I have officially bailed out of the sitcom script that I was meant to be writing. But as the absolute final deadline was 31st October and I have written nothing that is probably a wise decision. In the end I found the idea too complex and the issue too swiftly changing to get down on paper. But also I am a bit burned out when it comes to writing and need a little bit more time to get my head back into the right space or possibly to just conclude that script writing might just not be for me - I’ve given it a very good crack over the last 20 years and my hit rate is not great. That might not be as negative at is possibly sounds. I have been trying to do a lot of different things in my career and maybe I need to focus more. Script-writing is the thing that takes the most effort, causes the most pain and at which I am having the least “success”. At the very least I will need to attack a project that I am really confident and enthused about and this one was not it.
It’s a shame on lots of levels, not least because I think the commissioner was very keen. I had gone in for a meeting a few months ago, after the channel involved had told me that they had liked my previous script (Chedwood) but were not going to make it. I had already pitched them all my ideas and hadn’t come up with anything else. As I sat in the foyer waiting to go into my meeting my manager rang me and said he thought that they might be looking for something vaguely political or satirical. I had five minutes to think of something. My first thought was a sitcom about a Russell Brand idealistic figure who actually gets into power and has to try and put his ideas into practice (not necessarily with disastrous consequences), but then I thought it might also be interesting to make the idea about a UKIP-style party, with no real policies, but lots of negativity that due to a series of scandals and disasters for the other parties (like discovery of a paedophile sex ring or massive corruption or any of the other stuff that could conceivably happen) and some pop star figure convincing all young people that voting was a waste of time so they should just draw cocks on their ballot paper, gets into power.
It seemed improbable, though tantalisingly possible a few months ago and I thought it would be funny having a Farage like figure trying to coral his party of nincompoops and maniacs through actual government, as well as exploring the realities of how they would institute their policies - is it even possible to leave Europe?
I also thought there were some fun parallels to explore with the rise of Hitler who was similar viewed as a joke by his opponents, exploited the weaknesses in democracy and people’s disillusionment with the weak and similar politicians they were being offered and a willingness to blame some sizeable “foreign” minority for the woes of society. I even had the title “Little Hitler” in my head within a few seconds, which might not have been quite right, but was a good working title.
It was a strong idea which was perfect for a pitch and unbelievably within ten minutes of me having this idea I was telling it to an executive, who immediately commissioned a pilot script.
But not only was I rather busy writing I Killed Rasputin (and then the episode of Man Down that will also sadly now probably never see the light of day due to it revolving heavily around Rik Mayall’s character - and it’s sad because he’s dead, not because I don’t get to get a script on telly: though that is a bit sad too). And we needed to get the episode made before the general election. So there was an unmoveable deadline and a tired and slightly depressed writer. But also mainly in those few months UKIP had got their first elected MP and are riding high in the opinion polls and although (please God) they aren’t likely to win the election, they might hold the balance of power.
It’s pretty hard to satirise them in any case, as the stuff that is happening is more ridiculous than anything I could imagine (Mike Read’s UKIP Calypso was certainly more hilarious than anything I was coming up with), but I was presented with all kinds of difficulties. I wanted to make my central character believable, which mean making him human and likeable to some extent. I didn’t want it to be just a hack and obvious take-down of UKIP which meant that balance was required. There was a danger that I would write something that excused or glamorised right-wing politics or that was just so determinedly anti-right wing politics that it was pointless and boring. And even if I managed to make it “fair” I realised that UKIP would seize on something like this as further “evidence’ of “liberal” media bias against them. I am not convinced that the media is biased against UKIP or indeed very liberal at all, but I’ve noticed that this has become a pejorative and a fact amongst the UKIP people who occasionally get in touch with me. They have a vision that the media and the country is run by woolly liberals and that consequently anyone who works for the media (and indeed anyone like me, who is vaguely involved ) is a woolly liberal too. That such concepts as tolerance and fairness are now negatives.
It’s a bizarre turn, especially given how from my point of view everything in this country is run by people to the right and any liberals that you can spot have very little influence over anything. I don’t really see much liberalism at the BBC or indeed amongst TV comedians, but it’s a stereotype that is pervasive and used to end arguments (perhaps in the same way that left leaning people stereotype the right). The idea, for example, that Mock the Week is some bastion of liberalism seems bizarre. But if you say it enough then people believe it’s a thing and it fuels the cause and the idea that society has gone insane with political correctness. And UKIP, like the Nazis before them, are excellent at turning negative comment and attack into counterattack and proof of how they are marginalised.
I find the drift towards the right and selfishness and intolerance a little bit frightening if I am honest. Things have already gone a lot further than I thought they ever would. And even if I inclined to write this sitcom and capable of making it funny, fair and balanced (or just stingingly satirical and one sided), I am pretty sure that events would overtake it in the next few months anyway.
If I had more time and my heart was less heavy and the nation didn’t seem to be turning more cold and selfish then it might have worked. And I am a little sad to have failed with it (before I’ve even really started). But maybe I did the job in Hitler Moustache. I hope people will get out and vote for anyone but UKIP (the Greens are a viable protest vote if you can’t face one of the major parties) and stop our drift towards isolationism and the right (which isn’t right). If UKIP has shown nothing else it’s that a small party with determined followers who bother to go and vote can make a massive change to the political scene. I wish that Russell Brand was encouraging young people to get out and vote, because that’s the only non-violent way of making the government have to address your concerns. UKIP have already won as the next election is all about them. You could make the next one all about you, but not if you draw cocks on your ballot paper. Or if you can't even be bothered to go that far.
But then I can't even be bothered to write a sitcom about it, so who am I to speak. Historically sitcoms have done a lot to stop fascism in its tracks.
We're inclined to look outwards and downwards for blame, when we'd get a lot futher looking inwards and upwards.
The video versions of the James Acaster RHLSTP are now up here
Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/110128724
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X6fa5AF4io
itunes - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/richard-herrings-video-leicester/id922855595?mt=2
The free audio will be up soon.
This week I am on tour in Sheffield, Lancaster, Loughborough and Liverpool - all details here http://www.richardherring.com/lotds/tour