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Paul Bassett Davies on his new sitcom Reception, and the ongoing appeal of radio
Morwenna Banks, Adrian Scarborough and Amit Shah - stars of Reception, written by Paul Bassett Davies
People who say they don't listen to radio are like people who claim they never pay attention to advertising. They're probably absorbing more than they think, and you'd have to live in a hut on a remote island to avoid hearing any radio at all. But the hut would need to be sturdy enough to never require the attention of builders.
What those people mean, of course, is that they don't make a point of listening to radio. Maybe, like the man who once read a book and didn't like it, they once heard a radio play they didn't think much of. Which can happen. Hundreds of plays a year are broadcast on BBC radio, and if all of them were to your taste it would probably mean you didn’t have any. But if earnest dramas about social issues aren't your cup of artisanal tea, it's quite possible that the following day you could hear a sci-fi thriller that exploits the medium's extraordinary imaginative potential to mind-bending effect. You never know.
I've written several radio dramas, and now I've written a radio sitcom called Reception, which is currently being broadcast on Mondays at 11.30am on BBC Radio 4. It's my second foray into radio sitcom: over twenty years ago I co-wrote a sitcom with Jeremy Hardy, which I also performed in. The first series was called Unnatural Acts, then the name was changed to At Home With The Hardys. The show was both a sitcom and a pastiche of a sitcom, in the same way that The Young Ones was, on television. Listening to it now, it seems pretty hit-and-miss. Some of it holds up well, and some of it makes me cringe. I wonder with hindsight whether I should have learned more about writing a conventional sitcom before attempting to subvert the genre. Tellingly, the show's playful surrealism works best when it's firmly rooted in character and story. In some ways Reception reflects this lesson: character is at its heart; it obeys the formal rules of the genre, and it attempts to combine the restrictions of the format with the unique qualities of radio to create a series of intimate stories about friendship in the workplace. Does it succeed? The audience will decide that.
The Writers’ Guild and members of seven other unions will be forming a human chain in front of London’s National Gallery on 18 September to call on government to protect arts and culture funding. The event is being organised by Lost Arts, an affiliation of eight unions whose members have all been affected by cuts to the arts.
Since 2010, the overall budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been cut by a third. This has meant a drastic reduction in subsidies and grants to museums, theatres, libraries and other cultural bodies, and led to closures, staffing cuts and reduced access for the public. Local arts and culture is also suffering because of £124 million arts cuts in the department's 2013-14 budgeted expenditure for local government.
The government continues to make cuts to arts and culture and ignore its true value. For every £1 invested in arts and culture, up to £6 is generated for the local economy. Arts and culture costs just 14p per person per week. It is directly responsible for at least £865m of spending by tourists every year. Creative industries employ 2.5 million people and 78% of adults attended or participated in the arts in the last year.
Show your support:
Join the human chain in front of the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London at 6pm on Wednesday 18 September.
Tweet your support for arts funding using #LinkUpForArt
Say you’re going on the Facebook event page and spread the word.
Next Guild literary event - 16 September in London
The next Writers' Guild Off the Shelf event at Black's in Soho is a special day with Unthank Books and its writers. Guild members and othersd are invited to hear readings by the chosen authors, followed by a delicious two-course lunch at Blacks members’ club in London’s Soho. The featured writers are: lecturer in creative writing at the Open University Ashley Stokes (Touching the starfish, Unthank’s launch publication, and The Syllabus of Errors); musician, editor and writer Nick Sweeney (Laikonik Express), and writer and lecturer in creative writing in the North West of England Sarah Dobbs (Killing Daniel).
Unthank Books was launched in early 2010 in response to what it saw as a “particularly egregious spell of awful or no literary fiction being published by the mainstream houses and its concomitant deleterious effect on aspiring literary authors”. Since then, it has published 15 books, including its annual Unthology of shorter prose, twice-staged UnLit, The Unthank Literary Festival, and delivered numerous courses in poetry, prose and screenwriting through the Unthank School of Writing.
