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A statement from the Writers' Guild
The Guild has been aware for some while that the BBC will moving their children's programmes from BBC One and BBC Two to CBBC and CBeebies. No date has yet been set for the move.
The BBC has stated that spending on children's programmes won't be affected. The Guild has also received an undertaking that no changes will be made until fully agreed with the BBC Writers' Forum, which consists of the WGGB, PMA (a.k.a. agents) and the BBC.
As ever, the Guild will protect its members.
Frances Greenwood is fed up with being considered too old to write TV drama
‘“I work in TV”; just saying it gave him satisfaction……Secretly, he liked the fact that it was one of the better-looking industries, and one that valued youth. No chance, in this brave new world of TV, of walking into a conference room to find a group of sixty-two-year-olds brainstorming. What happened to TV people when they reached a certain age? Where did they go?’
(from One Day, by David Nicholls, Hodder and Stoughton, 2009)
Sixty-two years old? That’s me. And I didn’t go anywhere. In fact, I spend a lot of my time brainstorming ideas for TV. OK, so I’m usually doing it alone in my study, but I still have a brain and it still storms.
All over the UK, there are older writers like me who, once the brainstorming is over, struggle to be heard. Of course, there are some older writers in TV, but they are in a tiny minority of an industry increasingly dominated by two main groups.
First, there are The Heavyweights - not many of them, but they’re pretty much guaranteed a slot somewhere on TV. They start with one successful TV series, and now there’s no stopping them. And good on them, I say! These are our top-notch writers, who are rightfully occupying their thrones at the peak of the scriptwriting Parnassus. They are there because they’re good -- bloody good. They’re also lucky. And I use that word advisedly, not in some mealy-mouthed, bile-spitting way. They’re lucky because, having written that one breakout series, there will be no stopping them – for the moment. (I will come back to them when they’re 62.)
Next on the pile are The Young Turks. They are aged somewhere between 20 and 35 – or even 40, if they can sell themselves as younger than they actually are. Basically, the younger the better. They swarm all over television drama, eager, energetic, confident, full of ideas. They write Hollyoaks, Skins, telly for Young People. Now, however, they also write Holby, Casualty, Doctors - telly for the not-so-young. Why? What has happened here? Well, as far as the BBC is concerned, some of the flak has to be directed at its Writers’ Academy. Again, this is not a personal attack on its creators, for whom the idea must have seemed to tick a vast array of boxes marked compliance. But, just to give you a flavour of its intentions, here is part of the Academy’s call to writers put out last year:
‘The Writers’ Academy is a major initiative aimed at discovering and training the next generation of writers for BBC 1’s flagship shows: EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, and Doctors. The scheme works as an apprenticeship for writers.’ This call for applicants also included a quote from a writer, who says: ‘Writing for television can feel like running across a muddy field at night being pursued by man-eating pigs - the Academy gives you a torch.’ Well, I have news for him: those are not man-eating pigs, they are grey-haired writers. As one agent recently told me: ‘You just have to do the maths. Seven years of the Academy. Eight graduate writers getting an episode each of Doctors, Holby and Casualty. If they keep on getting employed by these shows, that’s a total of 56 new writers pushing out 56 writers who were already there.’ Although the Writers’ Academy is open to people of all ages, and some of more mature years do get in, the emphasis is inevitably on youth. Another TV agent told me that he has difficulty selling even his 30-year-old writers, such is the demand for the ‘next new bright young thing’.
Richard Carpenter, a Life Member of the Writers' Guild who created Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood and wrote numerous other TV scripts for children and adults, died earlier this week.
Having started his professional life as an actor for stage an TV, Carpenter created Catweazle, a comedy-drama about an 11th century wizard transported to the present day. First broadcast in 1970, it ran for 26 episodes and became one of the best-loved children's shows of the decade.
Carpenter went on to write for children's drama series such as Black Beauty, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Famous Five and Doctor Snuggles.
His best known show for adults was Robin of Sherwood, first broadcast in 1984, which ran for three series. His most recent screen credit was a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel, I Was A Rat.
Carpenter, a one-time member of the Writers' Guild's Children's Committee, was a tireless campaigner for writers.
Lucy Daniel Raby writes:
Richard was an inspiring mentor for new writers in children's TV, books and film, always willing to listen and advise. His storytelling abilities were legendary and he was one of those rare writers who could produce a near perfect 1st draft! His humour was also legendary, and he kept us all entertained on the Children's Committee at the WGGB, at the same time keeping us all focussed. He was a tireless campaigner for children's TV and for writers' rights, and he never lost his enthusiasm or sense of fun. He will be sorely missed by all his fellow writers.
In response to popular demand, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain will be holding an event to discuss BBC long-running TV series. It will be at the Free Word Centre 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA on Monday Feb 20th from 3 - 6 PM.
