Buying an Ant

(Sketch continues from 'Department Store' He approaches a counter with a sign saying 'Ant Counter'. He stands by the apparently empty counter for one moment, then rings a bell.)

Chris (Eric Idle): Hello? Hello?

(A strange rubber-masked head appears from below the other side of the counter and gesticulates at him making a strange noise. This soon stops.)

First Assistant (Graham Chapman): Oh, I'm terribly sorry... (he takes off the mask to reveal a straight forward assistant) I thought you were someone else.

Chris: Oh I see, yes.

First Assistant: I'm sorry sir, can I help you?

Chris: Yes, yes, as a matter of fact you can, actually I was interested in the possibility... of purchasing one of your ... can I ask who you thought I was?

First Assistant: What?

Chris: Who did you think I was... just then... when you thought I was somebody.

First Assistant: Oh, it's no one you'd know, sir.

Chris: Well I might know them.

First Assistant: It's possible, obviously, but I think it's really unlikely.

Chris: Well, I know quite a lot...

First Assistant: I mean he's hardly likely to move in your circles, sir...

Chris: Why, is he very rich?

First Assistant: Oh, no, I didn't mean that, sir.

Chris: Is he a lord or something?

First Assistant: Oh, no, not at all.

Chris: Well look, this is very easy to settle. What is his name?.

First Assistant: What?

Chris: What is his name?

First Assistant: Well... er...

Chris: Yes?

First Assistant: Michael Ellis.

Chris: Who?

First Assistant: Michael Ellis.

Chris: I see.

First Assistant: Do you know him, sir?

Chris: Er ... Michael Ellis. Michael Ellis...

First Assistant: You don't

Chris: Well, I don't remember the name.

First Assistant: I think you would remember him, sir.

Chris: Why do you say that?

First Assistant: Well, would you remember a man six foot nine inches high, fortyish, and he's got a long scar from here to here and absolutely no nose?

Chris: ... oh, I think I do remember somebody like that...

First Assistant: Well, that's not Michael Ellis.

Chris: What?

First Assistant: He's a small man about this high with a high-pitched voice.

Chris: Right, I'm not going to buy an ant from you now.

First Assistant: (distressed) Oh, no, please.

Chris: No. You've not been properly trained. I demand another assistant.

First Assistant: Oh, no, come on... please...

Chris: No, I want another assistant.

First Assistant: All right! I'll get another assistant. (he disappears behind a curtain)

Chris: Thank you.

(The same assistant reappears with a long mandarin-style Chinese moustache.)

First Assistant: (high-pitched voice) Hello sir, can I help you, sir?

Chris: No, I want a different assistant.

First Assistant: I am sir, I'm Mr Abanazar, sir.

Chris: Don't be silly.

First Assistant: (normal voice) Oh no, please please please let me help you...

Chris: No! I want another assistant.

First Assistant: Oh, no, come on, please...

Chris: If you don't give me another assistant.,.

First Assistant: No, no, I'll be very good, sir, really. (he becomes exaggeratedly polite) Good morning, sir... how are you, sir... bit parky outside today... isn't it, sir... ? A very nice suit you've got there, sir... you had a very close shave this morning, sir...

Chris: Right I'm going.

First Assistant: No, no, please... (he takes off his moustache) I'll get another assistant... (he rings the bell on the counter.)

(After a pause, very slowly indeed an identical mask to the first appears over the top of the counter right next to the first assistant, making the same noise very quietly. The first assistant sees him, starts and nudges him hard.)

Second Assistant (Michael Palin): Woooooo ....ooooooo...

First Assistant: It's not him!

(The second assistant makes a disappointed noise and disappears below.)

Chris: (pointing over the counter at the disappeared assistant) I don't want him!

First Assistant: Oh please, give him a chance!

Chris: No!

Second Assistant: (appearing from below counter without a mask, looking immaculate) Yes, sir, can I be of any assistance?

Chris: Oh no, come on, don't try that!

Second Assistant: I'm sorry, sir... try what?

Chris: YoU know perfectly well what I mean.

Second Assistant: I'm afraid I don't, sir.

Chris: You were down behind there with a silly mask on going wooo-ooo...

Second Assistant: I don't think I was, sir.

Chris: All right, get the manager.

Second Assistant: There seems to have been some sort of misunderstanding, sir.

Chris: Manager!

First Assistant: This is the manager, sir.

Chris: What?

Second Assistant: (in a silly voice) Yes, I'm the manager.

Chris: Manager! (he keeps calling)

Second Assistant: It's a smashing store this, I can't recommend it too highly, well-lit, rat-free. It's a joy to manage. Oh yes, the freshest haddock in London, second floor, third floor Ribena, ants here, television and flame throwers over there, behind them our dinner-wagon exhibition closes at six...

First Assistant: (nudging him) Quick!

(They both disappear under the counter. The real manager arrives and presents himself to Chris.)

Real Manager (Terry Jones): Yes, sir? Can I help you, sir?

Chris: (noticing the 'manager' badge on his lapel) Yes, I want to complain about the assistants on this counter.

Real Manager: I'm sorry to hear that, sir, which ones?

Chris: Well, they're hiding now.

Real Manager: Sir?

Chris: They're hiding, down there behind the counter.

Real Manager: I see, sir. (he goes round counter, looks, but obviously can't see them; Chris goes round to join in the search)... well... there's nobody down here, sir.

Chris: They must have crawled through here, and made their escape through 'Soft Toys'. (he points)

Real Manager: Yes, of course.

Chris: They were wearing masks and making silly noises and one of them pretended to be the manager. He spoke like this.. (he does an impression)

Real Manager: Ah! I think I've got it, sir, I think I've got it! It's rag week.

Chris: Ragweek?

Real Manager: Yes, you know, for charity, sir.

