Hi. My name’s Clive, and it’s been ten years since ‘Firefly’ got axed.

June is going to be a busy month for me; after two years a new Mervyn Stone Mystery is going to surface, this time on a shiny CD…

Image

…in which Mervyn is challenged to solve a murder, and comes face-to-face with Phyllis Trilby, the TV executive who cancelled his show in 1992.

Any fan of a Television programme that gets suddenly ripped from their screens will sympathise with the murderous rage this person inspires…

‘Cos it ain’t fair, is it?  We don’t want the story to ever end, and we never have.  The frustrated grinding of teeth from deprived fans are, ironically, over-familiar sequels from years past; it’s probably the distant ancestors of ‘Babylon 5’ fans who bullied Homer into recounting ‘The Odyssey’, that disappointing follow-up to the Iliad.

Queen Elizabeth used the force of her magisterial power to fight wars, kill catholics, and nudge Shakespeare into rolling out Falstaff one more time in a crowd-pleasing but ultimately unwelcome prequel.  In many ways she was the first ‘Star Wars’ fan.

(Apropos of nothing, are the ‘Star Wars’ prequels the most sophisticated textual joke ever played on a movie-going public?  The message in the films is ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, a cautionary motif that is contained both within the narrative of the story and the fact they exist at all.  Is the should-have-seen-that-coming impending doom visited on the Jedi actually a metaphor for the gullible optimism that fans deluded themselves that ‘this time round it’s not going to be a disaster’?)

Scheherazade saved her own life with the promise of ‘just one more story’.   Perhaps like many fans today, that Persian king might have looked back on his huge Scheherazade box set, and actually wondered if staying up red-eyed for a thousand and one nights was worth it, and he should have just chopped her head off and gone out to play football, or learned to play the piano, or something.

Writers pretend to share the fan’s rage, but secretly, we love it.  I’m sorry to tell you that, but yes, we do.  Joss Whedon may have popped his bottom lip out when ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dollhouse’ got the chop, but he’s a writer and writers are unsentimental bastards; his brain had finished with them the precise second they died, and already busy forming quips that could be delivered by buff men and women in spandex.  I’m sure the only reason why Chris Boucher regrets there was no ‘Blakes’ 7’series five is because then fans would not keep asking him WHAT THE F*CK HAPPENED NEXT?  because i’m sure he had no idea either.  He had the best thing that could ever happen to a writer.  He got to write a fantastic cliff-hanger and never had to resolve it.  As ‘Sherlock’ series three advances on us, and we are on the verge of what happened after that impossible ending, Steven Moffat  knows full well what a lucky bastard Chris was, because if the BBC pulled the plug after series two, Steven could still tantalise the viewers for years with ‘what could have happened’ anecdotes on chat shows, but he could have also powered down the macbook and gone to the pub.

We writers love it because it give us a feeling of power without having to do any work.  Someone has very helpfully taken our creations hostage on our behalf, put a gun against their head, and reminded the fans why they care about them.  And how much do fans care about them?  A lot more than the writer does.   We get bored much quicker than the audience, because we have to write the f*cking words.  Just look at Sherlock Holmes again; most of the time we just kill them off ourselves, Conan Doyle stylee, just to see if anyone cares anymore.  Marvel and DC comics do it every other week, to jolt some passion into their readers.  Shame they’ve done it far too many times and it doesn’t work anymore.

‘Stop the debrillilators boys, I’m calling Superman at 1992’

To this end, I have given ‘The Axeman Cometh’ a subheading of ‘Mervyn Stone’s Last Story’.  Modelled as it is on Agatha Christie’s ‘Curtain’, Poirot’s final bow, I am going to tantalise you and enrage with the possibility that this is the last you will ever hear from Mervyn Stone EVER again.

Of course it’s all rubbish, but you can’t blame a lazy writer for trying, can you?

‘The Axeman Cometh’ is available from here:

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-axeman-cometh-908

Advertisements

Tips for writers

Everyone else seems to be handing out tips for writers, so here are mine:

1. In hospitality, always go for the quiche first.  It’s always in demand.

2. When going for a meeting, if the producer has a picture of Clive Dunn in ‘Dad’s Army’ costume on his/her wall, leave immediately.

3. Be nice to all the lazy, stupid, thoughtless people you meet, for they will be kicked upstairs to be kings and queens of your world.

4. If someone says there ‘isn’t enough at stake’ in your script, smash the fire alarm and ring the police.

5. If they say they love the premise, they haven’t read beyond page 3.  If they say they hate the title, they haven’t read beyond page 1.

6. Never miss out apostrophes.  They don’t like it, and the unused ones wait above your head in the dark.

7. Whatever your script, whether it be comedy or drama, or a documentary about earthworms, the first line of your pitch should read:  ‘This show can best be described as ‘Mad Men’ meets ‘Only Fools and Horses”.

8. If a producer tells you to put a joke of theirs in the script, do it.

9. If an actor tells you to put a joke of theirs in the script, don’t bother.

10. If an actor asks you why his/her joke isn’t in the script, tell them you put it in the script but the producer told you to take it out again.

11. Don’t get drunk in hospitality and try chatting up the prettiest runner.  His/her body already belongs to whoever got him/her the job in the first place.

12. The writer’s theory of relativity states: If a writer is in a writer’s room doing bugger all work in relation to every other writer, chances are he/she is the relative of someone very important.

13. Don’t get drunk in hospitality and try to sell your idea for a ten-part spin-off series to the executive producer.  He/she is not there to socialise.  He/she is just waiting for the right moment to have sex with the runner in the BBC toilets.

Tony Blair’s dancing men.

Watching the excellent ‘Borgen’ last night reminded me of this…

The dance of Spin Doctors is a wondrous thing to watch; one of the most beautiful and terrifying things in the world, like killer whales fellating each other on icebergs, or silverback gorillas cuddling David Attenborough.