11am-2.30pm, 16 September
Blacks, 67 Dean Street, Soho, London
Price: £25 (includes two-course lunch, tea/coffee)
The Writers' Guild stall at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 19 Augiust was a great success, with a stream of enquiries from established and emerging playwrights.
The Guild would like to thank Fin Kennedy, Scottish rep Julie Ann Thomason and Daphne Hamilton (pictured from left), as well as Ali Rutherford, for helping to run the stall.
Fin also launched the voting stage of his In Battalions Delphi study at the Fringe.
A Delphi study is a consultation process with experts in their field, in response to a study question. The question in this instance was: "In what ways can theatres, theatre-makers and the Arts Council work together to protect risk-taking on new work and new talent, without creating significant extra expense?";
Fin is urging writers to take part in his online survey on responses to this question. Please note that you have until Friday 20 September to complete the survey.
Deborah Espect on writing and making her award-winning short film, Dog Day
Bella Emberg in Dog Day (Copyright Georgie Angless)
I love writing because it allows me to dwell in a solitary comfort zone. But I’ve never studied how to write, so I’ve never learnt about structure; and when I start a new project I don’t have a plan. Sometimes I picture a character and a situation they end up in; then a scene develops and from there I have a story. I go on a journey with the characters and, like them, I don’t know what comes next almost until it happens. Sometimes the journey doesn’t work, or the character gets stuck and I have to start again. I encounter this quite a lot when writing plays.
Dog Day was going to be a completely different film to what it is now. I had just watched London To Brighton and Fish Tank, and I really wanted to write about a real woman in today’s England. This in itself was nothing new or original, but so much has already been written about everything that, for me, it’s always been more about what I do with an idea than the idea itself.
Dog Day was going to see our protagonist, a 30-something woman, take her young children to the zoo. There wouldn’t have been much dialogue, other than when she’d tell her kids off for trying to jump off a fence to touch an animal, or when she’d have to explain that the toys they wanted in the souvenir shop were too expensive. The lack of words would have represented her relentless solitude. But I wasn’t particularly confident with that set up.
The thought of working with children was rather daunting for someone as inexperienced in the film industry as me, and shooting in a zoo presented all sorts of logistical problems. So, instead, I decided that my 30-something woman would be visiting her mum in Brighton, on her 70th birthday. Again, the script didn’t contain much dialogue, because the two women just didn’t know how to communicate with each other. Instead, there were a lot of awkward silences and frustrated faces.
Martin Day on nine years of writing for Doctors
I’ve been writing for Doctors, BBC One’s daytime serial-drama-not-soap-unless-we’re-up-for-the-UK-Soap-Awards, for a little over nine year. I’ve never been a contract writer, guaranteed a certain number of commissions, but even so have managed to write 13 episodes in that time. That’s about one every eight months (maths never was my strong point). Or, to put it another way, each one was like a baby in script form (neither was biology).
So it’s pretty obvious that there are far better writers than me out there, who have written more episodes of various soaps and dramas, much more quickly. Still, with the creative life being as precarious as it is, I remain grateful for these ports in the freelance storm. And, however you slice and dice it, nine years is quite a long time to devote to anything. I’ve watched pretty much every episode during that time. I’ve lived with the characters almost as much as I’ve shared time and insight with friends and family. I’m used to writing for it. Never confident, but I think I have some sort of understanding.
It’s got me thinking about what benefits can come from such a longstanding commitment to a single series. First off, let’s look at this selfishly, from my perspective as a jobbing writer. I think I’ve learned a bit about writing in general, and scriptwriting in particular. I’ve always considered myself a slow learner (you should read my first TV tie-in novel… On second thoughts, no, really, don’t – it’s like a black hole of compacted awfulness). So I can confidently state, hand on heart, that I’m better (or less bad) than I was. Usually less ‘on the nose’, often crisper. I’m better at getting to the point, and getting out again. I know when to do subtle, and when to state the bleedin’ obvious. (This is TV, not Chekhov.)
I’ve even reached that stage where sometimes I hear a script editorial voice at the back of my mind warning me of the heffalump trap I’m just about to blunder into. Much better to avoid said traps than to ignore the shouted warning and desperately reposition yourself on the map later.