This event is open to any writers who have written for a BBC long-running series in the past two years; Guild members and non-members welcome. Please note this is not an event for people who aspire to write for long-running series or last wrote one before 2009. It's also for writers only.
The event is likely to be heavily subscribed and space is limited. Please let the Guild know if you wish to attend ASAP
Due to current demand, the Guild thought it timely to feature our Television Good Practice Guide, Working With Writers, once again. The Guild recommends that everyone in the industry, both writers and production personnel, read it and abide by it. The WGGB exists to protect writers' rights and working conditions.
Download Working With Writers (pdf)
Gail Renard pays tribute to a long-standing Guild member who died last month
Ronnie Wolfe, co-creator of sitcoms On The Buses and The Rag Trade died at the age of 89 following a fall. His career reads like the history of radio and television comedy.
Ronnie started in the early 1950s, writing Beryl Reid’s material for the BBC radio comedy, Educating Archie. He quickly worked his way up and, when lead writer Erik Sykes left, Ronnie took his place. It was also where Ronnie met his future writing partner, the resident harmonica player, Ronnie Chesney. Ronnie W persuaded Ronnie C to give up his successful act so they could write together. Their partnership, known as 'The Other Two Ronnies', lasted harmoniously for 50 years.
Ronnie C excelled at writing the plots and technical bits; whereas Ronnie W was a master of comic dialogue. He was also good at acknowledging the talents of others; including a young Marty Feldman who joined his series as a junior writer.
Growing in fame, Ronnie wed Rose Krieger in 1953. The headline of the now defunct Evening Star newspaper read: “Ronnie Married His Secretary Because He Knew A Good Thing When He Saw It'. Quite right. As a labour of love, as Rose typed and collated 95% of his work.
Ronnie was a kind, warm, family man and staunch Writers' Guild member for half a century. Until his health prevented, he was a regular at Guild AGMs. 'The Other Two Ronnies’ work is still appreciated on telly and DVDs. His latest book, My Life In Memoirs, was brought out by Kaleidoscope Publishing just over a year ago.
My sincere condolences to his wife, Rose, his two daughters and also to Ronnie Chesney. He’ll be very missed.
Gail Renard is Chair of the Guild's TV Committee
More obituaries for Ronnie Wolfe:
The Writers’ Guild has agreed an increase of 2% in minimum fees for drama and comedy writers, in line with pay rises for BBC staff. This brings the flagship minimum fee for a 60-minute original drama to £10,680 – although many established and in-demand writers will earn much higher amounts. The minimum rates for series, soaps and other genres all go up by the same percentage. The new rates cover all contracts from 1 November 2011 - download a full list of minimum rates (pdf).
The Guild, along with the agents’ trade body the Personal Managers’ Association has now concluded all substantive negotiations on a new suite of agreements that will introduce a new system of paying writers for the use of their work on the iPlayer and other online on-demand services including the planned BBC online archive. The deal also expands the coverage of the agreements to scripts shorter than 15 minutes, including comedy sketches, material commissioned for online use only, and some material for animations and documentaries. We expect to make a major announcement about the new agreements early in the New Year.
The negotiations and increased fees come against a background of yet more BBC cuts under the slogan 'Delivering Quality First'. The latest plans identify 'Ambitious original British drama and comedy' among the 'five pillars of the BBC’s future strategy' and the Guild intends to monitor commissions and output closely to ensure this pledge is honoured.
Gail Renard (pictured with Armando Iannucci) reports from the British Comedy Awards
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain was proud to be part of the British Comedy Awards once again. The recipient of our “Outstanding Achievement In Writing Award” was Armando Iannucci. As the standing ovation on the night proved, the choice was a worthy one.
Armando Iannucci has been responsible for such ground-breaking shows as The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It and manage to fit in the libretto for an opera, Skin Deep as well. How could the Guild not honour a man who gave us Malcolm Tucker?
His long-time friend and colleague, Steve Coogan, presented the Award to Armando on the night.
Congratulations also go to Guild members Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, who received an award for their new comedy series, Fresh Meat; Victoria Wood who was named Best Female Comic and Dave Cohen who scored not one but two wins for Horrible Histories and Have I Got News For You. Some people can just be too talented.
Gail Renard is Chair of the Guild's TV Committee
An edited transcript of a Writers' Guild podcast
I suppose the first thing we’d better check is whether you’re happy with the term ‘soap’ because sometimes people prefer to talk about continuing drama - I know the executives seem to - rather than soap. What do you think?
Chris Thompson: It doesn’t bother me too much. I think I’m not too precious about it really. It is what it is isn’t it. And it is continuing drama but if soap’s a useful shorthand then so be it. It doesn’t offend me.
Dawn Harrison: I’ve always thought of it as a soap.
How did you come to be writing for TV?
