Ottery St Mary is now available here. I have to say, I do like this episode. It might be my favourite this series, or that might be St. Petersburg; but for very different reasons. This one I like because it's silly and cheerful and fun; and for most of it, everyone gets on rather well and enjoys one another's company. You can't do that often in a sitcom, or it gets dull, but it's nice once in a while.
In the first draft, it was designed to be the counterpart to Johannesburg, in which the cast are for half the episode split Douglas and Carolyn / Martin and Arthur. And of course there are several episodes where the split is Martin and Douglas / Carolyn and Arthur; so I thought I'd try the other possible pairing. The version I wrote worked fine, but it just seemed such a shame to do a 'Martin's van' episode without Martin in the van. So I took it apart, rewrote the road trip section to include Martin, and came up with a new plot for Carolyn. Then, at the recordings, this was the other episode recorded the week Benedict was ill. However, the cast all very kindly agreed to re-do the Martin scenes at the end of the third recording - and Tom very very kindly agreed to perform Martin on stage, even though he knew it wouldn't go out. Which meant I got to hear the script performed as if for real, in front of an audience... but with two weeks to improve it with rewrites and cuts, which was an incredible luxury. So, this has had more rewriting time than any other episode, and not coincidentally it's one of my favourites. You just cannot rewrite too much. Even now I'd like another pass at it - why on earth did I make Herc's sports car green rather than yellow? Idiot.
Another rewriting story - the design of the Herc / Carolyn story was always that they would alternate having the upper hand in their skirmishes, and first time round this meant when it got to the sheep scene, it needed to be Carolyn with the phobia, and Herc mocking her. Which didn't work at all - Carolyn seemed out-of-character, and Herc seemed bullying and unpleasant. But when I finally realised what the problem was, and restructured it so they could swap, it worked fine. Interesting that even with a female character you've spent two and a half series establishing as strong to the point of fearsome; 'woman is scared of sheep' just fundamentally isn't as funny as 'man is scared of sheep'.
When I was first creating the show, in 2005 (!), my working title for MJN Air was 'Icarus Airways'. Once Carolyn's character became more developed, I realised reluctantly she'd never be daft enough to call it that. But I know a man who would...
For the origin of the otter-imagining game, have a look at this blog post I wrote three years ago. I like that I titled it 'I am supposed to be writing a sitcom.' Little did I know I was bunking off writing Cabin Pressure series one to write a bit of Cabin Pressure series three.
I like that, although I know 99.9% of the audience wouldn't remember, Snoopadoop's name (and Carolyn's soppiness about her) is actually mentioned in the very first episode. Snoopadoop, by the way, is named after a poodle puppy I met at the Edinburgh festival in about 2004, and so whom is probably still around. So if you're here because you got bored and googled your dog's name, hello, and thank you!
This week's 'deleted scene' is from near the end, when they're at Ottery St Mary's (non-existant, by the way) airfield, and realise the pub is a mile away:
DOUGLAS: ...yes, yes, alright. Let’s start pushing.
MARTIN: Thank you so much! Except of course... I can’t really push. Because of my ankle?
DOUGLAS: Alright. Arthur and I will push. You can walk alongside
MARTIN: ...I don’t think I can. Not for a mile. Again, the ankle.
DOUGLAS Then what do you suggest?
MARTIN Well… I thought perhaps, if I were to do this…
FX INDISTINCT NOISE
DOUGLAS: Ah. I see. ‘Hello Ottery St Mary. Please welcome Douglas Richardson and Arthur Shappey, and joining them, on the piano, Martin Crieff.’