Kevin Cecil on pitching a show about walking
Kevin Cecil, co-creator of The Great Outdoors, writes...
"So there are these characters and they are all in a walking club."
The award-winning TV producer looked at us blankly.
"People don't really do that do they?"
"Well yes they do. The show would follow the different members and each episode is set on a
different walk and, oh yeah, it's all set outside."
"It sounds very difficult to make."
He had his legs over one arm of his chair. He didn't look like he wanted to make something very difficult.
"Well it probably would be, yes."
We abandoned the pitch and fell back into the much safer territory of discussing ideas for TV shows set behind the scenes at other TV shows.
Afterwards my writing partner Andy Riley and I were disappointed. We'd both done a lot of walking and felt there was something funny in the zealousness of the hobbyists we'd met. We wanted to do something set outside London which was pro walking while using the opportunity to throw a bunch of strong personalities together in a situation that was neither domestic nor workplace. And we had two jokes that we could use.
But we knew all the weird looks we'd been getting when we'd mentioned it were justified. We wanted to do a show with no regular sets and would need a cast who could climb up and down hills all day whilst being funny and developing their characters. Yet whenever we tried to forget it we couldn't. It just seemed different.
We wanted to know if it could work. Why not test it? We would write the first script on spec and see. We had to have faith in our own idea. Also nobody was offering us paid work just then.
A month later and we had forty pages in courier 12 point to show around. It wasn't perfect but the basics seemed to be in there. We now had at least seven jokes. Producer Alex Walsh-Taylor at the BBC not only said nice things about it but persuaded the corporation to give us the money to do further work on it. He said it would be tricky to make but not impossible. We worked with Alex and exec producer Paul Schlesinger until our joke count hit double figures. We wrote and walked, walked and wrote.
There's a natural nervousness that comes over a production early on. Some of our cast had done some rambling, some of them very little. Were we making a show about a realistic world? Would anyone get this? Then on the second morning a group of four real walkers came over a stile and started making towards our group. They were led by a guy with a map around his neck exactly like the one Bob, our walk leader, wears. They seemed a bit surprised to find some famous actors pretending to be doing their pastime . An assistant director approached them. "Do you mind going round the side," she said politely. "It's just we're filming."
"Public right of way," the leader replied without a beat. "It's a public right of way." And he took the group right through our shot, looking back at us all and mouthing "public right of way" every few seconds while giving self justifying nods to his followers. I could have kissed him. Because the real ramblers were just like what our ramblers were like. Pedantic, single minded, rather heroic. We all relaxed a bit after that. We thought we might just have something.
The Great Outdoors starts Wednesday 28th July at 9pm on BBC Four. Read more from Kevin on the BBC TV Blog as he answers the question: can rambling ever be cool?