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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 81.

    A pastiche of Brief Encounter. What's next. Close Encounters? Aliens on Lakey Hill. Please don't do this again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I'm new here, and I'm shocked by the negativity of most commentators. "Cheap parody?" It was a joke, for heaven's sake! I enjoyed it, Nawal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Hi, loosen up everyone, it was a well though out piece of fun, I enjoyed it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    So much for the research - the sound effect for the final few seconds as the train departed was clearly a Paxman Valenta powered High Speed Train, just a shame none of these has been on the national network for a couple of years now... mind you the story line was just as implausible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Absolutely shameful! To think the SW was paid for such rubbish! Perhaps she should donate her fee to the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. C'mon, you know you want to! (…and we all want you to!) - sa

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Sturmey why are you bering pointlessly rude to the writer. Have American manners rubbed off on you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Oh, pleeeease! It was just a bit of fun - made me smile, anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    What a po-faced lot of contributions! I thought it was clever and witty, and it was great fun once one had registered what was going on and anticipating the next stage. Particularly like the "bath bun" reference. Well done. The original Brief Encounter was boring/is terribly dated - which this wasn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The immediate image that "sprung" to my mind
    Should be "sprang" - a common error.

    The link to Brief Encounter was an insult to a great film.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The references to Brief Encounter (one of my all time favourite films) were absolutely brilliant. The relationship between Lilian and Paul is the embarrassing thing so any fun you can make out of it the better. I can't believe the comments which take our "everyday story of country folk" so seriously! I have been listening for 59.5 years and love the tongue in cheek occasions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I'll take it that this plagiarism was an experiment and undecided as to whether or not it worked but I just haven't the time or energy to get as incensed as some contributors. Just one comment......please scriptwriters, end this Lilian/Paul affair. She and Matt are made for each other.
    What I really want to know is the name of the actress who played Connie in the "Brief Encounter" episode. She sounded very familiar but can't find the information on the BBC anywhere. Can anyone shed any light.......?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    "...my creative motor started running"

    Someone should have told her to engage the clutch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    What a lot of old moaners! You're not supposed to take the homage that seriously, but just enjoy listening to it. Thank you for a really refreshing surprise episode!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Not your fault Nawal, you did the best you could with a really poor idea. So- your fault Ms Whitburn.
    I love the Archers but I actually groaned aloud as it all became obvious that it was a spoof of BE. And so very corny.
    As you said, it's been done, better, by Victoria Wood. I think TA is at its best when its authentic,
    working on real stories.
    What's next..... Gone with the Wind? Please , no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Well as someone who adores both The Archers and Brief Encounter, I loved the merger of the two. It was a laugh! Come on folks lets not get too serious about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The entire Paul and Lilian romance is ridiculous I'm afraid but this brief encounter was not that bad. Cheesy is as cheesy does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I was disappointed to hear the episode. I agree with those who said it was poor, bad taste and just plain silly. I agree totally with Mebbe Knot. I just don't think I can take this story line seriously again. Talk about blatant plagiarism. The Archers is worth better. If a writer can't think of their own words and plot they shouldn't be writing for TA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I think some people are missing the point a bit here. Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films but I think this was quite a tongue-in-cheek spoof and The Archers team were quite aware of this, not taking the whole thing too seriously. After all, Connie made a joke about it when Paul was taking the grit out of Paul's eye and asked if he was a doctor! No, overall I enjoyed the episode and it was a bit of light relief really as the whole Lilian-Paul affair has been getting a bit syrupy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I thought it was a waste of an episode. Can't stand Paul anyway and struggle to believe that Lilian would go for such an excess of saccharin and nauseating attention when she fell for Matt who is the total opposite. And then we get a glaring and annoying pastiche of Brief Encounter with a man who has about as much appeal as a romantic lead as Brian the snail!

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Difficult to believe that anyone would have the gall to "recreate" such a memorable scene and slip it into an episode of TA. It just goes to show how how arrogant and out of touch with TA listeners the SWs and Editor have become.


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