Flick through your TV channels on any given day and it’s highly likely you’ll stumble upon an episode of Dad’s Army, Only Fools and Horses or Porridge – or sometimes all three of them, back to back. Timeless sitcoms like these have such clearly defined characters, clever plots and familiar settings that they seem to appeal to all generations, and will probably go on doing so forever.
But is there anything of the same quality being written today? Is there any show that will resonate quite as far into the future – and earn as many royalties for its creators in their dotage?!
I‘ve been prompted to ponder these questions following the sad death last month of the great Jimmy Perry, who created and wrote Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Hi-de-Hi along with his writing partner/producer David Croft. I was honoured to be invited to be a judge at the 1996 British Comedy Awards alongside not just the charming Jimmy but also the fabulously talented John Sullivan (Citizen Smith, Only Fools and Horses). As a relative rookie at the time, writing comedy drama for the German market, it was quite a daunting and surreal experience.
These guys were comedy giants but, as I was to discover, they were also ordinary human beings, not unlike me! I took the opportunity to pick their brains about writing and get to know them a bit better as actual people. They were both an absolute inspiration. Without a doubt this was the best unpaid job I’ve ever had.
Sadly both Jimmy and John are no longer with us, but their legacies live on. When I look at the current crop of “sitcoms” on TV I am not sure there’s anything that quite falls into the same category as their classic shows. Viewing patterns have changed so much. Who can remember the last time they sat down with three generations of their family to watch anything other than Strictly or Bake Off?
This means there’s a big sitcom-shaped gap in the market - and if you’re an aspiring comedy writer who’d like to relax in retirement as the royalties flood in, you could potentially fill it. My advice would be to take every opportunity you can to learn from the greats: where do they get their ideas from; what makes an idea work; how do they go about their writing process; how have they sold their projects? Talking to ordinary people who also happen to be highly successful comedy writers can inform and inspire a whole career. Trust me, I’m a writer.
Anji Loman Field (www.anjilomanfield.com) is co-hosting an event on 16th November:
MEET AWARD-WINNING COMEDY WRITING DUO MARKS & GRAN
Inspirational comedy writing partners Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds of a Feather, The New Statesman, Goodnight Sweetheart) share the secrets of their success with Nicola Quilter.
After a Q&A session, we will be running an optional Speed Dating For Co-Writers session. Meet other like-minded writers, test your compatibility with a range of potential writing partners, all of whom are potentially looking to collaborate.
DATE: Weds 16 November
TIME: 6.30-8.30pm (followed by Euroscript Christmas Drinks and Launch of the Euroscript screenwriting Competition 2017)
VENUE: THE DRIVER, 2-4 Wharfdale Road, London N1 9RY
PRICE: £10 to cover room hire and a FREE DRINK (book here)
THE ONLY PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THE CRAFT OF SCRIPTWRITING.