Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Carla Lane Goes Off On One

Continuing with our series ‘Famous Playwrights and Screenwriters Sound Off’, Carla Lane (author of hit sitcoms The Liver Birds and Butterflies) is the latest to step up to the plate. In this week’s edition of Latest Homes (which is essentially a Brighton based estate agent’s flyer with dreams of one day being a ‘proper’ magazine – you know, one that people actually pay for) Carla complains that the BBC didn’t want her latest two scripts, and that they rely on a ‘clique’ of writers rather than the talents of the fifteenth most famous Liverpudlian in the country. “I sent them two scripts three months ago,” she grumbles, “and they sent them straight back.” (I wonder where she sent them? BBC Writersroom perhaps? My commiserations – we’ve all been there).

It’s a well known fact that Carla Lane now devotes most of her attention these days to her animal sanctuary, and good luck to her; no doubt the two scripts that the BBC passed on were efforts to rustle up some funding to keep the sanctuary running – nowt wrong with that (or maybe she needs the money for things like this). I was just amused as to exactly who is in this mysterious ‘clique’ of writers the BBC now relies upon – is there some sort of satanic ritual you have to undergo before you can join (if so, count me in, but go easy on the animal sacrifice – Carla might get upset!).

Any idea who might be in this clique? Answers on a postcard please!


Jon Peacey said...

I've heard Carla Lane do this whine before... I shall say now what I said then, 'has it occurred to you that your submissions might not be very good’. (Can she rely on her name to get her through the door any more? Her last series was 10 years ago; her last success was nearly 2 decades ago!) Lane’s writing, always an acquired taste, became increasingly solipsistic. Screaming, for example, was about as atrocious a ‘comedy’ as I’d ever had the misfortune of stumbling across: internal monologues, people seemingly talking to walls or the third wall and everybody routinely breaking out into a ‘primal scream’ (and not the good Xtrmntr kind!). Lastly, she began to break the golden comedy rule: it should result in audience laughter! Butterflies, Bread, The Mistress: all very miserable stuff, always predictable and with Bread never less than unwatchable. She may well have been representing women’s real thoughts and feelings but her thesis was more suited to drama (Beckettian?) than comedy. Could we have another Bread or Screaming in an age that has already enjoyed Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Jam, Blackadder, The Young Ones (even) and so on?

However, while I’m not sure there’s an actual clique, I do have suspicions that there are some writers who are held in higher regard than they deserve and therefore get more latitude and nobody saying ‘this is rubbish’. People whose critical adulation is not matched by the ratings they attain. Would a prestige programme shown in the big Sunday night slot getting 2-3 million viewers be re-commissioned if it hadn’t been written by a ‘name’? I’m not going to name names because you’d have to re-label this post ‘Jon’s career suicide’.

The thing I’d really like to know is why Alan Bleasdale has been having trouble getting his new work into production despite people saying its damn good stuff!

(Sorry, I must be in rant/ blether mode today!)

Chip Smith said...

I never enjoy coming down on the side of the BBC, but if I had been in their shoes I would've done the same. The overriding thought I had when I read the story was that Carla Lane was attempting to apply pressure on an old employer - nothing wrong with this I suppose, but to me it smacks of desperation, especially when you consider her animal sanctuary is always on the hunt for additioanl funding. And if money is the sole motivating factor nowadays, then I don't blame the BBC one bit for sending both scripts back.

Cliques? I don't think there is one, but here's a name for you: Stephen Poliakoff. On that note, I think I will retire disgracefully from the debate.

And feel free to rant any time you like, Jon - as long as you don't mention 'Bread' again (shudder).

Jon Peacey said...

That's definitely one of the names I was thinking of- but not the only one.

I promise not to mention B***d again... except punitively!

Oli said...

Carla Lane had a half-script in that 'finish the sitcom' thing that BBC3 did a couple of years back. It was astoundingly out of touch, and raised not a titter from me. The lady ain't funny.

Chip Smith said...

Oli - 'funny' can be an acquired taste, but I never found Carla Lane funny in the first place, even during her more successful years. I suspect she's taken her eye off the ball what with the sanctuary and what have you, and good luck to her - but it does seema step too far to expect the BBC to fund it!