I talked about this the other night at the Best of Tell Me on a Sunday but I didn’t get to say it to you. Not properly, not over a biscuit and a mug of tea. Not just us, you know?
So there’s this thing. It’s half extremely personal and it’s half a bit ordinary. But deciding to tell you about it has actually changed it. Thinking about it, pondering it all, I’ve just changed my mind about it and am now going to do things differently.
It’s about my name and the hot water it’s got me into. Literally my name: William Gallagher. And almost literally hot water. There has been water that was hot. There has also been a – no, we need a sec before I say that.
My name is quite ordinary. I mean, I like it, I secretly love seeing it written on books or in Radio Times or on Doctor Who websites – but it is just “William Gallagher”. Ordinary. Common. And that’s the problem.
There are a lot of me. A huge, gigantic number of William Gallaghers. Once I was invited to join a CompuServe group reserved for William Gallaghers. I refused because a) what would we talk about? And 2) How would we know who were talking about it to?
Nonetheless, many of these William Gallaghers have – well, it’s not that they’ve come in to contact themselves, it’s more that everybody else has. And they’ve confused us. A lot. I mean, a lot.
And that’s why I have a wee problem with the hot water. There are things I could tell you that are potentially just a bit on the libellous side and since this is about what all these people called William Gallagher have done over the years, it’s not as if I could change their names to protect the guilty. Allegedly guilty.
For instance, I can’t tell you about a place and time where I was regularly yanked into the office of, shall we say, someone in authority at a place of education. Now I think of it, I was accused so often that it was potentially just a bit on the slander side. Particularly the one time that police were waiting for me with him.
So anyway, I’ve left that place of education and joined the BBC. When you join the BBC, you won’t be shocked to learn that you get a BBC email address. And that people email you there. So some time in the early 1990s, two young women from California – two girls, really – emailed me. “Are you Liam Gallagher?” they asked. “You can tell us, we won’t say, promise!”
I don’t know how I knew they were young girls but there was something giggly in that email and then when I replied saying I didn’t even know who he was, there was true teenage dismissal. “God!”
Funny thing, I am related to Liam Gallagher of Oasis. I really am. It’s pretty distant, but I’m genuinely related. Actually, you know how we have all this third-cousin-twice-removed stuff? Nobody ever thinks about where the line ends. There must be a point where you stop saying tenth-cousin-in-law. Got to be. Otherwise, we would all be related to each other and weddings would be murder to cater for.
So there is a cutoff point between relative and stranger and I can tell you that it’s Noel Gallagher.
I am related to Liam Gallagher of Oasis – but not his brother Noel.
More oddly, I’m also not related to William Gallagher. I’m a writer, I’m a journalist, I write about and for Doctor Who, and it turns out that there is a William Gallagher who is a journalist and Doctor Who fan who wrote Who magazines. I have never met him. Never even read a word he’s written, either. But…
I used to write for BBC News and BBC Ceefax. One day I did a piece that mentioned Doctor Who fans. This was before the show came back in all its glory and if you were still a fan, there was a chance you had a scarf and a certainty that you had an anorak. I had both. But that didn’t stop me describing Doctor Who fans as tending to be “warmly-dressed”. One fan went mad. He took to Usenet – do you even know Usenet now? – and posted my BBC email address, said he would be complaining about me and that every anorak-wearing Who fan should flood me with emails.
None of them did. Not one. Not even he did.
I only ever found out because the BBC wanted to know why my name was giving their IT department such trouble.
Even though he didn’t email me, he’d put my address out there. If you list an email address on a comments board, it gets harvested by people who send spam. So the BBC had just switched on a whizzy new system for stopping spam emails and it was working for everybody in BBC News – except my department.
We looked into it and it was only then that I found this discussion about me. The thing with Usenet was that you only had a few days to reply to a comment. Google then archived off everything so you could always look it up, but you could only actually respond within a very few days. By the time we found it, that time was gone. So I sat there in a newsroom reading all this stuff about me – and then not about me. One guy said he had phoned me to discuss this anorak comment and said I had laughed at him. I don’t want to search the archive again and re-read all this unpleasant stuff so I may not be quite accurate here and I’m definitely flinging the word ‘allegedly’ at you a lot, but there was something about how this me on the phone had been all superior because he was the great BBC journalist earning a lot of money.
It’s very common to read sentences that include the words “BBC journalist earning a lot of money” but they’re sentences that usually pivot around the word ‘not’.
The money bit was laughable but the allegedly alleged alleging of superiority stung more than even the nastier cracks. Am I superior? I have this thing that if I know something, I just assume you do too and that you also knew it long before me. I don’t quite understand how I can then equally find out something and run, run, run to tell you, run like an excited puppy. I think that can be quite irritating of me. Also, I can’t stop myself opening automatic doors with magic. I wave my hand to slide them open in the distance. Or if my hands are full, I’ve been known to blow on them. It is irksome, I know. But the doors always open.
Anyway. My name is briefly mud in the BBC IT department for encouraging this spam-filter-breaking business. Don’t ever mess with BBC IT.
BBC IT turns out to be a group of purring pussycats next to the BBC payroll department.
It’s not been on for a few years now but there was a hit show called Lark Rise to Candleford and it was created by Bill Gallagher. During its run, every year when its new series would start airing, I’d get phone calls from people asking to work on it. I’d point out that it was on now, it was airing tonight, they filmed the summer bits back when it was summer, but still they’d come to me for recruitment. BBC payroll wasn’t amused.
