One Christmas, when I was about 14 years old, my parents bought me a small CD and cassette player for my room. It wasn’t huge, just big enough to fit on my desk, but it was enough to sit with headphones on and listen to music whilst I wrote into the small hours of the night. It also came with a compilation CD of the very best of rock music which gave me my introduction to The Sex Pistols but that’s not what this blog post is about.
My Mum, who was aware I was writing a lot of comedy at the time, started to buy double cassette packs of old BBC radio comedy shows. Part of me thinks she was in the hope that her son would grow to appreciate what she found to be well crafted comedy, not resorting to ‘shouting and swearing’ in order to get laughs. I’d like to say I rebelled and stuffed the tapes in a corner somewhere never to be heard again. I would have had they not been so good and saw me, at 3am, listening and trying not to laugh too loud in order to wake up the house.
A hero of mine from this era would be Tony Hancock, one of the leading stars of the time and a man who was at the peak of his powers in the 50’s and 60’s. The scripts for Hancock’s Half Hour were written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and they alone were fantastic, the reality is that Hancock himself made them sparkle. His delivery, timing and facial expression were all top notch. His character in the show is probably the cornerstone of comedy, a man who has lofty ambitions way above his station but is very quickly brought crashing down to Earth. It’s done so well and with such panache that it’s still wonderful to watch today. Rather than me talk endlessly about it I’ll let you watch an episode of the TV version entitled ’12 Angry Men’.
During those nights of listening to the show I was amazed at the structure. There’s really no amazing set up to the show, it’s simply Hancock living with his lodgers in Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, a situation which he feels he’s far better than. It’s almost strangely simplistic compared to anything that’s on TV today which was probably the main point behind my Mum’s reasoning. It’s also part of the main reason I liked it so much. Without wishing to sound like some kind of comedy evangelist, there’s a skill on display here in not instantly reaching for dick jokes when the going gets rough. I soon spent many evenings listening to the rest of the episodes which always seemed to take an age to come out of official tapes, probably due to having to be dug up from the BBC archives beforehand. This was 1995 though, they’re all over Youtube and the like now.
Hancock himself was also the very embodiment of the phrase ‘tears of a clown’. Once he gained success he became deeply paranoid that it was his scriptwriters who were responsible and not him so he went out alone. Then he became afraid that it was his co-stars so he had them fired (including Sid James of Carry On fame). Tony Hancock ended up committing suicide whilst in Australia in 1968. His ability and his talent were seemingly obvious to everybody else but him, that in itself is tragic enough.
This Friday gone, I sat in the front row of the Green Room Bar and watched ‘An Evening Without Henry Barstow’ as it ended its three night run. I knew a few friends were going to be there that night and I was a little bit concerned that was going to be all. Not that I would mind sitting in a room with my friends but it would have felt strange that we were there watching more of my friends perform something I wrote. Attendance had been good on the opening night but then quieter the next night. When I got to the door I was greeted with a small crowd of theatregoers paying to get in. People I didn’t know were paying to get into the show, it sounds crazy but it pleased me no end. The bar downstairs was dimly lit ad playing the Neighbours theme song, all was well in the world. I did a quick headcount of the people in the room and counted thirteen, the maximum capacity was twenty eight. With the show due to start at 8pm the message was passed to upstairs that there were no seats left over and there were to be no more admissions. This news pleased me even more.
It went incredibly well, my worries about the story being a little bit repetitive (because it’s single scenes from Barstow productions of old one after the other) were dealt with by the cast very well. The story went along at a fair pace and the audience seemed to be well into it probably as a result of me starting the applause each and every time there was a natural break in the play. People always join in if somebody starts first I find.
The audience on the night seemed to enjoy it. I hadn’t told anybody who didn’t know already that I was the writer but it came up on introductions afterwards. A couple of people said that 45 minutes of light hearted comedy would be ideal for Edinburgh but before I dealt with any of that I’d have to rewrite it again to sharpen up the rougher bits and to include some of the jokes that were added by the cast during rehearsals (one of which was the ‘rogering Debbie McGee’ bit).
