Bluestone 42: The research process

Tuesday 5 March 2013, 12:49

Richard Hurst Richard Hurst Writer

One of the most common questions my co-writer James Cary and I get asked when we’re talking about our new comedy Bluestone 42, is about the research process. Did you do lots of research, people ask. Do you have a military background? The last question gets asked very rarely when it’s face-to-face. I can’t think why.

bluestone-42.jpg Bluestone 42

Given the subject matter of the show, a counter-IED team in Afghanistan, we knew from the outset that we were going to have to know what we were talking about. When we started developing the show, almost three years ago, we read all the books and watched all the documentaries we could. And we read reams of posts on ARRSE – the forum by soldiers, for soldiers, that gives an inside view of all things to do with the Army.

But more useful than any of that was talking to current and former soldiers first-hand about their experiences of Army life in theatre and back home. We talked to people who had served in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to focus on those who did the same job that the characters in our show do. It often seemed to work as a ‘six degrees of separation’ exercise – you’d be surprised at who your family and friends know once you start asking around.

Lots of the material in the show is inspired by stuff that really happened, not least because real life is usually funnier, weirder and more interesting than anything you could make up. However, it’s vanishingly rare that you can just lift someone’s story and drop it into the show. Research gives you a big grab-bag of props, circumstances, rules, phrases and events that still need to be assembled into stories that are driven by your central characters.

 

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Bluestone 42 begins on 5th March at 10pm.

Although the idea of research may seem a bit dry – as I’m writing this blogpost I am imagining readers up and down the country clicking over to YouTube and starting to look for videos of humorous cats – the process is incredibly engaging. In fact, it’s too engaging – there’s always something else to read or watch, but at some point you have to remember to write the stories. Research becomes a distraction rather than an inspiration. And if you’re lucky enough to actually make the show, you have to be prepared to let the research be the background not the point of the whole thing. Getting everything right on screen is not the same as not getting anything wrong.

Of course, we have got stuff wrong – there are always limitations, be they in terms of time, money, communication or just knowledge. But the stronger your foundation the better placed you are to avoid too many howling errors.

Throughout the process our touchstone was authenticity: comedy has to have one foot in reality to be funny. If you watch something and don’t believe in the world, it’s hard to laugh at. We were lucky to have an on-set military advisor with us every day during filming, and soon discovered that authenticity is a great trump card to play if you don’t like a script note – just tell them you can’t change it because that’s how it is in the Army. Although I’m pretty sure our producer saw through that one fairly early on!

Richard Hurst is co-writer of Bluestone 42, a brand new comedy drama following the lives of a bomb disposal detachment serving in Afghanistan.

Bluestone 42 starts tonight on BBC Three at 10pm.  Find out more about the soldiers and watch preview clips on the programme page

Comments

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    Comment number 1.

    Great writing.

    Just watched the first episode, BRILLIANT! It's a truism that a lack of authenticity will kill the humour.

    Thankfully Bluestone 42 looks authentic and the laddish laughs among the squaddies rang true and made me laugh throughout.

    Really good, looking forward to the rest of the series.

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    Comment number 2.

    .... and then in episode two the 'c' bomb was dropped.

    Unfortunately the 'c' doesn't stand for clever.

    Is it the writer or the BBC that finds the 'c' word so utterly hilarious?
    Why is the BBC allowing it to be dropped into practically every after hours comedy programme? Are they trying to normalise its usage?

    Was it used for comedic effect in episode two of Bluestone 42? Have no idea because the instant I heard the word my funny bone was ripped from my body.

    So I won't be watching the rest of the series because I don't want to be hit with more unfunny 'c' bombs.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Are the characters too dependent upon stereotype? There is an air of authenticity about it, the crudeness of the squad, for example, and as much as I'd like to enjoy it, and I have liked bits of it... I can't help feeling uneasy about watching a programme based on a situation where real people have, and are continuing to lose their lives, and feel uncomfortable finding entertainment in a war that I feel is immoral and wrong - on that basis I probably will not continue to watch it. Sorry.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Fadein - I don't know but am guessing it was a usage that had to be (as it always is) justified and hard-fought by the writers and producers ... Given the extremity of the 'sit' in this show as compared with that of any other, it feels justifiable to me ... But that's just my opinion (not a 'BBC' one)

    Lullahbell - its not my place to persuade you otherwise ... - but, given that the show is only about soldiers on the ground, and given that soldiers on the ground are of necessity not fundamentally supposed or able to choose not to do what they are doing as pary of their job, I'd say the power and strength (and ambition) of the show is to show simply that life from it's own pov and not with an additional political commentary. In that sense, I don't feel uneasy about the show - would you not have watched Green Wing because people really die in hospital every day... ? On the other hand, we probably should feel uneasy watching it - in ep 1, a character IS blown up by an IED ...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Comes no where near classic army comedies - Dad's Army or M.A.S.H. - this is supposed to be a comedy?...alas it doesn't do it for me - not funny BBC! Just reeks of the suits thinking "we need a comedy about the Army for another generation".

 

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