Belfast, Scene and Heard, Big Top

Unintended consequences can often be good consequences, and such was the case when an unexpected back problem meant that I couldn't get over to Belfast for a combined College/BBC Northern Ireland workshop for writers from the island of Ireland.

Rather than sticking to my structure scripts, my Belfast-based colleague Raymond Lau decided to use the time to brainstorm a show. The result has been a four-episode order from BBC Radio Ulster for a comedy about coping with aspects of modern life, and I was able recently to get on to a plane and go and help come up with a format for the show - a spoof magazine programme.

Not all the writers were able to get to the meeting, but it was very good to meet the ones who made it, and we did some useful work. Now the show is taking on a definite shape, being guided by Raymond with me helping out, with recording scheduled for February and transmission for March.

It's great that the College was able to stimulate something creative (and great of Radio Ulster to want it). The standard of jokes in the pub afterwards reached the depths that I always expect to be reached when a bunch of comedy writers get together. Better in the pub than in the show.

From Belfast (via the Emirates), I went to have my second experience of Scene and Heard, that extraordinary charity which produces drama by children from the Somers Town area of London, about which I've written before.

Young writers, aged between nine and 11, produce ten-minute plays which can feature objects or animals, but not people. They work with professionals who help develop the plays, which are then professionally directed and performed.

The results are never less than engaging, frequently extraordinary, generally hilarious and very often very touching, as bits of real life creep in, with references to anger management, divided families in different countries, and a burning desire to change circumstances.

Most of the plays have brilliant opening lines. A peacock demans: Where are my yodelling practice notes?', while a rather camp golden tap declares: "The old queen keeps leading me on," which made me laugh a lot, as did "people really like bubbly wines in Blackpool".

Then there are the touching lines: "I'm not really in love, I just want somewhere to stay", and "I'm a pair of earrings. I don't have a life."

There was an interesting piece about someone who stood out through being different, went to a place where he fitted in, and was then unhappy because he wasn't unique, quite an insight for a 12-year-old.

So it's well worth keeping an eye on Scene and Heard.

Playing a cyber shark with some distinction was Bruce Mackinnon, and actor I worked with on a show called Home Again, and currently playing an acrobat in Daniel Peak's new BBC1 sitcom, Big Top.

As is traditional with virtually every new BBC1 sitcom, Big Top has received a massive critical kicking, both in newspapers and on writers' forums. I can never quite understand the snobbishness of aspiring comedy writers, who tend to unite in loathing any show which is popular with audiences. Two Pints and My Family spring immediately to mind.

Getting the first series of any show to work is hard, gaining acceptance for a new show on BBC1 is harder, and having a sitcom commissioned on any channel is a major achievement. So I'm very pleased for Danny, who I've known since his early success in winning the BBC Sitcom Talent competition with The Bunk Bed Boys, and with whom I've worked on and off over the past eight years.

It's good for comedy if any new narrative show works because it creates demand for more sitcom rather than stand-up or comedy entertainment, so I hope that Big Top beds in, both because I love narrative comedy, and the more there is of it, the more opportunities there are for writers.


More Posts