I’m unsure at this time if I should go back to it so soon, the run was a fantastic chance to see something I’d written being performed for public consumption. It takes you rapidly out of the small bubble you can sometimes find yourself in when writing, the belief that you are alone and will be the only person to read what’s in front of you. Many thanks to Lexie Ward, Michael Spencer and James Spark for reading, rehearsing and performing it and to anybody else who came down to watch it. I certainly learned a lot from the process which will be adapted for going forward.
The best part was that a few people were saying “We’re looking forward to the next one”. The good news is that the next one is already written and it’s part of Project Theatre which we’ll be kicking off over the next few nights.
An e-mail from the director of ‘Henry Barstow’ arrived late last night. The last rehearsal had been performed in front of a handful of people. Whilst they had a good laugh it was agreed that the ending fell flat and as a result the show petered out. Would it be possible to rewrite the ending?
Of course it’s possible, even at this late stage. Bear in mind that the show was originally due to be performed in May 2011 but got put back (far back) due to casting issues and the extra time gave me the golden opportunity to rewrite large chunks of the show and make it better. When I look back now I often think that it would have been a pretty lame show if it had been performed in its original form. Minor tweaking now is fine so the ending has been reworked in time for another rehearsal tomorrow. Essentially, I’ve taken out the lines in which the two sensible characters wanted to wrap it up whilst the obsessive in charge didn’t and replaced it with a few more gags.
The opening night, just in case you didn’t know, is a week tonight and whilst that’s brilliant I still can’t help but wonder what exactly comes after this. There is another project I currently have being worked on elsewhere, something that I’ve been trying to get off the ground since 2007 in fact, but there’s nothing really concrete just now to write home about that one. I spent most of the day yesterday sifting through various theatre companies to see if they took script submissions with the intention of putting ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ forward. It’s a very similar process to what I’ve done before with TV companies in the past.
To my surprise I’ve found that it’s much more receptive to new scripts than TV ever was. Most theatres have some kind of new writer programmes in place and aim to put on new shows, probably because it’s a cheap way of doing it and the risk is a lot lower. TV shows not only cost much more to make but also have to find somebody willing to broadcast it at the same time. I’ll be hawking around ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ in good time because the script is pretty much ready to be looked at to see what they’d want from any probably rewrite.
When I’ve blogged before about my writing efforts I always made an effort not to name any companies I was in contact with, I thought at the time this had to be surrounded in some kind of privacy lest the deal not come off and everybody ended up looking a little sheepish. This time around I’m thinking about throwing that idea out of the window and having a running list of people I’m in contact with . If they’re willing to have contact details on their website then they’re going to get a mention. A list shall be posted as soon as I’m done formatting the script.
You know the Spiderman story in which Peter Parker gets the black suit which expands his powers beyond all of Peter Parker’s dreams but turns him into a complete arrogant bastard? Well that was me when I got a microphone in my hand on a stage.
It was The Brickyard in Carlisle when I had a slightly unusual booking. It wasn’t for a outright comedy gig but for a dating auction. A group of film makers were trying to raise money for their latest project and their producer had the idea to get five single lads and five single girls together, organise dates and let people bid to go on those dates with them. They needed somebody to be auctioneer and, seeing as the producer was a long time friend of mine, I took the job. It remains the only gig I was ever given entrance music for. The wrestling fan in me knew this would be the closest I would get to entering a room full of people to music. For some reason they chose Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ which worked at the time.
I walked onstage with my leather jacket slung over one shoulder, went up to the mic which was set at the correct height seeing as it would just me me using it, grabbed it, mustered my sleaziest voice possible and said “Good evening lovers”. This might make it sound like I’d been drinking beforehand but I always made it a rule not to, I did every gig sober and drank afterwards. What followed was three hours of absolute mayhem, fueled by me being a pretty obnoxious swine to all involved. The first half had the lads up with the girls bidding. Upon noticing that this seemed like a far too heterosexual set of rules I suggested that any blokes who fancied the guys on show should just bid for them as well and we’d be done with it. I was greeted with five men suddenly getting really, really scared.
