Ambridge floods: WGGB exclusive event

on Monday, 09 March 2015 10:31. Posted in Events

It wasn’t just an unexpected storm that hit The Archers in recent episodes, when the River Am burst its banks, residents were evacuated from homes and farmers battled to save livestock.

The BBC was inundated by complaints from viewers, who took exception to the background rain noise and the live, rolling news updates and real-time blogging which accompanied the week-long storyline.

For some, the high drama was just too much. One listener said: “I thought the acting sounded good last night but the storyline was too stressful. Bring back the Jam and Jerusalem.”

The controversial episodes were written by our very own Tim Stimpson, WGGB member and Deputy Chair. He bravely decided to step out from behind the storm clouds to chair a special event on the flood storyline for the Writers’ Guild West Midlands branch (which took place on March 25 2015 at BBC West Midlands in Birmingham).

Joining him were Archers editor Sean O’Connor, agricultural editor Graham Harvey and Pip Archer herself, Daisy Badger.

Kay Mellor honoured by Writers’ Guild

on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 09:58. Posted in Events

The award was presented by Sally Wainwright for Outstanding Contribution to Writing

Kay Mellor and Sally Wainwright

Kay Mellor receives her award from Sally Wainwright (left) Photo (WGGB/Guy Cragoe)

"This year’s recipient of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing is the prolific talent behind some of the most powerful, engaging and successful British television dramas of the last 20 years.

"She’s worked in film, theatre and television, and has excelled not only as a writer, but also as a director, as an actor, and as a chief exec running her own production company. The variety of her talents is formidable. She is that rare, enviable, inspiring combination of a born storyteller and a real player: someone who truly knows how to make television, and the kind of television that people really want to watch.

"One of the biggest indicators of the quality of a script is the talent it attracts, and here the list is just as you’d expect: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Alison Steadman, Suranne Jones, Hermione Norris, Ray Winstone, Julie Walters, Geraldine James, James Nesbitt, James Corden, Samantha Morton, Billie Piper. And that’s just one or two.

"She predominantly writes about the female experience, exploring subjects like childbirth, obesity, love, relationships, money, power and sex, with candour, insight, warmth, clarity and humour. There’s always something new to learn from any one of her scripts: even when you think you’re in familiar territory, there’s always something deeper, darker, funnier round the corner. Whether it’s a story line, or a new way of telling a story, she writes about the vagaries of life and human relationships with complexity and compassion. And her final message is always positive, life-affirming, uplifting.

"Kay Mellor started her professional career 30 years ago. She’d set up her own theatre company – the Yorkshire Theatre Company – and was touring a play – Climbing Out – which she’d written, directed and was acting in, and which I was lucky enough to see when I was a student at York University. I met her in the bar afterwards and said, 'I want to do what you do', and Kay said 'Well do it, just do it'. She didn’t say this flippantly, she meant it. To be in Kay’s orbit is to be blessed and energised by her absolute passion for drama and her belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to.

"I met Kay a number of years later at Granada. By that time, she was in the process of writing the groundbreaking Band of Gold for which, amongst other things, she was to go on and receive the 1997 Dennis Potter Screenwriting Award for outstanding writing. At the same time she was showrunning an afternoon drama called Families, she was also showrunning and writing the latest series of the phenomenally popular and successful Children’s Ward, she was developing Just Us (another wonderfully rich, beautifully written children’s drama, which she was also to star in), and she was in post-production on her first film Girls’ Night.

"Ever since then, I’ve never known Kay to be doing less than about 15 things at once. The level of her involvement with everything she was doing at that time – above and beyond the fact she’d created (as well as was writing) all those shows I’ve just mentioned – was staggering. Her clarity of purpose, her punishing work ethic, her energy, her perfectionism, her passion and excitement for creating drama is – it seems to me – as innate as her talent.

"The other great thing that defines Kay is her boundless generosity towards up-and-coming writers. Her commitment not just to her own writing, but to writing. I am forever indebted to Kay for the time and trouble she took with me at that early stage in my career. She was selfless and kind and not just willing but eager to share her insight and knowledge.

"Kay was and is one of those rare people who always tells you something brilliant that you didn’t know. One of the greatest things Kay ever told me was – typically – very simple, but endlessly useful: 'Be bold'. It’s wonderful advice. It’s in my head every day when I sit down to write. As writers we often worry about second-guessing what other people want, and that’s pointless and we all know it is, but we don’t always have the courage to act on it, and to trust our own instincts. Kay gave me the courage to do exactly that. And she didn’t just mean with what you write, either. She also meant when you’re dealing with those people we’ve all come across who think they know more about your writing than you do. Directors, producers, executives. Kay taught me to stand up for what I wanted, whatever they thought they wanted.

