Thursday 24 January 2013


Shortish one this week, I'm afraid, and no pictures, because I'm in Cuba, about to start a cycling trip. I know, get me... When I get back, I'll come back to this post and put a notebook picture in. Also, this may well be my last wifi for some time, so I don't know when I'll get to do a Wokingham post next week.

Anyway, I'm glad you like Theresa! She was a lot of fun to write, as was Maxi. And Herc, of course. And come to think of it, Karl had some of his best scenes this week.

I was amused that last week, more than one person suggested that Martin had such a rotten time to balance out his good luck from the week before. And there was I thinking to myself 'You think he had a good week in Timbuktu? Oh, just wait till you hear Vaduz!' In fact, for a long time Vaduz and Uskerty were combined into one monstrously overlong Vaduzkerty hybrid, in which most of the things that happened to C and M in Uskerty happened to the boys, Theresa and Maxi on the way from Vaduz to the nearest airport in Switzerland. But, as well as being way too long, it was all a bit mad, and luckily this time round, I had enough time to recognise that, ask myself what story I was actually trying to tell, realise that I was trying to tell at least two different ones, and separate them out accordingly.


'Is the dragon stuff a reference to Benedict's role in The Hobbit?'

No. That never even occurred to me. To misquote Freud: 'Sometimes a dragon is just a dragon.'

'What do you mean, 'the King of Liechtenstein'? There is no King of Liechtenstein! The monarch of Liechtenstein is The Crown Prince!'

That's right. Also, he isn't ten years old, and has never flown with MJN Air. King Maximilian the Eighth is a little something I like to call a fictional character. They're easier to write for than real people, because you can make them say whatever you like. I think they might catch on.

Actually, in early drafts, Maxi was the Crown Prince, which lead to a scene I quite liked of him trying to explain the concept to Arthur. But the problem was that the moment of revealing that the monarch Martin was so excited about meeting was just a kid didn't really work if he'd been described as a Prince, because one of the images we all have in our head of Princes is of royal children. So I bumped him up to King, in direct contravention of hundreds of years of proud Liechtensteinean tradition. Sorry, Liechtenstein.

While we're about it, Vaduz doesn't have an airport. Nor, for that matter, does Ottery St Mary.


There was one - a much longer version of the conversation between Maxi and Martin about bullying. But I don't have it here with me, so instead here's the Arthur / Maxi scene I mentioned just now - not so much deleted as never included in the first place!

ARTHUR So, you’re the king of all of this?
MAXI Yes. But I’ve not the King, I’m the Prince.
ARTHUR Oh, right. When do you get to be King?
MAXI I don’t… I don’t need to be king! I’m the Prince! That’s as high as it goes.
ARTHUR Well, King is as high as it goes.
MAXI Not in Lichtenstein!
ARTHUR So who’s highest in Lichtenstein?
MAXI I am!
ARTHUR Even though you’re not the King?
MAXI I don’t need to be King! It’s a principality!
ARTHUR What does that mean?
MAXI It means Prince is the best here.
ARTHUR Ok. You’ve got a crown, though, haven’t you?
MAXI ...Well it’s just like a crown.
ARTHUR ‘Like’ a crown?
MAXI It’s called the Ducal Hat.
ARTHUR The Ducal Hat?
MAXI Yes! It’s very valuable!
ARTHUR I’ve got a hat.
MAXI It’s basically a crown!
ARTHUR Would you have a crown if you were king?
MAXI Yes! No! It doesn’t matter! I don’t want to be king!
ARTHUR You don’t want to be King of Lichtenstein?
ARTHUR Ok, so can I be?
ARTHUR Why not?
MAXI Because it doesn’t mean anything! You can’t be King of a principality!
ARTHUR Well, it doesn’t mean anything, can I be it?
MAXI Yeah! Ok! Sure!
ARTHUR Brilliant!
DOUGLAS Any luck?
ARTHUR   Not with making cars stop. But I’m the King of Lichtenstein now.
DOUGLAS Ah, the day’s not been wasted then.

Saturday 19 January 2013


Thank you for all the messages I've had about Uskerty - I'm really glad people seem to like it so much. If you haven't heard it, it's available to listen to here for a week, and will then immediately be available to buy here.

So, back when I was writing Ottery St Mary, I thought it would be nice to see the crew split into the only combination of pairs we haven't seen yet. Obviously they are often split pilots / cabin crew; and in Johannesburg they're split Martin and Arthur / Carolyn and Douglas; so that just leaves Martin and Carolyn / Douglas and Arthur. It didn't work out in Ottery, because it seemed a shame not to see Martin in his van, but that meant I still had it as an option for this series.

