Friday, November 30, 2012

Buy any other name

A few weeks ago I mentioned finding an old school photograph and how it felt to see Whatsherface, a woman I'd been particularly keen on. I've been asked several times since how, if she was so great, I can't remember her name.

Of course I can remember her name.

I just don't want you to.

So she's Whatsherface. And while we're talking about names and being keen on people, I'd like to tell you a very short story about how my own name prevented me going out with someone.

Actually, my name's surprisingly problematic. Only this week, when it was my birthday, there was an issue of whether my niece and nephew still call me Uncle Lemmy. When my nephew was four or five years old he was plainly deeply into heavy metal lore and saw in my height and girth something of the rock god legend. Or "William" was just too difficult to pronounce.

Apparently Dar Williams is called Dar for similar reasons: I can't remember who but someone very young in her family couldn't say "Dorothy" and it kept coming out Dar. I assume that's passed, that this person who is very young in her family has now grown up, but Dar stuck and I'd have taken that too. I like Dar. She gets a whole thing with the Daughters of the American Revolution thinking she was named after them. And I get Lemmy.

We compromised this year and they settled on calling me Uncle William. I don't feel like an uncle; uncles are old people or have names like Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. But I am an uncle and in fact I am their only uncle. My niece sent me a card with a line about my being a Number 1 Uncle and I thanked her for the sentiment, the thought and the mathematical accuracy.

I think I've told you before that William Gallagher also gets phone calls from people wanting to work on Bill Gallagher's TV shows. Whenever one is on, I gets the calls. I do wonder at people who are applying to me to work on, say, The Paradise, when the show is already airing. The Paradise was still in production when it began airing but, still, you'd think they'd have staffed up by then.

Just staying off the point here and trying to build up some drama, the other week I was in the offices of Doctor Who Magazine and was asked if I were the William Gallagher who was a Doctor Who fan and did lots of fanzines in the 1980s. I'm not.

I'm also not Liam Gallagher.

But it's a funny thing. You know how we are ultimately all related to one another? We still draw a line somewhere. I don't know enough about the third-cousin-twice-removed lark but I do know that there is a line. Up to a certain point, we're related. After that point, we're not. The line is Liam Gallagher.

I am related to Liam Gallagher but not to his brother Noel.

None of this has much to do with the thwarted love life I did – or I suppose did not – have back when I lived in London in the early 1990s.

My problem is – well, it's far from my only problem but focus on this for today – my problem is that I cannot conceive of the possibility of you fancying me. Generally speaking, this is completely accurate. But just once in a while... Whatsherface, for instance. I still don't think she was interested but seven or eight years after I last met her, I realised that she might have been up for trying me out and seeing how it went. But since she'd already rejected me once and since I am an especially stupid man, it took me those years to notice that maybe her torrent of complaints to me about her boyfriend might – might – have been a hint of an expression of a chance of a thought of an interest in maybe – maybe – suggesting I ask her out.

Eight years.

I blame myself.

But she had rejected me. I'd chanced my arm, I'd tried my hand, I'd burnt my fingers.

Still, eight years.

The only time I've ever been faster was this moment in 1990s London when it only took me an hour to suspect that someone was interested. I'm going to have to call her Whatsherface II.

I need to flash forward a bit here and point out that I got married and that so long as I keep feeding Angela the drugs and top up the hypnosis, I think she's as happy as I am.

But back to the 1990s.

It was Pizza Hut.

I lived in a flat and they opened a Pizza Hut opposite my window. The bastards. They knew my weakness. They knew I'd seen Pizza Hut heavily featured in Press Gang. They knew I just liked the stuff.

I set a record for the time between availability and ordering that I have in fact only broken today, this morning, all these years later when Apple's new iMacs went on sale and I bought one before reading all the way to the end of the word iMac.

Back then, Pizza Hut opens its doors for the first time and instantly I am in there. Whatsherface II is on staff and, honestly, I think I am in there. It takes me an hour to realise this as I put it down to a general I-smile-at-everyone-because-I'm-paid-to-work-here but, honestly, it got more. If I noticed it, it got a lot more.

And I did like Whatsherface II.

But it was never to be. It couldn't ever be. And that was because of my name.


She couldn't take my order without entering my name and address into their rinky dinky new computer system. It didn't matter that I was there to get it, it didn't matter that I lived less than sixteen metres away and even I would never, not ever, not once get someone to deliver that distance. No name, no pizza.