"So thanks for that Kay, that’s got me into a right load of trouble over the years.

"Since those days at Granada, she has delighted and inspired us with a dazzling catalogue of original work: Playing the Field, Some Kind of Life, Gold, A Good Thief, The Chase, Between the Sheets, Gifted, Fat Friends, Strictly Confidential, The Syndicate, In the Club. Plus an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and her films, Girls’ Night, the delightful, beautifully shot Fanny & Elvis, and her stage plays Queen, and the uplifting – literally uplifting – A Passionate Woman, which has been staged across the globe.

"True to form – in tireless fashion – she is as we speak right in the middle of directing the third series of The Syndicate as well as writing a second series of In the Club, and she’s probably juggling about 36 other projects as well whilst taking phone calls from Steven Spielberg at the same time. She probably hasn’t really got time to be here tonight, but I’m delighted to say she is, and I’m delighted to be the one that’s been asked to say…

"…that the recipient of this year’s Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing…

is Kay Mellor."

William Ash (1917-2014) remembered by Brendan Foley

on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 11:10. Posted in Events

The following speech was given at the Writers’ Guild Awards 2014 ceremony


William Ash (left) with Brendan Foley

"Even in the Age of Tweets, it’s hard to sum up 96 years in five minutes, never mind the remarkable life of my friend and co-author Bill Ash. But here goes.

"Born at the same time as the Russian Revolution, a fact he never accepted as coincidence, by the age of six Bill was already fighting playground battles against bullies in Dallas, Texas. He was once goaded by older boys, some as old as seven, to fight his best friend. When his pal burst into tears, Bill turned around and clocked his largest tormentor. He was of course battered in return, but his path in life was set.

"Growing up in Texas and New Mexico, by the age of eight he had a mentor, George Coe, a whiskery old-timer with an index finger missing. He’d had it shot off in a gunfight when he rode with Billy the Kid and our Bill inherited his love of storytelling and adventure.

"He grew up in the hungry 1930s in genteel poverty, “not so much white collar as frayed collar” he once said. But he managed to put himself through the University of Texas at Austin, including his first publishing venture, a Who’s Who of students with the only qualification for entry being the student’s ability to give Bill Ash three dollars.

"After college Bill ended up as a hobo, riding the rails in search of work. He briefly got a job as an elevator boy in a bank where he bumped into a former professor who asked if his employers knew he had an arts degree, with the highest honours. “Yes, said Bill, “but they’ve agreed to overlook it.”

"Then came the war and Bill replaced his cattle car with a Spitfire courtesy of the Royal Canadian Airforce. His US citizenship was revoked for joining up while America was still neutral. His arrival in England in 1941 started a lifelong love affair with his adopted country, and a few love affairs of a more traditional nature as he and his fellow pilots partied in Blitz-torn London at night and risked their lives for us over the English Channel by day.

"In early 1942 Bill’s luck ran out and he was blown out of the sky over the Pas-de-Calais. Losing altitude, his engine on fire, he turned his beloved Spitfire towards his enemies, but his guns were dead. As the enemy guns blazed he found himself closing his eyes, pressing the gun button and shouting “Bang! Bang!”

"He crash-landed, escaped and made it to Paris with the help of the Resistance, but there he was captured and tortured by the Gestapo. When they said they would shoot him unless he gave them the name of one French person who helped him, he shopped his French teacher back in Texas. He was saved from the Gestapo by the Luftwaffe who put him in the Great Escape camp Stalag Luft III. He thanked them by escaping 13 times over three years, events told in our book Under the Wire.

"His frequent trips to Solitary when recaptured made him the real-life Cooler King, and though he liked the movie The Great Escape he complained “In real life there was never a motorcycle around when I needed one”. Unlike Steve McQueen he spent his time in the Cooler not with a baseball and glove, but writing his first novel on scraps of paper while on bread and water punishment. And we complain about writer’s block… When he had finally finished, a guard came in and tore it into shreds of confetti in front of him. Bill was never a fan of censorship. He was however, a big fan of freedom.

"After the war he became an unusual combination of an MBE for his escaping activities and a Marxist because of all he had seen of fascism, exploitation and inequality. He had what he liked to call a ‘reverse career trajectory’ at the BBC, starting as their top man in India and retiring as a freelance script reader in the radio drama department. But if his battles and politics didn’t please his bosses, his kindness and willingness to help fellow writers made sure that every time he was booted out he was smuggled back in by former colleagues. He once met a former BBC Chair of Governors who asked him “Aren’t you Bill Ash and didn’t we fire you years ago?” Bill exited the elevator with a smile – “Close, but no cigar.”