The bidding for the guys was slow and never really went above £20. The dates were drawn at random by each couple once the bidding was done. The local cinema had given two tickets to a film of the couple’s choice, an Italian restaurant had donated a voucher for a three course meal for two and the bowling alley had given away free games so it was good stuff they had lined up. The highlight of the bloke’s half was when one guy, who was fairly good looking in his own right, was gaining a lot of interest until he raised his arms and revealed massive sweat patches around his armpits. Bids for him stopped suddenly after that. When the girls went up for bids the place really went crazy. One girl got up on stage and twirled around a bit before telling me she wanted it mentioned in her intro that she was Spanish. I opened with “Here’s Lot Number 7 punters, she’s Spanish so imagine the possibility of blow jobs and paella”. Yes, I actually said that in front of an audience. No, I’m not proud. She actually ended up going for £275 which was quite a different set of circumstances for the small beer the lads had gone for. By the end of the night my throat killed, I was downing water just to carry on and I’d thrown the auctioneer’s hammer into the audience like a rock star would throw a guitar plectrum. The night had raised £1500 for the film, it ended up being something based on songs by The Manic Street Preachers.
The team making the film had apparently been of the opinion they’d be onto a good thing if they got £200 out of it. As far as the money return went the night had been a great success, as far as I’d gone personally it wasn’t mainly because I’d spent an evening winding up a crowd and seemingly getting away with it. In all seriousness I was shocked nobody punched me out there and then.
In the meantime I’d been asked to do a gig in Edinburgh, an event which would mean I’d spend the rest of my days saying the phrase ‘it wasn’t during the Fringe’ over and over again. In April 2003 I was due to support John Scott at The Pleasance Bar. The student paper (yes, them again) got a hold of it and I was interviewed by now Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton who was on the journalism course at the time. During this interview I made the fatal error of suggesting that it was a bit much for the paper’s resident opinion columnist to refer to Scotland as ‘Jockland’ in the last edition. As a result the whole thing was published as me being some kind of staunch SNP supporter based in Carlisle accusing the paper of being racist. It was published three pages away from the rubbish review of the Cafe Solo gig. It wasn’t a good news month really.
Edinburgh itself was terrible. Upon arrival my girlfriend and I couldn’t find the hotel so got a taxi outside Haymarket, the taxi driver bellowed that it was ‘just around the fucking corner’ and wanted to boot us out of his cab before taking us very begrudgingly towards our destination. The crowd at Pleasance Bar was minimal to say the least, a smattering of people lumped around the room. There was a small room at the back with photos of people who had performed there previously including a big one of Harry Hill which amazed me at the time. My set started with my eulogy for my dear departed Uncle Roderick and ended with me going searching for Saddam Hussein with two Americans in the audience. I was pretty obsessed with Iraq at the time for some reason, mainly because I thought I was the British Bill Hicks.
I was not.
Years passed by without me going back onto a stage, I graduated from college in 2004 and never really had an desire to do stand up again. I thought at the time that anger was the best thing to go into comedy with but I’d lost all that drive once I graduated. As a result I’d become slightly disillusioned with the whole thing and wanted to concentrate on writing for a career. Also, as previously detailed, I didn’t like the attitude performing live gave me. There was a certain arrogance that flowed when I was up there that had developed very quickly and terrified me when I thought back on it. When looking back I got the impression that, whilst it had been fun at times, I wasn’t that great at this stand up lark as I thought I’d been at the time. Sure I could hold an audience’s attention but my imagination didn’t work fast enough to keep the ammunition running. With that and the ‘evil microphone syndrome’ I was having a very minor version of Jekyll and Hyde going on. It was time for the evil one to die. He did have one last stand though, at Solfest 2006.
Alan Whittaker had asked me to do a short gig on the Drystone Stage which he put the bill together for. It was the first comedy gig I’d ever done when I was offered payment and my wife was pregnant so I thought it best to earn extra cash if I could. I’d been told that whilst it was a family festival they would be okay with ‘edgy humour’. In reality, upon walking on stage, the heavens opened meaning that pretty much everybody left the area leaving me to joke about Boy George’s cocaine habit with a bunch of seven year olds who had stuck around. These people had been entertained all afternoon by gentle folk musicians, they were suddenly greeted by shouting Scotsman. I stuck out like a sore thumb and was about as popular. I left the stage, walked past the tents and flags, got back to my car and drove home. The pay cheque arrived four weeks later. Back in Edinburgh John Scott had said ‘Get your money first’ and during the drive home I really regretted not heeding his advice. There were a few whispers afterwards of me being ‘misbooked’ meaning I was on the wrong stage at the wrong time but there wasn’t much we could do about it afterwards. The thought of standing up on a stage again to perform makes me cringe. Other comics make it look pretty effortless and one of my favourites, Stewart Lee, admits that he tries to lose audiences on purpose during gigs just so he can see if he can bring them back in.
