12.05pm: Jago St, Richmond. Channel 9 studios.
‘You don’t think I’m a bad mother, do you?’
I’d known Nat for 15 minutes. As a regular listener to the Triple R Breakfasters, she had rung the station the previous morning with some spare tickets to the live record of The Price is Right. It was now emerging that Peppa, Nat’s four month old baby girl, was being babysat by a friend whose two children were both suffering from conjunctivitis. That morning, Nat and her husband Matt had been faced with a decision. Risk of conjunctivitis versus Price is Right. Risk of minor, localised, curable eye irritation (infection is such a strong word) versus once in a lifetime chance to COME ON DOWN. In the end, they locked in the game show thanks Larry. And I would have too. One of the keys to good parenting is to know when to give kids a little space.
Nat, though, was clearly still worried.
‘I don’t want to have to look into her weepy little eyes and have to say, ‘Mummy let you get sick just to go on The Price is Right.’
There were five in our party. Angus and myself from Triple R, Nat and Matt, and a greenkeeper friend of theirs named Tim. Tim had Noel Gallagher hair and the laconic walk of a man who has achieved inner peace through mowing. His T-shirt advertised the rock band The Sahara Hotnights, and as soon as he received his name tag sticker, he slapped it over the ‘Sahara’ so it read ‘Tim Hotnights’. It was an eye catching move. He was definitely come on down material.
Matt too tended greens, and as we followed the red nylon rope toward the studio door, there was much discussion over whether either greenkeeper might play Putt Putt – a game where you putt for prizes, with the length of your putt determined by such factors as your recall on the going rate for a punnet of margarine.
‘What does a litre of milk cost?’ I asked, attempting some last minute revision. Around me, the seasoned Price is Righters smirked. One older woman tossed her head back, sniggered, and whispered something to her friend. The litre of milk question was clearly so blindingly obvious, so much a part of Price is Right first principles, that I’d come across as the prep grade kid sounding out his vowels.
Then the warm up guy arrived, and the whole universe changed.
‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen! Do any of you want to win prizes!’
Yeeeeeeeees!’ we screamed. It was a joyous clamour; a tsunami of self interest. He was the honeymooning couple with the fish and chips, we were the seagulls.
‘Come on ladies and gentlemen! You can do better than that! DO ANY OF YOU WANT TO WIN PRIZES!’
This time I just closed my eyes and let the roar engulf me. Above us, the network poster of Larry Emdur beamed its approval, the white light of his teeth drawing us inexorably forward. At the studio door, the line split into three parts. It was time for processing.
12.40pm: Personality profiling
‘Tony, will you be wanting to come on down today?’
The assistant producer had a list of names and the happy smile of an Emdur disciple.
‘I’d absolutely love to come on down.’ I replied.
‘Do you ever catch the show?’ she asked brightly.
I attempted a nod that said that I’d been there from the start. Unfortunately, over on my left, an older woman in a tiara was doing a much more convincing job, saying that she’d started watching the show in 1957, and that ‘Larry was better looking than Horrie Dargie and Garry Meadows combined.’ I’ve since discovered that these two hosts belonged to the pre-Turpie era of The Price is Right, and although I was there for the turbulence of 1993, when The Price is Right was reborn as The New Price is Right, and was still there in 2003 when The New Price is Right became The Price Is Right again, it was clear I was being outgunned.
‘And is there anything particularly interesting that you do?
I knew this one was coming. Angus, who has a few live television credits to his name (Recovery, Greeks on the Roof), had prepped us beforehand. ‘Never stop smiling, and if in doubt, say that you’re interested in an adventure sport.’
‘I ride water slides,’ I said, trying to sound offhand and casual. Surely the sky divers and the abseilers would be a dime a dozen. Water slides gave me retro kitsch. Water slides gave Larry an angle.
‘Water slides! Great.’ the assistant producer enthused. ‘Take a seat. The first show will be underway shortly.’
In order to come on down, you first have to have somewhere to come on down from, so we assumed a position near the back of the tiered seating. A Bee Gees track was playing, the crowd was abuzz. Indeed, I was just writing a note, ‘Bee Gees playing, crowd abuzz’ when Stu the floor manager pointed a manicured finger directly at my pad.
‘Sir. What’s that?’
Two hundred sets of eyes bored into me. They were staring at me as though I was that coughing colonel character from the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. ‘That man’s got a pad,’ they seemed to be whispering. ‘He must have written down the price of the cruise for two; of all cruises for two’. I attempted a dismissive shrug.
‘Nothing, just paper.’
Stu puffed out his impossibly buffed chest. Then he gave me a nod.
‘That’s alright then.’
