William Gallagher on what to write between the dialogue
Alan Plater used to read my scripts and you know that he was tremendously useful, you know he was kind. But let me say it anyway: he was terrifically useful and he was really kind, most especially on the very first one. The Strawberry Thief – I still like the title – got the full Plater treatment in the 1990s and I've remembered every word he wrote me.
The key part, I think, was what you'd now call a praise sandwich or at least a criticism with a bit of a praise topping. He told me that my stage directions had regularly made him laugh aloud, but that my job was to get that life and humour into the dialogue instead. Because, after all, the audience never sees the stage descriptions.
I also remember that when I next did a script, his key comment was that I'd done this, I'd got the energy into where it could be seen. He said it was 'a great step for writer-kind'.
I've only recently realised quite how much he shaped me in how I write descriptions in scripts. I'm a dialogue man, I'm a dialogue fan, that's where I would've said I put my attention and effort and – however much it is – my talent. No, I'm hesitating over that word. Can I go again? I'm a dialogue fan, that's where I would've said I put my attention and effort and – however fast it is – my typing.
But I wrote a book about Alan's The Beiderbecke Affair and he has great descriptions in there. What's more, he wrote them with a very canny eye toward getting cast and crew to read them where usually they, well, don't.
'That’s right, actors don’t,' said James Bolam in my book. 'You go yeah, yeah, but his you read. I mean, his stage directions are worth a read in themselves. They’re so funny, some of them, and they’re so evocative. They create the mood that he wants, that he feels, that he thinks. They’re all done in the same way, not sort of stuck in there but part of the narrative.'
He also had a way of writing just the right amount. He'd conjure that mood in a very short line and sometimes they'd be funny, always they'd be efficient: you'd get his point immediately and you'd enjoy getting it. So – again, I'm ripping off my own book here, but – take this for an example of apparently simple, short, description. It's from The Beiderbecke Affair:
SC. 11 EXT. TREVOR'S FLAT – NIGHT
Establishing shot of Trevor's flat. The cityscape of Leeds, lights shining like it was LA.
Mary Macarthur was an active trade unionist who fought for ‘tired working women’ who had no hope of respite or of a holiday.
The Mary Macarthur Holiday Trust aims to provide help to those women in need of a break by reason of age; poverty; infirmity; disablement; social or economic circumstances.
The Trust provides financial help towards the cost of a holiday and tries to help as many women as possible each year. Therefore the maximum available for any holiday is normally £350.00, although this may be increased very slightly in exceptional circumstances.
If you know someone who might be eligible for help, please visit the Mary Macarthur Holiday Trust website
‘In Battalions’ authors launch British theatre’s first ever Delphi study
A study has been launched to try to find innovative ways in which British theatres can protect risk-taking on developing new work for the stage, despite Government cuts.
The study is being undertaken by playwright Fin Kennedy and Oxford University doctoral research student Helen Campbell Pickford. The pair recently co-authored In Battalions, a report into how Government cuts were affecting new British playwriting. It showed that Government cuts were creating a climate of fear and instability in the theatre sector, with venues having to cancel productions, produce fewer new plays, commission fewer writers, and cancel a whole host of creative research and development - with disastrous consequences for the next generation of talent.
When Culture Minister Ed Vaizey failed to respond to the report, over 60 of theatre’s highest profile names – including Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Tom Stoppard – wrote to the Minister urging him to take the report seriously. Mr Vaizey did then respond, but dismissed the report’s findings, saying 't is easy to highlight fears and concerns'.
Fin Kennedy said: 'It looks like Ed Vaizey isn’t going to help us solve this problem, so the theatre industry is going to have to do this on its own. Where In Battalions revealed a problem, this study is about finding solutions, together.
'A Delphi study is a research process recognised by the civil service, which helps collate expert opinion on a specialist subject. We’re going to be soliciting ideas from professional theatre-makers across the UK for how we can work together, with the Arts Council, to protect risk-taking on new talent, despite the cuts. We’re looking for practical, imaginative and inexpensive ideas. The results of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review are being announced next month, and all the signs are that arts and culture are going to be badly hit yet again.
'We need to come up with ways to protect our ability to innovate, and nurture the next generation of talent. If we don’t, then it could seriously affect our output in years to come – and as my report showed, theatre is the training base for so many other sectors, so this will end up affecting film, TV and radio too. We have to act before it is too late.'
All theatre industry professionals with experience in developing new writing are invited to take part. Further details can be found on Kennedy’s blog: www.finkennedy.blogspot.com
Jill Hyem recalls writing alongside Anne Valery, who died earlier this month
I first met Anne on the BBC TV series Angels which was about a group of student nurses. It was my first television job and an early one of hers. The six writers had been called for a photo call. Five of us arrived looking apprehensive and dressed as we thought serious writers should be dressed. Rather drably. Suddenly a glamorous figure sailed in wearing white and what looked like an Ascot hat. Enter Anne Valery.
