Writer’s blog: Week 23, Thursday

Secrecy, pilots, filth, Clash songs, film maths and the Stone Roses …

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I spoke to my Dad on the telephone yesterday (with Mum in the background), and he said that they’d assumed I was busy as I hadn’t blogged much recently. It’s cool that they understand how this works. It’s a Thursday. I am still busy, attempting to panel-beat this latest pilot sitcom script into a recognisable shape, but I’ve just this moment sent off the latest draft of a remodelled story breakdown, from which to build the second draft of the script.

It’s weird; I read a Guardian blog yesterday by Caitlin Moran in which she talked us through the entire set-up of the pilot of her first, autobiographical sitcom, Raised By Wolves, which is being developed by Big Talk and co-written with her sister. If you follow Richard Herring’s daily Warming Up blog, you’ll be well up to speed on the content and progress of his latest pilot, Ra-Ra Rasputin, too. The British Comedy Guide publish an exhaustive, constantly updated list of all the comedy pilots currently in development with the proviso, “most pilots are never seen”. There are about 80 at present. It makes depressing reading if you’re in the business of developing comedy with a view to it ever “being seen.”

It’s possible that I am alone in never revealing the details of projects I have in development, for fear of jinxing them. Am I simply superstitious? Or realistic? I was at a social gathering on Saturday night and the question, “What are you working on?” came up. I explained in basic terms what my sitcom was about to the person who asked me, with the same proviso, “It may never get made.” This is the business I work in. (When, in 2005, I “helped” Lee Mack develop Not Going Out – his phrase – we actually shot a non-broadcast pilot at Thames, with a studio audience and a fully functioning set, with no guarantee that the show would be commissioned to series. It was, so we re-cast, re-wrote and re-shot that episode.)

Anyway, if I mentioned the title of my sitcom, or the broadcaster, or production company who are funding its development, I guess it would be in the public domain and would go onto the demoralising British Comedy Guide list. On points, I’d rather keep it to myself. Needless to say, it’s a largely solitary process, with occasional bursts of feedback with actual other human beings, and by turns enjoyable and dispiriting. But you fight on. Because I am waiting for my two immediate managers to sign off on the new story, I am reluctant to forge on with the new script. So I’m writing a blog about not writing a sitcom instead.

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So, what other stuff have I been doing that’s not shrouded in superstitious secrecy? I saw the new Irvine Welsh film, Filth, last night, although it’s not out until October, so I’m not sure reviewing it would be the done thing. I don’t mind revealing that it features perhaps James McAvoy’s best performance in front of a camera, certainly one that’s vanity-free, as his character, the depraved Edinburgh detective Bruce Robertson, descends into a private hell before our very eyes. Welsh was at the screening, and got up to introduce the film, by saying, “I hate these preambles … so why don’t we all just watch the fucking film?” (The director Jon Baird was also in attendance, and one of the stars, the mighty John Sessions.) I’m interviewing Welsh tomorrow, and looking forward to it.

While we’re on the subject of development, if you’re lucky, your pilot will move from the British Comedy Guide’s pilots list to its new comedy list, where shows “in production” are logged. (There are fewer shows in production than at pilot stage, although by their rules because the pilot of Raised By Wolves is being made, it counts as “in production”, which it sort of isn’t, strictly.) I am more cheered by this list as two shows I’ve script-edited are included: Badults, the six-ep Pappy’s sitcom which is shot and edited and ready to go on BBC3 in July, and the Greg Davies vehicle for C4, Man Down, whose pilot I script-edited and whose title I came up with – fame, autographs later etc.! (I may or may not be editing the series, we shall see, but I’d like to.) What I will say for Badults and BBC3 is that it was commissioned last August, while we were all in Edinburgh, and that’s a pretty rapid turnaround from script meeting to edit suite, so let’s all be grateful for that.

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I have become obsessed with Springwatch on BBC2 and, in particular, presenter Chris Packham’s now-traditional song titles game. In previous years he’s slipped in titles by the Smiths, the Manics and the Cure; this year, it turns out, it’s the Clash. I managed to pick up on five on Monday night, but, by contacting him via the miracle of Twitter, was able to establish with the man himself that there were nine! (That said, two of them were 48 Hours and Deny, which do not leap out of a link in the same way that Drug-Stabbing Time does.) I’m enjoying the rest of the content – birds in reedbeds, weasels raiding nests, sandhoppers under seaweed – but it’s the Clash songs that are keeping me on the edge of my seat.

I am keeping a watertight register of all the films I see this year, new and old. We are nearing the end of May and this is what the month looks like with a day to go:

The Look Of Love | Michael Winterbottom | UK
Fast & Furious 6 | Justin Lin | US
The Eye Of The Storm | Fred Schepisi | Australia
I’m So Excited | Pedro Almodóvar | Spain
Blackfish | Gabriela Cowperthwaite | US
Made Of Stone | Shane Meadows | UK
Star Trek Into Darkness | JJ Abrams | US
Rockshow | Paul McCartney | US
The Great Gatsby | Baz Luhrmann | Australia/US
Miracle | Gavin O’Connor | US
The Hangover Part III | Todd Philips | US
Beware Of Mr Baker | Jay Bulger | UK
Filth | Jon Baird | UK

That means 11 new films (some of which have yet to be released), and two old ones: coincidentally, the Wings concert film Rockshow, originally released in 1980 but shown at the Curzon; and Miracle, a 2004 Disney movie about the American ice hockey victory over Russia at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, a politically charged event I learned about on an American National Geographic documentary about the 80s. Not a storming total, 13, compared to the 23 I saw in January and the 20 I saw in March, but should you care, that means I’ve seen 78 films this year so far. But never mind the quantity, feel the breadth! I’m all about variety and it’s usually the smaller, not necessarily English-speaking films that give the most sustenance. (Not a vintage month in this regard, May; in April I went to Russia, Denmark, Israel, Argentina and Ireland.) I wish I’d never seen The Hangover Part III, for instance; the experience subtracted from my total life experience.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of The World’s Great Movie Stars And Their Films

When I was teenager, and first becoming obsessed with films, I started to log them in my diary. At this stage, it was mostly films I’d seen on telly, or on video, and so voracious was my appetite – fuelled by filmographies in assorted film books, like The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of The World’s Great Movie Stars And Their Films, which I got for my 15th birthday, or David Quinlan’s Illustrated Directory of Film Stars, which I got for Christmas in 1981 – a film’s age did not matter. Bring on the films, old and new! Thus it is written that I saw a total of 83 films in 1980, the year my cinephilia almost eclipsed my love of punk rock. My final tally for 1981 would be 121 films. In 1982, when video rental really kicked in, it was 144, and in 1983, I managed a storming 175. As I wrote in Where Did It All Go Right?, I have never stopped being proud of myself for this intense self-education.

As today is the day that Shane Meadows’ Stone Roses documentary Made Of Stone premieres, beamed around selected arthouses by satellite (it goes on general release on June 5), I thought I’d reprint an expanded cut of the review I wrote for Radio Times.

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Shane Meadows, a teenage fan when the Stone Roses shook the world with their potent blend of psychedelic rock and swaggering Mancunian groove in the late 80s and early 90s, never saw them live. Thus, this potentially conventional feature-length chronicle of their 2011-12 reunion becomes something more personal. Shadowing the well-preserved four-piece on the road to triumphant shows at Greater Manchester’s Heaton Park – via bonhomie-fuelled rehearsals, a joyous secret gig in Warrington and some bumpy European warm-ups – Meadows gains access-all-areas, his camera often skulking in corridor and dressing room. The band are at the top of their game, musically (and the sound mix does them proud), but Meadows puts the largely middle-aged fans centre stage; their heartwarming stories dominating the Warrington section as grown men leave jobs, families and errands to get in the queue for a golden wristband. Eschewing obligatory talking heads (backstory is told via archive interview, with some genuinely unseen home movie footage), artfully moving between crisp monochrome and glorious colour, and with footnotes-to-camera by the wide-eyed director himself, Made Of Stone replaces hagiography with infectious empathy. A witty, honest and valuable tribute.

Writer’s blog: Week 18, Friday

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A quick bulletin from my daily life. It is the end of the working week, Friday, although I gave myself a day off on Tuesday, as I worked on Sunday. As usual, the lack of blog entries reflects the urgency of the work I should, by rights, be doing. (I should be doing it now. As you’ll have spotted, I’m not. I’m in the coffee shop of a department store where I have come to buy a bag.)

Without giving anything away, I’ve been hard at a pilot script these past couple of weeks for a terrestrial broadcaster, via an independent production company with whom I’ve worked before. I think I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s a comedy, based on an idea I had in an office when I was in a meeting to pitch ideas but had no ideas that I hadn’t already pitched, so I sort of improvised one and it turned out to be a goer. Fancy that! I’ve stated this for the record before, but some people still don’t seem to know, so I’ll say it again: I no longer write for Not Going Out, which is enjoying its sixth series on BBC1 currently, and although I wish it well, I find it odd to watch it now for personal reasons. The last episode I co-wrote was Debbie for series four, after which the writing team was streamlined down to a number that didn’t include me. (I’m still friends with Lee; he was kind enough to namecheck me on The One Show the other week.)

