“Television brings us the Prime Minister, and a faith healer, a bleeding boxer and a sinking ship, a coronation and an assassination. The picture we see may have been thrown across the Atlantic or even off the moon: it can then seem a highly comic sort of activity to write Act One, Scene One, rehearse in a draughty Territorial Army drill-hall for a fortnight, remove the expletive ‘Christ!’ and finally sandwich yourself between Harold Wilson being frank and somebody walking in space.”
– Dennis Potter, Introduction to The Nigel Barton Plays
Much has been written about Dennis Potter’s two plays Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, which aired in consecutive weeks on BBC1 as part of The Wednesday Play in December 1965. About their takes on class and politics; on how both are some of the most autobiographical works in the Potter canon; and how both plays point to themes present in Potter’s later work.
None of that is what I want to talk about here, however. Instead, I want to take a look at the Penguin paperback The Nigel Barton Plays, published two years later in 1967. This contains an excellent introduction by Potter, and scripts for both plays. Note the word “scripts”, there. They aren’t transcripts of the broadcast version of the plays. These contain numerous differences – in fact, they are the original scripts written by Potter, stage directions and all. Which means, by comparing the contents of the book to the final plays as broadcast, we can tell exactly what Potter originally intended to make it to air – and exactly how the rehearsal process changed things.
Spoiler: Potter wasn’t lying with his amusing anecdote about removing “the expletive ‘Christ!'”.
This article, then, is not a general analysis of Stand Up, Nigel Barton. Rather, it’s a look at exactly what changed between that script and the final programme. Of course, it can’t be a comprehensive list of all changes made to the show; that would be immensely tedious, and any good points would be lost in a sea of minor word changes and rephrases. I have, however, picked up on what I think are the most interesting differences – and I have tried to include every single change when it comes to profanity, as I think that’s the most important aspect of how Potter’s work was changed from script to screen.
While writing this piece, I have also had the pleasure of taking a look at pages of an actual copy of the script, as taken into rehearsals by Ian Fairbairn who was one of the children in the play. Aside from some different scene numbers, studying it gives confirmation that the text printed in The Nigel Barton Plays is the actual material taken into rehearsals. Many thanks to Andrew-Mark Thompson for his help here.
Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this.
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Gather round the campfire, fellow pop culture writers. Uncle John has something to say. You can sit on my lap if you like. Of course I don’t insist you sit on my lap, Henry. Calm down.
What’s that, Betty? You don’t stick things on the internet for other people to enjoy for free? Go off and read some of my other stuff, then. This piece isn’t for you.
The rest of you: listen up. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of you complain how difficult it is to get your stuff noticed online these days. No, no, this isn’t about you, specifically. I’ve heard a lot of people say it. Hell, I put myself in that category. Take a look at this Tumblr post I made back in 2013.
I’m not going to patronise you and tell you I can make everything better. You might get something from this, or you might not. But the below is how I deal with writing online, when there’s just so much stuff out there it’s difficult to get any kind of attention at all. You might think I’m just talking load of old shit. But I’ve found it helpful, and I thought it was worth getting it all down in case anyone else found it helpful too. Especially seeing as it’s the the end of December, and we’re all busy figuring out our plans for next year.
(I’m also going to leave out any talk about money – from Patreon or otherwise. Whether the below is helpful or not, I definitely can’t make anyone rich.)
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The final episode of Going Live! aired on the 17th April 1993. I was distraught. My favourite TV show: gone forever. I made sure I recorded the whole thing, and it was a treasured possession for years, until I gave the tape to a girl I tried – and failed – to have sex with. That’s the kind of symbolism which gets you chucked out of film school for being too obvious.
Regardless: let’s get back to being 11 years old. The one thing to cling onto from Going Live! ending was Trev and Simon’s tour – starting just a month later.1 I got my tickets for the Nottingham Theatre Royal date on the 30th May, a week after my birthday, and waited patiently.
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Hey! You, over there! Ever wonder how moral you are? Don’t look at me like that. It’s a straightforward enough question, and easy enough to answer. Isn’t it? No?
Well, never fear. I have a BBC Micro program here which will tell you ALL you need to know. Published by Collins Soft in 1985, The Real You contains 16 tests to – and I quote the back of the packaging – “inspire you and challenge you to discover who you really are”. And one of those tests is simply titled: Morals.
The test consists of 50 questions, and I thought I’d run through some of the most interesting ones here. Feel free to download a copy and play along at home1, though the below gives you enough of a flavour, I feel.
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Back in 2010 – long before this bugger was released – I created an I’m Alan Partridge soundtrack album. It featured not only songs from the show, but also clips and jingles and a few surprises, hopefully all mixed together in something approaching a fun way. It’s by far the best thing I’ve done on this site, and it’s been a slow inexorable decline ever since.
Originally it was hosted by MediaFire, until it got booted off for copyright infringement. Then it was hosted on my Dropbox, where amazingly it managed to survive until very recently. But with the latest disabling of all Dropbox public folders, it managed to fall offline yet again. So I thought it was about time I uploaded it somewhere legal rather than trying my luck once more.
