When I heard that Ben Aaronovitch had been invited to the BFI screening of Downton Abbey, my immediate reaction was to try to wangle an invitation for myself. It wasn't the exclusive pre-screening drinks or the lavishly catered afterparty that attracted me — or only to the extent that they boded well for networking. ¶ Ben has had great interest in his soon to be bestselling series of novels and I've been commissioned to write an episode of Midsomer Murders. So now seemed like a good time to go networking. ¶ Ben had garnered his invitation through the good offices of Carnival, one of the great British independent TV companies. They were responsible for Simon Moore's Traffik, which remains a high water mark for television drama. ¶ So of course I wanted to lig along. It
sounded like fun. Ben didn't have any trouble wangling me an invitation. ¶ I arrived at the BFI fashionably on time and Ben introduced me to Gareth Neame, former head of drama at the BBC and now a honcho at Carnival. Also, a man who clearly has an eye for writing, given that's he had the uncommon good sense to commission Julian Fellowes. ¶ The pre-screening drinks were scheduled to commence a full hour and a quarter before the screening. I arrived wondering how I could possibly fill that yawning void of time. But as interesting people surged into the bar we introduced ourselves around and ate the little cheese biscuits provided (black napkins — classy touch). Ben was soon deep in schmoozing mode and I set about striking up a conversation with the nearest beautiful woman — who proved to be an internet executive. Before you knew it, it was time for the screening. ¶ We filed into NFT 1. This is one of the finest cinemas in London, with certain towering caveats. For a start it was designed by someone who clearly thought the sightlines for a movie are the same as for live theatre. Oh no, my friend, I am afraid to tell you that they're not.¶ This is why great swathes of the seats on the left and right of the screen give a weirdly angled view with fatal quantities of parallax and distortion. ¶ And don't even get me started about the time they screened Barry Lyndon. At the end of Kubrick's misty masterpiece, after 184 minutes of film, the projectionist was still trying to get the focus right.¶ Stanley would have been foaming at the mouth. Anyway, like I said, certain caveats.¶ But if you're lucky enough to be sat in the sweet spot in the centre aisle, the NFT1 is a great cinema. And when Ben and I consulted our tickets we found we were seated dead centre. And the dishy internet exec was in the row behind us. ¶ There was a good humored sense of excitement, a subdued buzz in the audience as the lights went out. ¶ Julian Fellowes wrote Gosford Park, a film for which he won the Oscar. And like Gosford, Downton Abbey concerns an English stately home and the people who live in and their servants, and it's dynamite. We're instantly acquainted with a large cast of characters and immediately made to care about them. The way Fellowes channels our sympathies is masterful. Plus that redhaired undermaid is really cute. ¶ After the triumphant screening there's a Q&A. It's obvious Downton Abbey is going to be a huge hit. Not least in America. ¶ At the after party, attended by cast and crew plus numerous hangers on (me, for instance) we meet Andrew Morgan, who worked with us on Doctor Who, directing Ben's Dalek story. ¶ "Canapes?" says Andrew, "I thought they said cannabis!" We also meet a Tierra del Fuegian banjo player who is the only person present who isn't ecstatic about Downton Abbey. ¶ He dismisses it with lofty contempt. I listen politely to his specious vapourings before moving off. I make a point of meeting Julian Fellowes, who it turns out is an old friend of Andrew Morgan. ¶ We chat briefly and I convey my great admiration for his script . "Well done on the Midsomer," he tells me. ¶ Walking back along the Thames around midnight, the bright circle of the London Eye looming in the night above, I reflected that it was a great TV drama and a great evening. My only regret is that I didn't speak to the redhaired undermaid — or punch the Tierra del Fuegian banjo player. ¶
Friday, 24 September 2010
Saturday, 21 August 2010
One of my favourite novels is I, Lucifer. It was the work of Peter O'Donnell. You too may have recently read I, Lucifer but the trouble is, there's every chance the book you read was by someone called Glen Duncan. ¶ Now I'm quite willing to believe that Glen Duncan is a nice fellow and who knows, perhaps a very able writer. ¶ But that begs the question why anyone would filch a wonderful title from a fellow artist. ¶ And if the writer had no idea that it had been filched (good word, filched), then why in the name of all the gods didn't said writer's editors or publisher spot the duplication? ¶ Or was it simply too good a title and nobody thought they had to take the original seriously because it was 'just' a Modesty Blaise novel. ¶ I snuck those