Archives for March 2012

Bang Goes The Theory: The human-powered plane experiment

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Alex Freeman Alex Freeman | 10:35 UK time, Friday, 30 March 2012

Bang Goes the Theory's resident engineer, inventor and presenter Jem Stansfield is a man who seems to have done pretty much everything: from building a pair of Spiderman-style gloves powered by vacuum cleaners that allows him to scale the sides of buildings to fulfilling that childhood dream of going 'all the way round' on a swing... with the help of a rocket strapped to his body.

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From series four: Can Jem go 360 degrees on a swing?

But, despite having a degree in aeronautical engineering, he had never attempted to build a real flying machine.

In fact, he says, that is precisely because of his training. If it taught him anything, it was how difficult it is to build anything that has to go airborne.

So it must have been a real moment of weakness back in December 2011 when, whilst mulling ideas for the current series of Bang, we came across footage celebrating the 50th anniversary of human-powered flight.

Seeing an aluminium and wooden plane pedalled into the air by an enthusiastic young pilot called Derek Piggott at Lasham Airfield in 1961 had a certain charm to it that attracted Jem's attention.

Inspired by this, and a visit to a team of young engineering students at Southampton University trying to emulate their forebears' achievement, we thought that this might actually be something we stood a chance of being able to do.

Only a handful of aircraft have ever made it off the ground powered by a person's own muscles.

Those that succeeded have generally been the culmination of years of dedicated work - sometimes by huge teams of highly experienced aeronautical engineers - and pedalled by athletes who train to an international competitive standard.

Jem's a keen cyclist, but no elite athlete.

Jem Stansfield works on a part of the wing of the plane in the aircraft hangar.

The hangar isn't big enough to put the wings fully together - it'll be done outside

He and the core team of two Bang engineers had no experience of working with carbon fibre - the material of choice for strong and light craft.

For them to build a plane that stood any chance of taking off in a matter of weeks, and to take on the task of pedalling it into the air seems, in retrospect, rather over-optimistic.

Add to that the facts that Jem had never flown a plane before, and he would have to control the craft whilst pedalling as hard as he could, and it seems simply impossible.

So now, a few months later, the small team of us find ourselves at Lasham airport, unpacking a bubble-wrapped package that contains the vast structure of our aircraft.

The wings alone are 23m across - roughly the size of a Boeing 737. Yet, being built mostly of foam and a kind of cellophane, the whole plane weighs only two thirds of Jem's weight.

Only now, with an aircraft hangar at our disposal, can we put the pieces together to see our plane for the first time.

We're waiting for an early morning without a breath of wind because the merest gust could send the vast lightweight structure tumbling sideways.

Meanwhile Jem has to try to grab some sleep... between practising on his home-built training bicycle (which runs flight simulator software whilst he pedals hard enough to power three 100 watt light bulbs) and putting the finishing touches to the aircraft that we all hope will, very soon, make its maiden - and possibly only - flight.

If it does, we will have shown the childhood dream that so many of us have of being able to fly isn't, perhaps, as impossible as it might seem...

Alex Freeman is one of the producer/directors on Bang Goes The Theory.

You can see how the human-powered flight experiment turned out later in the current series. We'll add the episode date and time here once confirmed.

Bang Goes The Theory continues on Mondays at 7.30pm on BBC One and BBC One HD in Scotland and England, and BBC Two in Northern Ireland and Wales. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

My Murder: Why this drama had to have a heart

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Levi David Addai Levi David Addai | 10:13 UK time, Monday, 26 March 2012

As much as television commissions can be few and far between for any writer, let alone newer writers like me, My Murder wasn't a project I immediately jumped at.

Danny (Malachi Kirby), Samantha (Simona Zivkovska) and Shakilus (John Boyega)

Danny (Malachi Kirby), Samantha (Simona Zivkovska) and Shakilus (John Boyega)

I guess I needed assurance that the Beeb wasn't using Shakilus Townsend's death and his mother's anguish so that they could seem edgy - tick a box and get one up on their broadcast rivals.