The reason I bring it up, is because as much as I will be forever grateful to Not Going Out for giving me the chance to write a broad, studio-based audience sitcom for BBC1, and to work on it from the ground floor up, what it made me want more than anything was to write a sitcom on my own. Now, I’ve done that for radio with Mr Blue Sky, which is now cancelled, and I’m rather hoping that one of the three – count ’em – three pilots I currently have in development will catch fire and get a full commission. This latest one feels like the most likely. As I mentioned on Twitter, teasingly, the script today required me to “research” (ie. look up on the Internet) a number of seemingly random subject areas which included:

  1. England-Scotland Home International games
  2. Job vacancies and job descriptions at a local council (for which I happened upon the website of Essex County Council)
  3. Progressive rock lyrics that mention “time” (for which I alighted, happily, upon the Marillion song Wrapped Up In Time)

My online history would certainly baffle future archaeologists, I like to think. And I’m afraid it will have to baffle you, as I can say no more about it. Writing comedy is hard. It is not the hardest job in the world, and would in fact not make the Top 100, but when you have decided that your best chance of earning a decent living is to write scripts, I would argue that writing comedy scripts is harder than writing drama. Which is why I dream of writing drama and not have to think of jokes.

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Talking of comedy, a smart black, leather shoulder bag I bought almost a year ago to the day stopped working the week before last, when two of its zips went. I tried to get it mended, first of all, but neither of the menders I visited could fix a zip on a leather bag. But having ascertained that the bag – quite a pricey one for miserly old me – was under a year old, I decided to take it back to the shop. I really liked the bag and was sad that it had become inoperable. The man in the shop, a department store, was very helpful and took the bag from me to send to the manufacturers to be repaired or replaced. I left the shop with a spring in my step; he had by definition agreed with me that an expensive bag’s zips shouldn’t break within a year, so I felt vindicated.

However, he called me back when I was on the train home and told me that the manufacturers could neither repair nor replace the bag, as they no longer sold that particular model. I was sad again. The store offered me a credit note which I could spend on another, similar bag. I looked at the bags and didn’t like any of them as much as the one I’d had for almost a year. So I asked, firmly, for a refund, not a credit note, and again, no resistance was offered.

I won’t mention the make or the shop, in case it looks like an invitation to exploit their decency. But when you go into a shop with a complaint you go in having rehearsed all the arguments first. When you don’t need those arguments, it’s almost a letdown. But isn’t it nice to get good service occasionally, when most commercial outlets seem to be out to fleece and humiliate you if you rock the boat? The blue bag in the picture above has become my temporary shoulder bag. As you can see, it looks cheap and cheerful, has no special pockets and gives me the air of a schoolboy on a games day. It also says “BADULTS” on it. This is the new, official name for the Pappy’s sitcom I script edited, and which airs on BBC3 in July. The bag – a free, promotional gift of the type I rarely get sent any more – couldn’t have arrived at a more convenient time.

The great thing is, I was carrying it when I went to see Spring Breakers at the Curzon Soho one afternoon last week, and who did I bump into, in the gents? Matthew Crosby of Pappy’s! Not only was he going to see the same matinee of the same film as me, so we could sit together like pals, but he was carrying a red BADULTS bag. Sometimes life is planned out for you by a higher power who can’t be God as God doesn’t exist, but there’s something out there pulling the strings.

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In case you’re interested, I am reading a bracing non-fiction book called Going South by the Guardian‘s economics editor and his friend Dan Atkinson, who is the Mail On Sunday‘s economics editor. (As literary aside: I had a meeting at a production company two weeks ago where the head of development I was pitching to recommended a George Orwell book called Coming Up For Air, which I’m looking for a secondhand copy of presently.) Going South is explained by its subtitle: Why Britain Will Have A Third World Economy By 2014. Although I am a bit shot on economics, I’ve been educating myself on this vital area of all our lives – not least by reading the Guardian‘s correspondents, and the New Yorker‘s unstoppably readable James Surowiecki. Elliott and Atkinson paint compelling if gloomy pictures of political, social and financial life in Britain today – in that sense, it’s a kind of self-hating book, but I like those.

I was particularly taken with a passage about the attitude to a car alarm going off. They write that the “common occurrence of the ignored wailing of the car alarm” encapsulates much of what’s up with our society. The alarm is ignored “partly because it is assumed it is sounding in error; partly because, even if the car is actually being stolen, no call to the police is thought likely to produce much in the way of response; and partly because any attempt to confront the suspected car thief immediately puts the citizen in danger.” They conclude that ignoring the alarm is “an entirely rational response to the way the world works.” How depressing, and true, that is.

I am reminded of “broken window theory”, which I first read about in The Tipping Point (how quaint and gradual the examples in that book now seem in the age of YouTube and Twitter). Basically: if a broken window is left broken, it will lead to a decline in the area where the building is, and to worse crime. So fix the window. Here’s the passage from the original 1982 Atlantic Monthly article where the theory was first aired by two criminologists:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

I think of this theory often, when I see bags of rubbish left outside charity shops overnight, or on weekends when the shop is closed, or when I see an empty shampoo bottle left on the floor of the showers at my gym, just dropped there by a previous occupant as if perhaps their mum will be round later to pick it up after them. If we don’t pick up our own detritus, we may not complain when crime occurs on our doorstep.

IRON MAN 3

I saw a preview of Iron Man 3 in 3D last Wednesday but reviews were embargoed until this Wednesday. I think it’s pretty good, considering it’s the third part of a franchise – and when Iron Man has been seen in the Avengers movie, too. I still hate 3D, but the film itself, under new management with Shane Black at the helm (he co-wrote it with a British writer Drew Pearce, who wrote No Heroics for ITV2, which just shows that dreams can come true), has a certain wit and verve, and its story is one where all that has been built in the previous two films is destroyed, literally, to bring Iron Man back to basics – and then allow him to defeat the baddie in an even more spectacular way at the end of course. It’s a shame that Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, who is now a CEO of Iron Man’s company, becomes little more than a standard damsel in distress in the end. This happens to Rosamund Pike’s assistant DA in Jack Reacher, which is out on DVD.

Compared to Jack Reacher, which starts promisingly and collapses into boring gunplay and car chases by the end, at least Iron Man 3 has the common decency to sag in the middle and then improve for the climax. And I can’t say why, as it’s a spoiler, but there’s a scene with Ben Kingsley which is almost worth the price of admission alone. That’s all I’m saying.

Have a nice weekend. (It’s been sunny, hasn’t it? I’ve actually worn a soft M&S jacket rather than a big M&S waterproof coat four times this week. I give thanks for the belated arrival of spring. I much prefer not to look like Liam Gallagher between my neck and my knees, but practicality dictates. Not that he’d be seen dead in M&S.)

Writer’s blog: Week 14, Good Friday

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I am, unusually for a working day, sitting in my kitchen. It is Good Friday. The British Library is closed, which is fair enough, as Good Friday is a bank holiday. I have too much to do to contemplate a day off, but I’m not angling for sympathy. To everyone who does get the day off, on full pay, I wish you a most excellent day (and likewise on Monday, which is Easter Monday, when I will be writing and filming Telly Addict at the Guardian just like it was a normal Monday). At least at home, I can drink my own coffee, and not pay through the nose for it.

Actually, of late, and to beat the system, I have been taking a flask out with me, charged with homemade coffee, which I then decant into a paper Peyton & Byrne cup in the Library canteen. There are polite notices up stating that only food and drink purchased on the premises can be consumed there, but I don’t believe this has ever been aggressively policed – at least, Library users are exactly the type to bring in their own sandwiches. Tupperware tubs are prominent, and, frankly, as long as most diners pay through the nose for Peyton & Byrne’s expensive cakes, I feel sure that capitalism ticks over. I don’t flaunt my not-bought-on-the-premises food and hot drink, and if I’m meeting someone, I always buy Peyton & Byrne’s coffee, and if the person I’m meeting is paying, I always have an overpriced cake too!

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Talking of food and drink, I’m hooked back into Masterchef. I usually favour the Celebrity version for reasons shallow, but I reviewed the first episode of the new series of the Civilian one for the Guardian and haven’t been able to tear myself away. It’s formulaic, but some of the most comforting telly is, and Gregg and John move ever further into self-parody, but, again, it isn’t broke, so why fix it? (The irony here is that Masterchef has repeatedly tried to fix itself when unbroken, but aside from the impossible new “palate test”, this series is relatively untinkered.)

I was given the basic Great British Bake Off Learn To Bake book for my birthday earlier in the month, and I’m also watching Paul Hollywood’s Beard on BBC2 and finding him a stout and reliable tutor, so cooking is back on the agenda. I made this marbled chocolate banana bread at the weekend, which was supposed to be baked in individual tiny cake cases but I chose to do it in a single loaf tin. The result is not “marbling” in the elegant Baroque sense. But it tastes bloody nice. (Someone on Twitter asked if it was gluten-free. I’m afraid not. I have tried baking with rice flour, and various ancient grains, none of which truly did the job. The gluten is the protein that binds dough, and without it, you’re on the back foot. I avoid wheat for reasons of waistline expansion and maintenance of general energy levels, but I am not allergic to it, so when it comes to cake, it’s gluten or the highway.)

BananabreadmarbledMar24I’d read that you can freeze individual slices of cake, but never tried it before, so – after a call-out for tips and advice on Twitter – I wrapped them in tin foil and put them in a sealable bag. Yesterday I took one out, and by the time I was ready to eat it, it was as good as new. (Typically of Twitter, someone re-Tweeted my call for advice to food writer and TV cook Nigel Slater himself, who said, “It should work, but I’m no expert.” I was happy to report back to him that it did work, which makes me an expert.) When you’re baking to save money on shop-bought cake and biscuits, you have to learn how to ration. There’s a war on.

