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Brigadier

The Real Comedy Controllers

Last night I visited Broadcasting House for a recording of The Real Comedy Controllers, which will air on BBC Radio 4 Extra on March 25th.

The BBC staff were exceptionally nice; when my companion phoned to say they'd been held up and was it worth jumping in a taxi, the person on the door said "Have you got tickets? Then you're guaranteed entry. And why don't you come and wait in the warm?"

The show itself consists of anecdotes and discussion from four movers and shakers in the world of TV and radio comedy (pitchers, commissioners, producers, writers), and the instalment we enjoyed covered the '60s and '70s.

Paul Jackson, Beryl Vertue, Jimmy Mulville and John Lloyd were all excellent value, but I have a particular soft spot for Lloyd. He's a very funny speaker, does wicked impressions, and got visibly emotional talking about his friendship with Douglas Adams.

The broadcast show will be three hours long and feature complete episodes of select comedies, but we had to be content with clips. My favourite of these was Round the Horne's Julian and Sandy presenting their version of Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man, which I will leave you to imagine.

The recording ran for an hour longer than we were told it would, but I had no complaints. Though I was pretty hungry by the end.
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Ah! If only I'd known! Still, that definitely does sound like a production worth waiting for. And knowing I don't stand a chance of actually remembering anywhere near that far ahead, I've added the date to Calendar by way of a reminder.

I'm really surprised at how weak the state of British comedy, especially satirical, seems to be these days - in Thatcher's years, we had Spitting Image, The Young Ones, Whoops Apocalypse, and many more, yet now.. what *is* there? True, the broadcasting landscape is way different now, but very few new channels have any budget, other than Murdoch's empire.

Where should I look to find out about forthcoming recordings that might be of interest? You seem to be an old hand with how Auntie's operation works. =:)
I am on the Shows & Tours mailing-list, which is where my info comes from! Most of it isn't of interest, but it's worth it for the bits that are.

Where indeed is satire today? Maybe it's all on the internet. I'm more a sitcom person generally, but I miss stuff like Drop the Dead Donkey.
That sounds quite lovely.

The BBC staff were exceptionally nice; when my companion phoned to say they'd been held up and was it worth jumping in a taxi, the person on the door said "Have you got tickets? Then you're guaranteed entry. And why don't you come and wait in the warm?"

Now I'm having a rather specific mental image — a lady arriving for an evening event, it's dark outside, windy and cold, it's raining cats and dogs. As she quickly steps up to the door to escape the downpour, shaking out her umbrella, she's greeted by two doormen in long, midnight blue coats; they bow their heads and smile, welcoming her by name and beckoning her inside, holding the doors open for her. Inside it's warm; the interior design is plush, thick carpet, old-fashioned wallpaper, mirrors in baroque shapes, golden chairs with purple cushions. Someone takes her coat; she looks around, her companion for the evening is not here yet, but an older man in white tie approaches her, carrying a velvet cushion upon which rests an old-fashioned telephone, a call already on the line. "Mr. Otis regrets he has been held up and will be late, Ma'am."
That is a beautiful image, and it was not at all like that but I am going to pretend it was ^.^
Would be nice if, wouldn't it? ^^

It's interesting as well how these mental images come out of nowhere sometimes. I wonder if that's inspiration works for writers (like you!), though in my case it's too fickle to rely on. My muse likes to take extended vacations and unannounced sabbaticals. :P
I don't usually see anything as clear as that, though sometimes I can put myself into a very relaxed state (following JM Horse's technique from his talks at ConFuzzled) and get the experience, which is very nice indeed.

I am a descriptive writer but I have to work pretty hard at pulling it out of my head, although sometimes that one scene, or character, or line of dialogue arrives as a starting-point.
I have to work pretty hard at pulling it out of my head

Oh yes, I know that problem! (It's easier for me in German, but when I write in German the downside is that fewer of my friends will be able to read it at all.)

That said, even in German, the problem for me is often the "pulling it out". I can (sometimes) see scenes quite clearly in front of my mind's eye, but finding the right words to convey what I'm seeing to someone else, no, that's not so easy at all.

What's giving me even more trouble when writing, though, is plot. Do you have any techniques for advancing plot? I've been told that for some writers, their characters just come alive and "act naturally", as it were, sometimes even going against the writer's wishes and intentions, but that doesn't happen for me.

Others have a knack for creating the "big picture" first, the overall story, and then filling in the details and plot twists and all that later, the way that a visual artist create a sketch first and then work it out in greater detail afterward. But I'm having trouble with this, too: I'm not good at finding archetypical "big picture" stories I want to tell.

