Sitcom legends Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran publish a comedy writing guide, gathering scripts of pilot episodes from their most famous shows, with essays on each.
The couple, whose collaborations include Birds Of A Feather, The New Statesman, Goodnight Sweetheart and Shine On Harvey Moon, wrote Shoot the pilot on the lock.
The book is expected to be published in early summer by Fantom Publishing. Billed as a valuable tool for anyone looking to write a comedy for television, the book contains scripts from six of their series, plus one from a show that never aired.
Reflecting on their writing partnership for the Distinct Nostalgia podcast, Marks said that “we were lucky to have some really great ideas,” and none “looked like the next show.”
Elsewhere in the lengthy two-part interview, the couple, who are about to embark on their postponed retrospective tour, Blokes Of A Feather: An Evening With Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, in September, revealed that they were planning to publish a memoir and criticized the BBC’s initiative to relaunch some of its classic sitcoms in 2016, of which Goodnight Sweetheart was a part. However, contrary to previous claims, they hinted that they still wanted to bring it back on TV.
With Nicholas Lyndhurst reprising his role as time traveler Gary Sparrow, the 2016 episode was commissioned as part of a season to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Hancock’s Half Hour premiere, alongside updated versions. comedy day Hancock, Are You Being Served ?, Steptoe Et Fils, Till Death Us Do Part, Porridge, Keeping Up Appearances and Up Pompei !, though the reimagined Roman sitcom was never screened.
The only revival to feature cast from the original series, which ran from 1993 to 1999 on BBC One, the return to Goodnight Sweetheart had been “great fun, we’d still love to do it,” Marks revealed.
After premieres at Romford’s Brookside Theater in 2018, “before Covid happened, we were also set to do that as a musical as well. And when all this craziness is over, it could still happen.
“But yes, it’s a show that we had a lot of joy to do. It was so easy in one respect to write because when you have two time zones, two periods if you will, your plot A and your plot B are only there for the picking.
“It’s the series, more than any other in Britain, that we get letters, three, four times a week saying ‘when is this coming back? “”
Gran explained that âJon Rolph, executive producer of Fremantle, he’s still very stubborn, he says we’ll get him back. We’ve been a little bit unlucky, we’re told.
âIt may be complete hearsay. But when the BBC very proudly did these reboots, the BBC controller traveled to Edinburgh expecting to receive a lot of pats on the back. [Porridge], Tail [Clement] and Ian [La Frenais], which we think they were more or less committed to anyway – I think they were committed to that before they decided to put it in the package. “
Transporting Sparrow to the present day and giving him a daughter, the 2016 revival had “embarrassed” the BBC with its “fantastic” reception, Marks said.
âEveryone in the press, on social media was saying ‘My God we are so looking forward to this series,’ he said.â And I think the BBC was very embarrassed that they have made the decision [not to commission a series] before turning it off. He also has good audience figures [4.4million overnight]. “
Paying tribute to some of their main cast including Lyndhurst, Rik Mayall of the New Statesman and Birds‘Lesley Joseph, they reiterated their desire to do more of this latest show.
The latest Birds Of A Feather Christmas special, “is going to prove anything can come back,” Gran said. “I mean obviously, we’ll be known as the two crackpots who spend their twilight years recycling their old hits. But I don’t care.”
The couple’s other sitcoms include Holding The Fort, the 1980s “housewife” comedy for ITV, starring Peter Davison, Patricia Hodge and Matthew Kelly; 1991 So You Think You’ve Got Troubles for BBC One, starring Warren Mitchell as a Jewish man living in Northern Ireland and the romantic comedy Love Hurts, aired on BBC One between 1992 and 1994 and starring ZoÃ« Wanamaker and Adam Faith.
Marks & Gran have previously published accompanying books for The New Statesman and Birds Of A Feather, including Dorien’s Diary: My Intimate Confessions.
They expressed mixed feelings about the current state of television comedy, pointing to a cultural backdrop of censorship, a reliance on nostalgic list shows, and a tendency to prey on the working class.
Marks compared the experience of writing sitcoms today to “writing journalism in Stalinist Russia, for there is so much you cannot say, there is so much you cannot do. .
“The number of times you’ll hear someone in authority say ‘oh, you can’t say that.’ Well, if you can’t say that, you can’t write comedy.”
Yet he acknowledged that “when you sit with a controller you realize that narrative comedy is so expensive to make, why [would you] do an episode of Goodnight Sweetheart when you could have a game show series? “
For commissioners, Ms. Brown’s Boys’ success was analogous to that of Donald Trump, Gran explained. “Nobody understands it and yet 45% of the population adores it.”
Citing Fleabag, Catastrophe and Plebs among contemporary sitcoms he loved, he also argued that “comedy over the past two or three years is probably better than it was five or six years ago.”
What was interesting about Fleabag and Catastrophe, “led by women, is that they don’t suffer from what a lot of other shows suffer from, which is that they are not very. funny at all but there is a stupid person in it who has the right to be funny.
âAnd when you take these shows off, even though people think they’re awake, they’re not at all because it’s mostly middle-class people making fun of the working class. obvious, but not transparently obvious to the people who write and buy them.
“So I think there are more good things than maybe five years ago, where what I call the archeologization of comedy [became prevalent]. There were five comedies a week, instead there were five story shows about the ten funniest shows involving the word “pocket” on Channel 5 at nine o’clock. Comedy has become a subject of study rather than a subject to be renewed. “
In conclusion, he lamented the upheaval the coronavirus pandemic has caused them.
The couple have “two or three” projects in development, including touring, “a pretty meaty brief that we presented”, maybe more Birds Of A Feather and “a few other shows in development”.
But “a project from scratch, which used to take a year to get an idea on screen, now takes three years to get an idea on screen. Well, I have a marker in three years that I have. intend to be senile. So I don’t really want to do something with such a long lead time. “
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