The Martin and Carolyn plot came unusually easily - the notebook page at the bottom of this post is of the day I came up with it, and it's very unusual that so many of the elements, and even lines of dialogue, are essentially unchanged from then right through to the final script. I knew that if M and C were going to spend time together I would want to revisit the unresolved payment question from Qik, and if I was going to do that without it being too treacly I'd need to undercut it by having Carolyn give Martin as hard a time as possible otherwise. Which lead me to the tree, which lead me to the hitch-hiking, which lead me to the geese, which lead me to the ring… it was all strangely easy. 'Maybe I've finally cracked this writing business!' I thought to myself 'Maybe from now on I'm going to be one of  those writers you hear about who can just sit at the keyboard, and let the story flow unbidden from their fingertips…'

...No. I hadn't, and I'm not. Getting the Douglas and Arthur story right was blue murder. In fact, I went through three completely different ones before I found one I was happy with. First, the one in the notebook photo, about them inventing a sport to distract their delayed passengers, which I rejected as being too 'wacky' ( I hate the word 'wacky'), given that there was so much slapstick already going on in the Carolyn  / Martin plot. Then came one which combined elements of what turned into Uskerty with elements of what turned into Vaduz (next week's episode), which worked better, but had no real thematic connection to the C/M plot. Then there was one in which the 'Gerry' character was an antagonist, and Douglas and Arthur teamed up to get the better of him. But like the invented sport one, it was just too frantic, and left no room to actually find out what Douglas and Arthur would be like one on one, which was supposed to be the whole point of the split. 

So finally, I stripped out all the running around, and just wrote a list of simple things they might do whilst waiting in an airport. And as soon as I put down 'D and A 'get drunk' together (without drinking)', I knew I finally had something I wanted to write. Once I had that, it was obvious (and a relief) that Gerry should be a friendly character, and from there came the whole film noir thing, which I really like. I don't often make myself laugh when I'm writing, but I did when I wrote 'Between the dames and the horses, sometimes I don't know why I put my hat on.'  And at the recording, it was glorious when after a frenetic Martin and Carolyn scene, the jazz would start again, and Roger and I would mooch nonchalantly up to the mike... I really am very lucky in my job.


'Is the goose thing a reference to the Blue Carbuncle?'

Yes and no. At the beginning of the series, I decided that I'd had my Sherlock referencing fun in Paris, and that to do it any more would be milking it. However, once I realised I needed an animal to eat Martin's ring, it seemed a shame not to make it a goose… To be honest, I didn't think many people would notice. I was wrong. 

'…so, does Martin get his ring back?' AND: 'It ends a bit suddenly, doesn't it?'

Ah. Yes, I'm sorry about that. As always, the episode was overlong, and several minutes had to be cut in the edit. Essentially, once the obvious things had gone, we were left with the choice of either cutting lots of little bits which were funny, but didn't move the plot along, for instance Arthur's airport announcement… or to cut the final scene entirely, and trust that Douglas' plan and Gerry' and Martin's agreement to it would convey that they then went ahead and did it. In the end, I think we made the right choice, especially as I think 'Always, the extra mile' is a stronger final line than the one I had; but there's no getting away from the fact that it does cut the episode off a little abruptly. However, if you're interested in how it would have ended...


ATMOS                       AIRPORT

ARTHUR                     And… contestant 21!

FX                                 GOOSE CARRIED THROUGH GATE.

GERRY                        …No.

MARTIN                       (SIGHS) Ok. So it has to be this one then…

DOUGLAS                  It’s always the way when you lose something, isn’t it? It’s always in the last goose you look.

CAROLYN                   You are sure the goose swallowed it, are you?

MARTIN                       I … was sure. Alright… come here…

FX                                 GOOSE COMPLAINS.

FISHER                       No, remember, support her body…

MARTIN                       I’m trying!

ARTHUR                     Contestant 22!

FX                                 FOOTSTEPS

FX                                 SECURITY GATE BEEP

GERRY                        There it is! That’s her!

ALL                               RAGGED CHEERS

CAROLYN                   Now for God’s sake hold on to her!

FISHER                        You can have that one for twenty euros.

MARTIN                       Ok, er… let me see…

CAROLYN                   I’ll get it, Martin.

MARTIN                       Oh… you don’t have to do that.