quotation marks in because any fair-minded person would concede that Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin are up there with Travis McGee and Meyer or Aubrey and Maturin. ¶ Anyway, when I heard that this book this new book with its borrowed title was coming out I doted on fantasies of acquiring the rights to the Peter O'Donnell original and releasing it at the same time. With a great big publicity push, to create confusion and sabotage the launch of the pretender. ¶ I'll read Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer one day but first I'll have to simmer down. ¶ There's no doubt that I, Lucifer is a brilliant title. And it was Peter O'Donnell who thought of it, in 1965. ¶ The English Assassin is another brilliant title. Michael Moorcock thought of it and used it in 1972. In fact , it's such a good title that it was recently appropriated for a novel by Daniel Silva. ¶ Like Peter O'Donnell's book, Moorcock's original was a kind of spy thriller. It too featured one of the mutant offspring of James Bond (in this case, Jeremy Cornelius). ¶ Reprehensibly (I think that's not too strong a word), Silva or someone at his publishers, has decided to recycle Moorcock's great title, and for a spy novel, too. ¶ Okay, Moorcock's take on a spy novel was decidedly surreal, a meltdown in fact, but it's still a bit much. Glen Duncan at least had the decency to carry the purloined goods some distance before trying to peddle them — so to speak. ¶ Again Daniel Silva may be a prince of a fellow and may have written a fine novel. But again I'm going to have to simmer down a mite before I can bring myself to read it. ¶ I repeat, these writers may be talented, intelligent, engaging chaps who have written fine books. ¶ That's certainly true of China Mieville. But as with Mieville, this no way absolves them of what one would have thought would be their duty as writers themselves to refrain from pillaging the work of other writers. ¶ It's no defence to say "it's just the title." The title is in some ways the crucial thing, and a great one is hard to come by. ¶ Speaking of great titles how about King Rat? Terrific title, terrific book. But is was written in 1960 by James Clavell. And, oh wait a minute, there seems to be a novel on the bookshelves now called King Rat. ¶ But it's by China Mieville. ¶ Mieville is a writer whom I respect. Yet it's hard to believe he was unaware of Clavell's book, enduring bestseller that it was. (Its lack of obscurity was enhanced by the outstanding film adapted from it; nice John Barry Score, great performance from George Segal). ¶ So, just what the blue blazes was going on in a writer's mind when he chooses to make of with another writer's title? ¶ Is that a gleam I see in the eye of Jeffrey Archer? Would it be petty minded and tasteless to remind everyone at this point that Lord Archer is a convicted felon? I think that's the right term. ¶ Anyway, Archer may well be a charming chap. His millionaire's eyrie certainly has a nice view of the Thames. But still it's going to be a cold day in hell before I read his novel Paths of Glory with its stolen title. For the original go to Humphrey Cobb's superb 1930s tale of war (made into a stunning Kubrick film). ¶ Before closing, in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I've had two stage plays produced. The title of the first, arrived at after much soul searching, heart ache and head banging (Dark Ride, anyone? How about Death Etc?) was End of the the Night. ¶ Which, despite being a standard meteorological term sounds suspiciously like The End of the Night, a stunning 1960 suspense thriller by John D. MacDonald. ¶ As I mentioned, a good title is hard to come by. My second play was called Under the Eagle which I later discovered to be a novel about a Roman Legion by Simon Scarrow published in 2000.¶
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 17:58 3 comments:
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
The Sicilian Specialist by Norman Lewis
I've been meaning to write a piece on Norman Lewis for some time now, having recently read and admired his 1974 Mafia thriller The Sicilian Specialist. What finally galvanised me into action was a news report on the radio yesterday about a Mexican prison where apparently they're letting inmates out, providing them with transport and firepower, allowing them to go off and perform contract killings and then letting them come back into prison to be locked up snugly again. (Naturally the prison officials expect to be remunerated for organising these little sabbaticals.) ¶ Startling? Well, it would have been if I hadn't just read about exactly the same scenario taking place back in the 1960s, in The Sicilian Specialist. I assume the incidents Norman Lewis describes in his novel are versions and variants of things that actually happened in Latin America. ¶ Lewis was a fine journalist, whose exposé of the genocide of Indians in the Brazilian Rain Forest in 1968 was a