Monday, 22 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Yverdon

I'm dreaming of a place holder...

Just like the ones I've often seen...

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.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Farewell Bear Facts - Uskerty

…As previously discussed here, complete with entire deleted final scene. Which reminds me, that deleted scene will be one of several, such as  the bit from St. Petersburg in which Martin and Douglas talk about their fathers, included as a bonus track on the complete CDs, which will be released on January 15th, but which is available for pre-order here.

(Sorry, Amazon haters - I do take your point, but they're offering a 35% pre-order discount, and it seems unfair not to point people at the place with the cheapest price.)

- Anyway, back with Uskerty - finally the companion piece to Johannesburg, where the crew are split Martin & Carolyn / Douglas & Arthur for the first time. A split which worked so well, I rather wished I'd done it before -  though arguably the Douglas and Arthur duo, at least, wouldn't have been as effective before Douglas reached his Series Four evolution. 

- I've talked about visual jokes before, and how radio is actually the perfect medium for them, because you have such precise control over what your audience sees when. Generally, I give Douz as an example, because it has both the unfilmable final cricket team / firetruck / desert highway scene, and also the scene where it's revealed at the end of a tense and serious scene that Douglas has - for sound plot reasons - been in his underwear throughout. But there are examples of two more varieties of radio visual jokes in Uskerty. First, teasing the listener with deliberately withheld information. Finn McCool III is discussed, produced, and admired with the listener having no idea what he is, before it's finally revealed he's a sheep… and a stuffed one. This type of joke obviously can, and often is, done on TV; but it generally looks quite forced, as the camera deliberately avoids showing the thing we're interested in. Similarly, I suppose you could shoot the Douz scene with Douglas only visible from the neck up, but it would look odd, and would give away that something was up. 

The other type is my favourite, which is to remind the listener about something visual that they already know, but have forgotten to keep picturing. So, when Martin finally arrives at the airport, we picture him looking bedraggled, and because it's just happened we probably remember he's fallen in goose poo. But hopefully with each of Douglas' questions:

MARTIN  Douglas, quick. I need your help.
DOUGLAS  Martin … Good Lord, you’re soaking wet.
MARTIN  Yes, well, it’s raining outside. Look …
DOUGLAS  What happened to your uniform?
MARTIN  I tore it falling out of a tree …
DOUGLAS  Yes, but what’s that all over it?
MARTIN  Oh, er, goose droppings, but …
DOUGLAS  Is your hand okay?
MARTIN   No, a bee stung me …
DOUGLAS  What are you carrying?
MARTIN   What does it look like?! A stuffed sheep!
DOUGLAS  You see, Arthur? The master.

…we recall something else that we already knew happened to him, and revise our mental image of him accordingly. And that's a joke you can only do in sound only. 

- Ben's performance of the tree-climbing scene is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. That is all. 

- Sometimes people ask why Carolyn's bad mood at the beginning was never explained. Well, for some reason - probably because Roger and I were enjoying taking our… sweet… time… in the film noir scenes so much - this episode ran way, way overlong; and as well as the deleted scene in the other Uskerty post, and another deleted scene about opera which will be on the CD, we also had to lose the following dialogue between Martin and Carolyn as they're waiting for a lift. We were right to cut it, because it sort of over-explains things we already know, but just for your interest: 

5.   CAROLYN:         Good. Put it in your pocket
6.   MARTIN:          Yes, alright!
7.   CAROLYN:         I hate it that I can't pay you, you know
8.   MARTIN:          So do I.
9.   CAROLYN:         You deserve to be paid. And also, it makes me feel ... unprofessional. You know, silly old woman, thinks she can run a business, can't even pay her staff

1.   MARTIN:          Look ... it's alright. I know you would if you could.
2.   CAROLYN:         Yes. I mean ... actually ... I could pay you. If you'd like.
3.   MARTIN:          Er ... yes. I would like. Have I not made that clear?
4.   CAROLYN:         Not a salary. But I could give you a lump sum. Quite a big one, actually. As back-pay.
5.   MARTIN:          Really? But ... how?
6.   FX:              CAR APPROACHES
7.   C AND M:         Hello! Hello! Please! Hello!
8.   FX:              ... AND PASSES
9.   CAROLYN:         Gordon's made his annual offer to buy Gerti back.
10.  MARTIN:          What? After what happened in St Petersburg? He's got a cheek!
1.   CAROLYN:         Yes, that's a version of what I said. But still. He's offering seventy thousand for her. It's way more than I'd get anywhere else.
2.   MARTIN:          I hope you told him no!
3.   CAROLYN:         I told him many things, starting with no, and getting progressively more creative. But I could change my mind.
4.   MARTIN:          No! Of course you can't! He tried to steal Gerti, Carolyn! He doesn't ever get to have her now! (BEAT) When did he call you?
5.   CAROLYN:         In the taxi on the way to the airport
6.   MARTIN:          Ohhh ...
7.   CAROLYN:         What? What 'Ohhh'?
8.   MARTIN:          Nothing.