This is a blog piece about my first television credit, how it came about and seeing my name speeding up the screen.
I mentioned in a previous post how I imagined by first televised content would feel, but that is more wrapped up the fantasy of having an entire project commissioned, in the can and waiting for the very first time that content is released onto the waiting world. What I've realised is that if that is to ever happen, then there are many more milestones and steps on the way that are equally important. After all, it took thirty years for Morecambe and Wise to become an 'Overnight Success'. Friday 29th November 2019 was another of those 'personal milestones'. My first proper television credit.
"Breaking The News" is a BBC Scotland show. Living in deepest, darkest Surrey (home of 'Oxshot's Sir Andy Murray' and yes, that is how is referred to on local radio here), I got to hear about it through some of my fellow News Dumpers (yes, yet another example of how The News Dump has been a fabulously positive experience this year). "Breaking The News" (or BTN as we writers like to refer to it) does that wonderful thing of accepting submissions from an established writers mailing list, rather than totally relying on a closed writers room. It's a topical news comedy show in the "Have I Got News For You"/"Mock The Week" format, although I describe it as gentler and more light-hearted, particularly as the radio edit of the show airs at 1:30pm on a Friday. The show is currently in its fourteenth season and has recently been transposed to television, where it is currently in its second season airing at 10pm on a Friday night. The two versions are edited differently and the gags do vary. For those of you outside of the BBC Scotland area, I recommend checking it out on iPlayer and whilst there, have a look at some of the other programming that BBC Scotland puts out, there are some real gems in there.
So at the start of the summer I contacted BTN, explained who I was and what I was doing and they very kindly added me to their mailing list and explained the process, which involves me receiving a brief every Tuesday and Wednesday the show is on air and getting a response in the following day. This means I have deadlines. In fact a few weeks ago when I had three assignments to look at from White Label Comedy, several US radio ads to submit (blog piece to follow on that one, for sure) and BTN, this writing game really felt like a 'proper job'. I will say that even just getting a brief from a radio show is such a buzz.
So two submissions a week, plus a 'last call to arms' on Thursday morning for any gaps and then the wait.
Unlike BBC Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack, BTN doesn't send out an advance warning of material being in the show, so 1:30pm on Friday I tune in on BBC Sounds to listen to BBC Radio Scotland live. Many of the gags are based on an existing news headline. For example "Royal Mint unveils its biggest ever coin – 5 Kilos – worth £5000. " to which I added "In response DFS have announced their biggest ever sofa , for the coin to fall down the back of.", so when presenter Des Clarke reads the first part of the gag, the writer sits there waiting, just hoping for their words to be quoted, only often it's someone else with a far funnier punchline. That happens a lot.
But two weeks ago I got a gag about Rod Stewart on. The first part was read out and then 'hey wait. That's my punchline', and then I heard people laughing. That gag didn't make the TV edit and I was disappointed, but I did get some other fabulous news that weekend (see my previous post) but last week I had a one gag that made the radio and TV edit .
So Friday nights are now consisting of setting up iplayer to watch BBC One Scotland. On the radio my gag was second to last, so how surprised was I when Des opened the TV show with it. I could now relax. I was finally going to get to see that "my name in the credits" moment, for the first time. But I wanted more. I wondered if I'd get another gag on and sure enough, last gag of the show was mine too (the Coin/Sofa one above actually).
The credits rolled up the screen and there I was, for a few fleeting seconds, but that felt good and it's a little recognition that I maybe starting to make a dent in this world of comedy now.
There is a lot of knocking the BBC in this country at the moment and I'm writing a piece about how wonderful they are currently, but to pre-empt if I may, the BBC still provides a platform for creatives to get started and still gives creatives little champagne moments like I had last Friday. Thank you BBC.
I can't finish this piece without telling you all how fabulous my network of writers are. We all celebrate each other's successes, both on social media and in our private virtual writers rooms and to get the comments, messages and likes from them has meant an awful lot. You all know who you are and you a great bunch.
This is a tale of how I had a parody concept for a song, being performed on a stage in London, with a co-writing credit and I didn't discover that for two weeks after the first performance, as I didn't read my e-mail carefully enough.
