Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Those Idiots! What do they know?

Today, we celebrate the day that this memo was sent:
From: Comedy Script Editor, Light Entertainment, TelevisionRoom No. & Building: 4009 TCTel. Ext.: 2900date: 29.5.1974.
I'm afraid I thought this one as dire as its title. 
It's a kind of "Prince of Denmark" of the hotel world. A collection of cliches and stock characters which I can't see being anything but a disaster. 
(Signed, 'I.M.')
(Ian Main)
Pic by Sean MacEntee via Flickr
This memo is, obviously, immensely enjoyable. It makes one want to shout 'Ha! Flipping BBC! What do they know?! Idiots!'.

And it might make one also want to shout, 'And so when they say my script is a collection of cliches and stock characters, well, I can ignore them because they're a bunch of thundering plonkers.'

Careful now.

The 'Ian Main' who wrote the memo clearly doesn't like the script (or the title) and can't see it being anything other than a disaster. There are still plenty of Ian Main's around - and forever more shall be. This is frustrating eternal truth. Ian Main can't recognise a decent script and what turned out to be one of the most memorable British sitcoms of all time. Fact.

But let us not be too comforted by our joyful assertion that 'they know nothing'. This may be true of some script editors and development producers sometimes. But this does not necessarily mean our scripts are fine - or 40 pages of unrecognised genius.

We are not John Cleese.

Our rejected scripts are unlikely to be anywhere near as good as this one by John Cleese and Connie Booth. Bear in mind this memo is written in 1974. Cleese has just done four series of Monty Python, various TV shows like The Frost Report and radio shows like I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. The man could write. And so could Connie Booth, apparently. And Ian Main didn't like it.

The 'Ha! What do they know?!' is an easy comfort.  But it's a toxic one. Just like convincing yourself there's no way in because you weren't at the right university (like that clearly talentless John Cleese or those cretins he hung around with), or you don't have the right contacts to get programmes on TV. Ian Main's are prevalent. But not universal. My scripts can be good, but are frequently dreadful. And sometimes the feedback on good ones is bad, and on bad ones is good.

And no memo from 1974 changes this.

So get out that script and do it again.


  1. After reading that Ian Main memo so many times, I really want to see some of "The Prince Of Denmark".

  2. I also think it's important to point out that they did still make the show. This one person didn't like it, but that didn't stop the BBC getting behind the script and getting it produced. The true value of this story is that at that time the organisation was ready to admit when it made a mistake and had enough people reading the same script to ensure that subjectivity wasn't the only reason for dismissing something.