1.15pm: The Warm Up
Sean Cosgrove is dressed by High and Mighty. That much I knew. I also knew that he was the man who actually said the ‘COME ON DOWN!’ and so when he came out to warm up the crowd, we concentrated on securing eye contact.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think of cawing like a seagull, which was the attention gaining masterstroke of a woman in the second row. Her daughter alleged that far from being an unnatural being operating with the help of a couple of C batteries, this was actually her natural laugh. In any event, the gilded smut that was Cosgrove’s pre-show routine focused entirely on making the seagull caw, and she hit her cues with such aplomb that an appearance on the show seemed a foregone conclusion.
After drinking our fill of Viagra jokes, we practised what we’d do if Larry arrived, and then he did arrive, just to watch us practice. The moment we saw him, our simmering excitement exploded into a Dionysian frenzy. Larry calmed us down with a sage-like raise of an open right palm.
‘You don’t really love me, it’s just the fridges.’
We bayed some more, and then The Price is Right models shimmied and gyrated their way onto stage. The row in front attempted to start up a chant for Larry. I wanted to go the one step further and start one for capitalism in general.
‘TIM GOODWIN, COME ON DOWN!’
Tim Hotnights had both arms above his head and was attacking the stairs two at a time. Apparently, in the entry interview, he’d answered the question, ‘would you like to come on down today?’ with a simple ‘hell yeah,’ and that had done the trick. Now the rock star hair was bouncing with every step, and we were bouncing with him.
What we hadn’t counted on though was Michael, with his fresh pink cheeks and his remarkable sense for the price of a Nintendo games pack. With a guess of $600, he won the right to contest the opening game.
‘I can’t even speak I’m so excited,’ he said as he bounded up to Larry.
Eventually, Larry coaxed some personal details out of him. ‘I’m into daredevil stuff, sky diving, abseiling off hotels, that sort of thing.’
Water slides. What was I thinking.
‘Answer me this Michael, have you ever won a car before?’
‘IT’S A NEW CAR!’
Michael had traveled from Sydney for the occasion and told us he’d been excited just to get a name tag sticker. Now, if he negotiated the $1 note game, The Price is Right’s retro salute to brown bills of yore, he’d return home with both the name tag sticker and a brand new $22,890 Suzuki. He did it with one note to spare, and as he leapt for the rafters, I resolved to let him know that in my experience, Suzuki parts can sometimes be a little pricey. Right then though, there was no dampening his spirit. ‘Veni. Vidi. Vici.’ That was the look in his eye. ‘I came (on down). I saw. I conquered’.
1.45pm: The Second Game
Domenic, owner of the Par Dom Pizza Emporium, was right to say that capriciosa is the best type of pizza. Of course it is. But he was wrong to think the gents watch from Rotary Swiss Watches could be worth $1400. This allowed Tim Hotnights to swoop, and within seconds he’d won the watch and was charging Larry with the enthusiasm of a tight head prop packing down for a five metre scrum.
‘Whoooah. mate,’ Larry said as Tim landed his man hug, ‘Whoooah!’
The game was Switch, known to some old timers as ‘Switcheroo’. The premise – two products, each labelled with a price. The contestant must decide which product belongs to which price. It would be wrong to claim too much credit for what happened next, but in Switcheroo, some in the audience will yell ‘Switch!’, some in the audience will yell ‘Hold!’, and some will just yell nonsense. I yelled, ‘Switch!’, Tim Hotnights switched, and instantly, he was the proud owner of 3 heaters and a set of golf clubs.
Like a shot, Nat and Matt were off. There was no explanation. There didn’t need to be. Tim the greenkeeper had won golf clubs and heaters, and in such situations, Price is Right etiquette determines that his nearest and dearest charge the stage to celebrate. I’d known Tim for the best part of an hour, and suddenly had fractions of a second to decide whether our relationship had reached ‘that stage’. Of course it had. If the situation were reversed and they were my heaters, I’d have wanted Tim there.
And so we made that famous descent together, coming on down as so many had come on down before us. The group hug was tribal. We were on national television, with Larry Emdur no less, and none of us could keep from laughing.
If Peppa caught conjunctivitis, at least it hadn’t been in vain.
2.15pm: Leaving the Tardis
Tim Hotnights didn’t win The Showcase, but he did contest it. In the end, the workwear was worth more than the phone. It was over.
‘The phone!’ a happy youth shouted as Tim wound his way towards the exit. ‘The phone is always the cheapest.’
‘Maaaaaaaate!’ yelled another, hitting his forehead. ‘The phone!’
At the door, an attractive blonde girl sidled over to Tim Hotnights and engaged him in conversation. After absorbing some eyelash batting and a coquettish handshake, he rejoined us.
‘Telling you about the phone?’ Nat asked.
‘Actually. I think she might have been making a play for one of my heaters.’ Tim replied. ‘She may just be my first Price is Right groupie.’
We walked out into the Richmond sunshine, back into the world as we knew it.