NewsRevue claims to be London's longest running comedy show. For over forty years, for several nights a week, four talented performers, plus equally talented directors and musical directors, act out a series of topical sketches, one-liners and songs. It's a grand night out, at their home, The Canal Café, in Little Venice, London and I would recommend anyone who loves comedy to go. A lot of very talented people have been involved. Go look.
NewsRevue, run an open submission policy (i.e. they welcome material from any comedy writer for consideration). A peer, colleague and friend on The News Dump, suggested that I should send some material in. This was while we were swapping a few rejected gags for radio shows we have been writing for, this is becoming a weekly ritual. So I sent some examples of what I can do to NewsRevue, they got back to me and invited me onto their writers list. It was suggested I go see the show to get the feel/flavour of what they do, so one night in late October I did just that. I was mightily impressed, with the structure and the energy of the performers.
One aspect I particularly liked about the show was the use of music and I pretty much decided that could be a potential outlet for myself. I've always enjoyed song as a way of getting a comedy idea over. In the days of MP3 Players and iPods my device was full of Rambling Sid Rumpole, Bernard Cribbins and a whole host of other comedy songs, some by artists we are still allowed to mention. A week later, The General Election was called and whilst out walking our dog, contemplating the horror of a Conservative landslide, I just could not get Robbie William's "Rock DJ" out of my head, except I had this idea for "Stop BJ", "BJ" being none other than current 'lovable' (at the time of writing) Prime Minister Boris Johnson. I started writing that afternoon and listening to the original song , several times, to get the timing right. After a couple of hours it was done and I sent it to the then NewsRevue Director, Alex Dowling. To my surprise, Alex very kindly responded (because he is a jolly nice chap) saying they would have a look at it and suggested some presentation formats that would help them (that could actually be an instructional blog piece in itself). I heard no more and just assumed that it wasn't quite right for them……………however.
Each week, The Canal Café send out the running order for the show to the writers. I quickly skimmed, my next e-mail and "Stop BJ" wasn't on the list and I just consigned it to the 'Rejected Pile'. When I received the following weeks e-mail I barely looked at it, as I had sent nothing new in, but failed to notice "Rock BJ" and a co-writing credit alongside Musical Director Chris Thomson. Another week and another 'quick scan' and this time I did notice my name.
I stared at the screen. I called my wife's name, with the tone of shock and bewilderment that I haven't had since I accidentally won nine-hundred pounds on an online bingo game in 2009 (now that is another story, but it will probably appear in Episode Four of my, as yet to be commissioned BAFTA award winning situation comedy). It was then I looked back through my e-mails and discovered that the song had actually been in the set the previous two weeks! With only one performance of the show, with the current directors and cast left, I called the Canal Café on Saturday evening, who very kindly sorted a writers complimentary ticket for the next night and twenty four hours later I found myself in Little Venice, sitting at a table waiting to see "Something Humorous I Wrote" . I got to speak to Alex before the show and it turns out the cast and the directors liked the concept, took my idea, made it snappier, used some of my words and added some more. The result was in the show. My first stage writing credit was born.
I've not experienced seeing any of my material being performed live before and to see how it was treated in the hands of professional performers was as much of a joy as hearing the positive reaction of the audience to the piece. Knowing I was partly responsible for their laughter is a great feeling and yes it is addictive.
The show was just as funny as the one I saw four weeks previous. Material is cycled in and out constantly to keep it fresh.
So a big thank you to Director Alex Dowling, the cast, Dylan Allcock, Lucy Gape, William Ross-Fawcett (who was a brilliant Boris) & Fiona Sherlock, but especially to Musical Director Chris Thomson, who did a fabulous job of moulding my original concept and making it a workable presentable piece.
So there it is. My first stage performance credit. Another personal landmark in what is turning out to be a very surreal year as I (finally) have a go at writing professionally…now back to my yet to be commissioned BAFTA awarding winning situation comedies, oh and writing for "Breaking The News"
Something happened today. My 100th piece on The News Dump was published. It's here if you are interested.