I should, by rights, have been in Glasgow last night, attending the studio recording of the final episode of “the Pappy’s sitcom” for BBC3, which as you know I script-edited. (I think it’s still called Secret Dude Society, but that may not be fixed.) However, it was being filmed in BBC studios, and the wrap party was also being held on BBC premises, so I didn’t travel up for what would have been, for me, a massive jolly, as the NUJ and Bectu were on strike from midday, over redundancies and “bullying”, and it would, for me, have been inappropriate. (It’s an entirely personal matter, and I make no judgement on anyone else.)

Anyway, I got a lot more work done yesterday and this morning as a result. As usual with these writer’s blogs, I cannot give too much away, but I have three comedies in development, currently, all at varying stages. Of the two pilots script that I’ve written, one, with C4, is written and delivered, and has hit a stalemate, but it’s not over yet. The other, for the BBC, was delivered last year and sent back for a complete overhaul – it’s the one that gave me writer’s block – and I have finished the second draft, which I wrote again from scratch, a blank screen. It’s almost ready to go to the broadcaster. The third comedy has only just been green-lit for development, and I’m carefully constructing a story breakdown with a production company before launching into the script. In comedy terms, I have three plates spinning. It’s all about keeping them from crashing to the floor.

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I’m printing this picture in memory of Richard Griffiths, who died yesterday but whose passing was announced today. I feel certain it was taken at the first Empire Awards, which were in 1996, although I can find no record of the event to confirm it. I was definitely at the first Empire Awards, and the second, as a chaperone, and I had a terrific time at both, with various approachable film people, so who knows? I seem to recall a whole load of people connected with Withnail, so was there a special award for that film, or for Bruce Robinson? Don’t look on Wikipedia, as it’s not there. If anyone can help, I’d be grateful. I certainly jumped at the chance to have my meeting with Richard Griffiths captured on camera, and it’s a treasured Polaroid in my archive. Someone on Twitter pointed out that he can only have been 48 at the time, as he was merely 65 when he died. I am 48 today. Mortality is a terrible c—, if you’ll pardon the apposite language.

Two further things before I sign off:

Went to the cinema this afternoon – awarding myself half a Bank Holiday, as I’d completed my main writing task of the day by getting up at 6.30am – and after the trailer for A Late Quartet, starring Christopher Walken, I heard an older gentleman in the row behind claim loudly to his wife, “That’s Angelina Jolie’s dad!” (I resisted the urge to turn round and say to her, “It’s not. Don’t listen to him.”)

Now that we’ve seen the David Bowie exhibition, with all of his costumes on display, seeing footage of him on TV has taken a new turn. Catching the end of another repeat of BBC4’s Ziggy Stardust documentary (the one narrated by Jarvis), we found ourselves going, “Ooh, we’ve seen that cape!” and “Ooh, we’ve seen that fishnet vest!” It reminded me of my own dear Nan, who used to love to point out places she and Pap had been on holiday if they ever turned up on television. “Ooh, we’ve been there, Reg!” she would shout, if they showed, say, Minehead.

Happy Easter.

 

Writer’s blog: Week 10

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More solipsism, good idea. It’s Thursday and I took this picture last night, in the dressing room at the Roundhouse in Camden, North London. I was hosting the first of three previews and Q&As for the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (formerly the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival). You may recall I did some intensive hosting at the Festival last August, and had a rare old, star-spangled time. I’m hoping to do the same again this year, hence my access to this glamorous dressing room last night. It wasn’t my dressing room, I was sharing it with at least four other people, possibly five, as it was also our green room.

Our first preview and Q&A was for The Incredible Mr Goodwin, a brand new vehicle for the swashbuckling talents of daredevil escape artist Jonathan Goodwin, whose amazing feats you may have seen on the likes of Dirty Tricks, or Death Wish Live, or The Indestructibles, or One Way Out, being buried alive, sticking needles through his hand, hanging from great heights, that sort of caper. This is the show that will, hopefully, put him up there with Derren Brown, Dynamo, and other hip performers who do astounding feats – although call Goodwin’s stunts “tricks” and you might feel the weight of his inflated upper arms!

There’s a teaser here, if you dig that sort of thing. It’s like an urbane, well-read Jackass with a wife and kids.

It’s on Watch, which is part of the UKTV “family” of channels, alongside Dave. It’s interesting that it’s on a boutique channel, but that’s a sign of the times. Watch, or UKTV, gave Goodwin and his producers at Objective the budget and freedom they needed to make what is a pretty glamorous, transatlantic “fuck-off moment” compendium (Goodwin’s description), and they’ve been marketing the hell out of it. (He hung from a burning rope off the London Eye on Tuesday, which proved an effective teaser stunt.) I hope the show draws a record audience to Watch, as they’ve taken quite a big punt on this, and as anyone who makes television will tell you, it’s no longer the case that the big terrestrial broadcasters hold all the money.

Anyway, I enjoyed meeting Jonathan – as affable and candid in real life as he seems onscreen (think: the medical opposite of David Blaine, who happens to among those whom Goodwin has advised in the past) – and his producer Matt, and the half-hour Q&A was easygoing and informative. We had some smart questions from the audience, too, which was made up of industry onlookers and paying punters, my favourite being: “Have you ever been psychoanalysed?” (He hasn’t.) Goodwin’s wife and baby appear in the show, to point up the humanity of a man who is prepared to be buried alive or to climb a skyscraper using only gloves and grippy trainers.

The bonus came at the end of our session, when the screen rolled up and Goodwin revealed a large bed of nails, which – surprise! – he didn’t lay down on. He plucked a woman from the audience and cajoled her into laying down on the nails, which turned out to be less painful than you might imagine, apparently. This is because the weight of the body is evenly distributed over the nails. Then came the reveal: his producers lifted the bed of nails, and left a lower bed bearing just the one six-inch nail. At which Goodwin stripped his t-shirt off and laid down on it. For the count of ten.

Whether or not the stunt is 100% honest and “real” or not, it bloody looked real from where I was sitting. And that’s the appeal. In the first show, he pushes a needle through his cheek and pulls it out of his mouth using pliers. He climbs beneath an SUV as it barrels down a runway. He monkeys up a building, past the window cleaner. He puts his hand in a bear trap. It’s entertaining stuff, and it was fun to sit next to Goodwin himself and watch the show on the big screen. He relished watching the reactions of the Roundhouse audience when, onscreen, he pushed the needle up his nose and out of his throat. These stunts require an audience, sometimes a close-up audience of a handful of “witnesses”, to make sense. I must admit, it’s not my usual cup of tea, but Goodwin won me over, with his affability and his apparent minimum of ego.

This made it a fairly unusual Wednesday. I’d spent the early part of it waiting in for a tradesman whose office called to say he wasn’t going to make it. As I think of myself as a tradesman, I was a bit pissed off, but they re-booked him for 8.30 this morning, and he was there, bright and early, and did the job brilliantly, so I’m not complaining. The work I do for people does not require them to “wait in” for me, as I am likely to be sending it by email at a designated time, not knocking on their front door. (Interestingly, on Tuesday afternoon, I was trying to arrange a way of taking efficient delivery of the DVDs I need for the next GEITF Q&A – ITV sitcom The Job Lot, for which I will be talking not just to the writers, but to stars Russell Tovey and Sarah Hadland! – and after a few emails, I decided to just walk to the production company’s office and pick it up myself. That’s the kind of hands-on guy I sometimes have to be. So much fannying around otherwise.)

I seem to be doing a lot of hosting these days. I am a host, just like Hannah’s friend on Girls is a hostess. This is not such a terrible rung to have reached in my 25th year in showbiz. As I always say to the people who employ me in this capacity, I have yet to grow blasé about meeting and talking to people who make telly programmes. Whether it’s a writer, or a producer, or an actor, or an escapologist, they are interesting to me per se. I met a lovely guy called Rich last night. He works for UKTV. When I first knew him, in 1997, he was a runner at the production company which made Collins & Maconie’s Movie Club for ITV. This is how TV works, or can do. Jonathan Goodwin used to be a stunt adviser; he trained to be an actor; now he’s got his own show as a bald nutcase with his name in the title. (Yeah, been there, done that, in 1997 – always be nice to people on the way up, as you’re bound to meet them again on the way down.)

I’m pretty sure they’re nearly sold out, but if you’re a Russell Tovey fan, or Olivia Colman fan (who isn’t?), the other surprisingly intimate GEITF screenings are bookable here. Thanks to Liz for setting it all up, and to that large bunch of young people I fell into enthusiastic nerdy conversation with at the Roundhouse bar afterwards about Breaking Bad, Black Mirror and Game Of Thrones. I didn’t catch everybody’s name. (One gentleman among them lamented the fact that I am no longer on the radio with Josie Long. There is, almost literally, always one, wherever I go.)

These are the cats on today’s calendar. I like them. And thereby hang two tails.

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Writer’s blog: Week 4, Thursday

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This picture is a cheat, as I took it yesterday, Wednesday. But it is packed with significance, of a sort. On Monday, as documented, I travelled to Dorset and back on the train, about 12 hours round trip, door to door. That was pretty unusual for a working day, and a pleasant diversion. I haven’t travelled outside of London since then. Most days – and this is why I don’t inflict a daily diary on anybody – I’m in the British Library, or at the Radio Times office, or shuttling between meetings and work engagements in and around Central London, at the peak of activity either writing, or talking.