memorable classic which led to reforms and changed (and saved) lives. Graham Greene described him as one of the best writers of the century. ¶ Now, while I would never pay attention to Greene on say spiritual matters, I'm more than willing to listen to him about writers. So I've been on the look out for The Sicilian Specialist, and having now read it I'm keen to investigate Lewis's non fiction book on the Mafia, The Honoured Society. (The fact it originated as a series of pieces in the New Yorker makes me all the more keen.) ¶ The Sicilian Specialist explores the links between the Mafia and CIA in post World War II Sicily, moving on to America and then Cuba. The least interestingly evoked sequences are in Vermont. There is a fine chase from a roadhouse followed by a savage beating in an autumnal field, but give Lewis a hot, exotic locale any day. His feeling for the crueler sunbaked landscapes of the world is clear. The scenes in Sicily and Cuba are superb, so it comes as no surprise to learn that Lewis's wife was Sicilian or that he was sent to Cuba by Ian Fleming to interview Ernerst Hemingway (if you're going to visit Cuba, that's definitely the way to go). ¶ Norman Lewis is a master of sudden, violent action and the amazing, audacious succinctness of his descriptions rivals that of Charles Willeford. In The Sicilian Specialist the darkest and most disturbing of deeds are presented in a measured, beautiful and intelligent prose that is informed by a love and understanding of the far away parts of the world — and of the human psyche. It's like Jim Thompson meets Patrick O'Brian. ¶ The Sicilian Specialist becomes unstuck at the very end, when its brief and brutal saga dovetails with the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963. It's hard to convey my disappointment at this development: oh god he even mentions the grassy knoll. Of course, there was no way Lewis could have known at the time he wrote this what an egregious cliche that would become. ¶ And this in no way spoils the novel, which remains a classic thriller. It's just that the last few pages seem an unworthy conclusion for all that has gone before. ¶ But even here Lewis throws in a moment of casual brilliance, describing a near fatal accident in the air with indelible terse vividness. Highly recommended, and I'm off to find The Honoured Society. ¶
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 15:53 1 comment:
Saturday, 19 June 2010
The Words of Anthony Burgess
I pride myself on having a good vocabulary. I suspect I'm not alone in this. Indeed the drooling madman lurking in the ill-lit concrete underpass probably prides himself on his vocabulary. ¶ But it is rare for me (and presumably not so rare for the drooling lurker) to come upon a word in a book which is unfamiliar and indeed downright unknown. ¶ Rarer still to come across so many such words in one book that I begin to write them down and even, gasp, overcome my habitual sloth and actually look the damned things up in the dictionary. ¶ I have a great dictionary, a brainy brawny monster permanently crouching on my (oval, glass, space age bachelor pad) coffee table. It's the Oxford Dictionary of English and it weighs a ton and costs £40 — worth every penny (I got mine for free).¶ I just love this book. But since it weighs a ton, and it's buried under a bunch of other books on the coffee table (oval, glass, etc), it's quite a gala occasion when I crack it open. ¶ Often this is when I have a list of words to look up, from a book by a writer who is more well read than me or maybe just more pretentious. The first writer to get me keeping lists was Umberto Eco. ¶ Primarily from Foucault's Pendulum. As I recall the marvelous Name of the Rose didn't spring so many new words on me. Or maybe I just didn't write them down.¶ More recently, Anthony Burgess has been keeping me busy. Earthly Powers threw up quite a haul. Here are just the highlights. ¶ Hermeneutic means interpretative or explanatory. Oneiric is of, or suggestive of, dreams. ¶ An epigone (or epigon) is a copycat or an inferior imitator of some distinguished writer or artist or musician. I like that one and I'm thinking of ways to use it right now.¶ A myrmidon is a faithful follower who carries out orders without question. Marmoreal means resembling marble in smoothness, whiteness or hardness. I immediately thought of thighs, for some reason. An apothegm (or, more alarmingly, apophthegm) is a terse, witty, instructive saying; a maxim.