Welcome, Keith Lindsay.

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Keith Lindsay

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Keith Lindsay was my writing tutor, when I attended Atherstone College in the mid-nineties. We were an informal group, and some took it more seriously than others. Now the thing that made Keith stand out from other tutors was his love of comedy, and the passion he gave to his way of teaching of the subject. A naturally funny man, but in a quiet modest way, I am bowled over to let you know that here’s here on my blog to tell us a bit more about his writing.

Q1/S. You told us in college, that you co-wrote ‘Birds of a Feather.’ Can you tell us how you got in to being half of the writing duo for this popular series? And are you still involved with the latest re-release of ‘Birds.’

A1K/ I actually co-wrote on Birds of a Feather, it was created and written by Marks and Gran who then proceeded to allow it to be team written; something quite unusual in this country at the time. How did we get onto the team? Well my writing partner Martin and I wrote a calling card script, we didn’t know it was a calling card script when we wrote it, we thought it was a dead cert to get made – ah the naivety.
However, the thing we did do right was to target certain people in the game who we thought might share our sense of humour – we sent out seven scripts and from that mail shot were invited down to LWT, as was, leading quickly to getting an agent and invited down to lunch with Lawrence and Maurice leading almost as quickly to Birds of a Feather. When I say invited, M and G’s letter actually started with ‘do they let you have sharp things in there’.
And no I am not involved in the newer series, nor are we since there technically isn’t a we anymore. It’s good to see it back since Birds was always an inclusive comedy; it wants to make as many people laugh as possible; it isn’t aiming for a certain niche.

Q2/S. How was it, writing with John Sullivan on Green green grass? What would you say was the one thing that stood out about him?

A2K/ Writing with John was one of the most amazing times of my life, I learned so much, I laughed so much and being in the studio listening to real people really laughing reminded me why I’d become hooked on the genre in the first place. And they were real people and they were really laughing, no one was whipping, bullying or cajoling them into it despite what some would say about audience comedy.
You’re asking me to pick out one thing that stood out about one of the greatest comedy writing talents in the sit com world!? How? I could go on for pages, but I’ll try: John was one of life’s observers: he watched, he studied and more importantly he remembered, or he made notes. He once showed me a crumpled slip of paper he carried around in his wallet for years, it said ‘don’t forget Batman and Robin’. Del Boy was based on people he’d grown up with. John was simply wonderful at storing up people, stories, events, ideas for years and then finding the exact moment to unleash them. And that was only part of John’s genius.

Q3S/ Do you write scripts for stand-up comedians, like Ken Dodd, for instance, or John Bishop? If so, do you get any credit for it, or are you like a ghost comedian?

A3K/ I have written stand up material for comedians; Rik Mayall, Frankie Howerd and a Japanese comic called Zen Jiro, and I pray at least he’s still alive. Credit for it? I think not good lady. If you get paid that’s enough, besides comedians like to look as if they’re just making it all up.

Q4S/ What are you working on at the moment? And how many re-writes would you do for a script?

A4K/ At present I have two original sit com scripts doing the hurry up and wait dance at certain broadcasters, a third I am re-writing should either of them turn into a case of ‘what else have you got’ and am about to begin work on a whole new sit com script – something of a lazy bugger you see.

When it comes to re-writes there are a couple of different types: there’s the re-writes you are asked to do by producers, development executives and the office tea boy after you think you’ve already got the perfect script and those can be legion; then there’s the re-writes you do for yourself.
Now I know the received wisdom is that all writing is re-writing but I don’t tend to do too many of the latter for a couple of very good reasons – firstly I make sure that I know my characters inside out when I start writing and I construct characters in such a way that when my story gives them a choice to make it’s really only Hobson’s choice, they can only ever come to one decision because of who they are. Secondly, technically I re-write every day, that is I start over again on page one of the script so that I ease myself back into the situation and character, the writing is then also consistent since I am quite often in a totally different mood from day to day; thus it means that in the end the majority of the script has had anything from two or three re-writes to fourteen or more re-writes on an average first pass.

Q5S/ Has comedy writing changed over the years and If so, how is it different now?

A5K/ I’m pretty sure you knew I would answer yes when you wrote this question – so yes! Comedy has changed because the world has changed – we have access to all human knowledge now, and to much disinformation too, a pity since in less informed times writers would be able to offer us a window on a world we didn’t know, Porridge for example – in 1973 we were totally unfamiliar with the inner workings of prisons, the fly on the wall documentary had not shown us the reality yet. These days it’s pretty hard to show us something new, so that instead of a window writers seem to be expected to hold up a mirror to reflect the audience back at themselves.
And yes I know writers have always done that but there was a time where there was an art to it, as Alexander Pope put it ‘true wit is nature to advantage dressed, what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed’. It just seems that much of what is considered comedy now is merely framed by the lowest common denominator in terms of characters and lines fed back to the audience. Ok rant over.

Q6S/ What would be your ideal script for the bbc? (That’s not including the ones you have written )

A6K/ Hhhhmmmm, I’m pretty sure they don’t really know themselves if you’re talking about something new and if I knew myself I’d be writing it not answering your questions.
What I do know is what it takes to give yourself the best chance to construct the ideal script and it’s something I try to impart when I run sit com writing workshops: character is everything and a well rounded but fatally flawed comic character is key for a start, then there are the supporting characters who should not be mere ciphers but equally rounded and exist not only in contrast with the main character but compliment him/her too. But I’m giving too much away for free, my agent will pitch a fit.
Let’s just say that I really enjoy running sit com workshops and seeing those wonderful light bulb moments when my guests see the simplicity of the structure from which many great shows have been made.
Is this enough now because my typing finger is getting tired?
http://www.thinkfunny.co.uk/2013/02/learn-sitcom-writing/
http://www.futermanrose.co.uk/lindsay.html
http://twitter@Keithrlindsay

Click on this link to get to the book.