How do you deal with that, when writing?
Ha, I wish! I'm dreadful at plot. On very, very few occasions, the whole plot will just snap into place for me. Sometimes I have a beginning and an end, and have to thrash out the middle as I go. Often I write with no clear idea of where I'm going, and have to go back and fix things once I've worked out where the story ends up.

The one thing I've found really helpful is talking through what I have so far with someone - almost anyone - else. Sometimes they come up with a bit of inspiration, and sometimes just running through the story out loud gives me an idea of my own.
Ah, yeah, it's all "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration", isn't it. ^^ We (that is to say, those who don't write, or at least don't write much) sometimes think that a flash of inspiration followed by an intense bout of furious writing is all that's needed to pen a novel, but that's not how it works in practice, is it.

I've heard this from several different authors, actually, notably Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and Frank Schätzing (Der Schwarm). Beagle, in a talk that I attended, mentioned that being a writer, to him, was not altogether unlike every other job: he got up in the morning, went to his office, worked for eight hours or so, and then wrapped up for the day. The "what" of the job may have been different, but the "how" was not; it was still a job, it still required him to put in time, effort and diligence. And though he enjoyed writing, it was a *job*, too, his way to feed his family. He couldn't have afforded to wait until he happened to feel inspired.

Schätzing remarked on this somewhere as well, saying that he'd actually rented an office to write since he found he couldn't focus well enough at home. There were too many distractions, and having an office dedicated solely to writing and going there every day to do his job (in the Beaglesian sense) allowed him to put in the work he needed to finish his books in a timely manner.

The one thing I've found really helpful is talking through what I have so far with someone - almost anyone - else. Sometimes they come up with a bit of inspiration, and sometimes just running through the story out loud gives me an idea of my own.

Oh yes, that's a great idea! Get feedback early, get feedback often. I'll have to keep that in mind. :)
That 1% is often the hardest bit to come by!

And yes, if you're making a living by it, you definitely need to sit down and thrash things out. I'm both glad and sorry that that's not where I am currently.

Another thing I've heard which I believe and find comforting is that the readers won't be able to tell which bits flowed smoothly from the well of inspiration and which had to be dragged out by their hair over hours and hours.

And lucky you hearing Peter S. Beagle talk. I've mentioned this before, I think, but his I See By My Outfit, an early non-fiction work about riding scooters from New York to San Francisco, is one of the best travelogues I've ever read.
Oh, I didn't know he'd written non-fiction as well! Neat. :)

Yeah, he was guest of honor at EF17 (the second Magdeburg EF; I think it was the East Asia-themed one). He did quite a few panels, and spoke a lot about his works, his experiences as a writer, and so on. If he's guest at a con somewhere near you, I definitely recommend going.

Another thing I've heard which I believe and find comforting is that the readers won't be able to tell which bits flowed smoothly from the well of inspiration and which had to be dragged out by their hair over hours and hours.

That's true. I've noticed that when translating poetry — sometimes the translation comes to you real easy, sometimes it's a whole lot of drudgery, but you couldn't tell from the end result which is which.

It does make you wish you had a magic pen that would just give you inspiration, doesn't it? I wonder how the great, prolific writers of history did it. How do you consistently write very, polished high-quality stuff, and tons of it at that?
Ugh, yes, I wish the story in my head would get on the page smoothly and easily. I can understand why art doesn't work like that, but why doesn't writing? I know lots of words...
Yeah, that gets me too.

I actually regularly get this when thinking in different languages — I'm able to think of e.g. an English word for a thing, but not a German one, or vice versa. And I can't translate the word I know either, even though I know the translation perfectly well, even though I'd recognize it if I saw it, and even though I invariably say "yes, of course, how couldn't I think of that" when checking a dictionary.

When writing, what I find most difficult is putting myself in the position of someone who, unlike me, cannot see the scene I have in my head. What do I need to describe to convey my vision — what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like? What words will give a reader an accurate idea (a good one, if not necessarily an identical one)? I don't want to be overly specific and stifle people's own internal creativity, their ability to see their version of my vision, but I also don't want to paint in such overbroad strokes that my vision will remain but a sketch, either.

Absent an ability to view your writing as an outsider would, I think getting feedback from others is really crucial. But then you can't look into people's heads either, and their actual feedback may be lacking, especially if they're friends and they don't want to disappoint you by saying "this isn't doing much for me".
Sounds like it was quite an evening, was Paul Jackson the foreboding figure that his reputation suggests?
On the contrary, he was a complete delight!
I'm not sure if I am disappointed by that or not lol. Certainly on one of the Red Dwarf DVDs you get the impression he was comedy director equivalent of Darth Vader
Well, when you're trying to keep Craig Charles in check...
Very true, there are some amusing stories about him.