.

‘Chippy. It’s me, Sydnee. I’m trying to keep this lot out of the way. Mustn’t be seen by the others in this game show.’

‘Barrett’s thing?’


‘Has the Great Shit himself put in an appearance yet?’

‘He’s around.’

‘Maybe I should go and have a word with him. .’

‘No, Chippy. This show’s going to be hectic enough without that kind of complication.’

‘I don’t know. I’d just be interested to see how the bastard reacted if I walked in. I bet he’d — ’

But the girl called Chippy was cut short by another hissing voice, male this time, as a Floor Manager, complete with headphones, came up and asked what the hell was going on and what the hell they thought they were doing bursting into a studio while there was a rehearsal in progress and whether they would piss off out again double-quick or whether he’d have to bloody kick them out.

Sydnee peered out into the corridor as they beat their hasty retreat from Studio B, but all seemed to be clear. ‘We’d better go back on to our set,’ she said, and then, with a note almost of desperation in her voice, went on, ‘Barrett may be there, or John, or Jim. Then we can get your bit of rehearsal sorted out. Or the hats sorted out. Or something. .’

She got them to wait in the corridor while she slipped to check that Studio A was clear of contestants and celebrities. She took her duties seriously.

Within a minute they were ushered back on to the red, blue and silver set. Sylvian the Mohican was still fiddling, unhappy with the alignment of the lectern in the centre of the floor. Three cameramen were slumped lethargically over their cameras. There were more people around than there had been earlier in the afternoon.

One of them was Jim Trace-Smith, the Producer. Since there was no sign of Barrett Doran, and the Executive Producer, John Mantle, had yet to return from his, er, important meeting, it had fallen to Jim Trace-Smith to brief the ‘professions’ as to what they had to do.

The Producer was tall with dark-brown hair which stuck out on his crown as if cut by a school barber. There was something boyish about his whole appearance. Even his pale-blue flying-suit looked as if it had come from Mothercare. His face would have been astonishingly youthful, but for the almost comical creases of anxiety which were etched in between the eyebrows. He had the air of someone who took life very seriously indeed.

Nor was this impression dispelled when he began to speak. His voice had a slight Midlands flatness which, even when his words expressed great enthusiasm, seemed impervious to animation.

‘Good afternoon, one and all.’ He made what was perhaps intended to be an expansive gesture. ‘And may I say how delighted I am that you have agreed to join us in the fun of Hats Off!

If The Cap Fits,’ murmured Sydnee.

‘Oh yes, If The Cap Fits. It’s a really terrific game and I think there’s no question that you’re all going to have a ball. Now, as you’ve probably gathered, the show that we’re recording tonight is what we call a “pilot”. That means that we’ve all got to be our brilliant best, because, according to how we do this show, the “powers-that-be” will decide whether or not they’re going to make a series of this terrific game. And we all want to make sure that there is a series of If The Cap Fits — don’t we?’

This proposal was heartily endorsed by three of the ‘professions’. Charles thought he’d reserve judgement until he’d found out what the game involved.

‘Does it mean,’ asked the one female in the party, ‘being a pilot, that what we record will actually go out on the box?’

‘Oh, almost certainly, yes,’ the Producer lied. ‘As I say, it’s a terrific game. I’m sure we’ve got the casting right, and I’m sure that what we record tonight will be the first show in a series that will run and run!’

He made this rallying-cry with all the bravura of a librarian turning down the central heating.

‘Now I hope you’re all beginning to understand what you’ll have to do. You are involved only in Round One of our terrific game, but I’m sure you’re going to get the show off to a great start. Now you’ve all been carefully selected by our highly-trained research team. .’ He winked with awkward flirtatiousness at Sydnee, who ignored him.

‘. . because you all represent some kind of profession. This profession will in each case be symbolised by a hat, but, just to confuse the contestants, you’ll all be wearing the wrong hats. They have to guess who are the rightful owners of the various forms of headgear.’

He then proceeded to explain that this was the reason for the game’s name, a point which by now had penetrated the skull of even the dullest of the four ‘professions’.

‘Well,’ Jim Trace-Smith continued with limp heartiness, ‘have you all got your hats sorted out?’

‘Erm, I’m afraid we’re having a bit of a problem with Wardrobe about the hats. .’ Sydnee drew him to one side and a whispered discussion ensued.

When the Producer turned back to his audience, the furrows on his forehead were longer. ‘Well now, just got to actually sort out the hats, but can I just check what your professions are. .’

He drew a list out of his flying-suit pocket. Charles had been one hundred per cent wrong. There was no bank cashier, no professional footballer and no dental nurse. Instead, his colleagues proved to be a hamburger chef, a surgeon and a stockbroker. Incredibly, the one female in the party turned out to be the stockbroker.

‘We’ve got the actor’s hat sorted out,’ Sydnee whispered, ‘but I don’t know where Wardrobe have gone now, so I’m not sure about the others.’

‘I’ll go and have a word with them,’ said Jim Trace-Smith. ‘Now we’ll need a tall white chef’s hat for the chef. .’

‘Actually that’s not what I wear,’ the chef objected. ‘I have this little paper cap which — ’

So far as the public’s concerned,’ Jim Trace-Smith overruled, ‘chefs wear tall white hats. Now for the surgeon we need one of those green mob-cap things. .’

‘Actually I very rarely wear one of those. I. .’ But the surgeon thought better of it and stopped.

‘Now we’ve got the actor’s hat sorted out.’

‘Well — ’ was as far as Charles was allowed to get.

‘And for the stockbroker, obviously, a bowler hat.’

‘But I never wear a bowler hat.’

‘So far as the public is concerned, stockbrokers wear bowler hats!’

‘But I’m a woman, for God’s sake! You can’t expect me to — ’

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