Scripts He Wrote
My interest in the BBC as a possible target market developed from their 2004 End Of Story competition. I didn't get anywhere in it but it made me think about other things I could throw at them.
What else could I try? How different would it be to write a script rather than prose? I decided to give it a try. I know! I would write an episode of Dr Who. I would base it on a story featuring Isaac Newton (my interest in history coming to the fore again). I came up with what I thought was a clever little episode which involved some reference to actual events and which required a few special effects. Had I been aware of the BBC Writers' Room website at the time I would have known that they do not accept, or even bother to read, unsolicited scripts for existing programmes. Something to do with legal reasons and potential copyright problems. I did receive a nice letter from a member of the drama team explaining this.
On the face of it, this would appear to have been a complete waste of time but I don't regard any writing exercise as entirely fruitless. There is always some benefit to be gained. I look on it as an exercise in creativity combined with mental therapy.
As it happens, around about this time, I made friends with another aspiring writer. She had just written a murder mystery and was in the process of producing it with a local amateur drama group. I went along to watch the performance and was at once hooked. I already had a couple of ideas and immediately set about digging out my notes and preparing the script. On to the Writers' Room site for the BBC guidelines and address and off it went in the post. The thing about sending stuff to the Beeb is that within a few days you get a little postcard from them informing you that they have received your work. It even has the title of the piece typed on the address label so at least you know they've taken it out of the envelope and someone has taken the time to look at the top sheet. I bet Galton and Simpson didn't have to go through this but it makes you think that maybe there is a glimmer of hope there somewhere. Or is that just me being pathetic? There are probably hundreds of people doing exactly the same and getting their little postcards through the letterbox. After the excitement of the postcard it is actually several months before the rejection letter comes through the post. I was already prepared for this and immediately whisked off my next attempt.
Both of these first efforts were hour-long single dramas but for my third try I decided to have a go at a sitcom. I had just been made redundant from a local factory and had come across several interesting characters in my five years of working there. Their attributes ranged from humorous, bizarre, grotesque, eccentric, crusty, cynical and dim. I pitched my synopsis as breaking away from the standard domestic comedy and focussing on both the conflict and collaboration of management and workers in a working environment. Sound impressive huh? Apparently not according to Auntie Beeb. My postcard collection grows.
Not to be disheartened, I discovered on the internet a competition run by a renowned amateur theatre company. The requirement was for a one-act play lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Inspired by various TV ads, I soon came up with a little piece set around a supermarket checkout till. Intended to be a comedy drama, the action was based on the shooting of one of these advertisements and involved dialogue between the actors playing staff and customers as well as those playing the television production team. The plot incorporated a little twist at the end, delivered in the final line of the play. I called it Supermarket Creep, as a witty parody of the old Dale Winton programme, Supermarket Sweep (how do I think them up?). Over one hundred entries were received apparently from all over the world. I didn't make the top five but I still have the script on file, ready for any other similar competition. Nothing is ever wasted.
Another example of how things can develop is when I heard of a competition for a ten minute play. I came up with what I thought was a witty little thing, with a cast of two, about Hitler in a shop. But when I read it back it was barely three minutes long. Undaunted I thought it might make a decent comedy sketch so I tweaked it a little bit. Then I thought maybe it could be done with just one actor. Eventually I had ambitions for it to be done on radio, a bit like those one half of a conversation routines that Bob Newhart used to perform in the 1960s. It is still on file waiting till I have enough for a half-hour show.