My The News Dump journey started one Saturday afternoon back in April, when, just nine days after I finally decided I would pursue my desire to be a writer full time, I joined The British Comedy Guide (BCG) as a "pro" member. My motivation was to seek opportunities in the comedy writing world, whilst I was getting my script ready for a BBC submission window and the opportunities section of BCG provides just that for its members. So at 1:30pm on that Saturday I paid for my annual membership; by 2pm I saw that "The News Dump" were looking for writers and by 2:45pm I sent them an e-mail with an example of what I could do (I doubled checked those times with the e-mail trail……I used to be a Quality Assurance Professional you know).
Monday morning there was an e-mail from The News Dump's creator and founder Adam Hunt, inviting me to chat a week later. I looked him up. He has quite an impressive CV. To cut a very long story short. One week later I was in and on the roster.
My first piece went live on the 16th April, it was a piece on the Notre Dame fire with a "Love It or List It" angle and since then I've covered….. well go look for yourselves. We live in 'fascinating' times and I thank my lucky stars every time Johnson, Corbyn, Farage, Trump, Rees-Mogg and the host of other Inadequates in power (elected and inherited) open their mouths. Researching the background to these people is fascinating. I encourage you all to do that for yourselves. As a consequence, my association with The News Dump has made me far more politically aware and informed, probably more than I have ever been.
Apart from giving myself an outlet for my "Comedy Muscles" as I call them, The News Dump has given me much more. I've met and come into contact with some fabulous writers, all doing what I'm doing, most are far more advanced in their careers than I am and I've learned a lot just by watching them. Writing can be a lonely business, but it's never felt that way for me because of the daily virtual contact and the amazing support of my peers. The News Dump has also given me the opportunity (and confidence) to spread my wings, in other areas. Firstly, through its sister venture "White Label Comedy" (I wrote more about that here when WLC very kindly profiled me back in September), but also indirectly by learning from the other contributors about different outlets (e.g. BBC Scotland's 'Breaking The News', Pitch, Comedy Wire, Write Label and Maida Vale's excellent live show NewsRevue).
So thank you The News Dump. I'm one hundred not out and just getting going and if anyone else reading this is thinking about going "Pro" on their British Comedy Guide account, all I can say is that after seven months as a member, it has actually paid for itself many (I'm not saying how many), times over.
On the 26th September something happened. Something that hasn't happened for 15 years. Something I wrote, was broadcast on National radio. The unique occurrence this time, was that the joke was credited to me, under my real name and it was performed in front of a live audience. I heard people laugh at something I wrote, for the first time.
I've had a lot of material read out in the past, but never under my own name. I 'sock-puppeted' a lot, mostly because I was writing in character and indirectly, I think I preferred being slightly anonymous. When I decided to have another serious go at this writing business nine months ago, I decided no more sock puppets, hence this blog, website, twitter feed. I even have business cards now (although who uses business cards these days). If you want to know more, have a look at my profile on 'White label Comedy'
BBC Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack is one of the few shows out there that take material from the general public. There are quite a few of us trying to get on it and hear our name read out at the end. The show takes a maximum of two sketches (deadline noon Monday) and six one-liners (deadline noon Tuesday), per writer, for recording on Wednesday and broadcast at 10:30pm on Thursday. On Thursday at 6pm, Newsjack send out e-mails to a) Those who made the script but did not survive the edit and b) Those who made the script and got included in the broadcast show. For six-weeks, twice a year, writers in various locations are staring at their InBox in anticipation. Competition is tough and there is even a growing #RejectedGag on twitter (some of those are really hilarious). Last Thursday at 6pm I got my first "Happy Newsjack Day" e-mail. I'd made the show for the first time after eight attempts. It was quite emotional.
A bit like my first "Televisual Gag" (see previous blog post), we were 'on the road', this time having a cheeky mid-week break in Derbyshire. We were also celebrating my wife's birthday and curiously, my first televised gag (see previous post) coincided with my father's. I just hope this isn't a trend and my material only gets broadcast on family birthdays, I don't have a big family.
So we sat down at 10:30pm and waited. It's interesting to note that I found the show much funnier knowing I'd made the script. Then at 10:50pm, one of my one-liners was read out and then the laughter. That's when I realised why I am doing this now. I enjoy making people laugh, all aspects: the creativity, the process, the result. A few minutes later, the credits were read out, alphabetically. It was quite emotional.