How interesting is any of this? How interesting in anybody’s daily life? As it happens, later today I am catching another train, this time to Northampton, as I’m giving a lecture/Q&A to journalism students at the University of Northampton tomorrow. It being a careers-based talk, I shall be roadtesting Andrew Collins: 25 Years in Showbiz, or Indecision: a Career Choice. There will be slides. I don’t write these talks, as such, but I shape them in advance, and use props, or images, to punctuate them and act as guides for me. I don’t like them to be too rigid; I prefer to roll with the reaction of the audience – if, that is, I can gauge it. Students can sometimes be inscrutable, but most are at an age when “cool” drives their personalities. I know this. I was one.

Here’s how my life works: I do a string of low-paid jobs and then, occasionally, if the stars align (fingers always crossed), I get a higher-paying job for which I actually have to block out weeks or months in order to fulfill the commitment. It’s not unusual for a self-employed person to exist in a permanent state of rollercoasting. A talk at a university is not a high-paying job, but I like doing them, they keep me in practice for public speaking, and it’s Northampton, so I can visit my parents and claim back the modest train fare. I am looking forward to both bits.

The snow’s almost melted in London. I’m glad to see the back of it. It breaks my heart to see how weak this country’s infrastructure is. God help us if there’s a war.

Yesterday, I did two low-paid jobs, and I managed to group them together so that I could do one, followed directly by the other – one was in Broadcasting House, the other in Western House, both BBC buildings, and next door neighbours. For both jobs, I was being interviewed for the radio, but pre-recorded, which means you say a hell of a lot more than anybody listening to the radio will ever hear. For the first, I was interviewed about the film Jaws. When the programme airs on Radio 4, I’ll let you know. This was fun. I had my childhood diaries from 1976 and 1977, so could revisit how, as an 11-12-year-old, I was affected by Jaws, long before I actually saw it. (I saw it in March 1977, when I was old enough to see an “A” certificate.)

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Next stop: 6 Music, where I was interviewed by Steve Lamacq’s producer Phil about Britpop – specifically the April 1993 “Yanks Go Home” issue of Select, on which I worked – for an ongoing history project about which I’m sure all will be revealed. I am an interviewer’s dream and worst nightmare: ask me a question and off I go. Especially if it involves remembering. I am good at remembering out loud. (Coincidentally, this hallowed issue of Select is one of my props for tomorrow’s talk at the University.)

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Anyway, the gaps between my visits to 6 Music are lengthening. The last time I was in, before Christmas, was to appear on Steve’s show when he was doing the TV Themes World Cup. Before that? October, when I literally just dropped by to empty my pigeonhole, which kindly pluggers and PRs still keep topped up with pre-release CDs by bands I’ve usually never heard of. It’s nice to be remembered by them. And I left 6 Music with about 20 singles, all of which I intend to listen to, out of gratitude for being given them, and out of eagerness to hear something new that I like. I get a Tweet at least once a week asking when Josie Long and I are back on 6 Music. Never, I fear. We had a great run in the six months leading up to Christmas 2011, but have never been asked back, which, after a calendar year, is a fairly easy to read sign.

I sincerely hope 6 Music will get me back in 2013 to emergency plumb for one of their regulars. It’s the best place on earth to broadcast from. But here’s the scary bit: although people I know at 6 Music are always cheery and pleasant to me when I venture back into the office, each time I go in, more faces have appeared whom I don’t know. This is bound to happen. Eventually, all my contacts there will erode, and my name will fall off the whiteboard. It happens. You’d be amazed how many people who don’t listen regularly to the station still think I have a regular slot on the network. (The guys from BBC Bristol who interviewed me about Jaws did.) You have to move on.

Remember the theme of my talk? Indecision. It’s indecision that’s driven and stunted my career at the same time. Not being able to decide which path to take – or to commit to one branch of the entertainment industry – has lead to an enormous range of work over those 25 years, but it has also prevented me from specialising in anything. I accept that as my destiny.

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And here I am, in the British Library canteen again, contemplating that very conundrum. Any questions? (That’s what I’ll be asking at the University of Northampton tomorrow.)

Writer’s blog: Week 47

Wednesday

I give up. I don’t know what week number it is. Anyway, we’re hurtling toward December, I know that much, it’s Wednesday, and the heat is on at the Pappy’s sitcom for BBC3, Secret Dude Society (the working title seems to have almost hardened into a title, but not fully so hold your horses for a bit longer). As I type, I’m currently on the East Midlands train, more literally hurtling back to London Euston from Northampton for a full day’s script meeting with “the boys” – Matthew, Ben and Tom, who are not boys – our fastidious Scottish bosses Gav and Rab from Glasgow’s illustrious, industrial estate-based production company The Comedy Unit, and producer Izzy (with whom I previously worked on the cruelly cancelled Gates for Sky). I am, as previously stated, script editing the six-episode series. The onus remains on “the boys” to come up with the goods, which, after all, they will be acting out in a TV studio in February before a live studio audience, but my job is to help pat it into shape. It’s cool to be part of someone else’s first sitcom and to be around a conference table with creative, funny people.

I was involved in a talk at the University of Northampton last night, part of a series called Articulation, a sort of “tag lecture” with fellow alumnus Bill Drummond. I will write about that unlikely and amazing experience once I have the photographic evidence that it even took place.

Thursday

I am unnaturally soothed by the repetitive, mundane, always-looking-sideways-off nature of the PhotoBooth pictures I take of myself to illustrate Writer’s Blog. They are spectacularly uninteresting, and reveal little about my physical context (oh, not those ducts at Radio Times again!), but they are honest and true. And they reveal the routine nature of my life. And the occasional fluctuation one way or another in terms of the size of my double chin.

Arrived in London at 10.27 yesterday morning, as advertised (I must admit, I am generally quite lucky on this train from Northampton, the 09.25, which I regularly take after a sleepover at Mum and Dad’s), and joined Pappy’s and co round the circular conference table in a ground-floor conference room at the West Kensington-based media company who own The Comedy Unit by 11.00, unnaturally hot, as ever, after a trudge in too many layers with too many bags. (This time of year is always a conundrum: waterproof outer layer, optional jacket underneath, optional cardigan under that, over shirt … how to strike the perfect, temperature-controlled balance? On Stephen Fry Gadget Man on C4, he demonstrated an air-conditioned jacket, from Japan. I don’t want one.)

With all six scripts at varying stages of completion, we read aloud, and made notes, and shared notes, and made more notes, from 11am-6pm, and ate the traditional platters of M&S sandwiches and sausage rolls (cheese ones for the veggie) while we worked, so as not to waste valuable time. It was, as you can imagine, as hard and tiring as the equivalent time spent working down a coalmine. I still love the fact that the sort of food we eat in the middle of a working day is exactly the kind to ensure a slump, mid-afternoon: bread, pastry, sponge, potato. We are a curious race.

My day at Radio Times today has been focussed. I have had to supply a week’s worth of Film of the Days for the magazine that will hit the armchairs of Britain in two weeks’ time, as we are in “Christmas pick-up”, which is where everybody works super-hard in order to get the famous Christmas double-issue (our biggest seller of the year) out in good time for the festive period, which means foreshortened working weeks in order to pull all schedules forward. (This means that the staff get an actual week off for Christmas, secure in the knowledge that the issues for the first week of the New Year is already “in bed”.)

Arrived home to find that my annual Cats Protection advent calendar had arrived in the post today. You may be unsurprised to hear that this is my favourite charity after Thomas’s Fund, of which I am a proud patron. What can I say? I like cats. It is also an annual New Year tradition to scan the opened calendar, even though it is impossible to do it and let you see inside each door, without removing the doors, which would be counterproductve, as the names of the kits are on the door.

Oh, alright, here’s one where the doors are off. You’re so demanding.

Anyway, it’s good to think of those less fortunate than ourselves at this cold and festive time of year, so spare a thought for those who haven’t been sent a Cats Protection advent calendar.

Read an alarming but expected piece in today’s Media Guardian about BBC4 controller Richard Klein considering axing the currently ongoing, back-to-back Top of the Pops repeats from the late 70s. They’ve had to yank a couple presented by Jimmy Savile in recent weeks, and one presented by DLT, and you can understand why Klein might be nervous about forging on with the initiative into 1978 next year. (After all, even though Kid Jensen, Noel Edmunds, Peter Powell etc. are free from any implication of wrongdoing, it’s the atmosphere of adult male DJs surrounded by fawning teenage girls and introducing the lovely Legs & Co with a glint in their eye that now seems to have curdled with recent revelations.) I love these re-runs – shown in full, unedited, they present valuable social documents, and I hope BBC4 keeps airing them. It’s too easy to edit the past, and these half-hours show 1976 and 1977 as they were, with The Jam rubbing seditionary shoulders with the frankly offensive Barron Knights. Save TOTP!

Watched Sky’s documentary about Bradley Wiggins, A Year In Yellow (can’t imagine why Sky had exclusive access to him … oh yes), and found myself utterly captivated by it, despite my threadbare interest in sport and almost non-existent interest in cycling. Not only did it explain the Tour de France for me – thanks to intelligent and eloquent input from three cycling journalists who were a credit to their trade and chosen sport – it depicted Wiggins in an honest manner. He seems decent, self-aware, dedicated, a family man, averse to fame, a bit shy, a lover of peace and quiet, proud of his tower-block roots (his Nan, who raised him, still lives on the same estate) and committed to the purist notion that he will not leave his wife for a supermodel, nor takes drugs to enhance his sporting performance. I wish him well, and will review this programme, with clips, on next week’s Telly Addict.