"Harry Broderick," I said.

I can't remember now but I must've made up an address too.

What I remember is that I used to go to that Pizza Hut quite a lot. I was working way across London, I'd actually got a flat in about as far away from my work as the Tube network could manage. It was a minimum of an hour's tube ride on a good day and if the wind was in the east. Plus, I'd work late. So I'd regularly get home from work around nine or ten o'clock and that red and yellow sign would be reflected in the window of my flat and those red and yellow pizza smells would be waving at me.

"Hi, Harry!" she'd say.

"Hello, Whatsherface II," I wouldn't reply.

She'd take my order and I'd wait. She'd chat away about things and I'd nod, wondering if there were any possible way I could tell her that yes, my name was Harry, but I spelt it William. And then she'd hand me my pizza and thank me for being such a good listener and I'd leave to clog up my arteries with cheese.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Polite and QWERTYous


Apparently I was a good kid. I don’t know what went wrong. But to everyone who foolishly claims that toys maketh the man, let me tell you that the one I craved and the one I was happiest getting was this: I once got a toy typewriter for Christmas. You see? How can that possibly connect with a subsequent career in writing?

Imagine if I'd wanted a football.

No, I'm trying here, but I can't ever imagine me wanting a football.

I’m afraid I can’t remember how old I was but I can see that Christmas morning. All my adult’s clarity of the room and its facts like dimensions and position and all my child’s sensations of warmth and the dark of the early day, the orange glow of the tree lights reflected on our brown, glass-topped coffee table, the books around me and the typewriter if not in the centre of the room then in the centre of my attention.

I don’t know what made it a toy typewriter instead of an actual one, by the way. It was a full-size portable with full-travel keys. (Travel is the distance you have to press a key down before it registers, before it types.) I can picture now the typed “Happy Christmas from Santa” message on it. And I can picture it in part because my little kid brain recognised a problem: Santa seemingly couldn’t type.

That’s not to say that the real Santa isn’t 120wpm, but this note was not the work of a typist, not so much. You won’t know this if you’ve only typed on electric typewriters or computers or touchscreens but the shift key used to be a physical lever: as you pressed it down, typically you were raising the carriage that held the paper. Each key was a lever that sent a letter hammering onto the paper but each key had maybe three different letters (a lowercase and uppercase version of the same letter plus a punctuation mark) and what went on the page depended on which bit struck the paper. The keys and their levers stayed where they were, so it was the paper rising on its roller-like carriage that made the difference.

And Santa didn’t know that.

So the H and the C and the S in Happy Christmas from Santa were there but shift hadn’t been pressed properly, hadn’t been pressed all the way, so you got a capital letter but not quite in the right vertical position. Rather than a straight line with some capital letters, you got a kind of watery wave of text.

I’m, what, less than ten years old? And I know why this has happened, I know it means Santa didn’t do it, and I even know that the right description is that the capitals weren’t on the baseline like the rest of the letters.

I am a very visual man but what I see is text. I’m just awkward. And I also have typewriter DNA.

Last year I was researching a book, a piece I did for the BFI about Alan Plater’s The Beiderbecke Affair, and was just agog as I read his typewritten scripts and notes and correspondence. And read everyone’s replies to him, read Yorkshire Television’s official letters. I got the same this year reading 1970s/1980s BBC memos for my next big book, which I STILL CAN’T TELL YOU ABOUT, where names I knew so well, names that were vitally important to British television, were sending out letters that looked so bad.

But they only look bad today. We’re so used to perfect typescript with no corrections – you can apparently still buy Tipp-Ex, or at least a metric equivalent, but good luck finding any actual use for it – that old typing invariably looks bad. Even Alan’s meticulous letters look bad now.

And it’s because typewriters were monospaced.

Monospaced means every letter takes up exactly the same space so, for instance, a capital 'I' occupies as much space on the page as a lowercase 'm'. The width has a name: it’s called an em, and it’s named after the letter m which is as wide as lowercase gets. Half an em is an en. This is why we have em dashes – like that, for emphasis, and hyphens or en dashes for I-can’t-think-of-an-example.

On typewriters, we just got a dash and we just got all letters taking up the same width. It’s just the way it was. And it meant that an A4 page always had a typical maximum of 80 characters across and 66 lines down.

It looks so ugly now. Today our computers – just as proper typesetters have always done – position letters so that they make the best use of the space and they fit together pleasingly. Look at this word: “Tea”.

