Lots: Episode 5

This post is in a series: please start at Episode 1

My agent was invariably cheerful. “Not to worry,” he said, “We’ll see if we can place it somewhere else.” And then he said “What I think we should do is you should write another one for them.” “Another play?” I squeaked. “Yes. Show them that you’re still keen and you don’t give up.” “A whole other play?” “Yes. Just write one and we’ll send it in then you’ll be in good standing with them.”

The trouble was I was annoyed with them. They had failed to recognise that I had placed the future of television drama at their disposal. They had made the Monkey Assertion. This latter had been made before, almost at the beginning of my playwriting career. Lumiere & Son had had the good fortune, quite early in its history, to present a play at the Bush Theatre in London, after a spell mounting work at the legendary Oval House Theatre. We opened a show called ‘Jack…the Flames!’ at the Bush and, for the first time, reviewers from national newspapers came to review us. (They were loath to travel south of the river unless it was for shows at the National Theatre or the Old Vic. The Bush was north of the river, in Shepherd’s Bush.)

Michael Coveney, then writing for the Financial Times, saw the show and was moved to observe that “This is the sort of show designed to make a monkey out of reviewers.” Michael, who for several decades we could only refer to as Coveney, was to be even ruder about subsequent shows, but that’s another story. After twenty years or so of pointedly ignoring him at openings and parties I found myself, towards the end of the 20th Century, able to greet him stiffly and then, a couple of years ago, at a Christmas party held for contributors to The First Post, an online newspaper to which we had both been contributing, we held a perfectly pleasant conversation in the course of which he actually almost disarmed me by mentioning that he was about to run a half marathon and, when I asked him why, said “Well, I’m a short, fat little bastard and I need the exercise.”

I felt that I’d been buoyed up by Roger then stiffed by Robin. I didn’t question Roger’s motives for a moment – he was a risk-taking producer. Robin wasn’t. With heavy heart I dragged out the Olympia and tried to imagine what on earth I might do. I wrote plays because I had ideas for plays, not because a play needed to be delivered to prove a point. While it was clear that whatever I wrote would be rejected, I still felt that I couldn’t fill the sheets of A4 unless I had something mildly exciting to motivate me. I knew that I had to cut corners – the next play must take no more than a week to write and it shouldn’t involve difficulty (‘Lots’ featured the studied removal of conflict, its successor should actually be a lo-conflict writing task). I also reminded myself that I wasn’t being paid the second time around.

On occasion I have used sentences like this in Strength Weekly: ‘Then I made up my mind.’ Such slightly stylised assertions have, I think, generally been used to introduce matters of moment. Not in this case. Then I made up my mind. I would use Jean and Max again, not only that, I would call the play ‘Jean Pool’, a title I had already used for the stage. Then I wouldn’t have to think up a new title, which either takes ten minutes or three days, nothing in between. I would write a crime mystery that gets solved by detectives. There would be a problem but this time it wouldn’t go away, the detectives would have to solve it. There would be clues and deductions, I decided, irritably. They’d like that, it wouldn’t make monkeys out of them.

Episode 6: Some pages are covered with writing. A broadcaster is sent a packet.