I honestly wouldn’t have the skill to do that, I’m much more comfortable writing when I can edit and refine to a point which I know it’s ready for consumption. This isn’t to say I regret doing it, I’ve mentioned it in two job interviews since (and got both jobs) as it’s certainly something to stick on the CV and make a talking point. If you ever get the chance yourself then I’d recommend doing it as you never know what you’re going to be like until you get up and do it. It’s what I was like afterwards that was the only major concern.
Carlisle did not need a comedy night, Carlisle didn’t have any comedy clubs and the main venue in the city very rarely put on any comedy shows. Rather than see this as a kind of sign I saw it more as a challenge. I thought that way a lot more when I was 22.
Down the road from Cafe Sol sits Cafe Solo (opened by the same two guys originally, hence the similarity). Solo sits on the corner between The Crescent and Botchergate. For those not in the know about Carlisle’s extensive nightlife, Botchergate is the part of town that houses the larger Weatherspoons pubs, Walkabout and many other drinking establishments. As a general rule of thumb if you’re over the age of 22 and want a good night out without any trouble then you head towards the castle end of town. If you’re under 22, want to drink until you can no longer stand and enjoy shouting at police officers on a Saturday night then you head down to Botchergate. Solo escaped the bulk of it though being as it was right at the top but it did have a wonderful window onto the chaos outside. Sol was sold off so any comedy night I was trying to organise had to be done in Solo. I went on an intrepid adventure in promotions. I’d managed to get into the local paper beforehand to hype up the night by saying it had a very open mic policy. I’d discovered stand up comedy almost by accident and I wanted to see if anybody else wanted to follow me. There was an open call for people to walk up to the microphone and have a blast.
Nobody wanted to.
Well, nobody apart from my mate Adam who decided he’d try it out so his name was added to the bill. Also on was Alan Whittaker who is known locally as ‘The Wizard Marra‘. I’d met Alan at the last gig I had done with the coconut and wanted him along for the ride. I called the night ‘Has Anybody Seen My Iguana?’ because I’d been listening to The Breeders a lot at the time and fell in love with this song.
This did involve putting up posters around Carlisle that were adorned with a picture of an iguana and the word ‘MISSING’ across the top. Apparently staff in Cafe Solo were amused as one of the older visitors to the establishment had apparently suggested whoever put up the posters should look after their reptiles better. I had invited the local paper and the student newspaper to come down and cover the show. This was surely going to be a triumph.
It was anything but.
I was halfway on the walk to the venue when my girlfriend phoned me to tell me that Alan wasn’t going to make it due to illness. I’d spent the day thinking that Adam would do five minutes, I’d then do about twenty and then Alan would carry us through to the end with a headline set. Now I was stuck with an audience, a guy who had never done stand up before and myself on my third gig. I actually had a small prayer on the way hoping that nobody would turn up and we’d have minimal people to turn away at the door. The law of sod struck, we had a full house. I found myself faced with a harsh choice, especially since I’d charged £2 for a ticket. I had to either cancel altogether, give everybody their money and wish them well or we just went hell for leather with everything we had and at least put some kind of show on. After five minutes of soul searching we went for option B.
Adam did brilliantly for his first ever gig. He has a really goofy sense of humour which went down really well with the gathered crowd. Tragically I can’t remember much about his set because I was far too busy with my notebook in the corner trying to work out how to extend a twenty minute set into something a bit more substantial for the last slot of the night. By the time I hit the stage there was a certain feeling of unease, it felt like being led to the gallows.
