Thursday, December 29, 2011

So where was I?

Something that just tickles me, that I look forward to and gleefully enjoy, is reading friends' blogs where they're saying what work they've got coming out next. Usually I do already know, I mean, they're friends, but I also know that things have been a long time coming. So when Jason Arnopp's film gets its US premiere, when Piers Beckley's theatre company announces its Christmas programme, when Laura Cousins unveils an event, when John Dorney writes a new Doctor Who or is in a new play, when Ken Armstrong has a play on or a film released online, when Angela Gallagher releases new jewellery, when Gigi Blum Peterkin is hosting panels at SXSW then it is a delight because I also know how long they've waited.
(There is a similar yet slightly different thing with Andrea Mann: there you don't have to wait long at all for her to say something so funny you'll go telling everyone you know.)
It's like a triple delight: there's the news itself, that something great is happening, that there's been ages when they were contractually not able to say anything publicly and invariably there's also been a long stretch when they knew it might not happen. Alan Plater used to say to me that he didn't believe any commission until the cameras were actually rolling on set.
I have a couple of these things myself now. And from this end, it's slightly confusing. What's new is old and what's old is going to be new.
This time last year, I was dreading 2011. It looked like it was going to be a tough one and I suppose it was: I picked up a couple of scars and a blister along the way. But nothing I would change now. And instead the year overall was transformative.
That's the word. Transformative. Creatively, professionally, personally, and even financially, I'm not the guy I was a year ago. A lot of that is down to my wife, Angela Gallagher. 
But the greatest things I can actually tell you about that happened for me this year won't come out until next.
I did have my first Doctor Who out this year: it was actually released late December 2010 but all the reviews I read were 2011. (I was compared to Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies. "He's not as good as Steven Moffatt and Russell T Davies.") So 2011 started with my finding that my Who was a hit and I do remember listening to the final cut very late one winter's night. Peter Davison as the Doctor, reading my dialogue. Sarah Sutton reading my lines as Nyssa and after the recording, thanking me for the script.
But I also remember walking through Euston station reading an email from Alan Barnes - the best editor I've never met - about whether I might be up for another one. I have no idea how we got from that to what I can now tell you is called Wirrn Isle.
Except March 2011 was the coldest place on Earth for me, and me alone, sitting in my office writing this four-part Colin Baker tale set on an ice-covered Loch Lomond. Fiction is the hardest thing for me, and consequently the richest, most satisfying. I can't wait for you to hear the end result.
I got to hear it being recorded in June 2011. Even by then, though, the script had felt a long time in the past. Now both script and recording day feel dim-and-distant yet when people ask me if I've got any more Doctor Who coming, I have to tell them the truth: I do, Wirrn Isle. It's out in March 2012. Take a look at the pre-order page: I'm not trying to twist your arm, I just want you to see artist Simon Holub's cover with my byline on it. I think he's done a simply beautiful job. There's a larger, clean copy on his Flickr page.
Nicholas Briggs directed Wirrn Isle and alongside Colin Baker, producer David Richardson assembled a marvellous cast: Lisa Greenwood as Flip, Tim Bentinck - yep, the one with that great voice in The Archers – Jenny Funnell, Tessa Nicholson, Rikki Lawton, Dan Starkey, Helen Goldwyn and Glynn Sweet. I just looked them all up to make sure I was spelling them correctly and, do you know, it made me beam: seeing their real names next to my character names.
That is out in the first half of 2012, then, and for me the writing and making of it occupied the first half of 2011.
The second half of 2011 was devoted to my first book. The British Film Institute and Palgrave Macmillan will publish "BFI Television Classics: The Beiderbecke Affair" some time in 2012.
When you and I are done here, I'm off to continue scanning in Beiderbecke cuttings and photographs that Barbara Flynn loaned me. I took all the ones I needed for the book but she's trusted me with this great collection and I promised to not only return it but make her digital copies of everything too.
Barbara Flynn
Barbara Flynn is simply great joyous fun to talk to. She made me laugh aloud at stories from the filming of this tremendous TV drama by Alan Plater, even though so very often she would immediately follow a tale with "But of course you can't say that in the book". Come round for a mug of tea, I'll tell you her tales off the record.
If you know Beiderbecke, you know it starred Flynn with James Bolam. Just between us, I've had a lot of praise for getting him to talk because he is famously reticent to be interviewed. (An aside. I got angry looks at Birmingham Central Library one day for laughing at a TV Times interview from 1987. The piece had begun with a comment about how Bolam does not talk to the press but this time he had. Then it went into many paragraphs of quotes from him, except I knew they were copied verbatim from the previous interview TV Times did with him in 1985.)
He really did speak to me, we really did sit for a natter in BBC Television Centre. But he didn't do it for me. He was particularly keen that I note that he was breaking this rule against talking to journalists specifically because this was about The Beiderbecke Affair and he wanted to do it for Alan Plater and Alan's wife, Shirley Rubinstein.
Since Alan died, Shirley and I have talked often but usually not about him. But we spoke at length for the book and I think we both had a great time. If you listen to the recordings of that interview, you hear me being hesitant and confused a lot: I wasn't sure how either of us would take to talking about him and she was also my first interviewee for the book so I wasn't yet sure what I was after from her. 
If you listen to the tape of me with James Bolam, you hear me much more certain of what I'm after yet also a bit more wary: I'd been warned he could be prickly. He was charming with me and I had a ball talking not just about Beiderbecke but other shows of his that are favourites of mine, like When the Boat Comes in. And we talked so much about the state of BBC and television drama in general that you often hear both of us audibly remembering that we should get back on topic.
Wait. I'm starting to go through the entire Beiderbecke research process with you. There won't be anything left for the book. I'll shut up. 
Except if you do know The Beiderbecke Affair, you know its music. And I've got to tell you that Frank Ricotti is a funny and fascinating guy, hell bent on insisting that he did nothing "but write down the notes" and that it was the boys in the band who did the work.
And if you remember the famous title sequence from the show, you will also understand why I sat upright in shock when the phone rang and an unfamiliar voice said she was Diana Dunn. Diana created that sequence and was on my list to interview when complicated circumstances meant she ended up phoning me about someone else I'd been trying to reach. I am sure she didn't expect me to know who she was, the daft eejit. I wonder now if I shouted when she rang. I should ask her.
And the someone else I'd been trying to reach was David Cunliffe. I knew his name from years of Yorkshire TV dramas and you'll read more about him in the book. But he and Diana took me to lunch at the Garrick Club where they say no, no, you don't look overawed, William, not at all.
Blimey. That's all come back to me now, telling you. Thanks: I had a brilliant year and I nearly didn't say so, I nearly let it all go by without note. I haven't even mentioned signing autographs at the Big Finish day. That was tremendous. 
And as I glow about 2011, I can of course now look forward to a 2012 which will see the release of my Doctor Who: Wirrn Isle and my Beiderbecke Affair book – er, I hope I actually get to write something too. Have you got anything you need writing in 2012? I do books, plays and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.