Shakilus was 16 when he was beaten and stabbed to death in a planned attack by members of a gang in south London in 2008.

He'd been led into the ambush, widely reported as the 'honey trap murder', by Samantha Joseph - a girl Shakilus' mum said he was 'smitten' with.

Samantha was sentenced to at least 10 years for her part in his murder and six other teenagers including her ex-boyfriend Danny McLean were jailed for life.

There had to be a heart to this drama and fortunately the producer Colin Barr was of the same mind.

I always made it clear that I didn't want the film to go into Crimewatch territory. Nor did I want it to seem like an 'urban drama' with a stereotypical knife crime story - and I was encouraged that Colin and the BBC felt the same.

The finished film is the opposite of that.

Of course there'll be many people that will see Shakilus, in his hoody, being loud with his friends and automatically make assumptions.

But for me the fact that Shak wasn't an angel makes his story richer and dare I say 'normal'.

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Shakilus gets a warning

My approach was to chew over all the extensive material that the research team provided me.

I read through mountains of research and court evidence as I tried to visualise in my mind's eye the events of 2008.

I'd asked myself questions like why was Shakilus interested in Sam? Why was Shak so persistent?

What was Sam's interest in Shak? Why did she feel she couldn't let Danny know about Shak? Was she at fault for not 'declaring' Shak to Danny?

One thing that was very clear from the interviews and research was Shakilus' bubbly, charismatic character.

This was a guy who was so popular amongst his friends and family.

Also, he wasn't short on female friends and definitely wasn't scared to talk to girls. His charm, his wit and his boldness is what drew me to Shakilus.

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Shakilus meets Samantha for the first time

You can't help but think what potential he had.

But on reflection I guess what drew me to the story is that I, in my adolescent years, and the teenage Shakilus were both driven by the most basic of human emotions - attraction.

I, like many billions of others, have been so blindly infatuated - calling it love - only to find you have been taken for a ride.

But I and so many others were lucky because the only consequence we suffered was a 'broken heart'.

Shakilus wasn't as fortunate.

Levi David Addai is the writer of My Murder.

My Murder is on Monday, 26 March at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

You can watch an interview with the cast on the BBC News website and also read a post by John Boyega, who plays Shakilus, on the BBC Three blog.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Making Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me

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Sophie Leonard Sophie Leonard | 10:37 UK time, Tuesday, 20 March 2012

When we approached Rita about making Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me, she was initially unsure about the amount of exposure it would bring her then five-year-old daughter Maiya.

Rita Simons in Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and me

Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me

Maiya was diagnosed with hearing loss at six months old and Rita and her family have recently found out that she will probably lose her hearing completely.

In the end Rita came to the conclusion that if she could break some of the stigma about deafness and raise awareness that deaf people can achieve whatever they want in life, it was worth doing the documentary.

Rita also, by her own admission, had been sticking her head in the sand about Maiya's condition and she finally felt ready to look into what was available for Maiya's future.

As the producer and director I was mindful about how our presence in the family home might affect the children and if it might put new emphasis on Maiya's hearing loss.

But once I got to know the family I became very comfortable with the role we played in their life for the four months we filmed with them.

Maiya and her twin sister Jaimee are fun, strong, characterful children who love being filmed and by the end of filming were directing me half of the time.

"Have you filmed me doing a handstand yet?"

However, we were always careful not to film sensitive scenes about Maiya's hearing loss when the children were around.

When Rita and Theo first found out from specialists that Maiya will probably lose her hearing altogether Maiya actually had her hearing aids out and wouldn't have been able to hear anything.

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Maiya gets her hearing tested

Ninety per cent of deaf children are born into families who have no previous experience of deafness, so Rita and Theo are representative of many parents with deaf children.

It was a rollercoaster of emotions for them.

Everyone wants to do the right thing for their children, but choosing a route of treatment seems a big gamble as you never know until afterwards if you've made the right decision.

Rita is starting to understand about what life might be like for Maiya as a deaf adult and is starting to learn about how deaf people communicate.

