Jeremy Front reflects on his Chain Reaction interview with his sister, Rebecca Front.
Jeremy Front kicked off the eighth series of Chain Reaction by interviewing his writing partner Rebecca Front. Perhaps uniquely for a Chain Reaction pairing, they're also brother and sister (as their names would suggest).
Here, Jeremy reveals more about his upbringing with Rebecca, their working relationship and what question his mother wanted him to ask.
Where did the inspiration for Pixie Nutkin come from?
As all writers say about their characters to avoid litigation, they are amalgams. Pixie Nutkin was clearly a conflation of all the kindly, sweet-natured fairies of classic children’s literature and a real life pixie I’d befriended as I strolled the bucolic lanes of my rural up-bringing… Sorry, I seem to be writing about somebody else’s up-bringing. Pixie Nutkin was just an ingenuous and innocent bystander in the mire of my boyish imagination. I suppose he was rather like a Hanna Barbera character; never learning from his mistakes and repeatedly standing under the open window of the Acme Anvil Company.
Were you just a particularly sadistic child?
I am told I was actually a very gentle and sensitive child. But what boy doesn’t enjoy comedy violence? And what older brother can resist teasing his kid sister?
Do you get irritated when things get misquoted, for example, the ‘polite Jeremy Front’?
Oh, don’t get me started! OK, you’ve got me started. Misquotes, whether deliberate or due to people asking a question then Tweeting while you answer, are minor irritants. But let’s keep things in perspective. These are very much First World Problems. The universe is expanding, so in the great scheme of things it’s all pretty insignificant. You won’t misquote me on that, will you?
Are there any questions you would have asked differently?
I would have delved, mined, or even pot-holed into the darker, deeper recesses of Rebecca’s claustrophobia. In particular I’d have asked her to tell us about the time we left a late night TV recording with Sam Mendes who very generously agreed not to take the lift, but instead use the staircase to the exit. The best part of an hour later, having traipsed a Byzantine labyrinth of corridors and descended many staircases, we found ourselves in a darkened subterranean scenery dock full of locked doors in a building which was soon to shut down for the night. Outwardly Sam remained cheery and tolerant, but there was a tangible tightening of the lips.
What about the questions you didn’t get to ask?
Rebecca has a vivid childhood recollection of us all going to a West End Christmas panto starring Danny la Rue. When the moment came for “any children who’d like to join us on stage”, I was sinking as far as possible into my seat while she was already being lead through the pass door, into the wings and onto the stage. I would have asked her if that was the moment the performing light went on for her.
Have you thought of a synonym for ‘straddle’? Can you go fifteen minutes without saying it?
I suppose I could have said, ‘bestride’, but I think that would have been a little pretentious in context. I hadn’t considered ‘straddle’ to be amongst the words I undoubtedly overuse. That having been said, I have just come back from a meeting during the course of which I found my mouth forming the word ‘straddle’ and, hearing the voice of my sister ringing in my ears, managed to steer the sentence in a different direction.
Rebecca said there’s always one sibling who bustles about, and one who expects everything to be brought for them – which one were you?
I think I’m a bustler and I would have thought she was too. Sitting around waiting for things to brought to you is a highly inadvisable way of carrying on, not only as a sibling, but in life. It sounds like that commonly perceived image of writers, artists or musicians waiting for inspiration. If and when the muse comes, it comes – the rest is hard word and long hours.
You ask Rebecca about how she feels about working with you, but how do you feel about working with her?
There was a family precedent as our mother is a children’s author and our father is an illustrator, so we grew up with them collaborating on books and stories for BBC programmes like Playschool, Playaway and Jackanory. Rebecca and I have worked together for so long I don’t consider it at all unusual. It’s only when friends and colleagues point out either that they could never work with their siblings, or wish that they could, that I realise we are in a fairly unique position.
Although Rebecca and I started out collaborating on shows, we have also gone off and worked solo or with other collaborators. This is good for both of us, but I hope she agrees that when we then get back together it always feels like a real treat. An additional advantage of working with someone you’ve known your entire life is that you have an almost psychic understanding of what the other is thinking. Don’t mis-quote me, I’m not saying it’s literally psychic, but ideas, lines or jokes can be signalled with a look or a raised eyebrow. It’s a great short-cut especially when you’re writing to a deadline.
What questions were you told to ask by your mum?
"You had such lovely, curly hair as a child. Why did they make you wear that terrible wig in Lewis?"
And finally, has Rebecca been cured of her unique phobia yet?
You mean the Doddaphobia? Let me hasten to add, this has no bearing whatsoever on the comedy legend that is Ken Dodd, a comedian who straddles show-business like a… Damn – there I go again! I think Rebecca will agree that this was an irrational childhood fear of Ken Dodd’s grinning face looming down from gigantic bill-boards. It’s taken years of therapy, but yes, I think she’s over it now.