CAROLYN                  Well, I’ve already spent 85 euros on a dead sheep today – I may as well stand you a live goose as well. Now, Gerry, I don’t suppose there’s any way you can still clear us to leave?

GERRY                        Carolyn, I’m sorry, I really can’t. They’d have my license off me.

CAROLYN                   Well, then. It looks like we’re here for the night.

ARTHUR                     Brilliant! Oh, and Douglas and I can teach you a great game with the security gate!

GERRY                        And the bar’s open as long as you want it. Can I get you anything now, in fact? Carolyn?

CAROLYN                   A large gin and tonic.

GERRY                        Martin?

MARTIN                       A small red wine.

GERRY                        And gentlemen… two shots of the usual?

DOUGLAS                  Thank you, Gerry. Oh, and Gerry?

GERRY                        Yes?

DOUGLAS                  Leave the carton.

GRAMS                       SIG AND CREDITS

Thursday 10 January 2013


Happy Birling Day!

It took a while to decide whether or not to have a Birling Day episode this series. On the one hand, if there's a chance of having Geoffrey Whitehead in your sitcom again, why would you not? On the other hand, I didn't want it to feel like I'd run out of ideas - there'd have to be something different about the usual Talisker contest set-up. Also, there is an annoying lack of international rugby destinations beginning with letters from T to Y - except Twickenham, of course, but that wasn't terribly helpful, for reasons explained in the episode. For a while, this one was called Toulouse, and had to do with Carolyn setting Douglas a treasure hunt around the plane to keep him busy, but I never really believed in that. Then I came up with the idea of an impromptu Birling flight, with Douglas carrying the whisky, and Carolyn trying to steal it, and that's when I felt I had a fresh enough angle on it to justify completing the Birling Day trilogy- and gleefully rang the producer to tell him to book Geoffrey.

Even then, the plot was tricky. I experimented with having Carolyn actually succeed in her attempt, and even with Martin stealing it from both of them, but I never felt happy with any solution that didn't involve Douglas coming out on top. There are other points in the series where I examine the infallible image Douglas projects of himself - but I couldn't have him not win on Birling Day. It would be like stealing his very soul. But while I was still toying with the Carolyn stealing the Talisker from Douglas, I came up with the idea of a backwards Birling Day - flying away from the rugby, Birling getting soberer, etc; and from there the rest of the episode came together, mysterious invisible camels and all.

Notes and queries:

Yeah, I know it's unlikely Italy would get into the world cup final, let alone beat Wales in it. But it's not impossible…

I've been asked by a couple of people if Martin saying he's been at MJN for five years indicates a time jump. No, it doesn't. The show is happening in more or less real time, so if Martin joined MJN about nine months before Abu Dhabi in June 2008, that means he had his five year anniversary in late 2012.

No, I am not secretly on the pay-roll of the Talisker distillery! I picked it more or less arbitrarily, just because I liked the name, for Edinburgh; never thinking it would keep on coming back. If I'd known there would be three whole episodes in which the whole cast incessantly talk about how wonderful it is, I'd have made up a fake whisky. Similarly, I have no shares in Toblerone...

I think that's all, if I think of anything else I'll come back and edit this post.

Deleted scene: a little more of Douglas persuading Carolyn to adopt Martin's 'Fake Timbuktu' plan:

CAROLYN: No, I'm sorry, but it's quite impossible.

DOUGLAS: Well, alright. Go and tell him, then. Send him, and all his money, weaving back to Sussex. Or… you could indulge in a little harmless deception to help make an old man's dream come true.

CAROLYN: He's a horrible old man who wants to spend a huge amount of money making his wife feel silly.

DOUGLAS: I didn't say it was a nice dream.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Happy New Year!

…and Happy Birling Day Eve.

As you may have guessed, I put this blog into hibernation while I finished writing Cabin Pressure; but now that's done, I will be attempt to resume normal service.

The fourth series begins tomorrow, on BBC Radio 4, at 6:30PM. It will be available here on BBC iPlayer for a week after that, and that should be playable from anywhere in the world.

I'll put up a blog post about the episode later tomorrow evening.

In the meantime, I am again, as I did at the end of series three, slowly stripping my flat of the post-its with scrawled plot points that collect on the walls and windows like flocks of moths during the writing of a series. Here are some of the ones I took down today:

Royalty Top Trumps

Goose attack

Douglas can't smell bacon

Arthur looks for camels.

Sweeping for assassins

Herc's fruit tray

No sheep in taxi.

Pineapple Juice - Leave the bottle