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Brief Encounter - the writer confesses

Thursday 7 February 2013, 19:10

Nawal Gadalla Nawal Gadalla Archers scriptwriter

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The clock at Carnforth station As featured in the film Brief Encounter

You may have noticed more than a passing similarity between tonight’s episode of The Archers and Noel Coward’s film Brief Encounter. Here’s the inside track from the scriptwriter, Nawal Gadalla.


Writing a set piece in The Archers is a sweet responsibility. So when our editor Vanessa Whitburn suggested an episode for Paul and Lilian based on Brief Encounter, my creative motor started running.


The immediate image that sprung to my mind was of Celia Johnson with a piece of grit in her eye. I knew I wanted Lilian to experience the same. And I needed a third person to act as a foil to Paul and Lilian. The obvious choice was the Dolly Messiter character, who cuts into Laura and Alec’s poignant last meeting like a blast of unwelcome steam. I called her Connie and gave her the same chatty, intrusive role. She is the express train to their two local trains.


It’s easy to forget that in the film Laura and Alec meet at many locations. We tend only to place them at Milford Junction because those scenes are iconic. Their two trains pull away in different directions, symbolising their lives ultimately moving in different directions.




We’d already established that Cheltenham was one of Paul and Lilian’s special places. But I had typical Archers logistics to think about. Would Lilian need a platform ticket?  Was there a platform level café at Cheltenham Spa?


Paul couldn’t come from the west towards Paddington when he alighted from his train, because Connie would have boarded the same train to go on to London, and I needed her for the rest of the episode. So I had Paul’s first train coming from the north, en route to Cardiff Central.


Why was Connie forced to sit at their table? I had to invent a large party of tourists, in order for the café to be busy at that time in the afternoon.


I’m not sure that TV soap writers would lose sleep over these details, but Archers listeners are sharp.


Compare and Contrast


Aside from how they sounded, the other obvious difference between then and now is the sense of social shame that Laura, in particular, felt. She can’t bring herself to be unfaithful. Paul and Lilian are already lovers, so instead I tried to create a kind of inhibited longing in their dialogue.


A parallel between the two couples could be the underlying sense of hopelessness in an affair, in which no one wants to leave their partner.


Spot the homage


You may recognise these direct quotes:


  • Lilian: “No, I’ve got something in my eye.” 
  • Connie: “Try pulling your eyelid out as far as it will go, and then blowing your nose.”  (I had to get that one in!)
  • Lilian, about her eye: “It was agony”.
  • Lilian “You suddenly look much younger”
  • Paul: “We’ve still got a few minutes.” 


I was also delighted to squeeze in the following exchange, before Connie bursts in:


Paul: “Are you all right darling?” 

Lilian: “Yes, I’m all right.” 

Paul: “I do love you (Lilian). With all my heart and soul”


And I referenced:


  • Churley – Alec’s station in the film
  • Johannesburg – where he plans to go and work as a doctor with his brother
  • The grit in the eye
  • Bath buns
  • A boating lake
  • Dolly (Messiter in the original). She is Connie’s friend who has been looking after her cat


And of course Lilian dashing out of the café at the end – not to throw herself under a train, but to get away from Connie. In the film, Laura comes back in to the café, and Dolly buys her a brandy. In the scene, I have Connie saying, “What I really need’s a brandy!” 


I hope you enjoyed the episode. While writing it, I assiduously avoided looking up Victoria Wood’s spoof, where Laura carelessly rams a mince pie into her eye!


Nawal Gadalla is an Archers scriptwriter


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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I never get "exercised" and listen in a big chunk with a pot of coffee on Sunday now I'm dreading it. For goodness sake don't take the Micky out of iconic film or the nations favourite radio series!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I thought Lilian & Paul's brief meeting at the station was very well done BUT I really want the script writers to end this relationship and for Lilian & Matt to get back fully together again. Please write Paul out of the story. As a listener right back to the 1950s, the only 3 story lines I've actively disliked are all in recent times, viz Nigel's totally un-necessary death, the intimidation of David, Ruth & family (thankfully scotched when Vanessa Whitburn returned after her long break) and this awful affair between Lilian & Paul. Can I just add that I'm glad the trouble at The Vicarage is confined to Ambridge Extra & I hope it doesn't overflow into the main programme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Before we even start thinking about questions of homage :v: plagiarism, I think you had two insurmountable obstacles to consider:
    1. Paul is a pathetic, simpering prawn
    2. Lilian sounds far too long in the tooth for femme fatale-ism
    Basically the scenes were an embarrassment, and a waste of good trailer-time for You And Yours, or whatever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This SL has been using the same 100 words since it started, tonight added nothing either to plot, or character in substance or in any other way. The Brief Encounter echo was spotted on the messagebaord way, way back, so as a parody, it came as no surprise, it was embarrassingly poorly written, well behind the curve.