Chris: Oh! I see. Some local college or university?

Real Manager: No, no it's the store's rag week.

Chris: The store's rag week?

Real Manager: Yes. The senior staff don't join in much - it's for the trainees really...

Chris: It's not very good for business is it?

Real Manager: Oh, It's for charity, sir. People are awfully good about it, you know. (he rattles a collecting tin)

Chris: Yes, yes, of course. (he puts a coin in)

Real Manager: Right, sir, I'll get you a senior assistant - ants, was it?

Chris: Yes, please.

Real Manager: (calling) Mr Snetterton? (Mr Snetterton approaches immediately; he is clearly the first assistant with very bad short crew-cut wig on) Could you look after this gentleman, Mr Snetterton?

Chris: I don't want him!

First Assistant: Oh please! Give me a chance!

Chris: No!

Real Manager: All right - Mr Hartford!

Hartford (Michael Palin): Yes - good morning, sir - can I help you?

Chris: Yes, please, I'm interested in buying an ant.

Hartford: Ah yes - and what price were you thinking of paying, sir?

Chris: Oh, well, I hadn't actually got as far as that.

Hartford: Well sir, they start about half a p. but they can go as high as three p. or even three and a half p. for a champion - inflation I'm afraid...

Chris: Well, I should think one about one and a half p., please.

Hartford: Ah yes, well you should get a very serviceable little animal for that, sir. Quite frankly the half pence ones are a bit on the mangy side ... What length was sir thinking of?

Chris: Oh ... medium?

Hartford: Medium. Medium. Here we are, sir. (he tips some ants - which we can't see - out into a special ring on counter) That one there is an Ayrshire, and that one there is a King George bitch I think ... and that one killing the little flitbat is an Afghan.

Chris: That's a nice one.

Hartford: Lees see how you get on with him, eh? (he puts it on Chris's hand) Ah yes, he likes you. He's taken to you.

Chris: What do you feed them on?

Hartford: Blancmange.

Chris: Blancmange?

Hartford: I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that. No, you don't feed them at all.

Chris: Well, what do they live on?

Hartford: They don't. They die.

Chris: They die?

Hartford: Well of course they do, if you don't feed them.

Chris: I don't understand.

Hartford: You let them die, then you buy another one. It's much cheaper than feeding them and that way you have a constant variety of little companions.

Chris: Oh, I see.

Hartford: That's the advantage of owning an ant.

Chris: Right, well I'll take this one. Oh dear, I've dropped it...

Hartford: Never mind. Here's another one.

Chris: Is there anything else I'll need?

Hartford: Yes, sir - you'll need an ant house. (he produces a birdcage) This is the model we recommend, sir.

Chris: Won't it get out of there?

Hartford: Yes.

Chris: Well what's the point of having the cage?

Hartford: Well, none at all really. And then some pieces of cage furniture which will keep him entertained. (he produces microscopic things) Here's an ant-wheel, ant-swing, and a very nice one here, a little ladder - he can run up there and ring the bell at the top, that's a little trick he can learn.

Chris: Will he live long enough?

Hartford: Not really, no, but it's best to have one just in case, and here's a two-way radio he can play with... and of course you'll need the book. (he produces an expensive-looking book, thoughtlessly slams it down where the ants were, then hurriedly brushes them away)

Chris: The book?

Hartford: Yes, the book on ants.

Chris: (looking unsure) Yes...

Hartford: So, sir, that is, if I may say so, one hundred and eighty-four pounds one and a half p., sir.

Chris: Will you take a cheque?

Hartford: Yes, sir, if you don't mind leaving a blood-sample, and a piece of skin off the back of the scalp just here, sir ... (indicates a point behind his ear) sorry ... it's just for identification .-. you can't be too careful. (he hands him a little knife and some cotton wool)

Chris: Oh, well I think I'll put it on account.

Hartford: I should, sir... much less painful. Anyway sir, you know what they say about an ant. A friend for life, eh? Well, a friend for its life anyway... (Hartford loads the large cage, furniture, two-way radio and the book on ants into a huge box; with some difficulty he finds the ant; he picks it up carefully) His name is Marcus. (he drops him in the big box and pushes it across the counter; the box has on one side, in large letters 'live ant: handle with care '; it has breathing holes in it) If the little chap should go to an early grave, sir, give us a ring and we'll stick a few in an envelope, all right?

Chris: Thanks very much indeed.

Hartford: Not at all, thank you, Mr Ellis.

(Chris turns sharply. The first assistant comes quickly up to Hartford.)

First Assistant: Sssssshh!

Chris: What did you say?

Hartford: I said thank you, Mr Ellis...

First Assistant: It's not him.

Hartford: Oh!

Chris: Why did you say I was Mr Ellis?

Hartford: (innocently) Who?

First Assistant: No, he didn't say that.

Chris: Yes he did. I heard him say 'Thank you, Mr Ellis'.

First Assistant: Oh, no, no - he said 'I'm jealous'.

Chris: What?

First Assistant: I'm jealous of your ant. Goodbye. Goodbye. (waves pointedly)

Chris: (leaving the counter) I don't care who Michael Ellis is!

(Chris passes a shop area labelled 'The Paisley Counter' where two customers are talking to mirrors in thick Irish accents. Chris moves on to lift. A little old lady passes, oblivious to the fact that her shopping trolley is smouldering. The lady passes and Chris is about to enter.)

PA System: Will Mr Michael Ellis please go straight to the manager's office... I'll repeat that... (Chris wheels round and listens) Will Mr Nigel Mellish please go straight to the manager's office.

(Chris narrows his eyes suspiciously and gets into the lift cautiously. Cut to Chris Quinn's home...)

Continue to the next sketch... At Home With the Ant and Other Pets