Tag Archives: TV

Lessons from Ken Dodd

Image from RuddyMuddy on Twitter

Phil: I can’t claim to have been one of the late Sir Ken Dodd’s showbiz friends, but I did meet him a couple of times while working at a local theatre.

Once, while minding the stage door at some time past midnight, he came off stage and pointed at my shoes.

“Crikey”, he said, “Those are fine feet, are you a policeman?”

I replied that I wasn’t to which he added, “Well, you know what they say about blokes with big feet…” and then swept off to his dressing room with a chuckle.

The amazing thing about Ken (never Mr Dodd) was that he’d arrive at the venue looking every bit of his 80 years. A small, quiet old man.

Yet the moment he got on stage, he came alive. The Ken in my anecdote was buzzing, almost as though there was electricity flying off him. This was after a 6-hour show too.

So, lesson 1 – If you are doing something you really love, you’ll never feel better or more alive.

In all the tributes, it’s been said by many people who you never knew when a Ken Dodd show would finish. The rumour was that every night management would have to haul him off the stage so the staff could go home.

This is a good story, but not strictly accurate.  Yes, the performances would go on a long while. No other act gave a longer show, but the staff knew when he would finish. Usually 1am on the first night, 12:30 on the second. Hidden from the audience in the wings was a clock which Ken kept an eye on.

Lesson 2 – If you want to be good at something, you need a professional attitude.

Ken didn’t just hang around telling jokes until he got bored. He honed his act through the study of comedy. Learning to play an audience, he only kept the jokes that got a laugh. Yes, material stayed in the act for many, many years – but only if the audience enjoyed it. In many ways, this is just like editing a novel. You take out anything that doesn’t add to the reader’s enjoyment. After a while, you are left with pure gold.

Legend is an over-used term, but it’s appropriate here. There will never be another Doddy, but if you aspire to his status, you better put the work in like he did.

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Who looks after the writers?

Phil: I’m starting to worry about our burgeoning careers as humourous novelists. I’m worried that we might be invited to work in television and I’m not sure I like the idea very much any more.

Reading Paul Merton’s autobiography “Only when I laugh”, he describes working on a TV show (and I can’t work out which one despite 20 minutes leafing through the book again) where there was a script. Being a writer himself, he trotted off at one point to thank the scriptwriters for their efforts. He finds them shut away in a little room hidden down a corridor. They are surprised as none of the previous hosts has bothered to pay them a visit.

This compounded the best TV I saw over the festive period.

Eric, Ernie and Me, tells the story of how Eddie Braben essentially created the popular duo Morecambe and Wise.

Lured away from working for Ken Dodd, he saved the pair from being nothing more than a footnote in entertainment history by changing their act dramatically. Basically, what you see on TV is Eddie’s work. And if the drama is to be believed, they didn’t always appreciate his work, at least in the early days.

For his efforts, he got two bouts of “nervous exhaustion” thanks to the stress of single-handily writing the most popular TV shows of the period. The audience demanded Morecambe and Wise and Eddie was the only one who could deliver.

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. I know I need a deadline to produce work, but I also know how I fall apart when the deadlines are continuous and never-ending. At least I have a friend to share the burden and commiserate when times are tough. And someone who appreciates the effort.

She still nicks bits of my cake though…

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Do TV adaptions kill book sales?

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Phil: As I watched the final episode of Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling, I wondered about the sales of the book it’s based on.

Obviously, JK Rowling (writing as Robery Galbraith) isn’t worried about the royalties, but I’d certainly be interested to see how the sales fare. Surely, most of the joy of any whodunnit is trying to work out who the criminal is, and once you’ve seen it on telly then the secret is blown. OK, you might still enjoy the read but part of your brain is always going to be shouting, “The butler did it!” as the characters bumble arnound trying to solve the crime.

Or does knowledge of the outcome allow you to get on and enjoy the story?

(Note to broadcasters – This isn’t an issue for Kate vs the Dirtboffins, there’s loads more to the book than the whosdoingit aspect, which is why any adaption will be so succesful the other channels will just switch off to save electricity. Please start the bidding war for rights now.)

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Look after your anoraks

AnorakPhil: I’ve been enjoying a bit of catch-up TV recently. I missed out on the BBC show The Detectorists when it first aired, but am nearly at the end of series 1 and looking forward to series 2.

The series revolves around Andy and Lance, two metal detector enthusiasts and their group of friends. What I like most about it is that while the main characters could easily have been figures of fun, they aren’t. In many ways the plots are conventional but built around people’s hobby rather than job. In fact, like most people, their jobs are utterly mundane and merit hardly any attention. Life is lived outside working hours.

Better still, they get to show skill and knowledge, such as Andy knowing exactly how long bones survive in the soil when explaining how a recently discovered skeleton couldn’t be Saxon.

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times summed it up when he wrote, “Like the ordinary lives it magnifies, Detectorists has the air of seeming to be small and immense at once, to be about hardly anything and almost everything. It is full of space and packed with life.”

Now, you might conclude that I like the show because I’m a bit of an anorak myself. While I have no desire to find bits of metal buried in fields, I do get why this might be interesting to do. There’s nothing wrong with it (OK, archeologists, pipe down) and I’m sure that there is a lot more skill required than waiting for your machine to go ping.

I like the idea that people who it would be easy to turn into the butt of jokes get to be the heroes. Heck, they both have attractive partners and Lance drives a TR7 so living the dream!