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Author: susanjanejones

I write articles and short stories, and this year I've become a pocket novelist for my weekly.

26 thoughts on “Welcome, Keith Lindsay.”

  1. Some great questions and answers here, Susan and Keith. A brilliant insight into the world of sitcom writing. I particularly liked the comments about characters. Advice that could be applied to prose writing as well as scripts.

  2. Great interview. There’s nothing funny about writing comedy, is there! I particularly liked the window/mirror comparison.

    1. Hi, Julia. No, nothing funny at all, it’s one of the hardest things to do I think, but it’s my favourite genres as well. Especially Keith’s kind of humour, and I must get that book.

  3. Really interesting, thanks both of you!
    All the best sit coms appear to be simple – just a few characters in a restricted setting – but having to come up with new plots and jokes for a whole series must be so difficult. That’s why I’m sticking with one-off stories!

  4. Hi, Sue. Yes, it’s a seriously funny kind of game Sue, isn’t it. You should know, you’re a fellow giggle blogger. Once you start looking for funny things, it comes natural I think. Glad you popped in. x

    1. Hi Teresa, glad you popped in. Yes, he’s a great tutor, and I learned a lot. Even rembembered things as well:)) I’ve kept the folder of work we did, and I’m going to send a script in to the bbc one day:))xx

  5. Fascinating interview, thanks both of you.

    Seems as though there’s a lot of similarity between script writing and short story or novel writing. We have to know our characters and have them behave as they really would. We have to work on the writing until it’s as good as it can be – and then it might be turned down or we might be asked to do something different.

  6. When you think about it like that, Patsy, makes me wonder why we go through the trials and agony of writing and sending, and waiting, and writing. Oh, yes, it’s because we love it, and when someone wants what we write, it’s brilliant. Glad you called in.

  7. Absolutely brilliant interview, Susan, and as everyone says, a fascinating insight from Keith into the world of script writing. It sounds like incredibly hard work, but so much fun, which is probably why we all do it. Thank you both. xx

  8. Hi, Rena, glad you called in. Writing comedy is extremelly hard work, you’re right there. And it’s even harder to make it look effortless I think. I love when you know the characters are enjoying the comedy as well. That chandelier moment in Del boy has to be among my favourites.

  9. Thanks, Sue and Keith, for a brilliant interview. It gave us such an insight into the world of writing comedy. Many of the sitcoms and comedians mentioned are ones whose humour I enjoy/ed so it’s particularly good to learn from the writer behind the scripts. 🙂

  10. I agree, Jan. Whenever a t.v. programme makes me laugh, I look to see who the writer/writers are. You can’t beat comedy like Steptoe & Son, or Bread was another funny programme. The ones that make me laugh the most are normal day to day things, that remind us of our own family maybe?

  11. A wonderful interview. Thank you both. I’ve also been extremely lucky to have met and worked with two fabulous tutors in the past two years. One threw me in the right direction with my novel and the other has helped me to gain confidence in my short story writing. Thanks to them both, I am writing every day and moving forward. I will never forget their support.

    1. That’s amazing, Nicola. Now you have to tell us who they are. Let me guess. Lovely Lynne Hackles, and Margaret James??? Don’t worry if you don’t want to tell us. I’m nosey as you know… glad you popped in and great that you had two good tutors.

  12. Seems there are a couple of follow up questions so:

    Who do I test my jokes on?

    Welllll, firstly I don’t really write jokes, I write funny; that is I find humour in characters in a given situation and their reactions to it. As for testing it, I rely on my instinct, you can only really write what you find funny and hope there’s an audience for it. My opinion anyway.

    Do you know who will play the parts of the characters before you write?
    Or do you write with anyone in mind?

    Hmmm, I feel the need for a multi-part answer: If you’re writing for someone else’s show then obviously you know the actors playing the parts, but that shouldn’t really influence your writing – it has more to do with the house style of the show than the actors strengths or otherwise.

    If, as in the case of Birds of a Feather, the show is being written with particular actors in mind then maybe consideration is given to what the actor can bring to the part. That said I’m of the opinion that you should write parts actors will want to play not parts they can play.

    Finally unless I’m asked to write for a specific person I really never have anyone in mind when I create characters, I prefer to produce the most interesting and funny character I can with their own voice as opposed to hearing only one actor in my head. I mean why limit yourself to one when there are so many to choose from, bit like pick and mix.

    Thanks all for the kind comments.

    Keith

    1. Hi Keith, and thanks for being a star and answering those extra questions. You sure give value for money. Well, not that you’ve had any money, but you know what I mean. I think Dorian on ‘Birds’ is up for most things, so you can have a field day writing for her… and the others as well. Boycie in particular is so stiff that he is funny be being so serious. Bread was another favourite of mine as well.
      I love the idea of pick and mix. That way, we can invent someone hillarious. Now you’ve inspired me to have a go…. Great to have you on the blog, and thanks for all the answering of questions.

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