No matter what you’re reading this on, which browser or computer or RSS feed, your machine just tucked the letter “e” back a ways under the bar of the capital T. It’s called kerning and it’s beautiful.

It’s also just impossible on a typewriter.

So typewritten letters from the 1970s and 1980s look ridiculously widely spaced: whatever was considered perfect typing then is plainly rubbish today. The difference in type quality now is so great that we don’t even notice it: we see perfect type every day on every letter from the bank, on every email we get. I’m not saying the spelling will always be great and of course the literacy isn’t guaranteed and naturally it’d be nicer if the bank were writing to say that they’d accidentally left a million pounds in my account and would like me to keep it because I’m still a good kid really, but the typing is exquisite. Compared to typewriters.

I did move from the toy typewriter to a Silver Reed Silverette typewriter. I remember being distraught at how expensive it was going to be to repair it when it went wrong: I couldn’t afford it. I bent a spring instead so that I could do a workaround and keep its carriage moving at least approximately evenly.

For something that was so important to me and so key, forgive the pun, to me and my very innards, I’m afraid I don’t know when I stopped using one and I don’t know what happened to that broken machine. I do have my very last typewriter. And I do have an antique portable once owned by a war reporter. That’s lovely. That’s the one in the photo at the top here.

Typewriters moved into computers for me so early and so quickly that I’m surprised how very much I reek of typewriter lore. My own personal typewriter lore plus all the rest of it, all the stories of why we still write on QWERTY keyboards. How you can still type the word ‘typewriter’ using only the letters on the top row.

I’d say that typewriters did that to everyone but maybe it’s just me. Because I can tell you that I used a BBC Micro in easy preference to a ZX Spectrum because it had a full-size, full-travel keyboard. I can tell you that I adored the 102-key IBM PC AT keyboard which became the standard, which became the keyboard against which others were measured. For a while I used a little utility that gave a typewriter-like clack-clack sound to every letter I typed on a PowerBook Duo. I stopped because it was wrong: every clack was the same when I knew that my e should sound different.

It’s not just me, I promise. Only last month I read a review of a keyboard that promises to have the mechanical feel of an electric typewriter but was a bit quieter for the poor sods around you.

I won’t be buying it. I'm not that bound to typewriter memories. I am sometimes tempted by this, though. The iTypewriter. I warn you: the typing speed in this video will take your breath away.

Got your breath back, didn't you? I reckon that's about 10 words per minute. I presume I'm no longer 120wpm myself, but I am far faster at typing than I am at handwriting.

What I've definitely lost is the sheer wallop of my fingers: as guitarists get callouses, so those of us who learnt on manual typewriters developed terrific upper finger strength.

I still press too strongly. When I type on an iPad's screen I actually feel myself denting my fingers on the glass and I can only really muster a few thousand words at a time.

But I enjoy it. I enjoy typing. Writing, for me, is typing. I enjoy fashioning the words, kneading the keys. I need the keys.

So this week’s news of the final typewriter being made in the UK is – well, I was going to say sad, I was going to say bittersweet, but both are true and neither is quite right. You can see that it unlocked me, that it was a little prick of the typing finger that made me bleed out all of this to you.

I am sad it's over. I’m more astonished that it’s taken this long: I can't claim that typewriters will never fade away because they already have. But you can have a wallow in the online Virtual Typewriter Museum. Then if you’re anywhere near my hometown of Birmingham, get to the Pen Room Museum in the Jewellery Quarter.  It’s a pen museum, I can tell you’re shocked, but it also has shelves of old typewriters and there is something terribly special about seeing them all together.

This is a machine that we used to use. That I used to use. A machine from my own lifetime. But you look at the rack of them there and it seems impossibly archaic. You don’t think professional writing equipment, you think Jules Verne and maybe Professor Branestawm. Here's a thing you almost certainly didn't know: a portable typewriter has about 1,000 moving parts. A full-size manual one has nearer 2,000 – and an electric typewriter, which you'd think would have fewer, tended to have around 3,700. It feels like engineering madness: I can only think of two moving parts in a computer – the fan and the hard disk. And the hard disk is going away.

Those numbers of parts in typewriters are as of 1974, the date of "Century of the Typewriter" by Wilfred A Beeching: a very of-its-time kind of book. I say that because it has a list of how terrible things would be if there were no typewriters and one of them is "No female typists in offices!!". (Yep: two exclamation marks. I think one of them is mine.) But it does also have the of-its-time advantage in that it was written when typewriters were still the business. Apple's Macintosh was a decade in the future. Windows 1.0 was eleven years away, so, you know, one step forward, two steps back.