Friday

Just heard from the University of Northampton that some official photos of my night with Bill Drummond are on their way, so expect a full account soon. I’m off for a meeting with my agent today, what we call a “catch-up”, which is always done face to face. Clearly I can’t give anything away, but I will say this: I’ve had some encouraging news from a particular broadcaster this week about one of the projects I have “in development”, something I’ve developed and written by myself and have invested a lot in. Not a commission, as yet, but not a knockback, or an interminable series of notes, and that in itself is promising.

As mentioned above, but not stated for the record before, Gates has not been recommissioned by Sky Living. I’m sad about this, as I felt we – the team who wrote it – had more stories to tell about these parents and teachers. It is not to be. And there was me thinking everything got a second series on Sky! I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that Mr Blue Sky – a far more personal project – was not automatically recommissioned by Radio 4, but we’re in the process of re-submitting it as we speak and have fingers crossed for a good decision before Christmas. If we get the green light – and again, I have loads more stories to tell with Harvey, Jax, Ray, Sean, Lou etc. in a third series – it may not air until 2014, but it would mean a concrete commission for the New Year. I’d love to end another uncertain, up-and-down professional year with something positive in the diary for 2013.

I do know that Personal Training, the short film I wrote with Simon Day, who stars, will be airing in the New Year as part of Sky Atlantic’s Common People strand, for which ten character-based shorts have been made by Baby Cow. That has been officially announced: it begins in January as part of Sky Atlantic’s Comedy Monday line-up. We shot it in two days, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. It marks the debut of Simon’s latest character, Colin Reed. We wrote a film about him for C4, years ago, which was put into development and then cancelled before it went into production after one of those pesky management changes that happen all the time. We have always been determined to get Colin out there, and thanks to Sky, and Baby Cow, that is definitely going to happen.

The estimable Stuart Jeffries, who has written scathingly about C4 in the past, has gathered his thoughts on the 30-year-old channel for the Guardian this week, a very good read. Over the years, as both presenter and writer, I’ve been in and out of meetings at all the major broadcasters, including C4, although off the top of my head, I think the only actual programmes I’ve been involved in have been clips shows (nothing wrong with those, of course, although they’ve thankfully dried up).

When I was still paired with Stuart Maconie in the 90s and simultaneously on ITV with the Movie Club and Radio 1 with the Hit Parade, we paid our first visit to C4 at Horseferry Road to pitch our own comedic cultural magazine show (Get Culture!) with a supportive commissioning editor who left the channel about a week later. We learned a valuable lesson that day: you’re only as popular as the current commissioning editor thinks you are.

The late Harry Thompson, whom I interviewed about Peter Cook for Radio 4, and had stewarded The 11 O’Clock Show to fruition, gave me an insight into how C4 then worked: some excitable exec would designate some up-and-coming comedian as “the new face of the channel”, tell them so, wine them and dine them, try them out in a few things, and then tell them that, in fact, they were no longer “the new face of the channel”, because somebody else was. In this, I guess C4 are not so different from the BBC, or ITV, or Sky, who have long been in the business of creating a Hollywood-style “stable” of stars. But unless you have signed a contract, it’s all meaningless.

When Simon and I developed and wrote the 90-minute version of Personal Training for C4, in 2007, we had every reason to believe it was going to air. Instead, it was never shot. You weather such setbacks, or else – as I always say – you get out of the business. When the 10-minute version airs on Sky in the new year, all the agony and the ecstasy will have been worth. (You could conceivably write scripts that are never made forever and live off it. But what kind of life is that? And in any case, unmade scripts will eventually start to work against your professional reputation!)

I discovered yesterday that Lee Mack’s autobiography, Mack The Life, has been published in hardback, in time for Christmas. I knew he was writing it, as he tapped me for some clarification about the early days of Not Going Out last year. I look forward to reading it, as I sincerely hope I am at least a footnote. But Not Going Out, as important as it has been for me, professionally, was never my show, and series six – the first without Tim – is being filmed right now, the second series with which I’ll have had no involvement whatsoever. I’m glad it’s still going, although Tim’s absence will be a problem, I suspect. We shall see. I’m out. When you work on a show almost full-time for two series, then as one of a much larger team for two further series, this seriously reduces your annual income. Then, we you are relinquished altogether, that has an even more profound effect on your income. But it’s good to be forced to concentrate on projects of your own. Series six airs in the new year. (Lee and I remain friends, by the way.)

Roll on the end of the year. It’s around now, just before the advent calendar doors start to be folded back, that I always start to take stock of the disappearing year. Has it been an improvement on last year, or the opposite? Have the highs outranked the lows? Have the slaps in the face outweighed the pats on the back? Don’t know yet.

Writer’s blog Week 46

Wednesday

Again, not actually sure if it is Week 46. It might be Week 45. I don’t really work in week numbers, other than the week numbers we use at Radio Times – which is where I am today; check out the ducting in our office! – but these refer ahead to the week of the issue we’re working on.

It’s dark. It’s only just gone 4.30 in the afternoon and it’s dark. Is it any wonder we, as a species, get depressed, or at least melancholy and reflective, in the autumn? It’s also dark – pitch black – when I leave the house in the morning, as I have joined a cheap gym and have pressed myself back into the service of keep-fit, after too long in the sedentary wilderness due to fiscal belt-tightening. Anyway, when I woke up this morning at just before 6am, I seriously forgot that there was a US Presidential Election going on in America. I checked the BBC News website on my phone at the bus stop at around 6.20am and was relieved to read the first headline saying that Obama had won. My only thought was: phew. (I Tweeted this.)

I watched his victory speech, live, from 6.30am. I was at the gym, first in the changing room, where the TV had sound, and then on the treadmill, without sound (or headphones), so I wasn’t able to hear all of what he said in Chicago. I could, however, read the closed-captioning on Sky News and ITV Daybreak, and I was struck by the frequency of this particular phrase:

[CLAPPING AND APPLAUSE]

I may remember that phrase for years to come, as it marked a happy day in all our lives. (Unless you think abortion should be outlawed and gays shouldn’t marry and poor people should stop complaining about being poor, which is your democratic right to do.) Seriously, if Romney had got in, we’d be looking at four very anxious years, especially as the full extent of his party’s right-wing extremism was allowed to uncoil from behind the facade of private-equity sheen like a big, scaly snake. At least this way, America probably won’t bomb Iran. Probably.

One of the tellies at my gym seems permanently to be tuned to one of those channels that just shows infomercials, which at least make perfect sense without being able to hear them: they are simply and baldly selling a product, which you send off for, and if you don’t like it after 30 days, you get your money back. I found it pretty easy to ignore a half-hour “show” in which Robert Dyas the ironmonger demonstrated lots of products, QVC-style, including what looked like a simple jug, but there’s a recurring ad, which also goes on and on and on for 30 minutes, which advertises a fitness regime you can do at home called Insanity. I find it harder to ignore.

I’m slightly fascinated by Insanity. I don’t need to check to know that it’s American. What’s funny about it is that, unlike other fitness programmes, which are usually predicated on being some kind of shortcut to fitness, this one looks … hmmm … insane. They keep cutting back to a massed workout where a eugenically musclebound instructor called Shaun T throws himself around and ordinary bodybuilders copy him. (Nobody looks unfit in these videos.) But when they show film of ordinary members of the public – you – working out in front of the TV, it looks really cumbersome and awkward and unsexy.

Frankly, unless you live in a hall, or a mall, with masses of space, Insanity looks awful. Sure, the results are there to see: men take their t-shirts off all the way through the infomercial to reveal rock-hard pecs and abs – but I foresee quite a lot of junctures at which you, at home, could feel like throwing in the towel.

What’s sweet about the package is that, as well as the DVDs, and a book, they also entice you with an Insanity calendar, featuring, well, men and women in PE kit with hard muscles, smiling. I’ll stick to photos of cats.

Thursday

Exciting day the British Library, as we had to evacuate the building at around midday. This happens sporadically; it’s a building with 14 million books in it, and I suspect it has pretty sensitive smoke detectors. It’s a huge upheaval, with hundreds of staff, readers and visitors forced not just out of the building itself, but off the grounds too, while the fire brigade investigate. The whole drill took about half an hour, but when you’re stood outside the gates, clutching your laptop (they instruct you not to take anything with you, but who’s going to leave their laptop?), unable to even nip to a coffee shop or pub until it’s blown over because your wallet is in your locker (maybe that’s just me), it feels like a major inconvenience. Once it’s clear that no book, or manuscript, or person, is in peril, you are at liberty to shuffle and moan and read Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of Obama’s second-term victory on your phone. (How did I ever survive without a phone that lets me read the Guardian on it? Why did you all stop me from getting one for so long?)

I should write something about writing. I’m waiting for some notes on one script I have in development with one broadcaster (let’s call it Script B), which, it has been reported back to me, they “really enjoyed.” Since a commissioning editor has no reason to pretend to have “really enjoyed” a script, I’m kind of hoping they actually did, and that the notes won’t make me want to give up writing for a living like the last set of notes on a different script – let’s call it Script A – in development with a different broadcast did. (That’s why I started writing these writer’s blogs in August, in fact.)

