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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Recording Eggy Doylers

I had a play commissioned by the BBC in March 2011. I wrote the first draft back last summer and it was frankly awful. It’s set in 1979, a few months after Mrs Thatcher came to power and what you have to avoid is info dump about that period of time:

Good morning! And it’s a fine morning in June 1979 and goodness me we have a female Prime Minister. 

Do we? And here’s a pint of milk that cost me 15p. 

CUE: Ian Drury and the Blockheads I do like that Ian Drury. Is he Top of the Hit Parade? Etc.

I wrote a second, third, fourth and by the fifth draft it was starting to get some sort of shape. My producer is very hands on which I like – I gave her carte blanche to cut and change anything she didn’t like. Because I trust her. Some writers hate this. I respect that because for most writers, a word or a phrase is there because it is necessary and it may well impact on a scene later if it’s cut or changed. I’m not quite so bothered possibly because I spent years as a journalist and in that field, writing is often cut to ribbons. I learnt not to be too precious about my writing.  Or maybe I'm just a lazy arse.  Not that distress over heavy handed chopping is precious – but sometimes you get writers in a rage because an ‘and’ or a tiny joke is cut.

The play is about an absolute disaster of a school trip. I initially called it The Ambassadors because I remember that teachers in a vain attempt at good behaviour warned us that we might be out of school but we were still Ambassadors for our school. But then I worried about listeners tuning in expecting an adaptation of a Henry James book and instead find screeching teenagers and even worse behaved teachers. So I changed it to Eggy Doylers which was a generic term of abuse at my school. Nobody really knew what it meant but apparently if someone was prone to bouts of fury, shouting Eggy Doyler at them was guaranteed to push them over the edge. And because the BBC get millions of ideas they tend to get glued to a particular title.  I'm writing a series at the moment and the Commissioning Editor hates my working title.  He wants something more war like - and proactive.  I know what he means but I'm completely stuck.  It's about romance writing and smuggling and World War Two.  So far I've come up with Mills and Boom.  Don't think that will do.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I trooped along to what look like army barracks in Maida Vale but are the BBC recording studios. The paint job reminded me of Wandsworth Prison as did the two unimpressed looking people at reception. ‘I’m here for a play’ I said tearing in the door at 9.10am. ‘So is everybody’ came the nonchalant reply. I was late and keen to get my Visitor card but they couldn’t find a pen. They slightly reminded me of the time I staggered up the steps of the maternity hospital at 11pm, stomach protruding about five foot, in labour and the Security Guard at the door eyed me suspiciously and said: ‘What are you here for?’

The actual recording room looks like The Enterprise with huge banks of knobs and machines to twiddle. The acting takes place in what looks like a half finished episode of Changing Rooms, with bits of wood and a few chairs lying around. In the middle of this are the studio managers who gamely rustle bits of paper or crush biscuits or clang on things to create the sound magic that in turn creates the pictures in your head. It was wonderful and oddly surreal to hear the words I coming out of actors mouths. In many cases bits were funny that I couldn’t remember being funny and in one case – a whole scene that I thought would be hilarious, off the page was about as funny as a triple bypass. Kill your babies I thought as we cut the scene entirely and fiddled around with the next one so it made sense.

The cast were gorgeous and generous with the endless retakes. My producer Jonquil Panting has an uncanny ability to tell you how good you are while wringing another rewrite/take out of you. It's not till much later that you realise you've been schmoozed into doing it again and again and again. The fab cast includes - Ralph Ineson, Lydia Leonard, Joseph Drake, Amaka Okafor, and Alex Lanipekun. And I’m in it doing a cruel (and accurate) impersonation of a girl I used to know at school. Meanwhile the Studio Managers were playing bits of music from that year and reminiscing about Gary Numan and his constant farewell tours and how everybody fancied Chrissie Hynes. It’s done and it’s in editing. And it will be transmitted on Tuesday May 22nd at 2.15pm. And I’d like to say for the record that BBC coffee is unbelievably bad.