Then it was seriously ticked off at me because there was an expense claim for a really big lunch at somewhere like the Ritz. To this day I don’t understand a single pixel of this because while Lark Rise was a BBC show, Bill Gallagher doesn’t work for the BBC. I don’t know how they got any kind of any sort of expense claim and actually I don’t think they did either, but they’d got it and they wanted me to justify it. Since I couldn’t, this dragged on. It dragged on over the end of a financial year.
Never mess with BBC payroll.
It turns out that BBC payroll is a group of purring pussycats next to BBC Human Resources.
Apparently – and again, not a pixel of a clue about what caused this – there was someone working on the show as a freelancer and she’d been there too long. She’d crossed some BBC timescale line thing and now I had to make the decision over whether to let her go or whether to put her on staff. I can see me walking across a BBC Worldwide open plan office floor, having a chat about drama personnel with the BBC and wishing this was in any way really something to do with me and a hit show of my own.
I never found out what happened to her. I always meant to watch the show to see if she carried on in the credits.
All I know is that eventually BBC HR stopped calling me about it and that should’ve been the end of it. I admit that it is a little bit scary having BBC IT, payroll and HR glaring at you but ultimately I suppose it all works out and they’re all fine people.
Shortly afterwards I was made redundant from the BBC.
Do you know, it is only now, here, talking to you, that I have to wonder: was it me who was made redundant or was it another William Gallagher?
But putting that aside, and forgetting the police at the place of education, the most you can really say about this torrent of William Gallaghers is that it was a torrent. Nothing was really all that bad, I think, and certainly I’m sure we’ve all had mis-addressed emails and calls. (Oh! God in heaven, a memory just slapped back into my head: working at a magazine and getting a voicemail that said “I know where you work, I know what you’ve been doing with my wife, I’m going to be outside your office tonight with a knife”. I have no idea who he was, who she was, and I don’t know what happened with the knife because I only got the message two days later. We did tell the police, just in case, but they only said “Oh, yes, are you the William Gallagher from that place of education or did you write Wonderwall?”)
The torrent is the problem. It’s happened three times in the last ten days, for instance. Unusually, all three people apologised and also said thanks for putting them right. That’s rare. That’s really, really rare. Before them, the one person who thanked me – curiously enough – was Lark Rise’s Bill Gallagher.
Someone did email me once asking me to write a report about car emissions and some opportunity for new sales in the Middle East. I emailed back saying “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy” and I did get the loveliest reply. “No, no!” it said, “Of course you’re the right guy for the job! You can do it, William! Remember when we did that thing in Thailand? It’ll be just like that! Go us!”
They went silent after that. Oddly, everything went quiet for a bit then, I began to miss it. Until the invitations to Dr William Gallagher started to come in. Twice a year now. They ask if I can fit their medical conference into my very busy schedule and I write back and they ignore me and invite me again. This guy must be really good because they’ve now invited him seven times and he never goes.
But apart from that, it got quiet. Lark Rise had finished, for one thing.
Or so I thought.
I’ve had some nasty emails in my time. I’ve had some complaints. I’ve had some bad reviews. But the most deliciously bad one was an email from a woman who sounded like she was in her seventies. If I read you everything she said, you would picture her having written it in green ink on parchment rather than email.
It was about Lark Rise to Candleford, she’d just seen it on DVD and she was spitting mad. It was one of those that begins “Mr Gallagher” and is full of bile. How dare I insult the world with this appalling drama?
She had very specific criticisms. Lark Rise was a period piece. Gentle, Sunday-night BBC television drama, light and frothy, set back when it was always beautiful summer. It was fantasy. But that wasn’t good enough, apparently. “You’ve made the people look like fools!” They were fictional yet I was lambasted in this email for sullying the reputation of “the past lives of people in England”.
She told me that it was obvious I didn’t do my homework researching the reality of this time. And – I have only ever seen this done as a joke before but she said it completely seriously: she signed off the email saying “Good day to you, sir!”
I replied. “Well, there’s irony for you. If you’d done your research and read all two of his names on screen, you’d know that Lark Rise was by *Bill* Gallagher. I didn’t write the show and, for future reference, I’m also not responsible for Wonderwall.”
“Wikipedia says you did!”
No, it doesn’t.
“Well, can you pass it on to the right people then?”
I don’t quite know why she thought one William Gallagher must know all the others, unless she’d heard of the CompuServe group, but as it happens, yes, I could have passed it on to him. I didn’t.
And I realise now that this was a turning point for me. That email and this moment, talking to you, telling you all about it.
Remembering the place of education, the police, the IT, the payroll, the HR, the redundancy. And all the knife voicemail. Plus all the voicemails that go “William! I’m at Glasgow train station, can you pick me up?” Or the Skype message that went “I’m just getting on the plane now but when I’m in Boston, can we have lunch?”
I go a long way to help people find their real William Gallaghers and usually it’s ignored, rarely it’s thanked, once or twice I have been ripped to pieces for apparently pretending to be their William Gallagher.
So I’ve made this decision.
No more stopping a meeting to reply to someone about this and putting them right, putting them in touch with the guy they want.
If they’re not going to listen to me when I help them, I’m just.. going… to… say… yes.
I’m William Gallagher.
Well, I am, aren’t I?
So a week on Thursday, I have a lunch meeting in Boston where I am going to discuss high heels.
On February 17, 2014, I will be in the Johnson Suite at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Giving a talk about stem cell research. In Shanghai.
And today I’ve taken over some fella’s blog.