What’s really driving my working days, though, is the Pappy’s sitcom, whose working title is The Secret Dude Society, for BBC3, and which I am script editing. I like script editing; it harks back to my years in magazine publishing, when I edited as much as I wrote. It’s the closest I get to being a teacher, almost literally “marking” other people’s work and handing it back to them.

I find I am now often hired out to script-edit pilot scripts at various stages of development – in this capacity I’ve been lucky enough to work with Joe Wilkinson, Greg Davies and Shappi Khorsandi in the past 12 months – but the only full series I’ve edited has been The Persuasionists for Bwark on BBC2 in 2010, a show which I think legally has to be prefixed with the description “ill-fated.” For various reasons, it didn’t hit the spot, despite the talent involved, and the channel buried it mid-series after some bad reviews, but I sincerely hope its failure was nothing to do with my script editing.

Anyway, Secret Dude Society is another six-parter, producer by those kings of Scottish comedy The Comedy Unit, based in Glasgow, where, in January, Pappy’s will perform their first sitcom before a live studio audience. I won’t give anything more away other than what it is in the public domain already. I can, however, publish this exclusive shot of Matthew, Tom and Ben working very hard on a train home from Glasgow in September, at the start of our “journey” (but about halfway through our journey).

The “boys”, as we have taken to calling them, in true showbiz style (they are all about 30), are – naturally – also on tour, while writing five further episodes to make six along with the pilot (a read-through of which clinched the Grail-like series commission, before I came onboard). This is the way comedians like to work, it seems; a state of “up against it” seems to fire them. I’m thoroughly enjoying working with Matthew, Ben and Tom, and the wily Scottish men of the Unit. The funny thing is, as a script writer I seem unable to employ the advice I offer other writers as a script editor. Editor, edit thyself? I don’t think so. Turn out it’s much harder to “mark” your own work.

By the way, I saw Skyfall for the second time on Tuesday night. I really enjoyed it, again, after an interval of only three weeks. That’s the mark of a decent film. I also caught a bit of Never Say Never Again on Sky’s 007 channel, in which Sean Connery appeared, without irony, in denim dungarees with no shirt on underneath. That’s the mark of a shit film.

I’ve seen lots of other films that I haven’t had time to review here, but I have been very busy over the last few weeks and haven’t been blogging nearly enough. And I am going to have to stop blogging right now. I’ve worked out that since the tragic demise of Word magazine, there is a frustrating vacuum in my creative life, as nobody is employing me to write prose any more. I have plenty of dialogue to write, and other people’s dialogue to edit, but outside of my Radio Times duties, I don’t write articles any more. I find I use the blog to keep my prose-writing muscles toned, but no money changes hands, and so I feel kind of guilty for spending any time doing exactly what I am doing now.

That can’t be right, can it?

Nor can this, Medusa-like ball of paranoid ire Melanie Phillips’ refreshingly mad view of Obama’s re-election, linked to here for balance. Don’t worry, it’s not a link to the Daily Mail website so you won’t be adding to their hits.

Writer’s blog: Week 40

Sunday. I think, actually, today is officially the last day of Week 39, but if I write a bit more tomorrow, it will be Week 40. (Who numbers weeks? Apart from weekly magazines? It’s so impersonal.) I find myself in Northampton for a couple of days, at my Mum and Dad’s, and I type from “the office”, which used to be my bedroom when I last lived here, 28 years ago. Let’s run that number again: 28 years ago. I brought my new Cud mug up with me, the one that Cud kindly sent me, to leave it here as “my mug.”

I came up on the train yesterday. An easy enough journey, just under an hour from Euston if it doesn’t stop at all the incidental stations, like Cheddington and Tring, which it didn’t. (I’m sure they’re not incidental if you live there.) I was sat parallel to a party of six young men who were on their way to Birmingham for a rave-up. They weren’t the most objectionable young men you could share a carriage with, as they weren’t swearing constantly, which is frankly amazing, but they were drinking, and bantering, and doing so at a high enough volume to make it impossible to ignore them without headphones. Because I could hear literally every word they said, I know that they were staying in a hotel in Birmingham, and meeting up with some other mates for a drink, then going on to some exotically named club for 8.45. This was about 2.30. They were a pretty beefy bunch, and I’m sure they could take their booze, but, having broken open a bottle of transparent spirit, and even taken the Glyndbourne-like step of bringing ice to put it paper cups, they were playing cards and drinking shots as forfeits. Even over an hour, you could clearly detect them getting drunker and more slurred, and more “fucks” started creeping into their dialogue.

I feared they were peaking too early, but maybe a nap was built into their itinerary at some stage. When I was a young man, I’m sure I traveled with mates and made similarly gregarious noise (there was one train journey to Derby to see the Boo Radleys in 1993 …), but am I simply post-rationalising if I suggest that my generation had a bit more self-consciousness than the current younger one?

It’s always pleasant, and a bit weird, to be back in Northampton, especially as my folks still live in the house we moved to in 1983, a year before I left (and to which I returned regularly during the next three years at Chelsea). In many ways, it hasn’t changed a bit. My sister and her family still live here – a five minute drive away – and very few of the next tier of the family have strayed very far. My Dad’s sister and her husband spend a lot of time in their apartment in Spain, and one of my male cousin’s two daughters has literally just ventured down to London to go to university, which has been big news within the clan. Good for her, I say. It’s not contractual to leave the town you grew up in – and if you’ve read my books, you’ll know that I owe Northampton a lot, and regard it with massive affection – but it’s good to test your boundaries, and see if perhaps they were further out than you imagined.

Because it is Monday, I find myself at Mum and Dad’s on the very day that they go out for an organised ramble, with friends. This is a regular meet, once a month, and it involves a gentle walk though the open pastures of Northamptonshire, beginning in the car park of a pub that serves good food, and ending in the car park of the pub that serves good food. I have heard tales of these walks, and they always sound bucolic and encouragingly local and not too strenuous, and with a pint and a plate of grub built tantalisingly in. So I accepted the invitation to join them, and make the number up from 11 to a round 12.

We gathered at 10.30am in the car park of the Britannia on the old Bedford Road. Now, I know this pub of old as a remote outpost of hospitality visible from the A428 and nestled by the river Nene. Today, this once-rural inn is blocked in on all sides by newly-built office blocks and retail-park hotels (which must be good for business). The pub itself, inevitably run by a national chain owned by an even bigger national chain, seemed really welcoming, especially after a three-mile hike, but had this lunchtime been cursed by a power failure. So we drove to the next likely spot, the Lakeside, another pub run by a national chain, but also, sadly, jinxed by the same local power outage. We ended up – happily – at a less corporate, more cosy, lower-ceilinged pub in the village of Great Houghton called the Old Cherry Tree, whose friendly staff rose to the challenge of seating and feeding a dozen middle-aged ramblers with a thirst.

Mum and Dad’s friends, a bunch of retirees of similar vintage – and most of whom I’ve met at Wellingborough & Hatton Rotary functions where my Dad had to provide the speaker, so it was me – proved voluble and inclusive company, and I enjoyed being the token under-50 among their sensibly-shod ranks. They joked about me turning them into a sitcom, and the funny thing is, it might just work (mental note etc.). There’s something charming about the over-60s, as we shall politely call them, and the comfortable way they mock each other and chuck innuendo around and claim to be eating “healthily” by not ordering the chips, but then eating chips off other people’s plates. I wouldn’t mind being like them when I am over-60, and I salute them for building this exercise/booze-up into their monthly calendar. (Part of our walk, by the Nene, seemed to coincide with the famous Nene Way. It certainly took us up to Weston Mill, which is a spot I visited as a child, and which terrified me then.)

Living in London, the countryside feels far away. In Northampton, you don’t have to go far out to hit rolling fields. The town is speckled all around its edges with gorgeous villages, like Great Houghton, and a pub lunch can never be far away. They do not call them “gastropubs” round here, as they are unpretentious, but they hit the spot.

As did Hot Fuzz, which I watched again last night, having “taped” it off ITV2 the night before. (My used of “taped” on Twitter caused a degree of nostalgic merriment.) Having already been awestruck by Shaun Of The Dead, and its Pegg/Frost/Wright progenitor Spaced, I knew Hot Fuzz was going to be for me, but remember being even more blown away by its fizzing, metatextual ambition than I’d hoped when I saw it in 2007, prior to meeting Pegg for the first time for a Word magazine interview, after which we rather sweetly stayed in touch. Although the shock value has gone, I was still blown away, again, by how rich and funny it is. Bring on The World’s End, the pub-crawl finale to their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and being filmed, well, right now.

It is Tuesday. Here’s a weird thing. Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the finale to my own trilogy of memoirs, That’s Me In The Corner, published the same year Hot Fuzz came out. (And for the cover of which Simon Pegg kindly supplied a quote. What a shame even his mighty reputation couldn’t help us shift a few copies!) The reason I did so is that in October, it joins Where Did It All Go Right? as an e-book. I’m excited about this, so I idly flicked through it, wondering if it really was as bad as its sales figures and near-total lack of press coverage suggest.

Do you know what? It’s quite interesting. I mean that objectively. With its tales of pre-PC newspaper publishing, pre-Internet journalism, pre-digital radio, pre-satellite TV and pre-Twitter information sharing, it may just have evolved into a valuable social document. It’s only six years old, but it seems so very quaint.

