Jeremy joins a television writing course in the hope of turning his sitcom idea into a money-spinnerby Jeremy Clarke / July 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
There were 16 of us, plus the two visiting tutors, holed up for a week in an isolated 12th-century thatched farmhouse in north Devon. Miles from anywhere. No television, no radio, no traffic noise; just birdsong and the wind in the trees. Now and then a sleepy-eyed local woman came and dumped a pile of groceries on the kitchen table and disappeared again; otherwise we didn’t see a soul. The only permanent residents were a pair of identical grey cats, whom we deferred to as our hosts.
The course was called Writing TV Comedy, and the tutors were experts in their particular fields. One, a short, Jewish man wearing an obvious cherry-coloured wig, specialised in “gag” and sketch writing. The other, a florid Yorkshireman, had progressed from writing pornography to Z Cars scripts, before achieving critical acclaim with a succession of gentle, northern-based situation comedies. The two of them took it in turns to lecture us in the barn, and while they lectured and we listened, nesting house martins swooped and skimmed over our heads.
The man in the wig lectured in the morning, the Yorkshireman in the afternoon. I preferred the man in the wig. His approach to the process of comedy writing was a wonderfully pragmatic one, in which salesmanship was much more important than “creativity.” He taught us how to bluff our way past a television producer’s secretary to sell our ideas direct to the boss. This was worth the cost of the course in itself.
Then he gave us examples of the type of one-liners that television comedy producers were looking for: “The hotel we stayed in was so posh, room service was ex-directory,” was one. “Did you hear about the chicken who was stopped for speeding? He had his licence hendorsed,” was another.
If we could think of a few one-liners like that, he said, we should send them to a television producer friend of his who was looking for new material-but they must be translatable into Welsh.
As well as teaching us how to write and sell gags, the gag-writing tutor had a great fund of show-biz anecdotes. He knew everybody in the business, and was on first-name terms with all of the comedy “greats.” “Benny? He was a sweet, sweet guy.” “Tony? What a tragedy. So sad. Did you know, it was written into his contract that there had to be five…