My copy of that book is a 1990 reprint by when you'd think the typewriting would be on the wall but no. The book continues its unspoken certainty of the place of typewriters and it's sobering. The book and the museum together feel like a single moment slowed to a stop. Kind of frieze-dried.

I’m not going to say that you look at these and inescapably feel that you are yourself archaic, but we’re both thinking it.

William Gallagher

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Prince and the Spinning Wheel's Angular Momentum

Prince Toffee-Caramel looked out across the kingdom. It was a beautiful sight and he'd never really looked before - and he'd certainly never looked from way up here in a beanstalk.

The beanstalk swayed a bit.

The beautiful Princess Hard-Centre had boasted that she could throw the spinning wheel higher than anyone and she was right. But it had stuck in the beanstalk and Prince Toffee had leapt up to climb up it and get her back the spinning wheel.

He got stuck too. It was very high and he'd just eaten and it wasn't fair. He gripped the beanstalk. He couldn't look down. Far, far below, he could just make out the lovely, lyrical song of the princess as she sang “I don’t have all day, you know”.

And as he looked out across the white clouds and the blue sky, he thought he heard birds laughing.

Okay, he thought.

Nothing else came to mind. Just “Okay”.

He tried saying “Right!” but it came out a bit weedy.

“RIGHT!” he said. And as he said it, the gusto in his voice seemed to unlock his mind and he suddenly thought, just a minute, use what’s around you. Maybe not the laughing birds.

There was the beanstalk. It could bend and it could really sway but he wasn’t sure what else it could do. He wondered about breaking bits off but the beanstalk had grown from a seed to seven-mile high weed in thirty hours and you don’t do that with bits that can break off.

“Use the spinning wheel,” cooed the Princess. The wind snatched her words away: he wasn’t sure, did she say “darling” or “dumbass”? He decided it must be darling and, filled with vigour, verve and the kind of overwhelming love that everyone but him would recognise was just a bit of lust, he had the answer.

I'm going to use the spinning wheel, he decided. And he mentally slapped himself on the back for having such a brilliant idea. He tried actually slapping himself on the back but the beanstalk bent and the ground lurched and he thought twice about it.

Gripping onto the beanstalk until it steadied, Prince Toffee managed to look up to where the spinning wheel was just, just, just out of his reach.

He strained as hard as he could and his fingertip just, just, just made contact. It was the most he could do.

But unbalanced and straining, he again made the beanstalk lurch – seriously, how rubbish was this beanstalk? – and that tipped the wheel just a fraction and started it turning just a fraction and suddenly a line of the most beautiful golden thread was unfurling toward the Prince.

He held a strand and marvelled at its shimmering beauty and above-average tensile strength. When he had just enough to loop around his waist, the spinning wheel’s momentum stopped.

The prince gave a gentle tug and more strands appeared.

He looked at the thread.

He looked at the ground.

He looked out across the kingdom.

He nodded at a pigeon. How-do, he said. S’alright, said the pigeon.

And the Prince jumped.

Prince Toffee leapt away from the beanstalk and out, out, out across they sky, twisting his body to build on centrifugal force and pull out as much of the thread as was on the wheel.

Whump, he went through the air. Whump. Faster. Faster. Whump.

Whump, he went.

Whump-splat went the prince and pigeon. “Sorry!” said the Prince.

He reached his greatest possible acceleration and, judging that the thread was running out, he turned his body, angled his arms, set up a windflow over himself so that now he was turning downwards and his stored-up energy was turning into a dive. He was a prince, but he read a lot.

So now he dove for the ground like a bungee jumper.

The wind tore past him.

The ground waited.

The birds got out of the way. The rest of the birds, anyway.

The wheel span faster than it had ever spun before.


The thread reached its end, reached the lock on crunched end-stop and sent a snap of a wave down the line to the Prince.

For one crisp instant, Prince Toffee-Caramel was suspended above Princess Hard-Centre. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him for the perfect, pure moment that it was.

Then the end-stop broke, the wheel slipped an inch, the tension in the thread rang out like a harp string and the Prince was yanked back into the air.

He flew up, used his movement to turn his body and appeared to stand in mid-air before he sliced at the golden thread, cutting himself free and dropping to the ground like an athlete.

