To celebrate the life of for Writers' Guild President, Bill Ash, who died last month, we reprint a version of an article he wrote in 1999.
What enables writers in Britain to face the future in a changing world with some confidence? The answer is the continued existence of their own trade union of professional writers which is affiliated to the Trade Union Congress and which enjoys a relationship with writers’ unions in the United States and across the world – the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
The Writers’ Guild is not simply a voluntary association of writers in some particular field offering its members advice and encouragement for a nominal subscription fee. It is instead a group of highly committed professional writers of books, plays, film scripts, radio and television programmes willing to work for each others’ good in a closely ordered democratic framework complying with TUC rules, with earnings-related subscriptions, agreed mandates and disciplinary procedures and a regularly elected executive council.
It is the trade union character of the Guild which has empowered it, on behalf of writers of books, stage plays, film scripts, creative radio and television programmes, to negotiate officially with appropriate authorities in establishing minimum terms and acceptable conditions for the sale of all written works. It has also established for the benefit of writers such institutions as Public Lending Right which compensates authors for the loan of their books from public libraries and the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society which collects for authors copyright payments for the foreign use of their works.
By Nick Yapp
Bill Ash was a man of great charm and humour, soft-voiced and modest, and rock solid in his integrity. His political beliefs shone through all his extraordinary wartime adventures and through all that he did for the Guild, as a member of the Executive Committee for many years and as joint-chair from 1982 to 1983 and from 1995-1996. All his life, he battled for the causes he so passionately believed in, whether he was fighting against fascism in the 1940s, or against the chairman and governors of the City of Westminster College in the mid-1990s – the latter being responsible the shameful closing of the Soho Theatre after a prolonged and bitter struggle.
Bill was an outstanding champion of the Guild, the trade union that he loved and valued so highly. He was also an inspiring advocate of the causes for which the Guild fought. On the eve of the 2000 Millennium, he described the Writers’ Guild as a 'group of highly committed writers of books, plays, film scripts, radio and television programmes willing to work together for each other’s good'.
Perhaps, at this sad time for all those who worked with Bill, and in this revolutionary time for all writers, it would be appropriate to recall other words that he wrote for the Guild magazine, the Writers’ News, some 20 years ago: 'What enables writers in Britain to face the future in a changing world with some confidence? The continued existence of their own trade union of professional writers.' The message is timeless; the writer was unique.
On a personal note, Bill’s book How to Write Radio Drama is the best book about the craft of writing that I have ever read. It ought to be compulsory reading for every producer and commissioning editor, but I bet it isn’t.
Bill Ash's funeral will take place on Friday 9 May at 11.15am at West London Crematorium, Kensal Rise, London W10 5JS. A commemorative event will be held on Friday 16 May from 5.30pm to 9pm in central London. Further details will be announced later.
Read the Guardian obituary by Guild member Brendan Foley.
Free tickets still available for showcase at Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm next Friday 9th May, to celebrate the ‘best of British’ new writing for the stage.
Drawn from over 220 plays submitted nationwide, the Playwrights' Progress showcase features Imran Yusuf’s Westernization (pictured) and Kate Davidson’s The Ostrich. They are an exciting reflection of this unique script development project, promoted by the Writers’ Guild in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and Leicester Square Theatre.
So don’t miss this exclusive Guild promotion at this exciting central London venue. And book for free now via Leicester Square Theatre.
WESTERNIZATION by Imran Yusuf - A married couple in crisis takes a comic journey from East to West. Over one night of metaphysical flight and fantasy, they navigate a world of authority figures, taking in gender politics, gymnastics, green tea and God; they argue, fumble and dance a way through the fundamentals of their relationship. What on earth can they – or any of us - do when the ground beneath their feet is shifting at a rapid pace?
THE OSTRICH by Kate Davidson - Middle-aged banker Teddy gets a shock when he goes home for his mother’s birthday to find that her dementia has significantly deteriorated. With neither of his sisters able to pay for nursing care, Teddy must make the tough choice about whether to put his feisty mother into a home. In this witty and poignant family drama secrets come to light, but does Teddy face up to painful reality or keep digging his head further into the sand?
This showcase will be a staged reading, performed by actors of the highest calibre, largely drawn from Central’s alumni, as the culmination of a whole process of readings and workshops, which have been led by the distinguished directors Gwenda Hughes, Tim Trimingham Lee, Janette Smith & Grainne Byrne. And is the distillation of our eight chosen playwrights and their plays.
The performance will run no later than 5 pm, when the theatre bar will be open for refreshment.
This project is funded by Arts Council England and the Writers’ Foundation (UK) with further financial support from RCSSD & Leicester Square Theatre.
The Writers’ Guild and the BBC have reached agreement on a “loyalty bonus scheme” to ensure that writers on Doctors and other popular long-running series do not suffer swingeing pay cuts later this year.
The problem arose because a former 15% additional payment for iPlayer use and repeats on BBC3 and BBC4 has been ended in favour of generally better arrangements. Under a transitional arrangement, the payment was extended until July this year for Doctors, Casualty and Holby City, but will then disappear.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett explains the dilemma: “The trouble with ‘transitional’ arrangements is that they come to an end, and meanwhile it became clear that Doctors writers in particular are unlikely to benefit significantly either from the iPlayer or higher repeat fees on secondary channels.”
The Guild responded by organising a meeting of members and non-members from Doctors and arranged for a writer from the series to address the BBC negotiating forum. Email forums sounded the opinions of those who couldn’t attend and a united position was established. The BBC responded with an offer of new money through a “multi-episode bonus scheme” (MEBS).