Looking back, ten years later now, I still have no idea why I thought this was a good idea. Maybe it seemed like the noble option, perhaps I wanted to give people something to go home with. If I cancelled out this night on short notice, the opening night no less, then I’d have no hope of building any kind of all conquering comedy extravaganza in the frozen wastes of North Cumbria. Every single tiny idea I had in the notebook, most completely under developed, came out to play that night. If it came through my head at a moment’s notice then it came out my mouth three seconds later. It was around the time when Tony Blair was contemplating marching us into Iraq so I had a completely under researched section of Colin Powell’s evidence to NATO. It was taking the traditional, reactionary student line of not wanting any war and I remember calling him ‘Colin The Barbarian’ and comparing him to Arnie.
I also have a memory of bringing my Dad into it. At the time he was recovering from cancer and I’d been to visit him in the high dependency unit in Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary. There are many good shows that extract comedy from illness (‘Andre Vincent is Unwell‘ being one) but it’s usually the performer’s own. Here I was being a complete idiot by using my Dad’s struggle for the entertainment of an audience. Of all the sheer bollocks that streamed from my stupid mouth that night, that section is the one I regret the most. It was the first example I found of comedy turning me into, for want of a better phrase, a complete cock.
I actually waffled on for about an hour, towards the end my mic started to cut out which must have been a sign from the gods for me to shut the hell up. The audience streamed out towards Botchergate, probably with the feeling that being glassed by a knucklehead was preferable to listening to me for another five minutes. I was left, sitting on the stage, nursing a really sick feeling like I’d just ripped off an entire room full of people.
Matters got worse when the student paper printed their review of the show. It had been labelled a complete mess (which it was) but then the knife had been stuck in beyond all that. I realised that the guy who had came to review the show had sat at the furthest possible seat away from the stage with his back to it. He’d also reviewed Adam saying ‘it would have been nice to hear more from Adam Houghton’ without knowing that it was Adam’s first gig and he had nothing left in the tank beyond that. The bad review didn’t annoy me half as much as the fact the guy had no interest from the outset. I approached him the next day in the college canteen wanting to give him his £2 as he was supposed to get a ‘press ticket’. He visibly recoiled when I sat next to him and suggested that I ‘probably wanted to punch him now’. I didn’t but the fact he thought I would told its own story.
Has Anybody Seen My Iguana went back to Cafe Solo the next month, this time with Alan Whittaker performing in character as a 1960’s drop out. I did another set that night although nowhere near as long to about a quarter of the audience we had on opening night. My attempt to run a comedy night had lasted two months, I had no desire to organise another.
As a side note I’d like to say Carlisle did go on to have a very successful comedy night circa 2005 at The Brickyard Club on Fisher Street (note, it’s near the Castle with reference to what I said earlier) called ‘Don’t Mention The Floods’. There’s also an open mic night at The Source on Nelson Street which, whilst mainly music based, does apparently do some comedy. Also many mainstream comedy acts such as Ross Noble and Rhod Gilbert have played The Sands Centre so there is a growing appetite for live comedy now that wasn’t there in 2002.
Nobody told me that at the time.
I’ll write Part 3 of this sorry tale later which will no doubt take in Edinburgh and the field full of agitated hippies. It’s worth the wait I promise, if only because this is saving me hundreds on therapy.
With those words, spoken down a mobile phone whilst sitting in my student digs in 2002, my brief career as a stand up comic began. A local bar had set up a comedy gig which was being headlined by a local comic who had recently discovered the art. Whilst she was good to go it was decided she needed support acts. The gig organiser drank in the same bar that my flatmate worked at. My name came up in conversation as somebody who might be able to do it and when the phone call came I responded in a positive manner without having a great deal of actual positivity within me. I didn’t harbour any great desire to be a stand up comic in my youth which is an idea many people thought once I started doing it. I did not ‘perform’ in school to avoid being beat up as, regardless of how funny I was, I got beat up anyway. I did not enter stand up comedy because I had some kind of inner demon I had to do battle with. I did it because I fancied a go and I was young and dumb enough not to think about the consequences first.
I sat up late at night attempting to come up with something I could talk about for five minutes. A couple of years previously I had crashed my Mum’s car whilst driving from Carlisle to Gretna. Four cars were involved and nobody died (a key factor in using it as a source of comedy). It culminated in two Glaswegian handymen, whose van was at the front of this pile up, asking if I wanted a bag of Quavers a mere two minutes after impact. I was in a state of shock in my driver’s seat whilst they offered me cheese flavoured snacks. Plenty of other stuff happened too but the Quavers gag was pretty much what this was pinned on.
