A script with a view
Tim Stimpson is an Archers scriptwriter (the youngest ever). Here he shares with us some of the tricks of his trade, including the unique visualisation above - SB.
Whilst episodes written in September are now being broadcast and episodes written in October are being recorded. I'm now working on scripts for the middle of January. Normally there are four writers working at any one time, but because of the Christmas break we're working on two months of scripts meaning that there are eight of us writers busily typing away. Some of us look out across rolling hills, but I look out across a barbed-wired wall into the back of a postal depot in south Birmingham. Writing the Archers is my own imaginary escape to the country.
Reading the blogs this week has been quite interesting for me too. As a writer I only visit the Mailbox once a month for our regular script meetings and as one becomes engrossed in one's own scripts it's easy to forget that the machine that is 'The Archers' is still busily running away. After the script meeting we all head back to our homes in Bristol, Dorset, Cheshire - or in my case just four miles down the road - and wait by our inboxes for the storylines. We then have five or six days to write a synopsis and then twelve days to complete our six episodes.
I've already had a first sweep at most of my scripts. Generally I like to get them written as quickly as possible, which then gives me plenty of time to go back and tinker. Today I've already been busy redrafting my Tuesday episode. Because of restrictions with actor availability it's meant that my two main storylines have become tethered together. Normally I'd try to spread them out into separate episodes, but I'm rather enjoying having to interweave my two most high-powered storylines. They're both mainly two-headers, they're both emotional (although in different ways) and, as often happens as one goes along, I'm discovering themes and resonances between the two threads.
Writing for The Archers can often seems like a big puzzle. To help me get my head around this when I first receive the storylines I normally draw a graph with the days of the week along the x axis and the intensity of the individual storylines along the y. It sounds horribly technical (although I do draw it in pretty colours!) but it allows me to better understand the shape of my week. All the writers have a very different ways of approaching their scripts. For instance some prefer to start at Sunday and write straight through to Friday. I prefer to go with the mood I'm in that day. So if I'm feeling light-hearted I might choose to spend some time with Lynda and the Parish Council, or if I'm ready for something a bit more hard-hitting I might have a crack at... Oh but that would be giving the story away!
So - the sun is shining, the red vans of the Royal Mail have all left the yard and the cat, as usual, is trying to make her own contribution by walking across the keyboard. Where shall I go now? I think I head down to The Bull. I could do with a pint.
Tim Stimpson is a scriptwriter on The Archers
- Archers Week ran on the Radio 4 blog from 23-30 November 2009. 19 blog posts were published in all, from 17 authors. They're listed here.
- Radio 4's Archers web site is full of good stuff, like a map of Ambridge, family trees for all the big clans and a detailed who's who. There's also a 'two-minute guide' for Archers newbies.
- The Archers messageboards are among the busiest at the BBC - nicknamed Mustardland because of the distinctive yellow page backgrounds. They're a bit sceptical about Archers Week, though.
- There are two Archers podcasts: one for the daily episodes and one for the Sunday omnibus.
- Hedli Niklaus, who plays Kathy Perks in the serial, also runs the Archers fan club, Archers Addicts.
- Norman Painting, who played Archers patriarch Phil for nearly sixty years, died on 29 October 2009. The last episode he recorded aired on 22 November. Archers Editor Vanessa Whitburn paid tribute to him here on the blog and the Archers Addicts have collected listener tributes.
- During our visit to the Archers' home in Birmingham dozens of photographs were taken, many of which feature pictures of cast members (and an ironing board).
- Twitter was put to use during Archers Week. #archersweek was the hashtag and we learnt that Tim Bentinck, who plays David Archer (@timbentinck) and Keri Davies, who writes scripts (@keridavies) are both Twitterers. Follow the Radio 4 blog on Twitter.