Now, I really must get round to making that Maid Marian and Her Merry Men album…
“Our biggest struggle after filming the pilot was cutting it down to time. We were something like six minutes long, which is a lot. We cut and cut and cut some more. We cut things we liked and we cut things we loved. Still, after 6 or 7 passes at the show we were still a minute long. We felt we had cut it to the bare bones. Any more cuts could damage the show so we went to Paramount with our dilemma. Thankfully, they agreed with us and asked NBC to give us some extra time. After viewing what we hoped would be our final cut, NBC agreed to give us that extra minute which was a very big favor. So, how do they come up with that extra minute of programming time for us? Don’t think that all they have to do is cut a commercial or two. Are you crazy? That’s money. No, to give us that extra minute, they asked the three other comedies and one drama on that Thursday night to each cut 15 seconds out of their programs. It’s not something that’s done very often and it’s not something the network likes to do, but for that pilot of Frasier they felt it was worth it.”
— How Frasier Came To Be (Part 3), Peter Casey, December 2006
Six minutes, cut out of one of the best sitcom pilots ever made? Oh, man, wouldn’t it be amazing to see what was cut? But I guess we’ll never find out, unless there happens to be a script of the pilot hanging around online anywhere…
…oh, hello. Marked “REVISED FINAL DRAFT”, and dated April 29th 1993. Let’s dig right in.
Material which is only in the script is indicated like this; material which is only in the episode as broadcast is indicated like this. I won’t detail every single difference in phrasing between the script and the final show, minor trims to dialogue, or every change in staging, but all major differences will be noted.1
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What an excellent time for BBC One to broadcast an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. True, it was done in tribute to Gorden Kaye who died on Monday, but it feels like this was a good week to laugh at some Nazis.
However, you know me by now. Ignore the laughter, or moral truths, we all know why we’re really here. “Oh, I wonder whether there have been any edits made to the show…” And blow my chickens up, there has been. To clarify then, here’s the two versions of the episode Pigeon Post I’m comparing:
- The episode broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday 25th January at 7:30pm, with a duration of 28’56”.
- The version Playback released on DVD in Region 2 way back in August 2002, with a duration of 31’39”.
In other words, the version broadcast by BBC One on Wednesday is 2’43” shorter than the version on DVD.
Without either an off-air of the very original broadcast or paperwork to hand1, we’re left with a bit of guesswork – but I think we can work out what happened with reasonable certainty. The longer version on DVD is probably the original broadcast (aside from the episode title caption), and the episode broadcast on Wednesday is a cut-down version for repeat transmission to fit a standard slot – which I suspect is the version the BBC have been showing for years.2
Let’s see what’s missing, shall we? Cuts to the repeat broadcast are indicated like this.
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In late 2009, a project was announced with a great deal of excitement.
“Fox announced on Wednesday that it is seeking participants for a new game show that will allow parents of young geniuses – age 6 to 12 – to put their kids’ knowledge to use winning “life-changing money.”
The series, to be called Our Little Genius, will feature the children competing to answer “increasingly difficult questions as they work their way up to win their family hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The new series is being created by Mark Burnett, the producer behind Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.”
– The New York Times, 11th November 2009
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Eileen Webb, “Productivity in Terrible Times”:
“When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries. The Trevor Project needs your donation more than they need a JS developer proficient in easing animation.”
“I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?
I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.”
I have a good reason. Whatever shit is going on in the world, it does not make everything else unimportant. Life doesn’t work like that. At best that’s a route to giving yourself mental health issues, and at worst it leads to extremism itself.
To take Jason’s three examples. “The new Blade Runner movie” is related to a film which is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential films ever made. The horrific politics and actual human suffering happening in the world at the moment doesn’t stop that from being interesting and important. “How stamps are designed” can only be dismissed if we’re going to think art isn’t important any more – and I don’t want to be associated with anyone who thinks that.
And the blurry ham? Take a look at it. Yes, that’s a fun optical illusion. But let’s state what optical illusions are really about: how we all perceive the world. If anything, that’s even more important now than it was six months ago. That blurry ham is not about ham.
We can all dismiss and belittle our own work, for various reasons. Maybe we’re frustrated by state of the world and wish we could do more. In my case, it’s that I don’t want to be seen as arrogant. Let’s take an example of something I wrote recently over on Ganymede & Titan, about edits made to pre-watershed showings of Red Dwarf XI. It’s hardly the most important article in the world. A few changes made to a couple of episodes of a sitcom, big deal. I put aside hours of my time to rewatch the whole series and write that?
But worries about arrogance or not, the fundamental issues considered in that article are bigger than that. That piece is talking about broadcast standards in television. It’s talking about who has the right to make changes to a television programme. It’s talking about how you can remove material from a programme and still keep the meaning of a scene. And finally, it’s talking about the very nature of comedy, and how the taboo subjects affect it. In its own way, that piece of writing is as political as anything I’ll ever write, and there’s not a mention of Trump or Brexit in sight.
Just because there are absolutely atrocious things happening, and that some people are suffering hugely because of it, that doesn’t mean other things aren’t important. Because if we never think anything else is important aside from people’s suffering, we invalidate 99% of human endeavour. Nobody needs me to list a catalogue of atrocities… and beside it, list all the other important things which were happening in the world at the exact same time.
We should all care about the terrible things going on. We should all make sure we’re doing something to make the world better. But never feel guilty talking about your silly things.
Because they’re not really that silly, you know.
Watching things on DVD has an odd habit of hiding patterns in TV shows, as well as showing them. For all that watching classic Doctor Who exposes the runaround nature of some of the middle episodes in a serial, if you’re watching the show out of order, the links between serials go awry. Even if you decide to watch a programme like, say, George & Mildred completely in order, the fact that the show had a Christmas episode each year between 1977 and 1979 is easy to go unnoticed.
Let’s take some notice, shall we?
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