Wednesday 31 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Zurich

The Nachzehrer, by Simon Kane. 

(Spoilers follow, obviously.)

Well, I'm glad you liked it! Glad, and very, very relieved.

I've said before that I often give episodes working titles alongside the geographical ones, to help keep my mind on the theme. Zurich's was 'Graduation Day'. My starting point was, why is this the final episode? I knew that everyone would still be doing their respective jobs at the end, so why won't we be following them any more? Because, I decided, as well as the straight-forward happy endings involving gold and marriage; there needed to be another, intangible level of happy ending, in which all five of the crew graduated, in one way or another, from being sitcom characters. We're not going to be following the adventures of OJS Air, or of Martin in Switzerland, because while they’ll still be having fun and playing games, they won't be doing the sorts of things that kept them getting into sitcom-episode-sized scrapes, and that ultimately stemmed from something out-of-joint in their lives. They’ve grown up. Except Arthur. But even Arthur, a little bit.

Martin Crieff was a sitcom character because i) he desperately wanted to do something he fundamentally wasn’t very good at, and ii) he was over-promoted, under-confident and over-compensating. In the last two series we've seen him grow in confidence - and competence - to the point that in Yverdon, it is (I hope) plausible that a major airline could offer him a proper job. There was never any question for me that for Martin, a happy ending had to involve him taking that job. To reject a real career, with a future and prospects (not to mention being handy for Vaduz) in favour of the security blanket of MJN - even with a salary - would be a failure. Certainly MJN is like a family to him, but if it is, he’s the elder child… and what children have to do eventually is grow up, and move out. Not that the security blanket isn’t tempting, of course; so for Martin, graduation was about overcoming his melt-down at the auction, and realising both that he can leave home, and that he should do.

The thing that has kept Douglas a sitcom character - and I've had to bite my tongue so many times not to say this in any of the previous Bear Fact posts, because to me it's so fundamental to his character, but I didn't want to mention it until Zurich aired - is that he's not the captain. So much of his persona, his put-downs, his scheming, stems from the fact that he used to be a captain, he ought to be a captain… and he's not. He pretends not to care about it, but we see as early as Fitton that he cares deeply. The natural order of things, certainly as he sees it, is that he should be in charge, the father figure in the family… and technically, he's not. I’ve always thought that the running joke of strangers assuming Douglas is Captain and Martin F.O. must have been at least as painful for Douglas as it was for Martin. He’s just better at hiding it… and better in general at constructing a super-human persona to hide behind.

So, the thing Douglas needed to graduate from being in a sitcom was to become a captain again… and the test he needed to pass in order to earn that was to act like one. Not just take charge and make decisions in a crisis, but do so openly and honestly. Douglas prefers to hang back, let other people make mistakes, work out the 'something clever' he's going to do in secret, and then present it with a flourish. He's a goal-hanger. This time, he has to act on his sense that it's imperative to get Gerti back before he's worked out all the details. He has to risk his own money, and more importantly, he has to admit to Carolyn and the others that he’s making it up as he goes along. He's not trying to impress anyone with how clever he is, he's trying to do the best thing for the crew - like a captain. And finally, if the crew is a family, he has to be a good parent. He has to look after the younger sibling; and he has to help the older one leave home, by sharing the secret of his persona.

Carolyn had the shortest distance to go to graduate. She's always been eminently capable of running her business, and she remains so; just as she has always been an excellent parent, both literally and metaphorically. So, although I was keen that she, like the other three, should do 'something clever' to save Gerti - in her case, it's manipulating the auctioneer to sell her to Bruce not Gordon - her real graduation is in her personal life. She needs to say 'I love you' to Herc, because the Beatrice and Benedick schtick is all very well - and I'm sure will continue throughout their marriage – but it’s time for her to accept that she can show vulnerability to Herc without suffering for it.