Bringing this back to our books, one of my character to look after is Kelvin, our man from IT. He’s a bit of a nerd as befits his role in the firm, but that doesn’t mean he is any sort of joke. Yes, there are a couple of (realistically) embarrassing moments along the way but when you read Kate vs the Navy (out soon!) you’ll find that Kelvin is a bit of a star.

Tracey might say, “Yeah. Kelvin. You know. Bad clothes. Can’t talk to girls. Always there when you need something on your computer fixed.”, but it turns out she was wrong. Very wrong.

 

 

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The 100 – challenging TV

Logo of the 100.jpg

Candice: I’ve quite got into a TV programme recently.  Its on its third season, as they would say in the States, and I totally missed season one, but I’m currently playing catch up.

What is it about?  Well the premise is 97 years on from a nuclear war, 100 juvenile delinquents are sent back to the Earth from their home in space to find out if it is habitable.  Of course, many things ensue as they find that not everyone was killed and the world has turned into a dog eat dog (or in some cases, human eat human) world.

Into season three and everyone from the ‘Ark’ space station is now on the Earth, but they are locked in battle with the ‘grounders’, those who survived on the ground and are back in more medieval times. We are also now finding out more about how the war actually began.

So far, not that different from other post apocalyptic shows.  However, what I like about this one (apart from the gratuitous shots of Ricky Whittle’s chest, yes the one from HollyOaks!) is that you never know what is going to happen next.

In most of these long running American shows, in each episode the main characters end up in a situation where they might die and then, through a number of twist and turns, they live another day.  With The 100, sometimes they don’t.  I’m not sure how much is writer choice and how much is the way that TV shows are going (I believe Game of Thrones is similar) but it leads to a much more interesting show as you really don’t know if they will survive or not.

I have to say I am hooked, I watched three episodes the other night as I had some time to myself and by the end I’m not sure I can wait for the next one. (especially as I’ve just found out another character dies… I won’t tell you who, but let us just say there will be less abs in the world).

I’m not sure how this would work in a book, as you need to stay engaged with your character from start to end. This works as there are so many main characters that loosing one means you don’t loose interest, you just grab on to another character.

Give it a go, it’s certainly worth a watch.

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Dickensian characters

DickensianPhil: Bit of a catch up post this time. I’ve been meaning to write about the BBC TV series Dickensian for some time but all the book stuff got in the way.

I’m not big on TV series as a rule. Years ago, everyone in the office I worked in was watching “Heroes“. We enjoyed it right up until the end when the plot fell apart and great disappointment ensued. Since then, I’ve never really bothered keeping up with telly stuff.

In the run up to Christmas the BBC heavily advertised their new show. The idea was to take a cast of mostly minor characters from Charles Dickens stories, stick them in a small area of London and off we go.

Dickens aficionados were doubtless horrified but I suspect the man himself would have been perfectly happy. He knew how to write popular stuff. Stores were serialised in print with readers eagerly buying each issue as it appeared.

I had an advantage in that apart from “A Christmas Carol”, I don’t know many of the original works at all. I could enjoy the characters unsullied by notions that someone was ruining a well-loved original story.

Even the first gripping storyline, who killed Jacob Marley, didn’t annoy me. In the book, Marley dies in his bed but here he is murdered by the docks. Does it matter? Not a huge amount. This is almost fan fiction. Suspend disbelief and just let the story move on. At least there is the splendid Inspector Bucket, “Of the detective” and the only actor other than Alistair Sim to make a decent job (in my mind) of playing Scrooge.

Actually, you had to like this because the first episode was full of people who all looked a bit the same but once the Whodunit thread clicked then it was easy to concentrate on it while gradually learning about the other characters. Very clever writing drawing you into what could have been a complicated set of plots without the viewer noticing.

Taking characters written by another author and using them in your own story is surely a compliment. I’d be dead chuffed to find Kate & Co. turning up in stories we hadn’t written. This will take a few books and perhaps the first feature film to happen – after all you need to be immersed in the world of KOD first.

On-line reviews of Dickensain have been largely positive. Professional review were less kind but these were usually written by someone desperate to show that they had read the books and could only accept a pure approach. Me, I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend you look out for repeats or DVDs to binge watch.

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The joy of being published

The Dead Dog DayPhil: I’m not quite sure how I ended up following Jackie Kabler on Twitter. Probably something to do with her having appeared on Midlands Today, my local BBC news service and home to much more interesting presenters than the national news. Remind me to tell you the story about how I shared a canteen with Nick Owen years ago…

Anyway, I’m browsing the Twitterspehere and spot a tweet along the lines of “I’ve got a book deal!”.

This is followed over the next few months by lots more Tweets conveying the excitement of the whole process through edits and re-writes.

The Dead Dog Day is set in a TV newsroom with lead character Cora Baxter being a breakfast TV reporter. If anyone wants an object lesson in writing what you know, here it is.

Regular readers of this blog will now expect me to go off on one about people from the telly getting published when the rest of us struggle, but not this time. It might be years spent as a journalist, but Jackie brilliantly manages to express the excitement any of us wannabe authors would feel to see our words in print.

Truth is, none of us really think we are going to be as rich as Rowling with any book deal, although we wouldn’t mind, we just want to share the story that fell out of our heads. It’s not about the money, the dream is a book with our name on it. Maybe an appearance at a literary festival and some mild PR work but basically, to be in a position where lots of people want to know about a world that existed exclusively in our imaginations until someone else decided they loved it as much as we do.

What I love is seeing someone so giddy with pleasure at making it into print. Admittedly, I’d like the someones to be me and Candice, but that’s only a matter of time. For the moment, it’s fun to enjoy the highs (get deal) and lows (got to write the sequels to a deadline) vicariously.

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