I’ve only ever seen it once close up.  I wish I’d brought my camera.  Or a net.

A few years back, Tony Blair had agreed to appear in a sketch for ‘Children in Need’, involving another version of himself, or to be more precise, Jon Culshaw in a wig.  As head writers for ‘Dead Ringers’ we were charged with writing a sketch showing, for the very first time, the two faces of Tony Blair (ahem).

I can’t remember the details of the sketch, but I’m sure it was going to be a frightfully fun wheeze where Blair would meet Blair, there would be some jokes about how to work out which one of the two was fake (ahem), the VT would end and we’d cut straight to some Estate Agents freezing their knackers off in a Cardiff football stadium and waggling a huge cheque, or something.

The Prime Minister’s office said that Blair was up for anything.  Anything, right chaps?  After all, it was for charity, and ver lickle children, dontcha know.

Another Tony Blair, yesterday.

We wrote a sketch, foolishly, naively, taking them at their word.  Now don’t get me wrong; we didn’t have Blair humping the body of John Smith while dressed in a Thatcherite hair-helmet and pearls, or anything like that.  We weren’t eejits and we wanted this to happen just as much as anyone – for ver lickle children, you understand.

The sketch was, by and large, respectful of the office of the Prime Minister; with one or two slightly cheeky lines that we thought would be the basis of negotiation.

And we were right.  The ‘up for anything’ pledge vanished as swiftly and as silently as a commitment to ban advertising in sport, and then the negotiations started.  This had to be taken out, that gag wasn’t acceptable, no to this joke, no to that joke…blah blah blah.  Or, if you’d rather, Blair Blair Blair.

We made the changes and sent it back.

Then there was an explosion of outrage from number ten!

Why?

Someone had LEAKED the fact that TB was going to be on CIN!

They raged.  They ranted.  They made poor Pudsey’s ears burn.  How dare the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation do this!  Deal off, old boy!  Not doing it now!  Not playing!  And that was it.  We were left on the floor trying to put our stuffing back in.

Now here’s the thing: I’m certain the ‘Children in Need’ office didn’t leak it.  The CIN people are the most honest, diligent, dedicated people you could find, and if there’s a condition of secrecy, they’d ruddy well keep it secret.  They’d kept far bigger secrets than this, and there has never been any leaking from them – apart from this incident, strangely enough.

We, on the other hand, weren’t the most honest, diligent, dedicated people you find, but why would we leak the fact that Tony Blair was on Children In Need, when we’re in the process of writing a sketch that would work MUCH MUCH better if the fact that Tony Blair on Children in Need was a big, big surprise?

Of course there was a third possibility; another bunch of people who could have leaked it, and of course we realised when, after the project was pronounced deader than Harriet Harman’s eyes, they came back to us three days later with an ‘all right then, we’ve had a think, and even though you’ve been very naughty, we’ll do it, but this time we’ll do it right, and this time YOU’LL do it right’.

We realised we were being played; there seemed a distinct whiff that some well-groomed haircut had sat down at a mahogany desk, and thought silkily to himself, as he played with a silver letter opener with his long manicured fingers: ‘Okay.  So if we leak it, we get publicity for being nice for ver lickle children, we blame someone else so we don’t look crass in advertising the fact, and blame the EVIL BBC so we get leverage in the forthcoming negotiations of how brilliant Tony is going to look in this sketch.’

It felt like we’d got on a tube for a nice ride to somewhere fun, but found ourselves sitting on someone else’s discarded McDonald’s wrappers.  This was not our world.  This was not the dance we expected to dance; we didn’t have this problem when Adrian Chiles came on the show, for crying out loud…

So we danced the dance, and did our rewrites and then thought, once again, foolishly and naively, that this was the end of the matter.  And it was.

…Until the day of the recording.

Because Spin Doctors love to dance, and the music hadn’t stopped just yet.

The day of the recording was a complete ambush.  Jon Culshaw turned up on the set, only to find that Blair’s spin-doctors had ‘had a bit of a think’ and had written THEIR OWN sketch, to be performed instead of ours.

Of course Jon stood his corner.  Not only had he not rehearsed this sketch, stuffed into his hands with a nanosecond’s notice, he had a huge loyalty to the Dead Ringers team and the writers, and resented the way the whole thing had been handled.  Did these number ten functionaries think they were comedians all of a sudden? (ahem)  So up brewed a fight, an argument so synthetic you could have served it up to me in 1978 instead of Bird’s angel delight and Puffa Puffa Rice, and I would have choked on the E numbers.

And in amidst this artificial spat strode Tony Blair, the peacemaker in chief.

HI!

He was very charming, and he didn’t know what this was all about, and was sure there was some sort of mistake somewhere, and he was sure that he could sort something out.  And they did.

Of course, to create a ‘third way’, both sketches got discarded, and replaced with a little bit of nothingness, and then Blair went on to do the speech he wanted to make all along, with Jon standing on the sidelines.  To Jon’s enormous credit he didn’t take it lying down, and kept spontaneously interrupting the speech with helpful ‘coaching tips’ for the real Blair, telling the Prime Minister when to say ‘in a very real sense’.

It was the funniest thing about the piece, in a very real sense.

So that’s how they dealt with one charity sketch.  God knows how they behaved when they came across anything resembling a policy.  No one begrudges a political party a means to present themselves in the right light; but using spin-doctors as a political tool is like using a tin opener to stir soup.  They have only one job; and they approach that job the same way every time.  They brief against, they run whispering campaigns, they find leverage, they ambush, they trample over everything in their rush to create the ‘right’ image, and leave behind them a fine inedible paste which you would only feed to toddlers.

They dance.