And in order for her to believe that, Herc needs to stop showing off, and actually work hard to persuade her that he is genuine, and she is safe with him. Which he does with the ‘white hair’ speech; but more importantly by putting his money where his mouth is, and accepting both a pay cut and a demotion if that’s what it takes for them to be together. To put it another way, both Herc and Carolyn needed to stop sparring, and work out which one of them actually was the alpha dog. And the answer, of course, is Carolyn.

And Arthur… well, Arthur is never going to grow up, as the ice cream van shows us. But luckily, he’s entirely happy as he is, so he doesn’t need to. So, graduation for him (apart from successfully over-riding a Code Red) is all about dealing with the only thing that’s wrong in his life – his father. Arthur’s test was to stand up to the false (if biological) father in his life, firstly at the auction and secondly and most importantly by remembering his grandmother’s name, realising that he will never, ever have a genuine father / son conversation with Gordon Shappey; and renouncing him once and for all in favour of the two genuine father figures in his life – and in particular, the one who has always looked out for and defended him, even as he mocks him; the one with whom he can discuss the dames and the horses over a few pineapple juices; and the one on whom he can utterly rely to do something clever, and make everything alright.

And because they all did those things, lo, the God of sitcom was pleased with them, and rewarded them with golden buns for tea, and an annoying sunset to fly into… but only as far as a destination beginning AA.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Zurich - Part Two

Well, here it is… please take your seats, and prepare for landing. Very much hope you enjoy it, and that you approve of the ending. But, whether you do or not, thank you very, very much for all your comments, poems, jokes, support, drawings, praise and occasional fury over the past six years, and most of all…

Thank you for flying MJN Air. 


The Airport.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Zurich - Part One

Strap in, chaps. We're ready for take-off.

I won't be doing Farewell Bear Facts for Zurich for a few days, partly to give people a chance to listen to it on iPlayer, and partly because it's Christmas. But feel free to leave your comments here, and in the similar post I'll put up for part two tomorrow.

Hope you like it...

Monday 22 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Yverdon-Les-Bains

More on Yverdon here. 

I decided when I wanted to end Cabin Pressure in between the Christmas special (M) and the start of series 3 (N). At that point I had written two series and a special - 13 episodes - and I noticed that if I could get the BBC to give me the same again, that would take me to the end of the alphabet. So, all of series 3 and 4 were written with some of the events of Yverdon and Zurich in mind. Not that that informed every line, or even every episode, but overall, I knew my job was to get Martin to the point where he could - with great difficulty, and by an extraordinary effort, pass a job interview at a 'proper' airline'… and poor old Douglas to the point where he knows exactly how Martin felt in Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, Carolyn was heading to the point where she was resigned, if not cheerful, about giving up MJN; and indeed prepared to encourage Martin to leave it - but with another, Herc-shaped dilemma to solve instead. 

I like Oskar's line about having tuned out for Martin's big speech. I knew the interview had to climax with one, because both we and Martin needed it, but I was never quite comfortable with it clinching the job for him, because a) it felt a bit of a Hollywood ending, and b) that isn't how airline recruiting works. So, I retuned the character of Oskar, who previously had just been another interviewer, there throughout, and pretty much interchangeable with Elise, into an unpredictable but shrewd CEO who had the power to shortcut the whole process and hire Martin on the spot. But, as he says, he doesn't do that because of the 'hero speech' - he's already made up his mind by then. And the things that get Martin the job offer (apart from his ability and willingness to learn the manuals, which he's always had) are all things he's learned to do at MJN. Plus, his getting Oskar to stay in the room. Which again, I don't think he could have done before he met Douglas, or Carolyn. 

In other words, the journey to Yverdon was to get the main characters to the point where Martin could plausibly say 'I would like you to give me ten minutes to change your mind'; Douglas could plausibly say 'I am the supreme commander of this vessel', and Carolyn could plausibly say 'It's only money.'

