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31.10.18

Drop the Dead Donkey: The Unbroadcast Pilot

Posted 31st October 2018

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Drop The Dead Donkey pilot - Alex, Damien, Dave and George

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with TV pilots.

TV pilots of all kinds. Shows which eventually made it to the screen virtually untouched as part of a series, like The Young Ones episode Demolition. Shows which made it to screen, but which were substantially or entirely reshot for the series proper, such as Citizen Smith. One-offs which aired, but never became a series – remember Mirrorball? And then there’s my favourite: pilots which were never broadcast, either because they were never intended to be in the first place, or because substantial changes happened between the pilot and the series… or because they were a complete fucking disaster in every single respect.

There are so many of these unbroadcast pilots I’d love to see. There’s the 1986 pilot Dungeon Doom… followed by a second, also unbroadcast pilot under the more familiar name Knightmare in 1987. Similarly, 1983 saw an unnamed pre-pilot, followed by a full pilot called UNTV… with a series appearing the year after, a certain Spitting Image. Then there’s Paul O’Grady’s version of The Generation Game, which by rights should have been the BBC’s big entertainment hit of 2003… and wouldn’t you just love to watch the two pilots they made to see exactly why that didn’t happen?

Occasionally, such pilots get to see the light of day on DVD, if they ended up as successful shows. Sherlock saw its unbroadcast 60 minute version of A Study in Pink released. The Day Today is one of the most obvious comedy examples, with the bare bones of the show there… but the visual panache of the series very much not. And then there’s Doctor Who, where the DVD set The Beginning contains the complete unedited pilot recording, and a brand new edit combining the best of all the raw session’s takes. Because, y’know, Doctor Who.

With comedy, it’s easy to wish so much more was released.1 Blackadder is the most obvious example here, with a pilot which had never been officially put out on DVD, presumably due to somebody not wishing it to be out there.2 Slightly further afield, I would do anything3 to see A Big Bunch of Hippies, the pilot for the underrated sitcom Hippies – and even if you didn’t like the show, its unbroadcast pilot was the last TV show scripted jointly by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, which is surely of interest to the discerning comedy fan.4

But occasionally, we get lucky. Hello Drop the Dead Donkey, Channel 4’s truly excellent 90s newsroom sitcom… which actually released its unbroadcast pilot on DVD in 2005. And watching it in the context of that first series from 1990 is rather instructive.

Let’s instruct ourselves, shall we?

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  1. Admittedly, comedy in general has it better than game shows, or entertainment shows in general. Duncan Norvelle’s pilot edition of Blind Date is the stuff of legend, and we’ve never seen so much as a field of it. UPDATE: Thanks to Ben Baker, who points out that parts of this pilot were seen in the documentary Who Killed Saturday Night TV? Now I’ve just got to pluck up the courage to watch it. 

  2. To be honest, it shuffles round the net so often like the proverbial video ghost that you’d think whoever it is might as well just throw up their hands, give in, and accept a few pennies out of it. 

  3. Not actually anything. 

  4. Yes, you there. Hello. 

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22.09.18

Cheap Cheap Cheap: Escape from the Cuntery

Posted 22nd September 2018

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Cheap Cheap Cheap - Barry and Noel

It isn’t a game show crossed with a sitcom, of course.

Oh, Hat Trick might have tried to sell it like that. It was the line used in all the pre-publicity. But the word “sitcom” simply oversells the narrative element of Cheap Cheap Cheap. If people really tuned into the programme expecting a sitcom, no wonder they were disappointed with what they saw.

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17.04.18

Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton: From Script to Screen

Posted 17th April 2018

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Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton title card

Previously on Dirty Feed, I took a look at the differences between the script taken into rehearsals for Dennis Potter’s 1965 play Stand Up, Nigel Barton, and what was finally broadcast. (Please read that first piece if you haven’t already; it contains a lot of background necessary for understanding this one.) This time, we take a look at Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, broadcast the following week on the 15th December 1965. Fittingly enough, Vote – Potter’s cry of desperation about the state of politics – got bogged down in behind-the-scenes politics of its own, and ended up with a rather chequered production history. So first of all, it’s important to define what this article isn’t.