It means that any writer who is commissioned to provide at least three episodes over a year will receive a 15% bonus payment on every script delivered in that year.
The Guild and its negotiating partner, the Personal Managers’ Association, pressed for further improvements, but the BBC rejected those suggestions.
Nevertheless, according to Corbett, the new scheme is “a positive development, and a life-saver for some writers whose earnings could have fallen off a cliff. We will monitor this carefully in its first year and will continue to press for a general uplift in the pay of LRS writers, particularly on Doctors, which looks to us like the lowest-paid continuing drama on UK network television.”
The BBC unilaterally offered to extend the scheme to Casualty and Holby City, which was welcomed by the Guild, although as those shows produce fewer episodes each year, a smaller number of writers will benefit. MEBS money is in addition to the Writers Digital Payments money from the use of iPlayer that will soon be coming on stream, and does not buy any further rights – it is a straight bonus.
In a separate development, writers on the Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm found themselves facing a substantial cut in earnings due to the cancellation of the Sunday omnibus and a cut from five to four episodes per week. As all Pobol y Cwm writers are Guild members, they were able to organise a strong and rapid response. The BBC has offered the Guild significant increases in episode fees and other improvements, and the offer is currently being considered by writers in Wales.
Corbett commented: “We are still in negotiations, but it is already clear that what would have been a huge blow to writers’ earnings will be substantially softened due to the united action of the writers on a 100% union show.”
The collective efforts of the Guild and the Doctors and Pobol y Cwm writers in confronting the BBC with a united front and a coherent, well-argued case have been crucial. Guild Television Committee chair Bill Armstrong says: “There is no reason that this should not work for other shows. The Guild continues its efforts to contact writers who aren’t members, identify their interests and help them to come together, organise and argue their case for better terms and conditions. We welcome any information – from members and non-members – that helps us help you.”
Mike Sharland remembers the actor, director, Guild member and playwright who co-wrote what was to become arguably the most famous British farce, No Sex Please, We're British, which holds the world record for the longest running farce in the history of the theatre.
Anthony Marriott, who has died aged 83 on 17 April 2014 after a long illness. He was born on 17 January 1931 in London, England. Tony was an actor, stage director and writer of over 32 plays. His first appearance as an actor was in Laburnham Grove at the Horsham Repertory Company in 1950. He then took part in various repertory seasons from 1951 to 1954 including Worthing, Warrington, Manchester Library Theatre, Dudley, Norwich, Yeovil and Salisbury.
From 1954-1956 he became a member of the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company starring in among others, The Journey Into Space series, and Dan Dare. He became a contract writer for the Rank Organisation working on Waltz Of The Toreadors, Gypsy and the Gentleman, Operation Amsterdam. For television, he was a story editor on the Ghost Squad series and he created and wrote BBC Radio’s Roundabout series.
I first met Tony during this period in the mid sixties. We shared offices in the basement of Associated London Scripts at the legendary 9 Orme Court where a great deal of the comedy for television, film and theatre was created by Spike Milligan, Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, Eric Sykes. Tony created with Roger Marshall Public Eye, starring Alfred Burke for ABC. He was also a contributing writer on series including The Avengers, No Hiding Place, This Man Craig, Fireball XL5.
Turning to the theatre, he wrote with Alistair Foot Uproar In The House, a farce which ran at the Garrick and Whitehall Theatres from 1967-1969. They followed this up with No Sex Please, We’re British, which starred Michael Crawford. It opened at the Strand Theatre in 1971, later transferring to the Garrick Theatre enjoying a sixteen and a half year run becoming on the way the world’s longest running farce. With Bob Grant he wrote Darling Mr. London, No Room For Love, Home Is Where Your Clothes Are, which is one of the most popular farces with amateur companies in North America.
No Sex Please, We’re British has to date seen productions in over 90 countries. It was always a disappointment to Tony that such a perfectly constructed farce was never taken up by the National Theatre. There have been no West End revivals of No Sex Please, We’re British as it was always difficult to cast and Tony knew that farce depended on the right casting.
Tony got together with another great comedy writer, John Chapman, and they produced Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England, which ran for a year and a half starring one of Britain’s finest comedy and classical actors, Donald Sinden. Due to the success of Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England, Tony wrote three more plays with John Chapman.
When he wasn’t writing, Tony served for 21 years as a Justice of the Peace in the West End Courts. Tony was a great supporter of writers and served on both the Council and the Theatre Committee of The Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. He brought a sharp eye and a great deal of commonsense to the meetings which always seemed to end in laughter.
Tony was married to Heulwen who pre deceased him in 1999. They had three children.
At the latest of the Guild's Off the Shelf events John Crace, writer and journalist, gave a riveting account of himself, both as author (Harry’s Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp and Vertigo: One Football Fan’s Fear of Success) and his famous Digested Reads, treating us to a stripped-down version of Wolf Hall and Howard’s End. These précised gems are becoming almost as well known as their originals, and it is the literary critic in him as well as the satirist that is at work.
He also gave us some interesting gen’ on his new assignment (following Richard Hoggart) as The Guardian’s Parliamentary sketch writer.
Telling a packed room about how an early fallow time in his life allowed his writing to develop, he emphasised the importance of reflective time in a writer’s life and how vital it was to have lived long enough for real experience to determine content.
Far from being in a hurry in his Digested Reads, he is actually producing distilled Haiku versions of these novels – most famously in Brideshead Abbreviated. This was a serious look at literature and the processes of writing and he fell into easy conversation with the room. We wish him well with his forthcoming publication I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (about politics).
Can you help?