A few years ago I went to see an exhibition of the very latest in art at the Tate Modern.
They obviously hadn’t finished installing it, because the workmen had left their paints and rollers on trestle tables, all covered by a dust sheet.
Also they’d left crisp packets and empty drinks cans lying around,
One of the cleaners was worried that he would get in trouble for leaving the gallery in such a mess.
So he stacked the tables away in a cupboard and threw the rest of the rubbish out.
It turned out that what he’d thrown out had actually been one of the works of art in the exhibition.
It was a big story next day, across all the newspapers.
But the best part for me was that The Sun immediately made the cleaner their Arts Correspondent.
They admired his taste.
Here was a man who could tell rubbish from art.
The Sun paid him to go round and review all the work on show at the different art galleries in London.
What a great example of finding something funny in real life and turning it into opportunity.
The strange thing is we spend all our time looking so hard for ideas.
But great things are happening all around us, all the time, that could be turned into ideas.
The playwright Allan Bennett says he gets lots of his ideas just from overhearing people talking, and making notes.
Peter Kay says the same thing, “You couldn’t make it up.”
Real life is often funnier than fiction.
And, for some reason, mums are a great source of dialogue.
During the power blackouts of the 1970s, I once heard my mum on the phone to my Auntie Polly.
Mum said, “What I don’t understand is, if no one’s got any electricity how come the cars have all got their lights on?”
Then a few days later, Auntie Polly phoned Mum again.
She said, “You’d better do your hoovering quick because they’ve just said on the news the price of electricity is going up.”
But it isn’t just mums.
There was van driver at BMP called George.
He said to me once, “Here Dave, you like books don’t you? Do you want to buy some?”
I said, “It depends George, what sort of books are they?”
He said, “Big uns.”
And then some things are so good, you really couldn’t make them up.
One day Gordon Smith said to me, “What I don’t understand is, if we’re all evolved from monkeys, how come there’s still monkeys around?”
Al Midgeley, an art director at BMP, once told me he was sitting in a pub in Yorkshire reading the paper.
Two undertakers walked in, in top hats, silk gloves, everything black.
They each got a pint and sat at the table next to him.
Then they drank their pints in absolute silence.
After about half an hour, one turned to the other and said, “Death? It’s a bugger.”
Like Allan Bennett and Peter Kay, John Webster knew how to take ordinary things and turn them into ideas.
I was telling him once about a really old pub I used to drink in sometimes, in Barking.
It was called ‘The Barge Aground’ right near Barking Creek.
And it had a really old fashioned public bar with sawdust on the floor.
One old guy used to bring his dog in with him.
He’d order his pint, then ask the barman for an arrowroot biscuit and a saucer.
He’d make the dog lie on the floor and put the biscuit on its paw.
And when the man would say, “Go” the dog would flip the biscuit into its mouth, and eat it.
The man would then pour some of his pint into the saucer for the dog.
I told John about it.
I thought it was just a funny story.
John said, “That’s fantastic, we can use that.”
And he did, and he won a black pencil.
And that’s maybe the biggest lesson I learned from John.
It’s not who says it, it’s who spots it.