Lots: Extract II

Another extract from a script that I lost for 24 years. To get the backstory on this publishing phenomenon please start reading here.


The detectives Jean Pool and Max Cope, with their client Anna Domino (rhymes with casino), arrive in Australia in the middle of the night. The have flown there in order to locate Mister Cook, whose name has been found at the top of a chain letter circulated to, amongst others, Anna. Anna has engaged the services of Max and Jean in order to locate Peter, with whom she is in love. Peter has disappeared but is mentioned in the chain letter and Anna is convinced he may be its instigator. Mister Cook may know his whereabouts.


Jean, Max and Anna have been given a car because they needed a car. It was given to them by an Australian man called Tom. They find a pleasant, empty house well stocked with food. They stay in the house. Despite the great heat, one night it snows and


WE SEE THROUGH THE KITCHEN WINDOW INTO THE NIGHT, WHERE LARGE SNOW FLAKES SWIRL IN THE PURPLE DARKNESS.
ANNA I love snow. It’s like a great white carpet.
MAX I’d never thought of that.
JEAN Go and get some, Max.
MAX What for?
JEAN It’ll look nice on the table.
MAX Okay.
MAX GETS UP AND LEAVES THE KITCHEN.
ANNA Have you had any experiences with snow, Jean?
JEAN I spent many of my earliest years in temperate zones and as a consequence was no stranger to the flurries. We couldn’t leave the house for days sometimes. I used to stand in the garden and wish I wasn’t an only child.
ANNA I didn’t know.
JEAN My parents were quite superstitious. My father told my mother that there was a fifty percent chance of having a boy if they tried again.
ANNA That’s accurate, I think.
JEAN Yes. He said that if she had a boy it would only turn round and kill him and then go off in a blind rage, so what’s the point?
ANNA He sounds a complex man.
JEAN I wanted a brother, Anna.
ENTER MAX, CARRYING A SNOWBALL.
MAX I made up a ball. They carry better.
JEAN Put it on the table, Max.
MAX Do you want it on a dish?
JEAN Just on the mat will be fine.
MAX PUTS THE SNOWBALL ON A TABLE MAT, IN THE CENTRE OF THE TABLE.
JEAN GAZES AT IT WISTFULLY.
MAX We should stick something in it.
JEAN It looks lovely, Max.
ANNA Jean told me about her garden.
MAX About her brother, you mean?
JEAN Yes.
MAX We’re both only children, Anna.
ANNA I didn’t know.
MAX My first bicycle was a tandem. I imagined that my sister was behind me.
ANNA Why behind?
MAX You can only steer from the front. I would have fallen off.
ANNA Is that why your legs are so strong?
MAX Yes. We used to go on cycling holidays together.
DISSOLVE TO LATER IN THE MEAL.
THE MAIN COURSES HAVE ALL BEEN EATEN, AS WELL AS THE VEG.
THE DINERS ARE SITTING BACK IN THEIR CHAIRS, WIPING THEIR MOUTHS WITH SERVIETTES, SIPPING WINE ETC.
THE SNOW BALL IS INTACT.
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR.
ANNA MOVES TO THE DOOR AND OPENS IT.
TWO SNOW COVERED FIGURES ARE STANDING IN THE DOORWAY.
THROUGHOUT THE ENSUING ACTION THE SNOW DOES NOT MELT.
ONE OF THE FIGURES, A WOMAN, IS WEARING SMART SUMMER CLOTHES OF THE 1910 PERIOD, WHILE THE MAN HAS AN ELEGANT, EXPENSIVE AND SIMILARLY SUMMERY ENSEMBLE IN A CONTEMPORARY MODE. BOTH HAVE SUN TANS AND DARK HAIR AND ARE CARRYING CASES OF SOME SORT.
ANNA Can I help you?
SILVIA Is Max Cope in ?
ANNA Yes. He’s right here. Who is it?
SILVIA I’m Silvia Cope. His sister.
ANNA How nice!
SILVIA INTRODUCES THE MAN BESIDE HER.
SILVIA This is Victor Pool.
ANNA You must be Jean’s brother.
VICTOR That’s right. How did you know?
ANNA Something about the eyes, I think.
VICTOR Is she here?
ANNA She most certainly is. Jean! Max!
JEAN & MAX What?
ANNA What a surprise! Some people to see you!
JEAN AND MAX RISE FROM THE TABLE.
ANNA USHERS THE VISITORS IN.
Do come in!
THE SIBLINGS CONFRONT EACH OTHER.
SILVIA Hello Max.
MAX Good heavens.
VICTOR Hello Jean.
JEAN I don’t believe it.
SILVIA How are you?
MAX It’s extraordinary.
VICTOR You look great.
JEAN I don’t believe it.
THE SIBLING PAIRS EMBRACE.
MAX Silvia!
JEAN Victor!