¶ Eupeptic means having good digestion; happy. On the other hand rebarbative means unattractive, objectionable (from the Old French se rebarber, which means to be in agressive confrontation, chin to chin, or literally beard to beard). ¶ Panglossian is optimistic whatever the circumstances, after Pangloss the tutor in Voltaire's Candide. ¶ And my absolute favourite, proleptic. This means anticipating. ¶ The example in my dictionary was great and rang with drama: "He was a dead man when he walked into the room." ¶ Lastly there is, perhaps all too appropriately, pleonastic. Which means, verbose, using more words than necessary to convey the meaning of something. ¶ All of these beauties have just given the spell checker a proper nervous break down. I would love to say I was dropping them all regularly in daily discourse. But, to be honest, of that list the only ones I've really retained in my memory so far are marmoreal (those thighs), the wonderful rebarbative and of course proleptic. ¶ Recently (see 13 June 2010) Burgess was up to his old tricks again, and I emerged from his Malaysian Trilogy with another exotic horde.¶ Here's the highlights of that haul. As usual I didn't write down the first few because frankly I was hoping they'd eventually stop. But when they didn't I sighed and took my notebook out (my trusty Moleskin cahiers journal with the handy pocket at the back for tickets, etc) and began to make notes. ¶ It's been so long since I read the book I have no idea of where the words appeared or how they were used. But I've got page numbers written beside the words so I can go back and look at how they were used in context — if I can be arsed. ¶ First up is the Spanish sounding seigniory. It turns out to mean a feudal lordship. And it's actually from Old French again, seignorie. ¶ , Next is the naughtily amusing sounding crapula. Can it possibly live up to our expectations? It turns out to be Latin. The only English form is crapulent, relating to drunkenness. From the Latin crapula, which means inebriation, from a Greek word, which I can't yet render in this typeface, that means "drunken headache". Magic! ¶ Then there's vaccine. Hang on, hang on, of course I know that meaning. But Burgess is using it as an adjective! So let's see what the Oxford has to say about that. My guess is that it's something like bovine. Yep. It means cowlike.¶ Now here come a couple of real corkers, exiguity and rhotacismus. My money is on exiguity being something like urgency. Nope, way off. It actually refers to a very small amount. From the Latin exiguus for scanty. ¶ Rhotacismus? I'm not going to hazard any guesses after that bruising defeat. Flipping through the pages of the Oxford Dictionary of English we discover that it's quite technical and to do with phonetics and the precise pronunciation of a vowel (to "reflect a following r" as in farm or bird, if you must know). ¶ A bit disappointing that, except perhaps to the linguistic experts among us, and maybe the lurking drooler in the underpass. ¶ Finally there was once again our old friend proleptic. Well, thanks Mr Burgess. ¶ This was just a selection you understand. My notebook is bursting with other specimens. I might post about a few more, if I think I can endure the pain of learning something new.
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 13:20 No comments:
Sunday, 13 June 2010
Anthony Burgess Part 2: The Malayan Trilogy
I like to have a book in my pocket to kill time on public transport. Since the passing of the pocket sized paperback (see my earlier diatribe on this here) I’ve had to depend on the vagaries of the second hand book market to provide my reading matter for buses and trains. ¶ I suppose the nice thing about this is, you never know what’s going to turn up. Last year at a church book sale (about the only time you’ll catch me in church) what turned up was a copy of Anthony Burgess’s Malayan Trilogy. This was a rather nice Penguin edition, with cover art by Peter Bentley of Bentley/Farrell/Burnett. ¶ It gathers together Burgess’s first three novels, Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket and Beds in the East. Together these form the Malayan Trilogy which has the umbrella title The Long Day Wanes, although you wouldn’t know it from my Penguin. ¶ I’ve always liked the title of the first book, Time for a Tiger (written in 1956), which seems to suggest tumultuous and violent events in this jungle nation, when in fact it simply means "it’s time for a beer", Tiger being a Singaporean lager popular in the far east at the time and popular all over the place now. ¶ The title of the second book (1958) remains obscure to me even if Wikipedia thinks it alludes to the conflicts in the central character’s marriage. Beds in the East (1959) is a quote from Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra): “the beds in the east are soft.” ¶ Quoting from Shakespeare is something Burgess does rather too much of in these books, straining credulity by having some of the most unlikely characters spout this stuff, or reflect upon it. The trilogy is a mixed bag, although it unquestionably conveys a vivid and unforgettable portrait of Malaya, or Malaysia as it is now known. ¶ Just how accurate Burgess’s picture is was demonstrated to me last week. One of the running gags in the books is the obsession the local sultans have with acquiring posh and shiny cars. Politically incorrect you say? Downright racist stereotype? I might have been