Cafe Sol in Carlisle was the scene of the crime (on Castle Street if you ever want to do the Cameron Phillips tour of Carlisle). Upon arrival I discovered that I wasn’t the only support act. There was another Mancunian student who was on the performing arts course at the time (so therefore used to stages, not like old Media Production me). He went first and opened his set with something along the lines of…
“Right, well…..shark attacks eh?”.
Out of context it sounds rubbish but, for some reason, he got a laugh out of it which was absolute fair play to him. I went up after and did the ‘car crash’ set. Let nobody tell you otherwise, the first thirty seconds of a stand up gig are the worst experience you can have as far as social interaction goes. You’re standing in front of all these people just hoping for some kind of level of acceptance. You’re hoping that the stuff you have lined up hits the mark because you’ve got nothing else. On that night, I got lucky because the build up to the Quavers gag went really well. I spoke at around a hundred words a second due to nerves but it made the performance more frantic. Once the first laugh ripples through the room then you’ve got something to build on and it feels fantastic. I was probably helped by the fact that I approached the mic stand to find it was set far too tall for me and I pretended to bang my forehead off it. Mics being set too high was a common theme throughout my short lived stand up career, I’m only 5 foot 6 in my trainers.
I got offstage to be greeted by a girl who pointed to her stomach and said “Your jokes made me warm right there” which I took as a positive even if she did seem steaming drunk. The main event came and went and we drank the night away, I went back to my room and sat up for a bit trying to wait out the adrenaline build up. It felt great, like something you can truly tick off the list of things you have to try in your life. Even to this day I can say yes to anybody who asks if I’ve tried stand up comedy. I’d made no money out of the gig but I had a great experience and proved to myself I could hang with it. I got invited back the month afterwards for more of the same and I, thinking I knew what was best, decided to write another set from scratch. Rather than attempt to improve on my set list from before I went for something completely different. My reasoning at the time was that I thought I’d be playing to pretty much the same audience so I needed something different. ‘Different’ became ‘random’ which gave rise to ‘weird’. It’s what became known by myself and my friends as ‘The Family Coconut Gig’.
Put simply, an elderly relative had decided to come up North to Scotland and present my Dad with a coconut. This was brought over by a family member who was fighting in the war and took it upon himself to keep a coconut he had found and bring it back to Britain. Obviously, in those days, it wasn’t a case of nipping down to Tesco to get such an item so this was held in great curiousity. By the time it had reached Gretna though it had become infested with various insects which aforementioned elderly relative was blissfully unaware of. My sister and I spent a whole afternoon trying to kill the bug with a variety of chemical sprays and powders. It was like Starship Troopers only much worse.
I took the coconut in a bag, produced it once I hit the stage and proceeded to talk about how it came to be in my possession and why generations of my family thought this was something worth holding onto. Once again it seemed to do okay, getting a few good laughs and hitting a few high notes. This was also the gig which featured my first heckler in the shape of a very drunk man who came in, walked to the front of the stage, raised his fist in the air and yelled “British Army!” before collapsing in a heap in the ground. He was something special indeed.
The first couple of gigs had me riding on a high cloud of wonderment. I had tackled stand up comedy and came out unscathed on the other side. I was considering a couple of offers with bookings and I was looking at going up to The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow. It was then, whilst waiting for some footage to render in my college edit suite one day, that I pondered what to do next.
‘What Carlisle really needs right now’ I thought to myself ‘is a comedy night’. The sad truth is that I seriously thought I was the guy to supply this. What followed including lost iguanas, a mini war with the student newspaper, an interview by now Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton, a theatre in Cockermouth, story telling wizards, bad jokes about cancer, a gig in Edinburgh and annoying a field full of hippies.