A few pages later…

MAX’S ROOM.
LATER THAT NIGHT.
MAX AND SILVIA ARE LYING ON THE BED TOGETHER. THEY HAVE THEIR ARMS AROUND EACH OTHER AND ARE GIGGLING AND WHISPERING TO EACH OTHER.
THERE IS NO HINT OF DARKER PASSIONS HERE, ONLY THE FONDNESS OF FAMILIAL FAMILIARITY.

Followed by


JEAN’S ROOM.
LATER THAT NIGHT.
JEAN AND VICTOR ARE ASLEEP UNDER A BLANKET ON THE BED. THEY ARE CLOTHED. THEY LOOK SERENE, CONTENT AND RELAXED WITH EACH OTHER.

03.03.2008

Lots: Episode 7

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


After a few months, not only did I stop fretting about my BBC non-commission but I grew lazy about retrieving script copies I had distributed to potential lovers of the Next Thing in Television. At some point I released a copy to a producer friend who gave it to some other producers. For some reason that is probably uncomfortably seated in issues of personal psychology I contrived not to realise that the master copy of ‘Lots’ was now out of my possession. A few years later I started, as I often do with pieces of my writing that I’m fond of, running through scenes from ‘Lots’ in an idle manner in my head.

My recollections were, perforce, approximate. I recalled writing a scene in which a character wishes that she had had a brother. Moments later there is a knock at the door. It is her brother. They embrace exultantly. That night they curl up together in bed, in a nice way. I also remembered Max and Jean and Anna driving through America in a car they had been given (everything they needed came to them – their desire was all). They had been driving at night and had not been able, therefore, to examine the car. When day broke, Max said “The car is red.” I liked that line very much. I remembered other things in the script and even had vague recollections of the second script, ‘Jean Pool’, the one I wrote because I was told to. I realised that I would very much like to see these scripts again but I could not remember where they had gone.


I wanted to see them, in part, because I regarded them as a link between two worlds of writing. Before ‘Lots’, written in 1983, I had written almost exclusively for Lumiere & Son. Because the company was ‘on the fringe’, ‘experimental’, ‘small scale’ and modestly funded, we could do what we wanted. Nobody cared. At the point of writing ‘Lots’ I was in transition. I had started doing some journalism for papers and magazines and I was drawn thereby to the idea that my plays might achieve, as broadcast events, the national exposure that some of my journalism had, relatively effortlessly, received. While this never really happened, I still felt that ‘Lost’ – as it begs to be anagrammatised – was the riskiest thing I had essayed for some years. As far as I was concerned, in its lack of compromise, ‘Lots’ was pure. When I thought about it I felt pure too.


Despite the fact that Hilary (see Episode 1) and I had enjoyed a long and close relationship, frequently characterised by the exchange of meaningful goods, I had no recollection whatsoever of giving her a copy of the script. In retrospect, considering that she is one of the more assiduous archivists of my acquaintance, I should, at least, have, perhaps, just mentioned the loss of ‘Lost’.

18.02.2008

Lots: Episode 6

Lots: Episode 6

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

I lifted another character from the stage version of ‘Jean Pool’: Hugh, a young man who had lost his diary and engaged Jean and Max to find it. The metaphor for loss of identity was thoroughly and artlessly transparent, in the tradition of baldness that I was pleased to have evolved in my work. As soon as one premises a full length television play for the BBC on such advertent whimsy, all is lost. It will never be broadcast.