inclined to think so myself, until I read this news story. ¶ Burgess is a remarkable and important writer. Probably my biggest beef with him, however, is his ineptitude in handling plot. It’s not, I think, that he’s incapable of writing a carefully plotted and satisfying story. It’s just that he doesn’t care. ¶ This propensity was particularly obvious in Any Old Iron (see my earlier blog entry) where the whole, lengthy narrative, is supposed to concern an ancient sword. But the story of this goddamned sword is deployed raggedly, perfunctorily and almost resentfully, as though Burgess regretted having lumbered himself with it. It keeps getting elbowed aside by the characters and vignettes, which is good news because both of these are great. ¶ This same tendency is very much in evidence in the Malayan Trilogy. In Time For a Tiger, Victor Crabbe, the hero of the trilogy, is burdened with a psychological block. He can’t drive a car because of traumatic memories of the fatal accident in which his first wife died. Finally, late in the novel, as the result of an ambush by communist insurgents on an isolated jungle road, Crabbe is forced to take the wheel of a car and drive. ¶ If this suggest a conventional story arc of tribulation, catharsis and redemption, forget it. Once again Burgess is so slapdash and perfunctory in his deployment of the plot that it hardly amounts to a story at all. And, anyway, certainly not a satisfying one. Equally slapdash and half hearted is his account of Crabbe’s affair with a local widow and a rebellion by the students at Crabbe’s school. In fact I found it hard to take any interest in Crabbe or his doings. He never appealed to me as a character. ¶ Who did appeal to me, though, was the wonderful Nabby Adams. From the moment that this huge, shambling loser rose from his bed, his old dog emerging after him, her medal clanking, I was enchanted. I loved the story of this sweating, scheming wreck with his impossible debts, his alcoholism and his dog. I’ll never forget my disappointment when I learned, turning to chapter two, that the whole book wasn’t going to be about him. Time For a Tiger never really recovers from this. And indeed the trilogy never recovers from Nabby’s departure into the sunset at the end of the first novel. ¶ Supplementing this lovely bit of characterisation there are some of Burgess’s other typical strengths on display — the book has a brilliant ending, even if it is totally deus ex machina. ¶ The second novel, The Enemy in the Blanket is considerably weaker than Tiger. The plotting is as half-hearted as ever and with Nabby Adams gone we’re stuck with the dull Crabbes, annoying Victor and his drippy wife Fenella plus a cast of numerous other colourful (or, in the case of Rupert Hardman, literally colourless) individuals who never come fully to life or arouse much interest. ¶ The final volume, Beds in the East, continues the tradition of token, tepid plotting, but that doesn’t really matter because it features some wonderful new characters. Victor Crabbe is still in attendance, even less sympathetic and engaging than before (if that’s possible). But we also have the gorgeous Rosemary Michael, a kind of Walter Mitty would-be femme fatale surrounded by her pet cats and an amusing array of drooling suitors. In some ways a hair raising caricature (“Black but comely...”), Rosemary is also unquestionably a great comic creation. ¶ But even better than Rosemary is Robert Loo, the teenage son of a Chinese shopkeeper. Robert is gifted with musical genius, and this provides Burgess with an excuse for descriptions of Robert’s inner mental landscapes when he is composing. And it is here that the author shows real genius of his own. These are marvelous, rhapsodic, hallucinatory episodes which are the most striking thing in the book. And that’s hardly surprising when you consider Burgess’s own deep involvement with music and love of it. ¶ Eventually Rosemary and Robert are manoeuvred together in a characteristic piece of Burgess contrivance. But this plot device works well enough, not least because it’s invested with the ironic energy which builds and builds to finally give the book, and the trilogy, an ultimately satisfying, and highly comic, conclusion. I was chuckling almost constantly as I turned the last few pages. ¶ So what’s my verdict on The Long Day Wanes? I’d recommend that you read the third book, forget about the second altogether and if you’re going to bother with the first one, just skip through it and read the chapters about Nabby Adams. ¶ That sounds like a pretty savage indictment, but it’s not. The trilogy shows Burgess’s formidable talent as a novelist just beginning to warm up, and Beds in the East is definitely a minor comic classic. If there’s a fatal flaw in these books it’s the supposed protagonist, Victor Crabbe. Unsympathetic and uninteresting, I was only too pleased when he finally got stung by a scorpion and fell in a river. Sorry, Victor. Sorry, Anthony.