Dawn Harrison: I started off as a teacher and then I became a youth worker. When my kids were little I started writing - children’s fiction to start with but I found it a lot easier to get good feedback about the television stuff I was writing. So I wrote a couple of original scripts for kids, teenagers, sent those off and that led to being invited to pitch stories for Doctors, which I did. I was very lucky and got eight episodes in my first year. So it was a fairly easy decision to give up being a teacher, being a youth worker, and do it as my full-time job.
Chris Thompson: I was also a teacher and I became a Deputy Head of a big comprehensive school. Then I realised that I was moving further away from teaching English and Drama, which is what I began doing. I started writing plays for kids and I sent various scripts off to television companies, all of which were rejected. And I entered a competition in the Radio Times to write a half-hour radio drama/comedy with the potential to be a series. That was in 1985. It didn’t win but it was shortlisted and it got me the chance to produce a radio drama at Manchester. I didn’t give up the day job straight away. I had two small children and was the main breadwinner. But over the next three years I sold another five radio plays so I had a bit of a CV. I gave up teaching in 1989 and within two years I got a job on a daytime soap called Families, which was Kay Mellor’s first show. I didn’t have an agent. I blundered in – this is how not to do it by the way. Roy Barraclough (who played Alec Gilroy in Coronation Street) was in my second radio play. And when I decided I’d try and get into television I wrote him a letter asking him to pass on my details to a television producer. Which he did. Granada were having a workshop for writers to work on Coronation Street and though I didn’t get that job, two or three of us were given a job on Families. One of my contemporaries on that was Sally Wainwright, who’s obviously gone on to great things. From then onwards I did a lot of work with Granada over the years. I also fitted in a stint on The Archers and in 1996 I joined Emmerdale.
Could you talk a little bit more about how necessary it is to give up your full-time job, and how difficult a decision that was?
Dawn Harrison: There are a lot of Doctors’ writers who don’t do it as a full-time job. A few of them only have a few episodes a year and it’s perfectly possible. I was doing a jobshare job as a youth worker so for me it was quite easy to give that up and just do Doctors full-time. But I went onto Holby City very early, after just three episodes of Doctors and that was a huge culture shock. I had no idea really of the kind of rigour and the drafting and re-drafting that was required and I really found that very hard.
Chris Thompson: I’d had quite a successful teaching career and I was faced with the prospect that the next move would be to be a Head or an advisor or something like that. I’d got a track record in radio and I decided that in order to break into television, which I wanted to do, I’d have to give it serious attention. So I gave up my secure pension and salary. I did a little bit of part-time teaching, just so I was earning something and I became the house-husband. I was working from home, so I was able to take our kids to school and then after two years I got my breakthrough into television. For the first year when I wasn’t really earning very much, I used to look in the top drawer of my desk see my final salary slip as a teacher. I used to get that every month. Gosh! But I mean once I got into television and got regular work then that ceased to be an issue.
How useful do you think that background as a teacher has been for you as a writer?
Chris Thompson: It’s been useful on two levels I think. You do have a certain amount of life experience. I was in my 30s when I sold my first radio play. So you’ve had children, you’ve got married, you’ve done the job that isn’t just in a nice cosy studio or a theatre, you know some not-so-cosy places. And, secondly, the nature of the job that Dawn and I do involves script conferences where you have to sit round a table and argue your case for a particular story or a particular character. And because teaching by definition involves contact with all sorts of people every day of your working life, that I think gave me a certain confidence in terms of being able to pitch stories, fight my corner, and join in the general merry mayhem that is a script conference.
Dawn, you’re writing for Emmerdale at the moment and you have written for Doctors, as you said - how different are they to work on?
Dawn Harrison: Really different. You know Doctors has I think about ten regular characters as opposed to Emmerdale which has over 60. In Doctors you have your story of the day which is normally about 60% of the episode. And that will always be your spine, so you’re always writing around a story, which is very different to doing your little bit of a story document. Emmerdale at the moment has about 24 writers, so you’re involved every month. You go to a conference every month and discuss the upcoming month’s storylines for days. We also talk about the episodes that we’ve got commissioned that month to just iron out any things that we don’t understand. The contracted writers with Doctors are invited up in a rotation, but in my experience that means you might go every couple of years, so it’s not the same at all.
Chris Thompson explains how he came to write a how-to guide for continuing drama
Early in 2007 I was approached by Aber publishing to come up with a book explaining how to write soap opera. Aber specialises in academic study guides for school students through to postgraduates, but also has a series of Creative Writing Guides on its list. A previous title, Writing TV Scripts by Steve Wetton (author of Growing Pains), had proved successful over time and the publishers felt there would be a market for a new book dealing specifically with the challenges of writing for one of our immensely popular continuing dramas. There are other books on the market dealing with the topic, but it seemed a good idea to take a fresh, up-to-the-minute look at the dark art.I felt qualified for the task. I cut my teeth as a TV writer on Kay Mellor’s daytime Soap Families in the early 1990s, worked on Russell T. Davies’s late night, high camp Church of England romp Revelations and, at the time I was approached, had been a member of the Emmerdale writing team for nine years, contributing well over a hundred scripts. (The figure now stretches beyond two hundred.) Earlier in my career I had also managed to fit in a stint on The Archers, writing 150 episodes. So you could say I was steeped in soap, or rather soaked in it.