And of course. On Friday morning the Newsjack cycle starts again. Gathering stories, looking at quirky tales and taking a little sideways glance at the news. Sketch writing at the weekend, one liners later (just to get them as fresh as possible).
I'd recommend to any writer to get disciplined enough to write and hit those deadlines each week. It's sharpened my approach to gag writing. Thank you Newsjack for my first broadcast credit (sort of).
In seriously relaunching my writing endeavours five months ago, there was this dream, that one day, I would be sitting down in front of the television, with my loved ones, in an oak panelled room and see my name next to a "Written By" credit. The log fire would be roaring (especially for the Christmas Special), a few close friends would be invited round for the event, all waiting to cheer and raise a glass of Champagne the moment my name came on screen and if I was quick enough in getting my truly amazing comedy project accepted, commissioned and produced, our faithful dog would be there too (well he is nine years old now). Incidentally, if any comedy commissioners are reading this, my soon-to-be, award winning comedy concept, is still available for production and our dog is still alive.
Last Wednesday on 28th August 2019, I got a small taste of what that would be like. A gag, that I wrote, ended up on television.
I've been involved with satirical news website "The News Dump" and by default its sister venture "White Label Comedy" (a company that writes funny stuff for brands and TV companies), since April. Both ventures are run on a 'hive-mind' approach, where a group of writers, work collaboratively on pieces to produce top-notch material, in double-quick time. There are some seriously talented comedy writers involved in both ventures and to have my work alongside theirs is quite humbling, especially this early in my comedic re-emergence.
A few months ago an opportunity came up for White Label Comedy to provide a short three minute insert for the BBC One Show. In working together, White Label Comedy was able to provide over thirty ideas within three days to "The One Show" and once the client selected the idea to develop, we then produced a golden, gag laden script back to them in double-quick time. On the 28th August, our piece (about the PPI Claims Deadline) was aired, presented by Dom Littlewood.
The show doesn't carry credits, so there was no "written by". There was no oak-panelled room, as my wife and I were away checking up on relatives, so we watched the piece in our Travelodge room, just off the A30. No friends, no champagne (just complimentary Typhoo Tea), but we had our dog with us (still nine years old). It was a bit special.
I was lucky enough to have a gag left in the edit, that would not have been possible without the amazing set of ideas and concepts put together by the other talented writers on the White Label Team, enabling me to raise my game as well.
Did I mention my soon-to-be award winning comedy concept is still available for commission and production? Our dog is still alive.
Well the initial results for the 2019 BBC Writersroom Comedy Room window are out and, sadly, my submission didn't meet the grade this year. It was always a long shot, there were over 2700 entries, but it was kind of nice to be able to say, for three months, that I had a script in with the BBC. During that time, I christened my submission as "Schrodinger's Script", as it was neither rejected, nor accepted. In those few months I visited the BBC e-submission system at least once a week and remained ever hopeful at the status of "In progress". I first became aware of the results being published at 3pm yesterday, as one of my fellow co-writers on "The News Dump" had received their 'thanks but no thanks'. One by one, other contributors received similar news and we shared commiserations. My InBox remained empty and the longer that went on, I dared to believe "Schrodinger's Script" would be observed as alive (at least into the second stage of the competition). I started to read "Schrodinger's Script" and I really enjoyed reading it again and with every passing minute I even dared to believe it would make it. At 7:26pm I received the e-mail, "Schrodinger's Script" was dead. Observation had confirmed its status.
It will be re-worked, revised, re-invented and submitted elsewhere and will rise like a Phoenix once more. Is there such a thing as "Schrodinger's Phoenix"?
Welcome to my blog. The obvious thing to say on a first post is "stay tuned", but does anyone really understand what that means these days? I am sure most of us, beyond a certain age, will recall hiding under the bedsheets listening to Radio Luxembourg, frantically battling atmospheric conditions, over Europe, with little more than a small tranny in our hands. Of course, today, young people will simply blame their internet provider if nothing better than 96kps is delivered and quite frankly, I admire that.
Welcome anyway, to the home of "Humorous Things".