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 17:21 No comments:
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Anthony Burgess: Beyond Clockwork Orange
It's odd. I've been aware of the work of Anthony Burgess (the pseudonym for John Burgess Wilson) for decades, ever since I discovered him in connection with Clockwork Orange. Prompted by the Kubrick film I went down to the Fort Garry public library and borrowed a copy of Burgess's novel. ¶ After seeing the film I read it again, but I don't think I ever bothered with anything else by Burgess. Until now. ¶ I had a copy of Earthly Powers on my shelf for decades. Somebody gave me a copy of the first Penguin paperback edition shortly after it was shortlisted for the Booker prize. Now and then over the years I'd take the fat, heavy book down, admire it's cover illustration (by Bill Sanderson), read the first couple of sentences, then put it back of the shelf. But not long ago I was out of action for a while, at home in bed with a cold, and I was looking for a big fat book to read. Finally Burgess's time had come... ¶ Earthly Powers is an episodic epic spanning the better part of the 20th century. Its protagonist Kenneth Toomey is a hugely successful, though personally tormented, writer loosely modeled on Somerset Maugham. ¶ Full of historical detail, the book is well written and intermittently compelling, although for me far and away the most effective sequence is a brilliant little tale of the supernatural set in Malaysia which is vivid, horrifying and unforgettable (although, having said that, I was talking to Graeme Curry, who'd also read the book, and he couldn't remember the episode at all). ¶ Earthly Powers isn't a masterpiece. I found it exhausting and its charms rather variable. Above all, I have to admit, I found the protagonist, in whose company we spend 649 pages, singularly unsympathetic (although I'm an admirer of the real life Somerset Maugham). ¶ The ending of the book, however, is stunning and left me full of admiration for Burgess. It certainly prompted me to look for something else to read by him. ¶ What I found was Any Old Iron. Despite being lumbered with a contrived and unconvincing narrative thread (a search for an ancient sword which even Burgess doesn't seem particularly interested in) this is a much better book than Earthly Powers. ¶ Again it's a wide canvas depicting the 20th century, and again it's beautifully written, with great authority. In particular, the war sequences, seen from the point of view of the ordinary soldier, are superb. The book doesn't reach a satisfying or interesting conclusion, however. ¶ To sum up, Earthly Powers is a serviceable novel with a splendid ending and Any Old Iron is a splendid novel with a serviceable ending. Burgess is clearly a giant, though, and I'm looking forward to spending more time in his company. ¶ I notice he's written novels about both Shakespeare and Napoleon, so those are next on my list... ¶ Incidentally, writing this blog entry has brought forcefully home both the joys and frustrations of the internet. I wanted to include an image of the cover of Earthly Powers, in the edition which I read, with the aforementioned splendid cover illustration by Bill Sanderson (design by Butcher & Gomez). ¶ But I don't have a flat bed scanner and my search on the web for a jpeg of the cover (a perfectly reasonable request, I thought), only threw up a couple of pitiful little scans of battered paperbacks. On the other hand, though, I found Sanderson's website which provided the magnificent illustrations you see here. ¶ This piece was supposed to be about Anthony Burgess but one of the bonuses of writing it was discovering Sanderson. He's a phenomenal artist and if you have the funds, you should contact his agent and commission him immediately.