"He poured his enforced spare time into writing, ranging from his seminal The Way to Write Radio Drama, to political novels such as But My Fist is Free and The Longest Way Round, described by Anthony Burgess as the work of "a very considerable novelist". Most sold modestly and he joked that future collectors would battle to find a “rare unsigned copy”. He edited the newspaper of his party the CPB (M-L) and he played a pivotal role in the fight to save the Soho Theatre. He was active in the Writers’ Guild and became Co-chair on two occasions in the 1980s and 1990s where, as always, he encouraged a new generation. He was a driving force behind the introduction of Candidate Membership. He was devoted to the children of his first marriage, Juliet and Francis, and to Ranjana, the love of his life.

"My five minutes is up. William Ash: hobo, fighter pilot, escape-artist, revolutionary and, above all, writer. The WGGB salutes you."

Brendan Foley is a writer, producer and director and member of WGGB.


Writers’ Guild Awards: winners announced

on Monday, 19 January 2015 22:06. Posted in Events

Kay Mellor is honoured for outstanding contribution to writing, while writers receive awards across 13 categories

Kay Mellor

Left to right: Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor, Sandi Toksvig

Writer, presenter, comedian, actress and producer Sandi Toksvig presented the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain annual Awards at RIBA, in London, on the evening of Monday 19 January 2015.

 “Writers are too often the unsung heroes of all forms of entertainment and how great to sing their praises this evening,” she said.

In her welcome speech, Writers’ Guild President Olivia Hetreed highlighted the crucial role of the writer in preserving freedom of speech and said, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, that "for us the greatest danger to freedom of speech is not the terrible but rare gun-toting fanatic, or the inevitable reaction that to protect our freedom we need more surveillance, more curtailment of our freedom… The real threat is in this room. 

"In self-censorship, second-guessing, anxiety not to offend, not to upset… The pen is mightier than the sword but only if we are prepared to wield it with courage and are able to find commissioners, producers, publishers, theatre management brave and tenacious enough to support difficult, daring work."

She also paid tribute to the success of the Guild in campaigning against proposed cuts to the Welsh-language soap Pobol y Cwm in 2014, and praised the “show of unity by the writers”, who had stood shoulder-to-shoulder and proved that “our Guild, when supported by all, can achieve excellent terms and conditions for its members.”

Olivia Hetreed

WGGB President Olivia Hetreed                 

An Outstanding Contribution to Writing award was presented to screenwriter, producer and actress Kay Mellor, whose many credits include Fat Friends, Jane Eyre, Band of Gold and Girls’ Night. Writer, producer and director Sally Wainwright, who presented the award, paid tribute to her as the “prolific talent behind some of the most powerful, engaging and successful British television dramas of the last 20 years… To be in Kay’s orbit is to be blessed and energised by her absolute passion for drama and her belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to.” (Read Sally Wainwright's full speech.)

Accepting the award, Kay Mellor said how recognition of writers had improved since she started in the industry. “When I first ventured on to the set I was told to sit in the corner and not talk to the actors… but I think writers have come out of the corner and there is a realisation that we are not people to be frightened of… our passion can be infectious, and cause brilliance.” She also said she believed that British drama “is in a really good place” and that we are “living in a golden age”.

A special tribute was also made to Writers’ Guild member William Ash, who died on 26 April 2014 and who was the inspiration behind Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape (1963). Writer, producer, director and fellow Writers’ Guild member Brendan Foley, who co-wrote the bestselling memoir Under the Wire with William Ash, said: “Unlike Steve McQueen, he spent his time in the cooler, not with a baseball and glove, but writing his first novel on scraps of paper while on bread and water punishment.” (Read Brendan Foley's full speech.)

Presenters of individual awards included writer Caitlin Moran, actress Louise Jameson, comedian Nick Revell and writer-director Sally El Hosaini.