It was like an exquisite dismount from bars and as he stood up, straightening his knees and smiling his most rogueishly handsome smile, he knew he was greatest Prince in all the land. He knew he was in there.

“Truly, you are the greatest prince in all the land,” said Princess Hard-Centre. “And if I were looking for a husband who could earn us a living at a circus, you’d be in there.

“But it was actually my spinning wheel that I wanted. So could you sort that out? Is it too much to ask?”

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Chickens and the Shoes: how to win any argument

I can't do this and now that I see your honest eyes, I don't think you can either. But it doesn't seem to stop many people. I'm thinking politicians, especially, who've found this method and are welded to it but it applies to many annoying people in real life and it only surprises me that you don't see it used much in drama.

I'm not very surprised. I mean, I am, but surprise is the smallest of everything I'm feeling today: currently the biggest feeling is anger. That actually doesn't sit very well with me: everything I'm doing is going terrifically – looks for wood to clutch, sees only metal and plastic, gulps – so it's not as if I go around grumping. Yet I have a new anger button and I'm afraid I want to share it with you.

On the plus side, you'll know a way to win any argument. On the negative side, you might be angered every time you see it used. On the bit in between plus and negative, there's the fact that you've already seen this.

This is how you win an argument: move it.

If someone says to you that shoes are the scourge of the land and must be destroyed, you respond with urgent vigour saying: "That absolutely should be looked at and do you know what else? Do you know what's worse? Chickens." 

And then you argue about chickens. 

You do that because you actually have big issues with chickens, because you've got a nugget of chicken info you can use, or because you can't afford to deal with shoes. 

It's such a blatant and supremely obvious move that it's childish yet it works again and again. At the first peak of criticism of the current UK Government, Nick Clegg launched a huge debate about rabbits or something. I guffawed. 

But he got hours of coverage on television, there were debates on radio – especially local radio – and he got acres of newsprint. It's not as if newsprint matters any more, but you'd have thought one of them would have had a headline going "Rabbits? Seriously?"

In that case the shoes of the argument were just minor things like betrayal of the democratic process, the self-destruction of the Liberal Democrats and the certainty that the government's plans for restoring the economy would start and conclude with making sure that the members of the cabinet are okay. The chickens were rabbits.

I've been bubbling about this for much of the last month as we've approached the date of voting for the Police & Crime Commissioner lark. It's a democracy, I believe entirely that voting is important, so off I go looking into who to vote for.


The shoes.

The shoes this time are that what's happening is the reduction of the police force. It's slicing away at the force and the cost of policing. It's reducing the Bill. 

We don't get to vote on that, we get to vote on the chicken part of the argument: which poor sod gets to have a job. 

I've gone round and round about this. Voting is important but voting for this is a way of playing chicken, it's a way of validating the chicken, it's a way of ignoring the shoes completely. There will be a lot of fuss and attention about the results and you know that there will be political pundits proving that so-and-so winning means this has been a blow to the government. You also know the government doesn't give a damn and has no reason to: they wanted the reduction and the cost saving, they got it.

But you've got to vote. Got to. It's so important.

Except. I'm minded of the protestors who were against one of the early motorways. I can't remember which one or when this all was, but a particular UK motorway was planned to cut through some nice countryside and protestors managed to make enough noise that something happened. The government of the day (I've no idea if it were Labour or Conservative) announced a public enquiry.

But a very clever protestor recognised the chickens and the shoes. He saw that the public enquiry was the chicken and no more. The typically long and detailed ruling that set up the enquiry included one key shoe-in: the government was now legally obligated to hold the public enquiry before building the motorway. But exactly and precisely that: obligated to hold the enquiry before building. It didn't actually matter what the result of the enquiry was. The public could condemn the motorway unanimously, they could prove that it was the end of the world, the government could still make the motorway once the enquiry had happened.

So that smart protestor blocked the enquiry.

Forget any voting in it, forget making a case, forget the power of oratory in politics, just stop that enquiry happening.

I'm not saying we should stop the Police & Crime Commissioner vote. I'm saying that it wouldn't make a difference. This government has done the whole shoebang before giving us the chicken feed.

As I say, I've been going round and round in my head about this and I wanted to talk to you about it because, well, I always do. And I know you've seen this happen, I want to know what you think about it and whether it narks you as much as it does me. I want to examine it as a drama issue because I think the reason you don't see it in scripts, that you don't see characters doing the same thing, is because it's too unbelievable. There's that Mark Twain quite: "No wonder truth is stranger than fiction: fiction has to make sense."