Meanwhile, Arthur... eats a dragon-fruit. Well, some characters are more prone to complex emotional development than others. But Arthur does have perhaps the key line in the whole episode, near the beginning:

 'Good luck, Skip! I hope you get the job! But I also hope you stay with us! So overall, I hope, er ... I don’t know what I hope!'

My aim was to bring the audience to the same point, especially once Martin gets the offer. If he turns it down, he's taking a backward step, away from financial security, the job he's always wanted, and the most promising romance of his life. But if he takes it, he's not only leaving a life he now enjoys with his closest friends, but forcing the closure of MJN, and thus surely changing all three of their lives for the worse. So, what's he to do? What do you hope he does? Do you know what you hope? Well, almost two years later, get ready to find out...


3.   MARTIN:          I'm afraid I'm too much of a perfectionist. I try too hard to do every aspect of my job really well.

4.   DEROCHE:         That's your greatest weakness?

5.   MARTIN:          Yes.

6.   DEROCHE:         So, if you joined us here, how would you work on improving it?

7.   MARTIN:          Well ... I suppose ... I would try to do everything more ... badly.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Xinzhou

More on Xinzhou here.

You remember how, way back in the Cremona bear facts, I said that we would come to the most difficult to write episode of all eventually? Well... welcome to Xinzhou. Xinzhou was an absolute nightmare to write, or rather to rewrite, culminating in a marathon 36 hour rewriting session through the night up to the very morning of the recording, during which heroic producer David got a sleeping bag sent to him from home so he could sleep in the Pozzitive office while I wrote, and also … the thing for which he has never quite forgiven me… was forced to eat a sandwich from Subway.

There were three main things that made it so hard. Firstly, it was another bottle episode, like Fitton and Limerick, which as I've said elsewhere I find the hardest to write. Secondly, separately it also had quite a lot of hard work to do getting all the characters set up for Yverdon, and restating the stakes: Martin cannot go on as he is at MJN. But MJN cannot continue without Martin. Eventually, the way I found to do this without having everyone just sit around telling each other things they already know, was to put the focus on Douglas. And indeed, in a quiet way, this is an episode all about Douglas - the others all have fairly basic Wants about getting to sleep or fixing the plane; but it's Douglas who goes on an important journey from discouraging Martin from leaving, so as to save his own job; to realising it's his duty to encourage him. And, of course, to fix everyone's problems by doing something clever… by finally making Martin give him his hat.

The third problem, though, was entirely my own fault. Once I got the 'stuck on Gerti overnight' idea, I initially thought this would be more like Limerick - constantly flicking between various games and conversations as they tried to keep themselves amused. And I had a lot of ideas in my various notebooks and early drafts of other episodes for games and stupid 'how many otter…' style conversations that I'd never used. So why not, I thought to myself, gather them all together, and make an episode out of them? Because, I ought to have immediately answered myself, whilst kicking myself hard for even asking such a stupid question, that NEVER WORKS. On two other non-CP-related occasions I've tried to write something by assembling various bits cut from other shows or drafts and trying to stitch them together into a sort of Frankenstein's monster, and on both occasions it's gone about as well as it went for Dr. Frankenstein. And the same thing happened this time. The bits had been written at different times, they had subtly different moods, they involved different stages of the characters (Series 2 non-Arthur characters, as I've been saying a lot in these posts, do not act the same way as series 4 characters) , and no matter how I tried to rewrite and finesse them, it didn't work. It wasn't like an episode of Cabin Pressure  - it was like one of those clip show episodes US sitcoms sometimes do.  So, after a crisis meeting with producer David… I threw out almost everything, and started again. Hence the mad scramble to the very brink of the deadline, and beyond, as I ran quite chronically out of time. So… you can imagine how delighted I am that when a fan site did a poll, Xinzhou was voted their favourite episode of series 4 - and I know a lot of people have it as their favourite overall. Believe me, that did not seem a likely scenario at 5am on January 6th 2013...


DOUGLAS                  I’m sorry you’ll miss your date, Martin.

MARTIN                       It wasn’t a date.