Also, if Twitter had ruled the world, I would have been able to promote it myself, without the help of a disinterested publisher. I looked it up on Amazon, to confirm its e-publication (you can pre-order it for £7.69), and, of course, found myself doing the thing you should never do …

I must admit, because it was roundly ignored by the press on publication, I was delighted at the time to get a couple of rave customer reviews on Amazon. I have rarely checked back since. These raves have now being tempered by some real stinkers! Now, before you say it, I know you need thick skin to put yourself out into the public domain, but I always found negative customer reviews the most astringent (and we are talking one-star assassinations in some cases), as these poor bastards will have paid good money for my work. If a critic doesn’t like it, so what? I have not fleeced them of any money, only time. As an author, you do not wish to pickpocket anyone, and fervently hope that a combination of honest packaging, hard work and the context of your previous endeavours will be enough to frame an informed purchase, and thus rule out crashing disappointment. But this isn’t always the way.

“Disappointing … a chore … dull” … These were not the reactions I was aiming for when I wrote That’s Me In The Corner, as you can imagine! Anyway, as my publisher said to me on publication of my first book, in 2003, when I earned my first Amazon customer slag-off, this puts me in the same bracket as Ian McEwan and Martin Amis. I’m feeling more philosophical about the negative reaction to the book now – and the most negative reaction of all was not to even mention the book, a route most national publications took! – and wonder if, by the power of Twitter and the passage of time, That’s Me In The Corner will take on a new, Kindle-fanned life? If it sells two downloads, I shall be happy, as long as the two people who download it are happy. (I wonder if Ebury will let me write a new chapter dealing with that last six years? Hmmm.)

This is me posing in front of three large photo-collages my parents made a few years ago and which are clip-framed up in the “office”. (Actually, maybe my brother made them?) Not that you’ll be able to make much out from where you’re sitting, but the middle one is themed around me, my brother and my sister, from childhood to young adulthood. (The one to the left, out of shot, is based around their kids; the one to the right, partially obscured, is all Mum and Dad.) They’re fun to gaze at, with all their fashions and their haircuts. A couple of days at your parents’, and you do tend to fall into nostalgic reverie.

My new 3G phone, the Samsung Galaxy Ace I, is supposed to arrive today. I am entering the future – or the recent past, as the Ace I is very much last year’s model – while at the same time gazing at my distant past. My parents have recently bought a new PC for the “office”, and with it, changed broadband provider from Orange to BT. They wish to move certain important emails from their Orange account to BT, but due to computer woes, had been reliant for way too long on the remote Orange website client, where their emails are now stored. I set Outlook Express up for them and hooked it up to BT, so that they may now use that to retrieve and send emails, but I could not for the life of me get Outlook to import message from the Orange website. I actually spent a lot of yesterday afternoon trying, and failing. I asked the glorious hive mind of Twitter – the Twitterhive – and received a lot of helpful advice and hints, but none worked, and it looks as if my Dad is going to have to simply forward the important messages to the new account by hand – a laborious task, and one we were trying to sidestep.

If you have any further advice (and I even tried setting up a Gmail account and importing to that, but the password kept being rejected, even though it’s correct, so I gave up), there’s still time!

In the meantime, I have work to do, so will end this Northampton-based blog entry with another pic that sums these past couple of days up. (Thanks for having me, Mum and Dad!)

Writer’s blog: Week 37

Alright. I haven’t got time to write a daily diary. It’s the hard-bitten truth. I put in a week’s worth last month, but only to ostensibly unblock my writer’s block, which worked, as it happens. It’s something to do with exercising your keyboard fingers and jump-starting your brain. It’s more fun to write, than to write for a job. But when you write for a job and it’s going well, it becomes fun, so that’s always there to fire your turbines.

I wondered if I might get a weekly diary going, though. Just as an exercise. It may well be all about writing, but that’s the nature of the game.

Monday was a Bank Holiday. Because I’d spent half of Saturday working, and the other half traveling back to London from Edinburgh, I allowed myself the Monday off, like ordinary bank employees. Also, I drank a certain amount at a family barbecue on Sunday, with some downtime in mind.

I hit the media ground running on Tuesday, with a 10.30 meeting at the offices of a TV channel which I won’t name for fear of jinxing my livelihood. It was a good meeting, or felt like one, and if I could only live off good meetings, I’d be a rich man, but I can’t. I can only hope that I made a good enough impression, and pitched some good enough ideas, for it to lead down the crooked path to work. (I got lost on the way to the building, and then lost again inside the building. I am like Mr Bean. But Mr Bean gets loads of work, so … )

Above is a picture I took, and Tweeted, at work on Wednesday morning. The accompanying caption was something like, “Oh no! They’ve put me in a writing room that contains Quality Streets! How am I supposed to get any writing done?” It was true. “They” had. And I thought it would make a funny picture. “They” are my management company, Avalon, whose offices are far, far away in West London, otherwise I might exploit them for a luxuriously-appointed writing space more often. (Not all of their offices are luxurious. One they put me in didn’t even have a plug socket. Another was out of range of the company’s own in-house wi-fi.) As it was, I had pencilled in two half-days of intensive writing with my friend Simon Day, which could not be accomplished in the quiet of the British Library, so we went legit and got a room.

But he blew me out, on both days, for perfectly valid reasons. So I made use of the room. The room with the chocolates in. (You might argue that since my management company take a percentage of my earnings, then I am already paying for the Quality Street, ultimately. It is therefore in my interest to eat them. Or not eat them, if you look at it another way.)

I haven’t had a rented office of my own since 2008, when the financial crisis dissuaded me from such profligacy. It doesn’t really matter but here is a picture of me in my last-but-one rented office, which was shit, and leaked rain onto my laptop in 2007, because I stupidly left it there over the weekend. I never let a laptop out of my sight any more.

The British Library has, it is well documented, become my default office since then, and I find it not only vitally useful as a library, but inspiring as a workspace. I’m here right now. In the canteen. Look. I think my hair has grown up since 2007.

But on Tuesday and Wednesday I was in the offices of Avalon Ltd., working. Most who responded to my silly Tweet about the Quality Street crisis appreciated that it was not a real crisis. One, however, satisfied the predictability quota by comparing my job to one working down a mine. You know the comparison: it’s the one where my job, which doesn’t involve dangerous physical labour under the ground, comes out looking pre-e-e-etty easy. Even though I am about as self-aware as anybody in an essentially administrative job can be – crippled by self-awareness, like any good woolly liberal – it’s helpful to have the non-dangerous, non-physical aspects of my job pointed out to me.

I ate some of the Quality Streets – the soft ones – felt a bit sick, and then got on with my writing. Then Mrs Thatcher dismantled the industry I work in and I found myself on the scrap heap due to market forces and Chicago School economic doctrine.

I caught up with a really good BBC4 documentary about the Nazi death camp Treblinka last night, and found myself in sick awe, once again, at the evil that must exist somewhere deep inside every man and woman, but which is thankfully kept buried for nearly all of us for nearly all of the time. I wonder if our current Tory government secretly wishes that it, too, could simply erase a large unwanted chunk of the population – not on ethnic, religious, sexual or physical grounds, like Hitler’s willing executioners did, but on social or economic grounds. If David Cameron could send the poor of this country to their deaths, and get away with it in PR terms, I think he might. Maybe I have gone mad. Or maybe the world has.

Talking of being a liberal, if you’ve been following my boring soap opera of a life, which would struggle to find an audience if it were an actual soap opera, you’ll know that an invisible switch has been pulled somewhere deep within the Twittersphere which means that I am constantly being “followed” (not actually followed) by illiterate teenagers who really like a certain tiny pop singer, know how to make this ♥ on Twitter, and seem only to be following me because someone else they follow is following someone who follows someone who follows me, and because being “followed back” is literally their only reason for living. This is not a crisis, or as bad as being a miner either, but it’s something that exercises my mind nonetheless.

I have learned a lot about a certain demographic since this started happening: largely American, sometimes Latino, always young, as in young enough either not to be able to spell, or too buzzing with youthful energy to have time to do anything as bo-o-oring or lame as spell (or too non-English-speaking to be able to spell in English, let’s be fair), and hopelessly devoted to one of three international pop acts – a young man, an older woman, and a group. I have learned about them not through choice but because, overnight now, without fail, at least a dozen of them follow me with their ♥s and their “xoxo”s and their desperate entreaties to “follow me bak”. I block them all, which is boring, and time-wasting, because they are either following me by mistake, or because they follow anybody, or because they aren’t real (you never can tell on Twitter), or because they are using software to automatically follow people in order to accumulate “follows”. It’s a mad, self-serving, insular world, albeit one populated by millions, and I wish no part of it.

Some have asked me why it bothers me so much. Because it’s creepy? Because it’s irritating? And because I do not seek a PG audience for my Wildean witticisms and Parkeresque aphorisms and plugs and recommendations and leftist rhetoric.

Anyway, as well as the tweenies, I also found myself being followed by right-wing fundamentalist Tea Party Christian “patriots” last week. It was like a waking nightmare! At least they were adults, but again, they seemed to be passing me around and recommending me. I could find no prominent US politician called Andrew Collins, but I did, eventually, track the source of the virus to one of their flag-waving number (according to his charming Twitter bio, a family man committed to destroying the “cancer of liberalism”), who had been listing me among other “patriots” to follow. I informed him of his error, politely. And he politely apologised and Tweeted to his fellow Americans not to bother following me, as I was not “the Tea Party AC”, but “some lib from the UK.” I was so proud.

