Episode Zero & The Mice
Roger and Val Have Just Got In returned to our screens on Wednesday 8th February. Beth Kilcoyne co-wrote the show with her sister Emma, and stopped by to talk to us series two:
Beginning to write a second series of Roger & Val was like trying to get a swing-boat started: hard, which is why the man on the swing-boats gives you a push and you catch the rhythm with the rope. But there was no one outside: just me & Emma, not swinging, with 2 ropes. We began. It's a series about distraction: what do you do to get through? We decided to look at Roger being at home all day and focus his neurosis on the washing: "Val? I've got that stain out of your purple blouse" one unmemorable line I remember, as the Tribunal was pointedly ignored. We wrote and wrote, hour after hour, and got to the end, where the stain had come out of the blouse, but, hanging up to dry like a headless person, it gave Val a shock.
It was awful. Dreary. Dull. The characters didn't even sound like Roger & Val; they sounded like people doing an imitation of Roger & Val. I tried to be hopeful it had "just come out wrong", excusing myself with the fact that you can't CUT in R&V, and I'd forgotten the difficulty. But the next draft was even worse; they were now sounding labored, eg. Roger droning on that mozzarella cheese in a packet feels like a ganglion. Over-thought, turgid, flat-footed drivel, leading up to Val's decision to actually apply for the Deputy Headship and Roger opening his Tribunal mail. I couldn't understand why all of a sudden the show said nothing, apart from Roger thought the dirty clothes is an ideal environment for growing mushrooms.
At about this time my house got infested with mice; I saw one in the bathroom, which next day got caught in a trap, so I was hopeful it had been acting alone. No one would believe this if you put it in a script, but the day we handed in the first draft about the washing, I opened my own washer. There was a... thing on the rubber rim. All its fur had been hideously washed off but the tail was still on, grey, shiny, dead but for once clean, tufts of black fur skidded round it and no doubt in among my clothes, which I couldn't throw out because they were all my best ones. Aaaurrgh - visceral - on me. I didn't dare look for its eyes. I retched, and started hopping from foot to foot, stating the obvious but in a weird chant: "There is a mouse in the washer, mouse in the washer, a MOUSE!" to which my partner unwisely replied, "What's the matter? It's dead."
We really now had taken far too much time on this now-laboured Episode 1. On its final night I went to get fish & chips, in panic. When I sat down to eat, there was an alive mouse at the bottom of the stairs. It didn't even bother to run away and I didn't bother to react, because I knew what it had come to tell me: the script was awful. I just sat there, fish and chips slopping out of my exhausted, not-screaming mouth: rock bottom.
We started Episode 2 the next day, when Dave the fantastic Mouseman called to say he had solved the problem. This script wrote like a dream - zinging out from all over the place, free and alive, both characters wholly themselves, ideas toppling over each other to get in, and Val got shortlisted for the interview. Plus we introduced the over-arching story. "What a pity this can't be Episode 1 instead of that boring one about the washing" said my Mum. Of course, it was Episode 1; we had been writing Episode 0 - the characters before we got them going again. So I am grateful to that awful script now, dreadful as it was, because it was the push outside the swing-boat for Series 2. And I never saw a mouse again.