CAROLYN                   Did you have a date?

MARTIN                       No.

DOUGLAS                  Yes.

CAROLYN                   Well, who with? Tell all!

MARTIN                       There’s nothing to tell. She’s very nice, but… our jobs are too different, and we live too far away, and it’ll never work, so…

CAROLYN                   Oh dear. Where does she live?

MARTIN                       Vaduz.

CAROLYN                   Oh, in Lichtenstein? Did you meet her when you picked up that awful Princess?

MARTIN                       …Yes I did.

CAROLYN                   And what does she do?

MARTIN                       She’s… er…

DOUGLAS                  She’s in management, didn’t you tell me, Martin?

MARTIN                       …Yes. She’s a manager. She’s quite high up.

CAROLYN                   What company?

MARTIN                       …I can’t really tell you.

DOUGLAS                  But put it this way, it has the turnover of a small country.

Me on your radio and (very slightly) TV over Christmas

We interrupt this stream of Bear Facts to let you know that, by coincidence, I am doing something you can listen to, or even watch, over each of the next four days.

22nd December. Two today. In the morning, m'Souvenir Programme colleague Carrie Quinlan and I will be doing a short and Christmassy sketch during the Today programme. This, and all the things listed here, will be available on iPlayer once they've been aired. I'm not going to do links, because you're all terribly clever people, and can find them for yourself.

In the evening, I make my second appearance in this series of one of my favourite shows, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. (I stepped in at short notice for an indisposed Barry Cryer, by the way, which is why I'm not credited - but don't worry, he's absolutely fine.)

23rd December. There's this sitcom I write called 'Cabin Pressure', about pilots. Anyway, the first part of the two part show finale will go out at 6.30 on Radio 4. Incidentally, there are spoilers absolutely everywhere. The audience who saw the recording in February have diligently and heroically kept quiet for ten months. The papers previewing the show… not so much. If you haven't been spoilt yet, and don't want to be, I advise you not to read or listen to anything you see promoting the show. Except this. This is fine.

Christmas Eve. The second part airs. For what it's worth, I don't think I've seen any spoilers relating to events in this half. For instance, the scene the BBC has put out is from part one, and if you've seen the cast list, all of those characters have made their appearance by the end of part one. So, even if you've seen spoilers, you still have some surprises in store.

Christmas Day. m'Souvenir Programme Colleague Margaret Cabourn-Smith and I make a (brief) final appearance as Miranda's annoying friends Chris and Alison in 'Miranda' on BBC1.

Boxing Day. Blessed relief for the nation - the plague of relentless festive Finnemore appearances is over.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Wokingham

More on Wokingham here.

- Arthur's irresistible helpfulness meeting Wendy's immoveable resistance to being helped is one of my favourite Arthur scenes. Partly because Arthur affects and furthers the plot for reasons other than clottishness. Partly because I love the friendliness that develops between them once Wendy realises she's met her match. And partly… because I got to perform a two-handed scene with Prunella Scales!

- There is a good reason why the pronunciation of Caitlin's name changes between Limerick and Wokingham. It's not the after-the-fact one I came up with in the blog post above, although that one will do in the characters' world.  Unfortunately for you… I cannot tell you what the real reason is. I know, maddening of me. But true.

- Nice, amongst all the character development and series arc-i-ness going on these days, to have a nice old-fashioned C.P. subplot about trying to win a silly game. And nice that it's Douglas and Carolyn doing it for a change, rather than Douglas and Martin.

Deleted scene. This is an interesting one, because rather than being cut for reasons as time, as usual, I requested Producer David to cut it, because I felt it was a mistake on my part. Here it is:

CAROLYN                   Oh, not at all. I know what it’s like… well, you’ve met Ruth. She still makes me feel like a five year old.
ARTHUR                     I’m glad I don’t have an older brother. Although, also, now I think about it, an older brother would have been great.
MARTIN                       Mm. Although… actually, as it happens… Simon’s my younger brother.
DOUGLAS                  What?
CAROLYN                   He’s not, is he?
MARTIN                       Only by a year! And he’s always acted like he’s older! And he’s so much bigger than me! And he’s got that moustache!