Writers Guild Awards RIBA

The full list of winners follows:

Best Long Form TV Drama
Winner: Happy Valley by Sally Wainwright
Shortlisted: Line of Duty by Jed Mercurio, Peaky Blinders by Steven Knight

Best Short Form TV Drama
Winner: Marvellous by Peter Bowker
Shortlisted: The Great Train Robbery by Chris Chibnall, Turks & Caicos by David Hare

Best Long Running TV Series
Winner: Holby City, “Self Control” by Rebecca Wojciechowski
Shortlisted: Doctors, “Silver on the Hearth” by Toby Walton, Doctors, “Boiling Point” by Dale Overton

Best TV Situation Comedy
Winner: Him and Her by Stefan Golaszewski
Shortlisted: Up the Women by Jessica Hynes, House of Fools by Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer

Best Children’s TV Episode
Winner: Bing: “Bye Bye” by Denise Cassar & the Bing Writing Team
Shortlisted: Wizards Versus Aliens, “The Thirteenth Floor Part 2” by Phil Ford, Strange Hill High, “MCDXX Men” by Mark Oswin & James Griffiths

Best Radio Drama
Winner: A Night Visitor by Stephanie Jacob
Shortlisted: Magpie by Lee Mattinson, Dangerous Visions, “The Bee Maker” by Anita Sullivan

Best Radio Comedy
Winner: The Brig Society by Marcus Brigstocke with Jeremy Salsby, Toby Davies, Nick Doody, Dan Tetsell & Steve Punt
Shortlisted: Helen Keen’s It is Rocket Science by Helen Keen & Miriam Underhill, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme by John Finnemore

Best First Novel
Winner: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Shortlisted: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, Barbarians by Tim Glencross

Best Writing in a Video Game
Winner: 80 Days by Meg Jayanth
Shortlisted: A Machine for Pigs by Dan Pinchbeck, Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark by Kevin Beimers

Best First Screenplay
Winner: Starred Up by Jonathan Asser
Shortlisted: Pride by Stephen Beresford, The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard

Best Screenplay
Winner: Metro Manila by Sean Ellis & Frank E Flowers
Shortlisted: Filth by Jon S Baird, Philomena by Jeff Pope & Steve Coogan

Best Play
Winner: James I by Rona Munro
Shortlisted: Visitors by Barney Norris, Dr Scroggy’s War by Howard Brenton

Best Play for Young Audiences
Winner: Girls Like That by Evan Placey
Shortlisted: Minotaur by Kevin Dyer, The Boy Who Cried Wolf by Mike Kenny

Outstanding Contribution to Writing
Kay Mellor

Sandi Toksvig

WGGB Awards host Sandi Toksvig

The Writers’ Guild Awards 2014 were sponsored by BBC Writersroom, BBC Worldwide, ITV Studios and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.

The Awards, which launched in 1961, give professional writers from across Great Britain the opportunity to honour their peers, and celebrate the importance of writing to the creative industries, both nationally and abroad. They also recognise the importance of the Guild’s work in preserving freedom of speech.

High-profile winners have included Danny Boyle, Emma Thompson, Richard Curtis, Jo Brand, Jimmy McGovern, Victoria Wood and James Corden.

A full list of previous winners is available on the IMDb website

A full gallery of photos is on our Facebook page (all photos: WGGB/Guy Cragoe)

Best Childrens TV Award 14

Low pay and no pay unite writers, actors and musicians in Parliament

on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 10:24. Posted in Events

Stark statistics on wages for those working in the creative and entertainment industries were outlined at a Performers’ Alliance House of Commons reception on 9 December 2014.

Kerry McCarthy MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, whose member unions include the Writers’ Guild, Equity and the Musicians’ Union, also drew attention to the increasing practice of asking musicians, actors and writers to work for free.

In her introductory speech, in the House of Commons Strangers’ Dining Room, she highlighted that:

  • The Writers’ Guild Free is NOT an Option survey last year found that 87% of TV writers had experienced a significant increase in the amount and kinds of work they had been asked to do for free.
  • Research from the Musicians’ Union showed that more than half of professional musicians work for less than £20,000 per year, and that 60% had worked for free over the previous year.
  • A survey conducted by Equity last year found that virtually half of actors earned under £5,000 per year and 86% less than £20,000 per year.

Other issues affecting all three unions’ members included a “triple whammy” of arts funding cuts – at a national and local level, plus greater difficulty getting funding outside London.

The need for more effective equality monitoring, and diversity across the creative industries, was also highlighted.

Members from all three unions take part in this annual event, which gives them the opportunity to lobby MPs, peers and ministers on individual issues. The In Battalions campaign, by Guild member and playwright Fin Kennedy, was the result of a conversation he had with Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey MP at the Performers’ Alliance 2012 reception.

Ed Vaizey MP attended again this year and drew attention in his speech to the Government’s announcement, in the recent Autumn Statement, for tax breaks for children’s TV.

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Harriet Harman MP was also present and stated in her speech that access to arts, culture and creativity should be the right of everybody, not the few.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Sajid Javid MP also attended.