Recipes

Chris Tarrant Affair

Chris Tarrant Affair
Chris Tarrant Affair

Chris Tarrant Affair: “This is extremely civilised!” the elder statesman of light entertainment exclaims. “I’m so much part of the furniture now. It’s just: ‘Hello, Chris. All good, mate.’ The traditional still remains ‘phone a friend’. I had three this morning. ‘All right, Chris, phone a pal! Phone a friend!, PHONE A FRIEND!’,” he shouts in a variety of cartoon voices.

If he wasn’t Chris Tarrant and he came across him on the street, would he welcome him with that catchphrase? “I’d like to believe I wouldn’t, because it’s really crude. It’s happening every day for 20 years now.”

We escape to a neighboring motel for coffee. Tarrant used to be everywhere on TV and radio. But nowadays he is semi-retired, suffering a stroke on a plane four years ago. He has been roaming the globe creating movies, however, and now he is back with a very un-Tarrant-like documentary on the trains of the Holocaust. Despite the characteristic chirpy voice, it makes for sad, uncomfortable watching.

Chris Tarrant Affair
Chris Tarrant Affair

“Without the rails, the Holocaust wouldn’t have occurred. I don’t genuinely believe the second world war would have occurred without them,” he argues. The program depicts how the trains brought Germans to Hitler’s enormous rallies in the early days of his administration. As Hitler pursued his Final Solution, there is the horrible picture of Jews being packed onto cattle vehicles and driven to extermination camps.

The experiences of the two Jewish survivors are especially punishing. There is Arek Hersh, who was transported to Auschwitz aged 11 and escaped only because he said he was 17; he was thrown into the queue for slave work rather than the death chambers. He ate grass and the leather off his shoe to avoid himself from starving. Then there is Helga Weiss, who at the age of 12 was taken to Terezín, where she watched seven boys forced to dig their own graves and then executed for the crime of writing to their parents.

Chris Tarrant Affair
Chris Tarrant Affair

Tarrant claims he has experienced nightmares since producing the documentary. “They are virtually exclusively about the gas chambers. The claustrophobia and the terror and the screaming. The scrapes on the wall were 8ft high. I questioned how could they scratch so high, and I was informed that they would be climbing over dead or dying people trying frantically to get some air.” He comes to a halt. “Can you image the screaming? When I got out, I thought I was going to puke up.”

Does he typically suffer nightmares? “No, seldom ever.” He is not often prone to dread, or uncertainty. At 72, he is still a beast of a guy – 6ft 2in, broad-shouldered, big hands, legs like sequoias.

Tarrant is preoccupied with war and trains. The fixation dates back to his father, Basil, who died in 2005. Tarrant has frequently stated his father, a working-class youngster who became an army major, then a prosperous businessman, was his greatest friend; they drank and played together and spoke about everything – except his war memories.