So, that works perfectly well as a sitcommy joke; and it's certainly true that there are siblings where the younger acts as if they were the older and/or vice-versa. But, ultimately, in this case, I didn't and don't think it was truthful. Simon's behaviour - which, as I've said before, I was keen to make irritating but not horrible - is so much influenced, in my mind, by the fact that he's an older brother who can't recognise that he and his siblings are all equal adults now; and so treats Martin as if he was still a kid, that to remove the root of that just for the sake of a capper at the end of the episode felt cheap. So, to be clear, the order of the Crieff siblings is: Simon, Martin, Caitlin. (Martin is such a middle child…)

Farewell Bear Facts - Vaduz

More on Vaduz here.

Princess Theresa was a real risk. Introducing a new romantic interest for a main character, only four episodes from the end, and expecting the audience to care, and to want them to get together, was quite a tall order; and giving her such a high-concept identity as a foreign Princess even more so. I felt there was a definite risk of shark-jumping. 'Oh, right, so Martin's going out with a Princess now? Fine…'

In the end, though, I haven't heard many complaints about Theresa, and I have heard quite a lot of enthusiasm, which I think is largely down to Matilda Ziegler's fantastic, warm, intelligent, amused performance. The other thing that helps, though, is that though the character is new; the situation is set up in Newcastle - Theresa is quite a lot like Linda Fairburn, but with the crucial differences that a) Theresa quite fancies Martin and b) Martin has changed between N and V. He's still going to make a stammering fool of himself, of course, but… well, he truly does earn that medal for teasing recognition. Speaking of which, here is a Deleted Medal:

THERESA                  Super, that gets you the Holy Cross of St Luzius. Have you been to Triesenberg?
MARTIN                       I… I don’t think so.
THERESA                   Do you want to go to Triesenberg? Basically, we have this whole medal foreigners can get for going to Triesenberg. I think it was some kind of eighteenth century tourism thing. I tell you what, you can have it for now, if you don’t go to Triesenberg in ten years, send it back.

And here's another deleted scene, in which Martin gives Maxi some advice:

MARTIN                       Maxi… what does the Sheik of Qatar do, exactly?
MAXI                             (SULLEN) It’s not just him. It’s all the boys. They laugh at me all the time. And they call me Serena. 
MARTIN                       Why do they do that?
MAXI                            I don’t know.
MARTIN                       Was it after you told them to call your Your Serene Majesty?
MAXI                              …I can’t remember.
MARTIN                       Look, can I give you some advice?
MAXI                            You? But you’re a commoner!
MARTIN                       Even so. Look, I used to be in the air cadets. Well, you know that. And I was the first in my flight to become a Junior Corporal. And, and it’s just good military discipline to address people by rank, rather than name, or… anything else.
MAXI                           Of course.
MARTIN                       Yes. But, looking back, even though I was technically right, I sort of wish I hadn’t insisted.
MAXI                            Wouldn’t they call you it?
MARTIN                       No, no they would. They wouldn’t stop calling me it. I mean… there are people I see when I go back home who still call me Junior Corporal. What I mean is, the thing to remember about bullies-
MAXI                            I know, I know, ‘they’re cowards really, you’ve just got to stand up to them.’
MARTIN                       No, no. Some of them are cowards, but some of them really aren’t. No, the thing about bullies is, they do it for fun.
MAXI                            How does that help me?
MARTIN                       Well, it gives you a strategy. Be boring to bully.
MAXI                            How?
MARTIN                       Don’t react much. Don’t try really hard not to react, because that’s fun to watch. But otherwise… just sort wait for it to finish.
MAXI                             And that works?

MARTIN                       I don’t know… I never learnt to do it. But I think it might.