Unlike the relative peacefulness of Stand Up‘s production, Vote not only had a major rewrite, but that major rewrite was after the whole thing had been shot. Potter details in his introduction to the Penguin scriptbook The Nigel Barton Plays that the play was originally ready for broadcast on the 23rd June 1965, but that executives started to get cold feet and pulled the play seven hours before transmission.

Between June and the play’s eventual December broadcast, several scenes were rewritten and reshot. Needless to say, Potter wasn’t very happy about it.

“The result disfigures the play in a few important ways. Firstly, some of the savagery of Jack Hay’s cynicism had to be muted. It was argued that, in the original, the agent was ‘almost psychotic’. After much edgy negotiation, I was able to settle for what is now in the text – but I hope it will be clear […] that any further diminution in the bite or the fury of the part would have ruined the play.”

The crucial bit for us in terms of analysing the changes made to the text is the following:

“Like the new Jack Hay I, too, have my own ‘private grief’ and nothing will now induce me to publish the original Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton (nor the original of my Cinderella). These published texts are to be related to what was actually shown on the screen.”

Which means we have a somewhat different situation here compared to that with Stand Up, Nigel Barton. There, we could be certain that the text as published in The Nigel Barton Plays was what was taken into the rehearsal rooms. Here, Potter admits that the script published for Vote is not his original intention. These certainly aren’t transcripts, as there are plenty of differences between this script and what made it onto the screen – so they are presumably an amalgamation of his original script, and the specific scenes featuring Jack Hay which he delivered as rewrites.

So, what this article can’t detail is Potter’s original vision. You don’t get the old, even more twisted Jack Hay here, I’m afraid. We only have what is published in The Nigel Barton Plays to go on. We will, however, analyse the sections of the script which Potter admits were rewritten… and in at least a couple of instances, we can tell that the enforced rewrite on his character has entirely been ignored when it came to actually shooting the thing.

Enough background. Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this. Note that I haven’t detailed every single change in wording between the script and the screen – only the stuff where there seemed to be an interesting point to make, or where there have been clear censorship issues.

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03.04.18

Sincerely Yours, The Breakfast Club

Posted 3rd April 2018

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BRIAN: Dear Mr. Vernon. We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us to write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions. You see us as a Brain, an Athlete, a Basketcase, Princess, and a Criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7 o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

– Opening monologue, The Breakfast Club (1985)

Above is one of the most famous monologues in film history. This is the tale of how it almost never was… or, at least, how it was almost never famous.

Floating around online is an early draft of The Breakfast Club script (PDF link). There is no date attached, nor does it specify exactly which draft it is: the front page is entirely missing. It is, however, significantly different to the film which made it to the screen. Detailing even the major changes is a task for another day, and would involve comparing the script not only with the final film, but also the deleted scenes on the recent brand new Blu-ray release.

But I thought comparing that opening monologue to the one in this unspecified draft might be fun. Let’s take a look at it…

…what’s that? It isn’t present in the film’s opening at all?

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25.02.18

Stand Up, Nigel Barton: From Script to Screen

Posted 25th February 2018

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Stand Up, Nigel Barton - title card

“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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26.12.17

Writing for Fun and Zero Profit

Posted 26th December 2017

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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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24.09.17

A Public Service Announcement on Trev and Simon

Posted 24th September 2017

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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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  1. And cheekily advertised by Trev and Simon themselves in their final sketch, which was then reiterated by Sarah Greene. “Just say it”, she says, in glorious contravention of the entire spirit of the BBC. 

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11.06.17

How Strong Are Your Moral Values?

Posted 11th June 2017

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The Real You logo

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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  1. You’ll need a BBC Micro emulator, and the disc doesn’t auto-boot unfortunately. Type CHAIN"REAL" to get it working. 

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02.04.17

Now That’s What I Call Alan Partridge:
2017 Mixcloud Edition

Posted 2nd April 2017

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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.

Enjoy.

Now, I really must get round to making that Maid Marian and Her Merry Men album…

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16.02.17

Frasier: The Good Son

Posted 16th February 2017

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“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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  1. If you want to see every little difference, I suggest you watch the final episode and read through the script at the same time. Note how Kelsey Grammer often slightly rewords his lines. 

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