There are many choices but Rita takes quite a black and white view for Maiya - to keep her in the hearing world with artificial sound like hearing aids or cochlear implants, or immerse her into the deaf world with sign language.

However, there is huge middle ground and most people use a mixture of ways to live and communicate.

There are so many different options and paths available to deaf people now that as Maiya grows up I'm sure she'll work out the right fit for her and Rita and Theo will support her in that.

Filming with deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) was a challenge as I don't know BSL. I can now sign what my name is, that I work as a director and that I'm filming with an actress from EastEnders who has twin daughters - but that can only get you so far!

We had many moments of communication breakdown that we had to overcome, but we managed it.

What most people don't realise is that BSL is not just a translation of English, it's a totally different language with different grammar.

For me as the English language speaker it was a bit like trying to communicate with someone who only speaks Mandarin, and it made me realise how difficult communication can be for deaf people.

As we show in the documentary, Rita and her family took a BSL lesson. As an actress, Rita was actually very good at sign language as it's a visual language and she picked it up very quickly.

However, at age five, Maiya was more interested at playing dressing up games than BSL, but I do think that as she gets older the family will look into learning sign language again.

When we started filming Rita said to me that I'd never see her cry about Maiya as she takes a very practical approach and won't let herself become emotional about it.

However, when she went to visit the deaf school and saw a big group of deaf children rehearsing a school play I turned round and saw tears streaming down Rita's face.

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Rita visits the deaf school

The impact of seeing so many children like her daughter was very emotional for her and I think it hit home that Maiya is deaf and does have to overcome challenges on a daily basis because she can't hear like other people.

Rita and Theo are united in their approach to parenting Maiya, but they have very different personalities.

Theo is more reticent in making decisions whereas Rita is very decisive, but the balance between the two of them makes them a good partnership.

Rita and Theo have been together since they were teenagers and although having a deaf child inevitably makes parenting more stressful it hasn't put a strain on their marriage and they are very happy.

Rita wanted to find out about cochlear implants so she met eight-year-old Jack who has the same level of hearing loss as Maiya and was having a cochlear implant operation.

One of the most stressful parts for me was filming Jack's activation appointment.

Rita and Jack's parents were incredibly stoical about it but I absolutely hated it when Jack took a while to start hearing through his implant.

You may like to know that two months on Jack's parents Tracy and Mick have told me that he's getting on brilliantly and that he can hear all sorts of sounds that he couldn't hear before.

Sophie Leonard is the producer and director of Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me.

Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me is next on at 10.40pm on Tuesday, 20 March on BBC One and BBC One HD. It was first broadcast on Tuesday, 20 March at 12.35am on BBC One and BBC One HD with signing in British Sign Language.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

If you would like further information about deafness and the issues raised in the programme, please visit the information and support page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Casualty: I co-wrote the gangs storyline

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Andrea Page Andrea Page | 10:48 UK time, Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Saturday's episode was my first Casualty script and I couldn't have asked for a more exciting introduction.

It's a three-part story, which is unusual for Casualty, and it pitches the Holby Emergency Department (ED) team into the aftermath of a violent gang-related shooting and the police investigation.

Jade (Dominique Jackson) and Stevie (Franz Drameh)

Jade (Dominique Jackson) and her boyfriend Stevie (Franz Drameh)

I came to Casualty through the BBC Writers' Academy so this was also my first time working with other writers (David Bowker and Emma Goodwin) on a story that runs across three episodes.

We met up with the production team to thrash out what we wanted this story to be, then the writers and script editors sat down to come up with an overall story 'arc' for the three episodes.

I've been asked if real-life events inspired this story. Yes, in that EDs are on the front line, dealing with the effects of youth-on-youth violence.

As part of our research, Rob Jackson, nurse clinician at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, showed the writers and some of the Casualty team what this damage really looks like in an unflinching presentation about situations from his ED.

Obviously I read a lot of articles and other materials to get as much background as I could.