    This will not endear you or the production team to TA listeners for a very, very long time. They do not forget being patronised and insulted on this scale. And, as well said above, by parodying Brief Encounter, it means that this SL is now effectively stone dead. I bet the actors and those writers who have to follow you will be pretty damn annoyed about that.

    Another jolly editorial wheeze? Another example of this editor's sure-footed genius?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Self indulgent drivel unworthy of a fifth form creative writing exercise. I feel angry at this blatant squandering of listeners' time and taxpayers' money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Oh grumble. grumble .... I thought it was brilliant fun and the best thing you could do with those two that you can't take seriously anyway ..... made me smile, thank you Nawal

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Self-indulgent garbage. Many listeners have already had more than enough of the Lilian/Paul relationship and this so called homage hasn't changed that. It has been done before and it has been done much better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Completely awful. I felt embarrassed as I listened - embarrassed that I was listening to this tosh. What an awful idea. It wasn't clever and it certainly was not amusing. It was just bad. Bonk-mad Lilian and her wimpy play-piece Paul do not have an unrequited love, nor is their mutual ardour even remotely believable. It has been a chore listening to them pant at one another in various locations, wondering just how much longer the SW team can possibly manage to drag out this intensely boring tale of an indulged woman and her personality-free paramour as they carry on their nasty affair, but tonight finally hit rock-bottom with this ludicrous conceit.
    Perhaps it was meant to be amusing? While it may indeed have been funny, it was not funny ha-ha, but funny peculiar.
    Someone needs to reign in these mad excesses and get TA back on track. AmEx can produce good character driven drama, so why is TA so dire?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It was a good laugh and the indignant complaints of those who didn't get it make it even funnier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Radio 4 has spent ??? years trying to establish crediblity for TA and you choose to trash it in thirteen minutes. It was a piece of rubbish writing that 99% of your listeners absolutely hated. Do you want to finish TA off? Terrible piece of tosh - aren't scriptwriters meant to be creative, not plagarists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I know you were asked to write this, but it was a poor idea from the start - you should have run a mile and said a firm 'no'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The grit in the eye was good. A brief nod to that famous Encounter that those familiar with the film would have recognised and smiled at, as did I. But on and on it went... over-egged, overplayed, embarrassing and eventually insulting to the knowing listener. Bath bun, oh please! For those listeners unfamiliar with the classic film it must have seemed ridiculous and completely out of character for Lilly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    What a whinging nasty bunch you are - much more pleasant over on Facebook. It wasn't THAT bad, and while it was over the top on B E references, the idea was a good one. If there's a next time it might be more fun to reference a film more subtly and then find out who noticed. The grit in her eye would have been enough for anyone to get it. But some of you are so mean spirited - it's sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It didn't work for me, sorry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    You should be ashamed of yourself, what do you take us, the loyal faithful listeners for? fools?
    We have been treated to the whims and foilbles of you and your teams poor writing for too long
    It is time for a radical change
    Time to concentrate all your efforts on the main show

    It is now obvious that Ambridge Extra is diluting the scripts to the extent that you have to steal ideas from old classic movies
    Not good enough

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The characters need to control the parody, and then the listeners would not be insulted and we can continue with the pretence that the Archers is real. This was touched on with the woman asking if hes a doctor. People do quote from films in real life eg that bit is often quoted when someone gets something in their eye. This grit incident could have led on to Paul and Lilian mucking about with quotes from the film and pretending their circumstance is the same. That could include bath buns, Joburg, whatever

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We cringed. What have you done, what are you doing? Unless it's all part of some fiendish plot whereby the stranger is related to someone in Ambridge so crops up again with a tale to tell or forgets to give Lilian her phone back, or Lilian forgets to take it, so stranger looks through L's phone book calls Matt to return the phone and during the conversation tells him about meeting L and her brother at Cheltenham station...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Again, I say well done---the episode clearly divided the audience, and stirred up a bit of controversy between the pros and the antis, and I think that's far better sometimes than provoking nothing more than bland acceptance or worse still, indifference.
    (One or two of the complaints I've read are couched in such over the top language that I'm wondering if they, too, are spoofs!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It was just SO bad. Not funny, not subtle, not humorous (and why would you be putting in a skit at this point?)
    Quite the worst, the most pathetic, parody I have ever heard.


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