My first task was to write a sample chapter and so I put together what I thought was a lively, informative piece about Character, looking at some iconic figures in the history of soap. Packed with anecdotes, it wasn’t quite ‘you’ll never guess what happened round the conference table, or ‘The Soap Awards – the untold story’, but it wasn’t far off. And neither was it what was required. Perhaps one day, assuming I can afford a good lawyer, Confessions Of A Soap Writer might see the light of day, but that’s for the future.
Having been told, politely but firmly, that I was not providing what was required, I adopted a far more structured approach, based on the acquisition of skills. The idea was to take the reader through the process of writing for a soap, step by step, so that by the end of the book, they would have know exactly what was required to work for such a programme. Each chapter would be supported by a series of exercises, to reinforce the particular skill.
Before I began writing in earnest, I produced a chapter by chapter breakdown, showing how the various building blocks would be put in place. Looking back, that was probably the key task in the whole process. It was important to put myself in the place of the writer new to soap, or indeed, new to any kind of television writing. Once I had the structure in place, the writing was fairly straightforward, as I had a focus and context for my accumulated wisdom, such as it is. In some ways the exercise was similar to the process of writing a soap episode, where the choreography, the interweaving and crossing of various plot strands, has to be firmly put in place before a word of dialogue or a single stage direction can be written.
As we first reported in August, the campaigning body Save Kids' TV is joining forces with the Children's Film and Television Foundation to become the Children's Media Foundation (CMF).
In a statement Save Kids' TV, which the Writers' Guild has supported, said:
The CMF’s remit will be dynamic and evolve to suit the ever-changing needs of the audience and the industry. However it will be built on the following foundations:
- Its purpose will be to pursue quality in children’s media of all kinds, on all platforms.
- It will speak for children and young people, who, as a group, are frequently disenfranchised and ignored.
- It will also act as a critical champion of the children's media industries and provide briefings and information to government and the media.· It will act as the Secretariat for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Media and the Arts.
- It will work with the academic community to stimulate and disseminate research around kids and media.
- It will provide online resources and organise events and meetings on children’s media and the issues of current concern.
- It will provide a focus for parents, educators, children’s charities, policy makers, and the press, on all matters relating to children and their media lives.
- It will be professionally managed and supported through fundraising
The Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), along with other international writers' guilds, has lent its support to a protest by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) against ITV Studios in New York.
The WGAE is demanding that ITV Stuidos, which produces highly successful scripted reality television programming, give its American employees the same rights as those afforded to WGGB members under our agreements with them in the UK.
WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'The Writers' Guild of Great Britain fully supports the WGAE. I have a meeting with senior ITV management later this week and I have insisted that this issue is on the agenda.'
David Croft, one of the great British comedy writers and producers, has died at the age of 89.
(photo: Simon Denton/WGGB)
David Croft, a long-time member of the Writers' Guild and winner, with his co-writer Jimmy Perry, of a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, co-wrote (with Perry) some of the best-loved and most influential television sitcoms including Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Hi-de-Hi!
With Jeremy Lloyd he also wrote hugely popular sitcoms including Are You Being Served and 'Allo, 'Allo.
As Dennis Barker writes in an obituary in The Guardian, Croft 'did not need a marketing survey to tell him what would make audiences laugh. If he found a comedy idea or script funny, he reckoned that it might well amuse others.'
Croft was appointed OBE in 1978.
Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's TV Committee, writes:
David Croft was one of Britain's greatest comedy writers and producers, a Guild member and a gentleman.
Dad's Army was originally written and broadcast 43 years ago and is still as loved today as it was then. How many other comedies will stand the test of time?
I dare say if David was starting today, he'd never have had the career he had. David wrote what he thought was funny, based on his experience... now there's a novel thought. Would Dad's Army, a show about geriatric men playing at soldiers even make it past a Readers' Room or committee today? Imagine the report:
It doesn't appeal to a young 20s -30s demographic. The setting is drab. No sex; no stars or a part for the current Flavour of the Month stand-up. Pass.
And Dad's Army wasn't the only series David Croft wrote. Any of us would be proud to base a career on Hi-de-hi! or Are You Being Served or any of his countless hits.
David made many millions laugh for decades and we’re all the better for it. My condolences to his family; including former Guild Chair (and my agent) Mike Sharland, and also to his long-time writing partner, Jimmy Perry.