I cleared my throat, choosing effort over a pastille as I felt the stickiness wasn’t sufficiently glutinous to justify the expense, and announced into the microphone.

“Quiet” I ordered in the guise of an anonymous stage hand or master of ceremonies, “You should now welcome the featured speaker of ‘An Evening with Dennis Brent’ which is Dennis Brent. Begin applauding now.”

I put the microphone down and walked onto the stage to absolute silence. I squinted into the auditorium – partially blinded by the house lights, though fortunately not dazzled enough to be caught a nasty blow by the light that fell just to my left by accident as soon as I emerged – and saw that the fat woman had her face buried in a bag of buns while the six Autons sat motionless.

“Are you waiting for a control signal from the Nestene Consciousness?” I quipped. They played along with my amusing remark by not moving a muscle. I beamed at them but still they didn’t let their gimmick slip even for a second. I partly admired that level of personal discipline but at the same time felt it wouldn’t necessarily be good for the show if they sat in silence and suppressed all the emotions they would undoubtedly be feeling over the next hour. I moved on.

“I’d like to start with some housekeeping” I explained. “This show is primarily one in which I talk to you and you listen. There will be three minutes at the end where you may ask questions to which I am not contractually obliged to give an answer if I deem them to be beneath contempt. If they are fascinating questions I am prepared to enter into a written correspondence with you providing you supply a booklet of second class stamps and pass a short written test. There is to be no flash photography and anyone caught recording this performance – whether for monetary gain or just so you can pass a bootleg recording around your intimate circle – will be ejected by security.”

I looked round to see if there was any security but there wasn’t.

“I’d like to begin with a richly comic anecdote about the DWAT social evening when we invited Sophie Aldred along to talk about industrial machinery. We didn’t tell her we wanted her to talk about industrial machinery of course – that wouldn’t have been funny – we let her think she was coming to talk about McCoy or whatever she does when she’s not signing photographs for the peasants. She was summoned onto the stage, as per contract, and told for the first time there and then that her talk would be about industrial machinery. The look on her face was priceless.”

I may have lost control at this point and roared to myself. I’m roaring now just thinking back to the mix of terror and desperation when she realised she had to talk at length about industrial machinery or be sued like Lesley Dunlop when she refused to speak at DWAT Nation 6 about the history of the roundabout (brackets – motoring not children’s play thing – close brackets). The brackets were added to stop Dunlop from wasting our time with boring anecdotes about her children if she has any or other people’s children if she sensibly doesn’t.

“And” I continued, wheezing from the exertion of laughing so hard, “the funniest part of the story is...” I roared again, took a deep breath and tried to go on, “is...” I stopped again to try and regain control of myself. “Is...”

Suddenly, a voice from the crowd intervened.

“That none of us present had the slightest interest in industrial machinery” said the fat woman.

“Oh” I replied, a little non-plussed. This wasn’t pantomime – thank god – and I hadn’t expected hecklers. Still, I am a man who is prepared for anything. I took a small piece of paper out of my pocket and gave this heckler both barrels.

“I would appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt me again” I said. Then I looked back at my piece of paper and saw I’d read the “Mild” repost by mistake. I turned it over.

“How would you like it if I started yelling at you down the alley while you're giving fellatio to transsexual sailors with your mother who is so fat she could only conceive you by sleeping with her brother and who thought you were constipation until you were born and even then she wasn’t sure because your face looks like effluent and not even she can love you?”

There was silence in the theatre. I began regretting only purchasing two heckle retorts – one ‘mild’, one ‘very strong’ – as for an extra fifty pence I could’ve had something in between. As the silence grew thicker I got a sense that somewhere in between would’ve been more appropriate.

“Hold hard” gasped the enormously fat woman when she’d stopped choking on my scripted banter. “I have never been...” but she didn’t finish her sentence as in her rage she tore her wig off, accidentally knocking the heads off two of her fellow audience members.

“Francois Devine” I gasped.

“Yes, Dennis Brent, it is I. I felt I should show support for your little venture by coming here with a moral boosting claque – these six gentlemen are made of plastic and you are welcome to borrow them on Tuesdays and Fridays if you ever feel the need – but our recent competitive juices meant I came in disguise. I have rarely been so insulted and will now be leaving. I would demand a refund but I told the woman at the box office counter that I was your aunt and she let me in for nothing. Goodbye, Dennis Brent, and I trust we will not meet again until you have apologised by return of post for what you just said.”

He made to leave but suddenly found the aisles filling up with proles. My show had already started – I would chastise them for this in due course – but I was still excited that it appeared I would have an audience after all. At this point the stage manager came on and told me to leave.

“But my audience has arrived” I protested, not wanting them to riot and do hundreds of pounds worth of damages (or improvements <g>) to the theatre.

“This lot are here for the next show. We thought no one would come to yours and that you’d have gone home in a sulk by now” she explained.

“Next show? What nonsense is this?” I stammered. She handed me a flier.

“An Audience Without Dennis Brent” it read.

“As titles go, you have to say it’s a winner” she said. “I reckon you should go – the last thing this lot wants is to see you.”

I was ready with a reply (technically it was ‘I would appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt me again’ as I’d already paid for it) when a ball of paper hit me on the back of the head. She had been right – which is rare for a female – about this audience not being fans of Dennis Brent. More paper followed and it was just a question of whether I’d make it off the stage in one piece.