Eighteen years to the day since a momentous event that changed the world.
On September 11th 2000, the first episode of Time Gentlemen Please was broadcast. The British Comedy Society tweeted the news. It led to a handful of tweets from people saying how much they loved the show. Which was a surprise. We didn’t get much recognition at the time (zero people tweeted about it) and a lot of the feedback I got online was sniffy at best. I was always very proud of my writing work on that show. Even when I had to write entire episodes in one week. The first series was extended by nine episodes part way through the run and the only way for me to get the work done was to create a rough draft for the Friday read through, work all weekend to make a workable second draft for Monday. Work all Monday night to iron out any kinks and then start work on the next one on Tuesday, as the cast worked towards the Thursday record.
There was a little bit of help from Al (though increasingly less once the series began as he was busy rehearsing) and I could try and incorporate some existing bit of material and Stewart wrote first drafts of two episodes - but not in those difficult last ten.
I was, in essence, writing an American length series, almost on my own, rather than with a room full of writers.
I was also dating one of the stars of the show at the time, so there was no escape from this job.
I think the episodes I wrote quickly were as good and maybe even better than the ones we spent weeks and months on, They certainly didn’t have time to go stale.
I managed to juggle multiple characters and plots and sub plots, usually working without much plan and surprising myself. But I was so immersed in the world that I was able to create story arcs (when one of the actors revealed she was pregnant and that the bump would be starting to show during the extra nine shows, her character also became pregnant and there was a whole mystery created about who the father was).
I will not say it was an enjoyable time, because any joy of finishing a script was only followed by the next one looming, but it was an educational one and also lucrative enough for my bank balance to finally rise above the basic zero or less mark (and quite a way above until I put a deposit down on a house - imagine that millenials). My wage for writing an episode of TV became my weekly wage. That was nuts.
So it gave me a solid grounding financially, but it did not lead to people beating down my door to write more stuff. Because it wasn’t as good as I thought? Because no one saw it? I don’t know.
Though the first episode was broadcast 18 years ago, I must have been in the midst of that writing Hell on that day. I think we got together to watch it. But maybe we didn't. Was that the night when about three cast members had a drunken fight with each other and fell down the stairs at some swanky club? Probably because I wasn’t there then (even though I was dating one of them) because I was writing.
There was a lot of drinking going on in that show. One main cast member got run over by a cab after one session, but refused to go to hospital and turned up to work the next day with the bruises.
What a time to be alive. But mainly sitting in a room writing.
Glad I did it though. I couldn't do it now. Or maybe I could. I managed to write four scenes of Relativity overnight last year, when the episodes were coming in too short.
Weirdly I associate the actual 9/11 with Time Gentlemen Please too, because 17 years ago we were sitting in Al’s house writing some of what must have been the (as it turned out) much easier to write (and shorter) series 2. We’d seen something on the BBC website about a light aircraft hitting the World Trade Centre (whether it said that or whether I assumed that, I don’t know), but then the website froze and we couldn’t refresh it. It was 2001, the internet was shit so stuff like that could happen, even if the whole world wasn’t looking at the same web page. I got a text from my then girlfriend saying “Have you heard about these planes in New York?” “Planes” I said to Al.
Then one of us said, “Shall we go downstairs and see if there’s anything on the news about it?”
Reader, there was.
And I am not blaming TGP for 9/11, but today someone else tweeted Cheeky Alan Supple’s catchphrase, “I’m cheeky, me!” And I remembered that the real Alan Supple, my housemate in the third year at University, had been in the World Trade Centre seventeen years ago. Thankfully he escaped unharmed. But it was still a bit weird to find these other associations.
Am I Osama Bin Laden? Wait an anagram of Osama Bin Laden is "A so am Bin Laden". A am him. A am.
I did let them watch a bit too much TV, but I not only got them toileted, fed, bathed and abed, but at the same time managed to prepare quite a complex vegetable chilli for my own dinner. I am living proof that men really can have it all. The chilli wasn’t all that nice, but that’s hardly the point.