I’ve just finished my first piece of creative short story writing for about 12 years. Whilst I’ve written a fair few scripts in that time I haven’t really had the desire to return to anything like story writing, my first reaction to any new idea was to ask how it would pan out as a movie. There’s a local publication dedicated to writing from this area and I thought I’d try and get something in for their next issue, as an exercise to see if I could still write short fiction. The deadline is August 31st so if you live in Dumfries and Galloway and you fancy a crack at it then I’d get moving now. I’ve submitted a piece which actually has its roots in something I wrote whilst at school. It’s been shortened down a fair bit seeing as I only had 850 words to play with but I knew the pacing inside out so it was a safe bet as a testing ground to get the creative writing flow back after all these years.
It’s a sketch, little more than that which does have slight frustrations. A few years ago, back in college, I was doing a creative writing module as part of my course. We all had to write poems, recite them and receive feedback on what we had written. I went at it purely for laughs with something about everybody avoiding a Big Issue seller in Glasgow. My tutor, a man who I respect and admire greatly to this day, said that whilst it was good it felt a bit ‘poetry lite’. It might have irked me a bit at the time but I’ve come to realise exactly what he meant.
Comedy is really hard to get right but when it does go well, it’s pretty much unbeatable. This said however, it’s often the case that I’ll try and go down the funny route even when I’m trying to write dark drama or make a serious point. Whilst I never had to use comedy as a ‘defense mechanism’ in school to prevent bullying I do end up using it as a defense in my writing. Essentially, if I can lighten the mood then I try to but it’s mainly to avoid anything too bleak.
Hopefully, nobody at The Fankle will mind and it’ll be included as the curio it’s meant to be. I’ve decided to have a simple rule of not publishing any writing on this blog unless it’s been published elsewhere. It would be very easy just to stick it on this block without much thought and move on but that seems a little bit too self important and unregulated. If somebody else deems it worthy of publication then I’ll link it to them.
The story is called ‘Uncle Roger’ and I’ll know if it’s been accepted in the first week of September.
Towards the end of my college course in 2004 my regular writing partner and I had a few ideas floating around. One of which was a radio show in which each episode would be the final one in a fictional series. We were all set to run through almost every single genre possible and pick holes. We had convinced ourselves that this was a fantastic idea and worthy of being sent out to producers. This we did with gusto. The responses back were either a polite ‘We don’t feel this idea is for us’ or the deadly sound of silence. One particular letter broke the mould by actually giving us feedback, saying that there was no way such a project would get the green light when it was so disjointed. Nobody would have any emotional investment in the characters if they were changing every week. There would have to be some kind of link between them all. The idea was shelved and we carried on with all the other, game changing ideas we had come up with that would no doubt gain us fame and fortune.
We were young.
I’ve never really ditched any script idea fully in such a fashion that it’s completely forgotten. Ideas morph and alter and sometimes they are stripped for parts and used in new ideas. It took around six years for the link between episodes to be established. If all the episodes were by the same writer then at least that would give some identity to it. The radio script was rewritten quickly in 2010, the name of the writer was ‘Henry Barstow’ which was the name of a fictional Tory MP in Scotland from another abandoned script I wrote. In this script Barstow had become a scriptwriter so desperate for a break he almost kidnaps his first agent. I put him in Eastriggs, simply because it’s the town where my Mum grew up. The episodes rapidly became different (failed) productions in his not so great career. Then I saw a BBC show in which they had actors relive scripts from ‘Round The Horne’, a radio comedy show from the 1950’s featuring Kenneth Williams playing such characters as Rambling Sid Rumpo.
It’s a show my Mum introduced me to when I was young alongside The Goon Show and Hancock’s Half Hour (the radio listening habits of my Mum and I will probably be another blog post all together). This modern day TV return was quite simple, four old style BBC microphones on stage. I rewrote Henry Barstow as a stage play with the only three members of the Henry Barstow Appreciation Society reprising what they consider as some of his greatest work. Essentially it’s a sketch show going through different television and film genres with a cast engaged in constant bickering. Somebody who I used to work with was involved in Carlisle’s Green Room Theatre so it’s actually being performed this September (12th-14th). It won’t be in the theatre itself, more in the bar downstairs. I’ve written in the fact that Barstow was a drunkard in his later life, it seemed the apt thing to do considering the location.
If you’re in the area at the time then feel free to come along. Each performance has space for about 30 people so we have a a fair amount to shift. I’ll probably attend one of the performances under the guise of ‘nervous fellow in the corner with a notepad’.