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?
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