Only, you've picked up on the past tense there. I'm every bit as angry about this as I say, and you've picked up on that too, but there's a new shoe and a new chicken in town.

I don't think politicians are inherently stupid but I do think they know safe ground and they run toward it whenever possible. The safest ground of them all is the media. Preferably the BBC, but any of it will do.

So now we have the incident with Philip Scofield on This Morning. If you missed this, he presented Prime Minister David Cameron on air with a list of alleged child abusers. Schofield's point was that you can find this information online and he asked if Cameron was going to investigate the people on the list. This was a list of alleged child abusers and the list itself is getting gigantic attention but what is on the list is not.

Schofield has had to apologise and I can see that: you could apparently read the list if you looked at your telly close enough. 

But David Cameron did not want to discuss alleged child abusers so he moved the argument. He could've said that this was trial by television, that's a popular phrase, and he could've done what has happened since and criticised ITV to the point where some reports say the broadcaster will be in legal hot water.

Instead, he went for a chicken so big that I can't ignore it even as I know unquestioningly that it is shoe-avoidance.

This is what he said:
"There is a danger, if we're not careful, that this could turn into a sort of witch-hunt, particularly against people who are gay and I'm worried about the sort of thing you are doing right now - giving me a list of names that you've taken off the internet."
It doesn't matter if David Cameron actually believes that gay is a synonym for child abuser, it matters very much that he alluded to it. 

I know that the shoe is that these child abuse allegations may involve government and Number Ten. I know that the chicken is this enraging slur.

I know this and yet I am enraged. I know what he's doing, I watched him do it and I know that I shouldn't let my blood steam up over this when that helps him dodge the abuse allegations.

I know this and I know it means he wins. 

But sometimes you've got to punch that chicken.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Doctor Who: And the jaw-dropping actor is...

A new Doctor Who of mine was recorded a few weeks ago and if you caught me on twitter, on Facebook or in pubs across the nation that day, you will have heard this: “Oh, my lights,” I kept saying, “I could eat that voice.”

I was a little late to the recording session and slipped into the control room mid-scene. A character of mine called Elder Bones was speaking and I just thought cor, that actor has the most fantastic voice. Seriously: I could eat it, I said. Nobody quite knew what I meant. To be fair, nor did I. Not exactly. And nobody ever knows what I mean by “Oh, my lights”. You get the idea but the specific words, not so much.

Since so much of what I say derives from some quote or other, I’ve always just assumed that I got the phrase from somewhere. This is now true: it’s in my new Doctor Who and I can’t tell you why or who says it.

But it isn’t Elder Bones.

I lean toward writing fairly long scenes: a lot goes on, things are radically interrupted, but technically speaking it’ll often be one scene that goes on for a fair time. Plus, of course, this was a recording session so there might well be multiple takes. All in all, I think it must've been half an hour before there was any kind of break and I could see who was in the studio. Half an hour with me just sitting in that room, deeply happy with all the cast and most especially enjoying this wonderful voice playing Elder Bones.

Half an hour in which director Barnaby Edwards quite often called this actor by his name and yet I didn’t twig.

I didn’t put it together that “Ron” could ever be Ronald Pickup.

That man has been acting on television, in film, on stage and in radio for nearly fifty years. You may know him from – I’m not sure now, take a gander at his credits on IMDb. I lost count around seven million roles.

But for me he will always be Prince Yakimov from Fortunes of War.

Do you know, he actually thanked me for writing a good role? I’m quite sure he was just being nice but I’m having that. I’m taking that.

I want to tell you more but then I’d have nothing to say when this comes out next year. So let me just tell you that it’s called Doctor Who: Spaceport Fear – Angela came up with the title when I was struggling – and that it’s out in February 2013.

Drama is collaboration. But I sat in that room listening to Ronald Pickup being Elder Bones, listening to Barnaby Edwards direct him, hearing really deft little changes from the discussions with script editor Alan Barnes, and part of me wondered what bit I’d done. The rest of me just enjoyed the story. I was listening to it being recorded out of sequence and without any of the gorgeous audio and aural and musical work that Big Finish does for its productions yet still I was caught up in the tale of Elder Bones, Naysmith and the Tantane Spaceport.

Funny thing about this spaceport: there is one Arrival – it’s a blue box. But there are no Departures.