But I think our starting point was even more basic: what's going on in a young person's life that makes using a knife or gun seem like a real choice?

To get our heads around that we also met with ED staff at Kings College Hospital in south London (where there was a fight between two gangs days before our visit).

We also talked to police detectives, community liaison officers and community workers who support young people.

Their insights helped us to build our story around Stevie, who's on the very edges of a gang through his half-brother Kris.

Because 'gang member' is a label - all kinds of young people are affected by gang culture, whether they want it in their lives or not.

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Watch the fallout from the shooting

The best thing, apart from getting to write the second episode of this three-parter, was seeing how much everyone on the Casualty team cared about making this story real.

It was great to have so much support, long before one word got written. It was hard work and a lot of fun piecing it together.

And frustrating sometimes, when a scene you really want to write just works better in another episode.

I'm thinking of a moment between Kris and Stevie that's in part three. Things did change as we wrote and the script editors, Emily Groves and David Davis, had to keep a clear view across all three episodes.

Talking to them made me realise this moment should happen after my episode. You're constantly talking to your script editor about all kinds of details, and to make sure the characters act and talk consistently.

I realised early during the research that I wanted my episode to explore how girls get treated when they come into contact with gangs.

Jade's a 'real' girlfriend - a so-called 'wifey' - and I wanted to know what that could mean for her and for girls who aren't seen this way.

That led eventually to the issue of rape. Sadly, it is sometimes used by gangs to punish or intimidate - that is, as a weapon.

So Jade is another victim of Stevie's decision to fire a gun. Her scenes after the rape were difficult to write, but also satisfying because of the bond between her and Tess.

Jade and her friend Tia live in the same world with similar pressures, but they react differently.

By the end of the episode Jade's the one deciding what she wants - a small but important step. I hope it comes through in the story, that there's always a choice.

Andrea Page is a writer on Casualty.

Casualty continues on Saturday, 17 March at 9.35pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

White Heat: Playing Charlotte over 24 years

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Claire Foy Claire Foy | 16:26 UK time, Wednesday, 7 March 2012

When I first saw the scripts for White Heat I was auditioning for the part of Lilly, but as soon I started reading it was the character of Charlotte that I identified with.

Jack (Sam Claflin) puts his arm round Charlotte (Claire Foy) at a demonstration

Jack (Sam Claflin) and Charlotte (Claire Foy)

I had worked with the writer Paula Milne before on The Night Watch, in which I played Helen, a blonde, quite vulnerable character - the opposite of redhead, ambitious Charlotte. So I knew I had my work cut out to convince Paula I was the right person for the job!!

Both Charlotte and I grew up in Buckinghamshire and I could really identify with her ambitions and excitement at 18 of going off to university to start her life.

Charlotte is different to me in many ways though. She is very much a product of her time, brought up in the 1950s nuclear family. Her brothers are taught to be ambitious, not her.

She's desperate to break out and change the world, and she does.

Charlotte is intelligent and is excited by people who don't want to accept the status quo but who want to challenge authority and make things happen.

Which is one of the reasons why she is so attracted to her housemate Jack. He's exciting and bold and political, and she understands him better than he does himself.

Jack (Sam Claflin) kisses Charlotte (Claire Foy)

Jack (Sam Claflin) kisses Charlotte (Claire Foy)

Jack has a difficult relationship with his parents, so does Charlotte, and she wants to be close to him. Unfortunately Jack doesn't really feel the same!

It was so interesting to play a character from the age of 18 to 42 because you see how relationships (like Charlotte's with Jack) can shape the decisions you make in your life, and only with hindsight, how much they affected you.

We had one director (John Alexander) directing all six episodes so it meant we could shoot scenes from episode one (age 18) in the morning, then episode six (age 42) in the afternoon.

That was a huge challenge. Not only because our 1965 and 1989 make-up and hair was so different and complex to change but also because we were shooting across entire decades of people's lives.

We had to make sure we each knew our character's journey in the show inside and out.