Little did I know then that in a few years she and I would be co-writers on the 1980s series Tenko. We worked closely together for almost five years. Anne was one of the most eccentric people I've ever met. She had a very colourful backgound and regaled everyone with extravagant stories of her past adventures. I once worked out that had she done all the things she claimed to have done she would have been about 105. But that didn't matter. She was such a marvellous raconteur.
We always wrote separately but spent endless days together researching or spending weekends at her mother's cottage in the country discussing the characters and storylines nonstop. I had given up smoking shortly before, with the help of hypnosis. Anne used to puff smoke into my face all day, seemingly unaware of my streaming eyes and continual snuffling. We both felt strongly about the feminist aspects of the series and frequently presented a united front against the entirely male production team who often tried to soften or censor things they felt women would not say or do. Having been in the ATS Anne could more than vouch for the authenticity of their language.
During the last series the BBC paid for us both to go out to Singapore while they were filming there. Unfortunately the producer would only let us remain at the company hotel for a week and refused to let us prolong our stay at the Beeb's expense. So Anne and I went and chatted up the manager at Raffles and ended up with a free suite each. However we maliciously told the producer that we had met a very kind lady in China Town who had offered us a room with red lights outside. The poor man nearly had a fit. We had so many laughs along the way, as well as fights.
Anne was flamboyant, funny, fierce, fantastical and enfuriating. I shall never forget her.
An obituary by Nick Yapp
The actress and writer Anne Valery, who has recently died, was a long-time member of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and a key player in the Guild’s unending fight to protect writers from censorship in all its forms.
Her acting career began in 1949 with modest parts in several British films, including that of Clothilde (the girl in the punt) in the Ealing Comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets. Over the next ten years she appeared in nine films and two BBC TV Series (BBC’s Sunday-Night Theatre and The Vise). As a writer, her credits included Emmerdale, Crossroads, Angels, Crown Court and, most significantly, Tenko, for which she and fellow Guild member Jill Hyem wrote the bulk of the 30 episodes.
Every decade involves the Guild in at least one battle against censorship, and a Censorship Appeals Committee became part of the Guild’s armoury from its inception in 1962. There were regular protestations from both the BBC and ITA that they were not in favour of censorship. ‘In the normal sense of the word,’ wrote Huw Wheldon (Controller, Programmes, BBC Television in the late 1960s), ‘there is no censorship in BBC Television.’ But Mary Whitehouse had her followers and her friends within the industry, and an attitude of ‘we know best’ was adopted by many producers and commissioning editors. The Guild Censorship Committee was kept busy.
Valery was Chair of the Guild Censorship Committee in the 1990s, at a time when battle was joined on the issue of quotas in the film and television industries. In an article for Writers’ Newsletter, then the Guild’s journal, Valery argued that contemporary writers for British films and television were facing a threat similar to that created by the Cinematograph Films Bill in 1937 – the Bill that led to the creation of the Screen Writers’ Association, the direct ancestor of the Guild. Failure of the British government to withstand US pressure after WW2 had resulted in an almost complete annihilation of the British film industry. Valery believed the threat had returned, some 50 years later. ‘Already,’ she wrote, ‘the US has swamped our television drama slots with programmes undercutting all others. They dominate satellite television; control BskyB and five national newspapers, provide over 90% of videos; and are taking over our publishing houses… Even radio is not immune…’ In Valery’s opinion, the only way to counter this threat was to follow the European example – the EU had recently directed member states to ensure that at least 51% of programmes transmitted by their television stations was of European origin.
Thatcher did not accept Valery’s view, and that particular battle was lost. But all of us, as members of the Guild today, are grateful to Valery for the role that she played and the work she did on the Guild’s behalf in that particular battle and on a day-by-day basis. There is no Guild Censorship Committee at the moment. It lapses from time to time, but is regularly reformed as and when it is needed. The fight goes on.
Nick Yapp is the author of the Writers' Guild official history, The Write Stuff
The Writers’ Guild Wales is hosting a television screenwriting event with top screenwriters and producers. Come and hear the professionals talk about how they made it in the industry and what drives them onwards and upwards. Q& A session to follow. The speakers include writers Rob Gittins, Debbie Moon and James Moran and producers Philip Trethowan (Touchpaper TV) and Nikki Wilson (BBC).
Date: 13 June3-8pm,
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Admission: free to Members, £10 non-members, £10 at the door
Refreshments provided. Places limited to 50
More information and bookings: http://writersguildwales.eventbrite.com