More Twitter fun yesterday, Thursday. While I was in Edinburgh, which is basically London-on-Tweed (don’t correct me geographically; it sounds good) during the various festivals, especially the TV one, I finally reached the point where my defiantly primitive 1G Samsung phone [pictured] stopped being funny. I have never owned a 3G phone. I did have an LG one two years ago with a touch-screen, but I smashed it twice, and resented paying another £40 to get it fixed, so petulantly bought the baby Samsung for £5 in Carphone Warehouse, much to the amusement of the hip young man who helped me choose it. I like to bring entertainment into the lives of others, especially if they have a job as hard as working in a mine. (Actually, maybe he thought I was a Wire-style drug dealer, who was only buying it to make one call before throwing it in the bin. Cool, eh?)

It’s not as if I am against Apple – I love Apple products and am one of their masochistic slaves – but I am trying to watch my finances, and would resent seeing £30 go out of the bank account every month just to have a fancy phone that might get stolen from my hand in the street by a child on a BMX bike for resale. I have found a good deal on a Samsung Galaxy Ace, which looks fine to me. I don’t want to watch films on my phone. I just want one that I can use to check my emails, check Twitter, check a map, and just generally check. I cannot do this on the stupid babyphone, which doesn’t even have a camera, and whose only advantage over smartphones is that it’s very small, and nobody is ever going to nick it, even if I asked them to. I have no experience with a 3G phone, but have seen them in action as nearly everybody I know has one: media friends, non-media friends, family, young and old. My stance has gone beyond noble Luddism (I can’t walk past a Spinning Jenny without kicking it) into the realms of self-abuse.

So, I asked Twitter if there was any meaningful reason with a Samsung Galaxy Ace wouldn’t do the job, and feared a barrage of abuse. None was forthcoming. Most said it did what an iPhone did, but just wasn’t an iPhone. Many gentlemen said their wives had one, and had no complaints. One young man told me he’d bought one for his Mum, and she had no complaints. That clinched it. I think I am going to get one, be like someone’s wife or Mum (respondents’ accidental sexism, not mine), and enter the early part of the 21st century, gingerly. If you think I am throwing £18 p/m (not including cashback) away, you can tell me. I will prevaricate for a few more days, I think. But I feel this was Twitter as a force for good, and not as a force for evil. I got a broad consensus, and that was very useful, as a consumer service.

And here’s today’s Commute Playlist (all new stuff from 2012, randomly sequenced, of course):

ALABAMA SHAKES Hold On
ST. SPIRIT Tooth & Nail
PADRAIG WHELAN Mex!Can Ac!D [sic]
DEAD FLAMINGOES Jealous Sailor
PAPER CROWS Changing Colours
BLUR The Puritan
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD Sweater Weather
WILD FLAG Boom
FUNERAL SUITS All Those Friendly People
KING CREOSOTE & JON HOPKINS Third Swan
THE MACHINE ROOM Your Head On The Floor Next Door
ZEBRA & SNAKE Money In Heaven (Helsinki 78-82 Remix)
THE WINTER OLYMPICS I Prefer The Early Stuff
BOXES Sharks
RACE HORSES Cysur a Cyffro (hey, it’s in Welsh)
THE SLOW READERS CLUB Feet On Fire (at which point I arrived at my destination)

The great think about this playlist is that I have whittled down loads of stuff I’ve been sent at 6 Music so that it’s all stuff I have initially liked, and now I’m roadtesting it, to see how it grabs me on second, third or fourth listen. It’s all 2012, but some are older than others. You should see the size of my Luddite’s iPod, by the way.

I’m back on 6 Music for four consecutive Saturdays, starting tomorrow. I am very pleased about this. In the first show, 10am-1pm, we’re going to “love” 1979. Get in touch via @BBC6Music if you want to play.

Stop press: just had my latest insane Tween follower on Twitter. I won’t give his name, although he’s from Australia, so that’s a nice twist, and, according to his illiterate bio, “Flirting is my game Folllow me and ill follow back”. (Imagine having so much youthful energy you don’t have the time to even read your own bio back!) Here’s his most recent Tweet: “aiming for 1.000 followers please everyone HELP ME!” I have not corrected his grammar. Maybe he really does just want 1.000 follower? It won’t be me. Have we uncovered the new, cool, 21st century kids’ version of trainspotting? Just collecting meaningless “follows” from people who have no interest in who you are or what you do? I respect trainspotters, that’s the only difference. HELP HIM!

Writer’s blog: Friday Pt 2

Day five Pt 2

Phew. Anyway, I’m in a local Caffe Nero, as I couldn’t face the commute to King’s Cross. (Hence: no commute soundtrack today, sorry.) As you can see, I’m wearing my “From The Midlands With Love” t-shirt, as it feels like a summer day, and because I am from the Midlands with love. This is a rare garment in my current wardrobe, as it has words on it. (I’ve long since stopped wearing “band” t-shirts, and in fact, rarely wear t-shirts any more, in a deluded bid for maturity. Maybe I would wear t-shirts if I was a “festival dad” but I don’t have that parental excuse!) The slogan refers to Miles Hunt and The Wonder Stuff’s ongoing, civic seven-inch covers project which you can read about here (and see some videos). I like the t-shirt.

Hmmmm … this just in. My sitcom Mr Blue Sky has not been recommissioned for a third series by Radio 4. I am a little shell-shocked by this bad news. Not that a third series was ever in the bag, but I foolishly allowed myself to become a little bit confident that there was more life in the show. (I had dared to dream; never a practical way to live your life.) They have given us many reasons why, which I won’t go into, but I’m sad not to be writing the stories I had planned for Harvey Easter and his family, which I thought were rather promising. We’ll still push for it on TV, of course, but I feel too winded to contemplate the practicalities of that right now.

Working in TV and radio, and the media in general, is not for the faint-hearted. You win some, you lose some, and you cannot allow the losses to get you down. (We won when Radio 4 were kind enough to commission Mr Blue Sky in the first place, and to support it through two series and ten episodes, so I’m calling that a result.) You get knocked down, you get back up again. You pitch something else, to someone else, and keep banging on doors. Hey! Gates starts on Sky Living next Tuesday. Maybe it will be well received and we’ll get a second series of that. Maybe this script I’m writing right now will be commissioned. Maybe the meeting I had in the Groucho will develop into a project. I will say it’s been a tough summer for work, what with Word closing down as well, although that was as much a loss for British culture as it was for my accountant, and must be kept in perspective. I am putting on a stoic, determined expression. Do you want to see it?

Well, the beauty of working near your house is that you can go home for your lunch, rather than cart it around with you, as I normally do. I rather skilfully remixed the last portion of this week’s chilli with the first portion of my latest soup. A thrilling mash-up, it picked me up a bit when I needed it. I am now back in a coffee shop, but a different one, where I am nowhere near a window but very near a wall-hanging of something Italianate and esoteric. (I resent the dominance of Caffe Nero in my working life, as they charge extra for soya milk, which is a scandal, but they do offer wi-fi, which clinches it every time, and their loyalty card is – I think – the most generous of all the chains.) I am trying to look melancholy in this pic, but I’m not very good at it. I have a beautiful smile, ordinarily, which is key to my athletic prowess, but I haven’t been using it in these diary pics, as who wants to sit and smile at their laptop in public?

Incidentally, my “commute” is today a very short bus ride, so I only had chance to listen to a couple of songs. Here they are, in case you’re interested:

CEREMONY Hysteria (single version)
WE ARE AUGUSTINES Juarez (album version)
ZEBRA AND SNAKE Money In Heaven (Kashi Remix)
DEAD FLAMINGOES Habit
MR FOGG Stay Out Of The Sun [partial, as I arrived at my destination]

These songs, by reasonably arcane artists, come from an ongoing playlist I imaginatively call 2012 New Singles!, which I build up every time I’ve emptied my pigeonhole at 6 Music. I like to keep up with the new music, and these selections have been quality-stamped and filtered out of the general swamp of newness.

Incidentally, I’m back on 6 Music next Saturday, August 18, and then again on Saturday September 1. Just two floating Saturdays in Jon Holmes’ 10am-1pm slot, but it’s been good fun the last two times. I have no idea what’s happening with that slot in the long term, so don’t ask me.

I might let the diary go now. It’s been a blast, as ever. Sorry so much of it has been me ranting, and the rest of it me not being able to specify what I’m actually working on, but I think my writer’s block has been alleviated a bit. I have certainly written some script this week. Finding out that another project has just bitten the dust is always potentially harmful to one’s concentration, but even after the Mr Blue Sky bombshell, I’ve been able to at least cut loads of stuff out of the latest draft of The Script That I Cannot Yet Name for the broadcaster I cannot yet name.

Actually, I had to cut the aforementioned “font joke”, so I may as well copyright it here. “I used Arial Bold – I wanted to make a clean start.” Don’t you dare nick that. I have witnesses.

I fully intend to drink a cold beer this evening to commiserate with myself about the end of the road for Mr Blue Sky, a project that was very dear to me, and I shall be toasting all those who helped make the two series we made for Radio 4 such a joy from one end to the other, including both critics and Tweeters who were so positive about it. In the meantime, I’ve just had a call from my old pal Simon Day (who was, of course, in Mr Blue Sky) about something else that may or may not be nearing the pipeline, so fingers crossed, and enjoy the remaining days of the Olympics. You all have beautiful smiles.

Telly Addict returns next Friday. I shall be mainly reviewing Celebrity Masterchef, The History Of Art In Three Colours and The Great British Bake-Off.