For me, the most important thing to get to grips with was how Charlotte changes from relatively naive and excited to so politically-driven and independent.

I read quite a lot about women who were involved in the women's movement at the time and how their politics affected them personally.

I was surprised how little I knew about how much they sacrificed and how determined they were for change.

Music also helped me a lot to pinpoint certain moments in Charlotte's life and differentiate between the decades. From the Sixties I listened to a lot of the Small Faces and Buffalo Springfield and later moved on to Kate Bush and Kiki Dee.

Orla (Jessica Gunning), Lilly (Myanna Buring), Jack (Sam Claflin), Charlotte (Claire Foy), Jay (Reece Ritchie), Alan (Lee Ingleby), Victor (David Gyasi)

The housemates: Orla, Lilly, Jack, Charlotte, Jay, Alan and Victor

One of the wonderful things about Paula's script is the friendship between the seven flatmates and how that changes with time. We were lucky that as a cast we all naturally became friends and had an amazing time shooting together.

We had a week of rehearsals before we started shooting, when we each had time to talk to John (Alexander, director) about the different relationships we had with the other characters over the decades.

We had time to get to know each other and talk about what we were nervous or excited about.

At the end of the week we all went to the local pub near where we were rehearsing in north London (very similar to the one in White Heat!). It felt like we were a proper team.

I think that helps with the dynamic of the characters on screen. Hopefully that means you will care about these characters and where their lives are going to take them.

Claire Foy plays the role of Charlotte in White Heat.

White Heat starts on Thursday, 8 March at 9pm on BBC Two. For further programme times, please visit the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The thousands of creative decisions behind BBC Four's Dirk Gently

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Stephen Mangan Stephen Mangan | 10:30 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

One man, Douglas Adams, wrote two and a half books about the adventures of holistic detective, Dirk Gently, and now over 100 people have collaborated to bring his character to the small screen for a new series which starts tonight.

Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd)

Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd)

The novel writer is master of his domain. Apart from odd suggestions from an editor or publisher he is king, supreme leader and dictator.

Making television is essentially collaborative and involves the creative input of a huge number of people, all of whom, to a greater or lesser degree, influence the finished product.

The producers are responsible for hiring everybody. They choose a writer (or writers in our case) to produce scripts. These scripts will set the template for all that follows but there are thousands of creative decisions still to be made.

A director is hired. Who you pick will have a massive impact on the finished product because nearly all decisions from here on in are made in conjunction with him or her.

Actors are chosen. They picked me to play Dirk but imagine the show with, say, Damian Lewis or Harry Enfield or Alexander Armstrong as Dirk instead. (If you believe any of them would have been better than me, please don't tell the BBC.)

Darren Boyd plays Richard but how different would the show be with Rupert Penry-Jones or Russell Tovey as MacDuff?

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Dirk and Richard are on a stakeout

Locations for filming are chosen with the help of a locations manager, helping to find the perfect place as described in the script and if you can't find the right place you might build a set, which has to be designed, built, decorated and furnished.

The art director is responsible for the look of the whole show and, with the art department, decides everything from the colour of the walls to the knick-knacks on a shelf.

The costume designer clothes the actors. My look in the series is different from the pilot because we had a different costume designer who brings her own sensibility.

Neither is 'right' but they are both different and have an impact on what the audience feels about Dirk. Imagine David Tennant's Doctor Who in a bomber jacket and DMs.

The cameraman and the director chose the style of shooting. Again you'll notice a difference between the style of the pilot and the style of the series. Which do you prefer?

Look out for the very first sequence in the first episode of the series, up to the title credits, and imagine quite how many decisions had to be made about a myriad of things just to put that together.

Then there's the music, which has an enormous impact of the feel of a show. Hair and make up, lighting, sound and dozens more, hundreds of decisions have been made about hundreds of things that all impact on what you see on your screens.

Unlike books, which require a writer, a laptop and a reader to do all that work in their heads.

Stephen Mangan plays the title role in Dirk Gently.

Dirk Gently starts on Monday, 5 March at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please visit the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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