Hugh tells the detectives that he lost his diary in Greenland and suggests they go there. He can’t remember where in Greenland. They go there. The brief stage directions (as they are not called in television) read: ‘Scene 4. Greenland. Inside an igloo.’ I was wilfully concocting a non-starter. In my defence I should add that similarly unadorned passages were to be found in profusion in ‘Lots’. But the reader should remember (see Episode 1 of this series) that in that instance I had been told, by a member of the BBC, to ‘let my imagination go.’ By so doing I had simianised the powerful and had been cast, like a block of toilet cleanser, into a place of abjectness. On this occasion I had been advised, by my representative, to consolidate a state of ‘good standing ‘ with the pre-simian (the term is used to denote a potential for simianisation rather than to posit a Darwinian non sequitur) community. I struggled only feebly with my truculence, however, because I sensed that it might ease my passage through the writing chore.


Having composed a series of scenes that appeared to offer Hugh clues as to his identity, I commenced the denouement. First Max, then Jean – in the traditional country-house mystery manner – presented their analyses of the evidence, followed by their conclusions. Each conclusion is utterly different. Max demonstrates that Hugh used to be a baker. Jean establishes that he was an astronomer. The writer had devised scenes susceptible to both interpretations. As you would.


It goes vague then. I handed the script in. They turned it down. I stayed friends with Roger. I had made a few copies of both ‘Lots’ and ‘Jean Pool’. One or two went to other producers and never came back. I never saw them again. I had no more copies. Floppy disks had not been invented. 24 years passed.


Episode 7: The unearthing. The re-assessment.

12.02.2008

Lots: Episode 5

Lots: Episode 5

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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.

Lots: Episode 4

Lots: Episode 4

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


I wrote the script on my pale blue Olympia portable typewriter because, in the olden days, there were no computers small enough to get into a room. As with my writing for Lumiere & Son, I used carbon paper to make copies. In order to save on photocopying costs I wrote my plays on eight sheets of A4 interleaved with seven sheets of carbon paper. This was the most you could wind around the roller without it jamming. In order that the final sheet did not comprise simply a series of faint grey marks I typed very hard, pounding the keys forcefully with every stroke. The director got the top copy, myself the second copy, the actors the next six copies. ‘Lots’, however, was merely duplicated. One copy for me and one for my agent who would copy one for Roger.


In common with most of my script work the writing part was the easiest. The thinking part takes between three years and three days depending on prevailing pressure systems. Once the thinking has advanced to what we, in the trade, call the ‘right’ point (I will not burden the reader with too many of these specialist terms) I say to myself “That’s enough thinking. Let’s write!” The writing is accompanied by thinking but it is of a detailed rather than broad-stroke character. If I remember correctly (and who does, these days?) writing ‘Lots’ was thoroughly enjoyable, especially on those occasions when I broke through into ever more extreme progressions of my regressive scheme.


When the teleplay was finished I gave the top copy to Roger, who would get back to me by the end of the week. During the intervening days I imagined myself on various chat shows and polished my witty yet telling ripostes and responses. A few days later Roger rang me (phones were attached to the wall by a wire in those days). He said that he had enjoyed the script greatly, as had his assistant and script editor who was called either Tatiana or Sally or possibly even another name. We went to dine in a restaurant adjacent to Sloane Square. I clearly remember thinking “The world is my oyster” as I navigated the Kings Road on my old yellow Claud Butler.


Over luncheon on linen, the first of many such that I was now destined to enjoy, Roger and Sally told me of their favourite scenes and moments. I told them that my favourite line in the script was ‘The car is red.’ Roger did make one critical comment, however. “You know, when you put a piece of paper over the left side of the page, covering up the characters’ names, you can’t tell who is who.” I told him that I wasn’t overly concerned with character and that, anyway, the actors would make it perfectly clear as they developed their roles. (I still believe this.)


In a few days we would get a response from Roger’s boss at the BBC, who may have been called Robin and was in charge of Play for Today or Playhouse, whichever series it was. In the intervening days I contemplated the better bicycles, the sharp suits and the frequent visits to America.

Robin said “He is making a monkey of us.” That was that.


Episode 5: My agent has an idea.

10.02.2008