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 16:23 No comments:
Sunday, 21 March 2010
My Attempt to Overthrow the Government
I had an odd little experience a few weeks ago, which ended up with me appearing on national television, fighting my corner against the forces of darkness. Or at least a whole bunch of silly newspapers. ¶ I asked the appropriate colleagues of my feisty book agent Julian Friedmann if I should try and write a piece about it for one of the less silly newspapers. The general consensus was that it was already yesterday's news. But an old schoolfriend, Ken Goodwin, urged me to give it a go anyway and I ended up doing a piece for the Guardian. ¶ That brief account was a much abbreviated version of what appears here. (You can also read the Guardian piece on their website.) ¶ It all began on a Wednesday with an email and a phone message from my screenwriting agent, the fragrant Janet Fillingham. Janet told me that a Sunday Times journalist had been in touch with her. He was doing a piece on Sylvester McCoy for that weekend's edition, the hook being Sylvester's new comedy for the BBC. ¶ Was I available for a quick chat, to provide some background colour? Always be nice to your agent, is my motto. Janet hadn't been able to find out anything about Sylvester's new comedy, from a quick search on the internet, but at the time that seemed neither here nor there. ¶ The following day I emailed the journalist with my home phone number.I was on the way out the door later when the phone rang. I came back to answer it. In the days that ensued, I was going to have plenty of time to reflect on what might have happened if I hadn't picked up the phone. ¶ It was the guy from the Sunday Times. I spoke unguardedly and at length, about Sylvester and other things, and hung up with the smug feeling of having done a favour for a friend. ¶ That Sunday I bought a copy of the Times to look for the article. I scoured the TV and entertainment sections and found nothing. I shrugged and decided this was about par for the course. But then emails started to arrive. The first one was from my old friend Simon Butler in Cambridge. "Great piece in the Sunday Times! I particularly admire the response to the interview question, must try that one next time." ¶ What? ¶ I went online and found the Sunday Times piece. Reading it was a bracing, icy shock. I had just about convinced myself that nobody was likely to read it when more friends began to email me. And even while I was answering those emails the story began to pop up all over the internet. Like evil toadstools sprouting, was my main thought. The Telegraph and The Mail now had it. What was going on? I went back to my copy of the Sunday Times and discovered why it wasn't in the TV section. It was on page 3 of the news section. In fact, it pretty much was page 3. ¶ The chief problem was that the story was being slanted as an attack on the BBC, an institution I revere. (I mean, Composer of the Week that week on Radio 3 was 'Bebop' - what could be better than that?) ¶ It seems that I had inadvertently handed a certain section of the press a magic bullet to fire at the Corporation. ¶ The most contentious bit being I suppose that, when asked in my job interview for script editor of Doctor Who, what I would most like to achieve, I'd replied "Overthrow the government." Of course the ensuing response I'd described, gently but firmly discouraging any such action and the ensuing discussion about the parameters of the job, weren't cited in any of the articles. ¶ I felt terrible. I composed an email to my agent and sat tight. On Monday she replied saying about the story, prophetically, "I suspect this won't disappear in a puff of extra terrestrial smoke." ¶ That was just before we learned that virtually all the Monday papers had picked up the story. And just before I got the phonecall from BBC Radio Wales, who wanted me to come on at drive time and talk about the, ahem, situation.¶ I agreed enthusiastically. I wanted to put my point across. I was quite nervous about the radio spot, until I got the phone call asking me to appear on TV that night, on Newsnight on BBC2. Right then, no disrespect to Radio Wales, my nerves about being on local radio vanished, to be replaced by apprehension about appearing on national television.¶ A few hours later I was being sat on the sofa in the Newsnight studio where they do the "soft" pieces. "Please sit with your right thigh on the seam of the sofa, Andrew. Look into camera 2, please. Thank you." ¶ I was seated, thigh on the seam, between Gavin Esler, our host for the night, and Tim Collins, who was sort of the Conservatives' man in science fiction. All three of us were slightly orange as a result of the make up. ¶ Tim and Gavin managed to have what seemed like a lengthy conversation about the British tradition of fantastic literature while I mostly fiddled with a glass of water. ¶ But I did manage to get a few key points across, and hopefully achieved some damage limitation. You can watch a clip of the show here. ¶ Then it was back into the deserted green room, where a pile of wet wipes awaited, piled on the arm of the sofa, for us to remove the make up. I rode back in a taxi through London at midnight, looking out at the streets, feeling strangely light headed and happy, making a note never to pick up the phone to a journalist again.
Posted by Andrew Cartmel at 17:04 No comments:
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