I recently wrote a pilot episode for a sitcom and had someone take a look at it. The guy has worked on several television programmes and once had his own series back in the early nineties so he knows what he's talking about. He filled four pages of A4 with his comments telling me that the basic idea was good and it was funny but that it needed a lot of work. I've almost finished the rework and it got me thinking about classic comedies. Was the writing as good as we think?
Now I'm not going to question the undisputable talent of the likes of Galton and Simpson, Croft and Perry, Eric Chappell etc. But would their shows have enjoyed the longevity without the comic geniuses that starred in them?
My particular favourites are Dad's Army and Rising Damp and they still make me laugh. But when I watch them now for the millionth time I begin to wonder whether the script is really all that funny. Is it just the brilliant comedy actors that are turning poor jokes into pants-wetting crackers? In other words – is it the way they tell 'em? And just because someone has had a successful series are they allowed to get away with substandard stuff the next time? Because there have been a few turkeys on the telly lately.
I personally think Leonard Rossiter was in a league of his own and could probably make the telephone directory sound funny. So where does that leave us budding John Sullivans? We can't approach the BBC and say 'I know this script is crap but get David Jason and Julie Walters in it and it'll be a BAFTA winner'. For us unknowns I suppose we just have to try and make the first few pages catch the attention of the reader so that they are encouraged to read on and give us a chance. Just one chance... just a little bit of encouragement... please... the blokes down the pub think I'm funny... my mum says I was always making people laugh...